Bulgarin, Faddei, 1789-1859: Ivan Vyzhigin [excerpts]: an electronic transcription
THE age of childhood passes away rapidly. I grew up to be a stripling in my aunt's house, learned my lessons, kicked up dusts in the boarding-school, and had not time to observe what was passing at home: therefore I shall say nothing about it. The time approached of the usual show-trial in the boarding-school, and of dismission from the upper class in which I was one of the best scholars. The oldest of us was not more than seventeen years of age; but we all thought ourselves qualified to fill the first stations in the empire, and lamented the time which we lost, not in
learning, but which might have been spent in serving for an officer's rank. With impatience we waited for the examination, of which notices had been sent to the parents for two weeks previous. The preparations were begun. Each teacher had so many questions and answers given him, in which he had to drill us every day, and to accustom us, by conventional marks, to know what answers to give, in case any of the by-standers should put questions, for which ready-made answers were not at hand. For instance, all the buttons on the coat and waist-coat of the teacher of languages, denoted the parts of speech and the grammar rules. All their motions had a particular meaning. The nose of the professor of fortification was equivalent to a bastion, his mouth to the ditch of a fortress, his teeth to palisades, his chin to the glacis, his eyes to the fleches, his neck to a tete du pont, etc. -- The head of the teacher of geography represented the universe: The crown of his head denoted the zenith, his chin, the nadir; his cheeks the polar circles, his nose the ecliptic, his skin the first meridian, his mouth the ocean, his eyes the fixed stars, etc. etc. Besides the teachers, the scholars were also taught how to assist their comrades by means of signs. M. Lebrilliant prepared certificates for every scholar, to be presented to their parents, relations, and guardians. A good or bad certificate of behaviour and acquirements did not depend on the progress and morals of the scholars, but on the rank, wealth, liberality and degree of attachment shewn by the parents and relations to the children. He, from whom M. Lebrilliant had the greatest expectations, received the best certificate; but, as it was not to be supposed that there would be no triflers and idlers, the bad certificates were allotted to those children whose parents were absent, to orphans, for whom their guardians, as usual, cared but little, and to two poor boarders whom Monsieur Lebrilliant educated out of charity, as he said, though perhaps more with a view to get a name for magnanimity and generosity. All the scholars who were to get rewards, (bought, of course with their own money), and those who were to receive good certificates, were told beforehand, by way of secret, and instructed to invite as many of their relations and acquaintances as possible. At length, when all the preparations were completed, began the show.
The hall was crowded with visitors, public functionaries, ladies, and people who were on friendly terms with Monsieur Lebrilliant. The exhibition was opened with a speech in the French language, delivered by me with the greatest confidence. The oration was composed by Abbe Pretatout, and corrected and improved by all the teachers of the school, including even the teacher of calligraphy. For the preference shewn to me, my aunt presented Madame Lebrilliant with a piece of silk stuff; and some arsheens of lace which she had got in a present from Prince Tchvanoff. The trial of the grown-up scholars went on in a perfectly satisfactory manner -- thanks to the conventional signs. -- Many of the visitors who were friends of our teachers, gave us difficult questions, the answers to which we knew before, and inexperienced parents were astonished at our acquirements. But there were among us some impenetrable blockheads, whom it was impossible to teach their exercise, or to beat into their thick sculls either the ready-made questions and answers, or the conventional signs, and this occasioned some very strange misunderstandings and mistakes. For instance, the son of a head-secretary was asked -- 'What sort of occupation or profession turns over the most ready money in the empire?' In vain the teacher of statistics put his hand into his side-pocket, which by previous agreement, denoted
; the youth, by having heard from his parents reflections upon the same subject, and thinking that he was giving a pertinent answer, said "Law-suits!" The company could not help laughing, and the father of the youth concealed his face with his handkerchief, as if he was wiping off the perspiration. Another scholar, the son of a rich and haughty lawyer was asked, 'What are
in the Russian language?' He held his peace. His father, getting out of humour, said to him: "Vanya, you surely have not forgotten here what you learned before you left home?" Someone whispered into Vanya's ear, and he answered -- "
active verbs are
," (to lie and grasp). This again raised a burst of laughter from all the corners of the room, and the proud lawyer looked blue with vexation. Mr. Lebrilliant, to avoid farther perplexities, took the examination into his own hands. He did the business so neatly, that all answered admirably, to the great satisfaction of the mammas and aunts. Here are some specimens of Monsieur Lebrilliant's pedagogical talents. "How do you call the principal city in Spain?" asked Monsieur Lebrilliant, "Isn't it Madrid?" "Madrid," answered the scholar. "Very well; but on what river does it lie? Isn't it on the Mansanaries?" "Madrid lies on the river Mansanaries," answered the scholar quickly and loudly. "Very well, very well, sit down." "Now tell me, you Master M. M. is it with justice that the Volga is called the largest river in European Russia?" "The largest river in European Russia is the Volga," answered the scholar in a trice. "Very well, excellent. Tell me Master N. N. who was the first Roman emperor, when Augustus took upon himself the first imperial dignity:" "Augustus," answered the scholar. "Very well," said Monsieur Lebrilliant. In this way all the scholars gave satisfactory answers to Monsieur Lebrilliant's questions, and tender loving parents agreed unanimously, that their children were taught excellently at the boarding-school, and, if they fell sometimes into inaccuracies, it was entirely owing to other people not knowing how to examine them with so much tact as the learned Monsieur Lebrilliant.
The examination lasted two hours; after this, the rewards and certificates were distributed by sound of trumpets and cymbals, and we went away with our parents. The gentlemen, that is to say, friends of the proprietor of the boarding-school and of the teachers, who assisted them to examine us on the plan of conventional signs, and the humble domestic friends of the rich parents, remained to dine with Monsieur Lebrilliant, for which, the day previous, baskets had been sent with wine from several houses. For three successive days there was no teaching in the school, because the teachers needed repose after their exertions. Although I had already gone through the course of studies pursued in the boarding-school, yet, by the advice of Abbe Pretatout, I was to continue to take lessons till it should be considered what to do with me. I overheard from the other room the reasons given by the Abbe for this measure. "Let Vanya go to the boarding-school," said the Abbe. "It will cost you nothing. You know the prince pays for all. For the sciences he does not want it; but, if kept at home, he might learn what he should not know. Youth is full of curiosity and meddling, and our Vanya was always knowing and quick-sighted beyond his years. Do you understand me? We will soon find some employment for him." "Be it so as you propose," answered my good aunt; "I am ready to do any thing, from love to him."
As soon as my class companions left the boarding-school, I reckoned myself before all the rest, and entirely left off learning. During school-hours I employed myself in reading
, which we procured from a general acquaintance of the boarding-school, Luke Ivanoveetch Vorovaateen. He was not acquainted with my aunt, and my comrades introduced me to him. Luke Ivanoveetch lived opposite to our boarding-school, and was on friendly terms not only with M. Lebrilliant, but with all the teachers; and on that account, when the lessons were over, they permitted the scholars to go to his house, and to remain there sometimes till midnight. Luke Ivanoveetch taught us to play at the different games of cards, faro and shtoss; permitted us to smoke tobacco, treated us with wine, punch and spirits, and entertained us with stories of his love adventures. He had a small
; and every thing obscene which fell into his hands, both in
, was copied into his small
collection of manuscripts
. Some portfolios were filled with engravings and drawings, which he certainly would never have ventured to shew to any body but to inexperienced youths, and to friends who were as great reprobates as himself. In his conversations with us, he never failed to laugh at all the civil and religious duties of mankind, at the obligation of relative ties, and the respect due to parents: in a word, at every thing which good people regard as sacred. Luke Ivanoveetch kept a steady eye on our inclinations, gradually excited our passions, inflamed our desires, and unceasingly insisted that the chief end of man is pleasure, and that in aiming at any particular end, the shortest and surest methods are always the best. According to the rules of Mr. Vorovaateen, there was only one duty of children to parents, and that was, to personate in their presence the character which pleased them best. Sincerity towards parents and old people in general, he treated as a fault and a folly. Vorovaateen cloaked his hellish rules under the denomination of the
; and under the name of the
laws of nature
the rights of man
, he sowed the seeds of unbelief in inexperienced minds, and made us think that we were on a footing with the brutes. His ideas pleased us exceedingly, because we found in them every thing which flattered our selfish propensities, and shewed them off in a favourable point of view. We regarded ourselves as philosophers of the eighteenth century, and all who did not think like us and Mr. Vorovaateen, we called barbarians and ignoramuses. Vorovaateen knew all the scandalous anecdotes of the best families, and by exposing the nakedness of the parents before the eyes of their offspring, he obliterated from their hearts every trace of attachment and respect towards their elders. He lived upon play and all sorts of manoeuvring; lent money to the heirs of rich people, gained it back from them at cards, traded in bills, and things which he bought upon credit in the shops, and acted in the capacity of pimp and general agent for intrigues, both to old and young, men and women.
All the town knew Vorovaateen; and although he did not shew himself in decent families on days when they had company, he was very frequently applied to for advice and assistance by people of rank and fortune. Luke Ivanoveetch was about forty years of age, of a small figure and thin habit of body. His hair was reddish, his face pale, with wrinkles and carbuncles, the primary consequences of debauchery. He always winked with his eyes, and this suspicious manner of his was apt to excite an unfavourable impression against him. Vorovaateen boasted that he had already initiated a whole generation in the rules of his new philosophy; and, in reality, the greatest scape-graces and debauchees in the metropolis had been his friend from their early years. But not one of them escaped from under his wing gratis; he assisted them to squander their money, and was the first to take advantage of their ruin. Upright people called Vorovaateen a
, young people called him a
, and inexperienced youth, as already mentioned, esteemed him a
. In the journals of the police he was known under the names of
a false player and a jobber.
Luke Ivanoveetch attached himself particularly to me, prophecying that I would be a great philosopher and attain the highest degree of riches and renown. He never in my presence spoke ill of my aunt, knowing my affection for her; only he forbade me to tell her any thing about our acquaintance, alleging that he was a personal enemy of prince Tchvanoff and of Plaiseereen, who might give her a bad character of him, and she, from female credulity, might put an end to our intimacy. Vorovaateen, besides, gave me money for play and for my other wants, and called me by no other name than his younger brother. I was a sort of second landlord in his lodgings; came whenever I liked, did whatever I chose, and, although he was not at home, gave orders to his servants. I treated my companions at his expense, and disposed of his property as if it was my own. Is it to be wondered that this behaviour on the part of Vorovaateen made me believe that he loved me merely for my personal qualities? This very idea attached me to him. I even prided myself upon this preference. We had no secrets between us, and at his request, I told him my adventures, the miseries of my childhood, my meeting with my aunt, and at last shewed him the lucky mark by which she was convinced that I was her nephew. I thought that, at the time of my disclosure, Vorovaateen loved me still more tenderly. He was the first to whom I laid myself open in that respect.
In the mean time, there appeared very frequently among my aunt's visitors, a personage who had occupied an important situation in Petersburgh, which having resigned, he had come to live in Moscow, in order to enjoy the otium cum dignitate afforded him by a fortune acquired (no matter how) during his long service. Mr. Grabeelen was about fifty years of age, but was lusty and vigorous beyond his years. He was proud, daring in his words and actions, capricious, and by his behaviour frequently brought tears into my aunt's eyes. He made himself completely master of the house, stationed there his own servants and forbade my aunt to receive any visitors without his permission, except some elderly musicians. Grabeelen would not hear, nor turn about, nor make any reply, if he was not styled 'your excellency.' Semen Semenoveetch and Abbe Pretatout durst not shew their faces in our house, and prince Tchvanoff was the only man who came on the old footing. My aunt called him her godfather and benefactor, and Grabeelen did not dare to oppose the prince, but, on the contrary, seized the opportunity to establish a close friendship with him. The two old men would spend a great deal of time in talking upon politics: my aunt mean while would slip away to her neighbour's, a female friend, who lived in the other half of the house, where she was sure to find Semen Semenoveetch or some other of her former acquaintances. The affairs of the empire, in which the old men had no longer any participation, would interest their attention to such a degree, that, in the heat of their disputes and arguments, they did not trouble their heads about my aunt's absence. At any rate, from the time of Grabeelen's appearance, every thing was turned topsy-turvy in the house: the musical soirees were given up, and in general a sort of monotony reigned in place of the former cheerfulness. I was particularly affected by the change. Grabeelen behaved to me very superciliously, hardly deigned to look upon me, quarrelled me for every immodest word and for every free action, and did not like it that, according to my former practice, I should mingle in the conversation. I accordingly shunned his presence, and, under the pretence of occupation at the boarding-school, almost lived with Vorovaateen.
Voravaateen introduced me at the houses of some of his acquaintances, where, without further ceremony, I was invited
to dine, sup, and dance. I visited more frequently than others, an intimate female acquaintance of his, who had a pretty daughter. Matrena Ivanovna Shtoseen, a widow of five and thirty, cheerful and volatile, loved the amusements of society, gaiety and card- playing. She had an extensive circle of acquaintances among the clerks and public officers, and the small country-gentry. Her husband in his lifetime, had held a lucrative office, and after his death, she succeeded to a house and considerable property. Almost every evening, a number of visitors, both gentlemen and ladies, used to assemble at her house, to play at cards and talk about affairs in general. They began with round games, but ended always with faro.--Groonya, her daughter, who was in her fifteenth year, passed for a beauty. She was of a pensive turn, spent the greater part of her time alone in her room, reading sentimental
, and was profoundly versed in the passion of the young Werter and
"La nouvelle Heloise."
I had an opportunity of conversing with her very frequently, when her mother superintended the marking at cards or was taken up at faro. I very soon got upon friendly terms with Groonya, and after some disputes upon morals and Philosophy, we agreed to open a correspondence with one another upon sundry philosophical subjects, in order to perfect ourselves in
the French language
and in wisdom. But wisdom does not love to mingle in the affairs of young gentlemen with young ladies. Our philosophical letters soon assumed a tone similar to that of the affectionate Saint Preux and the tender-hearted Julia, and, without knowing the why or the wherefore, we fell desperately in love with one another, and meditated schemes of future bliss. Of course Vorovaateen was my confidant in this love-affair. He circumvented me, inflamed my unexperienced heart with hopes and descriptions of the happiness of being loved, and advised me how to behave towards Groonya.
The elasticity of the young mind gathers fresh strength under difficulties, which older and more experienced people give up all hopes of surmounting. It is only amidst gratifications and indulgences that the young mind loses its strength, and is induced to rest on its leading-strings.
But youth, left to its own resources, either fails in the attempt or exerts all its powers of action with uncommon vigour. I have already mentioned that I was regarded from my very childhood as wise beyond my years. My physical constitution was also developed at an extremely early age, in the midst of all the comforts of life: so that at seventeen, I looked like a youth of twenty. The passions boiled strongly within my breast, a thousand desires agitated my thoughts, but no one passion ruled me exclusively. Sometimes by looking at a grandee of state with his stars and ribbands, or at a general with a splendid uniform, I was filled for some days with ambition, and formed plans for attaining honours. Another time, a brilliant equipage, rich dress and elegant house, extinguished all sparks of ambition, and begat a desire of wealth. I was buried in contemplating how I might acquire an immense fortune in the shortest space of time. Sometimes the desire of fame domineered in my soul, and then I would devise projects how I would have myself spoken about and written about, in the face of the world. At last the sight of a charming woman going about arm in arm, with a gentleman, would excite in my breast a wish to be in the same predicament, and I would think of love and marriage. My passions shifted about with the impressions which I received, without leaving any traces of those which they succeeded in my heart. I endeavoured to convince myself that I was in love; to think that I ought to be in love; that it was impossible for me not to be in love. Groonya was beautiful and wise, or at least engaging for me in her conversation, which displayed a considerable acquaintance with
She loved me, and in my imagination, I added to her real good qualities all possible perfections, and formed in my mind a "
ideal" which I was pleased to call Groonya. Constraining myself to think of love, I continually mused upon Groonya, and, on all occasions, sought food for my passions. If, in the course of my walks, I heard a peasant on horseback or in a cart, singing the song,
"Otchee, moye otchee, vwee yasneya otchee!"
("Eyes, my eyes, ye bright eyes,") I immediately recalled to my memory the deep azure eyes of my Groonya. If I heard any body saying of a women; "Ah, what a dear creature!" I would say to myself; "But my Groonya is
much dearer!" If it was said of any one that he was fortunate in his wife, I would think: "and I shall be much more fortunate with my dear Groonya." In a word, Groonya was continually in my heart and soul, and I endeavored to make her equally so in my eyes and mouth: for this purpose, if I was not able to be at her house, I would go to Vorovaateen's, to whom I could speak boldly of my love.
But, in their fifteenth year, city-bred girls are no longer children: Groonya loved me more in her heart than in her imagination. She taxed her ingenuity in applying to me the names of heroes and expressions of tenderness, which made a conspicuous figure in
Her heart was fully occupied with me. She would spend the night without sleeping and in tears, if she did not see me for a whole day. When I could not be with her, I was obliged, at least, to pass the window, and make the usual signal with my hand, that I was satisfied with her, and had received her letter. When we were alone, our greatest pleasure consisted in looking one another in the face, squeezing one another's hands, and repeating a thousand times previously repeated expressions of endearment, which appeared novelties to us, or at least to her. Groonya loved to stroke my chubby, rosy cheeks, with her hand, while I played with her soft arms. It is to be understood, as a matter of course, that I bound myself a thousand times to marry no one but her: while she took the same obligation on her part towards me. But when and how, we did not take into consideration. It appeared to us to be a very common affair, to marry, and live like singing birds. I impatiently waited for permission to give up my visits to the boarding-school, and get rid of the name of school-boy: accordingly I resolved to petition my aunt to that effect.
One day after dinner, when my aunt appeared more cheerful than usual, I proceeded to fulfil my intention. "My dear aunt," said I; "it is of no use to continue paying for me at the boarding-school. I have at my finger ends every thing which is taught there, and am only losing my time to no purpose, hearing over and over again what I knew long ago. I speak French like a native, understand German very tolerably, dance with ease, and of history, geography and other sciences I know as much as my masters: besides, by your kindness, I have become a tolerable musician. What more do I want? I am neither able nor willing to become a teacher, and for a man of the world I am already too learned. You know a great many people of rank and consequence: call them all over in your mind, and tell me which of them knows more than I do? Would it not be better for me to employ myself at home, in the improvement of my mind by reading, and at the same time seek my fortune in the service or in any way agreeable to you? Consider of it, aunt; and I beg you will not listen to that bear, Grabeelen, who only counsels you to send me to the boarding-school, in order to get rid of my presence." I noticed that my aunt's face grew red at these last words. "Do as you like Vanushka," said she: "I do not wish you to be under constraint. I myself see that you are wiser than all my acquaintance." "Therefore tomorrow is to be the last day that I shall go to the boarding-school." "The last day," repeated my aunt; "only you need not mention it to Grabeelen. You can keep to your own apartment when he is with me, or go out." "Excellent!" With grateful feelings I embraced my aunt, and, the same day, gave notice to M. Lebrilliant that I was not to continue any longer at his boarding-school. As he had a half year's advance for my board, and we did not ask the money back, he was quite satisfied, and gave me such a splendid certificate on a large sheet of parchment, that, if credit were to be given to the half of what was written on it, I might be reckoned on a par with the seven sages of Greece. My aunt and I sincerely believed every thing that was written in the certificate: she, because she loved me to distraction, and I, because I had not hitherto met with a man who merited my respect for his knowledge and abilities. My readers probably have already observed, that no mention has hitherto been made of any one employed in giving me lessons in religion, morality, or the improvement of the heart. To account for this, they must recollect, that I was at first in the very lowest rank of society, from whence I was raised, all at once, to a level with the children of people of rank and wealth. In the first-mentioned condition, the improvement of man's moral nature is never thought of, people being content with having their servants taught the mechanical use of their corporal functions, as dogs are taught to carry a burden; in the other condition alluded to, they are entirely taken up with making a boy a man, exactly similar to those who by birth or riches have a right to live in what is called the great world. But, as in the higher circles neither religion nor philosophy is ever talked of, as no attention is paid either to learned people, or the sciences or moral conduct; the French language, dancing, and a knowledge of the practices of high life, are all that constitute the standard of excellence. For this alone money is paid to the French teachers, and they do no more than is required of them. I must candidly confess that M. Lebrilliant was not in the least to blame during the time that I spent in his boarding-school, for not giving me the smallest idea of the duties of a man and a citizen; for nobody asked him to do it, and it is not the business of a well-bred person to incumber himself with attending to what nobody asks him. To fulfil one's duty conscientiously, is a practice confined to the middle classes, who in the great world are called
la mauvaise compagnie
I had scarcely enjoyed a month of liberty, when grief broke in upon my sweet inactivity. One when Mrs. Shtoseen was playing at cards, and I, as usual, sought an opportunity of speaking with Groonya alone, a maidservant whispered in my ear to go straight into the young lady's bed-room. I found Groonya in tears. She that her mother was going with her to Orenburg, in order to succeed to some property left by a cousin-german of her husband. This respectable cousin was at first Secretary for the salt-department, and after that superintendent of the market for bartering with the Kirgheez-Tartars. He passed for a very poor man all his life, and had received, on several occasions, pecuniary assistance from government, on account of his insufficient income; but after his death, when his property was sealed up, bank-receipts and bills were found for more than half a million of roubles. In his life-time he never heard of or from any of his relations, and indeed Mr. Shtoseen on several occasions kept out of his way, when he wanted assistance: but no sooner was there any scent of his inheritance than up started some dozens of relations, who, in honour of the memory of the deceased, went to law with one another. The departure of Mrs. Shtoseen was fixed to take place within a week, and her return at an indefinite time. After weeping together, we renewed our bonds of eternal love and fidelity, and agreed to write one another every post, till I should find an opportunity for setting off to Orenburg. I made that promise to Groonya without thinking how I should perform it. Next day I related every thing to my friend Vorovaateen, who immediately promised to assist me throughout, and even to take me to Orenburg, where, according to his advice, it behoved me to follow up my addresses to Groonya, to marry her, and in quality of heir to the rich Krigheezian superintendant, to sue for my share in a court of law, if Mrs. Shtoseen would not give up the inheritance by fair means; Groonya, according, to law, being nearest of kin to her father.
In the meantime, Grabeelen learned somehow that I had left the boarding-school; and, as he had formerly driven me out of the house to school, so he now fell to work to drive me into the service. I resolved to convert his dislike for me to my own use.
It would be in vain to describe the tears, sighs, sobbings, and faintings, at parting with Groonya. These are disagreeable affairs known to every body. She had scarcely set off for Orenburg, when I began to look out for means to hasten after her. Vorovaateen condoled with me amidst my grief, and resolved immediately to conduct me to my beloved, and even advised me to set off without my aunt's permission. But I would not agree to that, and in a month after Groonya's departure, I succeeded in getting my aunt's permission by the following contrivance.
"Aunt," said I to her, "I have been promised a good situation in the Mint at Moscow: but, as some experience is necessary in the first place, to qualify me for it, one of my acquaintances, who serves in the mining department, wishes to take me with him to Orenburg. He will not be there for more than four months, for the revision of business, and I will be with him in the capacity of
. On my return to Moscow, I shall have a fair claim for a situation in the public service, and my protector vouches for my immediate reception into the service, upon his representation, and as a reward for my previous labours. Give me your consent, aunt! Is it not better that I should be obliged to myself and my own labour for my fortune, than to your friends, who, I suspect, do not love me over much? You know that, without an officer's rank, I cannot appear in good company." It was long before my aunt would consent to part with me; but when I told Mr. Grabeleen this story, which was invented by Vorovaateen, he obliged my aunt to let me go. One of Vorovaateen's friends undertook to play the part of the officer of the Mining-department at my aunt's house, and gave her the fullest assurance that he would take me under his special protection, promising at the same time all possible advantages in the service. My aunt equipped me for the road, and filled my pocketbook pretty handsomely. Even Grabeelen made me a present of fifty silver roubles. The good old gentleman, prince Tchvanoff, who had never broken off from his old practice of visiting my aunt daily, also gave me money, and a letter of recommendation to the Governor. After bidding adieu to my aunt, I seated myself in the carriage with Vorovaateen's friend, and he himself waited us beyond the barrier. I was just like a man in a fever, from the ebullition of opposite feelings -- love to my aunt, commiseration and grief that I was leaving her, on the one hand; and on the other, the joyful hope of meeting again with Groonya, of marrying her, and the delightful idea of acquiring wealth and envy. The scattering of the attention by the variety of objects on the road, quieted my spirits a little, but involuntarily I always thought more of my aunt than of Groonya.