Dead Souls—A Poem/Book One/Chapter XI
Nothing happened however as Tchitchikov intended. To begin with, he woke later than he expected—that was the first mishap. As soon as he was up he sent to inquire whether the chaise had been packed and everything got ready; but they brought him word that the chaise had not been prepared and nothing was ready—that was the second mishap. He was very angry, and even made up his mind to give our friend Selifan something like a drubbing, and only waited with impatience to hear what explanation the latter would give to justify himself. Selifan soon made his appearance at the door, and Tchitchikov had the satisfaction of hearing from his lips the sayings usually heard from servants when one is in a hurry to set off.
'But the horses want shoeing, you know, Pavel Ivanovitch.'
'Oh you pig's face! you post! Why did you not speak about it before? Surely you had plenty of time, hadn't you?'
'Why yes, I had time. And then there's the wheel too, Pavel Ivanovitch, there ought to be new tyres for the road is all ups and downs, there are such ruts everywhere now. … And if you will allow me to say so, the front part of the chaise is very rickety, so that maybe it would hardly last beyond two posting stations.'
'You scoundrel!' cried Tchitchikov, flinging up his hands, and he went up to him so close that Selifan stepped back a little and ducked to one side, afraid he was going to get something from his master.
'Do you want to be the death of me, eh? Do you mean to bring me to my grave? Do you mean to murder me on the road, you ruffian, you damned pig's face, you sea monster, eh? Haven't you been doing nothing here for three weeks? If you had only dropped a hint, you senseless brute, but here you put it off till the last minute. When everything is almost ready for me to get in and set off, here you go and make a mess of it all, eh, eh? Didn't you know it before? You knew it, didn't you, didn't you? Answer. Did you know?'
'Yes, I did,' answered Selifan, looking down.
'Then why didn't you tell me, eh?'
To this question Selifan made no reply, but looking down seemed to be saying to himself: '’Pon my soul, it's a queer thing, I knew, but I didn't say anything.'
'Well, now go and get the blacksmiths, and have everything ready in two hours' time. Do you hear? In two hours' time without fail, and if it isn't, I'll … I'll twist you into a horn and tie you in a knot.'
Selifan was turning towards the door to retire and carry out these instructions, but he stopped and said: 'And another thing, sir, that dappled horse ought to be sold, for he is a regular rascal, Pavel Ivanovitch; please God I never see his like again, he is nothing but a hindrance.'
'So I am to go and run off to the market to sell him!'
'As God's above, Pavel Ivanovitch, to look at him he is a likely horse, but that's all, when it comes to work he is a sly brute; you'd never find another like him. …'
'You fool, when I want to sell him I'll sell him. Here you go maundering on about all sorts of things! I'll see to you; if you don't get the blacksmiths at once, and if everything is not ready in two hours from now, I'll give you such a dressing … you won't know whether you are on your head or your feet! Get along! Be off!' Selifan went out.
Tchitchikov felt thoroughly out of temper and threw down on the floor the sword that always travelled with him to inspire befitting terror wherever necessary. He was over a quarter of an hour bargaining with the blacksmiths before he could come to terms with them, for the blacksmiths, as usual, were arrant knaves, and seeing that the work was wanted in a hurry asked six times the proper price. Though he grew heated, called them swindlers and robbers who plundered travellers, and even referred to the Day of Judgment, he made no impression whatever on the blacksmiths, they stuck to their guns, not only refused to knock the price down but took five and a half hours over the work instead of two. During this time it was his pleasant lot to experience those agreeable moments, familiar to every traveller, when everything is packed and nothing but bits of string and paper and such rubbish is left lying about the room, when a man is neither on the road nor settled in one spot, when he looks out of window at the people passing up and down and talking of their gains and losses, and with a sort of vacant curiosity raising their eyes to stare at him and then going on their way, which further aggravates the ill humour of the poor traveller who cannot get off. Everything about him, everything he sees: the little shops opposite his windows and the head of the old woman opposite, as she goes up to the window with the short curtains—it is all distasteful to him, and yet he does not move away from the window. He stands there sometimes lost in oblivion, sometimes again paying a sort of dull attention to everything moving and unmoving about him, and in his vexation crushes a fly which buzzes and beats against the window-pane under his finger.
But there is an end to everything and the longed-for moment arrived, everything was ready, the front part of the chaise had been properly repaired, the wheels had new tyres, the horses had been brought back from the drinking place, and the rascally blacksmiths departed, counting over their roubles and wishing him a good journey. At last the chaise was packed and two fancy loaves, hot from the baker's, had been put in, and Selifan had stuffed something for himself in the pocket in the coachman's box, and finally, while the waiter in the same cotton shoddy coat waved his cap, while the assembled waiters from the restaurants and coachmen and other servants stood gaping at the departure of some one else's master, amid the various other circumstances attendant on departure, our hero got into his carriage, and the chaise—of the pattern favoured by bachelor gentlemen of the middling sort—which had so long been stationary in the town, and with which the reader is perhaps so bored, at last drove out of the gates of the hotel. 'Thank God,' thought Tchitchikov, and he crossed himself. Selifan cracked his whip, Petrushka after first hanging on for some time on the step, sat down beside him, and our hero settling himself more comfortably in his Georgian rug and flattening the two hot loaves together, thrust the leather pillow behind his back, and the chaise fell to jolting and hopping up and down again, thanks to the cobble-stones which had, as the reader knows, wonderful resilient properties. With a vague, undefined feeling he looked at the houses, the walls, the fences and the streets, which seeming to dance up and down too, gradually retreated, and which there was no knowing whether he was fated to see again in his life. At a turning in one of the streets the chaise had to pull up because an endless funeral procession was passing up the whole length of it. Tchitchikov, putting his head out, told Petrushka to inquire whose funeral it was, and learned that it was the prosecutor's. Overcome by an unpleasant feeling he hid himself in the corner, covered himself with the leather apron, and pulled the curtain over the window. While the chaise was held up, Selifan and Petrushka, devoutly taking off their hats, were looking to see who were driving or riding, and how and in or on what they were doing so, counting how many there were on foot and in carriages, and their master, bidding them not greet or recognise any of their acquaintances, began timidly looking too through the little pane in the leather curtain. All the officials walked bareheaded after the coffin. He began to be afraid that his carriage might be recognised, but no one noticed it. They were not even indulging in the trivial talk which is usually kept up by persons attending a funeral. At that moment all their thoughts were concentrated on themselves: they were wondering what the new governor-general would be like, how he would set to work and how he would take them. The officials who were walking were followed by carriages out of which peeped ladies in mourning caps. From the movements of their hands and their lips, it could be seen that they were engaged in eager conversation: possibly they, too, were discussing the arrival of the governor-general, and speculating about the balls he would give, and were busily chattering about their everlasting festoons and frills. Then the carriages were followed by a file of empty droshkys, and at last there was nothing left to come, so that our hero could drive on. Drawing back the leather curtain, he heaved a sigh, and exclaimed from his heart: 'So much for the prosecutor! He lived and lived and then he died! And now they will print in the newspapers that he has passed away to the grief of his subordinates and of all humanity, an honoured citizen, a devoted father, a faithful husband, and they will write all sorts of nonsense; they will very likely add that he was followed to the grave by the lamentations of widows and orphans; and yet if one goes into the facts of the case, it turns out on investigation that there was nothing special about you but your thick eyebrows.' Here he told Selifan to drive faster, while he thought to himself, 'Well, it is a good thing we met the funeral, they say meeting a funeral means happiness.'
Meanwhile the chaise had turned into more deserted streets, and soon wooden fences stretching each side of the road showed the end of the town was near. And now the cobbled road ceased and the barrier and the town were left behind and nothing remained, and they were on the high-road once more. Soon they saw again milestones, superintendents of posting stations, wells, strings of wagons, grey villages with samovars, with peasant women and a brisk bearded innkeeper, running out of his yard with oats in his arms, a wayfarer in frayed bark shoes who had wandered some six hundred miles, little towns run up in a hurry with wretched little wooden shops, flour barrels, bark shoes, fancy rolls and other such trifles, spotted barrier posts, patched-up bridges, interminable fields on both sides of the road, old-fashioned country gentlemen's coaches, a soldier on horseback, carrying a green box with grapeshot, with a label on it of some Artillery Battery, green, yellow, and freshly dug black strips of land flashing by on the steppe, a song chanted in the distance, the crests of pine-trees in the mist, the jingle of bells in the distance, crows as thick as flies, and a boundless horizon. Russia! Russia! I behold thee, from my lovely far-away paradise, I behold thee! It is poor, neglected and comfortless in thee, no insolent marvels of nature crowned by insolent marvels of art, no towns with many-windowed lofty palaces piled on precipitous heights, no picturesque trees, no ivy-clad houses in the roar and ever-lasting spray of waterfalls rejoice the eye or strike awe into the heart; the head is not turned to gaze at the rocks piled up on the heights above it; no everlasting lines of shining mountains rising into the silvery pure skies gleam in the distance through dark arches, scattered one upon the other in a tangle of vines, ivy and wild roses beyond number. In thee all is open, desolate, flat; thy lowly towns lie scattered like dots, like specks unseen among thy plains; there is nothing to allure or captivate the eye. But what mysterious inexplicable force draws one to thee? Why does the mournful song that floats all over the length and breadth of thee from sea to sea echo unceasingly in the ear? What is in it, in that song? What is it calls and sobs and clutches at my heart? What are these strains that so poignantly greet me, that go straight to my soul, that throb about my heart? Russia! what wouldst thou of me? What is the mysterious hidden bond between us? Why dost thou gaze at me thus, and why is everything within thee turning upon me eyes full of expectation? … And still full of perplexity I stand motionless; and already a threatening cloud, heavy with coming rain, looms above my head, and thought is numb before thy vast expanse. What does that immense expanse foretell? Is it not here, is it not in thee that limitless thought will arise, since thou art thyself without limit? … Is it not here there should be giants where there is space for them to develop and move freely. And thy mighty expanse enfolds me menacingly, with fearful force reflected in the depths of me; with supernatural power light dawns upon my eyes. … Ah, marvellous, radiant horizons of which the earth knows nothing! Russia!
'Steady, steady, you fool!' Tchitchikov shouted to Selifan.
'I'll hang you,' shouted a courier with moustaches a yard long, who was galloping towards them. 'Don't you see a government carriage, the devil flay your soul?' and the troika vanished amid dust and rattle.
How strange, alluring, stimulating and wonderful is the sound of the words 'on the road.' And how marvellous that road is! The sunny day, the autumn leaves, the cold air. … Wrapped more closely in one's winter coat, cap over ears, one huddles more snugly into the corner. For the last time a faint shiver passes through the limbs and is followed by a pleasant warmth. The horses race along … how seductively drowsiness steals over one and the eyelids close, and through sleep one hears, 'Not white were the snows,' and the breathing of the horses and the rumble of the wheels, and one snores, squeezing one's neighbour into the corner. One wakes—five stations are left behind; moonlight; an unfamiliar town; churches with old-fashioned wooden cupolas and blackened spires; dark log houses and white brick ones; patches of moonlight here and there like white linen handkerchiefs hung upon the walls, the pavements, the streets; slanting, coal black shadows intersect them; the wooden roofs shine like gleaming metal in the moonlight and not a soul to be seen, everything is asleep. At most one solitary light glimmers at a window: is it a workman mending his boots, or a baker busy with his oven?—what do they matter? And the night! … Heavenly powers! What a night is being enacted on high! And the air, and the sky, lofty, far away yonder, in its fathomless depths, stretching in all directions, so infinitely, so harmoniously, so radiantly! But the cold breath of the night blows fresh upon the eyes and lulls one to sleep, and one dozes, sinks into forgetfulness, and snores, and one's poor neighbour, squeezed into the corner, turns round angrily feeling a weight upon him. One wakes—and again, fields and plains before one; nothing to be seen, it is all deserted and open. A milestone with a number on it flies into sight; daybreak is near; on the cold whitening horizon there is a pale streak of gold; the wind grows colder and harsher: one pulls one's coat more closely round one! What delicious freshness! How delightful is the sleep that comes over one again! A jolt—and again one wakes. The sun is high up in the sky. 'Gently, gently!' cries a voice, the chaise is going down a steep place; below, a broad dam and a broad shining pond gleaming like copper in the sun; a village; huts scattered on the slope; the cross of the village church glittering like a star on one side; the chatter of peasants and the ravenous appetite for breakfast. … My God, how glorious at times is the long, long road! How often have I, drowning and perishing, clutched at thee, and always thou hast rescued and preserved me! And how many wonderful plans and poetical dreams hast thou brought forth, what glorious impressions have I experienced on the road. And indeed our friend Tchitchikov was indulging in reveries not altogether prosaic. Let us see what he was feeling. At first he felt nothing at all, and simply kept looking back as though to make sure that he really had got out of the town; but when he saw that the town had long been out of sight, that neither smithy nor mill nor any of the objects usual on the outskirts of a town were visible, and that even the white spires of the white churches had long since melted into the landscape, his attention was absorbed by nothing but the road, he kept looking to right and left, and it seemed as though the town of N. had passed out of his memory, as though he had passed through it long ago in his childhood. At last the road too ceased to occupy his mind, and he began to half-close his eyes and lean his head on the pillow. The author confesses that he is glad of the opportunity of talking a little about his hero, for hitherto he has always been hindered from doing so either by Nozdryov or by balls or by ladies, or by the scandal of the town, in short, by the thousand and one trivialities which only seem trivialities when they are brought into a book, while in the world they pass for very important matters. But now we will lay aside everything else and go straight to the point.
It is very doubtful whether the reader will like the hero we have selected. That he will not please the ladies one may say with certainty, for ladies insist on a hero's being absolute perfection, and if he has some tiny spiritual or physical blemish then—there's trouble! However deeply the author gazes into his soul, and though he may reflect it more clearly than a mirror, they will give him no credit for it. Tchitchikov's very stoutness and middle age will do him great damage in their eyes: they will never forgive stoutness in a hero under any circumstances, and very many ladies will turn away, saying, Fie! what a horrid man! Alas! the author is very well aware of all this, and yet he cannot take a virtuous man for his hero. But … perhaps in this very novel some chords hitherto unstruck may be discerned, the infinite wealth of the Russian soul may be set forth, a man endowed with divine qualities, or a wonderful Russian maiden, such as cannot be found elsewhere in the world, with the marvellous beauty of a woman's soul made up of generous impulse and self-sacrifice, may emerge. And all the virtuous people of other races will seem dead beside them as a book is dead beside the living word! Russian emotions will arise. They will see how deeply what has only glided through the nature of other peoples has taken root in the nature of the Russians. … But what use or reason is there to speak of what is in the future? It is unseemly for the author, a man of full age, disciplined by a harsh inner life and the invigorating sobriety of solitude to forget himself like a boy. There is a fitting time and place for everything! But all the same I have not taken a virtuous man for my hero. And I may even say why I have not. Because it is high time at last to let the poor virtuous man rest; because the phrase 'virtuous man' is too often taken in vain; because they have made a regular hack of the virtuous man and there is not a writer who has not ridden him to death, lashing him on with whip or anything that comes to hand; because they have so overdone the virtuous man that there is not a shadow of virtue left about him, and he is nothing but skin and bone; because it is through hypocrisy they invoke the virtuous man; because the virtuous man is not respected. No, the time has come at last to trot out the rascal! And so let us trot out the rascal!
Our hero's origin was humble and obscure. His parents were of the nobility, but whether by birth or by merit—God only knows. He did not resemble them in face. Anyway, a female relation who was present at his birth, a short little woman, one of those intrusive fussy people commonly called 'lapwings,' cried out as she took the baby in her arms: 'He is not a bit what I expected! He ought to have been like his granny on his mother's side, that would have been the best, but he reminds me of the saying: not like father nor like mother, but like a passing stranger.' Life looked at him at first with sour inhospitality as through a dim snow-darkened window; he had no friend, no comrade in his childhood! A tiny room with tiny windows, never opened, summer or winter; his father, an invalid in a long lambswool-lined coat, with slippers on his bare feet, for ever sighing and wandering about the room and spitting into a spittoon full of sand in a corner; the boy, everlastingly sitting on a bench with a pen in his hand, ink on his fingers and even on his lips; the everlasting copy before his eyes, 'Speak the truth, be obedient to your elders, and cherish virtue in your heart'; with the everlasting flap and shuffle of the slippers about the room, the familiar always harsh voice calling out, 'In mischief again,' when the child, weary with the monotony of his work, drew some flourish or tail on a letter; and everlastingly the familiar and always unpleasant sensation when these words were followed by his ears being very painfully wrung in the long clawing fingers behind him: such is the pitiful picture of the early childhood of which he retained scarcely a faint memory. But in life everything changes rapidly, and one day with the first sunshine and rushing floods of spring, the father, taking his son with him, drove out in a little cart, drawn by a piebald nag with a white mouth, of the kind known among horse-dealers as magpies. She was driven by a little hunchback who performed almost all the duties in the house, and was the progenitor of the only family of serfs owned by Tchitchikov's father. With the magpie they were driving for over a day and a half; they stayed a night on the road, crossed a river, lunched on cold pie and roast mutton, and only reached the town on the morning of the third day. The streets of the town dazzled the boy with their unexpected splendour and made him gape with wonder. Then the magpie lurched with the cart into a big hole at the entrance of a narrow lane which ran downhill and was thick with mud. There she was a long time struggling her utmost and working her legs, urged on by the hunchback and the master himself, and at last she dragged them into a little yard standing on the slope of the hill, with two apple-trees in flower in front of the little old house, and with a humble little garden behind it, consisting of nothing but mountain ashes and elder-trees with a wooden summer-house hidden in its recesses, covered with trellis and with a narrow opaque window. Here there lived a relation, a decrepit old woman who still went to market every morning, and dried her stockings on the samovar afterwards. She patted the boy on his cheeks and admired his plumpness. Here he was to remain and to go every day to the town school. After staying the night, his father set off again next morning. At the parting no tears fell from the father's eyes; half a rouble in copper was given the boy for pocket money and to buy sweets, and what was far more important, a judicious admonition: 'Mind now, Pavlushka: be diligent with your lessons, don't play the fool or get into mischief, and above all, satisfy your teachers and superiors. If you please your chief you'll get on and be ahead of all the rest, even if you don't do well in your lessons and God has given you no talent. Don't keep company with your schoolfellows, they'll teach you no good; but if you have to, keep company with those who are better off, who may be of use to you. Don't treat any one or offer any one anything, but manage so that you may be treated, and, what is most important of all, take care of your kopecks and save them up: money's the most reliable thing on earth. A schoolfellow or a friend will cheat you and be the first to fail you in trouble, but your kopeck won't fail you whatever trouble you are in. You can do anything and smash anything in the world with a kopeck.' After giving his son this advice, the father parted from him and was dragged home again by the magpie, and he never saw the boy again; but his words and his admonition sank deeply into Pavlushka's heart.
Next day he began going to school. He did not manifest any marked ability for any branch of study, he was more distinguished by diligence and neatness; on the other hand, he displayed a remarkable ability in another direction—in a practical direction. He instantly took in the situation and succeeded in behaving with his schoolfellows in such a way that they treated him, while he never treated them, and, indeed, sometimes concealed what they had given him and sold it to the very same boys afterwards. Even as a child, he was capable of denying himself anything. Of the half rouble his father had given him he did not spend a kopeck; on the contrary, that same year he added something to it, displaying a resourcefulness almost extraordinary; he moulded a goldfinch in wax and sold it very profitably. And after that he indulged for some time in other speculations, for instance, buying edibles of some sort in the market, he would sit down in class beside boys who were rather well off, and as soon as he noticed his companion showing signs of flagging, always a symptom of approaching hunger, he showed him under the bench as if by accident, the corner of a biscuit or a bun, and after tantalising him with it extorted a sum proportionate to his appetite. For two months he was unwearying in his attentions to a mouse which he kept in a little wooden cage, and succeeded at last in getting the mouse to stand on its hind legs, to lie down and get up at the word of command, and then sold it, also very profitably. When he had saved up five roubles he made a little bag for them and began saving up in a second one. He was even more discreet in his demeanour towards his teachers. No one could sit so quietly on a bench. It must be observed that the teacher made a great point of quietness and good conduct, and could not endure clever or witty boys. He fancied that they must be laughing at him. If one who had come under observation for display of wit merely stirred in his seat or twitched an eyebrow at the wrong moment, he would incur the teacher's displeasure at once. The latter would turn him out and punish him without mercy. 'I'll knock the conceit and disobedience out of you, my lad!' he said. 'I know you through and through as you don't know yourself. I'll make you go down on your knees to me! I'll let you go hungry!' And the poor boy wore out his knees and went hungry for days together without knowing what for. 'Cleverness and talent are all nonsense,' he used to say; 'all I look at is conduct. I would give full marks on every subject to a boy who did not know his A B C if he behaved himself properly. And if I see a boy showing a bad spirit or turning things into ridicule, I'd give him a nought, even if he were wiser than Solon.' So said the teacher, who had a mortal hatred for Krylov because he said, 'Better a drunkard who understands his job than a sober man who doesn't,' and who always described with gratification in his face and in his voice, how the stillness in the school in which he used to teach was so great that they could hear a fly move, and that in the course of a whole year not one single pupil coughed or blew his nose in class, and that until the bell rang one could not have told whether there was any one in the room or not. Tchitchikov instantly perceived the master's spirit and saw what good conduct meant. He never blinked an eye or twitched an eyebrow in class, however much the others might pinch him from behind; as soon as the bell rang, he dashed to fetch the master his three-cornered hat (the teacher always wore one); after handing him his hat he was the first to run out of the schoolroom and tried to meet him two or three times on the road, always taking off his hat when he did so. This strategy was completely successful. All the while he was at school he was in high favour, and on leaving received a full class certificate in all branches, a diploma and a book with the inscription, 'For exemplary diligence and excellent conduct,' in gold letters. When he left school he was a youth of rather attractive appearance, with a chin that already needed shaving. It was then that his father died.
His inheritance turned out to be four hopelessly worn-out vests, two old coats lined with lambswool, and a trifling sum of money. The father was evidently only competent to advise saving money, but had himself saved very little. Tchitchikov instantly sold the dilapidated homestead with its wretched little bit of land for a thousand roubles, and took his family of serfs to the town, purposing to settle there and go into the service. It was about this time that the poor teacher who so prized quietness and good conduct was dismissed for stupidity, or some other failing. The teacher began to drown his sorrows in drink, but at last he had nothing left to buy drink with; ill, helpless, without a crust of bread, he took refuge in some unheated, abandoned shed. Some of his former pupils, clever and witty ones whom he had always suspected of disobedience and impudent behaviour, hearing of his pitiful plight, got up a subscription for his benefit, even selling many things they needed to do so; only one, Pavlushka Tchitchikov, refused on the ground of lack of means, and only offered a five-kopeck piece, which his schoolfellows at once flung back at him, saying: 'Ough, you screw!' The poor teacher hid his face in his hands, when he heard what his old pupils had done, tears gushed from his faded eyes, as though he were a helpless child. 'The Lord has made me weep on the brink of the grave,' he murmured in a feeble voice; and he heaved a bitter sigh when he heard about Tchitchikov, adding: 'Ah, Pavlushka! how people change! Why, what a well-behaved boy he was! Nothing unruly in him—as soft as silk! I have been deceived in him, dreadfully deceived. …'
It cannot be said, however, that our hero was naturally hard and callous, or that his feelings were so blunted that he knew neither pity nor compassion. He was capable of feeling both; he would even have liked to help so long as no considerable sum was involved, so long as he had not to touch the money which he had determined not to touch; in short his father's admonition, 'Be careful and save money,' was bearing fruit, but he had no great love of money for its own sake: he was not governed by meanness and miserliness. No, those were not the motives that actuated him; he had a vision of a future of ease and comfort with enough of everything; carriages, a well-built house, good dinners—these were the ideals continually floating in his mind. It was to make sure of enjoying all this some day in the future, that the kopecks were saved, and for the time stingily denied to himself and to others. When a rich man dashed by him in a light elegant droshky drawn by richly-harnessed trotting horses, he would stand still as though rooted to the spot, and then as though waking from a long sleep, would say: 'Why, he was a counting-house clerk and wore his hair cut like a peasant's!' And everything suggestive of wealth and prosperity made an impression upon him that he could not himself explain. On leaving school he did not want to take a holiday, so strong was his desire to set to work at once and get into the service. In spite, however, of his high testimonials, it was with great difficulty that he succeeded in getting a berth in the Palace of Justice; even in the remotest corners powerful patronage is just as necessary! The job he obtained was a wretched one, the salary a miserable thirty or forty roubles a year. But he resolved to set to work zealously, to conquer and overcome all difficulties. And, indeed, he displayed incredible self-sacrifice, patience and self-denial. From early morning till late in the evening, without flagging spiritually or physically, he was up to the ears in official papers. He did not go home, but slept at the office on the tables, had dinner sometimes with the porters, and with all that, succeeded in preserving his neat exterior, in dressing decently, in retaining an agreeable expression on his face, and even something of dignity in his movements. It must be said that the officials of the Palace of Justice were distinguished by their ugliness and unprepossessing appearance. Some had faces that looked like badly baked bread, with a cheek swollen out on one side, and the chin bent in the other direction, with a pimple on the upper lip, which was cracked, moreover—in fact they were anything but pretty. They all spoke gruffly in a voice that sounded as if they were just going to hit some one; they frequently sacrificed to Bacchus, so proving that there are many relics of paganism left in the Slavonic nature; they used even to come to the office sometimes the worse for liquor, as it is called, which made things very unpleasant and the air anything but fragrant. Tchitchikov, who was a complete contrast to them both in his looks, in the affableness of his voice and in his complete abstinence from strong drink, could not but be conspicuous and distinguished among such clerks. But, for all that, his progress was difficult. He was under the authority of a very old head clerk, who was the very incarnation of stony callousness and insensibility: everlastingly the same, unapproachable, he had never in his life displayed a trace of a smile on his face, he had never greeted any one even with an inquiry after his health. No one had ever seen him different from what he always was, either in the street, or at home. If only he had shown an interest in anything; if only he had got drunk and laughed in his cups; or if he had given himself up to the savage merriment of a drunken robber, but there was not a shadow of anything of the sort. There was absolutely nothing in him; neither wickedness nor goodness, and there was something terrible about this absence of anything. His coarsely marble-like face, free from any striking irregularity, did not suggest resemblance to anything; there was a morose harmony between his features. Only the pockmarks with which his face was pitted classified it with those faces on which, to use the popular expression, the devil has threshed peas at night. It seemed as though it were beyond human power to make up to this man and win his favour, but Tchitchikov made the attempt. At first he set to work to please him in all sorts of imperceptible trifles; he carefully considered the way he mended the pens with which he wrote, and preparing several on the same pattern, always put them ready to his hand; he blew or brushed away the sand and tobacco from his table, and brought a new rag to clean his inkstand; he looked for and found his hat, as wretched a hat as ever was seen in the world, and always laid it beside him before closing time; he brushed the back of the old man's coat if he had chanced to rub against the whitewashed wall. But it remained absolutely unnoticed, exactly as though nothing had been done. At last he sniffed out something about his private life: he found out that he had a rather mature daughter whose face also looked as if the devil had threshed peas on it. He determined to make his attack on that side. He found out what church she went to on Sundays, and made a practice of standing just opposite her, neatly dressed, with a stiffly starched shirt-front. This strategy was crowned with success: the morose head clerk was shaken and invited him to tea! And before the clerks in the office had time to look round things had gone so far that Tchitchikov had moved into the old man's house, had become useful and indispensable to him, bought the flour and the sugar for the household, behaved to the daughter as though they were engaged, called the head clerk papa and kissed his hand. Every one in the office assumed that at the end of February, before Lent, there would be a wedding. The morose old head clerk even began trying to promote his interests with the higher powers, and in a short time Tchitchikov was himself appointed to a post as head clerk, which had just fallen vacant. This, it seemed, was the chief object of his connection with the old clerk, for the next day Tchitchikov secretly removed his trunk, and the following morning departed to another lodging. He left off calling the old head clerk papa, and never kissed his hand again, and the question of marriage dropped, as though it had never been thought of. Whenever he met the old man, however, he shook hands with him affably and invited him to tea, so that, in spite of the old clerk's invariable stoniness and gruff indifference, he always shook his head and muttered to himself: 'You took me in, you took me in, you limb of Satan!'
This was the hardest stage in his upward journey. From that time forward, his advance was easier and more successful. He became a marked man. He turned out to possess everything necessary in that world: agreeable manners and deportment and briskness in business matters. With these qualifications, he succeeded within a short time in obtaining what is called a lucrative post and made the fullest possible use of it. It must be understood that just at that time very strict measures were being taken against bribes of all sorts. He was not afraid of these measures, but turned them to his own advantage, displaying that typical Russian resourcefulness that only comes to the surface in times of stress. The way things were managed was this: as soon as a petitioner came forward and thrust his hand into his pocket in order to extract therefrom the familiar letters of recommendation signed by Prince Hovansky, as the expression is among us in Russia—'No, no,' he would say with a smile, stopping the petitioner's hand, 'do you imagine that I … no, no! this is our duty, the work we are bound to do without any recompense! As far as that goes you may rest assured: everything will be done by to-morrow. Allow me to know your address, there is no need for you to trouble yourself, it shall all be brought to your house.'
The delighted petitioner would return home almost ecstatic, thinking: 'Well, at last here's the sort of man we want more of! He's a precious jewel!" But the petitioner would wait one day, a second, the papers are not brought to the house; nor are they on the third day. He goes to the office—the business has not been touched—he applies to the precious jewel. 'Oh, I beg your pardon,' says Tchitchikov, taking both his hands. 'We have had such a lot of work, but by to-morrow it shall be done, by to-morrow without fail! I really feel quite ashamed.' And all this is accompanied by the most fascinating manners. If meanwhile the skirt of a coat flies open a hand is instantly trying to set things right and hold the skirt. But neither the next day, the day after, or the day after that are the papers brought to the house. The petitioner begins to put two and two together: 'Why, hang it all, what's at the bottom of it?' He makes inquiries and is told: 'You have to give something to the copying clerks.' 'Why not! I am ready to give a quarter of a rouble or two.' 'No, not a quarter, but a twenty-five rouble note.' 'Twenty-five roubles to the copying clerks!' the petitioner cries out. 'Yes, why are you so excited,' he is answered, 'it's divided like this: the copying clerks get a quarter rouble each, and the rest goes to the heads.' The slow-witted petitioner slaps himself on the forehead and swears for all he is worth at the new order of things, at the suppression of bribes, and the courteous refined manners of the officials. 'In old days one did know what to do anyway: one brought the chief man ten roubles and the thing was done, and now they must have twenty-five roubles, and you have to wait a week before you guess what to do … the devil take all this disinterested honesty and official dignity!' The petitioner of course was right; but on the other hand, now there are no bribe-takers, all our higher officials are most honest and gentlemanly people, only the secretaries and copying clerks are scoundrels.
Soon a much wider field presented itself to Tchitchikov. A committee was formed to superintend the erection of a very expensive government building. He succeeded in getting on the committee, and became one of its most active members. The committee immediately set to work. They were busy over the building for six years, but either the climate hindered its progress, or the building materials were peculiar in some way, for the government building got no higher than the foundation. Meanwhile a handsome private residence made its appearance at the other end of the town for each member of the committee: apparently the character of the soil was more favourable there. The members of the committee began to grow prosperous and to rear families. It was only at this point that Tchitchikov began to relax a little the severity of his rules of abstinence and self-denial. Only now his long-drawn-out fast was a little mitigated, and it appeared that he had by no means an aversion for various enjoyments which he had succeeded in denying himself in those years of ardent youth, when hardly any man is completely master of himself. Some superfluities made their appearance: he engaged a rather good cook, procured fine linen shirts. Already he had bought himself cloth such as no one in the province wore, and from that time forth took to wearing by preference clothes of a shot-brown or shot-reddish hue; already he had obtained a fine pair of horses and held one rein himself, making the trace-horse turn his head to one side; he had already adopted the habit of sponging himself over with water mixed with eau-de-Cologne; already he had bought a special very expensive soap to preserve his complexion, already …
But all at once a new chief, a stern military man, the enemy of bribe-takers and of everything that is called injustice, was sent to replace the easy-going old fogey who had been in command. The next day he frightened every one of them, he called for accounts, detected inaccuracies and sums of money missing at every step, instantly noticed the handsome private residences and a severe inquiry followed. Officials were dismissed from their posts. The handsome private residences passed to the Treasury and were transformed into almshouses and schools for the sons of soldiers—everything was scattered to the winds and Tchitchikov suffered more than the others. The new chief suddenly—God only knows why, sometimes indeed it happens for no reason—took a dislike to his face in spite of its pleasantness, and conceived a mortal hatred for him. And the relentless chief was a terrible menace to every one. But as he was a military man and so did not understand all the subtleties of civilian strategy, within a short time another set of officials succeeded in worming themselves into his favour, thanks to an appearance of honesty and a capacity for pleasing, and the general soon found himself in the hands of still greater scoundrels, though he did not recognise them as such; he was even delighted that he had at last picked out the right men and even boasted of his keen powers of discriminating character. The officials instantly grasped his temper and character. Everything that was under his command was carried on by men who fiercely tracked down every delinquency; everywhere, in every case, they hunted it as a fisherman hunts some fat white salmon with a harpoon, and they hunted it with such success, that in a short time every one of them had saved up several thousands of roubles. Then many of the former officials returned to the paths of righteousness and were received into the service. But Tchitchikov could not worm his way in again anyhow, though the general's chief secretary, who completely led his chief by the nose, encouraged by Prince Hovansky's letters, espoused his cause and did his utmost, yet he could do nothing for him whatever. Though the general could be led by the nose (without being aware of it of course) yet if an idea once got into his head it was like an iron nail, there was no pulling it out again. All the intelligent secretary could obtain was the destruction of the record of his ignominy, and he only obtained this by appealing to the general's compassion, and painting in vivid colours the touching plight of the delinquent's children, though Tchitchikov fortunately had none.
'Well!' said Tchitchikov to himself, 'I hooked a good thing, I was pulling it out when the line broke—don't keep on worrying. It's no good crying over spilt milk, I must set to work.' And so he made up his mind to begin his career once more, once more to arm himself with patience, once more to deny himself everything although he had so greatly enjoyed his slackness just before. He had to move to another town, there to make himself a position again. Nothing he attempted succeeded. He had to pass from one job to another and then to a third in a very short time. The jobs were humble and degrading. It must be understood that Tchitchikov was one of the most refined men that ever existed on this earth. Though he had at first to rub along in coarse society, he always maintained his inward refinement; he liked the table in the office to be of polished wood, and everything to be on a gentlemanly scale; he never permitted himself an unrefined word and was always offended if he saw a lack of proper respect for rank or position in the words of others. I believe it will please the reader to hear that he changed his linen every alternate day, and in the heat of summer every day; the slightest offensive smell annoyed him, for this reason he always put cloves in his nose when Petrushka came to undress him and pull off his boots; and in many cases his nerves were as delicate as a girl's, and so it was hard to find himself again in those grades in which everything smelt of brandy and indecorum. However much he hardened his heart, he grew thin and even greenish in the face during this time of hardship. He had been beginning to grow plump and to develop those seemly rounded contours with which the reader found him when he met him last, and already when he looked in the looking-glass he had begun to meditate on many agreeable things—a wife and a nursery, and a smile followed such thoughts; but now when he glanced at some unlucky moment into the looking-glass he could not help crying out: 'Holy Mother! how disgusting I have grown!' And for a long while afterwards he would not look at himself. But our hero endured it all, endured it with fortitude, endured it with patience, and—at last succeeded in getting into the Customs Office. It must be said that this department had long been the secret subject of his reveries. He saw what stylish foreign articles the customs house officials possessed, what pieces of china and of fine cambric they sent to their lady friends, aunts and sisters. More than once he said with a sigh: 'That's what one ought to get into: the frontier is near and enlightened people and what fine linen shirts one can get hold of!'
I must mention that another thing he used to dream of was a special sort of French soap which imparted an extraordinary whiteness to the skin and freshness to the complexion; what it was called, God only knows, but he imagined he would certainly come upon it at the frontier. And so he had for years been longing to get into the customs department, but he had been restrained by the various advantages connected with the building committee, and he justly argued that the customs was far away and that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush. Now he determined at all costs to get into the customs—and he got into the customs. He attacked his duties with extraordinary zeal. It seemed as though fate itself had marked him out to be a customs house official. Such promptitude, penetration, and sharpsightedness had never before been seen or even heard of. In three or four weeks he had become so completely at home in the work that he knew absolutely everything about it. He did not even weigh or measure but found out from the invoice how many yards of cloth or other material there was in the piece; lifting a parcel in his hand he could tell at once how many pounds it weighed. As for searches, in that, as his colleagues expressed it, he simply had the scent of a hound; one could not but be amazed at the patience with which he felt every button, and all this was done with killing sang-froid and incredible courtesy. And while the victims were furious and beside themselves with anger, conscious of a malignant impulse to slap his suave countenance, he would only say, without the slightest change in his face or his courteous manners: 'May I trouble you to be so kind as to stand up': or, 'Will you kindly walk into the other room, madam, there the wife of one of our clerks will interview you': or, 'Allow me to unpick the lining of your coat with my penknife,' and saying this he would extract from within the lining shawls and kerchiefs, as coolly as though he were taking them out of his own trunk. Even his superiors declared that he was not a man but a fiend: he found contraband goods in wheels and shafts of carriages and the ears of horses, and in all kinds of places in which it would never occur to the author to peep, and into which no one but a customs house official would venture to peep, so that the unfortunate traveller after crossing the frontier could not recover for quite a long time, and as he mopped up the beads of perspiration that came out all over him, could only cross himself and say: 'Well, well!' The victim's position was very much like that of a schoolboy who has escaped from a private room, to which he has been summoned by a master to receive a lecture, instead of which he has quite unexpectedly received a thrashing. For a brief period there was no peace for the smugglers of contraband goods. He was the menace and despair of all the Polish Jews. Nothing could overcome his honesty and incorruptibility, they were almost unnatural. He did not even amass a small fortune from the confiscated goods and various articles which instead of being passed on to the Treasury, were retained to avoid unnecessary correspondence. Such zealous, disinterested service could not but be the subject of general admiration, and was bound in the end to attract the attention of the authorities. He was promoted, and immediately drew up a scheme for catching all smugglers, only asking for the means of carrying it out himself. He was immediately entrusted with the commission and unlimited authority to conduct searches. This was all that he wanted. Just at that time a regularly organised society of smugglers was formed. The audacious enterprise gave promise of a profit of millions. Tchitchikov had long been aware of its existence and refused the offers of an emissary sent to bribe him, saying drily: 'It's not time for that yet.' When he had received full control he sent word to the society saying: 'The time has come now.' His calculation was only too correct. Now he could gain in one year what he could not have made by twenty years of the most zealous service. He had not before been willing to enter into relations with them because he had been nothing but a humble pawn and so could not have got much; but now … now it was quite a different matter: he could make any terms he liked. That the thing might go through without hindrance he brought into it another man, a colleague of his, who could not resist temptation although his hair was grey. The terms were fixed and the society set to work. The enterprise began brilliantly. The reader has no doubt often heard the story of the clever journey of the Spanish sheep who, crossing the frontier in two sheepskins, carried over Brabant lace to the value of millions of roubles under their fleeces. This incident took place at the time when Tchitchikov was in the customs. Had he not had a hand in this enterprise no Jews in the world could have succeeded in carrying out such an undertaking. After three or four flocks of sheep had crossed the frontier the two customs house officials found themselves in possession of a capital of four hundred thousand roubles. Tchitchikov is said to have made five hundred thousand because he was a little sharper. Goodness knows to what immense figure their gains might have swelled, had not an unlucky chance in an evil hour ruined everything. The devil confounded the two officials. To speak plainly the officials lost their temper and quarrelled about nothing. In some heated conversation, possibly after too much to drink, Tchitchikov called his colleague a priest's son, and, though he really was a priest's son, the latter, why I cannot say, was bitterly offended and answered him at once forcibly and extremely cuttingly in these words: 'That's a lie, I'm a civil councillor and not a priest's son, but you are a priest's son,' and added to annoy him further: 'so that's all about it.' Though he did score off him in this way, throwing the offensive epithet back at him, and though the expression, 'so that's all about it!' may have been a strong one, he was not satisfied with that, he gave secret information against him. Though indeed they do say that they were at loggerheads already over some woman as fresh and firm as a juicy turnip, to use the expression of the customs officials, that men had even been bribed to waylay our hero some evening in a dark alley and beat him within an inch of his life, but that she made fools of both the officials and really bestowed her favours on a staff-captain, called Shamsharev. How it really was, God only knows; the reader who cares to may complete the story for himself. The chief point is that their secret relations with the smugglers were discovered. Though the civil councillor was himself ruined, he certainly brought his colleague to grief also. The officials were brought to justice, an inventory was made of everything they had and all was confiscated, and all this fell like a thunderbolt on their heads. They came to themselves as after delirium, and saw with horror what they had done. The civil councillor had not the fortitude to endure his fate and perished in obscurity, but the collegiate councillor faced his troubles bravely. He succeeded in concealing part of the money in spite of the keen scent of the officials who were tracking him; he brought into play all the subtle wiles of a brain of much experience and deep understanding of men; with one he tried his agreeable address, with another pathetic appeal, with one he employed flattery, which never comes amiss, into another's hands he slipped money, in short he managed things so far successfully at least, as to get off with less ignominy than his colleague, and to escape trial on a criminal charge. But both his fortune and all his foreign treasures were lost: other amateurs of such things turned up to secure them. All he managed to keep was a paltry ten thousand, carefully put away for a rainy day, two dozen linen shirts, a small chaise such as bachelor gentlemen drive about in, and two serfs, the coachman Selifan and the footman Petrushka; and the customs house officials, moved by genuine sympathy, left him five or six pieces of soap for preserving the freshness of the complexion—that was all! This was the position in which our hero found himself again! Such was the immensity of the catastrophe that overtook him. This was what he called suffering in a good cause. It might have been expected that after such storms, such trials, such fluctuations of destiny and troubles in life, he would retire with his precious ten thousand to the peaceful seclusion of some little district town and there vegetate for ever in a chintz dressing-gown at the window of a little low-pitched house, watching on Sundays the peasants fighting under his window, or for fresh air and exercise walking into the poultry yard to feel with his own hands the hen destined for soup, and so lead an inglorious but not altogether useless existence. But this did not happen. One must do justice to the invincible strength of his character. After misfortunes that were enough if not to kill, at least to cool and subdue a man for ever, his indomitable passion was not quenched. He was plunged in grief and vexation, he murmured against the whole world, was wroth with the injustice of destiny, indignant at the injustice of men, and yet he could not resign himself to abandoning all effort. In short, he displayed a patience compared with which the wooden patience of a German, due to the sluggish, languid circulation of his blood, is nothing. Tchitchikov's blood on the other hand circulated vigorously, and he needed a great deal of good sense and strong will to keep a tight rein on all the impulses that were longing to break bounds and enjoy themselves in freedom. He argued, and there was some justice in the argument, 'Why me? Why should misfortune have overtaken me? Who wastes his time in the service nowadays? They all make what they can. I have never brought trouble on any one: I haven't robbed the widow, I have reduced no one to beggary; I have made use of what was to spare; I took where any one would have taken; if I had not made use of it, others would have. Why are other people prosperous and why should I be crushed like a worm? And what am I now? What use am I? How can I look any respectable father of a family in the face? How can I help feeling stings of conscience when I know that I am a useless burden on the earth? And what will my children say one day? "Our father is a beast," they will say, "he has left us no property!"'
As the reader is already aware, Tchitchikov was much troubled about his descendants. It was such a touching subject! He would not have set to work so vigorously if it had not been for the question, which for some unknown reason spontaneously occurred to him: 'What will my children say?' And so our future founder of a family was like a cautious tomcat who, looking out of the corner of one eye to see whether his master is watching him from somewhere, hurriedly grabs whatever is nearest to him: soap, candles, salt pork, or a canary if he can get it in his claws, in fact, lets nothing escape him. So our hero wept and lamented, but meanwhile his active brain did not flag; there everything was longing to build up something and only waiting for a plan. Once more he drew himself in, once more he began to lead a hard life, once more restricted himself in every way, once more from an elegant decorous existence sank into degradation and low life. And while waiting for better times he was even obliged to adopt the calling of a legal agent, a calling which is not recognised as creditable among us; he was jostled out of the way on all sides, treated with scant respect by all the small fry of the attorneys' offices, and even by those who employed him, doomed to cool his heels hanging about in entries, to put up with rudeness and so on, but poverty forced him to accept anything. Among the jobs he got was one to arrange for the mortgaging of several hundreds of peasants to the Trustee Committee. The estate on which they existed was hopelessly ruined. It had been ruined by the cattle plague, rascally stewards, bad harvests, infectious diseases, which carried off the best of the workmen, and lastly the folly of the landowner himself, who had furnished a house for himself in Moscow in the latest fashion, and wasted upon this the whole of his property to the last kopeck, so that he had literally nothing to eat. At last the only thing left to do was to mortgage his last remaining estate. Mortgaging to the government was at that time a new scheme and people resorted to it with some uneasiness. Tchitchikov acting as agent, after first propitiating every one (as we all know, without a preliminary consideration no one can obtain a simple piece of information or verification, at least a bottle of Madeira must be poured down every throat) and so after propitiating every one concerned, he pointed out one circumstance—that half the peasants had died—in order that there might be no difficulties made afterwards. … 'But they are all on the census list, aren't they?' said the secretary. 'They are,' answered Tchitchikov. 'Well, why are you troubled about them? One dies, another's born, and all are just as good to pawn.' The secretary, as the reader perceives, could talk in rhyme. And meanwhile the most brilliant inspiration that ever entered the mind of man suddenly dawned upon Tchitchikov. 'Ough, I am a Simple Simon,' he said to himself: 'I look for my gloves and they are both in my belt! Why, suppose I buy all who are dead, before the new census lists are sent out, if I get, let us say, a thousand of them, and suppose the Trustee Committee gives me two hundred roubles a soul: why there's a fortune of two hundred thousand! And now is a good time, there has just been an epidemic, the peasants have died, thank goodness, in great numbers. The owners have been losing at cards, carousing and squandering their money most appropriately; they are running to Petersburg to go into the service, their estates are deserted and managed anyhow, and it is more and more difficult every year to pay the taxes. So every one will be delighted to let me have them if only to escape paying the tax on them; and perhaps in some cases I may get a kopeck for taking them. Of course it is a difficult and troublesome business, and there is a danger of getting into trouble again, of some scandal arising. Well, but man has been given a brain to make use of it. And the best of it is that the project will seem incredible to every one, no one will believe in it; it is true that one cannot buy peasants without land, nor mortgage them either. But I will buy them for resettlement; nowadays you can get land in the Taurida or Kherson provinces for nothing if only you settle peasants on them. And that is where I will settle them all! To Kherson with them! Let them live there! The resettlement can be done properly, in the legal way through the courts. If they want to verify the peasants—by all means, I have nothing against it. Why not? I'll present the verification with a signature of the captain of the police in his own handwriting. The village might be called Tchitchikov's Settlement or from my Christian name, the hamlet of Pavlovskoe.'
And so this was how our hero's mind reached this strange idea, for which I cannot tell whether my readers will be grateful to him, though it would be hard to say how grateful the author is, for had this idea not entered Tchitchikov's head, this poem would not, in any case, have seen the light.
Crossing himself after the Russian fashion he proceeded to carry it out. On the pretence of looking for a place to settle and other pretexts, he went off to look at various corners of our empire, especially those which had suffered more than others from various misfortunes, such as bad harvests, high rate of mortality and so on, where in fact he might most conveniently and cheaply buy the sort of peasants he wanted. He did not apply to every landowner indiscriminately, but selected those who were most to his taste, or those with whom he found less difficulty in making such bargains, trying first to make their acquaintance and gain their good-will, so as to obtain the peasants through friendship rather than by purchase. And so the reader must not be indignant with the author if the characters who have hitherto appeared are not to his taste, that is Tchitchikov's fault; here he is completely master, and where he thinks fit to take us there we must go. If, however, we do incur censure for the colourlessness and unattractiveness of our characters, we will only say for ourselves that the full scope and magnitude of anything is not to be seen at first. The approach to any town whatever, even to the capital, is always dull and uninteresting; at first everything is grey and monotonous; there are endless strings of smoke-begrimed factories and workshops, and only afterwards the corners of six-storeyed houses, shops, signboards, great vistas of streets begin to appear, all with belfries, columns, statues, and turrets, with the splendour, noise and uproar of the town, and everything that the brain and hand of man has so marvellously devised.
How his first purchase took place my readers have seen already. They will see later how things go afterwards, what successes and failures our hero meets with, how he has to overcome more difficult obstacles, how titanic forms appear, how the hidden springs of our great novel move as its horizon spreads wide in the distance, and it takes a grand lyrical direction. The travelling party, consisting of a middle-aged gentleman, a chaise such as bachelors drive in, the valet Petrushka, the coachman Selifan, and the three horses already known to the reader, from the Assessor to the rascally dappled grey have a long way still to go.
And so here we have the full-length portrait of our hero, just as he was! But perhaps the reader will insist on a definite answer in regard to one particular: what sort of man was he as regards moral qualities? That he was not a hero filled with virtues and perfections is evident. What was he then? He must have been a scoundrel, I suppose. Why a scoundrel? Why be so severe to others? There are no scoundrels among us nowadays: there are well-intentioned, agreeable people, but you will scarcely find above two or three men who would risk the public ignominy of a slap in the face, and even those talk about virtue nowadays. It would be more just to call him a good manager, a man bent on making money. Making money is the universal vice: things have been done which the world describes as not very honest for the sake of it. It is true that there is something repellent in such a character, and the very readers who on their way through life would make friends with such a man, would entertain him in their house and spend their time agreeably with him, will look at him askance if he is made the hero of a drama or poem. But wise is he who does not disdain any character, but probing it with searching eye investigates its primary elements. Everything is rapidly transformed in a man; before you have time to look round, a terrible worm has grown up within him and is sucking all his vital sap. And more than once some passion—not merely a great passion, but some insignificant little propensity for something petty—has sprung up in a man born for better things, has made him forget great and sacred duties and see something great and holy in insignificant baubles. Innumerable as the sands of the sea are the passions of man, and all are different, and all, base and noble alike, are first under a man's control, and afterwards cruel tyrants dominating him. Blessed is the man who has chosen from among them a noble passion: it grows and with every hour and minute increases his immense happiness, and he enters further and further into the infinite paradise of his soul. But there are passions, the choice of which lies not in a man's hands. They are born with him at the moment of his birth into the world, and he has not been given the strength to turn away from them. They work upon some higher plan, and there is in them something that for ever calls to one and is never silent all one's life. They are destined to complete the grand pageant of the earth, whether they appear in gloomy, sinister form, or as a bright apparition that rejoices the world—they are equally called up for some good unknown to man. And maybe in this very Tchitchikov, the passion that led him on was not due to him, and in his cold existence there lies hidden what will one day reduce a man to ashes and to his knees before the wisdom of the heavens. And it is another mystery why this type has appeared in the poem that is now seeing the light.
But what weighs upon me is not that my readers will be displeased with my hero. What weighs upon me is the conviction which nothing can shake in my soul, that my readers would have been delighted with the same hero, this same Tchitchikov, if the author had not looked too deeply into his soul, had not stirred up in its depths what slips away and hides from the light, had not displayed the most secret thoughts which a man does not trust to any other, but had shown him such as he appeared to all the town, to Manilov and others; then every one would have been delighted with him, and would have welcomed him as an interesting man. It would not have mattered that neither his face nor his whole figure would have moved as though living before their eyes; on the other hand, when they had finished the book, their souls would have been untroubled and they could go back to the card table, which is the solace of all Russia. Yes, my gentle readers, you would rather not see the poverty of human nature exposed. 'What for?' you say; 'what is the use of it? Do you suppose we don't know that there is a great deal that is stupid and contemptible in life? We often have to see what is by no means cheering, apart from you. You had better show us what is noble and attractive. Better let us forget.'
'Why do you tell me that my estate is in a bad way, my lad?' says the landowner to his steward. 'I know that, my dear fellow, without your telling me; have you nothing better than that to say? Let me forget it; let me not know it, then I shall be happy.' And so the money which might to some extent have saved the situation is wasted on all sorts of ways of inducing forgetfulness. The mind from which, perhaps, great resources might have sprung sleeps; and the estate is knocked down at auction and the owner is cast adrift to forget his troubles with his soul ready in his extremity for base deeds at which he would once have been horrified.
The author will incur censure also from the so-called patriots who as a rule sit quietly at home and busy themselves about quite other matters, making money, making their fortunes at the expense of others; but as soon as anything happens which they regard as insulting to their country, if a book appears in which some bitter truth is told, they run out of every corner like spiders, when they see a fly caught in their web, and immediately raise outcries: 'Is it right to bring such a thing to light, to proclaim it aloud? Why, all the things that are described here are our private affairs—is it right? What will foreigners say? Is it pleasant to hear a low opinion of oneself? Do they imagine that it isn't painful? Do they imagine that we are not patriots?' I must confess that I cannot find a fitting answer to these sage observations, especially the one concerning the opinion of foreigners. Unless perhaps this. Two citizens lived in a remote corner of Russia. One whose name was Kifa Mokievitch was the father of a family, and a man of mild disposition, who passed his life in a dressing-gown and slippers; he did not trouble his head about his family; his time was devoted rather to speculative inquiries and engrossed with the following philosophical—as he called it—questions: 'Now for instance the animal is born naked,' he would say as he walked up and down the room. 'Why is it that he is naked? Why isn't he born like a bird: why isn't he hatched out of an egg? It really is … er … The more you look into nature the harder it is to understand! …' Such were the meditations of the worthy citizen Kifa Mokievitch. But that is not what matters. The other citizen was Moky Kifovitch, his son. He was what is called in Russia a bogatyr, and while his father was absorbed in the question of the problem of the birth of animals, this muscular young man of twenty craved for self-expression. He could not do anything by halves: somebody's arm was always broken or somebody else had a bump on his nose. Every one in the house or the neighbourhood—from the serf-girl to the yard dog—fled at the sight of him: he even smashed his own bedstead into fragments. Such was Moky Kifovitch, but yet he had a kind heart. But that is not the point either. The point really is this: 'Mercy on us, kind sir, Kifa Mokievitch,' said all the servants of his own and the neighbouring households to his father, 'your Moky Kifovitch is too much for us. Nobody has any peace for him, he is such a pestering fellow!' 'Yes, he is mischievous, he is mischievous,' his father usually replied: 'but there, what's to be done? It's too late to knock him about, besides every one would blame me for cruelty; and he is sensitive; reproach him before two or three other people, he'll be meek, but then the publicity! That is what is so dreadful! All the town would be calling him a cur. Do you really imagine that would not be painful—am I not his father? Because I am absorbed in philosophy and have not time to attend to my family, do you suppose I am not a father? No, indeed, I am his father! his father, hang it all, his father. Moky Kifovitch is very near and dear to me!' At this point Kifa Mokievitch smote himself on the chest with his fist and became greatly excited. 'If he is to remain a cur, don't let people learn it from me, don't let me give him away!' And having thus displayed his paternal sentiments, he left Moky Kifovitch to persevere in his heroic exploits and returned again to his favourite subject, asking himself some such question as: 'Well, if an elephant were hatched out of an egg I expect the shell would be pretty thick, you wouldn't break it with a cannon ball, they would have to invent some new explosive.' So thus they went on living, these two citizens who have so unexpectedly peeped out of their quiet retirement as out of a window into the end of our poem, in order to furnish a modest answer to the censures of some ardent patriots who have hitherto been quietly engaged in philosophical pursuits or in increasing their fortunes at the expense of the finances of the country they love so dearly, not caring about avoiding wrong-doing, but very anxious that people should not talk of their wrong-doings. But no, not patriotism, nor genuine feeling is at the root of their censure. Another feeling lies concealed under it. Why hide the truth? Who if not an author is bound to speak the holy truth? You are afraid of any one's looking deeply below the surface, you dread looking below the surface yourselves, you like to glide over everything with heedless eyes. You even laugh heartily at Tchitchikov, perhaps you will even praise the author—and will say: 'He has neatly hit it off, though, he must be an amusing fellow!' And after saying that you look at yourself with redoubled pride, a self-satisfied smile comes on to your face and you add: 'There is no denying that there are very queer and funny people in some provinces and thorough rogues too!' And which of you, full of Christian meekness, not in public, but alone in private, at the moment of solitary inward converse, asks in the depths of your own soul, this painful question: 'Is there not a bit of Tchitchikov in me too?' And it is pretty sure to be so indeed! And if some friend, not of too low or too high a grade in the service, should chance to pass by at that moment, you will immediately nudge your neighbour and will say almost guffawing: 'Look, look, there goes Tchitchikov, there's Tchitchikov!' And then like a child, forgetting all decorum befitting your age and position, you will run behind him, mimicking and repeating: 'Tchitchikov! Tchitchikov! Tchitchikov!'
But we have begun talking too loudly, forgetting that our hero who was asleep all the while we have been telling his story, is by now awake and might easily hear his name so frequently repeated. He easily takes offence, and will be annoyed if any one speaks disrespectfully about him. It is no great matter to the reader whether Tchitchikov is angry with him or not, but an author ought never under any circumstances to fall out with his hero—they have still to go a long way hand in hand together; two long parts are to come, that is no trifling matter.
'Hey, hey! what are you about?' said Tchitchikov to Selifan.
'What's the matter?' said Selifan in a deliberate voice.
'What's the matter indeed, are you a goose! How are you driving? Come, get on!'
And, indeed, Selifan had for a long time been driving with closed eyes, only occasionally shaking the reins about the sides of the horses who were also dozing; and Petrushka's cap had fallen off long ago, and he had sunk back with his head poking Tchitchikov's legs so that the latter was obliged to give him a nudge. Selifan pulled himself together, and giving the dappled grey a few switches on the back, after which the latter fell into a trot, and flourishing the whip over them all, cried in a thin sing-song voice: 'Never fear.' The horses bestirred themselves and carried the chaise along as though it were as light as a feather.
Selifan brandished the whip and kept shouting, 'Ech! ech! ech!' smoothly rising up and down on the box, as the three horses darted up or flew like the wind down the little hills which dotted the high-road that sloped scarcely perceptibly down hill. Tchitchikov merely smiled as he lightly swayed on his leather cushion, for he loved rapid driving. And what Russian does not love rapid driving? How should his soul that craves to be lost in a whirl, to carouse without stint, to say at times, 'Damnation take it all!'—how should his soul not love it? How not love it when there is a feeling in it of something ecstatic and marvellous? One fancies an unseen force has caught one up on its wing and one flies oneself, and everything flies too: milestones fly by, merchants on the front seats of their tilt-carts fly to meet one, the forest flies by on both sides with dark rows of firs and pines, with the ring of the axe and caw of the crows; the whole road flies into the unknown retreating distance; and there is something terrible in this rapid flitting by, in which there is no time to distinguish the vanishing object and only the sky over one's head and the light clouds and the moon that struggles through them seem motionless. Ah! troika, bird of a troika! Who was it first thought of thee? Sure, thou couldst only have been born among a spirited people,—in that land that does not care to do things by halves, but has spread, a vast plain, over half the world, and one may count its milestones till one's eyes are dizzy! And there is nothing elaborate, one would think, about thy construction; it is not held together by iron screws—no, a deft Yaroslav peasant fitted thee up and put thee together, hastily, roughly, with nothing but axe and drill. The driver wears no German top boots: he has a beard and gauntlets, and sits upon goodness knows what; but when he stands up and swings his whip and sets up a song—the horses fly like a whirlwind, the spokes of the wheels are blended into one revolving disc, the road quivers, and the pedestrian cries out, halting in alarm—and the troika dashes away and away! … And already all that can be seen in the distance is something flinging up the dust and whirling through the air.
And, Russia, art not thou too flying onwards like a spirited troika that nothing can overtake? The road is smoking under thee, the bridges rumble, everything falls back and is left behind! The spectator stands still struck dumb by the divine miracle: is it not a flash of lightning from heaven? What is the meaning of this terrifying onrush? What mysterious force is hidden in this troika, never seen before? Ah, horses, horses—what horses! Is the whirlwind hidden under your manes? Is there some delicate sense tingling in every vein? They hear the familiar song over their heads—at once in unison they strain their iron chests and scarcely touching the earth with their hoofs are transformed almost into straight lines flying through the air—and the troika rushes on, full of divine inspiration. … Russia, whither flyest thou? Answer! She gives no answer. The ringing of the bells melts into music; the air, torn to shreds, whirs and rushes like the wind, everything there is on earth is flying by, and the other states and nations, with looks askance, make way for her and draw aside.