I am fated to journey hand in hand with my strange heroes and to survey the surging immensity of life, to survey it through the laughter that all can see and through the tears unseen and unknown by anyone.
Like all of us sinners, General Betrishchev was endowed with many virtues and many defects. Both the one and the other were scattered through him in a sort of picturesque disorder. Self-sacrifice, magnanimity in decisive moments, courage, intelligence--and with all that, a generous mixture of self-love, ambition, vanity, petty personal ticklishness, and a good many of those things which a man simply cannot do without.
Happy the writer who, passing by characters that are boring, disgusting, shocking in their mournful reality, approaches characters that manifest the lofty dignity of man, who from the great pool of daily whirling images has chosen only the rare exceptions, who has never once betrayed the exalted turning of his lyre, nor descended from his height to his poor, insignificant brethren, and, without touching the ground, has given the whole of himself to his elevated images so far removed from it. Twice enviable is his beautiful lot: he is among them as in his own family; and meanwhile his fame spreads loud and far. With entrancing smoke he has clouded people's eyes; he has flattered them wondrously, concealing what is mournful in life, showing them a beautiful man. Everything rushes after him, applauding, and flies off following his triumphal chariot. Great world poet they name him, soaring high above all other geniuses in the world, as the eagle soars above the other high fliers. At the mere mention of his name, young ardent hearts are filled with trembling, responsive tears shine in all eyes...No one equals him in power--he is God! But such is not the lot, and other is the destiny of the writer who has dared to call forth all that is before our eyes every moment and which our indifferent eyes do not see--all the stupendous mire of trivia in which our life in entangled, the whole depth of cold, fragmented, everyday characters that swarm over our often bitter and boring earthly path, and with the firm strength of his implacable chisel dares to present them roundly and vividly before the eyes of all people! It is not for him to win people's applause, not for him to behold the grateful tears and unanimous rapture of the souls he has stirred; no sixteen-year-old girl will come flying to meet him with her head in a whirl and heroic enthusiasm; it is not for him to forget himself in the sweet enchantment of sounds he himself has evoked; it is not for him, finally, to escape contemporary judgment, hypocritically callous contemporary judgment, which will call insignificant and mean the creations he has fostered, will allot him a contemptible corner in the ranks of writers who insult mankind, will ascribe to him the quality of the heroes he has portrayed, will deny him heart, and soul, and the divine flame of talent. For contemporary judgment does not recognize that equally wondrous are the glasses that observe the sun and those that look at the movement of inconspicuous insect; for contemporary judgment does not recognize that much depth of soul is needed to light up the picture drawn from contemptible life and elevate it into a pearl of creation; for contemporary judgment does not recognize that lofty ecstatic laughter is worthy to stand beside the lofty lyrical impulse, and that a whole abyss separates it from the antics of the street-fair clown! This contemporary judgment does not recognize; and will turn it all into a reproach and abuse of the unrecognized writer; with no sharing, no response, no sympathy, like a familyless wayfarer, he will be left alone in the middle of the road. Grim is his path, and bitterly he will feel his solitude.
I must confess that I do not understand why things are so arranged, that women seize us by the nose as deftly as they do the handle of a teapot: either their hands are so constructed, or else our noses are good for nothing else.
I've long suspected dogs of being much smarter than people; I was even certain they could speak, but there was only some kind of stubbornness in them. They're extraordinary politicians: they notice every human step.
Do we ever get what we really want? Do we ever achieve what our powers have ostensibly equipped us for? No: everything works by contraries.
But there is nothing enduring in the world, and therefore even joy in the second minute is already not as acute as in the first; in the third minute it becomes still weaker and finally merges unnoticeably with the usual condition of the soul, as a circle on the water, caused by the fall of a pebble, finally merges with the smooth surface.
He was no stranger to compassion: his heart was open to many good impulses, though his rank often prevented their manifestation.
Ah,steeds,steeds,what is steeds! Has the whirlwind a home in your manes? Is there a sensitive ear, alert as a flame, in your every fiber? Hearing the familiar song from above, all in one accord you strain your bronze chests and, hooves barely touching the ground, turn into straight lines cleaving the air, and all inspired by God it rushes on!
That same moment he ordered the hateful portrait taken out. But that did not calm his inner agitation: all his feelings and all his being were shaken to their depths, and he came to know that terrible torment which, by way of a striking exception, sometimes occurs in nature, when a weak talent strains to show itself on too grand a scale and fails; that torment which gives birth to great things in a youth, but, in passing beyond the border of dream, turns into a fruitless yearning; that dreadful torment which makes a man capable of terrible evildoing.
April 43rd 2000Today is the day of great triumph. There is a king of Spain. He has been found at last. That king is me. I only discovered this today. Frankly, it all came to me in a flash.
The human feelings, which had never been very deep in him, grew shallower every hour, and every day something more dropped away from the decrepit wreck.
This gentleman evidently belonged to the category of those people who wish the Government to interfere in everything, even in their daily quarrels with their wives.
Beauty works perfect miracles. All inner shortcomings in a beauty, instead of causing repugnance, become somehow extraordinarily attractive; vice itself breathes comeliness in them; but if it were to disappear, then a woman would have to be twenty times more intelligent than a man in order to inspire, if not love, at least respect.
Itdoes not need much wisdom to utter words of reproof; but much wisdomis needed to find such words as do not embitter a man's misfortune, butencourage him, restore to him his spirit, put spurs to the horse of hissoul, refreshed by water.
Watch out, brother,' his professor had told him more than once, 'you have talent; it would be a sin to ruin it. But you're impatient. Some one thing entices you, some one thing takes your fancy––and you occupy yourself with it, and the rest can rot, you don't care about it, you don't even want to look at it. Watch out you don't turn into a fashionable painter. Even now your colors are beginning to cry a bit too loudly. Your drawing is imprecise, and sometimes quite weak, the line doesn't show; you go for fashionable lighting, which strikes the eye at once. Watch out or you'll fall into the English type. Beware. You already feel drawn to the world: every so often I see a showy scarf on your neck, a glossy hat ... It's enticing, you can start painting fashionable pictures, little portraits for money. But that doesn't develop talent, it ruins it. Be patient. Ponder over every work, drop showiness––let the others make money. You won't come out the loser.
Here you will meet singular side-whiskers, tucked with extraordinary and amazing art under the necktie, velvety whiskers, satiny whiskers, black as sable or coal, but, alas, belonging only to the foreign office. Providence has denied black side-whiskers to those serving in other departments; they, however great the unpleasantness, must wear red ones. Here you will meet wondrous mustaches, which no pen or brush is able to portray; mustaches to which the better part of a lifetime is devoted––object of long vigils by day and by night; mustaches on which exquisite perfumes and scents have been poured, and which have been anointed with all the most rare and precious sorts of pomades, mustaches which are wrapped overnight in fine vellum, mustaches which are subject to the most touching affection of their possessors and are the envy of passers-by. A thousand kinds of hats, dresses, shawls––gay-colored, ethereal, for which their owners' affection sometimes lasts a whole two days––will bedazzle anyone on Nevsky Prospect.
He disregarded everything, he gave everything to art. He tirelessly visited galleries, spent whole hours standing before the works of great masters, grasped and pursued a wondrous brush. He never finished anything without testing himself several times by these great teachers and reading wordless but eloquent advice for himself in their paintings.
His whole being, his whole life was awakened in one instant, as if youth returned to him, as if the extinguished sparks of talent blazed up again. The blindfold suddenly fell from his eyes. God! to ruin the best years of his youth so mercilessly; to destroy, to extinguish the spark of fire that had perhaps flickered in his breast, that perhaps would have developed by now into greatness and beauty, that perhaps would also have elicited tears of amazement and gratitude!
Tomorrow at seven o'clock a strange phenomenon will occur: the earth is going to sit on the moon. This has also been written about by the noted English chemist Wellington. I confess, I felt troubled at heart when I pictured to myself the extraordinary delicacy and fragility of the moon. For the moon is usually made in Hamburg, and made quite poorly. I'm surprised England doesn't pay attention to this. It's made by a lame cooper, and one can see that the fool understands nothing about the moon. He used tarred rope and a quantity of cheap olive oil, and that's why there's a terrible stench all over the earth, so that you have to hold your nose. And that's why the moon itself is such a delicate sphere that people can't live on it, and now only noses live there. And for the same reason, we can't see our own noses, for they're all in the moon.
To what nadir of paltriness , pettiness, and squalor a man can sink! How could he change so! But is this really true to life? ---It is, it's all true to life, for anything can happen to a man. Your ardent youth of today would recoil in horror if you were to show him his own portrait as an old man. Once you set off on life's journey, once you take your leave of those gentle years of youth and enter the harsh, embittering years of manhood, remember to keep with you all your human emotions, do not leave them by the wayside, for you will not pick them up again! Grim and terrible is the old age which awaits us, and nothing does it give in return! The grave itself is more merciful than old age, for at least on the gravestone you will find written the words: 'Here a man lies buried!' but in the cold, unfeeling features of inhuman old age you can read nothing.
This was no longer art: it even destroyed the harmony of the portrait itself. They were alive, they were human eyes! It seemed as if they had been cut out of a living man and set there. Here there was not that lofty pleasure which comes over the soul at the sight of an artist's work, however terrible its chosen subject; here there was some morbid, anguished feeling. 'What is it?' the artist asked himself involuntarily. 'It's nature all the same, its living nature––why, then, this strangely unpleasant feeling? Or else the slavish, literal imitation of nature is already a trespass and seems like a loud, discordant cry?
There are occasions when a woman, no matter how weak and impotent in character she may be in comparison with a man, will yet suddenly become not only harder than any man, but even harder than anything and everything in the world.
He never looks you straight in the eye; or if he does, it is somehow vaguely, indefinitely; he does not pierce you with the hawk's eye or the falcon's gaze of a cavalry officer. The reason for that is that he sees, at one and the same time, both your features and those of some plaster Hercules standing in his room, or else he imagines a painting of his own that he still means to produce. That is why his responses are often incoherent, not to the point, and the muddle of things in his head increases his timidity all the more.
He was already beginning, as always happens at a respectable age, to take a firm stand for Raphael and the old masters––not because he was fully convinced of their lofty merit, but so as to shove them in the faces of young artists.
...all this convinced him that he had come to one of those revolting havens where pathetic depravity makes its abode, born of tawdry education and the terrible populousness of the capital. One of those havens where man blasphemously crushes and derides all the pure and holy that adorns life, where woman, the beauty of the world, the crown of creation, turns into some strange, ambiguous being, where, along with purity of soul, she loses everything feminine and repulsively adopts all the mannerisms and insolence of a man, and ceases to be that weak, that beautiful being so different from us.
Everywhere across whatever sorrows of which our life is woven, some radiant joy will gaily flash past.