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The russian folk art

French version

T heir appearance in this great literary sphere was sudden and unexpected. Their reports, however, were unfavourable. Merimee was the first to recognize the possibilities of this little-known country and had remarked upon some writers of talent and originality. Turgenev appeared amongst us as the pioneer missionary of the Russian genius, and in himself showed the high value of that same genius. But the Western public remained sceptical. French opinion about Russia was then expressed in one of those neat phrases, with which we crush a nation as readily as an individual: "A nation prematurely rotten" - and that covered everything. Segur, with greater personal experience, said with more justice: "The Russians are still what they have been made. Some day becoming free, they will know themselves."That day, still future in other respects, has arrived as regards Russian literature, and long before Europe deigned to admit it...

    Next to human sympathy, the chief characteristic of the russian writers is their knowledge of the lower classes, and their circumstances, which are detailed to an extent and obvious relish previously unknown. Nevertheless the invisible is not neglected. Their characters are anxious about the universal mystery, and however much the characters seem to be engaged with the dramatic events of the moment, they ever lend an ear to the murmurings of abstract thought... In the creations of Turgenev, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky these are never absent from their minds.

    As with their inspirations, their literary methods are similar to the English. The interest and emotions of both have to be purchased by patience. At first the seeming absence of plot or specific action, and the tax on our memory of these Russian efforts puzzles and tries us. Their own lazy and dreamy character, delay at very step to occupy themselves with unnecessary detail, which obscures the whole. These are made too important and too far-fetched for our taste... The Russian words measure as many yards as ours do feet... Nevertheless one is charmed with the unexpected combination of their native simplicity and their mode of psychological analysis...The delineation of the human heart is marvellously detailed such as I have never yet met with.

    None of the russian writers have any idea of writing mere literature, but are always actuated by the double desire of arriving at righteousness and truth; double in name only, one in themselves. The Russian word pravda stands for both righteousness and truth, or rather it implies two ideas in an indivisible one. This is a point of greal importance and worthy of our deepest consideration, for language betrays the philosophic conceptions...

    Righteousness and Truth! In this pursuit of the pravda I repeat, they never separate the double ideals, the divine from the human. The creed which they wait for must realize the one and the other, both together. Not having found it, and being still a young and ingenuous nation, they are now occupied with the religious and social discussions which fascinated our Western minds in the dark ages, at the dawn of the Reformation. These same doctrines are by the Slav dressed with a fresh character, or, let us say, one more pronounced. It is a historic fact that no part of the human family has ever been more favoured, or received less than another of its patrimony - the ideal of righteousness and truth. That lies in every heart. But the Man of the North, steeped in the gloomy thoughts of his habitual misery, broods over it long, and in the humble homes of the Slav people, less accustomed to the compromises of civilization, there are a great number of inexperienced, ardent and tenacious natures who, feeling impatient at the slowness of progress, rush at their new chimeras regardless of all obstacles...

    When one enters St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg it is as if stepping into night. Badly lit from above, the imposing building is all darkness. On the doors of the chancel being opened, a flood of light descends from a great Christ painted in the window panes of the apse, whence only the church obtains her daylight. The image seems alone to illumine the night in the temple, and the visitor's eyes are involuntarily held by that face. It has not the same calm expression given it by the " Western " to the Son of Man. It is thin, emaciated, fervent, with a wild look in the eyes. It is the Slavonic Christ, betraying intense human anguish at the loss of a dream unrealized, or that of a god dissatisfied with his divinity. For him all things have not been attained, and the last word has not been spoken. It is, indeed, the face of the god of a people still groping about in darkness, and truthfully represents all their anxieties.

   One often hears Hamlet's words applied to her as to there being "something rotten" in that empire. Possibly, but in any case the rottenness is confined to the bark. The core of that mighty tree is sound and full of sap. This at least is the conviction of all who have been in the country and studied the writers who witness to it. Behind their mental maladies, behind the passing nihilism of a Tolstoy and the intellectual spasms of a Dostoyevsky, one feels there is a deep-rooted vitality and a soul ready to submit to any sound words that will arouse her. Judging from their language, which is unmistakable, they seem as if weary and worn out before they have lived, like young people who are in despair waiting long for the moment of action to arrive. They at times seem to be themselves unaware that they possess the treble treasure of life - faith, hope and love. As soon as one digs down the lode glistens and clanks. It is the pledge of their future greatness.

    That is what I have discovered in this Russian land. - Poor, pale Russia! Her sons will, perhaps, tell me that I have painted her in too ghastly a colour, that I have not been able to breathe the perfume of her pungent air. That would be an unmerited insult. We belong to a world that is content to grow older by the dim light of austere reason, which looks coldly on life whilst trying to understand its phenomena. But when, owing to the - inconclusiveness of the eternal rush of human life, this anxiety for an understanding ceases to trouble our soul and allows it to return to its primitive instincts, we realize and feel how well this land can be loved, though still in the savage nudity of its youth. Even though the plough has till now only run a few furrows, the hand of man has not as yet effaced the imprint of that of the Creator. She retains the charm of great sadness, the most powerful, perhaps, because the happiest amongst us at heart deplores the waste of things, whatever they may be, and though he may never have known them. Virgin soil! Crude and vague like her children, made in her image, like their heart and speech, she cannot tell of the curious histories of the past as known to older lands. She ever speaks in melancholy murmurs with the sad music of the sea... The Koran contains a beautiful saying: " How shall we know that the end of the world has come? " asks the Prophet.” It is when one soul can no more help another," was the answer. Pray Heaven that the Russian soul may yet do much for ours...
E.- M. de Vogüe. "The russian novel" 1886       

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N.Solonikin "Mikhail Lomonosov"

N.Solonikin "Mikhail Lomonosov"
Casket . 1991   Fedoskino

I.Vakurov. "Lermontov"

I.Vakurov. "Lermontov"
Panel. 1944.  Palekh

N.Kulandin. "Nikolai Nekrasov"
1981.  Rostov enamel