.. ولكن ميمون يرد هنا فى زمن آخر, وبإسم آخر هو الكاتب الكبير كارمازينوف
... بقلم الكاتب الروسى الوضيع دوستويفسكى
... بقلم الكاتب الروسى الوضيع دوستويفسكى
There was a feeling in the hall that something had gone wrong again. Let me say once and for all: I have the greatest admiration for genius, but why do our men of genius at the end of their illustrious careers sometimes behave exactly like little boys? What did it matter if he was Karmazinov and strode on to the platform looking like five Court chamberlains rolled into one? Is it possible to hold the attention of an audience like ours for a whole hour with one paper? In my experience even a super genius could not possibly hope to keep the attention of an audience at a light literary reading for more than twenty minutes with impunity. It is true, the entrance of the great literary genius was received with the utmost respect: even the most severe old gentlemen showed signs of approval and interest, and the ladies even displayed some enthusiasm. The applause, however, did not last long, and it was somehow not unanimous, but ragged. But there was not a single interruption from the back rows up to the very moment when Mr Karmazinov began to speak, and even then nothing particularly bad happened, but just a little misunderstanding. I have mentioned already the fact that he had a rather shrill voice, a somewhat feminine voice even, and, to boot, the affected lisp of a born gentleman. No sooner had he uttered a few words than someone permitted himself a loud laugh, no doubt some stupid little fool who had never come across a real gentleman and who was, besides, a bit of a wag. But there was no question of any hostile demonstration: on the contrary, the fool was hissed down, and he effaced himself completely. But Mr Karmazinov went on to declare, in his affected manner and in mincing tones, that 'at first he would not agree to read' (as though it was really necessary to say that!). 'There are,' he said, 'some things which come so straight from the heart that one hesitates to utter them aloud, so that so sacred a thing cannot be exposed to the public gaze' (so why on earth expose them?); but as he had been asked so much, he was going to expose it, and as, moreover, he was laying down his pen for good and had vowed never to write anything again, he had written this last thing of his; and as he had vowed 'never, not for anything in the world, to read anything in public', and so on and so forth, all in the same vein.
But all that would not have mattered, for who does not know what an author's introduction is like? Though I must say that taking the ignorance of our public and the irritability of the back rows into consideration, all this may have had an influence. Would it not have been much better to have read some little story, one of those very short stories he used to write in the past – that is, a story which, though it was highly polished and affected, was sometimes witty? That would have saved the situation. But no! Not a bit of it! Instead he read us a whole edifying oration! Dear me, what wasn't there in it? I can positively say that it would have reduced even a Petersburg audience to a state of stupor, let alone ours. Imagine over thirty printed pages of the most pretentious and useless chatter; and, besides, this gentleman read it in a sort of mournfully condescending tone of voice, as though he were doing us a favour, so that it sounded rather like an insult to our public. The subject ... But who could make it out – that subject of his? It was a sort of account of certain impressions and reminiscences. But of what? And about what? However much we knit our provincial brows during the first half of the reading, we could not make head or tail of it, and we listened to the second part simply out of politeness. It is true, there was a lot of talk about love – the love of the genius for some lady – but, I confess, it produced rather an awkward impression on the audience. For the great genius to tell us about his first kiss, seemed to my mind somehow inconsistent with his short, fat little figure....And, again, it was a pity that those kisses were somehow different from the kisses of ordinary mortals. There were always some gorse-bushes about (it had to be gorse or some other plant which has to looked up in a botanical dictionary). And there had to be some violet tint in the sky, such as no mortal, of course, had ever observed, or if he had seen it, he would not have taken any notice of it; but, you see, 'I jolly well did see it, and now I'm describing it to damn fools like you as if it were the most ordinary thing.' The tree under which the fascinating couple sat had naturally to be of an orange colour. They were sitting somewhere in Germany. Suddenly they behold Pompey or Cassius on the eve of the battle, and a chill of rapture runs down their backs. Some water-nymph starts squeaking in the bushes. Gluck plays a fiddle in the rushes. The title of the piece he was playing was given in full, but no one seemed to have heard of it, so that it would have to be looked up in a musical dictionary. Meanwhile a mist arises, which is more like a million pillows than a mist. And suddenly everything vanishes, and the great genius is crossing the Volga in winter in a thaw. Two and a half pages of the crossing, but he still manages to fall through a hole in the ice. The genius is drowning – did he get drowned, you think? Good Lord, no! All this is merely dragged in to show that when he was already on the point of drowning and yielding up the ghost, he caught sight of a little ice-floe, a tiny little ice-floe the size of a pea, but pure and transparent 'like a frozen tear', and in that ice-floe the whole of Germany was reflected, or, to be more precise, the sky of Germany, and by its iridescent glitter recalled to his mind the very same tear, which 'you remember rolled down from your eyes when we sat beneath the emerald tree and you cried joyfully, "There is no crime!" "No," I said, through my tears, "but if that is so, there are no saints, either." We burst into sobs and parted for ever.' She went off somewhere to the sea-coast, and he to some caves; and then he descends and descends for three years in Moscow beneath the Sukharev Tower, and suddenly in the very bowels of the earth, in a cave, he finds a lamp burning before an icon, and before the lamp – a hermit. The hermit is saying his prayers. The genius puts his face close to the bars of a tiny window and suddenly hears a sigh. You think it was the hermit who sighed? What does he care about your hermit! No, this sigh simply reminds him of her first sigh, thirty-seven years ago, when 'do you remember how we sat beneath an agate tree in Germany and you said to me, "Why love? Look, ruddle is growing all round, and I am in love, but when the ruddle ceases to grow, I shall fall out of love." Here a mist rises again, Hoffman appears, the water-nymph whistles a tune from Chopin, and suddenly out of the mist Ancus Marcius appears over the roofs of Rome, wearing a laurel wreath. A shiver of rapture ran down our backs and we parted for ever,' and so on and so forth. In a word, I may not be reporting it correctly and, indeed, I may not even know how to report it, but the burden of the chatter was something of that sort. And, really, how disgraceful is this passion of great intellects for abstruse epigrams! The great European philosopher, the great scholar, the inventor, the toiler, the martyr – all these who labour and are heavy laden are to our great Russian genius just like so many cooks in his kitchen. He is the master, and they come to him with their tall chef hats in their hands and wait for his orders. It is true, he sneers contemptuously at Russia, too, and he likes nothing better than to proclaim the bankruptcy of Russia in every respect before the great intellects of Europe, but so far as he himself is concerned – no, sir! – he has risen higher than the great intellects of Europe; they all are merely material for his epigrams. He takes someone else's idea, tacks its antithesis on to it, and the epigram is ready. There is such a thing as crime, there are no such things as secrets; there is no truth, there are no such men as searchers for truth; atheism, Darwinism, Moscow church-bells. ... But, alas, he no longer believes in the Moscow church-bells; Rome, laurels. ... But he doesn't believe in laurels. ... Here you get a conventional attack of Byronic spleen, a grimace from Heine, something of Pechorin – and off he goes full steam ahead, with his engine emitting a shrill whistle. .. 'But do praise me, do praise me, for I like it awfully; I'm only just saying that I'm laying down my pen; you wait, I'm going to bore you three hundred times more, you'll get tired of reading me. ...'
Of course, it did not go off so well. But the trouble was that it was his own fault. People had for some time been shuffling their feet, blowing their noses, coughing, and doing everything people do when a writer, whoever he may be, keeps an audience for more than twenty minutes at a literary reading. But the genius noticed nothing of all this. He went on lisping and mumbling, without paying any attention to the audience, so that everybody began to look bewildered. And then suddenly a solitary voice in the back rows exclaimed loudly:
'Lord, what nonsense!'
The interjection was quite involuntary and, I am sure, there was no question of any demonstration. The man was simply worn out. But Mr Karmazinov stopped, looked ironically at the audience, and suddenly said in his highly affected voice and with the dignified air of a Court chamberlain whose feelings had been badly hurt:
'I'm afraid, ladies and gentlemen, I have been boring you awfully, haven't I?'
His mistake, of course, was that he was the first to speak; for by provoking a reply in this way, he presented every ruffian with the opportunity of having his say, too, and quite legitimately, so to speak, while if he had controlled himself, they would have gone on blowing their noses, and it would have passed off somehow. Perhaps he expected applause in reply to his question; but there was no applause; on the contrary, they all seemed to shrink within themselves, to get frightened and fall silent.
'You never saw Ancus Marcius; it's just your way of writing,' an irritated and apparently even hysterical voice cried suddenly.
'That's right,' another voice echoed at once. 'There aren't any ghosts nowadays, only natural phenomena. Look it up in a book on natural sciences.'
'Ladies and gentlemen, I expected such objections least of all,' Karmazinov said, looking terribly surprised. The great genius had completely lost touch with his native country in Karlsruhe.
'In our age it is shameful to say that the world stands on three fishes,' a young girl suddenly burst out. 'You could not possibly have gone down to the hermit's cave, Karmazinov. And, besides, who talks of hermits nowadays?'
'Ladies and gentlemen, what surprises me most of all is that you take it all so seriously. However – however, you're absolutely right. No one respects truth and realism more than I do.'
Although he was smiling ironically, he was greatly startled. His face seemed to say: 'But I'm not at all the sort of person you take me for. Why, I'm on your side; only, please, praise me, praise me more, praise me as much as possible, I like it awfully. ...'
'Ladies and gentlemen,' he cried at last, stung to the quick, 'I can see that my poor poem is out of place here. And I am rather out of place here myself, I’m afraid.'
'You aimed at a crow and hit a cow,' some fool shouted at the top of his voice. He must have been drunk, and, of course, no notice should have been taken of him. It is true, though, that his words evoked some disrespectful laughter.
'A cow, you say?' Karmazinov echoed at once, his voice growing shriller and shriller. 'I'm afraid, ladies and gentlemen, I'd better say nothing about crows and cows. I've too great a respect for any audience to permit myself any comparisons, however innocent. But I thought –'
'If I were you sir, I'd be more careful,' someone from the back rows shouted.
'But I imagined that, as I was laying down my pen and taking leave of my readers, I'd be given a fair hearing.'
'Yes, yes, we want to hear, we want to hear,' a few voices at last plucked up courage to cry from the first row.
'Read! Read!' a few ecstatic female voices echoed the cry, and, at last, there was some applause, thin and feeble, it is true.
Karmazinov smiled wrily and got up from his chair.
'Believe me, Karmazinov, everybody thinks it an honour –' even the Marshal's wife could not refrain from saying.
'Mr Karmazinov,' cried a fresh young voice from the back of the hall suddenly. It was the voice of a very young teacher from the district school, an excellent young man, quiet and honourable, who had only recently come to our town. 'Mr Karmazinov, if I were so lucky as to fall in love as you've described to us, I should never have put my love in a story intended for public reading.'
He even blushed to the roots of his hair.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' Karmazinov cried, 'I have finished. I will leave the end out and go. But let me read the last six lines:
'"Yes, dear reader, farewell!'" he began at once to read from the manuscript without resuming his seat. '"Farewell, reader; I don't even insist on our parting friends: why, indeed, should I trouble you? You may even abuse me. Oh, abuse me as much as you like, if that gives you any pleasure. But much better if we forget each other for ever. And if all of you, readers, were suddenly so kind as to go down on your knees and begin begging me with tears: 'Write, oh, write for us Karmazinov – for the sake of your country, for the sake of posterity, for the sake of laurel wreaths,' I'd reply to you, after thanking you, of course, very courteously, 'No, my dear fellow-countrymen, we've had quite enough of one another, merci! It is time we went our several ways! Merci, merci, merci!'"'
Karmazinov bowed ceremoniously and blushed red, as though he had been cooked, and was about to go off behind the scenes.
'No one is going down on their knees – what ridiculous nonsense!'
'Conceited, isn't he?'
'It's only his humour,' someone more sensible corrected.
'May the Lord save me from your humour.'
'But, really, it's damned cheek, ladies and gentlemen.'
'Thank goodness he's finished.'
'Dear me, what a dull programme!'
But all these ignorant exclamations in the back rows (not only in the back rows, incidentally) were drowned in the applause from the other section of the audience. There were calls for Karmazinov. A number of ladies, headed by Mrs Lembke and the Marshal's wife, crowded round the platform. In Mrs Lembke's hands was a gorgeous laurel wreath, on a white velvet cushion, surrounding another wreath of roses.
'Laurels!' said Karmazinov with a faint and somewhat caustic smile. 'I'm touched, of course, and I accept this wreath which has been prepared beforehand and which has not yet had time to wither, with deep emotion; but I assure you, my dear ladies, that I have suddenly become so great a realist that I think laurels are in this age more appropriate in the hands of a skilful cook than in mine.'
'Yes, a cook is more useful,' the divinity student who had been at the 'meeting' in Virginsky's house cried.
There was some disorder. In many rows people jumped up to watch the presentation of the laurel wreath.
'I'd give another three roubles for a cook this instant,' another voice echoed loudly – too loudly, indeed: so loudly as to be insistent.
'Is there really no buffet here?'
'Why, this is simply a swindle!'
However, it must be admitted that these unruly fellows were still very much afraid of our high officials and the police inspector who was present in the hall. Ten minutes later they all, somehow or other, resumed their seats, but there was not the same good order as before. And it was this seething chaos that poor Mr Verkhovensky had to face.
... مِرسى, مِرسى
Like little children before a great genius;
...Magdi is almost eating out of his hands!
...Magdi is almost eating out of his hands!