NO. CCCLVI. JUNE, 1845. VOL. LVII.
Transcriber's note: Minor typos have been corrected and footnotes moved to the end of the article. The index for Volume 57 is included at the end of this issue.
PUSHKIN, THE RUSSIAN POET. No. I., 657
THE NOVEL AND THE DRAMA, 679
MARSTON; OR, THE MEMOIRS OF A STATESMAN. PART XVII., 688
LEBRUN'S LAWSUIT, 705
CENNINO CENNINI ON PAINTING, 717
AESTHETICS OF DRESS. NO. IV., 731
SUSPIRIA DE PROFUNDIS: BEING A SEQUEL TO THE CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER, 739
STANZAS WRITTEN AFTER THE FUNERAL OF ADMIRAL SIR DAVID MILNE, C.G.B., 766
STANZAS TO THE MEMORY OF THOMAS HOOD, 768
NORTH'S SPECIMENS OF THE BRITISH CRITICS. NO. V.—DRYDEN ON CHAUCER—CONCLUDED, 771
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BLACKWOOD'S EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.
NO. CCCLVI. JUNE, 1845. VOL. LVII.
PUSHKIN, THE RUSSIAN POET.
SKETCH OF PUSHKIN'S LIFE AND WORKS, BY THOMAS B. SHAW, B.A. OF CAMBRIDGE, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE IMPERIAL ALEXANDER LYCEUM, TRANSLATOR OF "THE HERETIC," &C. &C.
Among the many striking analogies which exist between the physical and intellectual creations, and exhibit the uniform method adopted by Supreme Wisdom in the production of what is most immortal and most precious in the world of thought, as well as of what is most useful and beautiful in the world of matter, there is one which cannot fail to arise before the most actual and commonplace imagination. This is, the great apparent care exhibited by nature in the preparation of the nidus—or matrix, if we may so style it—in which the genius of the great man is to be perfected and elaborated. Nature creates nothing in sport; and as much foresight—possibly even more—is displayed in the often complicated and intricate machinery of concurrent causes which prepare the development of great literary genius, as in the elaborate in-foldings which protect from injury the germ of the future oak, or the deep-laid and mysterious bed, and the unimaginable ages of growth and hardening, necessary to the water of the diamond, or to the purity of the gold.
Pushkin is undoubtedly one of that small number of names, which have become incorporated and identified with the literature of their country; at once the type and the expression of that country's nationality—one of that small but illustrious bard, whose writings have become part of the very household language of their native land—whose lightest words may be incessantly heard from the lips of all classes; and whose expressions may be said, like those of Shakspeare, of Moliere, and of Cervantes, to have become the natural forms embodying the ideas which they have expressed, and in expressing, consecrated. In a word, Pushkin is undeniably and essentially the great national poet of Russia.
In tracing, therefore, this author's double existence, and in essaying to give some account of his external as well as his interior life—in sketching the poet and the man—we cannot fail to remark a striking exemplification of the principle to which we have alluded; and as we accompany, in respectful admiration, his short but brilliant career, we shall have incessant occasion to remember the laws which regulated its march—laws ever-acting and eternal, and no less apparent to the eye of enlightened criticism, than are the mighty physical influences which guide the planets in their course, to the abstract reason of the astronomer.
Alexander Pushkin was born (as if destiny had intended, in assigning his birth-place—the ancient capital of Russia, and still the dwelling-place of all that is most intense in Russian nationality—to predict all the stuff and groundwork of his character) at Moscow, on the 26th of May 1799. His family, by the paternal side, was one of the most ancient and distinguished in the empire, and was descended from Ratcha, a German—probably a Teutonic knight—who settled in Muscovy in the thirteenth century, and took service under Alexander Nevskii, (1252-1262,) and who is the parent root from which spring many of the most illustrious houses in Russia—those of Pushkin, of Buturlin, of Kamenskii, and of Meteloff. Nor was the paternal line of Pushkin's house undistinguished for other triumphs than those recorded in the annals of war; his grandfather, Vassilii Lvovitch Pushkin, was a poet of considerable reputation, and was honoured, no less than Alexander's father, with the intimacy of the most illustrious literary men of his age—of Dmitrieff, Karamzin, and Jukovskii.
But perhaps the most remarkable circumstance connected with Pushkin's origin—a circumstance of peculiar significance to those who, like ourselves, are believers in the influence, on human character, of race, or blood, is the fact of his having been the grandson, by the mother's side, of an African. The cold blood of the north, transmitted to his veins from the rude warrior of Germany, was thus mingled with that liquid lightning which circles through the fervid bosom of the children of the desert; and this crossing of the race (to use the language of the course) produced an undeniable modification in our poet's character. His maternal grandfather was a negro, brought to Russia when a child by Peter the Great, and whose subsequent career was one of the most romantic that can be imagined. The wonderful Tsar gave his sable protege, whose name was Annibal, a good education, and admitted him into the marine service of the empire—a service in which he reached (in the reign of Catharine) the rank of admiral. He took part in the attack upon Navarin under Orloff, and died after a long and distinguished career of service, having founded, in his new country, the family of Annibaloff, of which Pushkin was the most distinguished ornament, and of whose African origin the poet, both in personal appearance and in mental physiognomy, bore the most unequivocal marks. To the memory of this singular progenitor, Pushkin has consecrated more than one of his smaller works, and has frequently alluded to the African blood which he inherited from the admiral.
In 1811, Pushkin obtained (through the interest of Turgenieff, to whom Russia is thus, in some sort, indebted for her great poet) admission into the Imperial Lyceum of Tsarskoe Selo, where he was to receive the education, and to form the friendships, which so strongly coloured, not only the literary productions of his whole career, but undoubtedly modified, to a considerable extent, the personal character of the poet. This institution, then recently established by the Emperor Alexander, and always honoured by the peculiar favour and protection of its illustrious founder, was modelled on the plan of those lycees which France owed to the genius of Napoleon; and was intended to confer upon its pupils the advantage of a complete encyclopedic education, and, not only embracing the preparatory or school course, but also the academic curriculum of a university, was calculated to dismiss the students, at the end of their course of training, immediately into active life. The Lyceum must be undoubtedly considered as having nursed in its bosom a greater number of distinguished men than any other educational institution in the country; and our readers may judge of the peculiar privileges enjoyed by this establishment, (the primary object of whose foundation was, that of furnishing to the higher civil departments in the government, and to the ministry of foreign affairs in particular, a supply of able and accomplished employes,) from the fact of its having been located by the emperor in a wing of the palace of Tsarskoe Selo—the favourite summer residence of the Tsars of Russia since the time of Catharine II. It is to the last-named sovereign, as is well known to travellers, that this celebrated spot is indebted for its splendid palace and magnificent gardens, forming, perhaps, the most striking object which gratifies the stranger's curiosity in the environs of St Petersburg.
The students of the Lyceum are almost always youths of the most distinguished families among the Russian nobility, and are themselves selected from among the most promising in point of intellect. The system of education pursued within its walls is of the most complete nature, partaking, as may be concluded from what we have said, of both a scientific and literary character; and a single glance at a list of the first course (of which Pushkin was a member) will suffice to show, that it counted, among its numbers, many names destined to high distinction. Among the comrades and intimate friends of Pushkin at the Lyceum, must be mentioned the elegant poet, the Baron Delvig, whose early death was so irreparable a loss to Russian literature, and must be considered as the severest personal bereavement suffered by Pushkin—"his brother," as he affectionately calls him, in the muse as in their fate. Nor must we forget Admiral Matiushkin, a distinguished seaman now living, and commanding the Russian squadron in the Black Sea. We could specify a number of other names, all of more or less note in their own country, though the reputation of many of them has not succeeded, for various reasons, in passing the frontiers.
From the system of study, no less than from the peculiar social character, if we may so express it, which has always prevailed in the Lyceum of Tsarskoe Selo, we must deduce the cause of the peculiar intensity and durability of the friendships contracted within its bosom—a circumstance which still continues to distinguish it to a higher degree than can be predicated of any other institution with which we are acquainted; and we allude to this more pointedly from the conviction, that it would be absolutely impossible to form a true idea of Pushkin—not only as man, but even as a poet—were we to leave out of our portrait the immense influence exerted on the whole of his career, both in the world of reality and in the regions of art, by the close and intimate friendships he formed in the Lyceum, particularly that with Delvig. Few portions of poetical biography contain a purer or more touching interest than the chapter describing the school or college friendships of illustrious men; and the innumerable allusions to Lyceum comrades and Lyceum happiness, scattered so profusely over the pages of Pushkin, have an indescribable charm to the imagination, not less delightful than the recital of Byron's almost feminine affection for "little Harness," or the oft-recalled image of the Noble Childe's boyish meditation in the elm-shadowed churchyard of Harrow.
During the six years which Pushkin passed at the Lyceum, (from 1811 to 1817,) the intellect and the affections of the young poet were rapidly and steadily developing themselves. He could not, it is true, be considered as a diligent scholar, by those who looked at the progress made by him in the regular and ostensible occupations of the institution; but it is undeniable, that the activity of his powerful, accurate, and penetrating mind found solid and unremitting occupation in a wide circle of general reading. His own account of the acquirements he had made at this period, and of the various branches of study which he had cultivated with more or less assiduity, proves that, however desultory may have been the nature of his reading, and however unformed or incoherent were his literary projects, he possessed, in ample measure, even at this period, the great elements of future fame; viz. the habit of vigorous industry, and the power of sustained abstraction and contemplation.
His personal appearance, at this time, was a plain index of his character, intellectual as well as moral. The closely-curled and wiry hair, the mobile and irregular features, the darkness of the complexion, all betrayed his African descent; and served as an appropriate outside to a character which was early formed in all its individuality, and which remained unchanged in its principal features during the whole of the poet's too short existence. Long will the youthful traditions of the Lyceum recall the outlines of Pushkin's character; long will the unbiassed judgment of boyhood do justice to the manliness, the honour, the straightforwardness of the great poet's nature, and hand down, from one young generation to another, numberless traits exemplifying the passionate warmth of his heart, the gaiety of his temper, and the vastness of his memory. In all cases where circumstances come fairly under their observation, the young are the best judges of internal character, as well as the most unerring physiognomists of the outward lineaments of the face. Pushkin was extremely popular among his comrades—the generosity of his character had peculiar charms for the unsophisticated minds of the young; and the vigour of a body never enfeebled in infancy by luxurious indulgence, enabled him to obtain, by sharing in their sports, no less consideration among them than he derived from the play of his penetrating and sarcastic humour. His poetical existence was now already begun: to the Lyceum period of Pushkin's life we must ascribe not only a considerable number of short pieces of verse—those first flutterings of the bird before it has strength to leave the nest—but even the conception of many poetical projects which time and study were hereafter to mature into masterpieces. The short and fugitive essays in poetry to which we have just alluded, appeared in a literary journal at various periods, and under anonymous signatures—a circumstance to be deplored, as it has deprived us of the means of examining how far these slight attempts, composed in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth years of his age, gave promise of future excellence. In themselves, they were probably so crude and unlicked as to justify the poet in the indifference which prevented him from claiming these early compositions, and allowing them to be incorporated in the collections of his writings. During his residence at the Lyceum, however, he undoubtedly meditated the plan of his charming romantic poem, "Ruslan and Liudmila," and probably even composed the opening of the work. To this period, too, are to be assigned some stanzas of great merit, entitled "Recollections of Tsarskoe Selo," and an "Epistle to Licinius"—both works exhibiting considerable skill and mastery in versification, but by far too much tinged (as might indeed be expected) with the light reflected from the youthful poet's reading to deserve a place among his original productions. For the amusement of his comrades, also, he wrote a number of ludicrous and humorous pieces, which derived their chief merit from the circumstances which suggested them; and were calculated rather to excite a moment's laughter in the merry circle of schoolfellows, than to be cited as specimens of the author's comic powers, particularly when we reflect, that the broadly humorous was never Pushkin's favourite or even successful manner of writing: in the delicate, subdued, Cervantes tone of humour, however, he was destined to become perhaps the most distinguished writer of his country—but let us not anticipate. One production, connected with the Lyceum, is, however, too important (not perhaps in itself, so much as in the circumstances accompanying it) to be passed over in a biography of our poet. This is a didactic poem entitled "Infidelity," which Pushkin composed and read at the public examination at the Lyceum, at the solemn Act, (a ceremony resembling that which bears the same name at Oxford and Cambridge, and which takes place at the conferring of the academical degree.) It was on this occasion that Pushkin was publicly saluted Poet, in the presence of the Emperor, by the aged Derjavin—the greatest Russian poet then living, and whose glory was so soon to be eclipsed by the young student whom he prophetically applauded. It is impossible not to be affected by the sight of the sunset of that genius whose brightest splendour is worthily reflected in the sublime ode, "God"—one of the noblest lyrics in the Russian, or, indeed, in any language—thus heralding, as it were, the dawning of a more brilliant and enduring daybreak; even as in the northern summer the vapoury evening glow melts imperceptibly into the dawn, and leaves no night between.
This event, so calculated to impress the vivid and ardent imagination of the young poet, has been most exquisitely described by himself in the literary journal, "Sovremennik," (The Contemporary,) vol. viii. p. 241.
On quitting the Lyceum, in October 1817, Pushkin entered the civil service, and was immediately attached to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Young, noble, cultivated, possessed in the highest degree of those talents which are certain to enchant society, he plunged, as might naturally have been expected, with all the ardour of his African blood, into the pleasures and amusements of the capital. His success in society, and the eagerness with which he was welcomed every where, might easily have been foreseen, particularly when we keep in mind the universal hospitality which distinguishes the higher classes of Russian society, and the comparative rarity in this country of literary celebrity, which tends to render merit of that nature certain of a respectful, if not exaggerated appreciation. "The three years," to quote the words of one—himself a personal friend of the poet's—who has succeeded in seizing with admirable fidelity the principal features of Pushkin's intellectual physiognomy, "the three years which he passed in St Petersburg, after quitting the Lyceum, were devoted to the amusements of the fashionable world, and to the irresistible enchantments of society. From the splendid drawing-room of the great noble down to the most unceremonious supper-table of a party of young officers, every where Pushkin was received with exultation, and every where did he become the idol of the young, who gratified both his vanity and their own by the glory which accompanied his every step."
The eagerness with which the young poet plunged into the glittering stream of fashionable life, must not be attributed only to the natural thirst for pleasure in a young man just released from the bonds of a school life, and to the first vivid sense of liberty excited in the mind of a youth, who had been passing six years of his life in a spot which, however beautiful, was still but a beautiful seclusion. We must keep in mind the different constitution of society in Russia, and particularly the fact, that the absence (at least for social purposes) of a middle class in that country, renders the upper ranks the only section of the social system in which intellectual pleasure can be sought, or intellectual supremacy appreciated. Pushkin himself always attached no inconsiderable importance to his success in the beau monde; and it is incontestably to his friction (if we may so style it) with that beau monde that he owed some of the more attractive, if not the more solid, qualities of his genius, and much of the refinement and good taste which distinguish his style. Like all men of the higher order of intellect—like Scott, like Cervantes, and Michael Angelo—Pushkin was endowed by nature with a vigorous and mighty organization, bodily as well as mental: and though he may appear to have been losing much valuable time in the elegant frivolities of the drawing-room, he was not less industrious at this period of his career in amassing a store of observation derived from a practical study of human character, than successful in filling up—in the short intervals of ball and festival—the poetical outlines which he had roughly sketched at the Lyceum. He worked in the morning at his poem, and passed the greater part of his nights in society; very short intervals of repose sufficing to repair, in so vigorously constituted a being, the loss of energetic vitality caused by the quick succession of intense intellectual labour, and equally intense social enjoyment. It was at this period that the enchanting creations of Wieland and Ariosto were first presented to his young and glowing imagination. These poets are emphatically and essentially the poets of the young: the "white soul" of youth, as yet untinged with the colouring reflected from its own peculiar fantasy, or the results of reading, mirrors faithfully the fairy splendour of their magic style, even as the Alpine snow the rosy light of dawn: and Pushkin, with the natural desire of imitating what he so well knew how to admire, conceived the happy thought of transporting Armida and Oberon to a scenery admirably adapted for their reproduction—to the world of ancient Russia. The popular superstitions of the Sclavonic races, though naturally possessing a tone and local colouring of their own, and modified by the nature which they reflect, are neither less graceful nor less fertile in poetry than the delicate mythology so exquisitely embodied by the great German or the yet greater Italian: and the poem of "Ruslan and Liudmila"—the result of Pushkin's bold and happy experiment—may be said to have been the very first embodiment of Russian fancy, at least the first such embodiment exhibited under a form sufficiently European to enable readers who were not Russians to appreciate and admire. The cantos which compose this charming work were read by Pushkin, as fast as they were completed, at the house of his friend and brother poet, Jukovskii, where were assembled the most distinguished men of Russian literary society. In 1820 the poem of "Ruslan and Liudmila" was completed, and its appearance must be considered as giving the finishing blow to the worn-out classicism which characterizes all the poetical language of the eighteenth century. This revolution was begun by Jukovskii himself, to whom Russian literature owes so much; and he hailed with delight the new and beautiful production of the young poet—the "conquering scholar," as Jukovskii affectionately calls Pushkin—which established for ever the new order of things originating in the good taste of the "conquered master," as he designates himself.
The ever timid spirit of criticism was, as usual, exemplified in the judgments passed by the literary journals upon this elegant innovation. Some were alarmed at the novelty of the language, others shocked at the irregularity of the versification, and others again at the occasional comic passages introduced into the poem: but all forgot, or all dared not confess, that this was the first Russian poetry which had ever been greedily and universally read; and that, until the appearance of "Ruslan and Liudmila," poetry and tiresomeness had been, in Russia, convertible terms.
Immediately on the publication of "Ruslan and Liudmila," the poet, becoming in all probability somewhat weary of a life of incessant and labouring pleasure, left the capital and retired to Kishenev; he took service in the chancery (or office) of Lieutenant-General Inzoff, substitute in the province of Bessarabia. From this epoch begins the wandering and unsettled period of the poet's life, which occupies a space of five years, and concludes with his return to his father's village of Mikhailovskoe, in the government of Pskoff. The effect upon the character and genius of Pushkin, of this pilgrim-like existence, must be considered as in the highest degree favourable: he stored up, in these wanderings, we may be sure, effects of scenery and traits of human nature—in fact the rough materials of future poetry. Fortunately for him, the theatre of his travels was vast enough to enable him to lay in an ample stock not only of recollections of the external beauties in the physical world, but also a rich supply of the various characteristics of national manners. He traversed the whole south of Russia—a district admirably calculated to strike and to impress the warm and vivid imagination of our poet; and "he took genial tribute from the wandering tribes of Bessarabia, and from the merchant inhabitants of Odessa, and from the classic ruins of the Tauride, and from the dark-blue waves of the Euxine, and from the wild peaks of the Caucasus."
It was at this epoch of Pushkin's career that the mighty star of Byron first rose, like some glittering, but irregular comet, above the literary horizon of Europe. The genius of the Russian poet had far too many points of resemblance, in many of its most characteristic peculiarities, with the Muse of the Noble Childe, for us to be surprised at the circumstance that the new and brilliant productions of Byron should have a powerful influence on so congenial a mind as was that of Pushkin. When we allow, therefore, the existence of this influence, nay more, when we endeavour to appreciate and measure the extent of that influence; when we essay to express the degree of aberration (to use the language of the astronomer) produced in the orbit of the great poetic planet of the North by the approach in the literary hemisphere of the yet greater luminary of England—we give the strongest possible denial to a fallacious opinion, useless to the glory of one great man and injurious to the just fame of the other, viz. that Pushkin can be called in any sense an imitator of Lord Byron. In many respects, it is true, there was a strange and surprising analogy between the personal character, the peculiar tone of thought, nay, even the nature of the subjects treated by the two poets: and to those who content themselves with a superficial examination of the question—those "who have not attayned," as Sir Thomas Browne quaintly phrases it, "to the deuteroscophie or second sight of thinges"—these analogies may appear conclusive; but we trust to be able to show, that between these two great men there exists a difference wide and marked enough to satisfy the most critical stickler for originality.
The next production of Pushkin's pen was a brilliant "Epilogue" to the poem of "Ruslan and Liudmila"—in which he replies to the strictures which had appeared in the various literary journals. This piece was immediately followed (in 1822) by his "Prisoner of the Caucasus," a romantic poem, which breathes the very freshness of the mountain breeze, and must be considered as the perfect embodiment, in verse, of the sublime region from whence it takes its title. So deep was the impression produced by this splendid and passionate poem, that it was reprinted four times before it was incorporated into the edition of the author's collected works;—the impressions having been exhausted in 1822, 24, 28, and 35. The reader, in order to appreciate the avidity with which the poem was read, must bear in mind the small amount of literary activity in Russia, as compared with England, with Germany, or with France. We shall not attempt to give, in this place, any analysis of this, or the other works of Pushkin, as it is our conviction that short and meagre fragments—all that our space would admit of—are very unsatisfactory and insufficient grounds on which to judge a work of fiction, and particularly a work of poetry in a language absolutely unknown to almost all our readers, many of the chief peculiarities depending too upon the nationality of which that language is the expression and vehicle. It is, however, our intention, should the specimens of lyric poetry presented in the translations accompanying this notice be favourably received in England, to extend the sphere of our humble labours, and to endeavour to Daguerreotype, by faithful versions, portions of the longer poems (and in particular the narrative pieces) of the great writer whose portrait we are attempting to trace. We shall, we trust, by so doing succeed in giving our countrymen a more just idea of the merit and peculiar manner of our poet, than we could hope to do by exhibiting to the reader the bare anatomy—the mere dry bones of his works, to which would be wanting the lively play of versification, the life-blood of fancy, and the ever-varying graces of expression.
Between the first of these two remarkable poems ("Ruslan and Liudmila") and the second—"The Prisoner of the Caucasus," the mind of Pushkin had undergone a most remarkable transformation; "there is hardly any thing," to use the words of the elegant critic whom we have already quoted, "common to the two poems, except the beauty of the verses." There is not a greater difference between an early and a late picture of Raphael; and what is interesting and curious to remark, is the circumstance, that poet and painter (in their gradual advance towards consummate excellence in their respective arts) seemed to have passed through the same stages of development. In the earlier work all is studied, elaborated, carefully and scientifically composed; worked out from the quarry of memory, chiselled by the imagination, and polished by a studious and somewhat pedantic taste: while the imagery, the passion, and the characters of the later production are modelled immediately from Nature herself. The reader perceives that the young artist has now reached the first phase of his development, and has thrown aside the rule and compass of precedents and books, and feels himself sufficiently strong of hand and steady of eye to look face to face upon the unveiled goddess herself, and with reverent skill to copy her sublime lineaments. We cannot better express our meaning, than by allowing Pushkin himself to give his own opinion of this poem. In the latter part of his life, he writes as follows—"At Lars I found a dirtied and dog's-eared copy of 'The Prisoner of the Caucasus,' and I confess that I read it through with much gratification. All this is weak, boyish, incomplete; but there is much happily guessed at and faithfully expressed."
The indomitable activity which we have mentioned as forming a marked feature in Pushkin's intellect, though exhibited most strikingly throughout his whole career, was never more forcibly displayed than at the present period. Although the first fervour of his passions was now in sole degree moderated by indulgence, and by that satiety which is the inevitable attendant on such indulgence, it is not to be imagined that the poet, in retiring from the capital, intended by this to seclude himself from the gayer pleasures of society. We know, too, how absorbing of time is the wandering life which he led—and many have learned from experience, how difficult it is for a traveller to find leisure for intellectual pursuits. Some idea, therefore, of Pushkin's activity may be formed from a knowledge of the circumstance, that during this roving period he had not only been storing his memory with images of the beauties of nature, taking tribute of grandeur and loveliness from every scene through which he wandered, but found time to pursue what would appear, even for an otherwise unoccupied student, a very steady and incessant course of labour. During the whole of his life, he made it his practice to read almost every remarkable work which appeared in the various languages he had acquired. That this was no easy task, and that the quantity of intellectual food which he unceasingly consumed, must have required a powerful and rapid digestion to assimilate it, we may conclude from his own statement of his occupations and acquirements. On quitting the Lyceum, he was acquainted with the English, Latin, German, and French languages; to this list he managed to add, during his wanderings, a complete knowledge of the Italian, and a competent proficiency in Spanish.
But let us hear his own account of these studies, extracted from a poem written in Bessarabia—
"In solitude my soul, my wayward inspiration I've school'd to quiet toil, to fervent meditation. I'm master of my days; order is reason's friend; On graver thoughts I've learn'd my spirit's powers to bend; I seek to compensate, in freedom's calm embraces, For the warm years of youth, its joys and vanish'd graces; And to keep equal step with an enlighten'd age."
We cannot refrain from quoting in this place a passage from another poem, written at this period; our readers will be pleased, we think, with so graceful a tribute to the glory of the great exile-bard of Rome, whose fate and character had so much in common with those of Pushkin himself—
"Sweet Ovid! Love's own bard! I dwell by that still shore Whither thine exiled gods thou broughtest—where of yore Thou pour'dst thy plaints in life, and left thine ashes dying; With deathless, fruitless tears these places glorifying.
* * * * * *
Here, with a northern lyre the wilderness awaking, I wander'd in those days, when liberty was breaking— Roused by the gallant Greek—her sleep, by Danube's tide; And not one friend would stand, a brother, by my side; And the far hills alone, and woods in silence dreaming, And the calm muses then would list with kindly seeming."
The influence exerted upon our poet's mind and productions by the Byronian spirit, to which we alluded a few pages back, may be traced, in very perceptible degree, in the next poem which he gave to the public, "The Fountain of Bakhtchisarai," a work in which is reflected, as vividly as it is in the storied waters of the fount from which it takes its name, all the wealth, the profuse and abounding loveliness, of the luxurious clime of the Tauric Chersonese. The scene of the poem is one of the most romantic spots in that divine land; and the ruined palace and "gardens of delight" which once made the joy and pride of the mighty khans—the rulers of the Golden Horde—is perhaps not inferior, as a source of wild legend and picturesque fairy lore—certainly not inferior in the eyes of a Russian reader—to the painted halls and fretted colonnades of the Alhambra. The success instantly obtained and permanently enjoyed by this exquisite poem must be attributed to something more than the profusion and beauty of the descriptive passages, so thickly and artfully interwoven with the action of the tale—a species of wealth and profusion, it may be remarked, which suits well with the oriental character of the story, and with the abounding loveliness of the scenery amid which that action is supposed to take place. In this poem, too, we may remark the first decided essay made by the poet towards delineating and contrasting, in an artistic manner, the characters of human personages. The dramatic opposition between the two principal characters of the tale, Maria and Zarema, is well conceived and most skilfully executed. This poem first appeared in 1824, and was reprinted in 1827, 1830, 1835. The powers of dramatic delineation which may be seen, as it were, in embryo in this work, were to be still further developed in Pushkin's next production, which was begun in the same year, (1824,) and appeared in 1827. Those powers, too, were destined to be exhibited in their full splendour in a historical tragedy—perhaps the finest which the Russian literature can be said to possess. The work to which we have alluded as being the second trial of his wings in the arduous regions of dramatic creation, was the short but exquisite tale entitled "The Gipsies." This tale, which is esteemed by the Russians a masterpiece of grace and simplicity, is a poem in dialogue; the persons being only four in number, and the action a wild yet simple catastrophe of love, jealousy, and revenge. The dramatis personae are gipsies; and it is difficult to select what is most admirable in this exquisite little work—the completeness and distinctness of the descriptions of external nature—the artful introduction of various allusions, (particularly in one most charming passage, indicating Ovid's exile in the beautiful country which is the scene of the drama,) or the intense interest which the poet has known how to infuse into what would appear at first sight a subject simple even to meagreness. Poets of many nations have endeavoured, with various qualifications, and with no less various degrees of success, to represent the picturesque and striking features of the nomad life and wild superstitions of the gipsy race: none however, it may be safely asserted, have ever produced a picture more true or more poetical than is to be found in the production of Pushkin. He had ample opportunities of studying their peculiar manners in the green oceans of the southern steppes. It is at this period that Pushkin began the composition of his poem entitled "Evgenii Oniegin," a production which has become, it may be said, part of the ordinary language of the poet's countrymen. The first canto appeared in 1825, 1829. This work, in its outline, its plan, in the general tone of thought pervading it, and in certain other external circumstances, bears a kind of fallacious resemblance to the inimitable production of Lord Byron; a circumstance which leads superficial readers into the error (unjust in the highest degree to Pushkin's originality) of considering it as an imitation of the Don. It is a species of satire upon society, (and Russian fashionable society in particular,) embodied in an easy wandering verse something like that of Byron; and so far, perhaps, the comparison between the two poems holds good. Pushkin's plot has the advantage of being (though sufficiently slight in construction, it must be confessed) considerably more compact and interesting than the irregular narration which serves Byron to string together the bitter beads of his satirical rosary; but, at the same time, the aim and scope of the English satirist is infinitely more vast and comprehensive. The Russian has also none of the terrible and deeply-thrilling pictures of passion and of war which so strangely and powerfully contrast with the bitter sneer and gay irony forming the basis of the Don; but, on the other hand, the interest of the reader (scattered, in Byron's work, upon the various, unconnected, and somewhat monotonous outlines of female characters in Julia, Haidee, Gulbeyas, &c.,) is in "Evgenii Oniegin" most powerfully concentrated upon the heroine, Tatiana—one of the most exquisite tributes that poetry has ever paid to the nobility of woman. To show the difficulty of judging of this work, we need only mention, that while many compare it to "Don Juan," others consider is as rather resembling "Childe Harold;" while the author himself professed that it was rather to be placed in the category of "Beppo."
On leaving Odessa, (in 1824,) Pushkin, who appears to have loved the sea with all the fervour of Shelley himself, bade farewell to the waves with which he had communed so earnestly, and whose deep voices his verse so nobly echoed, in some grand stanzas "To the Sea," of which a translation will be given in a subsequent part.
It is to this epoch that we must ascribe the first outline of the historical tragedy to which we have alluded; but which did not appear till a much later period. We shall recur to this work when we reach the date of its completion.
As the composition of "Evgenii Oniegin" extended over a considerable space of time, our readers may not be displeased at our reverting occasionally to the progress of this work and to the character of its merits. This production must be considered as the fullest and most complete embodiment that exists in Russian literature, of the nationality of the country. It will be found to be the expression of those apparently discordant elements the union of which composes that hard riddle—the Russian character. A passage of Pushkin's dedication will not incorrectly exhibit the variety of its tone:—
"Accept this heap of motley traits, Half gay, half sad, half false, half real, Half every-day, yet half ideal, The careless fruit of idle days, Of sleepless nights; slight inspirations Of unripe years, of wasted art— The reason's frigid observations, And sad conclusions of the heart."
During the most tranquil and laborious portion of Pushkin's life, which passed principally at Mikhailovskoe, and which occupies the period from his leaving Odessa at the end of the year 1824 to 1826, he continued to labour upon his tragedy, and to produce the second and third cantos of "Evgenii Oniegin," in addition to which, our indefatigable poet found means to collect and publish a number of smaller poems, some of which will be found among the translations which we are about to offer; and to aid his friend and brother-poet Delvig in an annual volume of prose and verse (illustrated after the manner of our Keepsakes, &c.) entitled "Northern Flowers." This publication was commenced in 1826, and continued to appear, always enriched with something by Pushkin, till its existence closed at the early and lamented death of the projector and editor.
Pushkin's life at this period was characterized by intense industry, and an uniformity of exertion modified and compensated by variety of occupation. He has left a minute description of the manner in which his time was distributed between labour and repose; and even if we did not possess his letters, it is described with sufficient accuracy in the fourth canto of "Evgenii Oniegin," to enable us to transcribe it here. He was in the habit of rising early, and of devoting the morning and forenoon to those parts of his literary occupation which demanded the exercise of the intellectual or reasoning powers, the memory, &c. &c. Before dinner (whatever was the state of the weather) he took somewhat violent walking exercise; he then dined, (it should be remarked that the dinner-hour is earlier in Russia than is usual in England,) and having passed the evening in society either at home or at some neighbouring country-house, he returned to his poetical labours, which he sometimes continued far into the night. He has frequently repeated that he found himself more perfectly disposed to composition in the season of autumn; and that his poetical vein flowed most generously and abundantly on a dark and stormy night. To those who are acquainted with the climate of Russia (particularly of that part of the Empire where Pushkin now resided) this will not be surprising; and the abundance and splendour of the descriptions of the autumnal season introduced into his various works, will show that his mind and imagination had something in harmony with that which is, in our opinion, the most poetical portion of the year. Like many persons of a highly nervous organization, the brilliant sunshine of spring-tide produced in Pushkin's temperament an impression of melancholy, which he explained by a natural tendency to consumption.
In autumn 1826, Pushkin re-entered the government service in his original department, viz., that of the foreign affairs; and in 1827 he printed, besides the third canto of "Evgenii Oniegin," the "Gypsies," a new poem of inferior merit entitled the "Robber-Brothers," and a comic tale, also in verse, which, though slight in construction, is a masterpiece of graceful and elegant satire. It is entitled "Count Nulin," and describes the signal discomfiture of certain designs meditated by the count (a most delightful specimen of a young Russian coxcomb) against the virtue of his hostess, a fair chatelaine, at whose country-house the said count passes a night in consequence of a disabled travelling-carriage.
To this period, too, must be assigned the composition of "Poltava," a work, the proper title of which would be "Mazepa," but which received its name in order that the public might not confound it with Byron's tale, the hero of both being the same historical personage. It is almost unnecessary to state that there is no resemblance whatever between these two remarkable works. While the production of Byron is rather an admirable development of certain incidents, either entirely invented by the poet, or only slightly suggested by passages of the old Kazak Hetman's biography, the Mazepa of Pushkin is a most spirited and faithful version of the real history of the romantic life of the hero; the actual events adopted by the Russian poet as the groundwork of his tale, being certainly not inferior in strangeness, novelty, and romantic incident, to the short fiery tale, dawning rosily in mutual love, and finishing with the wild gallop on the desert steed, which thrills us so deeply in the pages of Byron.
In 1829 was given to the world an edition of Pushkin's collected works, arranged in chronological order; and the author had another opportunity of visiting the East—those climes whence he had drawn, and was to draw again, so much of his inspiration. He once more crossed the Caucasus, and leaving in his rear his beloved Georgia, he followed the movements of the Russian army in its campaign, and accompanied it as far as Arzeram, receiving, during this journey, the most flattering attentions from Marshal Paskevitch, the commander-in-chief of the expedition. We may judge of the delight with which he seized this opportunity of indulging his taste for travelling, and of the vast store of recollections and images which he garnered up during this pilgrimage—so peculiarly attractive to a poet, as combining the pleasure of travelling with the splendour and picturesque novelties of a military march—by the letters in which he has described his impressions during this interesting period. These letters are models of simplicity, grace, and interest, and have become classical in the Russian language.
In 1830, Baron Delvig commenced the publication of the Literary Gazette, an undertaking in which Pushkin took as active and zealous an interest as he had done in the Northern Flowers, edited by his friend and schoolfellow. He not only contributed many beautiful poems to this periodical, but also several striking prose tales and other papers, in which, by the elegance and brilliancy of the style, and the acuteness and originality of the thoughts, the public found no difficulty in identifying Pushkin, though they appeared anonymously. He now visited Moscow, in order to superintend the printing of his Boris Godunoff, the tragedy which he had been so long engaged in polishing and completing, and respecting the success of which he appears to have been more anxious than usual, as he determined to write himself the preface to this work. The subject of this tragedy is the well-known episode of Russian history which placed Boris upon the throne of the Tsar; and writers have taken various views of the character of the hero of this scene, Pushkin representing Boris as the assassin of the son of Ivan IV., while the ancient chroniclers, and the modern historians in general, as Ustrialoff, Pogodin, Kraevskii, &c. &c., concur in asserting that that prince was elected by the clergy and the people. Whatever may be the historical truth of the design, Pushkin has given us in this tragedy a dramatic picture full of spirit, of passion, of character, and of life; and some of the personages, particularly those of the pretender Dimitri, and the heroine Marina, are sketched with a vigorous and flowing pencil. The form of this play is ostensibly Shakspearian; but it appears to us to resemble less the works of Shakspeare himself, than some of the more successful imitations of the great dramatist's manner—as, for instance, some parts of the Wallenstein. As to the language and versification, it is in blank verse, and the style is considered by Russians as admirable for ease and flexibility. At this time Pushkin's life was about to undergo a great change; he was engaged to a young lady whom he afterwards married, and retired, in the spring of this year, to the village of Boldino, in the province of Nijegorod, in order to make preparations for his new existence as a married man, and in this spot he remained, in consequence of the cholera breaking out in Moscow, until the winter. In spite of the engrossing nature of these occupations, he seems never to have been more industriously employed than during this autumn. "I must tell you," he writes, "(but between you and me!) that I have been working at Boldino as I have not done for a long time. Listen then! I brought with me hither the two last cantos of 'Oniegin,' ready for the press, a tale in octaves, (the Little House in the Kolomora,) number of dramatic scenes—'The Stingy Knight,' 'Mozart and Salieri,' 'The Feast in the Time of the Plague,' and 'Don Juan.' Besides this, I have written about thirty small pieces of poetry. I have not done yet; I have written in prose (this is a great secret) five tales," (Ivan Bielkin's Stories.) The year 1831 began afflictingly for Pushkin. On the 14th of January Baron Delvig died. All Pushkin's letters in which he makes any allusion to this loss, breathe a sentiment of the most deep and permanent sorrow. The following is extracted from a letter to a friend, dated the 31st of this month:—"I knew him (Delvig) at the Lyceum. I watched the first unnoted unfolding of his poetic mind—the early development of a talent which we then gave not its just value. We read together Deljavin and Jukovskii; we talked of all that swelleth the spirit, that melteth the heart. His life was rich and full—rich, not in romantic adventures, but in the most noble feelings, the most brilliant and the purest intellect, and the fairest hopes."
But the grief caused by this great and irreparable loss—a grief which threw its dark cold shadow over the whole of Pushkin's subsequent existence—was not unrelieved by feelings of a brighter tone: the void caused by friendship was filled up with love. In February of this year he was married, at Moscow, to the lady to whom (as we have mentioned above) he had been some time engaged. Mlle. Gontchareff was of an ancient Russian family, and a person of singular beauty. "I am married," (writes the poet to one of his friends, in a letter dated February 24.) "I have now but one desire in the world, and that is, that nothing in my present life be changed. This existence is so new to me, that I feel as if I had been born again. The death of Delvig is the only shadow in my bright existence." Pushkin was desirous of editing a volume of the "Northern Flowers," in the following year, for the benefit of the family of his departed friend, for which he now began assiduously to collect materials. This labour detained him until the month of May in Moscow; and, before his migration to St Petersburg, the tragedy of Boris Godunoff was printed. Among all the works of Pushkin there is not one which exhibits so high a degree of artistic skill, or so vigorous and powerful a genius, as this drama, in which every word, every dialogue, seems to unite the certainty of study and meditation with the fire and naturalness of a happy improvisation, and in which there is not a character nor an allusion which destroys the truth and vigour of the composition, viewed as a faithful mirror of Russian nationality, Russian history, and Russian character. The remainder of Pushkin's short, alas! but laborious life, however filled with the silent activity of intellectual occupation, offers but few materials for the biographer: it was passed principally at St Petersburg, varied by occasional journeys to Moscow, and the usual autumnal retirements, which we have mentioned as having been so favourable for the execution of the poet's literary tasks. We shall content ourselves with giving a slight account of the principal works in which Pushkin employed his great powers—powers which had now reached their highest point of vigour, retaining all the freshness and vivacity of youth, while they had acquired the maturity and solidity of manhood. The subjects of these works, however, being for the most part historical, are of a nature which renders them less susceptible of analysis in our pages—and indeed their local nature would cause such analysis to be devoid, in a great measure, of interest to the English reader. There is, however, one episode in the poet's life, which must possess peculiar interest to those who delight to watch that fond fidelity with which genius returns to the scenes where it was first developed, and which brought back Shakspeare, loaded with glory, to pass the calm evening of his life amid the native shades of Stratford. On quitting Moscow for St Petersburg, Pushkin passed a winter at Tsarskoe Selo. "This was a most blessed thought," he says, in a letter of 26th March; "I can thus pass my summer and autumn in a most enchanting and inspiring seclusion; close to the capital, in the circle of my dearest recollections. I shall be able to see you every week, and Jukovskii also. Petersburg is within an hour's drive. Living is cheap here. I shall not want an equipage. What can be better?" And, in fact, it is certain that he never was so perfectly happy in his society and his occupations, and in himself, as in these summer and autumn months which he passed, as he says:—
"In those bright days when yet all ignorant of fame, And knowing neither care, system, nor art, nor aim, Thy tutelary shades, O Tsarskoe! were flinging Gay echoes to his voice, the praise of Idlesse singing."
The beautiful retirement of Tsarskoe Selo was at this period dignified by the presence of two great poets, each producing works worthy of the imperial groves under whose shade they were meditated. Pushkin and Jukovskii were not only residing here together, but they were engaged in a friendly rivalry, and each writing so industriously as though determined never to meet without some new poetic novelty. The deep impression produced by Jukovskii's patriotic stanzas, written at this period, entitled "Russian Glory," was worthily responded to by the noble poems written by Pushkin, "To the Slanderers of Russia!" and "The Anniversary of Borodino,"—all these works being spirited and majestic embodiments of national triumph and exultation.
It is curious and delightful to remark, too, that the poets of Tsarskoe Selo were occupied, at this period, with the composition of two similar works of another and no less national character. These were "tales" or legends in the popular taste of the Russian people, that of Jukovskii was entitled "The Lay of the Tsar Berendei," and Pushkin's, "The Lay of the Tsar Saltan."
In this year, too, was printed Pushkin's small collection of prose tales, under the assumed name of Ivan Bielkin, which appeared with a biographical preface, describing the life and character of the supposed author. The tales are of extraordinary merit, remarkable for the simplicity and natural grace of the style, and the preface is a specimen of consummate excellence in point of quiet Addisonian humour.
In the year 1831, Pushkin girded up his loins to enter upon the great historical task; which had so long attracted his imagination, and which, difficult and arduous as was the undertaking, he was probably better calculated than any literary man whom Russia has yet seen, to execute in a manner worthy of the sublime nature of its subject. This was the history of Peter the Great. He now began to set seriously about preparing himself for approaching this gigantic subject, and passed the greater part of his time in the archives, collecting the necessary materials for the work. In his hours of relaxation he produced the third volume of his smaller poems, and superintended the publication of another volume of the "Northern Flowers," which appeared in 1832. But these must be considered as the results rather of his play-moments, than as the serious occupation of his time. His mornings were generally passed among the records preserved in the various departments of the government, from whence, after the labours and researches of the day, he usually returned on foot to his late dinner. He was an active and indefatigable walker, prizing highly, and endeavouring to preserve by constant exercise, the vigorous frame of body with which he was blessed by nature. Even in summer he was accustomed to return on foot from his country residence to his labours in the city, and was in the habit of taking violent corporeal exercise in gymnastics, which he would continue with the patience and enduring vigour of an athlete. These walks (it should be remarked that a taste for walking is much more rare among the Russians than in England, from the severity and extreme changes in the climate of the North, the heat in summer rendering such exercise much more laborious than with us, and the cold in winter necessitating the use of the heavy shuba of fur)—these walks were Pushkin's principal amusement, if we except bathing, an exercise which the poet would frequently continue far into autumn—a season when the weather in Russia is frequently very severe.
In the prosecution of his great historical labour, it was evidently difficult for the lively imagination of Pushkin to escape the temptation of being drawn aside from his chief aim, by the attractive and romantic character of many episodes in Russian history—to wander for a moment from the somewhat formal and arid high-road of history, into some of the "shady spaces," peopled with romantic adventure and picturesque incident. It was under the influence of some such attraction, that he conceived the idea of working out in a separate production, the detached epoch rendered so remarkable by the rebellion of Pugatcheff. Finding that he had already performed the most serious portion of the drudgery of collecting materials for his principal historical enterprise, he drew, with a wonderfully rapid and lively pencil, the vigorous sketch of the events of that extraordinary conspiracy, and has left us a work which, whatever be its imperfections and slightness, viewed as a work of history, cannot be denied to be a most admirable and striking outline of the picturesque and singular events which form its subject. Convinced of the importance, to an author of history, of a personal knowledge of the scenes in which his events took place, Pushkin, when the history of Pugatcheff's rebellion was already on the verge of completion, determined (before his work was published) to examine with his own eyes that eastern region of European Russia, which had been the theatre of the strange drama of that singular pretender's life, and to enable himself to infuse into a narration founded upon dry records, the life and reality which was to be obtained from questioning the old inhabitants of that country, many of whom might remember the wild adventures of which, in their youth, they had been witnesses or actors. In 1833, Pushkin was enabled to gratify this natural curiosity; and the result of his visit to the scene of the rebellion enabled him to communicate to his already plain, vigorous, and concise narration, a tone of reality, a warmth of colouring, and a liveliness of language, which renders it impossible to leave the book unfinished when once opened, and which no elaborateness of research, and no minuteness of detail, could otherwise have communicated.
During the first two years of its existence, the periodical entitled "The Reading Library" was honoured by the appearance in its pages of that division of Pushkin's smaller poems, afterwards published separately as the fourth volume of his collected works, in the year 1835. In this journal, too, were printed his two prose tales "The Queen of Spades" and "Kirdjali," the former of which has, we believe, appeared in English, and of the latter a translation has been attempted, together with several others of his smaller prose works, by the author of the present notice. A journey which he made to Orenburg gave him the materials for fresh prose tales. The most remarkable of these, the beautiful and well-known story, "The Captain's Daughter," first appeared in the periodical entitled "The Contemporary," which is justly considered as the chief miscellaneous journal that appears in Russia, and which partakes of the nature of what we in England call the review and magazine. In all his writing, prose or verse, Pushkin is most astonishingly unaffected, rational, and straightforward; but in the last-named story he has attained the highest degree of perfection—it is the simplicity of nature herself.
This period must be considered as that in which Pushkin had arrived at the summit of his glory. He was now enjoying the universal respect and admiration of his countrymen, a respect and admiration shared by the sovereign himself, who distinguished the great poet by naming him "gentilhomme de la chambre;" he was in the very flower of health, life, and genius; he had completed the laborious part of his great task, in collecting materials for the history of Peter the Great—all seemed to prophesy a future filled with bright certainties of happiness and glory.
But the end was not far off; the dark and melancholy event which was to put a sudden and a fatal conclusion to this glorious and useful career was near at hand. The storm which was to quench this bright and shining light was already rising dimly above the horizon; and the poet's prophetic eye foresaw—like that of the seer in the Scripture—the "little cloud like a man's hand," that was rising heavily over the calm sky; he seems to have had an obscure presentiment of the near approach of death, little suspecting, perhaps, that that death was to be one of violence, of suffering, and of blood. He had, a few months before, lost his mother, and had himself accompanied her last remains to the monastery of Sviatogorsk, and had fixed upon a spot where he wished to be buried by her side; leaving for this purpose a sum of money in the treasury of the monastery.
It is, we believe, generally known, even in England, that Pushkin was mortally wounded in a duel, on Wednesday 27th January, and that he died, after lingering in excruciating torment during two days and nights, at half-past two in the afternoon of the 29th of January 1837.
Respecting the causes which led to this melancholy conclusion of a great man's life, and the details which accompanied that sad and deplorable event, it is not our intention to speak. Under any circumstances, to dwell upon so lamentable an affair would serve no good purpose; and would rather minister to a morbid curiosity in our readers, than in any respect illustrate the life and character of Pushkin; but the propriety of avoiding more than an allusion to this sad story will be evident, when we reflect that the poet's dying wish was, that the whole circumstance should if possible be buried in oblivion. Respect, then, to the last desire of a dying man! Respect to the prayer of great genius, whose lips, when quivering in the last agony, murmured the generous words, "Pardon, and Forget!"
The foregoing brief notice is presented to the English reader less in the character of a complete biography of Pushkin, (a character to which it has evidently no pretensions,) than as a kind of necessary introduction to the translated specimens of his poetry, which it is intended to accompany. For a perfect biography, indeed, of the poet, the materials, even in Russia, are not yet assembled; nor, perhaps, has a sufficient period of time been suffered to elapse since his death, to render it possible to attempt a life of Pushkin, with any hope of preserving that distance and proportion, which is necessary for the successful execution of a portrait, whether traced with the pencil or the pen. The artist may be too near to his original in time as well as in space.
The general accuracy of the preceding pages may be depended on; the materials were obtained from various sources, but principally from two persons who were both acquainted—one intimately so—with Pushkin. We should be indeed ungrateful, were we to let pass the present opportunity afforded us, of expressing our deep obligations to both those gentlemen for the assistance they have given us; and we cannot deny ourselves the gratification of publicly and particularly thanking M. Pletnieff, rector of the Imperial University of St Petersburg, not only for the kind manner in which he facilitated the composition of these pages, by supplying us with a copy of his own elegant and spirited critical sketch of Pushkin's works and character (a short but masterly article, reprinted from the "Sovremennik," or Contemporary, a literary journal of which M. Pletnieff is the editor,) but for the many delightful and intellectual hours which we have passed in his society.
THOMAS B. SHAW.
St Petersburg, February 5th/17th, 1845.
THE LAST HOURS OF PUSHKIN.
LETTER FROM JUKOVSKII TO SERGEI PUSHKIN, THE POET'S FATHER.
February 15th/27th, 1837.
I have not till now succeeded in mustering up the courage to write to you, my poor friend, Sergei Lvovitch. What could I say to you, overwhelmed as I am by the national calamity which has just fallen upon us all, like an avalanche, and crushed us beneath its ruin? Our Pushkin is no more! This terrible fact is unhappily true, but nevertheless it still appears almost incredible. The thought, that he is gone, cannot yet enter into the order of common, evident, every-day ideas; one still continues, by mechanical habit as it were, to seek him; it still seems so natural to expect to see him at certain hours; still amid our conversations seems to resound his voice, still seems to ring his lively childlike laugh of gaiety; and there, where he was wont to be seen in daily life, there nothing is changed, there are hardly even any marks of the melancholy loss we have undergone—all is in its common order, every thing is in its place; but he is gone from us, and for ever. It is hardly conceivable! In one moment has perished that strong and mighty life, full of genius, and glowing with hope. I will not speak of you, his feeble and unhappy father; I will not speak of us, his mourning friends. Russia has lost her beloved, her national poet. She has lost him at the very moment when his powers had reached their maturity, lost him when he had reached that climacteric—that point at which our intellect, bidding farewell to the fervid, and sometimes irregular force of youth agitated by genius, devotes itself to more tranquil, more orderly powers of riper manhood, fresh as the first period, and if less tempestuous, yet certainly more creative. What Russian is there who does not feel as if the death of Pushkin had torn away one of his very heart-strings? The glory of the present reign has lost its poet—a poet who belonged to it, as Derjavin belonged to the glory of Catharine, or Karamzin to that of Alexander.
The first terrible moments of agony and bereavement are over for you; you can now listen to me and weep. I will describe to you every detail of your son's last hours—details which I either saw myself, or which were related to me by other eyewitnesses. On Wednesday the 27th January/8th February, at ten o'clock in the evening, I called at the house of the Prince Viazemskii, where I was told that both he and the princess were at Pushkin's, and Valueff, to whom I afterwards went, addressed me on my entrance with the words:—"Have you not received the Princess's note? They have sent for you long ago; hurry off to Pushkin's: he is dying." Thunderstruck with this news, I rushed down-stairs. I galloped off to Pushkin's. In his antechamber, before the door of his study, I found Drs Arendt and Spasskii, Prince Viazemskii and Prince Mestcherskii. To the question, "How is he?"—Arendt answered me, "He is very bad; he will infallibly die." The following was the account they gave me of what had happened: At six o'clock, after dinner, Pushkin had been brought home in the same desperate condition by Lieutenant-Colonel Danzas, his schoolfellow at the Lyceum. A footman had taken him out of the carriage, and carried him in his arms up-stairs. "Does it hurt you to carry me?" asked Pushkin of the man. They carried him into his study; he himself told them to give him clean linen; he changed his dress, and lay down on a sofa. At the moment when they were helping him to lie down, his wife, who knew nothing of what had happened, was about to come into the room; but he cried out in a loud tone—"N'entrez pas; il y a du monde chez moi." He was afraid of frightening her. His wife, however, had already entered by the time that he was laid down completely dressed. They sent for the doctors. Arendt was not at home, but Scholtz and Zadler came. Pushkin ordered everybody to leave the room, (at this moment Danzas and Pletnieff were with him.) "I am very bad," he said, as he shook hands with Scholtz. They examined his wound, and Zadler went away to fetch the needful instruments. Left alone with Scholtz, Pushkin enquired, "What do you think of my state—speak plainly?" "I cannot conceal from you the fact, that you are in danger." "Say rather, I am dying." "I hold it my duty not to conceal from you that such is the case. But we will hear the opinion of Arendt and Salomon, who are sent for." "Je vous remercie, vous avez agi en honnete homme envers moi," said Pushkin. Then, after a moment's silence, he rubbed his forehead with his hand, and added, "Il faut que j'arrange ma maison." "Would you not like to see any of your relations?" asked Scholtz. "Farewell, my friends!" cried Pushkin, turning his eyes towards his library. To whom he bade adieu in these words, whether it was to his living or his dead friends, I know not. After waiting a few moments, he asked, "Then do you think that I shall not live through the hour?" "Oh no! I merely supposed that it might be agreeable to you to see some of your friends—M. Pletnieff is here." "Yes, but I should like to see Jukovskii too. Give me some water, I feel sick." Scholtz felt his pulse, and found that the hand was cold, and the pulse weak and quick; he left the room for some drink, and they sent for me. I was not at home at this moment, and I know not how it happened, but none of their messengers ever reached me. In the meanwhile Zadler and Salomon arrived. Scholtz left the patient, who affectionately shook hands with him, but without speaking a single word. Soon after Arendt made his appearance. He was convinced at the first glance that there was not the slightest hope. They began to apply cold fomentations with ice to the patient's stomach, and to give cooling drinks; a treatment which soon produced the desired effect; he grew more tranquil. Before Arendt's departure, he said to him, "Beg the Emperor to pardon me." Arendt now departed, leaving him to the care of Spasskii, the family physician, who, during that whole night, never quitted the bedside. "I am very bad," said Pushkin, when Spasskii came into the room. Spasskii endeavoured to tranquillize him; but Pushkin waved his hand in a negative manner. From this moment he seemed to have ceased to entertain any anxiety about himself; and all his thoughts were now turned towards his wife. "Do not give my wife any useless hope;" he said to Spasskii; "do not conceal from her what is the matter, she is no pretender to sentiment; you know her well. As for me, do as you please with me; I consent to every thing, and I am ready for every thing." At this moment were already assembled the Princess Viazemskii, the Prince, Turgenieff, the Count Vielhorskii, and myself. The princess was with the poor wife, whose condition it is impossible to describe. She from time to time stole, like a ghost, into the room where lay her dying husband; he could not see her, (he was lying on a sofa, with his face turned from the window and the door;) but every time that she entered, or even stopped at the door, he felt her presence. "My wife is here—is she not?" he said. "Take her away." He was afraid to admit her, because he did not wish her to perceive the sufferings which he overmastered with astonishing courage. "What is my wife doing?" he once enquired of Spasskii. "Poor thing! she suffers innocently. The world will tear her to pieces." In general, from the beginning to the end of his sufferings, (except during two or three hours of the first night, when they exceeded all measure of human endurance,) he was astonishingly firm. "I have been in thirty battles," said Dr Arendt; "I have seen numbers of dying men; but I have very seldom seen any thing like this." And it is peculiarly remarkable that, during these last hours of his life, he seemed, as it were, to have become another person; the tempest, which a few hours back had agitated his soul with uncontrollable passion, was gone, and left not a trace behind; not a word, not a recollection of what had happened. On the previous day he had received an invitation to the funeral of Gretch's son. He remembered this amid his own sufferings. "If you see Gretch," said he to Spasskii, "give him my compliments, and say that I feel a heartfelt sympathy in his loss." He was asked, whether he did not desire to confess and take the sacrament. He willingly consented, and it was determined that the priest should be sent for in the morning. At midnight Dr Arendt returned. Whatever was the subject of the conversation, it was evident that what the dying man had heard from the physician tranquillized, consoled, and fortified him. Fulfilling a desire (of which he was already, aware) on the part of those who had expressed a touching anxiety respecting his eternal welfare, he confessed and took the holy sacrament. Down to five o'clock in the morning, there had not taken place the slightest change in his condition. But about five o'clock the pain in the abdomen became intolerable, and its force mastered the strength of his soul: he began to groan; they again sent for Arendt. At his arrival it was found necessary to administer a clyster; but it did no good, and only seemed to increase the patient's sufferings, which at length reached the highest pitch, and continued till seven o'clock in the morning. What would have been the feelings of his unhappy wife, if she had been able, during the space of these two eternal hours, to hear his groans? I am confident that her reason could not have borne this agonizing trial. But this is what happened: she was lying, in a state of complete exhaustion, in the drawing-room, close to the doors which were all that separated her from her husband's bed. At the first dreadful cry he uttered, the Princess Viazemskii, who was in the drawing-room with her, darted to her side, dreading that something might happen. But she still lay immovable, (although she had been speaking a moment before,) a heavy lethargic slumber had overcome her, and this slumber, as if purposely sent down in mercy from above, lasted till the very minute when the last groan rang on the other side of the door. But in this moment of most cruel agony, according to the account of Spasskii and Arendt, the dying man's firmness of soul was shown in all its force: when on the point of screaming out, he with violent effort merely groaned, fearing, as he said himself, that his wife might hear it, and that she might be frightened. At seven o'clock the pain grew milder. It is necessary to remark, that during all this time, and even to the end of his sufferings, his thoughts were perfectly rational, and his memory clear. Even at the beginning of the terrible attack of pain, he had called Spasskii to his bedside, ordered him to hand him a paper written with his own hand, and made him burn it. He then called in Danzas, and dictated to him a statement respecting a few debts which he had incurred. This task, however, only exhausted him, and afterwards he was unable to make any other dispositions. When, at the arrival of morning, his intolerable suffering ceased, he said to Spasskii, "My wife! call my wife!" This farewell moment I dare not attempt to describe to you. He then asked for his children; they were asleep; but they went for them, and brought them half asleep as they were. He bent his eyes in silence upon each of them, laid his hand on their heads, made a sign of the cross over them, and then, with a gesture of the hand, sent them away. "Who is there?" he enquired of Spasskii and Danzas. They named me and Viazemskii. "Call them in!" said he in a feeble voice. I entered, took the cold hand which he held out to me, kissed it. I could not speak; he waved his hand, I retired; but he called me back. "Tell the Emperor," he said, "that I am sorry to die; I would have been wholly his. Tell him that I wish him a long, long reign; that I wish him happiness in his son, happiness in his Russia." These words he spoke feebly, interruptedly, but distinctly. He then bade farewell to Viazemskii. At this moment arrived the Count Vielhorskii, and went into his room; and he was thus the last person who pressed his hand in life. It was evident that he was hastening to his last earthly account, and listening, as it were, for the footstep of approaching death. Feeling his own pulse, he said to Spasskii, "Death is coming." When Turgenieff went up to him, he looked at him twice very earnestly, squeezed his hand, seemed as though he desired to say something, but waved his hand, and uttered the word "Karamzin!" Mademoiselle Karamzin was not in the house; but they instantly sent for her, and she arrived almost immediately. Their interview only lasted a moment; but when Katerina Andreevna was about to leave the bedside, he called her and said, "Sign me with the cross," and then kissed her hand. In the mean time, a dose of opium which had been given eased him a little; and they began to apply to his stomach emollient fomentations instead of the cold effusions. This was a relief to the sufferer; and he began, without a word of resistance, to perform the prescriptions of the doctors, which he had previously refused obstinately to do, being terrified by the idea of prolonging his tortures, and ardently desiring death to terminate them. But he now became as obedient as a child; he himself applied the compresses to his stomach, and assisted those who were busied around him. In short, he was now apparently a great deal better. In this state he was found by Dr Dahl, who came to him at two o'clock. "I am in a bad way, my dear fellow," said Pushkin, with a smile, to Dahl. But Dahl, who actually entertained more hopes than the other physicians, answered him, "We all hope; so you must not despair either." "No," he cried; "I cannot live; I shall die. It seems that it must be so." At this moment, his pulse was fuller and steadier. A slight general fever began to show itself. They put on some leeches: the pulse grew more even, slower, and considerably lighter. "I caught," says Dahl, "like a drowning man at a straw. With a firm voice, I pronounced the word hope; and was about to deceive both myself and others." Pushkin, observing that Dahl was growing more sanguine, took him by the hand, and said—"There is nobody there?" "No one." "Dahl, tell me the truth, shall I die soon?" "We have hopes of you, Pushkin—really, we have hopes." "Well, thank you!" he replied. As far as it appears, he had only once flattered himself with the consolation of hope: neither before nor after this moment did he feel any trust in it. Almost the whole night (that is, of the 29th, during the whole of which Dahl sate by the bedside, and I, Viazemskii, and Vielhorskii, in the next room,) he held Dahl's hand. He often would take a spoonful of water, or little lump of ice, into his mouth, doing every thing himself: taking the tumbler from a shelf within reach, rubbing his temples with ice, applying himself the fomentations to his stomach, changing them himself, &c. He suffered less from pain than from an excessive feeling of depression. "Ah! what depression!" he several times exclaimed, throwing his hands backward above his head; "it makes my heart die within me!" He then begged them to lift him up, or to turn him on his side, or to arrange his pillow; and, without letting them finish to do so, would stop them generally with the words—"There! so, so—very well; so it is very well; well enough; now it is quite right;" or, "Stop—never mind—only pull my arm a little—so! now it is very well—excellent!"—(these are all his exact expressions.) "In general," says Dahl, "with respect to my treatment, he was as manageable and obedient as a child, and did every thing I wished." Once he inquired of Dahl, "Who is with my wife?" Dahl answered, "Many good people feel a sympathy with you; the drawing-room and the antechamber are full from morning to night." "Oh, thank you," he replied; "only go and tell my wife that all is going on well, thank God! or else they will talk all sorts of nonsense to her there, I suppose." Dahl did not deceive him. From the morning of the 28th, when the news that Pushkin was dying had flown through the whole town, his antechamber had been incessantly crowded with visitors; some enquiring after him by messengers, others—and people of all conditions, whether acquainted with him or not—coming themselves. The feeling of a national, an universal affliction, was never more touchingly expressed than by this proceeding. The number of visitors became at last so immense, that the entrance-door (which was close to the study where the dying man lay) was incessantly opening and shutting; this disturbed the sufferer, and we imagined the expedient of closing that door, by placing against it a chest from the hall, and instead of it opening another little door which led from the stair-case into the pantry, and partitioning off with screens the dining-room from the drawing-room, where his wife was. From this moment, the pantry was unceasingly thronged with people; none but acquaintances were admitted into the dining-room. On the faces of all these visitors was expressed a most heartfelt sympathy; very many of them wept. So strong a testimony of general affliction touched me deeply. In Russians, to whom is so dear their national glory, it was not to be wondered at; but the sympathy of foreigners was to me as gratifying as it was unlooked for. We were losing something of our own; was it wonderful that we should grieve? But what was it that could touch them so sensibly? It is not difficult to answer this. Genius is the property of all. In bowing down before genius all nations are brethren; and when it vanishes untimely from the earth, all will follow its departure with one brotherly lamentation. Pushkin, with respect to his genius, belonged not to Russia alone, but to all Europe; and it was therefore that many foreigners approached his door with feelings of personal sorrow, and mourned for our Pushkin as if he had been their own. But let me return to my recital. Though he sent Dahl to console his wife with hope, Pushkin himself did not entertain the slightest. Once he enquired, "What o'clock is it?" and on Dahl's informing him, he continued, in an interrupted voice, "Have I ... long ... to ... be tortured thus?... Pray ... haste!" This he repeated several times afterwards, "Will the end be soon?" and he always added, "Pray ... make haste!" In general, however, (after the torments of the first night, which lasted two hours,) he was astonishingly patient. When the pain and anguish overcame him, he made movements with his hands, or uttered at intervals a kind of stifled groan, but so that it was hardly audible "You must bear it, my dear fellow; there is nothing to be done," said Dahl to him; "but don't be ashamed of your pain; groan, it will ease you." "No," he replied, interruptedly; "no,... it is of no ... use to ... groan;... my wife ... will ... hear;... 'tis absurd ... that such a trifle ... should ... master me,... I will not."—I left him at five o'clock in the morning, and returned in a couple of hours. Having observed, that the night had been tolerably quiet, I went home with an impression almost of hope; but on my return I found I had deceived myself. Arendt assured me confidently that all was over, and that he could not live out the day. As he predicted, the pulse now grew weaker, and began to sink perceptibly; the hands began to be cold. He was lying with his eyes closed; it was only from time to time he raised his hand to take a piece of ice and rub his forehead with it. It had struck two o'clock in the afternoon, and Pushkin had only three quarters of an hour left to live. He opened his eyes, and asked for some cloud-berry water. When they brought it, he said in a distinct voice,—"Call my wife; let her feed me." She came, sank down on her knees by the head of the bed, and carried to his lips one, and afterwards another spoonful of the cloud-berries, and then pressed her cheek against his; Pushkin stroked her on the head, and said, "There, there, never mind; thank God, all is well; go." The tranquil expression of his face, and the firmness of his voice, deceived the poor wife; she left the room almost radiant with joy. "You see," she said to Dr Spasskii, "he will live; he will not die." But at this moment the last process of vitality had already begun. I stood together with Count Vielhorskii at the head of the bed; by the side stood Turgenieff. Dahl whispered to me, "He is going." But his thoughts were clear. It was only at intervals that a half-dosing forgetfulness overshadowed them; once he gave his hand to Dahl, and pressing it, said: "Now, lift me up—come—but higher, higher ... now, come along!" But awaking, he said, "I was dreaming, and I fancied that I was climbing with you up along these books and shelves! so high ... and my head began to turn." After pausing a little, he again, without unclosing his eyes, began to feel for Dahl's hand, and pulling it, said: "Now, let us go then, if you wish; but together." Dahl, at his request, took him under the arms, and raised him higher; and suddenly, as if awaking, he quickly opened his eyes, his face lighted up, and he said, "Life is finished!" Dahl, who had not distinctly heard the words, answered, "Yes, it is finished; we have turned you round." "Life is finished!" he repeated, distinctly and positively. "I can't breathe, I am stifling!" were his last words. I never once removed my eyes from him, and I remarked at this moment, that the movement of the breast, hitherto calm, became interrupted. It soon ceased altogether. I looked attentively; I waited for the last sigh, but I could not remark it. The stillness which reigned over his whole appearance appeared to me to be tranquillity; but he was now no more. We all kept silence around him. In a couple of minutes I asked, "How is he?" "He is dead!" answered Dahl. So calmly, so tranquilly had his soul departed. We long stood around him in silence, without stirring, not daring to disturb the mysteries of death, which were completed before us in all their touching holiness. When all had left the room, I sate down before him, and long alone I gazed upon his face. Never had I beheld upon that countenance any thing like that which was upon it in this first moment of death. His head was somewhat bent forward; the hands, which a few moments ago had exhibited a kind of convulsive movement, were calmly stretched, as if they had just fallen into an attitude of repose after some heavy labour. But that which was expressed in the face, I am not able to tell in words. It was to me something so new, and at the same time so familiar. This was not either sleep or repose; it was not the expression of intellect which was before so peculiar to the face; nor was it the poetic expression; no! some mighty, some wondrous thought was unfolded in it: something resembling vision, some full, complete, deeply-satisfying knowledge. Gazing upon it, I felt an irresistible desire to ask him, "What do you see, my friend?" And what would he have answered if he had been able for a moment to arise? There are moments in our life which fully deserve the epithet of great. At this moment, I may say, I beheld the face of death itself, divinely-mysterious; the face of death without a veil between. And what a seal was that she had stamped upon him, and how wondrously did she tell her secret and his own! I most solemnly assure you that I never beheld upon his face an expression of such deep, majestic, such triumphant thought. The expression had undoubtedly been latent in the face before; but it was only displayed in all its purity then, when all earthly things had vanished from his sight at the approach of death. Such was the end of our Pushkin. I will describe in a few words what followed. Most fortunately, I remembered, before it was too late, that it was necessary to take a cast of the mask; this was executed without loss of time. His features had not yet entirely changed. It cannot be denied that the first expression which death had given them, was not preserved in them; but we now all possess an attractive portrait, a fac-simile of the features, and which images—not death, but a deep, majestic slumber. I will not relate to you the state in which was the poor wife—many good friends remained inseparably with her, the Princess Viazemskii, Elizabeth Zaguajskii, the Count and Countess Stroganoff. The Count took upon himself all the arrangements for the funeral. After remaining some time longer in the house, I went away to Vielhorskii's to dinner; there were assembled all the other persons who, like myself, had seen Pushkin's last moments; and he himself had been invited, three days before, to this dinner ... it was to celebrate my birth-day. On the following morning we, his friends, with our own hands, laid Pushkin in the coffin; and on the evening of the succeeding day, we transported him to the Koninshennaia (the Imperial Stables) Church. And during the whole of these two days, the drawing-room where he lay in his coffin was incessantly full of people. It nay be safely asserted that more than ten thousand persons visited it, in order to obtain one look at him: many were in tears, others stood long immoveable, and seemed as though they wished to behold his face; there was something inexpressibly striking in his immobility amid all this movement, and something mysteriously touching in the prayer which was heard so gently and so uniformly murmured amid that confused murmur of whispered conversation. The funeral service was performed on the 1st of February. Many of our greatest nobles, and many of the foreign ministers, were in the church. We carried the coffin with our own hands to the vault, where it was to remain until the moment of its being taken out of the city. On the 3d of February, at ten o'clock in the evening, we assembled for the last time around all that remained to us of Pushkin; the last requiem was sung; the case which contained the coffin was placed upon a sledge; at midnight the sledge set off; by the light of the moon I followed it for some moments with my eyes; it soon turned the corner of a house; and all that once was Pushkin was lost for ever from my sight.
The body was accompanied by Turgenieff. Pushkin had more than once said to his wife, that he desired to be buried in the monastery of the Assumption at Sviatogorsk, where his mother had recently been interred. This monastery is situated in the government (province) of Pskoff; and in the riding of Opotchkoff, at about four versts from the country-house and hamlet of Mikhailovskoe, where Pushkin passed several years of his poetic life. On the 4th, at nine o'clock in the evening, the corpse arrived at Pskoff, from whence, conformably to the excellent arrangements made by the provincial government, it was forwarded on the same night, and the morning of the 5th, through the town of Ostroff to the Sviatogorsk monastery, where it arrived as early as seven o'clock in the evening. The dead man glided to his last abode, past his own deserted cottage, past the three beloved firs which he had planted not long before. The body was placed upon the holy hill (sviataia gora, from which the monastery takes its name,) in the cathedral church of the Assumption, and a requiem was performed in the evening. All night long workmen were employed in digging a grave beside the spot where his mother reposes. On the following day, as soon as it was light, at the conclusion of divine service, the last requiem was chanted, and the coffin was lowered into the grave, in the presence of Turgenieff and the peasants of Pushkin's estate, who had come from the village of Mikhailovskoe to pay the last honour to their kind landlord. Very strangely to the ears of the bystanders sounded the words of the Bible, accompanying the handful of earth as it was cast upon Pushkin—"earth thou art!"