A Personal Record
Joseph Conrad

Part 1 out of 3

Note: I have omitted the running heads ["A FAMILIAR PREFACE" and
"A PERSONAL RECORD"], and have made the following changes to
the text:
129 18 thinkin thinking
176 8 now now.
207 14 ful full.




As a general rule we do not want much encouragement to talk about
ourselves; yet this little book is the result of a friendly
suggestion, and even of a little friendly pressure. I defended
myself with some spirit; but, with characteristic tenacity, the
friendly voice insisted, "You know, you really must."

It was not an argument, but I submitted at once. If one must! .
. .

You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade
should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right
word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power
of sense. I don't say this by way of disparagement. It is
better for mankind to be impressionable than reflective. Nothing
humanely great--great, I mean, as affecting a whole mass of
lives--has come from reflection. On the other hand, you cannot
fail to see the power of mere words; such words as Glory, for
instance, or Pity. I won't mention any more. They are not far
to seek. Shouted with perseverance, with ardour, with
conviction, these two by their sound alone have set whole nations
in motion and upheaved the dry, hard ground on which rests our
whole social fabric. There's "virtue" for you if you like! . . .
Of course the accent must be attended to. The right accent.
That's very important. The capacious lung, the thundering or the
tender vocal chords. Don't talk to me of your Archimedes' lever.

He was an absent-minded person with a mathematical imagination.
Mathematics commands all my respect, but I have no use for
engines. Give me the right word and the right accent and I will
move the world.

What a dream for a writer! Because written words have their
accent, too. Yes! Let me only find the right word! Surely it
must be lying somewhere among the wreckage of all the plaints and
all the exultations poured out aloud since the first day when
hope, the undying, came down on earth. It may be there, close
by, disregarded, invisible, quite at hand. But it's no good. I
believe there are men who can lay hold of a needle in a pottle of
hay at the first try. For myself, I have never had such luck.
And then there is that accent. Another difficulty. For who is
going to tell whether the accent is right or wrong till the word
is shouted, and fails to be heard, perhaps, and goes down-wind,
leaving the world unmoved? Once upon a time there lived an
emperor who was a sage and something of a literary man. He
jotted down on ivory tablets thoughts, maxims, reflections which
chance has preserved for the edification of posterity. Among
other sayings--I am quoting from memory--I remember this solemn
admonition: "Let all thy words have the accent of heroic truth."
The accent of heroic truth! This is very fine, but I am thinking
that it is an easy matter for an austere emperor to jot down
grandiose advice. Most of the working truths on this earth are
humble, not heroic; and there have been times in the history of
mankind when the accents of heroic truth have moved it to nothing
but derision.

Nobody will expect to find between the covers of this little book
words of extraordinary potency or accents of irresistible
heroism. However humiliating for my self esteem, I must confess
that the counsels of Marcus Aurelius are not for me. They are
more fit for a moralist than for an artist. Truth of a modest
sort I can promise you, and also sincerity. That complete,
praise worthy sincerity which, while it delivers one into the
hands of one's enemies, is as likely as not to embroil one with
one's friends.

"Embroil" is perhaps too strong an expression. I can't imagine
among either my enemies or my friends a being so hard up for
something to do as to quarrel with me. "To disappoint one's
friends" would be nearer the mark. Most, almost all, friend
ships of the writing period of my life have come to me through my
books; and I know that a novelist lives in his work. He stands
there, the only reality in an invented world, among imaginary
things, happenings, and people. Writing about them, he is only
writing about himself. But the disclosure is not complete. He
remains, to a certain extent, a figure behind the veil; a
suspected rather than a seen presence--a movement and a voice
behind the draperies of fiction. In these personal notes there is
no such veil. And I cannot help thinking of a passage in the
"Imitation of Christ" where the ascetic author, who knew life so
profoundly, says that "there are persons esteemed on their
reputation who by showing themselves destroy the opinion one had
of them." This is the danger incurred by an author of fiction
who sets out to talk about himself without disguise.

While these reminiscent pages were appearing serially I was
remonstrated with for bad economy; as if such writing were a form
of self-indulgence wasting the substance of future volumes. It
seems that I am not sufficiently literary. Indeed, a man who
never wrote a line for print till he was thirty-six cannot bring
himself to look upon his existence and his experience, upon the
sum of his thoughts, sensations, and emotions, upon his memories
and his regrets, and the whole possession of his past, as only so
much material for his hands. Once before, some three years ago,
when I published "The Mirror of the Sea," a volume of impressions
and memories, the same remarks were made to me. Practical
remarks. But, truth to say, I have never understood the kind of
thrift they recommend. I wanted to pay my tribute to the sea,
its ships and its men, to whom I remain indebted for so much
which has gone to make me what I am. That seemed to me the only
shape in which I could offer it to their shades. There could not
be a question in my mind of anything else. It is quite possible
that I am a bad economist; but it is certain that I am

Having matured in the surroundings and under the special
conditions of sea life, I have a special piety toward that form
of my past; for its impressions were vivid, its appeal direct,
its demands such as could be responded to with the natural
elation of youth and strength equal to the call. There was
nothing in them to perplex a young conscience. Having broken
away from my origins under a storm of blame from every quarter
which had the merest shadow of right to voice an opinion, removed
by great distances from such natural affections as were still
left to me, and even estranged, in a measure, from them by the
totally unintelligible character of the life which had seduced me
so mysteriously from my allegiance, I may safely say that through
the blind force of circumstances the sea was to be all my world
and the merchant service my only home for a long succession of
years. No wonder, then, that in my two exclusively sea
books--"The Nigger of the Narcissus," and "The Mirror of the Sea"
(and in the few short sea stories like "Youth" and "Typhoon"--I
have tried with an almost filial regard to render the vibration
of life in the great world of waters, in the hearts of the simple
men who have for ages traversed its solitudes, and also that
something sentient which seems to dwell in ships--the creatures
of their hands and the objects of their care.

One's literary life must turn frequently for sustenance to
memories and seek discourse with the shades, unless one has made
up one's mind to write only in order to reprove mankind for what
it is, or praise it for what it is not, or--generally--to teach
it how to behave. Being neither quarrelsome, nor a flatterer,
nor a sage, I have done none of these things, and I am prepared
to put up serenely with the insignificance which attaches to
persons who are not meddlesome in some way or other. But
resignation is not indifference. I would not like to be left
standing as a mere spectator on the bank of the great stream
carrying onward so many lives. I would fain claim for myself the
faculty of so much insight as can be expressed in a voice of
sympathy and compassion.

It seems to me that in one, at least, authoritative quarter of
criticism I am suspected of a certain unemotional, grim
acceptance of facts--of what the French would call secheresse du
coeur. Fifteen years of unbroken silence before praise or blame
testify sufficiently to my respect for criticism, that fine
flower of personal expression in the garden of letters. But this
is more of a personal matter, reaching the man behind the work,
and therefore it may be alluded to in a volume which is a
personal note in the margin of the public page. Not that I feel
hurt in the least. The charge--if it amounted to a charge at
all--was made in the most considerate terms; in a tone of regret.

My answer is that if it be true that every novel contains an
element of autobiography--and this can hardly be denied, since
the creator can only express himself in his creation--then there
are some of us to whom an open display of sentiment is repugnant.

I would not unduly praise the virtue of restraint. It is often
merely temperamental. But it is not always a sign of coldness.
It may be pride. There can be nothing more humiliating than to
see the shaft of one's emotion miss the mark of either laughter
or tears. Nothing more humiliating! And this for the reason
that should the mark be missed, should the open display of
emotion fail to move, then it must perish unavoidably in disgust
or contempt. No artist can be reproached for shrinking from a
risk which only fools run to meet and only genius dare confront
with impunity. In a task which mainly consists in laying one's
soul more or less bare to the world, a regard for decency, even
at the cost of success, is but the regard for one's own dignity
which is inseparably united with the dignity of one's work.

And then--it is very difficult to be wholly joyous or wholly sad
on this earth. The comic, when it is human, soon takes upon
itself a face of pain; and some of our griefs (some only, not
all, for it is the capacity for suffering which makes man August
in the eyes of men) have their source in weaknesses which must be
recognized with smiling com passion as the common inheritance of
us all. Joy and sorrow in this world pass into each other,
mingling their forms and their murmurs in the twilight of life as
mysterious as an over shadowed ocean, while the dazzling
brightness of supreme hopes lies far off, fascinating and still,
on the distant edge of the horizon.

Yes! I, too, would like to hold the magic wand giving that
command over laughter and tears which is declared to be the
highest achievement of imaginative literature. Only, to be a
great magician one must surrender oneself to occult and
irresponsible powers, either outside or within one's breast. We
have all heard of simple men selling their souls for love or
power to some grotesque devil. The most ordinary intelligence
can perceive without much reflection that anything of the sort is
bound to be a fool's bargain. I don't lay claim to particular
wisdom because of my dislike and distrust of such transactions.
It may be my sea training acting upon a natural disposition to
keep good hold on the one thing really mine, but the fact is that
I have a positive horror of losing even for one moving moment
that full possession of my self which is the first condition of
good service. And I have carried my notion of good service from
my earlier into my later existence. I, who have never sought in
the written word anything else but a form of the Beautiful--I
have carried over that article of creed from the decks of ships
to the more circumscribed space of my desk, and by that act, I
suppose, I have become permanently imperfect in the eyes of the
ineffable company of pure esthetes.

As in political so in literary action a man wins friends for
himself mostly by the passion of his prejudices and by the
consistent narrowness of his outlook. But I have never been able
to love what was not lovable or hate what was not hateful out of
deference for some general principle. Whether there be any
courage in making this admission I know not. After the middle
turn of life's way we consider dangers and joys with a tranquil
mind. So I proceed in peace to declare that I have always
suspected in the effort to bring into play the extremities of
emotions the debasing touch of insincerity. In order to move
others deeply we must deliberately allow ourselves to be carried
away beyond the bounds of our normal sensibility--innocently
enough, perhaps, and of necessity, like an actor who raises his
voice on the stage above the pitch of natural conversation--but
still we have to do that. And surely this is no great sin. But
the danger lies in the writer becoming the victim of his own
exaggeration, losing the exact notion of sincerity, and in the
end coming to despise truth itself as something too cold, too
blunt for his purpose--as, in fact, not good enough for his
insistent emotion. From laughter and tears the descent is easy
to snivelling and giggles.

These may seem selfish considerations; but you can't, in sound
morals, condemn a man for taking care of his own integrity. It
is his clear duty. And least of all can you condemn an artist
pursuing, however humbly and imperfectly, a creative aim. In
that interior world where his thought and his emotions go seeking
for the experience of imagined adventures, there are no
policemen, no law, no pressure of circumstance or dread of
opinion to keep him within bounds. Who then is going to say Nay
to his temptations if not his conscience?

And besides--this, remember, is the place and the moment of
perfectly open talk--I think that all ambitions are lawful except
those which climb upward on the miseries or credulities of
mankind. All intellectual and artistic ambitions are
permissible, up to and even beyond the limit of prudent sanity.
They can hurt no one. If they are mad, then so much the worse
for the artist. Indeed, as virtue is said to be, such ambitions
are their own reward. Is it such a very mad presumption to
believe in the sovereign power of one's art, to try for other
means, for other ways of affirming this belief in the deeper
appeal of one's work? To try to go deeper is not to be
insensible. A historian of hearts is not a historian of
emotions, yet he penetrates further, restrained as he may be,
since his aim is to reach the very fount of laughter and tears.
The sight of human affairs deserves admiration and pity. They
are worthy of respect, too. And he is not insensible who pays
them the undemonstrative tribute of a sigh which is not a sob,
and of a smile which is not a grin. Resignation, not mystic, not
detached, but resignation open-eyed, conscious, and informed by
love, is the only one of our feelings for which it is impossible
to become a sham.

Not that I think resignation the last word of wisdom. I am too
much the creature of my time for that. But I think that the
proper wisdom is to will what the gods will without, perhaps,
being certain what their will is--or even if they have a will of
their own. And in this matter of life and art it is not the Why
that matters so much to our happiness as the How. As the
Frenchman said, "Il y a toujours la maniere." Very true. Yes.
There is the manner. The manner in laughter, in tears, in irony,
in indignations and enthusiasms, in judgments--and even in love.
The manner in which, as in the features and character of a human
face, the inner truth is foreshadowed for those who know how to
look at their kind.

Those who read me know my conviction that the world, the temporal
world, rests on a few very simple ideas; so simple that they must
be as old as the hills. It rests notably, among others, on the
idea of Fidelity. At a time when nothing which is not
revolutionary in some way or other can expect to attract much
attention I have not been revolutionary in my writings. The
revolutionary spirit is mighty convenient in this, that it frees
one from all scruples as regards ideas. Its hard, absolute
optimism is repulsive to my mind by the menace of fanaticism and
intolerance it contains. No doubt one should smile at these
things; but, imperfect Esthete, I am no better Philosopher.

All claim to special righteousness awakens in me that scorn and
danger from which a philosophical mind should be free. . . .

I fear that trying to be conversational I have only managed to be
unduly discursive. I have never been very well acquainted with
the art of conversation--that art which, I understand, is
supposed to be lost now. My young days, the days when one's
habits and character are formed, have been rather familiar with
long silences. Such voices as broke into them were anything but
conversational. No. I haven't got the habit. Yet this
discursiveness is not so irrelevant to the handful of pages which
follow. They, too, have been charged with discursiveness, with
disregard of chronological order (which is in itself a crime),
with unconventionality of form (which is an impropriety). I was
told severely that the public would view with displeasure the
informal character of my recollections. "Alas!" I protested,
mildly. "Could I begin with the sacramental words, 'I was born
on such a date in such a place'? The remoteness of the locality
would have robbed the statement of all interest. I haven't lived
through wonderful adventures to be related seriatim. I haven't
known distinguished men on whom I could pass fatuous remarks. I
haven't been mixed up with great or scandalous affairs. This is
but a bit of psychological document, and even so, I haven't
written it with a view to put forward any conclusion of my own."

But my objector was not placated. These were good reasons for
not writing at all--not a defense of what stood written already,
he said.

I admit that almost anything, anything in the world, would serve
as a good reason for not writing at all. But since I have
written them, all I want to say in their defense is that these
memories put down without any regard for established conventions
have not been thrown off without system and purpose. They have
their hope and their aim. The hope that from the reading of
these pages there may emerge at last the vision of a personality;
the man behind the books so fundamentally dissimilar as, for
instance, "Almayer's Folly" and "The Secret Agent," and yet a
coherent, justifiable personality both in its origin and in its
action. This is the hope. The immediate aim, closely associated
with the hope, is to give the record of personal memories by
presenting faithfully the feelings and sensations connected with
the writing of my first book and with my first contact with the

In the purposely mingled resonance of this double strain a friend
here and there will perhaps detect a subtle accord.

J. C. K.



Books may be written in all sorts of places. Verbal inspiration
may enter the berth of a mariner on board a ship frozen fast in a
river in the middle of a town; and since saints are supposed to
look benignantly on humble believers, I indulge in the pleasant
fancy that the shade of old Flaubert--who imagined himself to be
(among other things) a descendant of Vikings--might have hovered
with amused interest over the docks of a 2,000-ton steamer called
the Adowa, on board of which, gripped by the inclement winter
alongside a quay in Rouen, the tenth chapter of "Almayer's Folly"
was begun. With interest, I say, for was not the kind Norman
giant with enormous mustaches and a thundering voice the last of
the Romantics? Was he not, in his unworldly, almost ascetic,
devotion to his art, a sort of literary, saint-like hermit?

"'It has set at last,' said Nina to her mother, pointing to the
hills behind which the sun had sunk." . . . These words of
Almayer's romantic daughter I remember tracing on the gray paper
of a pad which rested on the blanket of my bed-place. They
referred to a sunset in Malayan Isles and shaped themselves in my
mind, in a hallucinated vision of forests and rivers and seas,
far removed from a commercial and yet romantic town of the
northern hemisphere. But at that moment the mood of visions and
words was cut short by the third officer, a cheerful and casual
youth, coming in with a bang of the door and the exclamation:
"You've made it jolly warm in here."

It was warm. I had turned on the steam heater after placing a
tin under the leaky water-cock--for perhaps you do not know that
water will leak where steam will not. I am not aware of what my
young friend had been doing on deck all that morning, but the
hands he rubbed together vigorously were very red and imparted to
me a chilly feeling by their mere aspect. He has remained the
only banjoist of my acquaintance, and being also a younger son of
a retired colonel, the poem of Mr. Kipling, by a strange
aberration of associated ideas, always seems to me to have been
written with an exclusive view to his person. When he did not
play the banjo he loved to sit and look at it. He proceeded to
this sentimental inspection, and after meditating a while over
the strings under my silent scrutiny inquired, airily:

"What are you always scribbling there, if it's fair to ask?"

It was a fair enough question, but I did not answer him, and
simply turned the pad over with a movement of instinctive
secrecy: I could not have told him he had put to flight the
psychology of Nina Almayer, her opening speech of the tenth
chapter, and the words of Mrs. Almayer's wisdom which were to
follow in the ominous oncoming of a tropical night. I could not
have told him that Nina had said, "It has set at last." He would
have been extremely surprised and perhaps have dropped his
precious banjo. Neither could I have told him that the sun of my
sea-going was setting, too, even as I wrote the words expressing
the impatience of passionate youth bent on its desire. I did not
know this myself, and it is safe to say he would not have cared,
though he was an excellent young fellow and treated me with more
deference than, in our relative positions, I was strictly
entitled to.

He lowered a tender gaze on his banjo, and I went on looking
through the port-hole. The round opening framed in its brass rim
a fragment of the quays, with a row of casks ranged on the frozen
ground and the tail end of a great cart. A red-nosed carter in a
blouse and a woollen night-cap leaned against the wheel. An
idle, strolling custom house guard, belted over his blue capote,
had the air of being depressed by exposure to the weather and the
monotony of official existence. The background of grimy houses
found a place in the picture framed by my port-hole, across a
wide stretch of paved quay brown with frozen mud. The colouring
was sombre, and the most conspicuous feature was a little cafe
with curtained windows and a shabby front of white woodwork,
corresponding with the squalor of these poorer quarters bordering
the river. We had been shifted down there from another berth in
the neighbourhood of the Opera House, where that same port-hole
gave me a view of quite another soft of cafe--the best in the
town, I believe, and the very one where the worthy Bovary and his
wife, the romantic daughter of old Pere Renault, had some
refreshment after the memorable performance of an opera which was
the tragic story of Lucia di Lammermoor in a setting of light

I could recall no more the hallucination of the Eastern
Archipelago which I certainly hoped to see again. The story of
"Almayer's Folly" got put away under the pillow for that day. I
do not know that I had any occupation to keep me away from it;
the truth of the matter is that on board that ship we were
leading just then a contemplative life. I will not say anything
of my privileged position. I was there "just to oblige," as an
actor of standing may take a small part in the benefit
performance of a friend.

As far as my feelings were concerned I did not wish to be in that
steamer at that time and in those circumstances. And perhaps I
was not even wanted there in the usual sense in which a ship
"wants" an officer. It was the first and last instance in my sea
life when I served ship-owners who have remained completely
shadowy to my apprehension. I do not mean this for the
well-known firm of London ship-brokers which had chartered the
ship to the, I will not say short-lived, but ephemeral
Franco-Canadian Transport Company. A death leaves something
behind, but there was never anything tangible left from the F. C.
T. C. It flourished no longer than roses live, and unlike the
roses it blossomed in the dead of winter, emitted a sort of faint
perfume of adventure, and died before spring set in. But
indubitably it was a company, it had even a house-flag, all white
with the letters F. C. T. C. artfully tangled up in a complicated
monogram. We flew it at our mainmast head, and now I have come
to the conclusion that it was the only flag of its kind in
existence. All the same we on board, for many days, had the
impression of being a unit of a large fleet with fortnightly
departures for Montreal and Quebec as advertised in pamphlets and
prospectuses which came aboard in a large package in Victoria
Dock, London, just before we started for Rouen, France. And in
the shadowy life of the F. C. T. C. lies the secret of that, my
last employment in my calling, which in a remote sense
interrupted the rhythmical development of Nina Almayer's story.

The then secretary of the London Shipmasters' Society, with its
modest rooms in Fenchurch Street, was a man of indefatigable
activity and the greatest devotion to his task. He is
responsible for what was my last association with a ship. I call
it that be cause it can hardly be called a sea-going experience.
Dear Captain Froud--it is impossible not to pay him the tribute
of affectionate familiarity at this distance of years--had very
sound views as to the advancement of knowledge and status for the
whole body of the officers of the mercantile marine. He organized
for us courses of professional lectures, St. John ambulance
classes, corresponded industriously with public bodies and
members of Parliament on subjects touching the interests of the
service; and as to the oncoming of some inquiry or commission
relating to matters of the sea and to the work of seamen, it was
a perfect godsend to his need of exerting himself on our
corporate behalf. Together with this high sense of his official
duties he had in him a vein of personal kindness, a strong
disposition to do what good he could to the individual members of
that craft of which in his time he had been a very excellent
master. And what greater kindness can one do to a seaman than to
put him in the way of employment? Captain Froud did not see why
the Shipmasters' Society, besides its general guardianship of our
interests, should not be unofficially an employment agency of the
very highest class.

"I am trying to persuade all our great ship-owning firms to come
to us for their men. There is nothing of a trade-union spirit
about our society, and I really don't see why they should not,"
he said once to me. "I am always telling the captains, too,
that, all things being equal, they ought to give preference to
the members of the society. In my position I can generally find
for them what they want among our members or our associate

In my wanderings about London from west to east and back again (I
was very idle then) the two little rooms in Fenchurch Street were
a sort of resting-place where my spirit, hankering after the sea,
could feel itself nearer to the ships, the men, and the life of
its choice--nearer there than on any other spot of the solid
earth. This resting-place used to be, at about five o'clock in
the afternoon, full of men and tobacco smoke, but Captain Froud
had the smaller room to himself and there he granted private
interviews, whose principal motive was to render service. Thus,
one murky November afternoon he beckoned me in with a crooked
finger and that peculiar glance above his spectacles which is
perhaps my strongest physical recollection of the man.

"I have had in here a shipmaster, this morning," he said, getting
back to his desk and motioning me to a chair, "who is in want of
an officer. It's for a steamship. You know, nothing pleases me
more than to be asked, but, unfortunately, I do not quite see my
way . . ."

As the outer room was full of men I cast a wondering glance at
the closed door; but he shook his head.

"Oh, yes, I should be only too glad to get that berth for one of
them. But the fact of the matter is, the captain of that ship
wants an officer who can speak French fluently, and that's not so
easy to find. I do not know anybody myself but you. It's a
second officer's berth and, of course, you would not care . . .
would you now? I know that it isn't what you are looking for."

It was not. I had given myself up to the idleness of a haunted
man who looks for nothing but words wherein to capture his
visions. But I admit that outwardly I resembled sufficiently a
man who could make a second officer for a steamer chartered by a
French company. I showed no sign of being haunted by the fate of
Nina and by the murmurs of tropical forests; and even my intimate
intercourse with Almayer (a person of weak character) had not put
a visible mark upon my features. For many years he and the world
of his story had been the companions of my imagination without, I
hope, impairing my ability to deal with the realities of sea
life. I had had the man and his surroundings with me ever since
my return from the eastern waters--some four years before the day
of which I speak.

It was in the front sitting-room of furnished apartments in a
Pimlico square that they first began to live again with a
vividness and poignancy quite foreign to our former real
intercourse. I had been treating myself to a long stay on shore,
and in the necessity of occupying my mornings Almayer (that old
acquaintance) came nobly to the rescue.

Before long, as was only proper, his wife and daughter joined him
round my table, and then the rest of that Pantai band came full
of words and gestures. Unknown to my respectable landlady, it
was my practice directly after my breakfast to hold animated
receptions of Malays, Arabs, and half-castes. They did not
clamour aloud for my attention. They came with a silent and
irresistible appeal--and the appeal, I affirm here, was not to my
self-love or my vanity. It seems now to have had a moral
character, for why should the memory of these beings, seen in
their obscure, sun-bathed existence, demand to express itself in
the shape of a novel, except on the ground of that mysterious
fellowship which unites in a community of hopes and fears all the
dwellers on this earth?

I did not receive my visitors with boisterous rapture as the
bearers of any gifts of profit or fame. There was no vision of a
printed book before me as I sat writing at that table, situated
in a decayed part of Belgravia. After all these years, each
leaving its evidence of slowly blackened pages, I can honestly
say that it is a sentiment akin to pity which prompted me to
render in words assembled with conscientious care the memory of
things far distant and of men who had lived.

But, coming back to Captain Froud and his fixed idea of never
disappointing ship owners or ship-captains, it was not likely
that I should fail him in his ambition--to satisfy at a few
hours' notice the unusual demand for a French-speaking officer.
He explained to me that the ship was chartered by a French
company intending to establish a regular monthly line of sailings
from Rouen, for the transport of French emigrants to Canada.
But, frankly, this sort of thing did not interest me very much.
I said gravely that if it were really a matter of keeping up the
reputation of the Shipmasters' Society I would consider it. But
the consideration was just for form's sake. The next day I
interviewed the captain, and I believe we were impressed
favourably with each other. He explained that his chief mate was
an excellent man in every respect and that he could not think of
dismissing him so as to give me the higher position; but that if
I consented to come as second officer I would be given certain
special advantages--and so on.

I told him that if I came at all the rank really did not matter.

"I am sure," he insisted, "you will get on first rate with Mr.

I promised faithfully to stay for two trips at least, and it was
in those circumstances that what was to be my last connection
with a ship began. And after all there was not even one single
trip. It may be that it was simply the fulfilment of a fate, of
that written word on my forehead which apparently for bade me,
through all my sea wanderings, ever to achieve the crossing of
the Western Ocean--using the words in that special sense in which
sailors speak of Western Ocean trade, of Western Ocean packets,
of Western Ocean hard cases. The new life attended closely upon
the old, and the nine chapters of "Almayer's Folly" went with me
to the Victoria Dock, whence in a few days we started for Rouen.
I won't go so far as saying that the engaging of a man fated
never to cross the Western Ocean was the absolute cause of the
Franco-Canadian Transport Company's failure to achieve even a
single passage. It might have been that of course; but the
obvious, gross obstacle was clearly the want of money. Four
hundred and sixty bunks for emigrants were put together in the
'tween decks by industrious carpenters while we lay in the
Victoria Dock, but never an emigrant turned up in Rouen--of
which, being a humane person, I confess I was glad. Some
gentlemen from Paris--I think there were three of them, and one
was said to be the chairman--turned up, indeed, and went from end
to end of the ship, knocking their silk hats cruelly against the
deck beams. I attended them personally, and I can vouch for it
that the interest they took in things was intelligent enough,
though, obviously, they had never seen anything of the sort
before. Their faces as they went ashore wore a cheerfully
inconclusive expression. Notwithstanding that this inspecting
ceremony was supposed to be a preliminary to immediate sailing,
it was then, as they filed down our gangway, that I received the
inward monition that no sailing within the meaning of our charter
party would ever take place.

It must be said that in less than three weeks a move took place.
When we first arrived we had been taken up with much ceremony
well toward the centre of the town, and, all the street corners
being placarded with the tricolor posters announcing the birth of
our company, the petit bourgeois with his wife and family made a
Sunday holiday from the inspection of the ship. I was always in
evidence in my best uniform to give information as though I had
been a Cook's tourists' interpreter, while our quartermasters
reaped a harvest of small change from personally conducted
parties. But when the move was made--that move which carried us
some mile and a half down the stream to be tied up to an
altogether muddier and shabbier quay--then indeed the desolation
of solitude became our lot. It was a complete and soundless
stagnation; for as we had the ship ready for sea to the smallest
detail, as the frost was hard and the days short, we were
absolutely idle--idle to the point of blushing with shame when
the thought struck us that all the time our salaries went on.
Young Cole was aggrieved because, as he said, we could not enjoy
any sort of fun in the evening after loafing like this all day;
even the banjo lost its charm since there was nothing to prevent
his strumming on it all the time between the meals. The good
Paramor--he was really a most excellent fellow--became unhappy as
far as was possible to his cheery nature, till one dreary day I
suggested, out of sheer mischief, that he should employ the
dormant energies of the crew in hauling both cables up on deck
and turning them end for end.

For a moment Mr. Paramor was radiant. "Excellent idea!" but
directly his face fell. "Why . . . Yes! But we can't make that
job last more than three days," he muttered, discontentedly. I
don't know how long he expected us to be stuck on the riverside
outskirts of Rouen, but I know that the cables got hauled up and
turned end for end according to my satanic suggestion, put down
again, and their very existence utterly forgotten, I believe,
before a French river pilot came on board to take our ship down,
empty as she came, into the Havre roads. You may think that this
state of forced idleness favoured some advance in the fortunes of
Almayer and his daughter. Yet it was not so. As if it were some
sort of evil spell, my banjoist cabin mate's interruption, as
related above, had arrested them short at the point of that
fateful sunset for many weeks together. It was always thus with
this book, begun in '89 and finished in '94--with that shortest
of all the novels which it was to be my lot to write. Between
its opening exclamation calling Almayer to his dinner in his
wife's voice and Abdullah's (his enemy) mental reference to the
God of Islam--"The Merciful, the Compassionate"--which closes the
book, there were to come several long sea passages, a visit (to
use the elevated phraseology suitable to the occasion) to the
scenes (some of them) of my childhood and the realization of
childhood's vain words, expressing a light-hearted and romantic

It was in 1868, when nine years old or thereabouts, that while
looking at a map of Africa of the time and putting my finger on
the blank space then representing the unsolved mystery of that
continent, I said to myself, with absolute assurance and an
amazing audacity which are no longer in my character now:

"When I grow up I shall go THERE."

And of course I thought no more about it till after a quarter of
a century or so an opportunity offered to go there--as if the sin
of childish audacity were to be visited on my mature head. Yes.
I did go there: THERE being the region of Stanley Falls, which in
'68 was the blankest of blank spaces on the earth's figured
surface. And the MS. of "Almayer's Folly," carried about me as
if it were a talisman or a treasure, went THERE, too. That it
ever came out of THERE seems a special dispensation of
Providence, because a good many of my other properties,
infinitely more valuable and useful to me, remained behind
through unfortunate accidents of transportation. I call to mind,
for instance, a specially awkward turn of the Congo between
Kinchassa and Leopoldsville--more particularly when one had to
take it at night in a big canoe with only half the proper number
of paddlers. I failed in being the second white man on record
drowned at that interesting spot through the upsetting of a
canoe. The first was a young Belgian officer, but the accident
happened some months before my time, and he, too, I believe, was
going home; not perhaps quite so ill as myself--but still he was
going home. I got round the turn more or less alive, though I
was too sick to care whether I did or not, and, always with
"Almayer's Folly" among my diminishing baggage, I arrived at that
delectable capital, Boma, where, before the departure of the
steamer which was to take me home, I had the time to wish myself
dead over and over again with perfect sincerity. At that date
there were in existence only seven chapters of "Almayer's Folly,"
but the chapter in my history which followed was that of a long,
long illness and very dismal convalescence. Geneva, or more
precisely the hydropathic establishment of Champel, is rendered
forever famous by the termination of the eighth chapter in the
history of Almayer's decline and fall. The events of the ninth
are inextricably mixed up with the details of the proper
management of a waterside warehouse owned by a certain city firm
whose name does not matter. But that work, undertaken to
accustom myself again to the activities of a healthy existence,
soon came to an end. The earth had nothing to hold me with for
very long. And then that memorable story, like a cask of choice
Madeira, got carried for three years to and fro upon the sea.
Whether this treatment improved its flavour or not, of course I
would not like to say. As far as appearance is concerned it
certainly did nothing of the kind. The whole MS. acquired a
faded look and an ancient, yellowish complexion. It became at
last unreasonable to suppose that anything in the world would
ever happen to Almayer and Nina. And yet something most unlikely
to happen on the high seas was to wake them up from their state
of suspended animation.

What is it that Novalis says: "It is certain my conviction gains
infinitely the moment an other soul will believe in it." And
what is a novel if not a conviction of our fellow-men's existence
strong enough to take upon itself a form of imagined life clearer
than reality and whose accumulated verisimilitude of selected
episodes puts to shame the pride of documentary history.
Providence which saved my MS. from the Congo rapids brought it to
the knowledge of a helpful soul far out on the open sea. It
would be on my part the greatest ingratitude ever to forget the
sallow, sunken face and the deep-set, dark eyes of the young
Cambridge man (he was a "passenger for his health" on board the
good ship Torrens outward bound to Australia) who was the first
reader of "Almayer's Folly"--the very first reader I ever had.

"Would it bore you very much in reading a MS. in a handwriting
like mine?" I asked him one evening, on a sudden impulse at the
end of a longish conversation whose subject was Gibbon's History.

Jacques (that was his name) was sitting in my cabin one stormy
dog-watch below, after bring me a book to read from his own
travelling store.

"Not at all," he answered, with his courteous intonation and a
faint smile. As I pulled a drawer open his suddenly aroused
curiosity gave him a watchful expression. I wonder what he
expected to see. A poem, maybe. All that's beyond guessing now.

He was not a cold, but a calm man, still more subdued by
disease--a man of few words and of an unassuming modesty in
general intercourse, but with something uncommon in the whole of
his person which set him apart from the undistinguished lot of
our sixty passengers. His eyes had a thoughtful, introspective
look. In his attractive reserved manner and in a veiled
sympathetic voice he asked:

"What is this?" "It is a sort of tale," I answered, with an
effort. "It is not even finished yet. Nevertheless, I would
like to know what you think of it." He put the MS. in the
breast-pocket of his jacket; I remember perfectly his thin, brown
fingers folding it lengthwise. "I will read it to-morrow," he
remarked, seizing the door handle; and then watching the roll of
the ship for a propitious moment, he opened the door and was
gone. In the moment of his exit I heard the sustained booming of
the wind, the swish of the water on the decks of the Torrens, and
the subdued, as if distant, roar of the rising sea. I noted the
growing disquiet in the great restlessness of the ocean, and
responded professionally to it with the thought that at eight
o'clock, in another half hour or so at the farthest, the
topgallant sails would have to come off the ship.

Next day, but this time in the first dog watch, Jacques entered
my cabin. He had a thick woollen muffler round his throat, and
the MS. was in his hand. He tendered it to me with a steady
look, but without a word. I took it in silence. He sat down on
the couch and still said nothing. I opened and shut a drawer
under my desk, on which a filled-up log-slate lay wide open in
its wooden frame waiting to be copied neatly into the sort of
book I was accustomed to write with care, the ship's log-book. I
turned my back squarely on the desk. And even then Jacques never
offered a word. "Well, what do you say?" I asked at last. "Is
it worth finishing?" This question expressed exactly the whole
of my thoughts.

"Distinctly," he answered, in his sedate, veiled voice, and then
coughed a little.

"Were you interested?" I inquired further, almost in a whisper.

"Very much!"

In a pause I went on meeting instinctively the heavy rolling of
the ship, and Jacques put his feet upon the couch. The curtain
of my bed-place swung to and fro as if it were a punkah, the
bulkhead lamp circled in its gimbals, and now and then the cabin
door rattled slightly in the gusts of wind. It was in latitude
40 south, and nearly in the longitude of Greenwich, as far as I
can remember, that these quiet rites of Almayer's and Nina's
resurrection were taking place. In the prolonged silence it
occurred to me that there was a good deal of retrospective
writing in the story as far as it went. Was it intelligible in
its action, I asked myself, as if already the story-teller were
being born into the body of a seaman. But I heard on deck the
whistle of the officer of the watch and remained on the alert to
catch the order that was to follow this call to attention. It
reached me as a faint, fierce shout to "Square the yards." "Aha!"
I thought to myself, "a westerly blow coming on." Then I turned
to my very first reader, who, alas! was not to live long enough
to know the end of the tale.

"Now let me ask you one more thing: is the story quite clear to
you as it stands?"

He raised his dark, gentle eyes to my face and seemed surprised.

"Yes! Perfectly."

This was all I was to hear from his lips concerning the merits of
"Almayer's Folly." We never spoke together of the book again. A
long period of bad weather set in and I had no thoughts left but
for my duties, while poor Jacques caught a fatal cold and had to
keep close in his cabin. When we arrived in Adelaide the first
reader of my prose went at once up-country, and died rather
suddenly in the end, either in Australia or it may be on the
passage while going home through the Suez Canal. I am not sure
which it was now, and I do not think I ever heard precisely;
though I made inquiries about him from some of our return
passengers who, wandering about to "see the country" during the
ship's stay in port, had come upon him here and there. At last
we sailed, homeward bound, and still not one line was added to
the careless scrawl of the many pages which poor Jacques had had
the patience to read with the very shadows of Eternity gathering
already in the hollows of his kind, steadfast eyes.

The purpose instilled into me by his simple and final
"Distinctly" remained dormant, yet alive to await its
opportunity. I dare say I am compelled--unconsciously
compelled--now to write volume after volume, as in past years I
was compelled to go to sea voyage after voyage. Leaves must
follow upon one an other as leagues used to follow in the days
gone by, on and on to the appointed end, which, being Truth
itself, is One--one for all men and for all occupations.

I do not know which of the two impulses has appeared more
mysterious and more wonderful to me. Still, in writing, as in
going to sea, I had to wait my opportunity. Let me confess here
that I was never one of those wonderful fellows that would go
afloat in a wash-tub for the sake of the fun, and if I may pride
myself upon my consistency, it was ever just the same with my
writing. Some men, I have heard, write in railway carriages, and
could do it, perhaps, sitting crossed-legged on a clothes-line;
but I must confess that my sybaritic disposition will not consent
to write without something at least resembling a chair. Line by
line, rather than page by page, was the growth of "Almayer's

And so it happened that I very nearly lost the MS., advanced now
to the first words of the ninth chapter, in the Friedrichstrasse
Poland, or more precisely to Ukraine. On an early, sleepy
morning changing trains in a hurry I left my Gladstone bag in a
refreshment-room. A worthy and intelligent Koffertrager rescued
it. Yet in my anxiety I was not thinking of the MS., but of all
the other things that were packed in the bag.

In Warsaw, where I spent two days, those wandering pages were
never exposed to the light, except once to candle-light, while
the bag lay open on the chair. I was dressing hurriedly to dine
at a sporting club. A friend of my childhood (he had been in the
Diplomatic Service, but had turned to growing wheat on paternal
acres, and we had not seen each other for over twenty years) was
sitting on the hotel sofa waiting to carry me off there.

"You might tell me something of your life while you are
dressing," he suggested, kindly.

I do not think I told him much of my life story either then or
later. The talk of the select little party with which he made me
dine was extremely animated and embraced most subjects under
heaven, from big-game shooting in Africa to the last poem
published in a very modernist review, edited by the very young
and patronized by the highest society. But it never touched upon
"Almayer's Folly," and next morning, in uninterrupted obscurity,
this inseparable companion went on rolling with me in the
southeast direction toward the government of Kiev.

At that time there was an eight hours' drive, if not more, from
the railway station to the country-house which was my

"Dear boy" (these words were always written in English), so ran
the last letter from that house received in London--"Get yourself
driven to the only inn in the place, dine as well as you can, and
some time in the evening my own confidential servant, factotum
and majordomo, a Mr. V. S. (I warn you he is of noble
extraction), will present himself before you, reporting the
arrival of the small sledge which will take you here on the next
day. I send with him my heaviest fur, which I suppose with such
overcoats as you may have with you will keep you from freezing on
the road."

Sure enough, as I was dining, served by a Hebrew waiter, in an
enormous barn-like bedroom with a freshly painted floor, the door
opened and, in a travelling costume of long boots, big sheepskin
cap, and a short coat girt with a leather belt, the Mr. V. S. (of
noble extraction), a man of about thirty-five, appeared with an
air of perplexity on his open and mustached countenance. I got
up from the table and greeted him in Polish, with, I hope, the
right shade of consideration demanded by his noble blood and his
confidential position. His face cleared up in a wonderful way.
It appeared that, notwithstanding my uncle's earnest assurances,
the good fellow had remained in doubt of our understanding each
other. He imagined I would talk to him in some foreign language.

I was told that his last words on getting into the sledge to come
to meet me shaped an anxious exclamation:

"Well! Well! Here I am going, but God only knows how I am to
make myself understood to our master's nephew."

We understood each other very well from the first. He took
charge of me as if I were not quite of age. I had a delightful
boyish feeling of coming home from school when he muffled me up
next morning in an enormous bearskin travelling-coat and took his
seat protectively by my side. The sledge was a very small one,
and it looked utterly insignificant, almost like a toy behind the
four big bays harnessed two and two. We three, counting the
coachman, filled it completely. He was a young fellow with clear
blue eyes; the high collar of his livery fur coat framed his
cheery countenance and stood all round level with the top of his

"Now, Joseph," my companion addressed him, "do you think we shall
manage to get home before six?" His answer was that we would
surely, with God's help, and providing there were no heavy drifts
in the long stretch between certain villages whose names came
with an extremely familiar sound to my ears. He turned out an
excellent coachman, with an instinct for keeping the road among
the snow-covered fields and a natural gift of getting the best
out of his horses.

"He is the son of that Joseph that I suppose the Captain
remembers. He who used to drive the Captain's late grandmother
of holy memory," remarked V. S., busy tucking fur rugs about my

I remembered perfectly the trusty Joseph who used to drive my
grandmother. Why! he it was who let me hold the reins for the
first time in my life and allowed me to play with the great
four-in-hand whip outside the doors of the coach-house.

"What became of him?" I asked. "He is no longer serving, I

"He served our master," was the reply. "But he died of cholera
ten years ago now--that great epidemic that we had. And his wife
died at the same time--the whole houseful of them, and this is
the only boy that was left."

The MS. of "Almayer's Folly" was reposing in the bag under our

I saw again the sun setting on the plains as I saw it in the
travels of my childhood. It set, clear and red, dipping into the
snow in full view as if it were setting on the sea. It was
twenty-three years since I had seen the sun set over that land;
and we drove on in the darkness which fell swiftly upon the livid
expanse of snows till, out of the waste of a white earth joining
a bestarred sky, surged up black shapes, the clumps of trees
about a village of the Ukrainian plain. A cottage or two glided
by, a low interminable wall, and then, glimmering and winking
through a screen of fir-trees, the lights of the master's house.

That very evening the wandering MS. of "Almayer's Folly" was
unpacked and unostentatiously laid on the writing-table in my
room, the guest-room which had been, I was informed in an
affectionately careless tone, awaiting me for some fifteen years
or so. It attracted no attention from the affectionate presence
hovering round the son of the favourite sister.

"You won't have many hours to yourself while you are staying with
me, brother," he said--this form of address borrowed from the
speech of our peasants being the usual expression of the highest
good humour in a moment of affectionate elation. "I shall be
always coming in for a chat."

As a matter of fact, we had the whole house to chat in, and were
everlastingly intruding upon each other. I invaded the
retirement of his study where the principal feature was a
colossal silver inkstand presented to him on his fiftieth year by
a subscription of all his wards then living. He had been
guardian of many orphans of land-owning families from the three
southern provinces--ever since the year 1860. Some of them had
been my school fellows and playmates, but not one of them, girls
or boys, that I know of has ever written a novel. One or two
were older than myself--considerably older, too. One of them, a
visitor I remember in my early years, was the man who first put
me on horseback, and his four-horse bachelor turnout, his perfect
horsemanship and general skill in manly exercises, was one of my
earliest admirations. I seem to remember my mother looking on
from a colonnade in front of the dining-room windows as I was
lifted upon the pony, held, for all I know, by the very Joseph--
the groom attached specially to my grandmother's service--who
died of cholera. It was certainly a young man in a dark-blue,
tailless coat and huge Cossack trousers, that being the livery of
the men about the stables. It must have been in 1864, but
reckoning by another mode of calculating time, it was certainly
in the year in which my mother obtained permission to travel
south and visit her family, from the exile into which she had
followed my father. For that, too, she had had to ask
permission, and I know that one of the conditions of that favour
was that she should be treated exactly as a condemned exile
herself. Yet a couple of years later, in memory of her eldest
brother, who had served in the Guards and dying early left hosts
of friends and a loved memory in the great world of St.
Petersburg, some influential personages procured for her this
permission--it was officially called the "Highest Grace"--of a
four months' leave from exile.

This is also the year in which I first begin to remember my
mother with more distinctness than a mere loving, wide-browed,
silent, protecting presence, whose eyes had a sort of commanding
sweetness; and I also remember the great gathering of all the
relations from near and far, and the gray heads of the family
friends paying her the homage of respect and love in the house of
her favourite brother, who, a few years later, was to take the
place for me of both my parents.

I did not understand the tragic significance of it all at the
time, though, indeed, I remember that doctors also came. There
were no signs of invalidism about her--but I think that already
they had pronounced her doom unless perhaps the change to a
southern climate could re-establish her declining strength. For
me it seems the very happiest period of my existence. There was
my cousin, a delightful, quick-tempered little girl, some months
younger than myself, whose life, lovingly watched over as if she
were a royal princess, came to an end with her fifteenth year.
There were other children, too, many of whom are dead now, and
not a few whose very names I have forgotten. Over all this hung
the oppressive shadow of the great Russian empire--the shadow
lowering with the darkness of a new-born national hatred fostered
by the Moscow school of journalists against the Poles after the
ill-omened rising of 1863.

This is a far cry back from the MS. of "Almayer's Folly," but the
public record of these formative impressions is not the whim of
an uneasy egotism. These, too, are things human, already distant
in their appeal. It is meet that something more should be left
for the novelist's children than the colours and figures of his
own hard-won creation. That which in their grown-up years may
appear to the world about them as the most enigmatic side of
their natures and perhaps must remain forever obscure even to
themselves, will be their unconscious response to the still voice
of that inexorable past from which his work of fiction and their
personalities are remotely derived.

Only in men's imagination does every truth find an effective and
undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme
master of art as of life. An imaginative and exact rendering of
authentic memories may serve worthily that spirit of piety toward
all things human which sanctions the conceptions of a writer of
tales, and the emotions of the man reviewing his own experience.


As I have said, I was unpacking my luggage after a journey from
London into Ukraine. The MS. of "Almayer's Folly"--my companion
already for some three years or more, and then in the ninth
chapter of its age--was deposited unostentatiously on the
writing-table placed between two windows. It didn't occur to me
to put it away in the drawer the table was fitted with, but my
eye was attracted by the good form of the same drawer's brass
handles. Two candelabra, with four candles each, lighted up
festally the room which had waited so many years for the
wandering nephew. The blinds were down.

Within five hundred yards of the chair on which I sat stood the
first peasant hut of the village--part of my maternal
grandfather's estate, the only part remaining in the possession
of a member of the family; and beyond the village in the
limitless blackness of a winter's night there lay the great
unfenced fields--not a flat and severe plain, but a kindly bread-
giving land of low rounded ridges, all white now, with the black
patches of timber nestling in the hollows. The road by which I
had come ran through the village with a turn just outside the
gates closing the short drive. Somebody was abroad on the deep
snow track; a quick tinkle of bells stole gradually into the
stillness of the room like a tuneful whisper.

My unpacking had been watched over by the servant who had come to
help me, and, for the most part, had been standing attentive but
unnecessary at the door of the room. I did not want him in the
least, but I did not like to tell him to go away. He was a young
fellow, certainly more than ten years younger than myself; I had
not been--I won't say in that place, but within sixty miles of
it, ever since the year '67; yet his guileless physiognomy of the
open peasant type seemed strangely familiar. It was quite
possible that he might have been a descendant, a son, or even a
grandson, of the servants whose friendly faces had been familiar
to me in my early childhood. As a matter of fact he had no such
claim on my consideration. He was the product of some village
near by and was there on his promotion, having learned the
service in one or two houses as pantry boy. I know this because
I asked the worthy V---- next day. I might well have spared the
question. I discovered before long that all the faces about the
house and all the faces in the village: the grave faces with long
mustaches of the heads of families, the downy faces of the young
men, the faces of the little fair-haired children, the handsome,
tanned, wide-browed faces of the mothers seen at the doors of the
huts, were as familiar to me as though I had known them all from
childhood and my childhood were a matter of the day before

The tinkle of the traveller's bells, after growing louder, had
faded away quickly, and the tumult of barking dogs in the village
had calmed down at last. My uncle, lounging in the corner of a
small couch, smoked his long Turkish chibouk in silence.

"This is an extremely nice writing-table you have got for my
room," I remarked.

"It is really your property," he said, keeping his eyes on me,
with an interested and wistful expression, as he had done ever
since I had entered the house. "Forty years ago your mother used
to write at this very table. In our house in Oratow, it stood in
the little sitting-room which, by a tacit arrangement, was given
up to the girls--I mean to your mother and her sister who died so
young. It was a present to them jointly from your uncle Nicholas
B. when your mother was seventeen and your aunt two years
younger. She was a very dear, delightful girl, that aunt of
yours, of whom I suppose you know nothing more than the name.
She did not shine so much by personal beauty and a cultivated
mind in which your mother was far superior. It was her good
sense, the admirable sweetness of her nature, her exceptional
facility and ease in daily relations, that endeared her to every
body. Her death was a terrible grief and a serious moral loss
for us all. Had she lived she would have brought the greatest
blessings to the house it would have been her lot to enter, as
wife, mother, and mistress of a household. She would have
created round herself an atmosphere of peace and content which
only those who can love unselfishly are able to evoke. Your
mother--of far greater beauty, exceptionally distinguished in
person, manner, and intellect--had a less easy disposition.
Being more brilliantly gifted, she also expected more from life.
At that trying time especially, we were greatly concerned about
her state. Suffering in her health from the shock of her
father's death (she was alone in the house with him when he died
suddenly), she was torn by the inward struggle between her love
for the man whom she was to marry in the end and her knowledge of
her dead father's declared objection to that match. Unable to
bring herself to disregard that cherished memory and that
judgment she had always respected and trusted, and, on the other
hand, feeling the impossibility to resist a sentiment so deep and
so true, she could not have been expected to preserve her mental
and moral balance. At war with herself, she could not give to
others that feeling of peace which was not her own. It was only
later, when united at last with the man of her choice, that she
developed those uncommon gifts of mind and heart which compelled
the respect and admiration even of our foes. Meeting with calm
fortitude the cruel trials of a life reflecting all the national
and social misfortunes of the community, she realized the highest
conceptions of duty as a wife, a mother, and a patriot, sharing
the exile of her husband and representing nobly the ideal of
Polish womanhood. Our uncle Nicholas was not a man very
accessible to feelings of affection. Apart from his worship for
Napoleon the Great, he loved really, I believe, only three people
in the world: his mother--your great-grandmother, whom you have
seen but cannot possibly remember; his brother, our father, in
whose house he lived for so many years; and of all of us, his
nephews and nieces grown up around him, your mother alone. The
modest, lovable qualities of the youngest sister he did not seem
able to see. It was I who felt most profoundly this unexpected
stroke of death falling upon the family less than a year after I
had become its head. It was terribly unexpected. Driving home
one wintry afternoon to keep me company in our empty house, where
I had to remain permanently administering the estate and at
tending to the complicated affairs--(the girls took it in turn
week and week about)--driving, as I said, from the house of the
Countess Tekla Potocka, where our invalid mother was staying then
to be near a doctor, they lost the road and got stuck in a snow
drift. She was alone with the coachman and old Valery, the
personal servant of our late father. Impatient of delay while
they were trying to dig themselves out, she jumped out of the
sledge and went to look for the road herself. All this happened
in '51, not ten miles from the house in which we are sitting now.

The road was soon found, but snow had begun to fall thickly
again, and they were four more hours getting home. Both the men
took off their sheepskin lined greatcoats and used all their own
rugs to wrap her up against the cold, notwithstanding her
protests, positive orders, and even struggles, as Valery
afterward related to me. 'How could I,' he remonstrated with
her, 'go to meet the blessed soul of my late master if I let any
harm come to you while there's a spark of life left in my body?'
When they reached home at last the poor old man was stiff and
speechless from exposure, and the coachman was in not much better
plight, though he had the strength to drive round to the stables
himself. To my reproaches for venturing out at all in such
weather, she answered, characteristically, that she could not
bear the thought of abandoning me to my cheerless solitude. It
is incomprehensible how it was that she was allowed to start. I
suppose it had to be! She made light of the cough which came on
next day, but shortly afterward inflammation of the lungs set in,
and in three weeks she was no more! She was the first to be
taken away of the young generation under my care. Behold the
vanity of all hopes and fears! I was the most frail at birth of
all the children. For years I remained so delicate that my
parents had but little hope of bringing me up; and yet I have
survived five brothers and two sisters, and many of my
contemporaries; I have outlived my wife and daughter, too--and
from all those who have had some knowledge at least of these old
times you alone are left. It has been my lot to lay in an early
grave many honest hearts, many brilliant promises, many hopes
full of life."

He got up briskly, sighed, and left me saying, "We will dine in
half an hour."

Without moving, I listened to his quick steps resounding on the
waxed floor of the next room, traversing the anteroom lined with
bookshelves, where he paused to put his chibouk in the pipe-stand
before passing into the drawing-room (these were all en suite),
where he became inaudible on the thick carpet. But I heard the
door of his study-bedroom close. He was then sixty-two years old
and had been for a quarter of a century the wisest, the firmest,
the most indulgent of guardians, extending over me a paternal
care and affection, a moral support which I seemed to feel always
near me in the most distant parts of the earth.

As to Mr. Nicholas B., sub-lieutenant of 1808, lieutenant of 1813
in the French army, and for a short time Officier d'Ordonnance of
Marshal Marmont; afterward captain in the 2d Regiment of Mounted
Rifles in the Polish army--such as it existed up to 1830 in the
reduced kingdom established by the Congress of Vienna--I must say
that from all that more distant past, known to me traditionally
and a little de visu, and called out by the words of the man just
gone away, he remains the most incomplete figure. It is obvious
that I must have seen him in '64, for it is certain that he would
not have missed the opportunity of seeing my mother for what he
must have known would be the last time. From my early boyhood to
this day, if I try to call up his image, a sort of mist rises
before my eyes, mist in which I perceive vaguely only a neatly
brushed head of white hair (which is exceptional in the case of
the B. family, where it is the rule for men to go bald in a
becoming manner before thirty) and a thin, curved, dignified
nose, a feature in strict accordance with the physical tradition
of the B. family. But it is not by these fragmentary remains of
perishable mortality that he lives in my memory. I knew, at a
very early age, that my granduncle Nicholas B. was a Knight of
the Legion of Honour and that he had also the Polish Cross for
valour Virtuti Militari. The knowledge of these glorious facts
inspired in me an admiring veneration; yet it is not that
sentiment, strong as it was, which resumes for me the force and
the significance of his personality. It is over borne by another
and complex impression of awe, compassion, and horror. Mr.
Nicholas B. remains for me the unfortunate and miserable (but
heroic) being who once upon a time had eaten a dog.

It is a good forty years since I heard the tale, and the effect
has not worn off yet. I believe this is the very first, say,
realistic, story I heard in my life; but all the same I don't
know why I should have been so frightfully impressed. Of course
I know what our village dogs look like--but still. . . . No! At
this very day, recalling the horror and compassion of my
childhood, I ask myself whether I am right in disclosing to a
cold and fastidious world that awful episode in the family
history. I ask myself--is it right?--especially as the B. family
had always been honourably known in a wide countryside for the
delicacy of their tastes in the matter of eating and drinking.
But upon the whole, and considering that this gastronomical
degradation overtaking a gallant young officer lies really at the
door of the Great Napoleon, I think that to cover it up by
silence would be an exaggeration of literary restraint. Let the
truth stand here. The responsibility rests with the Man of St.
Helena in view of his deplorable levity in the conduct of the
Russian campaign. It was during the memorable retreat from
Moscow that Mr. Nicholas B., in company of two brother
officers--as to whose morality and natural refinement I know
nothing--bagged a dog on the outskirts of a village and
subsequently devoured him. As far as I can remember the weapon
used was a cavalry sabre, and the issue of the sporting episode
was rather more of a matter of life and death than if it had been
an encounter with a tiger. A picket of Cossacks was sleeping in
that village lost in the depths of the great Lithuanian forest.
The three sportsmen had observed them from a hiding-place making
themselves very much at home among the huts just before the early
winter darkness set in at four o'clock. They had observed them
with disgust and, perhaps, with despair. Late in the night the
rash counsels of hunger overcame the dictates of prudence.
Crawling through the snow they crept up to the fence of dry
branches which generally encloses a village in that part of
Lithuania. What they expected to get and in what manner, and
whether this expectation was worth the risk, goodness only knows.

However, these Cossack parties, in most cases wandering without
an officer, were known to guard themselves badly and often not at
all. In addition, the village lying at a great distance from the
line of French retreat, they could not suspect the presence of
stragglers from the Grand Army. The three officers had strayed
away in a blizzard from the main column and had been lost for
days in the woods, which explains sufficiently the terrible
straits to which they were reduced. Their plan was to try and
attract the attention of the peasants in that one of the huts
which was nearest to the enclosure; but as they were preparing to
venture into the very jaws of the lion, so to speak, a dog (it is
mighty strange that there was but one), a creature quite as
formidable under the circumstances as a lion, began to bark on
the other side of the fence. . . .

At this stage of the narrative, which I heard many times (by
request) from the lips of Captain Nicholas B.'s sister-in-law, my
grandmother, I used to tremble with excitement.

The dog barked. And if he had done no more than bark, three
officers of the Great Napoleon's army would have perished
honourably on the points of Cossacks' lances, or perchance
escaping the chase would have died decently of starvation. But
before they had time to think of running away that fatal and
revolting dog, being carried away by the excess of the zeal,
dashed out through a gap in the fence. He dashed out and died.
His head, I understand, was severed at one blow from his body. I
understand also that later on, within the gloomy solitudes of the
snow-laden woods, when, in a sheltering hollow, a fire had been
lit by the party, the condition of the quarry was discovered to
be distinctly unsatisfactory. It was not thin--on the contrary,
it seemed unhealthily obese; its skin showed bare patches of an
unpleasant character. However, they had not killed that dog for
the sake of the pelt. He was large. . . . He was eaten. . . .
The rest is silence. . . .

A silence in which a small boy shudders and says firmly:

"I could not have eaten that dog."

And his grandmother remarks with a smile:

"Perhaps you don't know what it is to be hungry."

I have learned something of it since. Not that I have been
reduced to eat dog. I have fed on the emblematical animal,
which, in the language of the volatile Gauls, is called la vache
enragee; I have lived on ancient salt junk, I know the taste of
shark, of trepang, of snake, of nondescript dishes containing
things without a name--but of the Lithuanian village dog--never!
I wish it to be distinctly understood that it is not I, but my
granduncle Nicholas, of the Polish landed gentry, Chevalier de la
Legion d'Honneur, etc., who in his young days, had eaten the
Lithuanian dog.

I wish he had not. The childish horror of the deed clings
absurdly to the grizzled man. I am perfectly helpless against
it. Still, if he really had to, let us charitably remember that
he had eaten him on active service, while bearing up bravely
against the greatest military disaster of modern history, and, in
a manner, for the sake of his country. He had eaten him to
appease his hunger, no doubt, but also for the sake of an
unappeasable and patriotic desire, in the glow of a great faith
that lives still, and in the pursuit of a great illusion kindled
like a false beacon by a great man to lead astray the effort of a
brave nation.

Pro patria!

Looked at in that light, it appears a sweet and decorous meal.

And looked at in the same light, my own diet of la vache enragee
appears a fatuous and extravagant form of self-indulgence; for
why should I, the son of a land which such men as these have
turned up with their plowshares and bedewed with their blood,
undertake the pursuit of fantastic meals of salt junk and
hardtack upon the wide seas? On the kindest view it seems an
unanswerable question. Alas! I have the conviction that there
are men of unstained rectitude who are ready to murmur scornfully
the word desertion. Thus the taste of innocent adventure may be
made bitter to the palate. The part of the inexplicable should
be al lowed for in appraising the conduct of men in a world where
no explanation is final. No charge of faithlessness ought to be
lightly uttered. The appearances of this perishable life are
deceptive, like everything that falls under the judgment of our
imperfect senses. The inner voice may remain true enough in its
secret counsel. The fidelity to a special tradition may last
through the events of an unrelated existence, following
faithfully, too, the traced way of an inexplicable impulse.

It would take too long to explain the intimate alliance of
contradictions in human nature which makes love itself wear at
times the desperate shape of betrayal. And perhaps there is no
possible explanation. Indulgence--as somebody said--is the most
intelligent of all the virtues. I venture to think that it is
one of the least common, if not the most uncommon of all. I
would not imply by this that men are foolish--or even most men.
Far from it. The barber and the priest, backed by the whole
opinion of the village, condemned justly the conduct of the
ingenious hidalgo, who, sallying forth from his native place,
broke the head of the muleteer, put to death a flock of
inoffensive sheep, and went through very doleful experiences in a
certain stable. God forbid that an unworthy churl should escape
merited censure by hanging on to the stirrup-leather of the
sublime caballero. His was a very noble, a very unselfish
fantasy, fit for nothing except to raise the envy of baser
mortals. But there is more than one aspect to the charm of that
exalted and dangerous figure. He, too, had his frailties. After
reading so many romances he desired naively to escape with his
very body from the intolerable reality of things. He wished to
meet, eye to eye, the valorous giant Brandabarbaran, Lord of
Arabia, whose armour is made of the skin of a dragon, and whose
shield, strapped to his arm, is the gate of a fortified city.
Oh, amiable and natural weakness! Oh, blessed simplicity of a
gentle heart without guile! Who would not succumb to such a
consoling temptation? Nevertheless, it was a form of
self-indulgence, and the ingenious hidalgo of La Mancha was not a
good citizen. The priest and the barber were not unreasonable in
their strictures. Without going so far as the old King
Louis-Philippe, who used to say in his exile, "The people are
never in fault"--one may admit that there must be some
righteousness in the assent of a whole village. Mad! Mad! He
who kept in pious meditation the ritual vigil-of-arms by the well
of an inn and knelt reverently to be knighted at daybreak by the
fat, sly rogue of a landlord has come very near perfection. He
rides forth, his head encircled by a halo--the patron saint of
all lives spoiled or saved by the irresistible grace of
imagination. But he was not a good citizen.

Perhaps that and nothing else was meant by the well-remembered
exclamation of my tutor.

It was in the jolly year 1873, the very last year in which I have
had a jolly holiday. There have been idle years afterward, jolly
enough in a way and not altogether without their lesson, but this
year of which I speak was the year of my last school-boy holiday.
There are other reasons why I should remember that year, but they
are too long to state formally in this place. Moreover, they
have nothing to do with that holiday. What has to do with the
holiday is that before the day on which the remark was made we
had seen Vienna, the Upper Danube, Munich, the Falls of the
Rhine, the Lake of Constance,--in fact, it was a memorable
holiday of travel. Of late we had been tramping slowly up the
Valley of the Reuss. It was a delightful time. It was much more
like a stroll than a tramp. Landing from a Lake of Lucerne
steamer in Fluelen, we found ourselves at the end of the second
day, with the dusk overtaking our leisurely footsteps, a little
way beyond Hospenthal. This is not the day on which the remark
was made: in the shadows of the deep valley and with the
habitations of men left some way behind, our thoughts ran not
upon the ethics of conduct, but upon the simpler human problem of
shelter and food. There did not seem anything of the kind in
sight, and we were thinking of turning back when suddenly, at a
bend of the road, we came upon a building, ghostly in the

At that time the work on the St. Gothard Tunnel was going on, and
that magnificent enterprise of burrowing was directly responsible
for the unexpected building, standing all alone upon the very
roots of the mountains. It was long, though not big at all; it
was low; it was built of boards, without ornamentation, in
barrack-hut style, with the white window-frames quite flush with
the yellow face of its plain front. And yet it was a hotel; it
had even a name, which I have forgotten. But there was no gold
laced doorkeeper at its humble door. A plain but vigorous
servant-girl answered our inquiries, then a man and woman who
owned the place appeared. It was clear that no travellers were
expected, or perhaps even desired, in this strange hostelry,
which in its severe style resembled the house which sur mounts
the unseaworthy-looking hulls of the toy Noah's Arks, the
universal possession of European childhood. However, its roof
was not hinged and it was not full to the brim of slab-sided and
painted animals of wood. Even the live tourist animal was
nowhere in evidence. We had something to eat in a long, narrow
room at one end of a long, narrow table, which, to my tired
perception and to my sleepy eyes, seemed as if it would tilt up
like a see saw plank, since there was no one at the other end to
balance it against our two dusty and travel-stained figures.
Then we hastened up stairs to bed in a room smelling of pine
planks, and I was fast asleep before my head touched the pillow.

In the morning my tutor (he was a student of the Cracow
University) woke me up early, and as we were dressing remarked:
"There seems to be a lot of people staying in this hotel. I have
heard a noise of talking up till eleven o'clock." This statement
surprised me; I had heard no noise whatever, having slept like a

We went down-stairs into the long and narrow dining-room with its
long and narrow table. There were two rows of plates on it. At
one of the many curtained windows stood a tall, bony man with a
bald head set off by a bunch of black hair above each ear, and
with a long, black beard. He glanced up from the paper he was
reading and seemed genuinely astonished at our intrusion. By and
by more men came in. Not one of them looked like a tourist. Not
a single woman appeared. These men seemed to know each other
with some intimacy, but I cannot say they were a very talkative
lot. The bald-headed man sat down gravely at the head of the
table. It all had the air of a family party. By and by, from
one of the vigorous servant-girls in national costume, we
discovered that the place was really a boarding house for some
English engineers engaged at the works of the St. Gothard Tunnel;
and I could listen my fill to the sounds of the English language,
as far as it is used at a breakfast-table by men who do not
believe in wasting many words on the mere amenities of life.

This was my first contact with British mankind apart from the
tourist kind seen in the hotels of Zurich and Lucerne--the kind
which has no real existence in a workaday world. I know now that
the bald-headed man spoke with a strong Scotch accent. I have
met many of his kind ashore and afloat. The second engineer of
the steamer Mavis, for instance, ought to have been his twin
brother. I cannot help thinking that he really was, though for
some reason of his own he assured me that he never had a twin
brother. Anyway, the deliberate, bald-headed Scot with the
coal-black beard appeared to my boyish eyes a very romantic and
mysterious person.

We slipped out unnoticed. Our mapped-out route led over the
Furca Pass toward the Rhone Glacier, with the further intention
of following down the trend of the Hasli Valley. The sun was
already declining when we found ourselves on the top of the pass,
and the remark alluded to was presently uttered.

We sat down by the side of the road to continue the argument
begun half a mile or so before. I am certain it was an argument,
because I remember perfectly how my tutor argued and how without
the power of reply I listened, with my eyes fixed obstinately on
the ground. A stir on the road made me look up--and then I saw
my unforgettable Englishman. There are acquaintances of later
years, familiars, shipmates, whom I remember less clearly. He
marched rapidly toward the east (attended by a hang-dog Swiss
guide), with the mien of an ardent and fearless traveller. He
was clad in a knickerbocker suit, but as at the same time he wore
short socks under his laced boots, for reasons which, whether
hygienic or conscientious, were surely imaginative, his calves,
exposed to the public gaze and to the tonic air of high
altitudes, dazzled the beholder by the splendour of their
marble-like condition and their rich tone of young ivory. He was
the leader of a small caravan. The light of a headlong, exalted
satisfaction with the world of men and the scenery of mountains
illumined his clean-cut, very red face, his short, silver-white
whiskers, his innocently eager and triumphant eyes. In passing
he cast a glance of kindly curiosity and a friendly gleam of big,
sound, shiny teeth toward the man and the boy sitting like dusty
tramps by the roadside, with a modest knapsack lying at their
feet. His white calves twinkled sturdily, the uncouth Swiss
guide with a surly mouth stalked like an unwilling bear at his
elbow; a small train of three mules followed in single file the
lead of this inspiring enthusiast. Two ladies rode past, one
behind the other, but from the way they sat I saw only their
calm, uniform backs, and the long ends of blue veils hanging
behind far down over their identical hat-brims. His two
daughters, surely. An industrious luggage-mule, with unstarched
ears and guarded by a slouching, sallow driver, brought up the
rear. My tutor, after pausing for a look and a faint smile,
resumed his earnest argument.

I tell you it was a memorable year! One does not meet such an
Englishman twice in a lifetime. Was he in the mystic ordering of
common events the ambassador of my future, sent out to turn the
scale at a critical moment on the top of an Alpine pass, with the
peaks of the Bernese Oberland for mute and solemn witnesses? His
glance, his smile, the unextinguishable and comic ardour of his
striving-forward appearance, helped me to pull myself together.
It must be stated that on that day and in the exhilarating
atmosphere of that elevated spot I had been feeling utterly
crushed. It was the year in which I had first spoken aloud of my
desire to go to sea. At first like those sounds that, ranging
outside the scale to which men's ears are attuned, remain
inaudible to our sense of hearing, this declaration passed
unperceived. It was as if it had not been. Later on, by trying
various tones, I managed to arouse here and there a surprised
momentary attention--the "What was that funny noise?"--sort of
inquiry. Later on it was: "Did you hear what that boy said?
What an extraordinary outbreak!" Presently a wave of scandalized
astonishment (it could not have been greater if I had announced
the intention of entering a Carthusian monastery) ebbing out of
the educational and academical town of Cracow spread itself over
several provinces. It spread itself shallow but far-reaching.
It stirred up a mass of remonstrance, indignation, pitying
wonder, bitter irony, and downright chaff. I could hardly
breathe under its weight, and certainly had no words for an
answer. People wondered what Mr. T. B. would do now with his
worrying nephew and, I dare say, hoped kindly that he would make
short work of my nonsense.

What he did was to come down all the way from Ukraine to have it
out with me and to judge by himself, unprejudiced, impartial, and
just, taking his stand on the ground of wisdom and affection. As
far as is possible for a boy whose power of expression is still
unformed I opened the secret of my thoughts to him, and he in
return allowed me a glimpse into his mind and heart; the first
glimpse of an inexhaustible and noble treasure of clear thought
and warm feeling, which through life was to be mine to draw upon
with a never-deceived love and confidence. Practically, after
several exhaustive conversations, he concluded that he would not
have me later on reproach him for having spoiled my life by an
unconditional opposition. But I must take time for serious
reflection. And I must think not only of myself but of others;
weigh the claims of affection and conscience against my own
sincerity of purpose. "Think well what it all means in the
larger issues--my boy," he exhorted me, finally, with special
friendliness. "And meantime try to get the best place you can at
the yearly examinations."

The scholastic year came to an end. I took a fairly good place
at the exams, which for me (for certain reasons) happened to be a
more difficult task than for other boys. In that respect I could
enter with a good conscience upon that holiday which was like a
long visit pour prendre conge of the mainland of old Europe I was
to see so little of for the next four-and-twenty years. Such,
however, was not the avowed purpose of that tour. It was rather,
I suspect, planned in order to distract and occupy my thoughts in
other directions. Nothing had been said for months of my going
to sea. But my attachment to my young tutor and his influence
over me were so well known that he must have received a
confidential mission to talk me out of my romantic folly. It was
an excellently appropriate arrangement, as neither he nor I had
ever had a single glimpse of the sea in our lives. That was to
come by and by for both of us in Venice, from the outer shore of
Lido. Meantime he had taken his mission to heart so well that I
began to feel crushed before we reached Zurich. He argued in
railway trains, in lake steamboats, he had argued away for me the
obligatory sunrise on the Righi, by Jove! Of his devotion to his
unworthy pupil there can be no doubt. He had proved it already
by two years of unremitting and arduous care. I could not hate
him. But he had been crushing me slowly, and when he started to
argue on the top of the Furca Pass he was perhaps nearer a
success than either he or I imagined. I listened to him in
despairing silence, feeling that ghostly, unrealized, and desired
sea of my dreams escape from the unnerved grip of my will.

The enthusiastic old Englishman had passed--and the argument went
on. What reward could I expect from such a life at the end of my
years, either in ambition, honour, or conscience? An
unanswerable question. But I felt no longer crushed. Then our
eyes met and a genuine emotion was visible in his as well as in
mine. The end came all at once. He picked up the knapsack
suddenly and got onto his feet.

"You are an incorrigible, hopeless Don Quixote. That's what you

I was surprised. I was only fifteen and did not know what he
meant exactly. But I felt vaguely flattered at the name of the
immortal knight turning up in connection with my own folly, as
some people would call it to my face. Alas! I don't think there
was anything to be proud of. Mine was not the stuff of
protectors of forlorn damsels, the redressers of this world's
wrong are made of; and my tutor was the man to know that best.
Therein, in his indignation, he was superior to the barber and
the priest when he flung at me an honoured name like a reproach.

I walked behind him for full five minutes; then without looking
back he stopped. The shadows of distant peaks were lengthening
over the Furca Pass. When I came up to him he turned to me and
in full view of the Finster Aarhorn, with his band of giant
brothers rearing their monstrous heads against a brilliant sky,
put his hand on my shoulder affectionately.

"Well! That's enough. We will have no more of it."

And indeed there was no more question of my mysterious vocation
between us. There was to be no more question of it at all, no
where or with any one. We began the descent of the Furca Pass
conversing merrily.

Eleven years later, month for month, I stood on Tower Hill on the
steps of the St. Katherine's Dockhouse, a master in the British
Merchant Service. But the man who put his hand on my shoulder at
the top of the Furca Pass was no longer living.

That very year of our travels he took his degree of the
Philosophical Faculty--and only then his true vocation declared
itself. Obedient to the call, he entered at once upon the
four-year course of the Medical Schools. A day came when, on the
deck of a ship moored in Calcutta, I opened a letter telling me
of the end of an enviable existence. He had made for himself a
practice in some obscure little town of Austrian Galicia. And
the letter went on to tell me how all the bereaved poor of the
district, Christians and Jews alike, had mobbed the good doctor's
coffin with sobs and lamentations at the very gate of the

How short his years and how clear his vision! What greater
reward in ambition, honour, and conscience could he have hoped to
win for himself when, on the top of the Furca Pass, he bade me
look well to the end of my opening life?


The devouring in a dismal forest of a luckless Lithuanian dog by
my granduncle Nicholas B. in company of two other military and
famished scarecrows, symbolized, to my childish imagination, the
whole horror of the retreat from Moscow, and the immorality of a
conqueror's ambition. An extreme distaste for that objectionable
episode has tinged the views I hold as to the character and
achievements of Napoleon the Great. I need not say that these
are unfavourable. It was morally reprehensible for that great
captain to induce a simple-minded Polish gentleman to eat dog by
raising in his breast a false hope of national independence. It
has been the fate of that credulous nation to starve for upward
of a hundred years on a diet of false hopes and--well--dog. It
is, when one thinks of it, a singularly poisonous regimen. Some
pride in the national constitution which has survived a long
course of such dishes is really excusable.

But enough of generalizing. Returning to particulars, Mr.
Nicholas B. confided to his sister-in-law (my grandmother) in his
misanthropically laconic manner that this supper in the woods had
been nearly "the death of him." This is not surprising. What
surprises me is that the story was ever heard of; for granduncle
Nicholas differed in this from the generality of military men of
Napoleon's time (and perhaps of all time) that he did not like to
talk of his campaigns, which began at Friedland and ended some
where in the neighbourhood of Bar-le-Duc. His admiration of the
great Emperor was unreserved in everything but expression. Like
the religion of earnest men, it was too profound a sentiment to
be displayed before a world of little faith. Apart from that he
seemed as completely devoid of military anecdotes as though he
had hardly ever seen a soldier in his life. Proud of his
decorations earned before he was twenty-five, he refused to wear
the ribbons at the buttonhole in the manner practised to this day
in Europe and even was unwilling to display the insignia on
festive occasions, as though he wished to conceal them in the
fear of appearing boastful.

"It is enough that I have them," he used to mutter. In the
course of thirty years they were seen on his breast only
twice--at an auspicious marriage in the family and at the funeral
of an old friend. That the wedding which was thus honoured was
not the wedding of my mother I learned only late in life, too
late to bear a grudge against Mr. Nicholas B., who made amends at
my birth by a long letter of congratulation containing the
following prophecy: "He will see better times." Even in his
embittered heart there lived a hope. But he was not a true

He was a man of strange contradictions. Living for many years in
his brother's house, the home of many children, a house full of
life, of animation, noisy with a constant coming and going of
many guests, he kept his habits of solitude and silence.
Considered as obstinately secretive in all his purposes, he was
in reality the victim of a most painful irresolution in all
matters of civil life. Under his taciturn, phlegmatic behaviour
was hidden a faculty of short-lived passionate anger. I suspect
he had no talent for narrative; but it seemed to afford him
sombre satisfaction to declare that he was the last man to ride
over the bridge of the river Elster after the battle of Leipsic.
Lest some construction favourable to his valour should be put on
the fact he condescended to explain how it came to pass. It
seems that shortly after the retreat began he was sent back to
the town where some divisions of the French army (and among them
the Polish corps of Prince Joseph Poniatowski), jammed hopelessly
in the streets, were being simply exterminated by the troops of
the Allied Powers. When asked what it was like in there, Mr.
Nicholas B. muttered only the word "Shambles." Having delivered
his message to the Prince he hastened away at once to render an
account of his mission to the superior who had sent him. By that
time the advance of the enemy had enveloped the town, and he was
shot at from houses and chased all the way to the river-bank by a
disorderly mob of Austrian Dragoons and Prussian Hussars. The
bridge had been mined early in the morning, and his opinion was
that the sight of the horsemen converging from many sides in the
pursuit of his person alarmed the officer in command of the
sappers and caused the premature firing of the charges. He had
not gone more than two hundred yards on the other side when he
heard the sound of the fatal explosions. Mr. Nicholas B.
concluded his bald narrative with the word "Imbecile," uttered
with the utmost deliberation. It testified to his indignation at
the loss of so many thousands of lives. But his phlegmatic
physiognomy lighted up when he spoke of his only wound, with
something resembling satisfaction. You will see that there was
some reason for it when you learn that he was wounded in the
heel. "Like his Majesty the Emperor Napoleon himself," he
reminded his hearers, with assumed indifference. There can be no
doubt that the indifference was assumed, if one thinks what a
very distinguished sort of wound it was. In all the history of
warfare there are, I believe, only three warriors publicly known
to have been wounded in the heel--Achilles and Napoleon--demigods
indeed--to whom the familial piety of an unworthy descendant adds
the name of the simple mortal, Nicholas B.

The Hundred Days found Mr. Nicholas B. staying with a distant
relative of ours, owner of a small estate in Galicia. How he got
there across the breadth of an armed Europe, and after what
adventures, I am afraid will never be known now. All his papers
were destroyed shortly before his death; but if there was among
them, as he affirmed, a concise record of his life, then I am
pretty sure it did not take up more than a half sheet of foolscap
or so. This relative of ours happened to be an Austrian officer
who had left the service after the battle of Austerlitz. Unlike
Mr. Nicholas B., who concealed his decorations, he liked to
display his honourable discharge in which he was mentioned as un
schreckbar (fearless) before the enemy. No conjunction could
seem more unpromising, yet it stands in the family tradition that
these two got on very well together in their rural solitude.

When asked whether he had not been sorely tempted during the
Hundred Days to make his way again to France and join the service
of his beloved Emperor, Mr. Nicholas B. used to mutter: "No
money. No horse. Too far to walk."

The fall of Napoleon and the ruin of national hopes affected
adversely the character of Mr. Nicholas B. He shrank from
returning to his province. But for that there was also another
reason. Mr. Nicholas B. and his brother--my maternal grand
father--had lost their father early, while they were quite
children. Their mother, young still and left very well off,
married again a man of great charm and of an amiable disposition,
but without a penny. He turned out an affectionate and careful
stepfather; it was unfortunate, though, that while directing the
boys' education and forming their character by wise counsel, he
did his best to get hold of the fortune by buying and selling
land in his own name and investing capital in such a manner as to
cover up the traces of the real ownership. It seems that such
practices can be successful if one is charming enough to dazzle
one's own wife permanently, and brave enough to defy the vain
terrors of public opinion. The critical time came when the elder
of the boys on attaining his majority, in the year 1811, asked
for the accounts and some part at least of the inheritance to
begin life upon. It was then that the stepfather declared with
calm finality that there were no accounts to render and no
property to inherit. The whole fortune was his very own. He was
very good-natured about the young man's misapprehension of the
true state of affairs, but, of course, felt obliged to maintain
his position firmly. Old friends came and went busily, voluntary
mediators appeared travelling on most horrible roads from the
most distant corners of the three provinces; and the Marshal of
the Nobility (ex-officio guardian of all well-born orphans)
called a meeting of landowners to "ascertain in a friendly way
how the misunderstanding between X and his stepsons had arisen
and devise proper measures to remove the same." A deputation to
that effect visited X, who treated them to excellent wines, but
absolutely refused his ear to their remonstrances. As to the
proposals for arbitration he simply laughed at them; yet the
whole province must have been aware that fourteen years before,
when he married the widow, all his visible fortune consisted
(apart from his social qualities) in a smart four-horse turnout
with two servants, with whom he went about visiting from house to
house; and as to any funds he might have possessed at that time
their existence could only be inferred from the fact that he was
very punctual in settling his modest losses at cards. But by the
magic power of stubborn and constant assertion, there were found
presently, here and there, people who mumbled that surely "there
must be some thing in it." However, on his next name-day (which
he used to celebrate by a great three days' shooting party), of
all the invited crowd only two guests turned up, distant
neighbours of no importance; one notoriously a fool, and the
other a very pious and honest person, but such a passionate lover
of the gun that on his own confession he could not have refused
an invitation to a shooting party from the devil himself. X met
this manifestation of public opinion with the serenity of an
unstained conscience. He refused to be crushed. Yet he must
have been a man of deep feeling, because, when his wife took
openly the part of her children, he lost his beautiful
tranquillity, proclaimed himself heartbroken, and drove her out
of the house, neglecting in his grief to give her enough time to
pack her trunks.

This was the beginning of a lawsuit, an abominable marvel of
chicane, which by the use of every legal subterfuge was made to
last for many years. It was also the occasion for a display of
much kindness and sympathy. All the neighbouring houses flew
open for the reception of the homeless. Neither legal aid nor
material assistance in the prosecution of the suit was ever
wanting. X, on his side, went about shedding tears publicly over
his stepchildren's ingratitude and his wife's blind infatuation;
but as at the same time he displayed great cleverness in the art
of concealing material documents (he was even suspected of having
burned a lot of historically interesting family papers) this
scandalous litigation had to be ended by a compromise lest worse
should befall. It was settled finally by a surrender, out of the
disputed estate, in full satisfaction of all claims, of two
villages with the names of which I do not intend to trouble my
readers. After this lame and impotent conclusion neither the
wife nor the stepsons had anything to say to the man who had
presented the world with such a successful example of self-help
based on character, determination, and industry; and my
great-grandmother, her health completely broken down, died a
couple of years later in Carlsbad. Legally secured by a decree
in the possession of his plunder, X regained his wonted serenity,
and went on living in the neighbourhood in a comfortable style
and in apparent peace of mind. His big shoots were fairly well
attended again. He was never tired of assuring people that he
bore no grudge for what was past; he protested loudly of his
constant affection for his wife and stepchildren. It was true,
he said, that they had tried to strip him as naked as a Turkish
saint in the decline of his days; and because he had defended
himself from spoliation, as anybody else in his place would have
done, they had abandoned him now to the horrors of a solitary old
age. Nevertheless, his love for them survived these cruel blows.

And there might have been some truth in his protestations. Very
soon he began to make overtures of friendship to his eldest
stepson, my maternal grandfather; and when these were
peremptorily rejected he went on renewing them again and again
with characteristic obstinacy. For years he persisted in his
efforts at reconciliation, promising my grandfather to execute a
will in his favour if he only would be friends again to the
extent of calling now and then (it was fairly close neighbourhood
for these parts, forty miles or so), or even of putting in an
appearance for the great shoot on the name-day. My grandfather
was an ardent lover of every sport. His temperament was as free
from hardness and animosity as can be imagined. Pupil of the
liberal-minded Benedictines who directed the only public school
of some standing then in the south, he had also read deeply the
authors of the eighteenth century. In him Christian charity was
joined to a philosophical indulgence for the failings of human
nature. But the memory of those miserably anxious early years,
his young man's years robbed of all generous illusions by the
cynicism of the sordid lawsuit, stood in the way of forgiveness.
He never succumbed to the fascination of the great shoot; and X,
his heart set to the last on reconciliation, with the draft of
the will ready for signature kept by his bedside, died intestate.

The fortune thus acquired and augmented by a wise and careful
management passed to some distant relatives whom he had never
seen and who even did not bear his name.

Meantime the blessing of general peace descended upon Europe.
Mr. Nicholas B., bidding good-bye to his hospitable relative,
the "fearless" Austrian officer, departed from Galicia, and
without going near his native place, where the odious lawsuit was
still going on, proceeded straight to Warsaw and entered the army
of the newly constituted Polish kingdom under the sceptre of
Alexander I, Autocrat of all the Russias.

This kingdom, created by the Vienna Congress as an acknowledgment
to a nation of its former independent existence, included only
the central provinces of the old Polish patrimony. A brother of
the Emperor, the Grand Duke Constantine (Pavlovitch), its Viceroy
and Commander-in-Chief, married morganatically to a Polish lady
to whom he was fiercely attached, extended this affection to what
he called "My Poles" in a capricious and savage manner. Sallow
in complexion, with a Tartar physiognomy and fierce little eyes,
he walked with his fists clenched, his body bent forward, darting
suspicious glances from under an enormous cocked hat. His
intelligence was limited, and his sanity itself was doubtful.
The hereditary taint expressed itself, in his case, not by mystic
leanings as in his two brothers, Alexander and Nicholas (in their
various ways, for one was mystically liberal and the other
mystically autocratic), but by the fury of an uncontrollable
temper which generally broke out in disgusting abuse on the
parade ground. He was a passionate militarist and an amazing
drill-master. He treated his Polish army as a spoiled child
treats a favourite toy, except that he did not take it to bed
with him at night. It was not small enough for that. But he
played with it all day and every day, delighting in the variety
of pretty uniforms and in the fun of incessant drilling. This
childish passion, not for war, but for mere militarism, achieved
a desirable result. The Polish army, in its equipment, in its
armament, and in its battle-field efficiency, as then understood,
became, by the end of the year 1830, a first-rate tactical
instrument. Polish peasantry (not serfs) served in the ranks by
enlistment, and the officers belonged mainly to the smaller
nobility. Mr. Nicholas B., with his Napoleonic record, had no
difficulty in obtaining a lieutenancy, but the promotion in the
Polish army was slow, because, being a separate organization, it
took no part in the wars of the Russian Empire against either
Persia or Turkey. Its first campaign, against Russia itself, was
to be its last. In 1831, on the outbreak of the Revolution, Mr.
Nicholas B. was the senior captain of his regiment. Some time
before he had been made head of the remount establishment
quartered outside the kingdom in our southern provinces, whence
almost all the horses for the Polish cavalry were drawn. For the
first time since he went away from home at the age of eighteen to
begin his military life by the battle of Friedland, Mr. Nicholas
B. breathed the air of the "Border," his native air. Unkind fate


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