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Alexander Sergueievitch Pushkin came of a noble family, so ancient that it was traced back to that Alexander Nevsky who, in the thirteenth century, gained a great victory over the Swedes upon the ice of the River Neva, in token whereof he was surnamed "Nevsky" of the Neva.

His mother, Nadejda Ossipovna Hannibal, was the grand-daughter of Abraham Petrovitch Hannibal, Peter the Great's famous negro. His father, Surguei Lvovitch Pushkin, was a frivolous man of pleasure.

The poet was born on the 26th of May, 1799, at Moscow. He was an awkward and a silent child. He was educated by French tutors. A poor scholar, he read with eagerness whatever he could get in his father's library, chiefly the works of French authors. His brother states that at eleven years old Pushkin knew French literature by heart. This cannot, of course, be taken[Pg 2] literally; but it shows under what influence he grew up. In October, 1811, he entered the Lyceum of Tsarskoe Selo. Among the students a society was soon formed, whose members were united by friendship and by a taste for literature. They brought out several periodicals, in which tales and poems formed the chief features. Of this society (the late Prince Gortchakoff belonged to it) Pushkin was the leading spirit. His first printed poem appeared in the Messenger of Europe in 1814. At a public competition in 1815, at which the veteran poet Derjavin was present, Pushkin read his "Memories of Tsarskoe Selo." This poem, which contains many beautiful passages, so delighted Derjavin, that he wished to embrace the young author; but Pushkin fled in confusion from the hall.

In June, 1817, Pushkin's free and careless student life ended. After finishing his course at the Lyceum he went to St. Petersburg, and, though he entered thoroughly into the dissipated pleasures of its turbulent youth, he still clung to the intellectual society of such men as Jukovsky and Karamsin, men occupied in literature, whose friendship he valued very highly.

At that time society was much disturbed. Political clubs were everywhere being formed. In every drawing-room new views were freely and openly advanced; and in these discussions the[Pg 3] satire and brilliant verse of Pushkin attracted general attention. These at last brought him into great danger. But Karamsin came to his rescue, and managed to get him an appointment at Ekaterinoslavl, in the office of the Chief Inspector of the Southern Settlements. There he remained till 1824, travelling from place to place, first with the Raevskys to the Caucasus, and thence again with them through the Crimea. This journey gave him materials for his "Prisoner of the Caucasus," and "Fountain of Bachtchisarai." Both poems reveal the influence of Byron.

Towards the end of 1820 he went to Bessarabia with his chief, who had just been appointed viceroy of the province. Once, on account of some quarrel, this person, Insoff by name, sent Pushkin to Ismail. There the poet joined a band of gypsies and remained with them for some time in the Steppes. In 1823 he went to Odessa, having been transferred to the office of the new governor-general, Count Vorontsoff, who succeeded Insoff.

Here he wrote part of "Evguenie Onegin," a sort of Russian "Don Juan," full of sublime passages and varied by satire and bitter scorn. This work has lately been formed the subject of a very successful opera by Tchaikovski, who took from Pushkin's poems a story now known and admired by every educated Russian.

The poet, however, did not get on with his new[Pg 4] chief. A scathing epigram upon Vorontsoff led the count to ask for Pushkin's removal from Odessa, "where," he said, "excessive flattery had turned the young maids head."

Pushkin had to resign; and early in August, 1824, he was sent into retirement to live under the supervision of the local authorities at Michailovskoe, a village belonging to his father in the province of Pskoff. Here the elder Pushkin kept a petty watch over his son, whom he regarded as a perverted nature and, indeed, a kind of monster.

In October, however, the father left Michailovskoe, and the poet remained alone with Arina Rodionovna, an old woman who had nursed him in childhood, and whose tales had first inspired him with a love of Russian popular poetry. At Michailovskoe, Pushkin continued his "Evguenie Onegin," finished "The Gypsies," and wrote the drama of "Boris Godunoff." Here he lived more than two years—years of seclusion following a long period of town life and dissipation.

These two years spent in the simple, pleasant company of country neighbours proved a turning point in his career. Now for the first time he had leisure to look about him, to meditate, and to rest.

He had come into the country with a passionate love for everything that showed the feeling or fancy of the Russian peasant. His taste for popular poetry was insatiable. He listened to his[Pg 5] old nurse's stories, collected and noted down songs, studied the habits and customs of Russian villages, and began a serious study of Russian history. All this helped greatly to develop the popular side of his genius. He afterwards relinquished his earlier models of the romantic school, and sought a simpler, truer inspiration in the pages of Shakespeare.

Writing to a friend, Bashkin says that he has brought up from the country to Moscow the two last cantos of "Evguenie Onegin," ready for the press, a poem called "The Little House at Kolomna," and several dramatic scenes, including "The Miser Knight," "Mozart and Salieri," "The Beast during the Plague" and "The Commander's Statue."

"Besides that," he goes on to say, "I have written about thirty short poems, Nor is that, all, I have also (a great secret) written some prose—five short tales."

Fortunately for him, Pushkin was living in the country, when, in December, 1825, the insurrection and military revolt against the Emperor Nicholas, who had just ascended the throne, broke out at St. Petersburg.

Pushkin was affiliated to the secret society, with Pestle and Ryleieff at its head, which had organised the rebellion; and, on receiving a summons from his confederates, he started for the[Pg 6] capital. So, at least, says Alexander Herzen in his curious "Development of Revolutionary Ideas in Russia." On leaving his country house, Pushkin met three ill omens. First a hare crossed his path, next he saw a priest, and, finally, he met a funeral. He went on, however, towards Moscow, and there learned that the insurrection had been crushed. The five principal leaders were executed, and whole families were exiled to Siberia.

In September, 1826, the Emperor Nicholas had an interview with Pushkin at Moscow. Pushkin replied simply and frankly to all the Tsar's questions, and the latter at last promised in future to be himself sole censor of the poet's works.

Pushkin remained at Moscow till about the end of the winter of 1827, when he was allowed to go to St. Petersburg. There he afterwards chiefly resided, returning sometimes to the country to work, usually in autumn, when his power of production, he said, was strongest.

In the summer of 1829 Pushkin visited the Army of the Caucasus then operating against the Turks. He describes his experiences in his "Journey to Erzeroum."

On the 18th of February, 1831, he married Natalia Nikolaevna Gontcharova, and soon afterwards received a Foreign Office appointment with a salary of 5,000 roubles.

In August, 1833, meaning to write a novel on[Pg 7] the Pugatcheff Insurrection, Pushkin paid a short visit to Kazan and Orenburg to acquaint himself with the locality and collect materials. But his tale, "The Captain's Daughter," appeared considerably later.

Pushkin and his wife were invited to the court balls, and the Emperor was very gracious and attentive to the poet.

This roused the jealousy of the court nobles, though in descent Pushkin was not inferior to many of them. The studied hauteur of these personages caused the poet much irritation, and led him to waste much energy on petty struggles for social precedence. He was, moreover, constantly in lack of means to meet the expenses attending his position. Partly on this account he undertook, in 1836, the editorship of the Contemporary Review, and continued it until his death. In the four numbers issued under his care, Pushkin published original articles, besides the translations then so much in vogue.

All the publications of that time were made to serve the personal aims of their editor. It was useless to seek in them impartiality. Pushkin's criticism, however, were independent, and for this reason they made a deep impression. On starting his Review he had taken great care to entrust the criticism to a small circle of the most accomplished writers.

[Pg 8]

Pushkin's correspondence throws full light on his character, and reveals it as frank, sincere, and independent. His letters show that he had original ideas on literature, on contemporary politics, on social and domestic relations, and, in short, on every subject. These views were always clear and independent of party.

During his later years the poet felt a longing for the country. As early as 1835 he petitioned for some years' leave in order that he might retire from the capital. In his last poem, "To my Wife," he says how weary he is of noisy town existence and how he longs for rest.

At the end of 1836 scandals were circulated at St. Petersburg about his wife. Dantès von Heckeeren, an officer in the Horse Guards, began openly to pay her attention. Pushkin and many of his friends received anonymous letters maliciously hinting at Dantès success. Dantès's father, a dissipated old man, threw oil upon the flames. Meeting Madame Pushkin in society, he did his best to make her quarrel with, and leave her husband.

All this being repeated to Pushkin, greatly incensed him. He challenged young Heckeeren, but the latter made an offer to Madame Pushkin's sister, and married her. This did little to mend matters. Pushkin withdrew the challenge, but nursed his hatred for Dantès, and would not receive him in his house.

[Pg 9]

Meanwhile the scandal grew, and the two Heckeerens continued their persecution of Madame Pushkin. In society, Dantès was said to have married the sister-in-law only to pay court to the wife. Pushkin, always convinced of his wife's innocence, showed for her the tenderest consideration. He wrote, however, a very insulting letter to old Heckeeren after which a duel between Pushkin and the son became inevitable. It was fought on the banks of the Black Elver, near the commandant of St. Petersburg's summer residence. After it Dantès Heckeeren, no longer able to remain in Russia, resigned his commission and went to France, where he took up politics, and, as Baron d'Heckeeren, was known as a senator in the Second Empire.

Pushkin was already wounded in the body when he fired at Dantès, and hit the arm with which Dantès had guarded his breast.

"At six o'clock in the afternoon," writes Jukovsky, to the poet's father, "Alexander was brought home in a hopeless condition by Lieutenant—Colonel Dansasse, the old schoolfellow who had acted as his second. The butler carried him from the carriage into the house.

"It grieves you, my friend," said Pushkin, "to see me thus?" Then he asked for clean linen. While he was undressing, Madame Pushkin, not knowing what had happened,[Pg 10] wished to come in. But her husband called out loudly, "N'entrez pas, il y a du monde chez moi." He was afraid of alarming her. She was not admitted till he was already lying on the couch.

"How happy I am," were his first words to her; "I am still alive, with you by my side. Be comforted, you are not to blame. I know it was not your fault." Meanwhile he did not let her know that his wound was serious. Doctors were sent for—Scholtz and Sadler came. Pushkin asked everyone to leave the room.

"I am in a bad way," he said, holding out his hand to Scholtz. After examining him Sadler went off to fetch the necessary instruments. Left alone with Scholtz, Pushkin inquired what he thought of his condition.

"Tell me candidly."

"You are in danger."

"Say, rather, that I am dying."

"It is my duty not to conceal from you even that," replied Scholtz. "But we shall have the opinion of the other doctors who have been sent for."

"Je vous remercie; vous avez agi en honnête homme envers moi," said Pushkin; adding after a pause, "Il faut que j'arrange ma maison."

"Do you wish to see any of your family?" asked Scholtz.

[Pg 11]

"Farewell, my friends," said Pushkin, looking towards his books.

Whether at that moment he was taking leave of animate or inanimate friends I know not. After another pause, he said:

"Do you think I shall not last another hour?"

"No. But I thought you might like to see some of your friends."

He asked for several. When Spaski (another doctor) came near and tried to give him hope, Pushkin waved his hand in dissent, and from that moment apparently ceased to think about himself. All his anxiety was for his wife. By this time Prince and Princess Viasemsky, Turgueneff, Count Vielgorsky, and myself had come. Princess Viasemsky was with the wife, who, in terrible distress, glided like a spectre in and out of the room where her husband lay. He was on a couch with his back to the window and door, and unable to see her; though every time she entered or merely stood in the doorway he was conscious of it.

"Is my wife here?" he asked; "take her away." He was afraid to let her come near him lest she should be pained by his sufferings, though he bore them with wonderful fortitude.

"What is my wife doing?" he asked once of Spaski. "She, poor thing, is suffering innocently. Society will devour her!"

"I have been in thirty battles," said Dr. Arendt;[Pg 12] "and I have seen many men die, but very few like him."

It was strange how in those last hours of his existence he seemed to have changed. The storm which only a few hours before had raged so fiercely in him had disappeared, leaving no trace behind. In the midst of his suffering he recollected that he had the day before received an invitation to attend the funeral of one of Gretcheff's sons.

"If you see Gretcheff," he said to Spaski, "give him my kind regards, and tell him how sincerely I sympathise with him in his affliction."

Asked to confess and to receive the sacrament, Pushkin assented gladly. It was settled that the priest should be invited to come in the morning.

At midnight, Dr. Arendt came from the palace, where he had been to inform the Emperor. His Majesty was at the theatre, and Arendt left instructions that on his return the Emperor should be told what had occurred. About midnight a mounted messenger arrived for Arendt. The Emperor desired him to go at once to Pushkin, and read to him an autograph letter which the messenger brought. He was then to hasten to the palace and report upon Pushkin's condition.

"I shall not go to bed; I shall wait up for you," wrote the Emperor Nicholas. "And bring back my letter."

[Pg 13]

The note was as follows:

"If it will be the will of God that we shall not meet again, I send you my pardon, and advise you to receive the last Christian rites. As to your wife and children, they need cause you no anxiety. I take them under my own protection."

The dying man immediately complied with the Emperor's wish. A priest was sent for from the nearest church. Pushkin confessed and received the sacrament with great reverence. When Arendt read the Emperor's letter to him, Pushkin took hold of it and kissed it again and again.

"Give me the letter; I wish to die with it. The letter; where is the letter?" he called out to Arendt, who was unable to leave it with him, but tried to pacify him by promising to ask the Emperor's permission to bring it back again.

At five in the morning the patient's anguish grew overpowering. The sufferer began to groan, and Arendt was again sent for. But all efforts to soothe the pain were futile. Had his wife heard his cries I am sure she must have gone mad; she could never have borne the agony. At the first great cry of pain the Princess Viasemsky, who was in the room, rushed towards her, fearing the effect. But Madame Pushkin lay motionless on a sofa close to the door which separated her from her husband's death-bed.[Pg 14] According to both Spaski and Arendt the dying man stifled his cries at the moment of supreme anguish, and only groaned in fear lest his wife might hear him and suffer. To the last Pushkin's mind remained clear and his memory fresh. Before the next great paroxysm he asked for a paper in his own writing and had it burnt. Then he dictated to Dansasse a list of some debts, but this exertion prostrated him. When, between the paroxysms, some bread sop was brought, he said to Spaski:

"My wife! call my wife. Let her give it me."

She entered, dropped on her knees by his side, and after lifting a couple of spoonfuls to his mouth, leant her cheek against his. He caressed and patted her head.

"Come, come," he said, "I am all right. Thank God, all is going on well. Go now."

His calm expression of face and steady voice deceived the poor wife. She came out of his room bright with hope. He asked for his children. They were brought in half asleep: He blessed each one, making the sign of the cross, and placing his hand on their head; then he motioned to have them taken away. Afterwards he asked for his friends who were present. I then approached and took his hand, which was already cold, and inquired if I should give any message to the Emperor.

[Pg 15]

"Say that I am sorry I am leaving him. I should have been devoted to him."

On the 29th of January, at three in the afternoon, after two days of excruciating pain, Pushkin died. His death was regarded throughout Russia as a public calamity. In St. Petersburg disturbances were feared. It was thought that the people might lynch Heckeeren and his son. A secret funeral was arranged. The body was carried into the church late at night in the presence of some friends and relations; and in the neighbouring courtyards piquets were stationed. After the service the corpse was despatched to the province of Pskoff, and was buried in the monastery of the Assumption at Sviatogorsk, near Pushkin's property at Michailovskoe. The Emperor gave about 150,000 roubles to pay his debts and to bring out a complete edition of his works, besides granting a liberal pension to the widow.

On the 6th of June, 1880, was solemnly unveiled at Moscow a statue of Pushkin, erected by voluntary subscriptions from all parts of Russia.

Pushkin was slim and of middle height; in childhood his hair was fair and curly, but afterwards it turned dark brown. His eyes were light blue, his smile satirical, but good-natured and pleasant; his clever, expressive face bore evidence of his African descent, as did his quick and[Pg 16] passionate nature. He was irritable, but kind and full of feeling; his conversation sparkled with wit and good humour, and his memory was prodigious. Pushkin, it has already been said, was of ancient lineage, but no Russian is sufficiently well-born to marry into the Imperial family, and when quite recently the Grand Duke Michael, grandson of the Emperor Nicholas, married without permission the granddaughter of Pushkin, he caused the liveliest dissatisfaction in the highest quarters. The bride may console herself by the reflection that her grandfather was, in the words of Gogol, "a rare phenomenon; a writer who gave to his country poems so admirable that they attracted the attention of the whole civilised world; a poet who won respect and love for the language, for the living Russian types, the customs, and national character of Russia. Such a writer is indeed a rarity."

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