Obrazy na stronie

principle, and the egotist has the best of the argument every time. Though he is kinder to his women than to his men, he makes Natalie pour the freshness of her heart on so weak and cold a man as Roudine; Tania almost breaks her heart, and must have forever lost her confidence in Litvinoff ; Marianne loses her happiness, and the magazine-writers have been quarreling ever since over the question whether or not her honor was wrecked with the rest; and Liza, the noblest soul of all, goes into a convent, with a harrowing hint for the reader's future reflections at the close.

Can a man who pictures a world like this be a believer in Hegel's theory? He seems, rather, of the opinion of that melancholy poet who has the gods make man

Of fire and the falling of tears

And a measure of sliding sand
From under the feet of the years.


He weaves, and is clothed with derision;

He sows, and he shall not reap;
His life is a watch or a vision

Between a sleep and a sleep.

Yet this is a superficial view of the question. Hegel's theory demands only that an artist tell the truth. It is impossible to deny that continually in this world we see the wicked flourishing; and a good many of us have a wider experience than David, insomuch that we have seen the righteous forsaken and his seed begging bread, while on every hand we look on men who behold the good, and in their hearts love it, yet nevertheless follow the evil.

As much as we can see in the darkness is a certain indestructibleness of the Right, hinting at a final triumph.

Any writer who shows this hope cannot justly be called a pessimist. Tourguéneff shows the perplexity and sadness of life, but he shows something more.

His heroes are a feeble folk, generally. They are well-meaning young men, but the first solid temptation bowls down their principles like a row of nine-pins. Irene may be said to make a ten-strike with Litvinoff. So does that uncommonly disagreeable young woman in Spring Floods with the slightly tedious young man. In fact, so do most of the women of Tourguéneff with most of the men. Yet, weak and faulty and vacillating as these young persons are, they agree in one redeeming trait - they always have the grace to be ashamed of themselves. In most cases, also, they work themselves back to a steadfast loyalty to the state and the family. The wages of sin Tourguéneff gives always as death, mental and moral. Absolutely without sentiment, never making any moral comments, he lifts the curtain on successful guilt alone, and shows its nothingness.

Take, for instance, the case of Bazaroff, in “ Fathers and Sons.” Here is the typical Nihilist. He believes in nothing, not even the profession he has adopted.

His parents are a silly and pious old woman, one of the lesser nobility, and a garrulous old army surgeon, secretly superstitious, but affecting skepticism to please his son, and quoting the mild infidel lights of his youth, who, having stopped short of an absolute destruction of property and family, seem mere milk and water to the Nibilist.

These old people sacrifice everything for their son, and he repays them with contemptuous indifference.

He has for a friend a young land-owner, naturally a good fellow, whose father is devoted to him. Kirsanoff the elder lives with his brother on his estate. Bazaroff comes with his friend. The two young men and the two “ old ones," as Bazaroff calls them, discuss philosophy and life together.

Bazaroff does not disguise his scorn of the two “ old ones antiquated belief. With his brutal logic he cuts to pieces every faith they hold sacred, and laughs when Paul Kirsanoff loses his temper. In the evenings the two brothers vainly try to show there is anything in the world which a strong man ought to respect, while Bazaroff, aided by his disciple, young Kirsanoff, dismisses their weak arguments with a sneer. There is something pathetic in the picture of the two old men, after one of these futile battles, walking together across the lonely fields towards the setting sun. Wounded both in their pride and their affection, they try to console each other; bewildered, they struggle to find the clue out of the novel perplexities Bazaroff reveals. They repeat to each other the useless arguments they mean to try next evening; with a simplicity which has something touching, they praise each other's words; and all the while they feel pressing down on them the sense of a strange force of which the philosophy of their youth gives no account.

It is the tragedy of the surrender of the old to the new.

In this case very often Paul Kirsanoff is in the right, and Bazaroff is willfully wrong. The inevitable conclusion of his premises is the destruction of society, and he has the courage of his opinions. The professional moralist who has the tale adorn the moral would have

vindicated his opinions and made Kirsanoff triumph, or he would have introduced some logical champion worthy of Bazaroff's steel, and massacred Nihilism on the spot. But Kirsanoff is a soldier, while Bazaroff has been trained in dialectics, and in real life the logical champions are conspicuous by their absense. From first to last Bazaroff has the best of the argument, as a bully with a keen wit is apt to have. Yet, for all this, he is not to be envied. His creed has its own punishment tied to it. He meets a handsome widow, Anna Varovna. To Bazaroff, women are simply a man's amusement. He tries to amuse himself with Anna Varovna. His idle fancy turns into a passion which is too strong for him. Anna Varovna enjoys his bizarre speeches, but she hasn't the least intention of marrying him. Of his feeling for her, the least said the better; its very ignoble character sharpens his pain. He to be conquered by a thing he despises! He rages at himself; he half hates her; he insults poor young Kirsanoff, also in love with her, but content to adore and be wretched. He has stripped himself of the beliefs, the aspirations, the affections, the very ambitions, of other men; and when his pride in his own strength falls there is no refuge left. That hardening of the heart and narrowing of the life which egotism brings reveals itself, and is its own worst retribution. Bazaroff has nothing left but the home which he has neglected. He goes back, practices his profession (in which, of course, he has not a glimmer of faith), catches a typhus fever by his recklessness, and dies, finally, with the stubborn courage of a wild beast brought to bay. The last gleam of light on his life's utter failure is thrown in his consenting to submit to the rites of supreme unction, provided he has to say nothing. He cares so little for his principles that, rather than have a discussion with his father, he makes his death a bitter sarcasm on his life. And the best thing we know about him is a deathbed lie! Irony can go no further.

This same deliberate intention of letting facts speak for themselves, which is apparent in “ Fathers and Sons,” shows in all Tourguéneff's work. Let evil only talk long enough, and it will always cut the throat of its own defense. Never does he picture vice in alluring colors. He may have but a gloomy view of life, but he everywhere shows a faith in virtue. His belief in the family and the state is firm, if not exultant. Whether he believes in anything more personal than Arnold's “ power, not ourselves, which works for righteousness," I do not venture to guess. His belief in such a power seems to me plain.

But to pass from first impressions of his work to what, with many, must immediately follow — the recognition of the intense nationality of the writer. Tourguéneff, pessimist or optimist, is Russian to the last drop of his blood. He draws Russian life always. His heroes, however mistaken, are patriotic. Excepting only that class which he has etched in lines most deeply bitter, the foreign imitators among the aristocracy, every man with any manly fiber in him loves his country. Even poor, weak, cold Dimitri says, humbly, “Yet I meant to serve Russia." Litvinoff, Lavretsky, and the rest of those susceptible young men bind up their broken hearts with “ work for Russia.” Fancy a Boston or Chicago man gravely proposing to his sweetheart that they should “live for the United States."

When an American strikes a high moral key, he wishes to live “for the world.Yet a speech of this kind is the most natural of speeches for one of Tourguéneff's Russians to make.

As is usual, however, with our author, we can but guess at his beliefs from his disbeliefs. Two classes in Russia he has analyzed mercilessly — the nihilists who would openly destroy the State, and that class among the nobility of which the mild-mannered husband of Irene in "Smoke" — with his tragic background of two peasants flogged to death may serve as a type, the class which is content to cover the Tartar barbarism with a lacquer of Western polish, whose proudest boast is that they are never recognized as Russians.

All his novels, and many of his short stories, like “A Priest's Son” and “Mumu," deal with some peril menacing Russia.

“The Journal of a Sportsman” shows the volcano resting beneath society in the shape of a degraded serf caste. “Dimitri Roudine” pictures the danger which comes from encouraging mere speculation.

In this latter book, and in “ Liza,” is indicated a hope for Russia, the existence of a class answering partially to the gentry of England, men with education and land, anxious to develop the resources of their country. A still better hope is the family life, which such women as Liza and Tania (and I confess to a private weakness for Alexandra Paulovna) make possible.

“Fathers and Sons” and “ Virgin Soil” (“Nov” is the much more suggestive Russian title) both deal with the deadly peril with which communism menaces society. In “Smoke ” we have the other peril which threatens, that springing from the fatal indifference and corruption of the aristocracy.

A writer in The Nation, some weeks since, called attention very clearly to the injustice done Tourguéneff by the French translations

XII - 28

of this novel. Cutting out the descriptive portions of the book has blurred its meaning. Tourguéneff's work is like an etching — something is meant by every line, and not one can be omitted.

Irene is a figure in the middle distance; she stands in the shadow, mysterious, alluring, terrible. These translations drag her into the full light; they make her the central personage. She is, in reality, the natural result of the influences she has known. Seen without the explanation of her accessories, she seems incomplete and unsatisfactory. The book reads then like nothing but the victory of a bad woman over a weak man.

In the shorter stories — “On the Eve,” “The Anchar" (the gloomiest of Tourguéneff's stories), “The Lear of the Steppe," where the few touches of humor serve merely, like the white lights of a picture, to make the shadows blacker, “ The Priest's Son,” “Mumu,” "The Nobleman of the Steppe," "The Living Mummy," and the others this same concentrated, though undemonstrative, earnestness is apparent. Reading his works as a whole, it is easy to see that Tourguéneff has in them all one purpose his country! He may take too dark a view of the future, he may exaggerate dangers; but he tells the truth as he sees the truth. He lifts the torch of his wonderful art, and reveals to Russia the abyss before her feet. And since,

Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame,
Through its ocean-sundered fibers feels the gush of joy or shame;

In the gain or loss of one race, all the rest have equal claim,
We, too, gazing on Russia's danger, may learn our own.

And the spirit of the nineteenth century which has embodied itself in George Eliot, Goethe, and George Sand would lack something of expression without the open gloom and hidden hope of Tourguéneff.


DANTE'S PURGATORIO. In the July number of The Catholic World, Dr. T. W. Parsons continues his translation of the “Purgatorio” of Dante, this time rendering the Seventeenth Canto. Dr. Parsons translates and expounds the famous passage on Love, thus :

“Never Creator" ! (he began), “ my son,

Was without love; nor anything create;
Either love natural, or that nobler one

Born of the mind; thou knowest the truth I state.

1 In this passage Virgil explains to Dante the nature of love according to the mediæval philosophy, viz. : God is love — “Deus caritas est” —and so are all

« PoprzedniaDalej »