FictionForest

PART EIGHT : Chapter 1

Leo TolstoyAug 26, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Almost two months had passed. 
The hot summer was half over, but Sergey Ivanovitch
was only just preparing to leave Moscow.

Sergey Ivanovitch’s life had
not been uneventful during this time.  A year
ago he had finished his book, the fruit of six years’
labor, “Sketch of a Survey of the Principles
and Forms of Government in Europe and Russia.” 
Several sections of this book and its introduction
had appeared in periodical publications, and other
parts had been read by Sergey Ivanovitch to persons
of his circle, so that the leading ideas of the work
could not be completely novel to the public. 
But still Sergey Ivanovitch had expected that on
its appearance his book would be sure to make a serious
impression on society, and if it did not cause a revolution
in social science it would, at any rate, make a great
stir in the scientific world.

After the most conscientious revision
the book had last year been published, and had been
distributed among the booksellers.

Though he asked no one about it, reluctantly
and with feigned indifference answered his friends’
inquiries as to how the book was going, and did not
even inquire of the booksellers how the book was selling,
Sergey Ivanovitch was all on the alert, with strained
attention, watching for the first impression his book
would make in the world and in literature.

But a week passed, a second, a third,
and in society no impression whatever could be detected. 
His friends who were specialists and savants, occasionally ­unmistakably
from politeness ­alluded to it.  The
rest of his acquaintances, not interested in a book
on a learned subject, did not talk of it at all. 
And society generally ­just now especially
absorbed in other things ­was absolutely
indifferent.  In the press, too, for a whole
month there was not a word about his book.

Sergey Ivanovitch had calculated to
a nicety the time necessary for writing a review,
but a month passed, and a second, and still there
was silence.

Only in the Northern Beetle,
in a comic article on the singer Drabanti, who had
lost his voice, there was a contemptuous allusion
to Koznishev’s book, suggesting that the book
had been long ago seen through by everyone, and was
a subject of general ridicule.

At last in the third month a critical
article appeared in a serious review.  Sergey
Ivanovitch knew the author of the article.  He
had met him once at Golubtsov’s.

The author of the article was a young
man, an invalid, very bold as a writer, but extremely
deficient in breeding and shy in personal relations.

In spite of his absolute contempt
for the author, it was with complete respect that
Sergey Ivanovitch set about reading the article. 
The article was awful.

The critic had undoubtedly put an
interpretation upon the book which could not possibly
be put on it.  But he had selected quotations
so adroitly that for people who had not read the book
(and obviously scarcely anyone had read it) it seemed
absolutely clear that the whole book was nothing but
a medley of high-flown phrases, not even ­as
suggested by marks of interrogation ­used
appropriately, and that the author of the book was
a person absolutely without knowledge of the subject. 
And all this was so wittily done that Sergey Ivanovitch
would not have disowned such wit himself.  But
that was just what was so awful.

In spite of the scrupulous conscientiousness
with which Sergey Ivanovitch verified the correctness
of the critic’s arguments, he did not for a
minute stop to ponder over the faults and mistakes
which were ridiculed; but unconsciously he began immediately
trying to recall every detail of his meeting and conversation
with the author of the article.

“Didn’t I offend him in
some way?” Sergey Ivanovitch wondered.

And remembering that when they met
he had corrected the young man about something he
had said that betrayed ignorance, Sergey Ivanovitch
found the clue to explain the article.

This article was followed by a deadly
silence about the book both in the press and in conversation,
and Sergey Ivanovitch saw that his six years’
task, toiled at with such love and labor, had gone,
leaving no trace.

Sergey Ivanovitch’s position
was still more difficult from the fact that, since
he had finished his book, he had had no more literary
work to do, such as had hitherto occupied the greater
part of his time.

Sergey Ivanovitch was clever, cultivated,
healthy, and energetic, and he did not know what use
to make of his energy.  Conversations in drawing
rooms, in meetings, assemblies, and committees ­everywhere
where talk was possible ­took up part of
his time.  But being used for years to town life,
he did not waste all his energies in talk, as his
less experienced younger brother did, when he was
in Moscow.  He had a great deal of leisure and
intellectual energy still to dispose of.

Fortunately for him, at this period
so difficult for him from the failure of his book,
the various public questions of the dissenting sects,
of the American alliance, of the Samara famine, of
exhibitions, and of spiritualism, were definitely replaced
in public interest by the Slavonic question, which
had hitherto rather languidly interested society,
and Sergey Ivanovitch, who had been one of the first
to raise this subject, threw himself into it heart
and soul.

In the circle to which Sergey Ivanovitch
belonged, nothing was talked of or written about just
now but the Servian War.  Everything that the
idle crowd usually does to kill time was done now
for the benefit of the Slavonic States.  Balls,
concerts, dinners, matchboxes, ladies’ dresses,
beer, restaurants ­ everything testified
to sympathy with the Slavonic peoples.

From much of what was spoken and written
on the subject, Sergey Ivanovitch differed on various
points.  He saw that the Slavonic question had
become one of those fashionable distractions which
succeed one another in providing society with an object
and an occupation.  He saw, too, that a great
many people were taking up the subject from motives
of self-interest and self-advertisement.  He recognized
that the newspapers published a great deal that was
superfluous and exaggerated, with the sole aim of attracting
attention and outbidding one another.  He saw
that in this general movement those who thrust themselves
most forward and shouted the loudest were men who
had failed and were smarting under a sense of injury ­generals
without armies, ministers not in the ministry, journalists
not on any paper, party leaders without followers. 
He saw that there was a great deal in it that was
frivolous and absurd.  But he saw and recognized
an unmistakable growing enthusiasm, uniting all classes,
with which it was impossible not to sympathize. 
The massacre of men who were fellow Christians, and
of the same Slavonic race, excited sympathy for the
sufferers and indignation against the oppressors. 
And the heroism of the Servians and Montenegrins
struggling for a great cause begot in the whole people
a longing to help their brothers not in word but in
deed.

But in this there was another aspect
that rejoiced Sergey Ivanovitch.  That was the
manifestation of public opinion.  The public
had definitely expressed its desire.  The soul
of the people had, as Sergey Ivanovitch said, found
expression.  And the more he worked in this cause,
the more incontestable it seemed to him that it was
a cause destined to assume vast dimensions, to create
an epoch.

He threw himself heart and soul into
the service of this great cause, and forgot to think
about his book.  His whole time now was engrossed
by it, so that he could scarcely manage to answer
all the letters and appeals addressed to him. 
He worked the whole spring and part of the summer,
and it was only in July that he prepared to go away
to his brother’s in the country.

He was going both to rest for a fortnight,
and in the very heart of the people, in the farthest
wilds of the country, to enjoy the sight of that uplifting
of the spirit of the people, of which, like all residents
in the capital and big towns, he was fully persuaded. 
Katavasov had long been meaning to carry out his
promise to stay with Levin, and so he was going with
him.

 

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