Chapter Eleven

Nothing, however, happened the way Chichikov had intended. In the first place, he woke up later than he thought—that was the first unpleasantness. Having gotten up, he sent at once to find out if the britzka was harnessed and everything was ready; but was informed that the britzka was not yet harnessed and nothing was ready. That was the second unpleasantness. He got angry, even prepared himself to give our friend Selifan something like a thrashing, and only waited impatiently to see what reason he, for his part, would give to justify himself. Soon Selifan appeared in the doorway, and the master had the pleasure of hearing the same talk one usually hears from domestics when it is a case of needing to set off quickly.

“But, Pavel Ivanovich, we’ll have to shoe the horses.”

“Ah, you pig! you fence post! Why didn’t you say so before? Didn’t you have time enough?”

“Time, yes, I did have . . . And the wheel, too, Pavel Ivanovich, we’ll have to put a new tire on it, because the road’s bumpy now, such potholes all over . . . And, allow me to say: the front end of the britzka is quite loose, so that we maybe won’t even make two stations.”

“You scoundrel!” cried Chichikov, clasping his hands, and he came up so close to him that Selifan, for fear the master might make him a little gift, backed off a bit and stepped aside. “So you’re going to kill me, eh? want to put a knife in me? knife me on the high road, you robber, you cursed pig, you sea monster! eh? eh? Sat here for three weeks, eh? If you’d only made a peep, you wastrel—and now you’ve pushed it right up to the final hour! when everything’s almost set—just get in and go, eh? and it’s here that you muck it up, eh? eh? Didn’t you know before? didn’t you, eh? eh? Answer! Didn’t you know?”

“I knew,” Selifan replied, hanging his head.

“Then why didn’t you say so, eh?”

To this question Selifan made no reply, but, hanging his head, seemed to be saying to himself: “You see what a tricky thing it is: I knew, and I just didn’t say!”

“So, now go and fetch the blacksmith, and see that everything’s done in two hours. Do you hear? in two hours without fail, and if it’s not, I’ll. . . I’ll bend you double and tie you in a knot!” Our hero was very angry.

Selifan made as if to turn for the door, to go and carry out the order, but stopped and said:

“Another thing, sir, the dapple-gray horse, he really ought to be sold, because he’s a downright scoundrel, Pavel Ivanovich; he’s that kind of horse, God help us, nothing but a hindrance.”

“Oh, yes! I’ll just up and run to the market to sell him!”

“By God, Pavel Ivanovich, not but he looks right enough, only in fact he’s a sly horse, such a horse as never …”

“Fool! When I want to sell him, I’ll sell him. Look at the man reasoning! I’ll see: if you don’t bring me the blacksmiths and if everything’s not ready in two hours, I’ll give you such a thrashing . . . you won’t know your own face! Go! Off with you!”

Selifan left.

Chichikov was completely out of sorts and flung down on the floor the sword that traveled with him for inspiring due fear in those who needed it. He fussed with the blacksmiths for a good quarter of an hour before he could come to terms with them, because the blacksmiths, as is their wont, were inveterate scoundrels, and, having grasped that the job was an urgent one, stuck him with six times the price. He got all fired up, called them crooks, thieves, highway robbers, even hinted at the Last Judgment, but nothing fazed them: the blacksmiths stayed absolutely in character—not only did not yield on the price, but even fussed over the work for a whole five and a half hours instead of two. During that time he had the pleasure of experiencing those agreeable moments, familiar to every traveler, when the trunk is all packed and only strings, scraps of paper, and various litter are strewn about the room, when a man belongs neither to the road nor to sitting in place, and from the window sees people plodding by, discussing nickels and dimes, lifting their eyes with some stupid curiosity to glance at him and then continuing on their way, which further aggravates the low spirits of the poor non-departing traveler. Everything there, everything he sees—the little shop across from his windows, the head of the old woman who lives in the house opposite, and who keeps coming up to the window with its half-curtains—everything is loathsome to him, and yet he will not leave the window. He stands, now oblivious, now dimly attentive again to everything moving and not moving in front of him, and in vexation stifles under his finger some fly which at the moment is buzzing and beating against the glass. But there is an end to all things, and the longed-for moment came: everything was ready, the front end of the britzka was set to rights, the wheel was fitted with a new tire, the horses were brought from the watering place, and the robber-blacksmiths went off counting the roubles they had made and wishing him all their blessings. Finally the britzka, too, was harnessed, and two hot kalatchi, only just bought, were put in, and Selifan stuck something for himself into the pouch in the coachman’s box, and finally the hero himself, to the waving cap of the floorboy, who stood there in the same half-cotton frock coat, in the presence of the tavern servants and other lackeys and coachmen, who gathered to gape at someone else’s master departing, and with all the other circumstances that accompany a departure, got into the carriage—and the britzka such as bachelors drive around in, which had stood so long in town and which the reader is so sick of, finally drove out the gates of the inn. “Thank God for that!” thought Chichikov, crossing himself. Selifan cracked his whip; Petrushka, having first hung from the footboard for a while, sat down next to him, and our hero, settling himself better on the Georgian rug, put a leather cushion behind his back and squashed the two kalatchi, as the carriage again started its jigging and jolting, owing to the pavement, which, as we know, possessed a bouncing force. With a sort of indefinite feeling he gazed at the houses, walls, fences, and streets, which, also as if hopping for their own part, were slowly moving backwards, and which God knows if he was destined to see again in the course of his life. At a turn down one of the streets the britzka had to stop, because an endless funeral procession was passing the whole length of it. Chichikov, having peeked out, told Petrushka to ask who was being buried, and learned that it was the prosecutor. Filled with unpleasant sensations, he at once hid himself in a corner, covered himself with the leather apron, and closed the curtains. All the while the carriage was stopped in this way, Selifan and Petrushka, piously doffing their hats, were looking at who drove how, in what, and on what, counting the number of all those on foot and on wheels, while the master, ordering them not to acknowledge or greet any servants they knew, also began timidly looking through the glass in the leather curtains: behind the coffin, hats off, walked all the officials. He began to be a bit afraid that they might recognize his carriage, but they could not be bothered with that. They were not even occupied with the various mundane conversations that are usually conducted among those accompanying the deceased. All their thoughts at that time were concentrated on their own selves: they thought about what sort of man the new Governor-general would be, how he would get down to business, and how he would receive them. After the officials, who went on foot, came carriages out of which peeked ladies in mourning caps. By the movement of their lips and hands one could see that they were engaged in lively conversation; perhaps they, too, were talking about the arrival of the new Governor-general, making speculations concerning the balls he would give, and worrying about their eternal festoons and appliqués. Finally, after the carriages, came several empty droshkies, strung out in single file, and finally there was nothing more left, and our hero could go. Opening the leather curtains, he sighed, saying from the bottom of his heart: “So, the prosecutor! He lived and lived, and then he died! And so they’ll print in the newspapers that there passed away, to the sorrow of his subordinates and of all mankind, a respectable citizen, a rare father, an exemplary husband, and they’ll write all sorts of stuff; they’ll add, maybe, that he was accompanied by the weeping of widows and orphans; but if one looks into the matter properly, all you had, in fact, was bushy eyebrows.” Here he told Selifan to drive faster, and meanwhile thought to himself: “It’s a good thing, however, that I met the funeral; they say it’s a lucky sign when you meet a dead man.” The britzka meanwhile turned onto more deserted streets; soon there were only long stretches of wooden fence, heralding the end of town. Now the pavement has already ended, and the tollgate, and the town is behind, and there is nothing, and it is the road again. And again both sides of the high road are scrawled once more with mileposts, stationmasters, wells, wagon trains, gray villages with samovars, women, and a brisk, bearded innkeeper running out of the inn yard with an armful of oats, a passerby in worn bast shoes trudging on foot from eight hundred miles away, little towns slapped together, with little wooden shops, flour barrels, bast shoes, kalatchi, and other small stuff, rippling tollgates, bridges under repair, fields beyond view on this side and that, landowners’ coaches, a soldier on horseback carrying a green box of leaden peas and the words “Such-and-such Artillery Battery,” green, yellow, and freshly ploughed black stripes flashing over the steppes, a song struck up afar, pine tops in the mist, a ringing bell fading far off, crows like flies, and a horizon without end . . . Rus! Rus! I see you, from my wondrous, beautiful distance I see you:[1] it is poor, scattered, and comfortless in you; not gladdened, not frightened will one’s gaze be at bold wonders of nature, crowned by bold wonders of art, cities with high, many-windowed palaces grown into the cliffs, picturesque trees and ivy grown into the houses, with the noise and eternal mist of waterfalls; the head will not be thrown back to look at great boulders heaped up endlessly above it and into the heights; through dark arches cast one upon the other, all entangled with vines and ivy and countless millions of wild roses, there will come no flash of the distant, eternal lines of shining mountains, soaring up into the bright silver heavens. In you all is openly deserted and level; like dots, like specks, your low towns stick up inconspicuously amidst the plains; there is nothing to seduce or enchant the eye. But what inconceivable, mysterious force draws one to you? Why do the ears hear and ring unceasingly with your melancholy song, coursing through the whole length and breadth of you from sea to sea? What is in it, in this song? What calls, and weeps, and grips the heart? What sounds so painfully caress and stream into the soul, and twine about my heart? Rus! what is it that you want of me? what inconceivable bond lies hidden between us? Why do you gaze so, and why is everything in you turned towards me with eyes full of expectation? . . . And still, all in perplexity, I stand motionless, but my head is already overshadowed by a menacing cloud, heavy with coming rains, and thought stands numb before your vastness. What prophecy is in this uncompassable expanse? Is it not here, in you, that the boundless thought is to be born, since you yourself are without end? Is it not here that the mighty man is to be, where there is room for him to show himself and walk about? And menacingly the mighty vastness envelops me, reflected with terrible force in my depths; my eyes are lit up by an unnatural power: ohh! what a shining, wondrous yonder, unknown to the world! Rus! …”

“Hold up, hold up, you fool!” Chichikov shouted to Selifan.

“You’ll get a taste of my saber!” shouted a courier with yard-long mustaches, galloping in the opposite direction. “The hairy devil take your soul: don’t you see it’s a government carriage?” And like a phantom, the troika disappeared in thunder and dust.

What a strange, and alluring, and transporting, and wonderful feeling is in the word: road! and how wondrous is this road itself: the bright day, the autumn leaves, the chill air . . . wrap up tighter in your traveling coat, pull your hat over your ears, squeeze closer and more cozily into the corner! A shiver runs through your limbs for a last time, yielding now to the pleasant warmth. The horses fly. . . drowsiness steals up so temptingly, and your eyes are closing, and now through sleep you hear “‘Tis not the white snows …” and the breathing of the horses, and the noise of the wheels, and you are already snoring, having squeezed your neighbor into the corner. You wake up: five stations have raced by; the moon, an unknown town, churches with ancient wooden cupolas and black spires, houses of dark logs or white stone. The crescent moon shines there and there, as if white linen kerchiefs were hung on the walls, the pavement, the streets; they are crossed by slant shadows, black as coal; the slantly lit wooden roofs gleam like shining metal, and not a soul anywhere—everything sleeps. Perhaps, all by itself somewhere, a light glimmers in a window: a town tradesman mending his pair of boots, a baker poking in his little oven—what of them? But the night! heavenly powers! what a night is transpiring in the heights! And the air, and the sky, far off, far up, spreading so boundlessly, resoundingly, and brightly, there, in its inaccessible depths! . . . But the cold breath of night breathes fresh in your eyes and lulls you, and now you are dozing, and sinking into oblivion, and snoring, and your poor neighbor, pressed into the corner, turns angrily, feeling your weight on him. You wake up—again there are fields and steppes before you, nothing anywhere—everywhere emptiness, all wide open. A milestone with a number flies into your eyes; day is breaking; on the cold, whitening curve of the sky a pale golden streak; the wind turns fresher and sharper: wrap up tighter in your overcoat! . . . what fine cold! what wonderful sleep enveloping you again! A jolt—and again you wake up. The sun is high in the sky. “Easy! easy!” a voice is heard, a cart is coming down a steep hill: below, a wide dam and a wide, bright pond shining like a copper bottom in the sun; a village, cottages scattered over the slope; to one side, the cross of the village church shines like a star; the chatter of muzhiks and an unbearable appetite in your stomach . . . God! how good you are sometimes, you long, long road! So often, perishing and drowning, I have clutched at you, and each time you have magnanimously brought me through and saved me! And there were born of you so many wonderful designs, poetical reveries, so many delightful impressions were felt! . . . But our friend Chichikov was also feeling some not altogether prosaic reveries at that time. Let us have a look at what he was feeling. At first he felt nothing, and only kept glancing behind him, wishing to make certain that he had indeed left the town; but when he saw that the town had long disappeared, that neither smithies, nor windmills, nor anything found around towns were to be seen, and even the white tops of the stone churches had long sunk into the ground, he occupied himself only with the road, kept looking only to right and left, and the town of N. was as if it had never been in his memory, as if he had passed by it long ago, in childhood. Finally, the road, too, ceased to occupy him, and he began to close his eyes slightly and lean his head towards the cushion. The author even confesses to being glad of it, finding, in this way, an occasion for talking about his hero; for up to now, as the reader has seen, he has constantly been hindered, now by Nozdryov, now by the balls, the ladies, the town gossip, and finally by thousands of those trifles that only seem like trifles when they are set down in a book, but while circulating in the world are regarded as very important matters. But now let us put absolutely everything aside and get straight to business.

It is highly doubtful that readers will like the hero we have chosen. The ladies will not like him, that can be said positively, for the ladies demand that a hero be a decided perfection, and if there is any little spot on his soul or body, it means trouble! However deeply the author peers into his soul, reflecting his image more purely than a mirror, it will be of no avail. The very plumpness and middle age of Chichikov will do him great harm: plumpness will in no way be forgiven a hero, and a great many ladies will turn away, saying: “Fie, ugly thing!” Alas! all this is known to the author, yet for all that he cannot take a virtuous man as his hero, but . . . perhaps in this same story some other, as yet untouched strings will be felt, the inestimable wealth of the Russian spirit will step forth, a man endowed with divine valor will pass by, or some wondrous Russian maiden such as can be found nowhere in the world, with all the marvelous beauty of a woman’s soul, all magnanimous aspiration and self-denial. And all virtuous people of other tribes will seem dead next to them, as a book is dead next to the living word! Russian movements will arise . . . and it will be seen how deeply that which has only grazed the nature of other peoples has sunk into the Slavic nature . . . But wherefore and why speak of what lies ahead? It is unbecoming for the author, a man long since taught by a stern inner life and the refreshing sobriety of solitude, to forget himself like a youth. Everything in its turn, its place, its time! But all the same the virtuous man has not been taken as a hero. And it is even possible to say why he has not been taken. Because it is time finally to give the poor virtuous man a rest, because the phrase “virtuous man” idly circulates on all lips; because the virtuous man has been turned into a horse, and there is no writer who has not driven him, urging him on with a whip and whatever else is handy; because the virtuous man has been so worn out that there is not even the ghost of any virtue left in him, but only skin and ribs instead of a body; because the virtuous man is invoked hypocritically; because the virtuous man is not respected! No, it is time finally to hitch up a scoundrel. And so, let us hitch up a scoundrel.

Obscure and modest was our hero’s origin. His parents were of the nobility, but whether ancient or honorary—God knows; in appearance he did not resemble them: at least the relation who was present at his birth, a short, brief woman of the kind usually called a wee thing, on taking the child in her arms, exclaimed: “Quite different than I thought! He should have taken after his grandmother on his mother’s side, that would have been best, but he came out just as the saying goes: ‘Not like mother, not like father, but like Roger the lodger.'” Life, at its beginning, looked upon him somehow sourly, inhospitably, through some dim, snow-covered window: not one friend, not one childhood companion. A small room with small windows, never opened winter or summer, the father an ailing man, in a long frock coat trimmed with lambskin and with knitted slippers on his bare feet, who sighed incessantly as he paced the room, spitting into a box of sand that stood in the corner, the eternal sitting on the bench, pen in hand, ink-stained fingers and even lips, the eternal maxim before his eyes: “Do not lie, obey your elders, keep virtue in your heart”; the eternal shuffling and scraping of the slippers in the room, the familiar but ever stern voice: “Fooling again!” that resounded whenever the child, bored with the monotonous work, attached some flourish or tail to a letter; and the eternally familiar, ever unpleasant feeling when, after these words, the edge of his ear was rolled up very painfully by the nails of long fingers reaching from behind: this is the poor picture of his early childhood, of which he barely preserved a pale memory. But in life everything changes swiftly and livelily: and one day, with the first spring sun and the flooding streams, the father, taking his son, drove off with him in a cart, dragged by a runty piebald horse known among horse traders as a magpie; she was driven by a coachman, a hunchbacked little man, progenitor of the only serf family belonging to Chichikov’s father, who filled almost all the positions in the house. This magpie dragged them for a little over a day and a half; they slept on the road, crossed a river, lunched on cold pie and roast lamb, and only on the morning of the third day did they reach town. In unsuspected magnificence the town streets flashed before the boy and left him gaping for a few minutes. Then the magpie plopped together with the cart into a hole at the head of a narrow lane, all straining downhill and clogged with mud; she toiled there for a long time, using all her strength and kneading away with her legs, urged on by the hunchback and by the master himself, and finally dragged them into a little yard that sat on a slope, with two flowering apple trees in front of a little old house, and with a garden behind, low, puny, consisting only of a mountain ash, an elder, and, hidden in its depths, a little wooden shed, roofed with shingles, with a narrow matte window. Here lived their relative, a wobbly little crone, who still went to market every morning and then dried her stockings by the samovar. She patted the boy on the cheek and admired his plumpness. Here he was to stay and go every day to study at the town school. The father, after spending the night, set out on the road the very next day. On parting, the parental eyes shed no tears; fifty kopecks in copper were given for expenses and treats, and, which was more important, a wise admonition: “Watch out, then, Pavlusha, study, don’t be a fool or a scapegrace, and above all try to please your teachers and superiors. If you please your superior, then even if you don’t succeed in your studies and God has given you no talent, you will still do well and get ahead of everybody. Don’t keep company with your schoolmates, they won’t teach you any good; but if you do, then keep company with the richer ones, on the chance that they may be useful to you. Do not regale or treat anyone, but rather behave in such a way that they treat you, and above all keep and save your kopeck: it is the most reliable thing in the world. A comrade or companion will cheat you and be the first to betray you in trouble; but a kopeck will never betray you, whatever trouble you get into. You can do everything and break through everything with a kopeck.” Having delivered this admonition, the father parted from his son and dragged himself back home with his magpie, and after that he never saw him again, but his words and admonitions sank deeply into his soul.

Pavlusha started going to school the very next day. It turned out that there were no special abilities in him for any subject; he was rather distinguished for his diligence and neatness; but instead there turned out to be great intelligence in him on the other side, the practical one. He suddenly grasped and understood things and behaved himself with regard to his comrades precisely in such a way that they treated him, while he not only never treated them, but even sometimes stashed away the received treat and later sold it to them. While still a child he knew how to deny himself everything. Of the fifty kopecks his father had given him, he did not spend even one; on the contrary, that same year he already made additions to them, showing a resourcefulness that was almost extraordinary: he made a bullfinch out of wax, painted it, and sold it for a good profit. Then, over a certain course of time, he got into other speculations, namely the following: having bought some food at the market, he would sit in class near those who were better off, and as soon as he noticed some queasiness in his comrade—a sign of approaching hunger—he would show him from under the bench, as if accidentally, a wedge of gingerbread or a roll, and, after getting him all excited, would charge a price commensurate with his appetite. He spent two months in his room fussing tirelessly over a mouse that he kept in a small wooden cage, and finally managed to get the mouse to stand on its hind legs, lie down and get up on command, and then he sold it, also for a good profit. When he had accumulated as much as five roubles, he sewed up the little bag and started saving in another one. With respect to the authorities he behaved still more cleverly. No one could sit so quietly on a bench. It should be noted that the teacher was a great lover of silence and good conduct and could not stand clever and witty boys; it seemed to him that they must certainly be laughing at him. It was enough for one who had drawn notice with regard to wit, it was enough for him merely to stir or somehow inadvertently twitch his eyebrow, to suddenly fall under his wrath. He would persecute him and punish him unmercifully. “I’ll drive the defiance and disobedience out of you, my boy!” he would say. “I know you through and through, as you hardly know yourself. You’re going to go on your knees for me! you’re going to go hungry for me!” And the poor lad, not knowing why himself, would get sores on his knees and go hungry for days. “Abilities and talents? That’s all nonsense,” he used to say “I look only at conduct. I’ll give top grades in all subjects to a boy who doesn’t know a from b, if his conduct is praiseworthy; and if I see a bad spirit or any mockery in a one of you, I’ll give him a zero, even if he outshines Solon himself!” So spoke the teacher, who had a mortal hatred of Krylov for saying: “Better a drunken slob, if he knows his job,”[2] and always used to tell, with delight in his face and eyes, that in the school where he taught previously there was such silence that you could hear a fly buzz; that not one pupil the whole year round either coughed or blew his nose in class, and until the bell rang it was impossible to tell whether anyone was there or not. Chichikov suddenly comprehended the superior’s spirit and how to behave accordingly. He never moved an eye or an eyebrow all through class time, however much he was pinched from behind; as soon as the bell rang, he rushed headlong and was the first to offer the teacher his fur hat (the teacher wore a fur hat with ear flaps); after offering him the hat, he left class ahead of him, trying two or three times to cross paths with him, incessantly tipping his cap. The thing was a complete success. All the while he was at school, he was in excellent repute, and at graduation he received full honors in all subjects, a diploma, and an album with For Exemplary Diligence and Good Conduct stamped on it in gold. On leaving school, he turned out to be already a young man of rather attractive appearance, with a chin calling for a razor. Just then his father died. The inheritance was found to consist of four irretrievably worn-out jerkins, two old frock coats trimmed with lambskin, and an insignificant sum of money. The father evidently was competent only to advise on saving kopecks, but saved very few himself. Chichikov straightaway sold the decrepit little farmstead with its worthless bit of land for a thousand roubles, and moved with his family of serfs to town, intending to settle there and enter the civil service. Just at that time the poor teacher, the lover of silence and praiseworthy conduct, was thrown out of the school for stupidity or some other fault. He took to drinking from grief; in the end he had nothing left even to buy drink with; ill, helpless, without a crust of bread, he was perishing somewhere in an unheated, abandoned hovel. His former pupils, the clever and witty, whom he had constantly suspected of disobedience and defiant conduct, on hearing of his pitiful plight, straightaway collected money for him, even selling much that was needed; only Pavlusha Chichikov pleaded want and gave them a silver five-kopeck piece, which his comrades there and then threw back at him, saying: “Eh, you chiseler!” The poor teacher buried his face in his hands when he heard of this act of his former pupils; tears gushed from his fading eyes, as if he were a strengthless child. “On my deathbed God has granted me to weep!” he said in a weak voice, and on hearing about Chichikov, he sighed deeply, adding straightaway: “Eh, Pavlusha! how a man can change! He was so well-behaved, no rowdiness, like silk! Hoodwinked, badly hoodwinked …”

It is impossible, however, to say that our hero’s nature was so hard and callous and his feelings were so dulled that he did not know either pity or compassion; he felt both the one and the other, he would even want to help, but only provided it was not a significant sum, provided the money he had resolved not to touch remained untouched; in short, the fatherly admonition—”Keep and save your kopeck”—proved beneficial. But he was not attached to money for its own sake; he was not possessed by stinginess and miserliness. No, they were not what moved him: he pictured ahead of him a life of every comfort, of every sort of prosperity; carriages, an excellently furnished house, tasty dinners—this was what constantly hovered in his head. So as to be sure ultimately, in time, to taste all that—this was the reason for saving kopecks, stingily denied in the meantime both to himself and to others. When a rich man raced by him in a pretty, light droshky, his trotters richly harnessed, he would stand rooted to the spot, and then, coming to, as if after a long sleep, would say: “Yet he used to be a clerk and had a bowl haircut!” And whatever there was that smacked of wealth and prosperity produced an impression on him inconceivable to himself. On leaving school he did not even want to rest: so strong was his desire to get quickly down to business and start in the service. However, despite his honors diploma, it was with great difficulty that he found himself a place in the treasury. Even in a remote backwoods one needs patronage! The little post he got was a wretched one, the salary thirty or forty roubles a year. But he resolved to engage himself ardently in his service, to conquer and overcome all. And indeed he displayed unheard-of self-denial, patience, and restriction of needs. From early morning till late evening, tireless of both body and soul, he kept writing, all buried in office papers, did not go home, slept on tables in office rooms, ate on occasion with the caretakers, and for all that managed to keep himself tidy, to dress decently, to give his face an agreeable expression, and even a certain nobility to his gestures. It must be said that the treasury clerks were particularly distinguished by their unsightliness and unattractiveness. Some had faces like badly baked bread: a cheek bulging out on one side, the chin skewed to the other, the upper lip puffed into a blister, and cracked besides—in short, quite ugly. They all talked somehow harshly, in such tones as if they were about to give someone a beating; sacrifices were frequently offered to Bacchus, thereby showing that many leftovers of paganism still persist in the Slavic nature; occasionally they even came to the office soused, as they say, for which reason the office was not a very nice place and the air was far from aromatic. Among such clerks Chichikov could not fail to be noticed and distinguished, presenting a complete contrast to them in all ways, by the attractiveness of his face, and the amiableness of his voice, and his total abstention from all strong drink. Yet, for all that, his path was difficult; his superior was an elderly department chief, who was the image of some stony insensibility and unshakableness: eternally the same, unapproachable, never in his life showing a smile on his face, never once greeting anyone even with an inquiry after their health. No one had ever seen him, even once, be other than he always was, either in the street or at home; if only he had once shown sympathy for something or other, if only he had gotten drunk and in his drunkenness burst out laughing; if only he had even given himself to wild gaiety, as a robber will in a drunken moment—but there was not even a shadow of anything of the sort in him. There was precisely nothing in him, neither villainy nor goodness, and something frightful showed itself in this absence of everything. His callously marble face, with no sharp irregularity, did not hint at any resemblance; his features were in strict proportion to each other. Only the quantity of pocks and pits that mottled it included it in the number of those faces on which, according to the popular expression, the devil comes at night to thresh peas. It seemed beyond human power to suck up to such a man and win his favor, but Chichikov tried. To begin with, he set about pleasing him in various inconspicuous trifles: he made a close study of how the pens he wrote with were sharpened, and, preparing a few in that way, placed them at his hand each day; he blew and brushed the sand and tobacco from his desk; he provided a new rag for his inkstand; he found his hat somewhere, the vilest hat that ever existed in the world, and placed it by him each day a minute before the end of office hours; he cleaned off his back when he got whitewash on it from the wall—but all this went decidedly unnoticed, the same as if none of it had been done. Finally he sniffed out his home and family life, and learned that he had a grown-up daughter whose face also looked as if the threshing of peas took place on it nightly. It was from this side that he decided to mount his assault. Learning what church she went to on Sundays, he would stand opposite her each time, in clean clothes, his shirtfront stiffly starched— and the thing proved a success: the stern department chief wavered and invited him to tea! And before anyone in the office had time to blink, things got so arranged that Chichikov moved into his house, became a necessary and indispensable man, purchased the flour and the sugar, treated the daughter as his fiancée, called the department chief papa, and kissed his hand; everyone in the office decided that at the end of February, before the Great Lent, there would be a wedding.[3] The stern department chief even began soliciting the authorities, and in a short time Chichikov himself was installed as a department chief in a vacancy that had come open. In this, it seemed, the main purpose of his connection with the old department chief consisted, because he straightaway sent his trunk home in secret, and the next day was already settled in other quarters. He stopped calling the department chief papa and no longer kissed his hand, and the matter of the wedding was hushed up, as if nothing had ever happened. However, on meeting him, he amiably shook his hand each time and invited him to tea, so that the old department chief, despite his eternal immobility and callous indifference, shook his head each time and muttered under his breath: “Hoodwinked, hoodwinked—that devil’s son!”

This was the most difficult threshold he had to cross. After that it went more easily and successfully. He became a man of note. There was everything in him needed for this world: agreeableness of manner and behavior, and briskness in the business of doing business. By these means he obtained before too long what is known as a cushy billet, and he made excellent use of it. It should be known that at that very time the strictest persecution of every sort of bribery was begun; he did not let the persecution frighten him, but at once turned it to his own profit, thereby showing a truly Russian inventiveness, which emerges only under pressure. This is how it was set up: as soon as a petitioner appeared and thrust his hand into his pocket to produce from it the familiar letters of reference from Prince Khovansky, as we say in Russia[4]— “No, no,” he would say with a smile, restraining his hand, “you think that I . . . no, no. This is our duty, our responsibility, we must do it without any rewards! Rest assured in that regard: by tomorrow everything will be done. Give me your address, please, no need to trouble yourself, everything will be brought to your house.” The charmed petitioner would return home almost in ecstasy, thinking: “Here at last is the sort of man we need more of— simply a priceless diamond!” But the petitioner waits a day, then another day, nothing is brought to his house, nor on the third day. He comes to the office, nothing has even begun yet: he goes to the priceless diamond. “Ah, forgive me!” Chichikov would say very politely, seizing both his hands, “we’ve been so busy; but by tomorrow everything will be done, tomorrow without fail, really, I’m so ashamed!” And all this would be accompanied by the most charming gestures. If the flap of some caftan should fly open just then, a hand would try at the same moment to set things straight and hold the flap. But neither the next day, nor the day after, nor the third day is anything brought to the house. The petitioner reconsiders: really, maybe there’s something behind it? He makes inquiries; they say you must give something to the scriveners. “Why not? I’m prepared to give twenty-five kopecks or so.” “No, not twenty-five kopecks, but twenty-five roubles each.” “Twenty-five roubles to each scrivener!” the petitioner cries out. “Why get so excited,” comes the reply, “it amounts to the same thing—the scriveners will get twenty-five kopecks each, and the rest will go to the superiors.” The slow-witted petitioner slaps himself on the forehead, calls down all plagues upon the new order of things, the persecution of bribery, and the polite, gentilized manners of the officials. Before, one at least knew what to do: bring the chief clerk a ten-rouble bill and the thing was in the bag, but now it’s a twenty-fiver and a week of fussing besides before you figure it out—devil take disinterestedness and official gentility! The petitioner, of course, is right, but, on the other hand, now there are no more bribe takers: all the chief clerks are most honest and genteel people, only the secretaries and scriveners are crooks. Soon a much vaster field presented itself to Chichikov: a commission was formed for the building of some quite capital government building. He, too, got himself into this commission and ended up being one of its most active members. The commission immediately set to work. For six years they fussed over the edifice; but maybe the climate interfered, or there was something about the materials, in any case the government edifice simply would not get higher than its foundations. And meanwhile, in other parts of town, each of the members turned out to have a beautiful house of civil architecture: evidently the subsoil was somewhat better there. The members were already beginning to prosper and started raising families. Only here and only now did Chichikov begin gradually to extricate himself from the stern law of temperance and his own implacable self-denial. Only here was his long-lasting fast finally relaxed, and it turned out that he had never been a stranger to various pleasures, from which he had been able to abstain in the years of his ardent youth, when no man is completely master of himself. Some indulgences turned up: he acquired a rather good cook, fine Holland shirts. Already he had bought himself such flannel as no one in the entire province wore, and from then on began keeping more to brown and reddish colors, with flecks; already he had acquired an excellent pair of horses, and would hold one of the reins himself, making the outrunner twist and turn; already he had begun the custom of sponging himself with water mixed with eau de cologne; already he had bought himself a certain far-from-inexpensive soap for imparting smoothness to his skin, already . . .

But suddenly, to replace the former old doormat, a new superior was sent, a military man, strict, the enemy of bribe takers and of everything known as falsehood. The very next day he threw a scare into one and all, demanded the accounts, found missing amounts, sums omitted at every step, noticed straight off the houses of beautiful civil architecture, and the sorting out began. The officials were dismissed from their posts; the houses of civil architecture were made government property and turned into various almshouses and schools for cantonists;[5] everywhere the feathers flew, and with Chichikov more than the rest. Despite its agreeableness, the superior suddenly took a dislike to his face, God knows why exactly—sometimes it is even simply for no reason at all—and conceived a mortal hatred for him. And to everyone this implacable superior was a great terror. But since he was anyhow a military man, and consequently did not know all the subtleties of civilian capers, in a short time certain other officials wormed their way into his graces, by means of a truthful appearance and a skill in ingratiating themselves with everyone, and the general soon wound up in the hands of still greater crooks, whom he by no means regarded as such; he was even pleased that he had finally made a proper choice of people, and seriously boasted of his fine skill in discerning abilities. The officials suddenly comprehended his spirit and character. All that were under his command became terrible persecutors of falsehood; everywhere, in all things, they pursued it as a fisherman with a harpoon pursues some meaty sturgeon, and they pursued it so successfully that in a short while each of them turned out to have several thousand in capital. At that time many of the former officials returned to the right way and were taken back into the service. But Chichikov simply could not worm his way in, despite all the efforts of the general’s first secretary to stand up for him, instigated by letters from Prince Khovansky, for though he comprehended perfectly the art of directing the general’s nose, in this case he could do decidedly nothing. The general was the kind of man who, while he could be led by the nose (though without his knowing it), yet if some thought lodged itself in his head, it was the same as an iron nail: there was no way of getting it out. All that the clever secretary managed to do was to have the tarnished service record destroyed, and he moved the superior to that only by compassion, portraying for him in vivid colors the touching plight of Chichikov’s unfortunate family, which he, fortunately, did not have.

“Well, so what!” said Chichikov. “There was a nibble—I pulled, lost it—no more questions. Crying won’t help, I must get to work.” And so he decided to start his career over again, fortify himself again with patience, limit himself again in everything, however freely and fully he had expanded before. He had to move to another town, and still make himself known there. Somehow nothing worked. In a very short period of time he had to change posts two or three times. The posts were somehow dirty, mean. It should be known that Chichikov was the most decent man who ever existed in the world. Although he did have to start by working himself through dirty society, in his soul he always maintained cleanliness, liked office desks to be of lacquered wood and everything to be genteel. He never allowed himself an indecent word in his speech and always became offended when he noticed in the words of others an absence of due respect for rank or title. The reader will, I think, be pleased to know that he changed his linen every other day, and in summer, when it was hot, even every day: every unpleasant smell, however slight, offended him. For this reason, every time Petrushka came to undress him and take his boots off, he put a clove in his nose, and in many cases his nerves were as ticklish as a girl’s; and therefore it was hard finding himself again in those ranks where everything smacked of cheap vodka and unseemly behavior. However firm he was in spirit, he grew thin and even turned green in this time of such adversities. Already he had begun to gain weight and to acquire those round and seemly forms in which the reader found him on first making his acquaintance, and already more than once, glancing in the mirror, he had had thoughts of many pleasant things—a little woman, a nursery—and these thoughts would be followed by a smile; but now, when he once accidentally glanced at himself in the mirror, he could not help crying out: “Holy mother mine! how repulsive I’ve become!” And then for a long time he would not look at himself. But our hero endured it all, endured staunchly, patiently endured, and—at last went to work in customs. It must be said that this work had long constituted the secret object of his thoughts. He saw what stylish foreign things the customs officials acquired, what china and cambric they sent to their sweeties, aunties, and sisters. Long since he had said more than once with a sigh: “That’s the place to get to: the border’s close, the people are enlightened, and what fine Holland shirts one can acquire!” It should be added that at the same time he was also thinking about a particular kind of French soap that imparted an extraordinary whiteness to the skin and freshness to the cheeks; what it was called, God only knows, but, by his reckoning, it was sure to be found at the border. And so he had long wanted to work in customs, but was kept from it by the various ongoing profits of the building commission, and he rightly reasoned that, in any case, customs was no more than two birds in the bush, while the commission was already one in the hand. But now he resolved at all costs to get into customs, and get there he did. He tackled his work with extraordinary zeal. It seemed that fate itself had appointed him to be a customs official. Such efficiency, perceptivity, and perspicacity had been not only never seen, but never even heard of. In three or four weeks he became such a skilled hand at the customs business that he knew decidedly everything: he did not weigh or measure, but could tell by the feel of it how many yards of flannel or other fabric were in each bolt; taking a parcel in his hand, he could say at once how much it weighed. As for searches, here, as even his colleagues put it, he simply had the nose of a hound: one could not help being amazed, seeing him have patience enough to feel every little button, and all of it performed with deadly coldbloodedness, polite to the point of incredibility. And while those being searched became furious, got beside themselves, and felt a spiteful urge to give the back of their hand to his agreeable appearance, he, changing neither his countenance nor his polite demeanor, merely kept murmuring: “Would you kindly take the trouble to get up a little?” or “Would you kindly proceed to the other room, madam? The spouse of one of our officials will speak with you there” or “Excuse me, I’ll just unstitch the lining of your overcoat a bit with my penknife”—and, so saying, he would pull shawls and kerchiefs out of it as coolly as out of his own trunk. Even his superiors opined that this was a devil, not a man: he found things in wheels, shafts, horses’ ears, and all sorts of other places where no author would even dream of going, and where no one but customs officials are allowed to go. So that the poor traveler, once past the border, would not recover himself for several minutes, and, mopping the sweat that had broken out in small droplets all over his body, could only cross himself, murmuring: “My, oh, my!” His position rather resembled that of a schoolboy who comes running from a private room to which the headmaster summoned him in order to deliver some admonition, instead of which he quite unexpectedly gave him a caning. In a short while he made life simply impossible for the smugglers. He was the terror and despair of all Polish Jewry. His honesty and incorruptibility were insurmountable, almost unnatural. He did not even amass a small capital for himself from various confiscated goods and objects of all sorts, seized but not turned over to the treasury so as to save unnecessary paperwork. Such zealously unmercenary service could not but become an object of general amazement and be brought finally to the notice of the superiors. He was given more rank and promotion, after which he presented a plan for catching all the smugglers, asking only for the means of implementing it himself. He was straightaway given command and an unlimited authority to perform all searches. This was just what he wanted. At that time a powerful company of smugglers had been formed in a carefully planned way; the bold undertaking promised millions in profit. He had long been informed of it and had even turned away those sent to bribe him, saying dryly: “It’s not time yet.” Once everything was put at his disposal, he immediately sent word to the company, saying: “The time has now come.” The calculation was only too correct. Here he could get in one year what he could not gain in twenty years of the most zealous service. Prior to this he had not wanted to enter into any relations with them, because he was no more than a mere pawn, which meant that he would not get much; but now. . . now it was quite a different matter: he could offer any conditions he liked. To smooth the way, he won over another official, a colleague of his, who could not resist the temptation despite his gray hairs. The conditions were agreed to, and the company went into action. The action began brilliantly: the reader has undoubtedly heard the oft-repeated story of the clever journey of the Spanish sheep that crossed the border in double fleeces, carrying in between a million roubles’ worth of Brabant lace. This event occurred precisely when Chichikov was serving in customs. If he himself had not participated in this undertaking, no Jews in the world could have succeeded in bringing off such a thing. After three or four sheep-crossings at the border, each of the officials found himself with four hundred thousand in capital. With Chichikov, they say, it even went over five hundred thousand, because he was a bit quicker. God knows what enormous figures the blessed sums might have grown to, if some deuced beast had not crossed paths with it all. The devil befuddled both officials; to speak plainly, the officials went berserk and quarreled over nothing. Once, in a heated conversation, and perhaps being a bit tipsy, Chichikov called the other official a parson’s kid, and the man, though he was indeed a parson’s kid, for no reason at all became bitterly offended and straightaway answered him strongly and with extraordinary sharpness, namely thus: “No, lies, I’m a state councillor, not a parson’s kid, it’s you who are a parson’s kid!” And then added, to pique him to greater vexation: “So there!” Although he told him off thus roundly, turning back on him the very title he had bestowed, and although the expression “So there!” may have been a strong one, he was not satisfied with that and also sent in a secret denunciation against him. However, they say that, to begin with, they had quarreled over some wench, fresh and firm as a ripe turnip, in the custom officials’ expression; that some people were even paid to give our hero a little beating at night in a dark alley; but that both officials were played for fools, and the wench went to the use of a certain Captain Shamsharev. How it was in reality, God only knows; better let the inventive reader think up his own ending. The main thing was that the secret connections with the smugglers became manifest. The state councillor, though ruined himself, also cooked his colleague’s goose. The officials were brought to trial, everything they had was confiscated, perquisitioned, and it all suddenly broke like thunder over their heads. They recovered as if from a stupor and saw with horror what they had done. The state councillor, following Russian custom, took to drinking from grief, but the collegiate one withstood. He managed to hide away part of the cash, despite the keen scent of the authorities who came for the investigation. He used all the subtle wiles of his mind, only too experienced by then, only too knowledgeable of people: at one point he acted by means of an agreeable manner, at another by moving speeches, at another by the incense of flattery, which never does any harm, at another by dropping a bit of cash—in short, he handled things so as to be retired with less dishonor than his colleague, and to dodge criminal proceedings. But no capital, no foreign-made trinkets, nothing was left to him; other lovers of such things had come along. All that remained to him was some ten thousand stashed away for a rainy day, that and two dozen Holland shirts, and a small britzka such as bachelors drive around in, and two serfs—the coachman Selifan and the lackey Petrushka—and the customs officials, out of the kindness of their hearts, left him five or six pieces of soap for preserving the freshness of his cheeks—that was all. And so, this was the position our hero again found himself in! This was the immense calamity that came crashing down on his head! This was what he called suffering for the truth in the service. Now it might be concluded that after such storms, trials, vicissitudes of fate, and sorrows of life, he would retire with his remaining ten thousand to the peaceful backwoods of some provincial town and there wither away forever in a chintz dressing gown at the window of a low house, on Sundays sorting out a fight between muzhiks that started up outside his windows, or refreshing himself by going to the chicken coop and personally inspecting the chicken destined for the soup, thus passing his none-too-noisy but in its own way also not quite useless life. But it did not happen so. One must do justice to the invincible force of his character. After all this, which was enough, if not to kill, then at least to cool down and subdue a man forever, the inconceivable passion did not die in him. He was aggrieved, vexed, he murmured against the whole world, was angry at the injustice of fate, indignant at the injustice of men, and, nevertheless, could not renounce new attempts. In short, he showed a patience compared with which the wooden patience of the German is nothing, consisting as it does of a slow, sluggish circulation of the blood. Chichikov’s blood, on the contrary, ran high, and much reasonable will was needed to bridle all that would have liked to leap out and play freely. He reasoned, and a certain aspect of justice could be seen in his reasoning: “Why me? Why should the calamity have befallen me? Who just sits and gapes on the job?—everybody profits. I didn’t make anyone unhappy: I didn’t rob a widow, I didn’t send anyone begging, I made use of abundance, I took where anyone else would have taken; if I hadn’t made use of it, others would have. Why, then, do others prosper, and why must I perish like a worm? What am I now? What good am I? How will I look any respectable father of a family in the eye now? How can I not feel remorse, knowing that I’m a useless burden on the earth, and what will my children say later? There, they’ll say, is a brute of a father, he didn’t leave us any inheritance!”

It is already known that Chichikov was greatly concerned with his posterity. Such a sensitive subject! A man would, perhaps, not be so light of finger, were it not for the question which, no one knows why, comes of itself: “And what will the children say?” And so the future progenitor, like a cautious cat casting a sidelong glance with one eye to make sure his master is not watching, hastily grabs everything close to him—soap, a candle, lard, a canary that turns up under his paw—in short, he does not miss a thing. So our hero complained and wept, and meanwhile the activity in his head refused to die; it was all concentrated on building something and only waited for a plan. Again he shrank, again he began to lead a hard life, again limited himself in everything, again sank from cleanliness and a decent situation into mire and low life. And, in expectation of better things, was even forced to occupy himself with the calling of solicitor, a calling which has not yet acquired citizenship among us, is pushed around on all sides, is little respected by petty clerkdom, or even by the clients themselves, which is condemned to groveling in hallways, to rudeness, and all the rest of it, but need made him resolve on it all. Among other cases there was one in which he had to solicit for the taking in custody of several hundred peasants. The estate was in the last degree of disorder. The disorder had been caused by loss of cattle, swindling stewards, bad crops, epidemic diseases that killed off the best workers, and finally by the witlessness of the landowner himself, who was decorating his Moscow house in the newest taste and in the process destroying his entire fortune to the last kopeck, so that there was no longer enough to eat. And this was the reason why it was finally necessary to mortgage what remained of the estate. Mortgaging to the treasury was a new thing then, which was not ventured upon without fear. As a solicitor, Chichikov, having first gained everyone’s favor (without gaining favor beforehand, as we all know, even the simplest document or certificate cannot be obtained; a bottle of Madeira must at least be poured down every gullet)—and so, having gained the favor of everyone he needed, he explained that there was, incidentally, this circumstance, that half the peasants had died off— just so there should be no quibbling later on . . .

“But aren’t they listed in the census reports?” said the secretary.

“They are,” replied Chichikov.

“Well, then why be so timid?” said the secretary. “One dies, another gets born, there’s nothing to mourn.”

The secretary, as you see, could also talk in rhyme. And meanwhile the most inspired thought that ever entered a human head dawned on our hero. “Ah, what a Simple Simon I am,” he said to himself, “hunting for my mittens when they’re tucked right under my belt! No, if I were to buy up all the ones that have died before the new census lists are turned in, to acquire, say, a thousand of them, and get, say, two hundred roubles per soul—that’s already two hundred thousand in capital! And now is a good time, there were epidemics recently, thank God, quite a lot of folk died off. The landowners have gambled away everything at cards, caroused and squandered the lot well and good; everything goes off to government service in Petersburg; estates are abandoned, managed haphazardly, the taxes are harder to pay each year, so everyone will be glad to let me have them, if only so as not to pay the soul tax for them; chances are I may occasionally pick up a kopeck or two on it. Of course, it’s difficult, worrisome, frightening, because I might get in trouble again for it, some scandal might come of it. Well, but after all, man hasn’t been given brains for nothing. And the best part of it is that the thing will seem incredible to them all, no one will believe it. True, it’s impossible to buy or mortgage them without land. So I’ll buy them for relocation, that’s what; land in the Taurida and Kherson provinces is being given away now, just go and settle on it. I’ll resettle them all there! to Kherson with them! let them live there! And the resettlement can be done legally, through the proper court procedures. If they want to verify the peasants: go ahead, I have no objections, why not? I’ll provide a certificate signed by the district captain of police with his own hand. The village can be called Chichikov Hamlet, or by the name I was baptized with: Pavlovsk Settlement.” And that was how this strange subject formed itself in our hero’s head, for which I do not know whether readers will be grateful to him, but how grateful the author is, it is even difficult to express. For, say what you will, if this thought had not entered Chichikov’s head, the present poem would never have come into being.

After crossing himself, as Russians do, he went into action. In the guise of looking for a place to live and on other pretexts, he undertook to peek into various corners of our state, mostly those that had suffered more than others from calamities, bad harvests, mortalities, and so on and so forth—in short, where he could more readily and cheaply buy up the sort of folk he wanted. He did not turn at random to just any landowner, but selected people more to his taste or those with whom he would have less difficulty concluding such deals, and he tried first to strike up an acquaintance, to gain favor, so as to acquire the muzhiks, if possible, more through friendship than by purchase. And so, readers ought not to be indignant with the author if the characters who have appeared so far are not to their liking: it is Chichikov’s fault, he is full master here, and wherever he decides to go, we must drag ourselves after him. For our part, if indeed there should fall an accusation of paleness and unsightliness in our characters and persons, we shall say only that in the beginning one never sees the whole broad flow and volume of a thing. The entrance to any town whatever, even a capital, is always somehow pale; at first everything is gray and monotonous: mills and factories all smudged with smoke stretch out endlessly, and only later appear the corners of six-storied buildings, shops, signboards, the immense perspectives of streets, steeples everywhere, columns, statues, towers, with city splendor, noise and thunder, and all that the hand and mind of man have so marvelously brought about. How the first purchases were brought about, the reader has already seen; how matters will develop further, what fortunes and misfortunes await our hero, how he is to solve and surmount more difficult obstacles, how colossal images will emerge, how the secret levers of the vast narrative will work, how its horizon will extend far and wide, and all of it become one majestic lyrical flow—this he will see later. There is still a long way ahead of the whole traveling outfit, consisting of a gentleman of middle age, a britzka such as bachelors drive around in, a lackey Petrushka, a coachman Selifan, and three horses already known by name, from Assessor to the scoundrelly dapple-gray. And so, there you have the whole of our hero, just as he is! But perhaps there will be a demand for a conclusive definition, in one stroke: what is he as regards moral qualities? That he is no hero filled with perfections and virtues is clear. What is he—a scoundrel, then? Why a scoundrel, why be so hard on others? Nowadays we have no scoundrels, we have well-meaning, agreeable people, and of those who, for general disgrace, would offer their physiognomies to be publicly slapped, one can count no more than some two or three men, and they, too, have started talking about virtue. It would be most correct to call him an owner, an acquirer. Acquisition is to blame for everything; because of it things have been done which the world dubs not quite clean. True, there is something repulsive in such a character, and the same reader who on his journey through life would make friends with such a person, welcome him at his table, and pass the time pleasantly, will look askance at him once he becomes the hero of a drama or a poem. But he is wise who does not scorn any character, but, fixing a piercing eye on him, searches out his primary causes. Everything transforms quickly in man; before you can turn around, a horrible worm has grown inside him, despotically drawing all life’s juices to itself.

And it has happened more than once that some passion, not a broad but a paltry little passion for some petty thing, has spread through one born for better deeds, making him forsake great and sacred duties and see the great and sacred in paltry baubles. Numberless as the sands of the sea are human passions, and no one resembles another, and all of them, base or beautiful, are at first obedient to man and only later become his dread rulers. Blessed is he who has chosen the most beautiful passion; his boundless bliss grows tenfold with every hour and minute, and he goes deeper and deeper into the infinite paradise of his soul. But there are passions that it is not for man to choose. They are born with him at the moment of his birth into this world, and he is not granted the power to refuse them. They are guided by a higher destiny, and they have in them something eternally calling, never ceasing throughout one’s life. They are ordained to accomplish a great earthly pursuit: as a dark image, or as a bright apparition sweeping by, gladdening the world—it makes no difference, both are equally called forth for the good unknown to man. And it may be that in this same Chichikov the passion that drives him comes not from him, and that his cold existence contains that which will later throw man down in the dust and make him kneel before the wisdom of the heavens. And it is still a mystery why this image has appeared in the poem that is presently coming into being.

But the hard thing is not that readers will be displeased with my hero, what is hard is that there lives in my soul an irrefutable certainty that they might have been pleased with this same hero, this same Chichikov. If the author had not looked deeply into his soul, had not stirred up from its bottom that which flees and hides from the light, had not revealed his secret thoughts which no man entrusts to another, but had shown him such as he appeared to the whole town, to Manilov and the others, everyone would have been happy as can be and would have taken him for an interesting man. Never mind that neither his face nor his whole image would have hovered as if alive before their eyes; instead, once the reading was over, the soul would not be troubled by anything, and one could turn back to the card table, the solace of all Russia. Yes, my good readers, you would prefer not to see human poverty revealed. Why, you ask, what for? Do we not know ourselves that there is much in life that is contemptible and stupid? Even without that, one often chances to see things which are by no means comforting. Better present us with something beautiful, captivating. Better let us become oblivious! “Why, brother, are you telling me that things aren’t going well with the management of the estate?” says the landowner to his steward. “I know that without you, brother, haven’t you got something else to talk about? You ought to let me forget it, not know it, then I’ll be happy.” And so the money that would have helped somehow to straighten things out is spent on the means for making oneself oblivious. The mind sleeps, the mind that might find some unexpected fount of great means; and then, bang! the estate gets auctioned, and the landowner takes his oblivion and goes begging, his soul ready in its extremity for such baseness as once would have horrified him.

Accusation will also fall upon the author from the side of the so-called patriots, who sit quietly in their corners, occupied with completely unrelated matters, and stash away small fortunes for themselves, arranging their lives at the expense of others; but as soon as something happens which in their opinion is insulting to the fatherland, if some book appears in which the sometimes bitter truth is told, they rush out of all corners like spiders seeing a fly tangled in their web, and suddenly raise a cry: “But is it good to bring it to light, to proclaim about it? Because all this that’s written here, all this is ours—is that nice? And what will foreigners say? Is it cheery to hear a bad opinion of oneself? Do they think it doesn’t hurt? Do they think we’re not patriots?” To these wise observations, especially concerning the opinion of foreigners, I confess it is impossible to find an answer. Unless it is this: in a remote corner of Russia there lived two inhabitants. One was a father of a family, Kifa Mokievich by name, a man of meek character who spent his life in a dressing-gown way. He did not occupy himself with his family; his existence was turned more in a contemplative direction and was occupied with the following, as he called it, philosophical question: “Take, for instance, a beast,” he would say, pacing the room, “a beast is born naked. And why precisely naked? Why not like a bird, why not hatched from an egg? So you see: the deeper you go into nature, the less you understand her!” Thus reasoned the inhabitant Kifa Mokievich. But that is still not the main thing. The other inhabitant was Moky Kifovich, his own son. He was what is known in Russia as a mighty man, and all the while that his father was occupied with the birth of a beast, his broad-shouldered twenty-year-old nature kept wanting to display itself. He could not go about anything lightly: it was always someone’s arm broken or a bump swelling on someone’s nose. In and around the house everything, from the serf wench to the yard bitch, ran away from him on sight; he even broke his own bed to pieces in the bedroom. Such was Moky Kifovich, who nevertheless had a good heart. But that is still not the main thing. The main thing is the following: “For pity’s sake, dear master, Kifa Mokievich,” his own and other house serfs used to say to the father, “what’s with your Moky Kifovich? He won’t leave anyone in peace, he’s such a roughneck.” “Yes, a prankster, a prankster,” the father usually replied to that, “but what can I do? It’s too late to beat him, and I’d be the one accused of cruelty; then, too, he’s a proud man, if I reproached him in front of just a couple of people, he’d calm down, but publicity—there’s the trouble! They’d find out in town and call him a downright dog. What do they think, really, that it doesn’t hurt me? that I’m not a father? That I occupy myself with philosophy and sometimes have no time, and so I’m not a father anymore? No, I’m a father all right! a father, devil take them, a father! I’ve got Moky Kifovich sitting right here in my heart!” Here Kifa Mokievich beat himself quite hard on the breast with his fist and flew into a complete passion. “Let him even remain a dog, but let them not find it out from me, let it not be me who betrays him.” Then, having shown such paternal feeling, he would leave Moky Kifovich to go on with his mighty deeds, and himself turn again to his favorite subject, suddenly asking himself some such question as: “Well, and if an elephant was born from an egg, then I suppose the shell would be mighty thick, a cannonball couldn’t break it; some new firearms would have to be invented.” So they spent their life, these two inhabitants of a peaceful corner, who have suddenly peeked out, as from a window, at the end of our poem, peeked out in order to respond modestly to accusations on the part of certain ardent patriots, who for the moment are quietly occupied with some sort of philosophy or with augmentations at the expense of their dearly beloved fatherland, and think not about not doing wrong, but only about having no one say they are doing wrong. But no, neither patriotism nor primal feeling is the cause of these accusations, something else is hidden behind them. Why conceal the word? Who, then, if not an author, must speak the sacred truth? You fear the deeply penetrating gaze, you are afraid to penetrate anything deeply with your own gaze, you like to skim over everything with unthinking eyes. You will even have a hearty laugh over Chichikov, will perhaps even praise the author, saying: “He did cleverly catch a thing or two, though; must be a man of merry temperament!” And after these words you will turn to yourself with redoubled pride, a self-satisfied smile will appear on your face, and you will add: “One can’t help agreeing, the most strange and ridiculous people turn up in some provinces, and no small scoundrels at that!” And who among you, filled with Christian humility, not publicly, but in quiet, alone, in moments of solitary converse with himself, will point deeply into his own soul this painful question: “And isn’t there a bit of Chichikov in me, too?” Perish the thought! But if some acquaintance of yours should pass by just then, a man of neither too high nor too low a rank, you will straightaway nudge your neighbor and tell him, all but snorting with laughter: “Look, look, there goes Chichikov, it’s Chichikov!” And then, like a child, forgetting all decorum incumbent upon your age and station, you will run after him, taunting him from behind and repeating: “Chichikov! Chichikov! Chichikov!”

But we have begun talking rather loudly, forgetting that our hero, asleep all the while his story was being told, is now awake and can easily hear his last name being repeated so often. He is a touchy man and does not like it when he is spoken of disrespectfully. The reader can hardly care whether Chichikov gets angry with him or not, but as for the author, he must in no case quarrel with his hero: they still have many a road to travel together hand in hand; two big parts lie ahead—no trifling matter.

“Hey, hey! what’s with you!” said Chichikov to Selifan, “eh?”

“What?” said Selifan in a slow voice.

“What do you mean, what? You goose! is that any way to drive? Get a move on!”

And indeed Selifan had long been driving with his eyes closed, only occasionally, through sleep, snapping the reins against the flanks of the horses, who were also dozing; and Petrushka’s cap had long since flown off at some unknown place, and he himself was leaning back, resting his head on Chichikov’s knee, so that he had to give it a flick. Selifan perked up and, slapping the dapple-gray on the back a few times, which made him break into a trot, and brandishing his whip over them all, added in a thin, singsong voice: “Never fear!” The horses got moving and pulled the light britzka along like a bit of fluff. Selifan just kept brandishing and shouting “Hup! hup! hup!” bouncing smoothly on his box, as the troika now flew up and now rushed full-tilt down a hummock, such as were scattered the whole length of the high road, which ran down a barely noticeable slope. Chichikov just smiled, jouncing slightly on his leather cushion, for he loved fast driving. And what Russian does not love fast driving? How can his soul, which yearns to get into a whirl, to carouse, to say sometimes: “Devil take it all!”—how can his soul not love it? Not love it when something ecstatically wondrous is felt in it? It seems an unknown force has taken you on its wing, and you are flying, and everything is flying: milestones go flying by, merchants come flying at you on the boxes of their kibitkas, the forest on both sides is flying by with its dark ranks of firs and pines, with axes chopping and crows cawing, the whole road is flying off no one knows where into the vanishing distance, and there is something terrible in this quick flashing, in which the vanishing object has no time to fix itself—only the sky overhead, and the light clouds, and the moon trying to break through, they alone seem motionless. Ah, troika! bird troika, who invented you? Surely you could only have been born among a brisk people, in a land that cares not for jokes, but sweeps smoothly and evenly over half the world, and you can go on counting the miles until it all dances before your eyes. And you are no clever traveling outfit, it seems, held together by an iron screw, but some dextrous Yaroslav muzhik fitted you out and put you together slapdash, with only an axe and a chisel. The driver wears no German top boots: a beard, mittens, and devil knows what he sits on; but when he stands up, waves, and strikes up a song—the steeds go like the wind, the spokes of the wheels blend to a smooth disc, the road simply shudders, and the passerby stops and cries out in fright—there she goes racing, racing, racing! . . . And already far in the distance you see something raising dust and drilling the air.

And you, Rus, are you not also like a brisk, unbeatable troika racing on? The road smokes under you, bridges rumble, everything falls back and is left behind. Dumbstruck by the divine wonder, the contemplator stops: was it a bolt of lightning thrown down from heaven? what is the meaning of this horrific movement? and what unknown force is hidden in these steeds unknown to the world? Ah, steeds, steeds, what steeds! Are there whirlwinds in your manes? Is a keen ear burning in your every nerve? Hearing the familiar song from above, all in one accord you strain your bronze chests and, hooves barely touching the ground, turn into straight lines flying through the air, and all inspired by God it rushes on! . . . Rus, where are you racing to? Give answer! She gives no answer. Wondrously the harness bell dissolves in ringing; the air rumbles, shattered to pieces, and turns to wind; everything on earth flies by, and, looking askance, other nations and states step aside to make way.


[1] Gogol was living in Italy when he wrote Dead Souls, and here, from his “beautiful distance,” compares the landscapes of Italy and Russia.

[2] Solon (630?-560? B.C.), the lawgiver of Athens, was one of the seven sages of Greece. The quotation is from Krylov’s fable The Musicians.

[3] The Orthodox Church does not celebrate marriages during the Great Lent, the forty-day fast preceding Holy Week and Easter.

[4] A euphemism for bribes. Prince Alexander N. Khovansky (1771-1857) was director of the state bank from 1818 until his death; his signature was reproduced on all state banknotes. Ironically, the name Khovansky comes from the Ukrainian word khovat, meaning “to hide” or “to secret away.”

[5] Cantonists were the children of soldiers, who were assigned to the department of the army from birth and educated at state expense in special schools.


Обращение к пользователям