Part 1 out of 8
A NOVEL OF MODERN POLAND.
"WITH FIRE AND SWORD," "THE DELUGE," "QUO VADIS," ETC.
TRANSLATED FROM THE POLISH BY
"A man who leaves memoirs, whether well or badly written, provided
they be sincere, renders a service to future psychologists and
writers, giving them not only a faithful picture of the times, but
likewise human documents that can be relied upon."
In "WITHOUT DOGMA" we have a remarkable work, by a writer known
only in this country through his historical novels; and a few words
concerning this novel and its author may not be without interest.
Readers of Henryk Sienkiewicz in America, who have known him only
through Mr. Curtin's fine, strong translations, will be surprised to
meet with a production so unlike "Fire and Sword," and "The Deluge,"
that on first reading one can scarcely believe it to be from the pen
of the great novelist.
"Fire and Sword," "The Deluge," and "Pan Michael" (now in press) form,
so to speak, a Polish trilogy. They are, first and last, Polish in
sentiment, nationality, and patriotism. What Wagner did for Germany in
music, what Dumas did for France, and Scott for all English-speaking
people, the great Pole has achieved for his own country in literature.
Even to those most unfamiliar with her history, it grows life-like and
real as it speaks to us from the pages of these historical romances.
Only a very great genius can unearth the dusty chronicles of past
centuries, and make its men and women live and breathe, and speak to
us. These historical characters are not mere shadows, puppets, or
nullities, but very real men and women, our own flesh and blood.
His warriors fight, love, hate; they embrace each other; they laugh;
they weep in each other's arms; give each other sage counsels, with a
truly Homeric simplicity. They are deep-versed in stratagems of love
and war, these Poles of the seventeenth century! They have their
Nestor, their Agamemnon, their great Achilles sulking in his tent.
Oddly enough, at times they grow very familiar to us, and in spite of
their Polish titles and faces, and a certain tenderness of nature that
is almost feminine, they seem to have good, stout, Saxon stuff in
them. Especially where the illustrious knights recount their heroic
deeds there is a Falstaffian strut in their performance, and there
runs riot a Falstaffian imagination truly sublime.
Yet, be it observed, however much in all this is suggestive of the
literature of other races and ages, these characters never cease for a
moment to be Poles. Here is a vast, moving panorama spread before us;
across it pass mighty armies; hetman and banneret go by; the scene
is full of stir, life, action. It is constantly changing, so that
at times we are almost bewildered, attempting to follow the quick
succession of events. We are transported in a moment from the din
and uproar of a beleaguered town to the awful solitude of the vast
steppes,--yet it is always the Polish Commonwealth that the novelist
paints for us, and beneath every other music rises the wild Slavic
music, rude, rhythmical, and sad.
There is, too, a background against which these pictures paint
themselves, and it reminds us not a little of Verestchagin,--the same
deep feeling for nature, and a certain sadness that seems inseparable
from the Russian and Lithuanian temperaments, tears following closely
upon mirth. At times, after incident upon incident of war, the reader
is tempted to exclaim, "Something too much of this!" Yet nowhere,
perhaps, except from the great canvases of Verestchagin, has there
ever come a more awful, powerful plea for peace than from the pages of
"Fire and Sword."
In "Without Dogma" is presented quite another theme, treated in a
fashion strikingly different. In the historical novels the stage
is crowded with personages. In "Without Dogma," the chief interest
centres in a single character. This is not a battle between contending
armies, but the greater conflict that goes on in silence,--the battle
of a man for his own soul.
He can scarcely be considered an heroic character; he is to some
extent the creature of circumstances, the fine product of a
highly complex culture and civilization. He regards himself as a
nineteenth-century Hamlet, and for him not merely the times, but his
race and all mankind, are out of joint. He is not especially Polish
save by birth; he is as little at home in Paris or at Rome as in
Warsaw. Set him down in any quarter of the globe and he would be
equally out of place. He folds the mantle of his pessimism about him.
Life has interested him purely as a spectacle, in which he plays no
part save a purely passive one. His relation to life is that of the
Greek chorus, passing across the stage, crying "Woe, woe!"
Life has interested, entertained, and sometimes wearied him. He muses,
philosophizes, utters the most profound observations upon life, art,
and the mystery of things. He puts mankind and himself upon the
Here is a nature so sensitive that it photographs every impression,
an artistic temperament, a highly endowed organism; yet it produces
nothing. The secret of this unproductiveness lies perhaps in a certain
tendency to analyze and philosophize away every strong emotion that
should lead to action. Here is a man in possession of two distinct
selves,--the one emotional, active; the other eternally occupied in
self-contemplation, judgment, and criticism. The one paralyzes the
other. He defines himself as "a genius without a portfolio," just as
there are certain ministers-of-state without portfolios.
In such a character many of us will find just enough of ourselves to
make its weaknesses distasteful to us. We resent, just because
we recognize the truth of the picture. Leon Ploszowski belongs
unmistakably to our own times. His doubts and his dilettanteism are
our own. His fine aesthetic sense, his pessimism, his self-probings,
his weariness, his overstrung nerves, his whole philosophy of
negation,--these are qualities belonging to this century, the outcome
of our own age and culture.
If this were all the book offers us one might well wonder why it
was written. But its real interest centres in the moment when the
cultivated pessimist "without dogma" discovers that the strongest and
most genuine emotion of his life is its love for another man's wife.
It is an old theme; certainly two thirds of our modern French novels
deal with it; we know exactly how the conventional, respectable
British novel would handle it. But here is a treatment, bold,
original, and unconventional. The character of the woman stands out in
splendid contrast to the man's. Its simplicity, strength, truth, and
faith are the antidote for his doubt and weakness. Her very weakness
becomes her strength. Her dogmatism saves him.
The background of the book, its lesser incidents, are thoroughly
artistic, its ending masterly in its brevity and pathos; here again is
the distinguishing mark of genius, the power of condensation. The man
who has philosophized and speculated now writes the tragedy of
his life in four words: "Aniela died this morning." This is the
culmination towards which his whole life has been moving; the rest is
foregone conclusion, and matters but little.
One sees throughout the book the strong influence that other minds,
Shakespeare notably, have produced upon this mind; here its attitude
is never merely pessimistic. It does not criticise them, it has
One last word concerning this novel. It does not seek to formulate, or
to preach directly. Its chief value and the keynote to its motive lie
in the words that Sienkiewicz at the beginning puts into the mouth of
"A man who leaves memoirs, whether well or badly written, provided
they be sincere, renders a service to future psychologists and
writers, giving them not only a faithful picture, but likewise _human
documents_ that may be relied upon."
A _human document_--the modern novel is this, when it is anything at
all. If Mr. Crawford's canons of literary art are true, and we believe
they are, they give us a standard by which to judge; he tells us that
the heart in each man and woman means the whole body of innate and
inherited instincts, impulses, and beliefs, which, when quiescent, we
call Self, when roused to emotional activity, we call Heart. It is to
this self, or heart, he observes, that whatever is permanent in the
novel must appeal; and whatever does so must live and find a hearing
with humanity "so long as humanity is human." If this be a test, we
cannot doubt as to what will be the reception of "Without Dogma."
A few words concerning the novelist himself. The facts obtainable
are of the most meagre kind. He was born in 1845, in Lithuania. The
country itself, its natural and strongly religious and political
influences, its melancholy, seem to have left their strong, lasting
impression upon him. He has a passionate fondness for the Lithuanian,
and paints him and his surroundings most lovingly.
His student days were spent at Warsaw. He devoted himself afterward to
literature, writing at first under a pseudonym. He does not seem to
have won immediate recognition. He spent some years in California;
a series of articles published in this connection in a Polish paper
brought him into notice.
In 1880, various novelettes and sketches of his production were
published in three volumes.
In 1884 were given to the Polish public the three historical novels
which immediately gave their author the foremost place in Polish
literature. It is a matter of pride that the first translation of
these great works into English is the work of an American, and offered
to the American public.
He is a prolific writer, and it would be impossible to attempt to give
even the names of all his minor sketches and romances. Some of them
have been translated into German, but much has been lost in the
Sienkiewicz is still a contributor to journalistic literature. He has
travelled much, and is a citizen of the world. He is equally at home
in the Orient or the West, by the banks of the Dnieper, or beside the
Nile. Probably there is scarcely a corner of Poland that he has not
explored. He depicts no type of life that has not actually come under
his own observation. The various social strata of his own country, the
condition of its peasantry, the marked contrast between the simplicity
of that life and the culture of the ecclesiastic and aristocratic
bodies, the religious, poetic, artistic temperament of the
people,--all these he paints in a life-like fashion, but always as an
So much of the writer. Of the man Sienkiewicz there is little to
be obtained. Like all great creative geniuses, he is so completely
identified with his work that even while his personality lives in
his creations it eludes them. He offers us no confidences concerning
himself, no opinions or prejudices. He does not divert the reader with
personalities. He sets before us certain groups of men and women, whom
certainly he knows and loves, and has lived among. He sets them in
motion; they become living, breathing creations; they assume relations
in time and space; they speak and act for themselves. If there be a
prompter he remains always behind the scenes. Admire or criticise or
love the actors as you will, you cannot for a moment doubt that they
This is the supreme miracle of genius,--the fine union of dramatic
instinct, the aesthetic sense, and an intense, vital realism; not the
realism of the cesspool or the morgue, but the realism of the earth
and sky, and of healthy human nature. We are inclined to believe that
Henryk Sienkiewicz has answered an often discussed question that has
much exercised the keenly critical intellect of this age. One school
of thought cries out, "Let us have life as it is. Paint anything, but
draw it as it is. Let the final test of all literary works be, 'Is it
real and true?'"
To the romantic school quite another class of ideas appeals; to it
much of the so-called realistic literature seems very bad, or merely
"weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable." The profoundest utterances of
realism do not impress it much in themselves. It insists that art has
something to say to literature, that in this field as elsewhere
holds good the law of natural selection of types and survival of the
While each school has its down-sittings and up-risings, its supporters
and its critics, neither school has yet exhausted the possibilities of
literature. The novel's aim is to depict Life, and life is neither all
romance nor all realism, but a curious mixture of both. Man is neither
a beast nor a celestial being, but a compound. Though he can crawl,
and may have clinging to him certain brute instincts that may be
the relics of his anthropoidal days, he has also, thank God, divine
desires and discontents, and certain rudimentary wings. And neither
school alone is competent to paint him as he is. The author of "La
Bete Humaine" fails as completely as the visionary A Kempis. Neither
realism nor romance alone will ever with its small plummet sound to
its depths the human heart or its mystery; yet from the union of the
two much perhaps might come.
We believe that just here lies the value of the novels of Henryk
Sienkiewicz. He has worked out the problem of the modern novel so as
to satisfy the most ardent realist, but he has worked it out upon
great and broadly human lines. For him facts are facts indeed; but
facts have souls as well as bodies. His genius is analytic, but also
imaginative and constructive; it is not forever going upon botanizing
excursions. He paints things and thoughts human.
The greatest genius assimilates unconsciously the best with which
it comes in contact, and by a subtle chemistry of its own makes new
combinations. Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, and the realists, as well as
all the forces of nature, have helped to make Henryk Sienkiewicz; yet
he is not any one of them. He is never merely imitative. Originality
and imaginative fire, a style vivid and strong, large humor, a
profound pathos, a strong feeling for nature, and a deep reverence
for the forms and the spirit of religion, the breath of the true
cosmopolitan united with the intense patriotism of the Pole, a great
creative genius,--these are the most striking qualities of the work of
this modern novelist, who has married Romance to Realism.
* * * * *
ROME, 9 January.
Some months ago I met my old friend and school-fellow, Jozef
Sniatynski, who for the last few years has occupied a prominent place
among our literary men. In a discussion about literature Sniatynski
spoke about diaries. He said that a man who leaves memoirs, whether
well or badly written, provided they be sincere, renders a service
to future psychologists and writers, giving them not only a faithful
picture of the times, but likewise human documents that can be relied
upon. He seemed to think that most likely the novel of the future
would take the form of diary; finally he asserted that anybody who
keeps a diary works for the common good, and does a meritorious thing.
I am thirty-five, and do not remember ever having done anything for my
country, for the reason, maybe, that after leaving the University, my
life, with slight intervals, was spent abroad. This fact, so lightly
touched upon, has given me, in spite of all my scepticism, many a
bitter pang; therefore I resolved to follow my friend's advice. If
this indeed means work, with some kind of merit in it, I will try to
be of some use in this way.
I intend to be perfectly sincere. I enter upon the task, not only
because of the above-mentioned reasons, but also because the idea
pleases me. Sniatynski says that if a man gets accustomed to put down
his thoughts and impressions it becomes gradually one of the most
delightful occupations of his life. If it should prove the contrary,
then the Lord have mercy on my diary; it would snap asunder like a
string too tightly drawn. I am ready to do much for my community; but
to bore myself for its sake, oh, no! I could not do it.
Nevertheless, I am resolved not to be discouraged by first
difficulties, and shall give it a fair trial. "Do not adopt any style;
do not write from a literary point of view," says Sniatynski. Easier
said than done. I fully understand that the greater the writer, the
less he writes in a purely literary style; but I am a _dilettante_,
and have no command over any style. I know from experience that to one
who thinks much and feels deeply, it often seems that he has only
to put down his thoughts and feelings in order to produce something
altogether out of the common; yet as soon as he sets to work he falls
into a certain mannerism of style and common phraseology; his thoughts
do not come spontaneously, and one might almost say that it is not the
mind that directs the pen, but the pen leads the mind into common,
empty artificiality. I am afraid of this for myself, for if I am
wanting in eloquence, literary simplicity, or picturesqueness, I am
not wanting in good taste, and my own style might become distasteful
to myself, and thereby render my task impossible. But this I shall see
later on. I begin my diary with a short introductory autobiography.
My name is Leon Ploszowski, and I am, as I said before, thirty-five
years of age. I come from a wealthy family which has been able to
preserve its fortune. As to myself I shall not increase it, and at the
same time I am not likely to squander it. My position is such that
there is no necessity for me to enter into competition with struggling
humanity. As to expensive and ruinous pleasures, I am a sceptic who
knows how much they are worth, or rather, knows that they are not
My mother died a week after I was born. My father, who loved her
more than his life, became affected with melancholia. Even after he
recovered from this, at Vienna, he did not wish to return to his
estates, as the memories associated with them rent his very soul; he
left Ploszow under the care of his sister, my aunt, and betook himself
in the year 1848 to Rome, which, during thirty-odd years, he never
left once, so as to be near my mother's tomb. I forgot to mention that
he brought her remains to Rome, and buried her on the Campo Santo.
We have our own house on the Babuino, called Casa Osoria, from our
coat of arms. It looks more like a museum than anything else, as
my father possesses no mean collections, especially from the early
Christian times. In these collections his whole life is now absorbed.
As a young man, he was very brilliant in appearance as well as in
mind; his wealth and name added to this, all roads were open to him,
and consequently great things were expected from him. I know this from
his fellow-students at Berlin. He was deeply absorbed in the study of
philosophy, and it was generally believed his name would rank with
such as Cieszkowski, Libelt, and others. Society, and his being a
favorite in female circles, diverted him somewhat from scientific
studies. In society he was known by the nickname of "Leon
l'Invincible." In spite of his social success he did not neglect his
philosophical researches, and everybody expected that some day he
would electrify the world with a great work, and make his name
illustrious. They were disappointed in their expectations.
Of the once so beautiful appearance there still remains up to this day
one of the finest and noblest heads. Artists are of the same opinion,
and not long ago one of them remarked that it would be difficult to
find a more perfect type of a patrician head. As to his
scientific career, my father is and remains a cultured and gifted
nobleman-dilettante. I almost believe dilettantism to be the fate of
all Ploszowskis, to which I will refer later on, when I come to
write about myself. As to my father, there is in his desk a yellow
manuscript about Triplicity in Nature. I perused it, and it did not
interest me. I only remember a comparison between the transcendental
belief of Christianity in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and
the natural triplicity of oxygen, hydrogen, and ozone, with many other
analogous triplicities from absolute truth, goodness, and beauty,
to the syllogism of the minor premise, the major premise, and the
conclusion,--a quaint mixture of Hegel and Hoene-Wronski, and utterly
useless. I am quite convinced that my father did not intend to have
it published, if only for the reason that speculative philosophy had
failed in him even before it was set aside by the world. The reason
for this failure was the death of my mother. My father, who in spite
of his nickname, "Leon l'Invincible," and reputation of conqueror of
hearts, was a man of deep feelings and simply worshipped my mother,
put many terrible questions to his philosophy, and not obtaining
either answer or comfort, recognized its utter emptiness in the
presence of a great sorrow. This must have been an awful tragedy of
his life, since it almost shattered its foundations,--the brain
and heart. His mind became affected, as I said before, and when he
recovered he went back to his religious convictions. I was told that
at one time he prayed night and day, knelt down in the street when he
passed a church, and was carried away by his religious fervor to such
an extent that he was looked upon by some as a madman, by others as a
saint. It was evident he found more consolation in this than in his
philosophical triplicities, for he gradually calmed down and began
to lead a more rational life. His heart, with all his power for
affection, turned towards me, and his aesthetic bent found employment
in the study of early Christianity. The lofty, restless mind wanted
nourishment. After his first year in Rome he took up archaeology, and
by dint of hard study acquired a thorough knowledge of the antique.
Father Calvi, my first tutor and at the same time a great judge of
Roman antiquities, gave him the final impulse towards investigation of
the Eternal City. Some fifteen years ago my father became acquainted
and subsequently on terms of friendship with the great Rossi, in
whose company he spent whole days in the catacombs. Thanks to his
extraordinary gifts he soon acquired such consummate knowledge of Rome
as to astonish Rossi himself. Several times he began writing treatises
on the subject, but never finished what he had begun. Maybe the
completion of his collections took up too much of his time, but most
likely the reason he will not leave anything behind him except his
collections is that he did not confine himself to one epoch or any
specialty in his researches. Gradually mediaeval Rome began to
fascinate him as much as the first era of Christianity. There was a
time when his mind was full of Orsinis and Colonnas; after that he
approached the Renaissance, and was fairly captivated by it. From
inscriptions, tombs, and the first traces of Christian architecture he
passed to nearer times; from the Byzantine paintings to Fiesole
and Giotto, from these to artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth
centuries, and so on; he fell in love with statues and pictures; his
collections certainly increased, but the great work in Polish
about the three Romes remained forever in the land of unfulfilled
As to these collections my father has a singular idea. He wants to
bequeath them to Rome under the condition they should be placed in
a separate gallery named after him, "Museum Osoria Ploszowski." Of
course his wishes will be respected. I only wonder why my father
believes that in doing this he will be more useful to his community
than by sending them to his own country.
Not long ago he said to me: "You perceive that scarcely anybody there
would see them, and very few derive any benefit, whereas here the
whole world can study them, and every individual that benefits thereby
carries the benefit to other communities." It does not befit me to
analyze how much family pride and the thought of having his name
engraved in marble in the Eternal City has to do with the whole
scheme. I almost think that such must be the case. As to myself, I
am perfectly indifferent where the collections are to remain. But my
aunt, to whom by the bye I am shortly going to pay a visit at Warsaw,
is very indignant at the idea of leaving the collections out of the
country, and as, with her, thought and speech go always together, she
expresses her indignation in every letter. Some years ago she was at
Rome, and they wrangled every day over the matter, and would have
quarrelled outright had not the affection she has towards me subdued
My aunt is older than my father by several years. When my father,
after his great sorrow, left the country, he gave up the Ploszow
estate to her, and took instead the ready capital. My aunt has managed
the property for thirty years, and manages it perfectly. She is of a
rather uncommon character, therefore I will devote to her a few lines.
At the age of twenty she was betrothed to a young man who died in
exile just when my aunt was about to follow him abroad. From that time
forth she refused all offers of marriage and remained an old maid.
After my mother's death she went with my father to Vienna and
Rome, where she lived with him, surrounding him with the tenderest
affections, which she subsequently transferred to me. She is, in the
full meaning of the word, _une grande dame_, somewhat of an autocrat,
haughty and outspoken, with that self-possession wealth and a high
position give, but withal the very essence of goodness and kindliness.
Under the cover of abrupt manners she has an excellent and lenient
disposition, loving not only her own family, as for instance my father
and myself and her own household, but mankind in general. She is so
virtuous that really I do not know whether there be any merit in
it, as she could not be otherwise if she tried. Her charities are
proverbial. She orders poor people about like a constable, and tends
them like a Saint Vincent de Paul. She is very religious. No doubts
whatever assail her mind. What she does, she does from unshaken
principles, and therefore never hesitates in the choice of ways and
means. Therefore she is always at peace with herself and very happy.
At Warsaw they call my aunt, on account of her abrupt manners, _le
bourreau bienfaisant_. Some people, especially among women, dislike
her, but generally speaking she lives in peace with all classes.
Ploszow is not far from Warsaw, where my aunt owns a house in which
she spends the winter. Every winter she tries to inveigle me there in
the hope to see me married. Even now I received a mysteriously worded
missive adjuring me to come at once. I shall have to go, as I have not
seen her for some time. She writes that she is getting old and wishes
to see me before she dies. I confess I do not always feel inclined to
go. I know that my aunt's dearest wish is to see me married, therefore
every visit brings her a cruel disappointment. The very idea of such a
decisive step frightens me. To begin a new life when I am so tired
of the old one! Finally, there is another vexatious element in my
relations with my aunt. As formerly my father's friends looked upon
him as a genius, so she persists in regarding me as one exceptionally
gifted, from whom great things are to be expected. To allow her to
remain of this opinion seems an abuse of her good faith; to tell
her that nothing is to be expected from me would be a more likely
conclusion, but at the same time inflict upon the dear old lady a
To my misfortune many of those near me share my aunt's opinion, and
this brings me to the point of drawing a sketch of my own character,
which is by no means an easy task, as my nature is rather a
I brought with me into the world very sensitive nerves, nerves
perfected by the culture of generations. During the first years of my
childhood I remained under the care of my aunt; after her departure,
according to the custom of our country, a nursery governess was
engaged for me. As we lived in Rome, among foreign surroundings, and
my father wished me to be well grounded in my own language, he engaged
a Polish governess. She is still with us as housekeeper at Babuino.
My father also bestowed some pains upon me, especially after my fifth
year. I used to go to his room to talk with him, and this developed my
mind prodigiously, too much so perhaps for my age. Later on, when his
studies and archaeologic researches took up his whole time, he engaged
a tutor, Father Calvi. This was an old man, with a mind and faith
exceedingly serene. He loved art beyond everything. I believe religion
even reacted upon him through its beauty. In the galleries before the
old masters, or listening to the music in the Sistine Chapel, he lost
himself altogether. There was nothing pagan in these feelings, as they
were not based upon sybaritism or sensual enjoyment. Father Calvi
loved art with the pure, serene feeling as maybe a Da Fiesole, a
Cimabue, or Giotto loved it. And he loved in all humility, as he
himself had no gifts that way. I could not say which of the fine arts
he loved best, but I believe he leaned mostly towards harmony, which
responded to the harmony of his own mind.
Whenever I think of Father Calvi, I am reminded at the same time of
the old man that stands beside Raphael's Saint Cecilia listening
intently to the music of the spheres.
Between my father and the priest sprang up a friendship which lasted
unto the latter's death. It was he who confirmed my father in his
archaeologic researches, especially about Rome. There was another
bond between these two,--their love for me. Both considered me as an
exceptionally gifted child, and of a God knows what promising future.
It strikes me at times that I formed for them a kind of harmony,--a
rounding of and completion to the world in which they lived; and they
loved me with the same absorbing passion with which they loved Rome
and its antiquities. Such an atmosphere, such surroundings, could not
fail to impress my mind. I was brought up in an original way. With
my tutor,--sometimes with my father,--I visited galleries, museums,
villas, ruins, catacombs, and the environs of Rome. Father Calvi was
equally sensitive to the beauties of nature and to those of art, and
taught me at an early age to understand poetic melancholy. The Roman
Campagna, the harmony of the arch-line on the sky of the arches in the
ruined aqueducts, the fine tracery of the pines,--I understood all
this before I could read or had mastered the first rudiments of
arithmetic. I was able to set English tourists right to whom the names
of Carracci and Caravaggio caused confusion. I learned Latin early and
without effort, from being familiar with the Italian language. I
gave my opinion about Italian and foreign masters,--which, however
unsophisticated, made both my father and my tutor look at each other
in astonishment. I did not like Ribera,--there was too great a
contrast of color in his pictures, and he frightened me a little; but
I liked Carlo Dolce. In short, my tutor, my father, and his friends
considered me a very prodigy; I heard myself praised, and it flattered
my vanity. But, all the same, it was not the healthiest of educations;
and my nervous system, developed too early, always remained very
sensitive. It seems strange that these influences were neither so deep
nor so lasting as might have been expected. That I did not become an
artist is owing, may be, to a lack of gifts that way,--although my
drawing and music masters opined differently; but how was it that
neither my father nor the priest was able to imbue me with that
love of art for art's sake? Have I a feeling for art? Yes. Is art a
necessity of my life? Yes, again. But they loved it; I only feel it as
a _dilettante_; it is a necessity in so far as it complements every
kind of pleasant and delightful sensation. It is one of my delights,
but not an all-absorbing passion; I should not like to live without
it, but could not devote my whole life to it.
As the schools at Rome left much to be desired, my father sent me to
a college in Metz, where I carried off honors and prizes with very
little effort. A year before the last term, I ran away to join Don
Carlos, and with Tristan's detachment wandered for some time about
the Pyrenees; until my father, with the help of the consul in Burgos,
found me, and I was sent back to Metz to be duly punished. The penalty
was not a heavy one, as my father and the teachers were secretly proud
of my escapade. A brilliant success at the examinations quickly earned
me a full absolution.
Among my schoolfellows, whose sympathies were naturally with Don
Carlos, I henceforth passed as a hero; and as I was at the same time
one of the foremost pupils, my position as the first at school was
beyond dispute. I was growing up with the conviction that later on, in
a larger sphere, it would be the same. This opinion was shared by
my teachers and schoolfellows; and yet the fact is that many of my
schoolfellows who at one time would not have dreamed of competing with
me, occupy to-day in France high places in literary, scientific, and
political spheres; whereas I, had I to choose a profession, should
feel considerably perplexed. My social position is excellent. I
possess independent means from my mother's side, shall inherit my
father's fortune in time to come, and administer the Ploszow estate
more or less wisely, as the case may be; but the very limitation
of the work excludes all hope of distinguishing myself in life, or
playing any prominent part in it.
I shall never be a great administrator or agriculturist; for though I
do not mean to shirk my duties, I could not devote my whole life to
them,--for the simple reason that my aspirations aim much higher.
Sometimes I ask myself whether we Ploszowskis do not delude ourselves
as to our abilities. But if such were the case, the delusion would be
only personal; other people, strangers, could not be deceived in the
same way. Besides, I know that my father is an extraordinarily gifted
man. As to myself, I will not enter more fully on the subject, as it
might appear mere boastfulness; nevertheless I have the conviction
that I could be something infinitely greater than I am.
For instance, at Warsaw (my father and my aunt wished me to enter the
university there) Sniatynski and I were fellow-students. We both were
drawn towards literature, and tried our hand at it. I do not say I was
looked upon as the more gifted of the two, but the truth is that my
work then was considered better and more promising than Sniatynski's.
Sniatynski has for some years past occupied a prominent position in
literature, and I am still the greatly promising Pan Ploszowski, of
whom here and there people are wont to say: "If he would only take up
Ah! there is the rub,--"if he would!" But they do not seem to take it
into account that one has to know how to will. I thought sometimes
that if I had no means of subsistence I should have to work. Certainly
I should have to do something in order to earn my bread; but even
then I am firmly convinced I should not derive the twentieth part of
advantage from my capacities. Besides, such men as Darwin or Buckle
were rich; Sir John Lubbock is a banker; most of the known men in
France are in easy circumstances. This proves that wealth is not a
hindrance, but rather a help towards attaining a proper standing in
the chosen field of labor. I confess that, as far as I am concerned,
it has done me some service, as it preserved my character from many a
crookedness poverty might have exposed it to. I do not mean by this
that I have a weak character,--although struggle for existence might
have made it stronger; but still I maintain that the less stony the
road, the less chance of a fall. It is not owing to constitutional
laziness, either, that I am a nullity. I possess alike a great
facility for acquiring knowledge, and a desire for it; I read much,
and have a good memory. Perhaps I could not summon energy enough for a
long, slow work, but the greater facility ought to serve instead; and
besides, there is no urgent necessity for me to write encyclopedias,
like Littre. He who cannot shine with the steady light of a sun
might at least dazzle as a meteor. But oh! that nothingness of the
past,--the most probable nothingness of the future! I am growing
peevish--and tired; and will leave off writing for to-day.
ROME, 10 January.
Last night, at Count Malatesta's reception, I heard by chance these
two words: "l'improductivite Slave." I experienced the same relief as
does a nervous patient when the physician tells him that his symptoms
are common enough, and that many others suffer from the same disease.
I have many fellow-sufferers, not only among other Slavs, a race which
I know but imperfectly, but in my own country. I thought about that
"improductivite Slave" all night. He had his wits about him who summed
the thing up in two words. There is something in us,--an incapacity to
give forth all that is in us. One might say, God has given us bow and
arrow, but refused us the power to string the bow and send the arrow
straight to its aim. I should like to discuss it with my father, but
am afraid to touch a sore point. Instead of this, I will discuss it
with my diary. Perhaps it will be just the thing to give it any value.
Besides, what can be more natural than to write about what interests
me? Everybody carries within him his tragedy. Mine is this same
"improductivite slave" of the Ploszowskis. Not long ago, when
romanticism flourished in hearts and poetry, everybody carried his
tragedy draped around him as a picturesque cloak; now it is carried
still, but as a jaegervest next to the skin. But with a diary it is
different; with a diary one may be sincere.
ROME, 11 January.
The few days which remain to me before my departure I will use in
retrospects of the past, until I come to note down day after day the
events of my present life. As I said before, I do not intend to
write an autobiography; who and what I am, my future life will show
sufficiently. I should not like to enter into minute details of the
past,--it is a kind of adding number to number, and a summing up. I
always hated the four rules of arithmetic, and especially the first.
But I want to have a general idea of the total, so as to have a
clearer view of myself. Therefore I go on with the mere outline.
After having finished my studies at the university I went to an
agricultural school in France. The work there was easy enough, but it
had no special attraction for me. I did it as one who knows that this
special branch of knowledge will be useful to him, but at the same
time feels that he lowers himself to it and that it does not respond
either to his ambition or his faculties. I derived a twofold gain from
my sojourn there. Agriculture became to me familiar enough to protect
me from being cheated by any agents or bailiffs, and it strengthened
my frame so that it could withstand the life I later on led in Paris.
The years following I spent either in Koine or in Paris, not to
mention short stays at Warsaw, where my aunt summoned me now and then
in order to introduce me to some special favorite of hers with a view
Paris and its life attracted me greatly. With the truly excellent
opinion I had then of myself, with more confidence in my intelligence
and the self-possession an independent position gives, I still played
a very unsophisticated part on this scene of the world. I began by
falling desperately in love with Mademoiselle Richemberg of the
Comedie Francaise, and absolutely insisted upon marrying her. I will
not dwell now upon the many tragicomic imbroglios, as I am partly
ashamed of those times, and partly inclined to laugh at them. Still
later on it happened that I took counterfeits for pure gold. The
French women, and for the matter of that, my own countrywomen, of
whatever class and in spite of all their virtues when young, remind me
of my fencing lessons. As the fencer has his hour of practice with the
foils so as to keep his hand in, so women practise with sentimental
foils. As a mere youth, fairly good looking, I was sometimes invited
to a passage of arms, and as I took the matter seriously, received
many a scratch. They were not mortal wounds and healed quickly.
Besides, everybody has to pay for his apprenticeship in this
world, especially in a world like that. My time of probation was,
comparatively speaking, a short one. Then came a period one might call
"la revanche." I paid back in the same coin, and if now and then I was
still taken in, it was with my eyes open to the fact.
Myself of a good social standing, I came to know all shades of
society, from the old legitimist circles, where I was not a little
bored, to the new aristocracy created by the Bonapartes and the
Orleanists, representing the society, perhaps not of Paris, but let
us say, of _Nice_. Dumas the Younger, Sardou, and others, take
thence their counts, marquises, and princes, who, without historical
traditions, have titles and money in plenty, and whose principal aim
is to enjoy life. I frequented their salons mostly for the sake of
their female element. They are very subtle, the women there, with
highly strung nerves always in search for new pleasures, fresh
sensations, and truly void of any idealism. They are often as corrupt
as the novels they are reading, because their morality finds no
support either in religion or tradition. But it is a brilliant world
all the same. The hours of practice with the foils are so long
there that they look more like days and nights, and the weapons are
dangerous sometimes, as they are not blunted. There too I received a
few painful lessons until I got my hand in. It would be a sign of mere
vanity and still more of bad taste to write about my successes, and
I will only say this, that I tried to keep alive the tradition of my
The lowest circles of this world slightly merge into the higher sphere
of the great _demi-monde._ This _demi-monde_ is far more dangerous
than appears on the surface because it is not in the least
commonplace. Its cynicism has a certain air of refinement and art. If
I did not leave many feathers there it must be because my beak had
acquired a certain curve and my claws had grown. Generally speaking of
the life in Paris, a man who has passed through that mill feels rather
exhausted, and what then of such as I, who leave only to go back
again? It is only later on in life we begin to understand that
triumphs like these are somewhat like the victories of Pyrrhus. My
naturally strong constitution withstood this life, but my nerves are
Paris, though, possesses one superiority over other centres of
civilization. I do not know of any other city in the world where the
elements of art, science, and all kinds of human ideas seem to float
in the air to be assimilated by the human brain. Almost unconsciously
it imbibes not only the newest ideas in the sphere of intellect,
but also loses some of its onesidedness, broadens out, becomes more
civilized. I say again, civilized, because in Italy, Germany, and
Poland, I met with brains and powerful brains too, but who would not
recognize any light but their own, so onesided and barbarian that for
one who did not want to sacrifice his own opinions, intercourse from
an intellectual point of view was simply impossible.
In France and still more in Paris, similar manifestations have no
existence. As a running stream smoothes and polishes the pebbles,
rubbing them against each other, so the swift current of life rubs
off the angles from the human mind. It is obvious that under such
influences my mind became that of a civilized being, that can make due
allowance for other people's opinions; I do not utter peacock cries
when I hear of anything opposed to my views or something utterly new.
It may be that such leniency and tolerance of all opinions leads
finally to indifferentism and weakens the active principle in the
human mind, but I could not be different now.
A certain mental current got hold of me and carried me along. If the
social circles, salons, boudoirs, and clubs took up a considerable
part of my time, they did not occupy it altogether. I made many
acquaintances in the literary and artistic world, and lived their
life, or rather I live it still. Prompted by innate curiosity I read
very much, and as I have the faculty of assimilating what I read, I
may say that I derived considerable benefit from it and am able to
keep step with every intellectual movement of the time.
My consciousness of self is highly developed. At times I feel inclined
to send that second self to the devil, that self which does not permit
yielding to any sensation, but is always there, searching, criticising
every action, feeling, delight, or passion. "Know thyself" may be a
wise maxim, but to carry about one's self an ever watchful critic
deadens the feeling, dividing as it were your soul in two parts. To
exist in a state of mind like this is about as easy as for the bird
to fly with one wing. Besides, selfconsciousness too much developed
weakens the power of action. But for this, Hamlet would have made a
hole in his uncle in the first act, and with the greatest composure
taken possession of the throne.
As far as I am concerned, it sometimes protects me or saves me
from heedless slips, yet more often tires me, preventing absolute
concentration upon one point of action. I carry within me two
beings,--the one that protests and criticises, the other leading only
half a life, losing gradually all power of decision. I am afraid I
shall never free myself from that yoke; on the contrary, the more my
mind expands, the more minute will be the knowledge of self, and even
on my deathbed I shall not leave off criticising the dying Ploszowski
unless disease has fogged my brain.
I must have inherited from my father a synthetic mind, because I
always try to generalize matters, and for that reason science attracts
me more than philosophy. In my father's time philosophy embraced no
more nor less than the whole universe and all being; consequently
it had a ready answer for all questions. In our times it has become
rational in so far as to confess that it has ceased to exist in the
old meaning of the word and remains only as a philosophy of special
scientific branches. Truly, when I come to think of it it seems that
the human mind too has its tragedies, and it began by confessing its
own powerlessness. As I write a personal diary I will treat these
matters from a personal point of view. I am not a professed
philosopher, because I am nothing by profession; but as a thinking
being I am interested in the new philosophic movement; I have been
and am under its influence, and have a full right to speak about what
entered the composition, and contributed to the creation, of my moral
and intellectual being.
To begin with, I note down that my religious belief I carried still
intact with me from Metz did not withstand the study of natural
philosophy. It does not follow that I am an atheist. Oh, no! This was
good enough in former times, when he who did not believe in spirit,
said to himself, "Matter," and that settled for him the question.
Nowadays only provincial philosophers cling to that worn-out creed.
Philosophy of our times does not pronounce upon the matter; to all
such questions it says, "I do not know!" and that "I do not know"
sinks into and permeates the mind. Nowadays psychology occupies itself
with close analysis and researches of spiritual manifestations; but
when questioned upon the immortality of the soul it says the same,--"I
do not know;" and truly it does not know, and it cannot know. And now
it will be easier to describe the state of my mind. It all lies in
these words: I do not know. In this--in the acknowledged impotence
of the human mind--lies the tragedy. Not to mention the fact that
humanity always has asked, and always will ask, for an answer, they
are truly questions of more importance than anything else in the
world. If there be something on the other side, and that something an
eternal life, then misfortunes and losses on this side are as nothing.
In this case we might exclaim with Hamlet: "Nay, then, let the devil
wear black, for I'll have a suit of sables."
"I am content to die," says Renan; "but I should like to know whether
death will be of any use to me."
And philosophy replies, "I do not know."
And man beats against that blank wall, and like the bedridden sufferer
fancies, if he could lie on this or on that side, he would feel
easier. What is to be done? Are we to abuse philosophy that, instead
of building up new systems which, like a house of cards, fall at a
touch, it has confessed its impotence, and begun to search for and
classify manifestations within reach of the human intellect? Methinks
that I and everybody else has a right to say: "Philosophy, I am struck
by your common sense, admire your close analysis; but with all that,
you have made me supremely wretched. By your own confession you have
no answer for a question, to me of the greatest importance, and yet
you had power enough to destroy that faith which not only cleared up
all doubts, but soothed and comforted the soul. And do not say that,
since you do not lay down the law, you permit me to adhere to my old
beliefs. It is not true! Your method, your soul, your very essence is
doubt and criticism. This, your scientific method, this scepticism,
this criticism you have implanted in the soul till they have become a
second nature. As with lunar caustic, you have deadened the spiritual
nerves by the help of which one believes simply and without question,
so that even if I would believe I have lost the power. You permit me
to go to church if I like; but you have poisoned me with scepticism
to such a degree that I have grown sceptical even with regard to
you,--sceptical in regard to my own scepticism; and I do not know, I
do not know. I torture myself, and am maddened by the darkness."
ROME, 12 January.
Yesterday I allowed myself to be carried away by my writing. But all
the same it seems to me that I laid a finger upon the rottenness of my
soul and that of humanity. There are times when I am indifferent to
these questions; then again they seem to tear at me without mercy; all
the more as those are matters kept within the privacy of the soul.
It would be better to put them aside; but they are too important for
that. We want to know what we are to expect, and arrange our life
accordingly. I have tried to say to myself: "Stop, you will never
leave that enchanted circle; why enter it at all?" I have every
qualification to render myself a well-satisfied, cheerful animal;
but I cannot always be satisfied with that. It is said the Slav
temperament has a tendency towards mysticism. I have noticed that
our greatest writers and poets end by becoming mystics. It is not
surprising that lesser minds should be now and then troubled. As to
myself I feel obliged to take notice of those inward struggles in
order to get a faithful image of myself. Perhaps I feel also the want
of justifying myself before my own conscience. For instance, with the
great "I do not know" before me, I still observe the regulations of
the Church; yet do not consider myself a hypocrite. This would be the
case if, instead of the "I do not know," I could say "I know there is
nothing." But our scepticism is not an open negation; it is rather a
sorrowful, anxious suspicion that perhaps there is nothing,--a dense
fog around our minds that stifles the breath and hides from us the
light. I therefore stretch out my hands towards that sun that maybe
shines beyond the mist. I fancy that not I alone am in that position,
and that of all those who go to church and mass on Sundays the prayers
might be condensed in these words: "O God! lift the mist!"
I cannot write coldly or dispassionately about all this. I keep
religious observances for the simple reason that I long to believe,
and since the sweet teaching of my childhood tells me that faith is a
gift of grace, I am waiting for that grace. I am waiting that it may
be given unto me; that my soul may believe unquestioningly, even as it
believed in childhood. Those are my motives; no self-interest prompts
me; it would be much easier to be a cheerful, contented animal. Since
I am justifying my outward semblance of piety, I have some other less
noble and more practical reasons. From the days of my childhood I have
been accustomed to keep certain rules, and they have grown into a
habit. Henry the Fourth said Paris was well worth a mass; so say I
that the peace of those nearest is worth a mass; people of my class,
as a rule, observe religious prescriptions, and I should protest
against the outward symbols only in such a case if I could find
something more conclusive to say than "I do not know." I go to church
because I am a sceptic in regard to my own scepticism. It is not a
comfortable feeling, and my soul drags one wing along the earth.
But it would be much worse with me if I always pondered over these
questions so earnestly as I have done while writing these last pages.
Fortunately for me this is not the case. I have mentioned already that
at times I am indifferent to them. Life carries me along, and although
in the main I know what to think of its hollow pleasures, I give
myself up to it altogether, and then the moral "to be, or not to be"
has no meaning for me. A strange thing, about the power of which not
much has been said, is the influence of social suggestion on the mind.
In Paris, for instance, I feel happier not only because the continual
mill deafens me,--I am swallowed up by the surging masses, and my
mind is diverted by tricks of the fencing ring,--but also because the
people there, without being conscious of it, live as if it were worth
their while to put all their energies into this life, and as if beyond
there was nothing but a chemical process. My pulse begins to beat in
unison with theirs; I feel myself in harmony with my surroundings;
amuse myself or bore myself, conquer or am conquered, but enjoy a
ROME, BABUINO, 13 January.
I have only four days left before my departure, and will now sum up
what I said about myself. I am an individual rather worn out, very
sensitive, and of a highly nervous temperament. I have a strongly
developed consciousness of self, seconded by comparative culture, and
taken altogether, may consider myself an intellectually developed
My scepticism debars me from all firm convictions. I look, observe,
criticise, sometimes fancy I get hold of some essential truth, but
am ready always to doubt even that. I have already said all that was
necessary in reference to religion. As to my social creed I am a
conservative so far as a man in my position is bound to be, and so
far as conservatism suits me. No need to mention that I am far from
considering conservatism as a dogma, which no one is allowed to touch
or to criticise. I am too much civilized to take a party view of
either aristocracy or democracy. I leave that as a pastime to those
who live in the country, or in remote places where ideas, like
fashions, are some ten years late. From the time when privileges were
done away with, the question has been closed; but in remoter parts,
where the world remains more or less stagnant, it has become not
so much a question of principle as rather a question of vanity and
nerves. In regard to myself, I like well-bred people,--people with
brains and nerves, and look for them where they are most readily
found. I like them as I like works of art, fine scenery, and beautiful
women. From an aesthetic point of view, I possess refined nerves,--too
refined, perhaps, owing to my early training and a naturally
impressionable temperament. This aesthetic sensitiveness gives me
as many delights as torments, and renders me one great service: it
preserves me from cynicism or otherwise extreme corruption, and serves
me instead of moral principle. I recoil from many things, not because
they are wicked, but because they are ugly. From my aesthetic nerves I
derive also a certain delicacy of feeling. Taken all in all, it seems
to me that I am a man a little marred by life, decent enough though to
say the truth, rather floating in mid-air because not supported by any
dogma, either social or religious. I am also without an aim to which I
could devote my life.
One word more about my abilities before concluding the synthesis. My
father, my aunt, my colleagues, and sometimes strangers, consider them
simply prodigious. I allow that my intellect has a certain glitter.
But will the _improductivite Slave_ scatter all the hopes invested in
me? Considering all I have, or rather have not done up to this day,
either for others or myself, I feel inclined to think that such
will be the case. This confession costs me more than appears on the
surface. My irony when I think of myself tastes bitter on the palate.
There was something barren in the clay from which God formed the
Ploszowskis, since on that soil everything springs up and grows so
luxuriously, yet produces no fruit. Truly, if with this barrenness,
this powerlessness to act, I possessed the abilities of a genius, it
would be a strange kind of genius,--a genius without portfolio, as
there are ministers of state without portfolio.
This definition, "a genius without portfolio" seems to fit me to
perfection. I shall take out a patent of invention for the word. But
the definition does not apply to me alone. Its name is legion. Side
by side with the _improductivite Slave_ goes the genius without
portfolio; it is a pure product of the Slav soil. Once more I say its
name is legion. I do not know another part of the world where so much
ability is wasted, in which even those who bring forth something give
so little, so incredibly little, in comparison with what God gave
ROME, BABUINO, 14 January.
Another letter from my aunt urging me to come. I am coming, I am
coming, dear aunt, though God knows I am doing it out of love for you;
otherwise I should greatly prefer to remain where I am. My father
seems not well; from time to time he feels a strange numbness on
the whole of his left side. At my urgent entreaties he has seen a
physician, but I am quite sure the physic he received is safely stowed
away in a cupboard, according to an old custom he has. Once he opened
the mysterious receptacle and showed me a whole collection of bottles,
pill-boxes, and powders, saying: "For mercy's sake! this would kill
a strong man, let alone a sick one." Up to now, this quaint way of
looking upon medicine has not done him any harm, but I am troubled
about the future. Another reason for my unwillingness to go is my
aunt's plan of campaign. Of course she is anxious to see me married. I
do not know whether she has anything definite in view. God grant I
may be wrong; but she does not deny the intention. "About an eligible
_parti_ like you," she writes, "there will be at once a war of the
roses, you may be sure of that." I am tired and do not wish for any
war, and least of all to end it like Henry VII. by a marriage. On the
other hand,--I dare not tell my aunt, but may confess it to myself,--I
do not like Polish women. I am thirty-five, and like other men that
live much in society, I had my sentimental passages, among others,
with Polish women, and from these encounters I carried away the
impression that they are the most impossible and most wearying women
in the world. I do not know whether, generally speaking, they are more
virtuous than their French or Italian sisters; I only know that they
are more pathetic. The very remembrance of it gives me a creepy
sensation. I can understand an elegy over a broken pitcher when you
behold the shards for the first time; but to go on with the same
pathos over a much mended pitcher, looks more like a comic opera. A
pleasant role that of the listener, whom courtesy bids to take it
Strange, fantastic women with fiery imagination and cold temperaments!
In their sentiments there is neither cheerfulness nor even simplicity.
They are in love with the outward forms of love, caring less for
its intrinsic value. With French or Italian women after the first
skirmishes, you may be sure of your "ergo." With a Pole it is
different. Somebody said that if a man is mistaken and says two and
two makes five, you may be able to set him right; a woman says two and
two is a lamp, and you come against a blank wall. In a Polish woman's
logic two and two may be not four, but a lamp, love, hatred, a cat,
tears, duty, scorn; in brief, you cannot foresee anything, calculate
upon anything, or guard against anything. It may be, after all,
because of these very pitfalls that their virtue is better guarded
than that of other women, if only for the reason that the beleaguering
forces get mortally tired. But what struck me, and what I resented
most, is that those pitfalls, barricades, and the whole array of
defence are not so much erected for the repulse of the enemy as to
give them the sensation of warfare. I spoke of this in a roundabout
way with a clever woman only half a Pole, for her father was an
She listened to me for a while, then said at last:--
"It seems to me you are very much like the fox looking at the
dovecote. He does not like, and it makes him wroth, to see the doves
dwelling so high, and unlike the hens, always on the wing. All you
have said tells in favor of Polish women."
"How do you make that out?"
"The more a Polish woman seems intolerable as somebody else's wife,
the more desirable she is to have for one's own."
She had driven me into a corner, and I could not find an answer.
Perhaps she is right, and I look upon it from a fox's point of view.
There is also not the slightest doubt that if I were to marry,
especially a Pole, I not only should search for her among the high
flying doves, but I should choose a perfectly white one.
But I am like the chickens when asked in what sauce they would like to
be served; I do not want to be dished up at all. Now, to return to my
grievance against you, dear ladies, you are before everything in love
with love, and not with the lover. Every one of you is a queen in her
own rights, and in this you differ from other women; every one seems
to confer a boon and a favor in permitting herself to be loved; none
agrees to be only an addition or completion of a man's life, who,
besides matrimony, has some other aims in life. You want us to live
for you, instead of living for us. Last, but not least, you love your
children more than your husband. His final fate is that of a satellite
turning forever round in the same orbit. I have seen this and noticed
it very often in a general way; but now and then there happens to
be found a pure diamond too among the chaff. No, my queens and
princesses, permit me to worship you from a safe distance.
Fancy putting aside all other aims, all ideals, in order to burn
incense every day at the shrine of a woman, and that woman one's own
wife. No, dear ladies, that is not sufficient to fill a man's life.
Nevertheless, that second self sometimes mutters, "And what else is
there for you to do? If, anybody it is you who are fittest for the
sacrifice, for what are your aims or your intentions? No! the deuce
and all! To change the whole tenor of one's life, renounce old habits,
comforts, pleasures, it must be a great love, indeed, that could
induce me to such a venture. Marriage means a most amazing act of
faith in a woman, I could never summon courage enough to commit. No,
most decidedly, I do not wish to be served up in any sauce whatever."
WARSAW, 21 January.
I arrived here to-day. I broke my journey at Vienna which made it less
tiring, but my nerves do not let me sleep, so I take up my journal
which has grown as a friend to me. What joy there was in the house
at my arrival, and what a dear, kind soul that aunt of mine is! I do
believe she is awake now for very joy. She could scarcely eat any
dinner. When in the country at Ploszow, she is continually wrangling
with her land-agent, Pan Chwastowski, a burly old nobleman who does
not give in to her one whit. Sometimes their disputes reach to such
a pitch that a catastrophe seems imminent; then suddenly my aunt
relaxes, falls to with an appetite and eats her dinner with a certain
determination. To-day she had only the servants to scold, and that was
not sufficient to give her an appetite. She was in capital spirits
though, and the loving glances she bestowed on me beggar description.
In intimate circles I am called my aunt's fetich, which makes her very
Of course my fears and presentiments have not deceived me. There are
not only plans, but also a definite object. After dinner my aunt is
in the habit of walking up and down the room, and often thinks aloud.
Therefore, in spite of the mystery she deems fit to surround herself
with, I heard the following monologue:--
"He is young, handsome, rich, intelligent; she would be a fool if she
did not fall in love with him at once."
To-morrow I am to go to a picnic the gentlemen are giving for the
ladies. They say it is going to be a grand entertainment.
WARSAW, 25 January.
I am often bored at balls. As a _homo sapiens_ and an _eligible
parti_, I abhor them; as an artist, that is, artist without portfolio,
I now and then like them. What a splendid sight, for instance, that
broad staircase well lit up, where, amid a profusion of flowers the
women ascend to the ball-room. They all appear tall, and when not seen
from below (because the training robes destroy the illusion) they
remind one of the angels on Jacob's ladder. I like the motion, the
light, the flowers, and the gauzy material which enwraps the young
girls as in a soft mist; and then those shoulders, necks, and arms
which released from the warm cloaks seem at once to grow firm and
crisp as marble. My sense of smell, too, is gratified, for I delight
in good perfumes.
The picnic was a great success. To give Staszewski his due, he knows
how to arrange these things. I arrived together with my aunt, but lost
sight of her in the entrance hall, for Staszewski himself came down to
lead her upstairs. The dear old lady had on her ermine cloak she uses
on great occasions, and which her friends call her robe of state. When
I entered the ballroom I remained near the door and looked around.
What a strange sensation when, after a long interval, one comes back
to once familiar scenes. I feel I am a part of them, and yet I look at
them and criticise them as if I were a stranger. Especially the women
attracted my attention,--I must admit, fastidious as I am, that our
society is very choice. I saw pretty faces and plain faces, but all
stamped with the same well-bred refinement. The necks and shoulders,
in spite of the softly rounded contours, simply reminded me of Sevres
china. There is a restful elegance, something daintily finished, in
all of them. Truly, they do not imitate Europe,--they are Europe.
I remained there about a quarter of an hour indolently musing which of
all these dainty damsels my aunt had chosen for me, when Sniatynski
and his wife came up. I had seen him only a few months ago at Rome,
and had known her, too, for some time. I like her very much; she has a
sweet face and belongs to those exceptional Poles that do not absorb
their husband's whole life, but surrender their own. Presently a young
girl slipped in between us, and while greeting Pani Sniatynska, put
out a small hand encased in a white kid glove and said:--
"Don't you know me, Leon?"
I felt slightly perplexed at this question, for indeed I did not know
who it was that greeted me thus familiarly; but not wishing to seem
rude, I smiled and pressed the little hand, saying, "Of course I do."
I must have looked a little foolish because, presently Pani Sniatynska
burst out laughing and said, "But he does not recognize you; it is
Aniela, my cousin! No wonder I did not recognize her. The last time
I saw her, some ten or eleven years ago at Ploszow, she wore a short
frock and pink stockings. I remember the midges had stung her about
the legs, and she stamped on the ground like a little pony. How could
I dream that these white shoulders, this breast covered with violets,
this pretty face with the dark eyes, in short, this girl in the full
bloom of maidenhood, was the same as the little wagtail on thin feet
I had known formerly. How pretty she had grown; a fine butterfly
had come from that chrysalis. I renewed my greeting very heartily.
Afterwards when the Sniatynskis had left us she told me that my aunt
and her mother had sent her to fetch me. I offered my arm and we went
across the room.
All at once it burst in upon me. It was she, Aniela, my aunt had in
her mind. That then was the secret, the surprise meant for me. My aunt
always used to be fond of her, and troubled herself not a little over
Pani P.'s financial difficulties. I only wondered why these ladies
were not stopping with my aunt; but I did not ponder over it long; I
preferred to look at Aniela, who naturally interested me more than the
average girl. As we had to make our way to the other end of the
room and the crush was great, I had ample time for conversation and
scrutiny. Fashion this year has it that gloves should be worn halfway
up the elbow, so I noticed that the arm which rested on mine had a
slightly dusky shade, covered as it was with a light down. And yet she
could not be called a brunette. Her hair is a light brown with a gleam
of bronze. Her eyes are light too, but appear dark, shaded as they are
by long eyelashes; the eyebrows, on the contrary, are dark and very
pretty. The characteristic of this little head with the low brow is
that exuberance of hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and that down, which
on the face is very slight. This at some future time may spoil her
beauty, but at present she is so young that it points only to an
exuberance of organism, and shows that she is not a doll, but a woman
full of warm, active life.
I do not deny that, fastidious as are my nerves and not easily
thrilled, I fell under a spell. She is my type exactly. My aunt, who,
if she ever heard about Darwin would call him a wicked writer, has
unconsciously adopted his theory of natural selection. Yes, she is my
type. They have baited the hook this time with a dainty morsel.
An electric current seemed to pass from her arm into mine. Besides I
noticed that she too seemed pleased with me, and that naturally raises
one's spirits. My scrutiny from an artistic point of view proved
highly satisfactory. There are faces that seem to be a translation
from music or poetry into human shape. Such a face is Aniela's. There
is nothing commonplace about it. As children are inoculated for
small-pox so the upper classes inoculate modesty in their girls; there
is something so very innocent in this face, but through that very
innocence peeps out a warm temperament. What a combination!--as if
some one said, "An innocent Satan!"
Unsophisticated as Aniela is, she is yet a little bit of a coquette,
and quite conscious of her attractions. Knowing for instance that she
has beautiful eyelashes, she very often drops her eyes. She has also
a graceful way of lifting her head and looking at the person she
is speaking to. In the beginning she was slightly artificial, from
shyness I fancy, but soon afterwards we chatted together as if we had
never been separated since those times at Ploszow. My aunt is highly
amusing with her absentmindedness, but I should not care to have her
for a fellow-conspirator. Scarcely had we approached the two elderly
ladies and I exchanged greetings with Aniela's mother, when my aunt,
noticing my animation, turned to her companion and said aloud, "How
pretty she looks in those violets! It was, after all, a happy thought
that he should see her the first time at a ball."
Aniela's mother grew very confused, and so did Aniela, and the truth
began to dawn upon me why it was the ladies were not staying with my
aunt. This had been Pani P.'s idea; she and my aunt had been plotting
together. I suppose Aniela had not been taken into confidence, but
thanks to female perspicacity could not help guessing how matters
To put an end to the embarrassing situation I turned to her and said,
"I warn you that I am not very proficient at dancing, but as they will
carry you off any moment, will you grant me a waltz?"
Aniela for all answer handed me her tablets and said resolutely, "Put
down as many as you like."
I confess that I do not like the role of a puppet pulled by a string,
therefore I resolved to take an active part in the old ladies'
politics. I took the tablets and wrote, "Did you understand that they
want us to marry?"
Aniela read it and changed color. She remained silent for a moment,
as if not trusting her voice, or hesitating what to say; at last she
lifted her eyelashes and looking straight into my eyes she replied,
It was now her turn to question me, not in words but with her eyes. I
already knew I had made a favorable impression on her, and if she had
an inkling of the truth her mind must needs dwell a good deal on me.
I interpreted the look of her eyes thus: "I am aware my mother and my
aunt want us to become acquainted, to know each other well. And you?"
Instead of an answer I put my arm around her waist, and lightly
drawing her towards me, led her into the mazes of a waltz. I
remembered my fencing practice.
A mute answer could not but stir up fancies in a girl's mind,
especially after what I had written on the tablets. I thought to
myself: "What harm is there if her fancy turns into my direction? As
far as I am concerned I shall not go a step further than I intend,
and if her fancy travels further I cannot help it." Aniela dances
exquisitely, and she danced this waltz as a woman should, with a
certain vehemence and self-abandon at the same time. I noticed that
the violets on her breast rose and fell far quicker than the quiet
step of the dance warranted. I understood that she felt agitated. Love
is a law of nature, kept under control by a careful bringing-up. But
once the girl is told that she may love this one or that, the chance
is she will obey very readily. Aniela evidently expected that after
I had been bold enough to write those few words I would allude to it
further, but I kept aloof on purpose to leave her in suspense.
I wished also to look at her from a distance. Decidedly she is my
type. Women of that kind have a special attraction for me. Oh, if only
she were thirty, and not a girl they expect me to marry!
WARSAW, 30 January.
They have come to stay with us. Yesterday I spent all the day with
Aniela. She has more pages to her soul than most girls at her age. On
many of these pages the future will write, but there is room for many
beautiful things. She feels and understands everything, and is an
excellent listener, and follows the conversation with her large,
intelligent eyes. A woman that can listen possesses one more
attraction, because she flatters man's vanity. I do not know whether
Aniela is conscious of this, or whether it be her womanly instinct.
Maybe she has heard so much about me from my aunt that she deems every
word I say an oracle. She is decidedly not without coquetry. To-day
I asked her what she wished for most in life. She answered, "To see
Rome;" then her eyelashes fell, and she looked indescribably pretty.
She sees that I like her, and it makes her happy. Her coquetry is
charming, because it comes straight from a delighted heart, and tries
to please the chosen object. I have not the slightest doubt that her
heart is fluttering towards me, as a moth flutters into the candle.
Poor child! she feels the elders have given their mute consent, and
she obeys only too willingly. I can watch the process from hour to
Perhaps I ought to inquire of myself, "If you do not want to marry
her, why are you trying to make her love you?" But I do not choose to
answer that question. I feel at peace here, and restful! After
all, what is it I am doing? I try not to appear more foolish or
disagreeable or less courteous than I am by nature, that is all.
Aniela appeared to-day at breakfast in a loose sailor-dress,
which only just betrayed the outline of her shape, and she looked
bewitching. Her eyes were still full of dreaminess and sleep. It is
something wonderful what an impression she is making on me.
My aunt is giving an entertainment in honor of Aniela. I am
paying visits and leaving cards right and left. I called upon the
Sniatynskis, and sat with them for a long time, because I feel there
at home. Sniatynski and his wife are always wrangling with each other,
but their life is different from that of most other married people.
As a rule, it happens when there is one cloak, each tries to get
possession of it; these two dispute because he wishes her to have
it, and she wants it all for him. I like them immensely,--it is so
refreshing to see there is still happiness out of novels. With all
that, he is so clever; as sensitive as a Stradivarius violin, and
quite conscious of his happiness. He wanted it, and has got it. I envy
him. I always used to like his conversation. They offered me some
black coffee; it is only at literary people's houses one can get such
coffee. He asked me what I thought of Warsaw after so long an absence.
There was also some talk about the ball, especially from the lady's
part. She seems to guess something about my aunt's plans, and wants to
have one of her rosy fingers in the pie,--especially as she comes from
the same part of the country as Aniela.
We touched personal matter very slightly, but had a lively discussion
about society in general. I told him what I thought about its
refinement; and as Sniatynski, though he criticises it himself
mercilessly, is always greedy to hear its praises sung, it put him
into capital spirits.
"I like to hear you say so," he remarked, "as you have so many chances
to make comparisons, and are rather inclined to look at the world from
a pessimist's point of view."
"I do not know whether what I just said does not lean that way."
"How do you prove that?" asked Sniatynski, quickly.
"You see, refined culture might be compared to cases with glass and
china, upon which is written, 'Fragile.' For you, a spiritual son of
Athens, for me and a few others, it is pleasant to be in touch with
it; but if you want to build anything on such foundation, you will
find the beams coming down on your head. Don't you think those refined
_dilettanti_ of life are bound to get the worst in a struggle with a
people of strong nerves, a tough skin, and iron muscles?"
Sniatynski, who is very lively, jumped up and walked about the room,
then rushed at me impetuously. "You have seen only one side of the
picture, and not the best one, either; do not think there is nothing
more to be seen. You come from abroad, and pronounce judgment upon us
as if you had lived here all your life."
"I do not know what else there may be, but I know that nowhere in the
world is there such a vast difference between the classes. On one
side, the most refined culture,--over-refined, if anything; on the
other, absolute barbarism and ignorance."
A long discussion followed, and it was dusk before I left them. He
said if I came oftener to see them, he would show me the connecting
link between the two classes, introduce me to men who were neither
over-refined, ignorant, nor sickening with dilettantism, but strong
men, who knew what they wanted, and were going straight for it.
When I was going away, Sniatynski called out after me:
"From such as you nothing good will come, but your children may
be men; but you and such like must lose every penny you possess,
otherwise even your grandchildren will do nothing useful."
I still think that on the whole I was right. I have taken special
notice of this conversation, as this discrepancy has occupied my
thoughts ever since my arrival. The fact is that between the classes
there is a vast gulf that precludes all mutual understanding, and
makes simultaneous efforts simply impossible. At least, I look upon
it in that light. Sevres china and common clay,--nothing between; one
_tres fragile_, the other, Ovidius's "rudis indigestaque moles." Of
course Sevres china sooner or later breaks, and from the clay the
future may mould anything it likes.
Yesterday my aunt's entertainment took place. Aniela was the cynosure
of every eye. Her white shoulders peeping out from a cloud of muslin,
gauze, or whatever it is called, she looked like a Venus rising from
the foam. I fancy it is already gossiped about that I am going to
marry her. I noticed that her eyes often strayed in my direction, and
she listened to her partners with an absent, distracted expression.
Guileless child! she cannot hide the truth, and shows so plainly what
is going on in her heart that I could not help seeing it, unless I
were blind. And she is so humble and quietly happy when I am with her!
I like her immensely, and begin to waver. Sniatynski is so happy in
his home life! It is not the first time I have asked myself whether
Sniatynski be more foolish or wiser than I. Of the many problems of
life, I have not solved one. I am nothing; scepticism is sapping
my whole system; I am not happy, and am very tired. He, with less
knowledge than I, does useful work, has a good and handsome wife, the
rogue! and his very philosophical principles, adapted to life, help to
make him happy. No, it must be acknowledged, it is I who am the more
foolish of the two.
The keynote of Sniatynski's philosophy is found in his dogmas of life.
Before he was married he said to me: "There are two things I never
approach with scepticism, and do not criticise: to me as a literary
man, the community is a dogma; as a private individual, the beloved
woman." I thought to myself then: "My mind is bolder,--it analyzes
even that." But I see now that this boldness has not led me to
anything. And how lovely she is,--that little dogma of mine with the
long eyelashes! Decidedly, I am going the way I did not mean to go.
The singular attraction which draws me towards her cannot be explained
by the law of natural selection. Ho! there is something more, and I
know what it is. She loves me with all the freshness of her honest
heart, as I was never loved before. How different from the fencing
practice of former years, when thrusts were dealt or guarded against!
The woman who is much liked, and who in her turn loves, is sure to win
in the end if she perseveres.
"The stray bird," says the poet Slowacki, "comes back to his haven
of rest and peace all the more eagerly after the lonesomeness of his
stormy flight. Nothing takes so firm a hold upon a man's heart as the
consciousness that he is loved."
A few pages before, I wrote God knows what about Polish women; but if
any one fancies that for the sake of a few written sentences I feel
myself bound to pursue a certain course, he is vastly mistaken.
How that girl satisfies my artistic taste is simply wonderful. After
the ball, came the pleasantest moment when, everybody gone, we sat
down and had some tea. Wanting to see how the world looked outside, I
drew back the heavy curtains. It was eight o'clock in the morning and
a flood of daylight poured into the room. It was so perfectly blue,
seen by the glare of the lamps, that it reminded me of the Capri
grotto. And there stood Aniela, with that blue haze around her white
shoulders. She looked so lovely that all my resolutions tottered and
fell to pieces; I felt positively grateful to her for this glimpse of
beauty, as if it were her doing. I pressed her hand more tenderly than
I had ever done before when saying good-night to her.
"Good-morning, you mean, not good-night,--good-morning."
Either I am blind and deaf or her eyes and voice expressed: "I love
you, I love you."
I do the same--almost.
My aunt looking at us gave a low grunt of contentment. I saw tears
shining in her eyes.
To-morrow we leave here for Ploszow.
PLOSZOW, 5 February.
This is my second day in the country. We had a splendid drive. The
weather was clear and frosty. The snow creaked under the runners of
the sledge and glittered and sparkled in the fields. Towards sunset
the vast plain assumed pink and purple shades. The rooks, cawing and
flapping their wings, flew in and out the lime trees. Winter, the
strong, homely winter, is a beautiful thing. There is a certain vigor
in it, and dignity, and what is more, so much sincerity. Like a true
friend, who, regardless as to consequences, hurls cutting truths,
it smites you between the eyes without asking leave. By way of
compensation it bestows upon you some of its own vigor. We were all
of us glad to leave the town--the elder ladies, that their pet scheme
might be brought to a climax by closer companionship; I, because I was
near Aniela; she, maybe for the same reason, felt happy too. She bent
down several times to kiss my aunt's hands, apropos of nothing, out
of sheer content. She looked very pretty in a long, fluffy boa and
a coquettish fur cap, from under which the dark eyes and the almost
childish face peeped forth.
How young she looks.
I feel at home in Ploszow, it is so quiet and restful; and I like the
huge, old-fashioned chimneys. The woods are to my aunt as the apple of
her eye, but she does not grudge herself fuel; and big logs, which are
crackling and burning there from morning until night, make it look
bright and cheerful. We sat around the fire the whole afternoon. I
brought out some of my reminiscences, and told them about Rome and its
treasures. The three women listened with such devoutness that it made
me feel ridiculous in my own eyes. From time to time, while I was
talking, my aunt cast a searching glance at Aniela to see whether she
expressed enough admiration. But there is too much of that already.
Yesterday she said to me:--
"Another man might spend there his whole life and not see half the
beautiful things you do."
My aunt added with dogmatic firmness,--
"I have always said so."
It is as well that there is not another sceptic here, for his presence
would embarrass me not a little.
A certain dissonant chord in our little circle is Aniela's mother. The
poor soul has had so many sorrows and anxieties that her cheerfulness,
if ever she had any, is a thing of the past. She is simply afraid of
the future, and instinctively suspects pitfalls even in good fortune.
She was very unhappy in her married life, and afterwards has had
continual worries about her estate, which is very much involved. In
addition to all this she suffers from nervous headaches.
Aniela belongs to that category of women who never trouble themselves
about money matters. I like her for that, for it proves that she
thinks of higher things. For the matter of that, everything in her
pleases and delights me now.
Tenderness grows on the soil of attraction by the senses, as quick
as flowers after a warm rain. To-day, in the morning, I saw the maid
carrying up her gown and boots; this moved me very much, especially
the little, little boots, as if the wearing of them was the crown of
all virtues in Aniela.
PLOSZOW, 8 or 9 February.
My aunt has taken up her visual warfare with Pan Chwastowski. This
is such an original habit of hers that I must describe one of their
disputes. The dear lady can evidently not exist without it, or at
least not enjoy her dinner; Chwastowski, again, who, by the bye, is an
excellent manager, is a compound of brimstone and saltpetre, and does
not allow anybody to thwart him; therefore the quarrels sometimes
reach the acute state. When entering the dining-room they eye each
other with suspicious glances. The first shot is fired by my aunt
while eating her soup.
"It is a very long time, Pan Chwastowski, since I heard anything
about the winter crops, and Pan Chwastowski, instead of giving me the
information, speaks about anything but what I want to know."
"They were very promising in autumn, my lady; now they are covered by
a yard or two of snow,--how am I to know the state they are in? I am
not the Lord Almighty."
"I beg of you, Pan Chwastowski, not to take the Lord's name in vain."
"I do not look under His snow, therefore do not offend Him."
"Do you mean to insinuate that I do?"
"Pan Chwastowski, you are unbearable."
"Oho! bearable enough because he bears a great deal."
In this or that way the screw goes round. There is scarcely a meal but
they have some differences. Then my aunt at last subsides, and seems
to wreak the remnants of her anger on the dinner. She enjoys a hearty
appetite. As the dinner goes on she gradually brightens up and
recovers her usual spirits. After dinner, I offer my arm to Aniela's
mother, my aunt accepts Pan Chwastowski's, and presently they sip
their black coffee in peace and perfect amity. My aunt inquires after
his sons, and he kisses her hands. I saw those sons of his when they
were at the university, and I hear they are promising young men, but
Aniela used to get frightened at first at these prandial disputes,
until I gave her the clue to the real state of things. So now when
the first signal of battle is given, she looks at me slyly from under
those long lashes, and there is a little smile lurking in the corners
of her mouth. She is so pretty then I feel tempted to take her in
my arms. I have never met a woman with such delicate veins on her
Truly a metamorphosis of Ovidius on the earth and within me! The frost
has gone, the fine weather vanished, and there is Egyptian darkness. I
cannot describe it better than by saying the weather is foul. What an
abominable climate! In Rome, at the worst, the sun shines at intervals
half a dozen times a day; here lamps ought to be lit these two days.
The black, heavy mist seems to permeate one's thoughts, and paint them
a uniform gray. My aunt and Pan Chwastowski were more intent than
usual upon warfare. He maintained that my aunt, by not allowing the
woods to be touched, causes the timber to spoil; my aunt replied that
others did their best to cut down all the timber, and not a bit of
forest would soon be left in the country. "I am getting old; let
the trees grow old too." This reminds me of the nobleman of vast
possessions who only allowed as much land to be cultivated as to where
the bark of his dog could be heard.
Aniela's mother, without intending it, gave me to-day a bad quarter of
an hour. Alone with me in the conservatory, she began telling me, with
maternal boastfulness, that an acquaintance of mine, a certain Pan
Kromitzki, had made overtures for Aniela's hand.
I had a sensation as if somebody tried to remove a splinter from my
flesh with a fork. As the blue waves of light had stirred up within me
a tender feeling for Aniela,--although it was no merit of hers,--so
now the wooing of such a man as Kromitzki threw cold water upon the
nascent affections. I know that ape Kromitzki, and do not like him. He
comes from Austrian Silesia, where it seems they had owned estates.
In Rome he used to say that his family had borne the title of count
already in the fifteenth century, and at the hotels put himself down
as "Graf von Kromitzki." But for his small, black eyes, not unlike
coffee-berries, and his black hair, his head looks as if cut out
from a cheese-rind,--for such is his complexion. He reminds me of a
death's-head, and I simply have a physical loathing for him. Ugh! how
the thought of him in connection with Aniela has spoiled her image.
I am quite aware that she is in no way responsible for Kromitzki's
intentions; but it has damaged her in my eyes. I do not know why her
mother should think it necessary to tell me these details; if it be a
warning, it has missed its aim. She must have some grand qualities,
this Pani P., since she has managed to steer her life through so many
difficulties, and at the same time educated her daughter so well; but
she is clumsy and tedious with her headaches and her macaronism.
"I confess," she said, "that the alliance suited me. At times I almost
break down under the weight of troubles. I am a woman with little
knowledge of business, and what I acquired I have paid for with my
health; but I had to think of my child. Kromitzki is very clever. He
has large concerns at Odessa, and is at present engaged in some large
speculations in naphtha at Baku, or some such place, 'que sais-je.' It
seems there is some difficulty about his not being a Russian subject.
If he married Aniela he might clear the estate; and as an extensive
landowner he would have no difficulty in getting naturalized."
"What does Aniela say to this?" I asked impatiently.
"She does not care for him, but is a good and obedient child. I am
anxious to see her married before I die."
I did not care to prolong the conversation, which irritated me more
than I can tell; and though I understand well enough, if that match
has not been arranged, it was Aniela's doing, yet I feel aggrieved
that she should allow a man like that even to look at her. For me this
would be a mere question of nerves. I forget, however, that others
are not constituted like me, and that Kromitzki, in spite of his
cadaverous face, passes among women as a good-looking man.
I wonder what his affairs are. I forgot to ask whether he is at
Warsaw; most likely he is, as he goes there every winter. As to his
business, it may be very magnificent, but I doubt whether it be on a
solid basis. I am not a speculator, and could not for the life of me
transact a stock-exchange affair; but I am shrewd enough to know
it. Besides I am a close observer, and quick to draw conclusions.
Therefore I do not believe in noblemen with a genius for speculation.
I am afraid Kromitzki's is neither an inherited nor innate quality,
but a neurosis driving him into a certain direction. I have seen
examples of that kind. Now and then blind fortune favors the
nobleman-speculator, and he accumulates wealth; but I have not seen
one who did not come to grief before he died.
Capacities such as these are either inherited or acquired by early
training. Chwastowski's boys will be able to do something in that way
because their father lost by accident all his fortune, and they
have to make a fresh start. But he who with ready capital, without
commercial tradition or professional knowledge, embarks upon commerce,
is bound to come to grief. Speculation cannot be based upon illusions,
and there is too much of that in the speculations of our noblemen.
Upon the whole, I wish Pan von Kromitzki every luck!
Pax! pax! pax! The painful impression has vanished. What keen
perceptions Aniela has! I endeavored to be cheerful, though I felt out
of spirits, and I do not think there was any perceptible change in my
behavior; yet she perceived a change at once. To-day, when we looked
at the albums and were alone,--which happens pretty often, on purpose
I suppose,--she grew embarrassed and changed color. I saw at once she
wanted to say something, and did not dare. For a single moment the mad
thought flashed across my brain that she was about to confess her love
for me. But as quick as the thought, I remembered it was a Polish girl
I had before me. A mere chit of a girl--I beg her pardon, a young
princess,--would rather die than be the first to confess her love.
When asked she gives her assent rather as a favor. Besides, Aniela
very quickly corrected my mistake; suddenly closing the album she said
in a hesitating voice: "What is the matter with you, Leon? There is
something the matter, is there not?"
I began assuring her at once that there was nothing the matter with
me, and to laugh away her perturbation; but she only shook her head
and said: "I have seen that something was amiss these last two days. I
know that men like you may be easily offended, and I have asked myself
whether anything I might have done or said--" Her voice shook a
little, but she looked straight at me.
"I have not hurt you, have I?"
There was a moment I felt tempted to say, "If there is anything
wanting to my happiness it is you, Aniela, only you;" but a sudden
terror clutched me by the hair. Not terror of her, but of the
consequences that might follow. I took her hand, kissed it, and said
in the most cheerful voice I could assume, "You are a good and dear
girl; do not mind me,--there is nothing whatever the matter; besides,
you are our guest, and it is I who ought to see that you are
And I kissed again her hand, both hands in fact. All this could be
still put down to cousinly affection,--human nature is so mean that
the consciousness that there was still a door through which I could
escape lent me courage. I call this feeling mean for the very reason
that I am not responsible to anybody except to myself, and myself I
cannot deceive. Yet I feel that even to myself I shall not give a
strict account, because in so far as my relations to Aniela are
concerned I am carried away by my sensations. I still feel on my lips
the touch of her hand,--and my desires are simply without limit.
Sooner or later I shall myself close that door through which I could
still escape. But could I still escape? Yes, if some extraneous
circumstances came to my aid.
In the meanwhile she loves me, and everything draws me towards her.
To-day I asked myself, "If it is to be, why put it off?" I found
a ready answer: "Because I do not want to lose any of my present
sensations; the sudden thrills, the charm of the words unspoken, the
questioning glances, the expectations. I wish to spin out the romance
to the very end. I found fault with women that they preferred the
semblance of love to love itself, and now I am quite as anxious not to
lose any of its outward manifestations. But as one gets more advanced
in years one attaches greater importance to these things; and besides,
I am an Epicurean in my sensations."
After the above conversation with Aniela, we both recovered our
spirits. During evening I helped her in the cutting out of lampshades,
which gave me the opportunity to touch her hands and dress. I hindered
her with the work and she became as gay as a child, and in a child's
quick, plaintive voice called out, "Aunty, Leon is very naughty."
Ill luck would have it that I accepted an invitation to attend a
meeting at Councillor S.'s, who always tries to bring together
representatives of all shades and opinions, and over a cup of tea and
a sandwich to bring about a mutual understanding. As a man almost
continually living abroad, I came to this meeting to find out what was
going on in the minds of my countrymen and listen to their reasonings.
The crush was very great, which made me feel uncomfortable, and at the
same time happened what usually happens at large gatherings. Those of
the same shade of opinion congregated in separate rooms to pay each
other compliments and so forth. I was made acquainted with various
councillors and representatives of the press. In other countries,
there is a considerable difference between writers and journalists.
The first is considered an artist and a thinker, the latter, a mere
paragraph-monger--I cannot find a better word. Here there is no such
distinction, and men of both occupations are known under the same
collective name as literary men. The greater part of them follow both
avocations, literature and journalism. Personally, they are more
refined than the journalists I met abroad. I do not like the daily
press, and consider it as one of the plagues sent down to torment
humanity. The swiftness with which the world becomes acquainted with
current events is equal to the superficiality of the information, and
does not compensate for the incredible perversion of public opinion,
as any one who is not prejudiced must perceive. Thanks to the daily
press, the sense which knows how to sift the true from the false
has become blunted, the notions of right and wrong have well-nigh
disappeared, evil stalks about in the garb of righteousness, and
oppression speaks the language of justice; in brief, the human soul
has become immoral and blind.
There was, among others, also Stawowski, who is considered a leader
among the advanced progressists. He spoke cleverly, but appeared to me
a man suffering from a two-fold disease: liver, and self. He carries
his ego like a glass of water filled to the brim, and seems to say,
"Take care, or it will spill." This fear, by some subtle process,
seems to communicate itself to his audience to such an extent that
nobody dares to be of a different opinion. He has this influence over
others because he believes in what he says. They are wrong, those who
consider him a sceptic. On the contrary, he is of the temperament
which makes fanatics. Had he been born a hundred years ago and been a
judge, he would have sentenced people to have their tongues cut out
for uttering blasphemy. Born as he is in the more enlightened times,
he hates what he would have loved then; but essentially it is the same
I noticed that our conservatives crowded round Stawowski, not so
much out of curiosity to hear what he said as rather with a certain
watchful coquetry. Here, and maybe in other countries, this party has
little courage. They looked at the speaker with insinuating smiles, as
if they would say: "Although conservatives, nevertheless--" Ah! that
"nevertheless" was like an act of contrition, a kind of submission.
This was so evident that I who am a sceptic as to all party spirit,
began to contradict Stawowski, not as a representative of any party,
but simply as a man who is of a different opinion. My audacity excited
some astonishment. The matter in question was the position of the
working-men. Stawowski spoke of their hopeless condition, their
weakness and incapacity for defending themselves; the audience which
listened to his words grew every minute larger, when I interrupted:--
"Do you believe in Darwin's theory, the survival of the fittest?"
Stawowski, who is a naturalist by profession, took up the challenge at
"Of course I do," he said.
"Then allow me to point out to you that you are inconsequent. If I,
as a Christian, care for the weak and defenceless, I do so by the
doctrine of Christ; but you, from a standpoint of a struggle-for-life
existence, ought to see it in a different light: they are weak, they
are foolish, consequently bound to succumb; it is a capital law of
nature,--let the weaker go to perdition. Why is it you do not take it
this way? please explain the contradiction."
Whether Stawowski was taken aback by the unexpected opposition, or
whether he really had never put the two things together, the fact was
that he was at a loss for a ready answer, grew confused, and did not
even venture upon the expression "altruism," which, after all, says
The hero of the evening worsted, the conservatives came over to me in
a body, and I might have become the hero now; but it was getting late,
I was bored, and wanted to get back to Ploszow. Gradually the others
too began to disperse. I was already in my fur coat and searching
for my eyeglasses, that had slipped between the coat and furs, when
Stawowski, who evidently had found his answer, came up to me and
"You asked why--"
I, still searching for the eyeglasses and rather put out, said
"Plainly speaking, the question does not interest me very much. It is
getting late and everybody is leaving; besides I can guess what you
are going to say, therefore permit me to wish you good-night."
I fancy I have made an enemy of the man, especially by my last remark.
It was one o'clock when I arrived at Ploszow, and there a pleasant
surprise awaited me; Aniela was sitting up to make some tea for me. I
found her in the dining-room, still fully dressed, with the exception
of her hair, which was done up for the night. From the intense delight
I felt in seeing her thus unexpectedly, I perceived how deeply she had
entered into my heart. What a dear girl she is, and how pretty she
looks with the tresses coiled low down her neck. And to think that I
have only to say the word and in a month or two I might have the right
to undo those tresses and let them fall on her shoulders. I cannot
think of it quietly. It seems past all belief that happiness should be
so easy to get.
I began to scold her a little for sitting up so late, and she
"But I was not in the least sleepy, and begged mamma and aunty to let
me sit up for you. Mamma would not allow it, said it was not proper;
but I explained to her that we were cousins, and that makes all the
difference. And do you know who took my part?--auntie."
"Dear aunt! You will take some tea with me, will you not?"
I watched her handling the cups with those deft, graceful fingers, and
felt a desire to kiss them.
She looked at me now and then, but upon meeting my eyes her eyelashes
drooped. Presently she inquired how I had spent the evening, and what
impressions I had carried away. We spoke in a low voice, though the
sleeping-rooms were far enough away to make it unnecessary. There was
such confidence and heartiness in our intercourse as among relatives
who are fond of each other.
I told her what I had seen and noticed, as one tells a friend. I spoke
about the general impression the society of the country makes upon a
man that has chiefly lived abroad. She listened quietly with wide-open
eyes, happy to be thus taken into confidence. Then she said:--
"Why do you not write about all that, Leon? That I do not think
of such things is not to be wondered at; but nobody else here has
thoughts like these."
"Why do I not write?" I replied. "There are many reasons for it. I
will explain to you some time; one of them is that I have nobody near
me who, like you, says: 'Leon, why do you not do something?'"
After this we both became silent. I had never seen Aniela's lashes
veil her eyes so closely, and I could almost hear the beating of her
And indeed she had a right to expect me to say: "Will you remain with
me always and put the same question?" But I found such a keen delight
in skirting the precipice before making the final plunge, and feeling
that heart palpitating almost in my hand that I could not do it.
"Good-night," I said, after a short time.
And that angelic creature gave not the slightest sign that she had met
with a disappointment. She rose, and with the least touch of sadness
in her voice, but no impatience, replied: "Good-night."
We shook hands and parted for the night. My hand was already on the
latch, when I turned round and saw her still standing near the table.
"Aniela! Tell me," I said, "do you not think me a fantastic kind of
man, full of whims and fancies?"
"Oh, no, not fantastic; sometimes I think you a little strange, but
then I say to myself that men like you are bound to be different from
"One question more; when was it you thought me strange the first
Aniela blushed to the tips of her ears. How pretty she looked with the
pink flame spreading over her face and neck.
"No, I could not tell you."
"Then let me guess, and if I am right say yes. It is a single word."
"What word?" she asked, with increased confusion.
"Tablets. Yes, or no?"
"Yes," said Aniela, with drooping eyes.
"Then I will tell you why I wrote those words. First, because I wanted
a link connecting us together, a little secret shared by both of us,
I pointed at the flowers the gardener had brought from the hot-house.
"You know flowers want light to bring out all their beauty, and I
wanted plenty of light for our atmosphere."
"I cannot always follow you," she said, after a momentary silence,
"but I trust you, yes, and believe in you."
We remained once more silent; I pressed her hand again, saying
good-night. We stopped near the door, and our eyes met. The waters
begin to rise and to rise. They will overstep their boundary any
The human being, like the sea, has his ebb and flood tides. To-day my
will, my energy, the very action of life are at a very low tide. It
came upon me without warning, a mere matter of nerves. But for that
very reason my thoughts are full of bitterness. What right have I,
a man physically worn out and mentally exhausted, to marry at all?
Involuntarily the words of Hamlet come in my mind: "Get thee to a
nunnery; why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners?" I shall not bury
myself within cloister walls. The future sinners will be like me,
all nerves, oversensitive, not fit for any practical life,--in fact,
artists without portfolios. But the deuce take it, it is not they, but
Aniela I am thinking of. Have I a right to marry her,--to link that
fresh budding life, full of simple faith in God and the world, to my
doubts, my spiritual impotence, my hopeless scepticism, my criticism
and nerves? What will be the result of it for her? I cannot regain
another spiritual youth, and even at her side cannot find my old self;
my brains cannot change, or my nerves grow more vigorous,--and what
then? Is she to wither at my side? It would be simply monstrous. I to
play the part of a polypus that sucks the life-blood of its victims in
order to renew its own life! A heavy cloud weighs on my brain. But if
such be the case why did I allow it to go so far? What have I been
doing ever since I met Aniela? Playing on her very heartstrings to
bring forth sweet music. And yet, what for me was "Quasi una fantasia"
may prove to her "Quasi un dolore." Yes, I have played on that
sensitive instrument from morning until night; and what is more,
I feel that in spite of my self-upbraidings, I shall do the same
to-morrow and the days following, for I cannot help it; she attracts
me more than any woman I ever met, I desire her above all things--I
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