One day Lavretsky, according to his habit, was at the Kalitins’. After an exhaustingly hot day, such a lovely evening had set in that Marya Dmitrievna, in spite of her aversion to a draught, ordered all the windows and doors into the garden to be thrown open, and declared that she would not play cards, that it was a sin to play cards in such weather, and one ought to enjoy nature. Panshin was the only guest. He was stimulated by the beauty of the evening, and conscious of a flood of artistic sensations, but he did not care to sing before Lavretsky, so he fell to reading poetry; he read aloud well, but too self-consciously and with unnecessary refinements, a few poems of Lermontov (Pushkin had not then come into fashion again). Then suddenly, as though ashamed of his enthusiasm, began, a propos of the well-known poem, “A Reverie,” to attack and fall foul of the younger generation. While doing so he did not lose the opportunity of expounding how he would change everything! after his own fashion, if the power were in his hands. “Russia,” he said, “has fallen behind Europe; we must catch her up. It is maintained that we are young — that’s nonsense. Moreover we have no inventiveness: Homakov himself admits that we have not even invented mouse-traps. Consequently, whether we will or no, we must borrow from others. We are sick, Lermontov says — I agree with him. But we are sick from having only half become Europeans, we must take a hair of the dog that bit us (“le cadastre,” thought Lavretsky). “The best head, les meilleures tetes,” he continued, “among us have long been convinced of it. All peoples are essentially alike; only introduce among them good institutions, and the thing is done. Of course there may be adaptation to the existing national life; that is our affair — the affair of the official (he almost said “governing”) class. But in case of need don’t be uneasy. The institutions will transform the life itself.” Marya Dmitrievna most feelingly assented to all Panshin said. “What a clever man,” she thought, “is talking in my drawing-room!” Lisa sat in silence leaning back against the window; Lavretsky too was silent. Marfa Timofyevna, playing cards with her old friend in the corner, muttered something to herself. Panshin walked up and down the room, and spoke eloquently, but with secret exasperation. It seemed as if he were abusing not a whole generation but a few people known to him. In a great lilac bush in the Kalitins’ garden a nightingale had built its nest; its first evening notes filled the pauses of the eloquent speech; the first stars were beginning to shine in the rosy sky over the motionless tops of the limes. Lavretsky got up and began to answer Panshin; an argument sprang up. Lavretsky championed the youth and the independence of Russia; he was ready to throw over himself and his generation, but he stood up for the new men, their convictions and desires. Panshin answered sharply and irritably. He maintained that the intelligent people ought to change everything, and was at last even brought to the point of forgetting his position as a kammer-yunker, and his career as an official, and calling Lavretsky an antiquated conservative, even hinting — very remotely it is true — at his dubious position in society. Lavretsky did not lose his temper. He did not raise his voice (he recollected that Mihalevitch too had called him antiquated but an antiquated Voltairean), and calmly proceeded to refute Panshin at all points. He proved to him the impracticability of sudden leaps and reforms from above, founded neither on knowledge of the mother-country, nor on any genuine faith in any ideal, even a negative one. He brought forward his own education as an example, and demanded before all things a recognition of the true spirit of the people and submission to it, without which even a courageous combat against error is impossible. Finally he admitted the reproach — well-deserved as he thought — of reckless waste of time and strength.
“That is all very fine!’ cried Panshin at last, getting angry. “You now have just returned to Russia, what do you intend to do?”
“Cultivate the soil,” answered Lavretsky, “and try to cultivate it as well as possible.”
“That is very praiseworthy, no doubt,” rejoined Panshin, “and I have been told that you have already had great success in that line; but you must allow that not every one is fit for pursuits of that kind.”
“Une nature poetique,” observed Marya Dmitrievna, “cannot, to be sure, cultivate . . . et puis, it is your vocation, Vladimir Nikolaich, to do everything en grand.”
This was too much even for Panshin: he grew confused and changed the conversation. He tried to turn it upon the beauty of the starlit sky, the music of Schubert; nothing was successful. He ended by proposing to Marya Dmitrievna a game of picquet. “What! on such an evening?” she replied feebly. She ordered the cards to be brought in, however. Panshin tore open a new pack of cards with a loud crash, and Lisa and Lavretsky both got up as if by agreement, and went and placed themselves near Marfa Timofyevna. They both felt all at once so happy that they were even a little afraid of remaining alone together, and at the same time they both felt that the embarrassment they had been conscious of for the last few days had vanished, and would return no more. The old lady stealthily patted Lavretsky on the cheek, slyly screwed up her eyes, and shook her head once or twice, adding in a whisper, “You have shut up our clever friend, many thanks.” Everything was hushed in the room; the only sound was the faint crackling of the wax-candles, and sometimes the tap of a hand on the table, and an exclamation or reckoning of points; and the rich torrent of the nightingale’s song, powerful piercingly sweet, poured in at the window, together with the dewy freshness of the night.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01