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he had encountered in books. This often gave a
charming quaintness and an unexpected literary turn
to what he said. " In Eussia, in spring, if you enter
a beechen grove" those words come back to me
from the last time I saw him. He continued to read
English books and was not incapable of attacking
the usual Tauchnitz novel. The English writer (of
our day) of whom I remember to have heard him
speak with most admiration was Dickens, of whose


faults he was conscious, but whose power of presenting
to the eye a vivid, salient figure he rated very high.
In the young French school he was much interested ;
I mean, in the new votaries of realism, the grandsons
of Balzac. He was a good friend of most of them,
and with Gustave Flaubert, the most singular and
most original of the group, he was altogether intimate.
He had his reservations and discriminations, and he
had, above all, the great back-garden of his Slav
imagination and his Germanic culture, into which the
door constantly stood open, and the grandsons of
Balzac were not, I think, particularly free to accompany
him. But he had much sympathy with their ex-
periment, their general movement, and it was on
the side of the careful study of life as the best line
of the novelist that, as may easily be supposed, he
ranged himself. For some of the manifestations of
the opposite tradition he had a great contempt. This
was a kind of emotion he rarely expressed, save in
regard to certain public wrongs and iniquities ; bitter-
ness and denunciation seldom passed his mild lips.
But I remember well the little flush of conviction,
the seriousness, with which he once said, in allusion
to a novel which had just been running through the
Revue des Deux Mondes, "If I had written any-
thing so bad as that, I should blush for it all my

His was not, I should say, predominantly, or even
in a high degree, the artistic nature, though it was
deeply, if I may make the distinction, the poetic.


But during the last twelve years of his life he lived
much with artists and men of letters, and he was
eminently capable of kindling in the glow of discussion.
He cared for questions of form, though not in the
degree in which Flaubert and Edmond de Goncourt
cared for them, and he had very lively sympathies.
He had a great regard for Madame George Sand, the
head and front of the old romantic tradition ; but
this was on general grounds, quite independent of
her novels, which he never read, and which she never
expected him, or apparently any one else, to read.
He thought her character remarkably noble and
sincere. He had, as I have said, a great affection for
Gustave Flaubert, who returned it ; and he was much
interested in Flaubert's extraordinary attempts at
bravery of form and of matter, knowing perfectly
well when they failed. During those months which
it was Flaubert's habit to spend in Paris, Turgenieff
went almost regularly to see him on Sunday after-
noon, and was so good as to introduce me to the
author of Madame Bovary, in whom I saw many
reasons for Turgenieffs regard. It was on these
Sundays, in Flaubert's little salon, which, at the top
of a house at the end of the Faubourg Saint-Honore,
looked rather bare and provisional, that, in the
company of the other familiars of the spot, more than
one of whom l have commemorated these occasions,
Turg6nieff's beautiful faculty of talk showed at its
best. He was easy, natural, abundant, more than I
1 Maxime Du Camp, Alphonse Daudet, Emile Zola.


can describe, and everything that he said was touched
with the exquisite quality of his imagination. What
was discussed in that little smoke-clouded room was
chiefly questions of taste, questions of art and form ;
and the speakers, for the most part, were in aesthetic
matters, radicals of the deepest dye. It would have
been late in the day to propose among them any
discussion of the relation of art to morality, any
question as to the degree in which a novel might or
might not concern itself with the teaching of a lesson.
They had settled these preliminaries long ago, and it
would have been primitive and incongruous to recur
to them. The conviction that held them together
was the conviction that art and morality are two
perfectly different things, and that the former has no
more to do with the latter than it has with astronomy
or embryology. The only duty of a novel was to be
well written ; that merit included every other of
which it was capable. This state of mind was never
more apparent than one afternoon when ces messieurs
delivered themselves on the subject of an incident
which had just befallen one of them. L' Assommoir
of Emile Zola had been discontinued in the journal
through which it was running as a serial, in conse-
quence of repeated protests from the subscribers. The
subscriber, as a type of human imbecility, received
a wonderful dressing, and the Philistine in general
was roughly handled. There were gulfs of difference
between Turgenieff and Zola, but Turgenieff, who, as I
say, understood everything, understood Zola too, and


rendered perfect justice to the high solidity of much of
his work His attitude, at such times, was admirable,
and I could imagine nothing more genial or more
fitted to give an idea of light, easy, human intelligence.
No one could desire more than he that art should be
art; always, ever, incorruptibly, art. To him this
proposition would have seemed as little in need of
proof, or susceptible of refutation, as the axiom that
law should always be law or medicine always medi-
cine. As much as any one he was prepared to take
note of the fact that the demand for abdications and
concessions never comes from artists themselves, but
always from purchasers, editors, subscribers. I am
pretty sure that his word about all this would have
been that he could not quite see what was meant by
the talk about novels being moral or the reverse ;
that a novel could no more propose to itself to be
moral than a painting or a symphony, and that it was
arbitrary to lay down a distinction between the
numerous forms of art. He was the last man to be
blind to their unity. I suspect that he would have
said, in short, that distinctions were demanded in the
interest of the moralists, and that the demand was
indelicate, owing to their want of jurisdiction. Yet
at the same time that I make this suggestion as to
his state of mind I remember how little he struck
me as bound by mere neatness of formula, how little
there was in him of the partisan or the pleader.
What he thought of the relation of art to life his
stories, after all, show better than anything else. The


immense variety of life was ever present to his mind,
and he would never have argued the question I have
just hinted at in the interest of particular liberties
the liberties that were apparently the dearest to his
French confreres. It was this air that he carried
about with him of feeling all the variety of life, of
knowing strange and far-off things, of having an
horizon in which the Parisian horizon so familiar,
so wanting in mystery, so perpetually exploit easily
lost itself, that distinguished him from these com-
panions. He was not all there, as the phrase is ; he
had something behind, in reserve. It was Russia, of
course, in a large measure ; and, especially before the
spectacle of what is going on there to-day, that was
a large quantity. But so far as he was on the
spot, he was an element of pure sociability.

I did not intend to go into these details immedi-
ately, for I had only begun to say what an impression
of magnificent manhood he made upon me when I
first knew him. That impression, indeed, always re-
mained with me, even after it had been brought
home to me how much there was in him of the
quality of genius. He was a beautiful intellect, of
course, but above all he was a delightful, mild,
masculine figure. The combination of his deep, soft,
lovable spirit, in which one felt all the tender parts
of genius, with his immense, fair Russian physique,
was one of the most attractive things conceivable.
He had a frame which would have made it perfectly
lawful, and even becoming, for him to be brutal ; but


there was not a grain of brutality in his composition.
He had always been a passionate sportsman ; to
wander in the woods or the steppes, with his dog and
gun, was the pleasure of his heart. Late in life he
continued to shoot, and he had a friend in Cambridge-
shire for the sake of whose partridges, which were
famous, he used sometimes to cross the Channel. It
would have been impossible to imagine a better
representation of a Nimrod of the north. He was
exceedingly tall, and broad and robust in proportion.
His head was one of the finest, and though the line
of his features was irregular, there was a great deal
of beauty in his face. It was eminently of the
Russian type almost everything in it was wide.
His expression had a singular sweetness, with a
touch of Slav languor, and his eye, the kindest of
eyes, was deep and melancholy. His hair, abundant
and straight, was as white as silver, and his beard,
which he wore trimmed rather short, was of the
colour of his hair. In all his tall person, which was
very striking wherever it appeared, there was an air
of neglected strength, as if it had been a part of his
modesty never to remind himself that he was strong.
He used sometimes to blush like a boy of sixteen.
He had very few forms and ceremonies, and almost
as little manner as was possible to a man of his
natural prestance. His noble appearance was in itself
a manner ; but whatever he did he did very simply,
and he had not the slightest pretension to not being
subject to rectification. I never saw any one receive


it with less irritation. Friendly, candid, unaffectedly
benignant, the impression that he produced most
strongly and most generally was, I think, simply that
of goodness.

When I made his acquaintance he had been living,
since his removal from Baden-Baden, which took
place in consequence of the Franco-Prussian war, in a
large detached house on the hill of Montmartre, with
his friends of many years, Madame Pauline Viardot
and her husband, as his fellow-tenants. He occupied
the upper floor, and I like to recall, for the sake of
certain delightful talks, the aspect of his little green
sitting-room, which has, in memory, the consecration
of irrecoverable hours. It was almost entirely green,
and the walls were not covered with paper, but draped
in stuff. The portikres were green, and there was one
of those immense divans, so indispensable to Russians,
which had apparently been fashioned for the great
person of the master, so that smaller folk had to lie
upon it rather than sit. I remember the white light
of the Paris street, which came in through windows
more or less blinded in their lower part, like those
of a studio. It rested, during the first years that
I went to see Turgenieff, upon several choice pic-
tures of the modern French school, especially upon
a very fine specimen of Theodore Eousseau, which he
valued exceedingly. He had a great love of painting,
and was an excellent critic of a picture. The last
time I saw him it was at his house in the country
he showed me half a dozen large copies of Italian


works, made by a young Russian in whom he was
interested, which he had, with characteristic kindness,
taken into his own apartments in order that he
might bring them to the knowledge of his friends.
He thought them, as copies, remarkable ; and they
were so, indeed, especially when one perceived that
the original work of the artist had little value.
Turgenieff warmed to the work of praising them, as
he was very apt to do ; like all men of imagination
he had frequent and zealous admirations. As a
matter of course there was almost always some
young Eussian in whom he was interested, and
refugees and pilgrims of both sexes were his natural
clients. I have heard it said by persons who had
known him long and well that these enthusiasms
sometimes led him into error, that he was apt to se
monter la tete on behalf of his proteges. He was prone
to believe that he had discovered the coming Eussian
genius ; he talked about his discovery for a month,
and then suddenly one heard no more of it. I
remember his once telling me of a young woman who
had come to see him on her return from America,
where she had been studying obstetrics at some
medical college, and who, without means and without
friends, was in want of help and of work. He
accidentally learned that she had written something,
and asked her to let him see it. She sent it to him,
and it proved to be a tale in which certain phases
of rural life were described with striking truthful-
ness. He perceived in the young lady a great


natural talent ; he sent her story off to Russia to be
printed, with the conviction that it would make a
great impression, and he expressed the hope of being
able to introduce her to French readers. When I
mentioned this to an old friend of Turg6nieff he
smiled, and said that we should not hear of her again,
that Ivan Sergueltch had already discovered a great
many surprising talents, which, as a general thing,
had not borne the test. There was apparently some
truth in this, and Turg^nieffs liability to be deceived was
too generous a weakness for me to hesitate to allude to
it, even after I have insisted on the usual certainty of
his taste. He was deeply interested in his young
Russians ; they were what interested him most in
the world. They were almost always unhappy, in
want and in rebellion against an order of things
which he himself detested. The study of the Russian
character absorbed and fascinated him, as all readers
of his stories know. Rich, unformed, undeveloped,
with all sorts of adumbrations, of qualities in a state
of fusion, it stretched itself out as a mysterious
expanse in which it was impossible as yet to perceive
the relation between gifts and weaknesses. Of its
weaknesses he was keenly conscious, and I once heard
him express himself with an energy that did him
honour and a frankness that even surprised me (con-
sidering that it was of his countrymen that he spoke),
in regard to a weakness which he deemed the greatest
of all a weakness for which a man whose love of
veracity was his strongest feeling would have least


toleration. His young compatriots, seeking their
fortune in foreign lands, touched his imagination and
his pity, and it is easy to conceive that under the
circumstances the impression they often made upon
him may have had great intensity. The Parisian
background, with its brilliant sameness, its absence
of surprises (for those who have known it long),
threw them into relief and made him see them as he
saw the figures in his tales, in relations, in situations
which brought them out. There passed before him
in the course of time many wonderful Kussian types.
He told me once of his having been visited by a
religious sect. The sect consisted of but two persons,
one of whom was the object of worship and the
other the worshipper. The divinity apparently was
travelling about Europe in company with his prophet.
They were intensely serious but it was very handy,
as the term is, for each. The god had always his
altar and the altar had (unlike some altars) always
its god.

In his little green salon nothing was out of place ;
there were none of the odds and ends of the usual
man of letters, which indeed Turgenieff was not; and
the case was the same in his library at Bougival, of
which I shall presently speak. Few books even
were visible ; it was as if everything had been put
away. The traces of work had been carefully
removed. An air of great comfort, an immeasurable
divan and several valuable pictures that was the
effect of the place. I know not exactly at what


hours Turgenieff did his work ; I think he had no
regular times and seasons, being in this respect as
different as possible from Anthony Trollope, whose
autobiography, with its candid revelation of intel-
lectual economies, is so curious. It is my impression
that in Paris Turge'nieff wrote little ; his times of
production being rather those weeks of the summer
that he spent at Bougival, and the period of that
visit to Russia which he supposed himself to make
every year. I say "supposed himself," because it
was impossible to see much of him without discover-
ing that he was a man of delays. As on the part of
some other Russians whom I have known, there
was something Asiatic in his faculty of procrastina-
tion. But even if one suffered from it a little one
thought of it with kindness, as a part of his general
mildness and want of rigidity. He went to Russia,
at any rate, at intervals not infrequent, and he
spoke of these visits as his best time for produc-
tion. He had an estate far in the interior, and
here, amid the stillness of the country and the
scenes and figures which give such a charm to the
Memoirs of a Sportsman, he drove his pen without

It is not out of place to allude to the fact that he
possessed considerable fortune ; this is too important
in the life of a man of letters. It had been of great
value to Turge'nieff, and I think that much of the
fine quality of his work is owing to it. He could
write according to his taste and his mood ; he was


never pressed nor checked (putting the Russian
censorship aside) by considerations foreign to his
plan, and never was in danger of becoming a hack.
Indeed, taking into consideration the absence of a
pecuniary spur and that complicated indolence from
which he was not exempt, his industry is surprising,
for his tales are a long list. In Paris, at all events,
he was always open to proposals for the midday
breakfast. He liked to breakfast au cabaret, and
freely consented to an appointment. It is not un-
kind to add that, at first, he never kept it. I
may mention without reserve this idiosyncrasy of
TurgeniefPs, because in the first place it was so
inveterate as to be very amusing it amused not
only his friends but himself ; and in the second, he
was as sure to come in the end as he was sure not
to come in the beginning. After the appointment
had been made or the invitation accepted, when the
occasion was at hand, there arrived a note or a tele-
gram in which Ivan Sergueitch excused himself, and
begged that the meeting might be deferred to another
date, which he usually himself proposed. For this
second date still another was sometimes substituted;
but if I remember no appointment that he exactly
kept, I remember none that he completely missed.
His friends waited for him frequently, but they
never lost him. He was very fond of that wonder-
ful Parisian ddjefiner fond of it I mean as a feast
of reason. He was extremely temperate, and often
ate no breakfast at all ; but he found it a good hour


for talk, and little, on general grounds, as one might
be prepared to agree with him, if he was at the table
one was speedily convinced. I call it wonderful, the
ddjedn&r of Paris, on account of the assurance with
which it plants itself in the very middle of the
morning. It divides the day between rising and
dinner so unequally, and opposes such barriers of
repletion to any prospect of ulterior labours, that
the unacclimated stranger wonders when the fertile
French people do their work. Not the least wonder-
ful part of it is that the stranger himself likes it, at
last, and manages to piece together his day with the
shattered fragments that survive. It was not, at
any rate, when one had the good fortune to breakfast
at twelve o'clock with Turgenieff that one was struck
with its being an inconvenient hour. Any hour was
convenient for meeting a human being who conformed
so completely to one's idea of the best that human
nature is capable of. There are places in Paris
which I can think of only in relation to some occasion
on which he was present, and when I pass them the
particular things I heard him say there come back to
me. There is a cafe in the Avenue de FOpera a
new, sumptuous establishment, with very deep settees,
on the right as you leave the Boulevard where I
once had a talk with him, over an order singularly
moderate, which was prolonged far into the after-
noon, and in the course of which he was extra-
ordinarily suggestive and interesting, so that my
memory now reverts affectionately to all the circum-


stances. It evokes the grey damp of a Parisian
December, which made the dark interior of the caf6
look more and more rich and hospitable, while the
light faded, the lamps were lit, the habitues came in
to drink absinthe and play their afternoon game of
dominoes, and we still lingered over our morning
meal. Turgenieff talked almost exclusively about
Russia, the nihilists, the remarkable figures that
came to light among them, the curious visits he
received, the dark prospects of his native land.
When he was in the vein, no man could speak more
to the imagination of his auditor. For myself, at
least, at such times, there was something extra-
ordinarily vivifying and stimulating in his talk, and
I always left him in a state of " intimate " excite-
ment, with a feeling that all sorts of valuable things
had been suggested to me ; the condition in which a
man swings his cane as he walks, leaps lightly over
gutters, and then stops, for no reason at all, to look,
with an air of being struck, into a shop window where
he sees nothing. I remember another symposium, at
a restaurant on one of the corners of the little place
in front of the Opera Comique, where we were four,
including Ivan Sergu&tch, and the two other guests
were also Russian, one of them uniting to the charm
of this nationality the merit of a sex that makes the
combination irresistible. The establishment had
been a discovery of Turg6nieff's a discovery, at
least, as far as our particular needs were concerned
and I remember that we hardly congratulated him


on it. The dinner, in a low entresol, was not what
it had been intended to be, but the talk was better
even than our expectations. It was not about
nihilism but about some more agreeable features of
life, and I have no recollection of Turge"niefF in a
mood more spontaneous and charming. One of our
friends had, when he spoke French, a peculiar way
of sounding the word adorable, which was frequently
on his lips, and I remember well his expressive pro-
longation of the a when, in speaking of the occasion
afterwards, he applied this term to Ivan Sergu6itch.
I scarcely know, however, why I should drop into
the detail of such reminiscences, and my excuse is
but the desire that we all have, when a human
relationship is closed, to save a little of it from the
past to make a mark which may stand for some of
the happy moments of it.

Nothing that Turg^nieff had to say could be more
interesting than his talk about his own work, his
manner of writing. What I have heard him tell of
these things was worthy of the beautiful results he
produced ; of the deep purpose, pervading them all,
to show us life itself. The germ of a story, with
him, was never an affair of plot that was the last
thing he thought of : it was the representation of
certain persons. The first form in which a tale
appeared to him was as the figure of an individual,
or a combination of individuals, whom he wished to
see in action, being sure that such people must do
something very special and interesting. They stood


before him -definite, vivid, and he wished to know,
and to show, as much as possible of their nature.
The first thing was to make clear to himself what he
did know, to begin with ; and to this end, he wrote out
a sort of biography of each of his characters, and every-
thing that they had done and that had happened to
them up to the opening of the story. He had their
dossier, as the French say, and as the police has of
that of every conspicuous criminal. With this
material in his hand he was able to proceed; the
story all lay in the question, What shall I make them
do ? He always made them do things that showed
them completely ; but, as he said, the defect of his
manner and the reproach that was made him was his
want of " architecture " in other words, of composi-
tion. The great thing, of course, is to have architecture

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Online LibraryHenry JamesPartial portraits → online text (page 18 of 24)