By Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (Trans. by D. J. Hogarth)
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org.
NIKOLAI VASILIEVICH GOGOL
D. J. Hogarth
Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, born at Sorochintsky, Russia, on 31st March 1809. Obtained government post at St. Petersburg and later an appointment at the university. Lived in Rome from 1836 to 1848. Died on 21st February 1852.
The book this was typed from contains a complete Part I, and a partial Part II, as it seems only part of Part II survived the adventures described in the introduction. Where the text notes that pages are missing from the “original”, this refers to the Russian original, not the translation.
All the foreign words were italicised in the original, a style not preserved here. Accents and diphthongs have also been left out.
Dead Souls, first published in 1842, is the great prose classic of Russia. That amazing institution, “the Russian novel,” not only began its career with this unfinished masterpiece by Nikolai Vasil’evich Gogol, but practically all the Russian masterpieces that have come since have grown out of it, like the limbs of a single tree. Dostoieffsky goes so far as to bestow this tribute upon an earlier work by the same author, a short story entitled The Cloak; this idea has been wittily expressed by another compatriot, who says: “We have all issued out of Gogol’s Cloak.”
Dead Souls, which bears the word “Poem” upon the title page of the original, has been generally compared to Don Quixote and to the Pickwick Papers, while E. M. Vogue places its author somewhere between Cervantes and Le Sage. However considerable the influences of Cervantes and Dickens may have been–the first in the matter of structure, the other in background, humour, and detail of characterisation–the predominating and distinguishing quality of the work is undeniably something foreign to both and quite peculiar to itself; something which, for want of a better term, might be called the quality of the Russian soul. The English reader familiar with the works of Dostoieffsky, Turgenev, and Tolstoi, need hardly be told what this implies; it might be defined in the words of the French critic just named as “a tendency to pity.” One might indeed go further and say that it implies a certain tolerance of one’s characters even though they be, in the conventional sense, knaves, products, as the case might be, of conditions or circumstance, which after all is the thing to be criticised and not the man. But pity and tolerance are rare in satire, even in clash with it, producing in the result a deep sense of tragic humour. It is this that makes of Dead Souls a unique work, peculiarly Gogolian, peculiarly Russian, and distinct from its author’s Spanish and English masters.
Still more profound are the contradictions to be seen in the author’s personal character; and unfortunately they prevented him from completing his work. The trouble is that he made his art out of life, and when in his final years he carried his struggle, as Tolstoi did later, back into life, he repented of all he had written, and in the frenzy of a wakeful night burned all his manuscripts, including the second part of Dead Souls, only fragments of which were saved. There was yet a third part to be written. Indeed, the second part had been written and burned twice. Accounts differ as to why he had burned it finally. Religious remorse, fury at adverse criticism, and despair at not reaching ideal perfection are among the reasons given. Again it is said that he had destroyed the manuscript with the others inadvertently.
The poet Pushkin, who said of Gogol that “behind his laughter you feel the unseen tears,” was his chief friend and inspirer. It was he who suggested the plot of Dead Souls as well as the plot of the earlier work The Revisor, which is almost the only comedy in Russian. The importance of both is their introduction of the social element in Russian literature, as Prince Kropotkin points out. Both hold up the mirror to Russian officialdom and the effects it has produced on the national character. The plot of Dead Souls is simple enough, and is said to have been suggested by an actual episode.
It was the day of serfdom in Russia, and a man’s standing was often judged by the numbers of “souls” he possessed. There was a periodical census of serfs, say once every ten or twenty years. This being the case, an owner had to pay a tax on every “soul” registered at the last census, though some of the serfs might have died in the meantime. Nevertheless, the system had its material advantages, inasmuch as an owner might borrow money from a bank on the “dead souls” no less than on the living ones. The plan of Chichikov, Gogol’s hero-villain, was therefore to make a journey through Russia and buy up the “dead souls,” at reduced rates of course, saving their owners the government tax, and acquiring for himself a list of fictitious serfs, which he meant to mortgage to a bank for a considerable sum. With this money he would buy an estate and some real life serfs, and make the beginning of a fortune.
Obviously, this plot, which is really no plot at all but merely a ruse to enable Chichikov to go across Russia in a troika, with Selifan the coachman as a sort of Russian Sancho Panza, gives Gogol a magnificent opportunity to reveal his genius as a painter of Russian panorama, peopled with characteristic native types commonplace enough but drawn in comic relief. “The comic,” explained the author yet at the beginning of his career, “is hidden everywhere, only living in the midst of it we are not conscious of it; but if the artist brings it into his art, on the stage say, we shall roll about with laughter and only wonder we did not notice it before.” But the comic in Dead Souls is merely external. Let us see how Pushkin, who loved to laugh, regarded the work. As Gogol read it aloud to him from the manuscript the poet grew more and more gloomy and at last cried out: “God! What a sad country Russia is!” And later he said of it: “Gogol invents nothing; it is the simple truth, the terrible truth.”
The work on one hand was received as nothing less than an exposure of all Russia–what would foreigners think of it? The liberal elements, however, the critical Belinsky among them, welcomed it as a revelation, as an omen of a freer future. Gogol, who had meant to do a service to Russia and not to heap ridicule upon her, took the criticisms of the Slavophiles to heart; and he palliated his critics by promising to bring about in the succeeding parts of his novel the redemption of Chichikov and the other “knaves and blockheads.” But the “Westerner” Belinsky and others of the liberal camp were mistrustful. It was about this time (1847) that Gogol published his Correspondence with Friends, and aroused a literary controversy that is alive to this day. Tolstoi is to be found among his apologists.
Opinions as to the actual significance of Gogol’s masterpiece differ. Some consider the author a realist who has drawn with meticulous detail a picture of Russia; others, Merejkovsky among them, see in him a great symbolist; the very title Dead Souls is taken to describe the living of Russia as well as its dead. Chichikov himself is now generally regarded as a universal character. We find an American professor, William Lyon Phelps, of Yale, holding the opinion that “no one can travel far in America without meeting scores of Chichikovs; indeed, he is an accurate portrait of the American promoter, of the successful commercial traveller whose success depends entirely not on the real value and usefulness of his stock-in-trade, but on his knowledge of human nature and of the persuasive power of his tongue.” This is also the opinion held by Prince Kropotkin, who says: “Chichikov may buy dead souls, or railway shares, or he may collect funds for some charitable institution, or look for a position in a bank, but he is an immortal international type; we meet him everywhere; he is of all lands and of all times; he but takes different forms to suit the requirements of nationality and time.”
 Essays on Russian Novelists. Macmillan.
 Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature. Duckworth and Co.
Again, the work bears an interesting relation to Gogol himself. A romantic, writing of realities, he was appalled at the commonplaces of life, at finding no outlet for his love of colour derived from his Cossack ancestry. He realised that he had drawn a host of “heroes,” “one more commonplace than another, that there was not a single palliating circumstance, that there was not a single place where the reader might find pause to rest and to console himself, and that when he had finished the book it was as though he had walked out of an oppressive cellar into the open air.” He felt perhaps inward need to redeem Chichikov; in Merejkovsky’s opinion he really wanted to save his own soul, but had succeeded only in losing it. His last years were spent morbidly; he suffered torments and ran from place to place like one hunted; but really always running from himself. Rome was his favourite refuge, and he returned to it again and again. In 1848, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but he could find no peace for his soul. Something of this mood had reflected itself even much earlier in the Memoirs of a Madman: “Oh, little mother, save your poor son! Look how they are tormenting him. . . . There’s no place for him on earth! He’s being driven! . . . Oh, little mother, take pity on thy poor child.”
All the contradictions of Gogol’s character are not to be disposed of in a brief essay. Such a strange combination of the tragic and the comic was truly seldom seen in one man. He, for one, realised that “it is dangerous to jest with laughter.” “Everything that I laughed at became sad.” “And terrible,” adds Merejkovsky. But earlier his humour was lighter, less tinged with the tragic; in those days Pushkin never failed to be amused by what Gogol had brought to read to him. Even Revizor (1835), with its tragic undercurrent, was a trifle compared to Dead Souls, so that one is not astonished to hear that not only did the Tsar, Nicholas I, give permission to have it acted, in spite of its being a criticism of official rottenness, but laughed uproariously, and led the applause. Moreover, he gave Gogol a grant of money, and asked that its source should not be revealed to the author lest “he might feel obliged to write from the official point of view.”
Gogol was born at Sorotchinetz, Little Russia, in March 1809. He left college at nineteen and went to St. Petersburg, where he secured a position as copying clerk in a government department. He did not keep his position long, yet long enough to store away in his mind a number of bureaucratic types which proved useful later. He quite suddenly started for America with money given to him by his mother for another purpose, but when he got as far as Lubeck he turned back. He then wanted to become an actor, but his voice proved not strong enough. Later he wrote a poem which was unkindly received. As the copies remained unsold, he gathered them all up at the various shops and burned them in his room.
His next effort, Evenings at the Farm of Dikanka (1831) was more successful. It was a series of gay and colourful pictures of Ukraine, the land he knew and loved, and if he is occasionally a little over romantic here and there, he also achieves some beautifully lyrical passages. Then came another even finer series called Mirgorod, which won the admiration of Pushkin. Next he planned a “History of Little Russia” and a “History of the Middle Ages,” this last work to be in eight or nine volumes. The result of all this study was a beautiful and short Homeric epic in prose, called Taras Bulba. His appointment to a professorship in history was a ridiculous episode in his life. After a brilliant first lecture, in which he had evidently said all he had to say, he settled to a life of boredom for himself and his pupils. When he resigned he said joyously: “I am once more a free Cossack.” Between 1834 and 1835 he produced a new series of stories, including his famous Cloak, which may be regarded as the legitimate beginning of the Russian novel.
Gogol knew little about women, who played an equally minor role in his life and in his books. This may be partly because his personal appearance was not prepossessing. He is described by a contemporary as “a little man with legs too short for his body. He walked crookedly; he was clumsy, ill-dressed, and rather ridiculous-looking, with his long lock of hair flapping on his forehead, and his large prominent nose.”
From 1835 Gogol spent almost his entire time abroad; some strange unrest–possibly his Cossack blood–possessed him like a demon, and he never stopped anywhere very long. After his pilgrimage in 1848 to Jerusalem, he returned to Moscow, his entire possessions in a little bag; these consisted of pamphlets, critiques, and newspaper articles mostly inimical to himself. He wandered about with these from house to house. Everything he had of value he gave away to the poor. He ceased work entirely. According to all accounts he spent his last days in praying and fasting. Visions came to him. His death, which came in 1852, was extremely fantastic. His last words, uttered in a loud frenzy, were: “A ladder! Quick, a ladder!” This call for a ladder–“a spiritual ladder,” in the words of Merejkovsky–had been made on an earlier occasion by a certain Russian saint, who used almost the same language. “I shall laugh my bitter laugh” was the inscription placed on Gogol’s grave.
 This is generally referred to in the Russian criticisms of Gogol as a quotation from Jeremiah. It appears upon investigation, however, that it actually occurs only in the Slavonic version from the Greek, and not in the Russian translation made direct from the Hebrew.
Evenings on the Farm near the Dikanka, 1829-31; Mirgorod, 1831-33; Taras Bulba, 1834; Arabesques (includes tales, The Portrait and A Madman’s Diary), 1831-35; The Cloak, 1835; The Revizor (The Inspector- General), 1836; Dead Souls, 1842; Correspondence with Friends, 1847.
ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS: Cossack Tales (The Night of Christmas Eve, Tarass Boolba), trans. by G. Tolstoy, 1860; St. John’s Eve and Other Stories, trans. by Isabel F. Hapgood, New York, Crowell, 1886; Taras Bulba: Also St. John’s Eve and Other Stories, London, Vizetelly, 1887; Taras Bulba, trans. by B. C. Baskerville, London, Scott, 1907; The Inspector: a Comedy, Calcutta, 1890; The Inspector-General, trans. by A. A. Sykes, London, Scott, 1892; Revizor, trans. for the Yale Dramatic Association by Max S. Mandell, New Haven, Conn., 1908; Home Life in Russia (adaptation of Dead Souls), London, Hurst, 1854; Tchitchikoff’s Journey’s; or Dead Souls, trans. by Isabel F. Hapgood, New York, Crowell, 1886; Dead Souls, London, Vizetelly, 1887; Dead Souls, London, Maxwell 1887; Meditations on the Divine Liturgy, trans. by L. Alexeieff, London, A. R. Mowbray and Co., 1913.
LIVES, etc.: (Russian) Kotlyarevsky (N. A.), 1903; Shenrok (V. I.), Materials for a Biography, 1892; (French) Leger (L.), Nicholas Gogol, 1914.
TO THE FIRST PORTION OF THIS WORK
Second Edition published in 1846
From the Author to the Reader
Reader, whosoever or wheresoever you be, and whatsoever be your station–whether that of a member of the higher ranks of society or that of a member of the plainer walks of life–I beg of you, if God shall have given you any skill in letters, and my book shall fall into your hands, to extend to me your assistance.
For in the book which lies before you, and which, probably, you have read in its first edition, there is portrayed a man who is a type taken from our Russian Empire. This man travels about the Russian land and meets with folk of every condition–from the nobly-born to the humble toiler. Him I have taken as a type to show forth the vices and the failings, rather than the merits and the virtues, of the commonplace Russian individual; and the characters which revolve around him have also been selected for the purpose of demonstrating our national weaknesses and shortcomings. As for men and women of the better sort, I propose to portray them in subsequent volumes. Probably much of what I have described is improbable and does not happen as things customarily happen in Russia; and the reason for that is that for me to learn all that I have wished to do has been impossible, in that human life is not sufficiently long to become acquainted with even a hundredth part of what takes place within the borders of the Russian Empire. Also, carelessness, inexperience, and lack of time have led to my perpetrating numerous errors and inaccuracies of detail; with the result that in every line of the book there is something which calls for correction. For these reasons I beg of you, my reader, to act also as my corrector. Do not despise the task, for, however superior be your education, and however lofty your station, and however insignificant, in your eyes, my book, and however trifling the apparent labour of correcting and commenting upon that book, I implore you to do as I have said. And you too, O reader of lowly education and simple status, I beseech you not to look upon yourself as too ignorant to be able in some fashion, however small, to help me. Every man who has lived in the world and mixed with his fellow men will have remarked something which has remained hidden from the eyes of others; and therefore I beg of you not to deprive me of your comments, seeing that it cannot be that, should you read my book with attention, you will have NOTHING to say at some point therein.
For example, how excellent it would be if some reader who is sufficiently rich in experience and the knowledge of life to be acquainted with the sort of characters which I have described herein would annotate in detail the book, without missing a single page, and undertake to read it precisely as though, laying pen and paper before him, he were first to peruse a few pages of the work, and then to recall his own life, and the lives of folk with whom he has come in contact, and everything which he has seen with his own eyes or has heard of from others, and to proceed to annotate, in so far as may tally with his own experience or otherwise, what is set forth in the book, and to jot down the whole exactly as it stands pictured to his memory, and, lastly, to send me the jottings as they may issue from his pen, and to continue doing so until he has covered the entire work! Yes, he would indeed do me a vital service! Of style or beauty of expression he would need to take no account, for the value of a book lies in its truth and its actuality rather than in its wording. Nor would he need to consider my feelings if at any point he should feel minded to blame or to upbraid me, or to demonstrate the harm rather than the good which has been done through any lack of thought or verisimilitude of which I have been guilty. In short, for anything and for everything in the way of criticism I should be thankful.
Also, it would be an excellent thing if some reader in the higher walks of life, some person who stands remote, both by life and by education, from the circle of folk which I have pictured in my book, but who knows the life of the circle in which he himself revolves, would undertake to read my work in similar fashion, and methodically to recall to his mind any members of superior social classes whom he has met, and carefully to observe whether there exists any resemblance between one such class and another, and whether, at times, there may not be repeated in a higher sphere what is done in a lower, and likewise to note any additional fact in the same connection which may occur to him (that is to say, any fact pertaining to the higher ranks of society which would seem to confirm or to disprove his conclusions), and, lastly, to record that fact as it may have occurred within his own experience, while giving full details of persons (of individual manners, tendencies, and customs) and also of inanimate surroundings (of dress, furniture, fittings of houses, and so forth). For I need knowledge of the classes in question, which are the flower of our people. In fact, this very reason–the reason that I do not yet know Russian life in all its aspects, and in the degree to which it is necessary for me to know it in order to become a successful author–is what has, until now, prevented me from publishing any subsequent volumes of this story.
Again, it would be an excellent thing if some one who is endowed with the faculty of imagining and vividly picturing to himself the various situations wherein a character may be placed, and of mentally following up a character’s career in one field and another–by this I mean some one who possesses the power of entering into and developing the ideas of the author whose work he may be reading–would scan each character herein portrayed, and tell me how each character ought to have acted at a given juncture, and what, to judge from the beginnings of each character, ought to have become of that character later, and what new circumstances might be devised in connection therewith, and what new details might advantageously be added to those already described. Honestly can I say that to consider these points against the time when a new edition of my book may be published in a different and a better form would give me the greatest possible pleasure.
One thing in particular would I ask of any reader who may be willing to give me the benefit of his advice. That is to say, I would beg of him to suppose, while recording his remarks, that it is for the benefit of a man in no way his equal in education, or similar to him in tastes and ideas, or capable of apprehending criticisms without full explanation appended, that he is doing so. Rather would I ask such a reader to suppose that before him there stands a man of incomparably inferior enlightenment and schooling–a rude country bumpkin whose life, throughout, has been passed in retirement–a bumpkin to whom it is necessary to explain each circumstance in detail, while never forgetting to be as simple of speech as though he were a child, and at every step there were a danger of employing terms beyond his understanding. Should these precautions be kept constantly in view by any reader undertaking to annotate my book, that reader’s remarks will exceed in weight and interest even his own expectations, and will bring me very real advantage.
Thus, provided that my earnest request be heeded by my readers, and that among them there be found a few kind spirits to do as I desire, the following is the manner in which I would request them to transmit their notes for my consideration. Inscribing the package with my name, let them then enclose that package in a second one addressed either to the Rector of the University of St. Petersburg or to Professor Shevirev of the University of Moscow, according as the one or the other of those two cities may be the nearer to the sender.
Lastly, while thanking all journalists and litterateurs for their previously published criticisms of my book–criticisms which, in spite of a spice of that intemperance and prejudice which is common to all humanity, have proved of the greatest use both to my head and to my heart–I beg of such writers again to favour me with their reviews. For in all sincerity I can assure them that whatsoever they may be pleased to say for my improvement and my instruction will be received by me with naught but gratitude.
To the door of an inn in the provincial town of N. there drew up a smart britchka–a light spring-carriage of the sort affected by bachelors, retired lieutenant-colonels, staff-captains, land-owners possessed of about a hundred souls, and, in short, all persons who rank as gentlemen of the intermediate category. In the britchka was seated such a gentleman–a man who, though not handsome, was not ill-favoured, not over-fat, and not over-thin. Also, though not over-elderly, he was not over-young. His arrival produced no stir in the town, and was accompanied by no particular incident, beyond that a couple of peasants who happened to be standing at the door of a dramshop exchanged a few comments with reference to the equipage rather than to the individual who was seated in it. “Look at that carriage,” one of them said to the other. “Think you it will be going as far as Moscow?” “I think it will,” replied his companion. “But not as far as Kazan, eh?” “No, not as far as Kazan.” With that the conversation ended. Presently, as the britchka was approaching the inn, it was met by a young man in a pair of very short, very tight breeches of white dimity, a quasi-fashionable frockcoat, and a dickey fastened with a pistol-shaped bronze tie-pin. The young man turned his head as he passed the britchka and eyed it attentively; after which he clapped his hand to his cap (which was in danger of being removed by the wind) and resumed his way. On the vehicle reaching the inn door, its occupant found standing there to welcome him the polevoi, or waiter, of the establishment–an individual of such nimble and brisk movement that even to distinguish the character of his face was impossible. Running out with a napkin in one hand and his lanky form clad in a tailcoat, reaching almost to the nape of his neck, he tossed back his locks, and escorted the gentleman upstairs, along a wooden gallery, and so to the bedchamber which God had prepared for the gentleman’s reception. The said bedchamber was of quite ordinary appearance, since the inn belonged to the species to be found in all provincial towns–the species wherein, for two roubles a day, travellers may obtain a room swarming with black-beetles, and communicating by a doorway with the apartment adjoining. True, the doorway may be blocked up with a wardrobe; yet behind it, in all probability, there will be standing a silent, motionless neighbour whose ears are burning to learn every possible detail concerning the latest arrival. The inn’s exterior corresponded with its interior. Long, and consisting only of two storeys, the building had its lower half destitute of stucco; with the result that the dark-red bricks, originally more or less dingy, had grown yet dingier under the influence of atmospheric changes. As for the upper half of the building, it was, of course, painted the usual tint of unfading yellow. Within, on the ground floor, there stood a number of benches heaped with horse-collars, rope, and sheepskins; while the window-seat accommodated a sbitentshik, cheek by jowl with a samovar–the latter so closely resembling the former in appearance that, but for the fact of the samovar possessing a pitch-black lip, the samovar and the sbitentshik might have been two of a pair.
 An urn for brewing honey tea.
 An urn for brewing ordinary tea.
During the traveller’s inspection of his room his luggage was brought into the apartment. First came a portmanteau of white leather whose raggedness indicated that the receptacle had made several previous journeys. The bearers of the same were the gentleman’s coachman, Selifan (a little man in a large overcoat), and the gentleman’s valet, Petrushka–the latter a fellow of about thirty, clad in a worn, over-ample jacket which formerly had graced his master’s shoulders, and possessed of a nose and a pair of lips whose coarseness communicated to his face rather a sullen expression. Behind the portmanteau came a small dispatch-box of redwood, lined with birch bark, a boot-case, and (wrapped in blue paper) a roast fowl; all of which having been deposited, the coachman departed to look after his horses, and the valet to establish himself in the little dark anteroom or kennel where already he had stored a cloak, a bagful of livery, and his own peculiar smell. Pressing the narrow bedstead back against the wall, he covered it with the tiny remnant of mattress–a remnant as thin and flat (perhaps also as greasy) as a pancake–which he had managed to beg of the landlord of the establishment.
While the attendants had been thus setting things straight the gentleman had repaired to the common parlour. The appearance of common parlours of the kind is known to every one who travels. Always they have varnished walls which, grown black in their upper portions with tobacco smoke, are, in their lower, grown shiny with the friction of customers’ backs–more especially with that of the backs of such local tradesmen as, on market-days, make it their regular practice to resort to the local hostelry for a glass of tea. Also, parlours of this kind invariably contain smutty ceilings, an equally smutty chandelier, a number of pendent shades which jump and rattle whenever the waiter scurries across the shabby oilcloth with a trayful of glasses (the glasses looking like a flock of birds roosting by the seashore), and a selection of oil paintings. In short, there are certain objects which one sees in every inn. In the present case the only outstanding feature of the room was the fact that in one of the paintings a nymph was portrayed as possessing breasts of a size such as the reader can never in his life have beheld. A similar caricaturing of nature is to be noted in the historical pictures (of unknown origin, period, and creation) which reach us–sometimes through the instrumentality of Russian magnates who profess to be connoisseurs of art–from Italy; owing to the said magnates having made such purchases solely on the advice of the couriers who have escorted them.
To resume, however–our traveller removed his cap, and divested his neck of a parti-coloured woollen scarf of the kind which a wife makes for her husband with her own hands, while accompanying the gift with interminable injunctions as to how best such a garment ought to be folded. True, bachelors also wear similar gauds, but, in their case, God alone knows who may have manufactured the articles! For my part, I cannot endure them. Having unfolded the scarf, the gentleman ordered dinner, and whilst the various dishes were being got ready–cabbage soup, a pie several weeks old, a dish of marrow and peas, a dish of sausages and cabbage, a roast fowl, some salted cucumber, and the sweet tart which stands perpetually ready for use in such establishments; whilst, I say, these things were either being warmed up or brought in cold, the gentleman induced the waiter to retail certain fragments of tittle-tattle concerning the late landlord of the hostelry, the amount of income which the hostelry produced, and the character of its present proprietor. To the last-mentioned inquiry the waiter returned the answer invariably given in such cases–namely, “My master is a terribly hard man, sir.” Curious that in enlightened Russia so many people cannot even take a meal at an inn without chattering to the attendant and making free with him! Nevertheless not ALL the questions which the gentleman asked were aimless ones, for he inquired who was Governor of the town, who President of the Local Council, and who Public Prosecutor. In short, he omitted no single official of note, while asking also (though with an air of detachment) the most exact particulars concerning the landowners of the neighbourhood. Which of them, he inquired, possessed serfs, and how many of them? How far from the town did those landowners reside? What was the character of each landowner, and was he in the habit of paying frequent visits to the town? The gentleman also made searching inquiries concerning the hygienic condition of the countryside. Was there, he asked, much sickness about–whether sporadic fever, fatal forms of ague, smallpox, or what not? Yet, though his solicitude concerning these matters showed more than ordinary curiosity, his bearing retained its gravity unimpaired, and from time to time he blew his nose with portentous fervour. Indeed, the manner in which he accomplished this latter feat was marvellous in the extreme, for, though that member emitted sounds equal to those of a trumpet in intensity, he could yet, with his accompanying air of guileless dignity, evoke the waiter’s undivided respect–so much so that, whenever the sounds of the nose reached that menial’s ears, he would shake back his locks, straighten himself into a posture of marked solicitude, and inquire afresh, with head slightly inclined, whether the gentleman happened to require anything further. After dinner the guest consumed a cup of coffee, and then, seating himself upon the sofa, with, behind him, one of those wool-covered cushions which, in Russian taverns, resemble nothing so much as a cobblestone or a brick, fell to snoring; whereafter, returning with a start to consciousness, he ordered himself to be conducted to his room, flung himself at full length upon the bed, and once more slept soundly for a couple of hours. Aroused, eventually, by the waiter, he, at the latter’s request, inscribed a fragment of paper with his name, his surname, and his rank (for communication, in accordance with the law, to the police): and on that paper the waiter, leaning forward from the corridor, read, syllable by syllable: “Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov, Collegiate Councillor–Landowner–Travelling on Private Affairs.” The waiter had just time to accomplish this feat before Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov set forth to inspect the town. Apparently the place succeeded in satisfying him, and, to tell the truth, it was at least up to the usual standard of our provincial capitals. Where the staring yellow of stone edifices did not greet his eye he found himself confronted with the more modest grey of wooden ones; which, consisting, for the most part, of one or two storeys (added to the range of attics which provincial architects love so well), looked almost lost amid the expanses of street and intervening medleys of broken or half-finished partition-walls. At other points evidence of more life and movement was to be seen, and here the houses stood crowded together and displayed dilapidated, rain-blurred signboards whereon boots of cakes or pairs of blue breeches inscribed “Arshavski, Tailor,” and so forth, were depicted. Over a shop containing hats and caps was written “Vassili Thedorov, Foreigner”; while, at another spot, a signboard portrayed a billiard table and two players–the latter clad in frockcoats of the kind usually affected by actors whose part it is to enter the stage during the closing act of a piece, even though, with arms sharply crooked and legs slightly bent, the said billiard players were taking the most careful aim, but succeeding only in making abortive strokes in the air. Each emporium of the sort had written over it: “This is the best establishment of its kind in the town.” Also, al fresco in the streets there stood tables heaped with nuts, soap, and gingerbread (the latter but little distinguishable from the soap), and at an eating-house there was displayed the sign of a plump fish transfixed with a gaff. But the sign most frequently to be discerned was the insignia of the State, the double-headed eagle (now replaced, in this connection, with the laconic inscription “Dramshop”). As for the paving of the town, it was uniformly bad.
The gentleman peered also into the municipal gardens, which contained only a few sorry trees that were poorly selected, requiring to be propped with oil-painted, triangular green supports, and able to boast of a height no greater than that of an ordinary walking-stick. Yet recently the local paper had said (apropos of a gala) that, “Thanks to the efforts of our Civil Governor, the town has become enriched with a pleasaunce full of umbrageous, spaciously-branching trees. Even on the most sultry day they afford agreeable shade, and indeed gratifying was it to see the hearts of our citizens panting with an impulse of gratitude as their eyes shed tears in recognition of all that their Governor has done for them!”
Next, after inquiring of a gendarme as to the best ways and means of finding the local council, the local law-courts, and the local Governor, should he (Chichikov) have need of them, the gentleman went on to inspect the river which ran through the town. En route he tore off a notice affixed to a post, in order that he might the more conveniently read it after his return to the inn. Also, he bestowed upon a lady of pleasant exterior who, escorted by a footman laden with a bundle, happened to be passing along a wooden sidewalk a prolonged stare. Lastly, he threw around him a comprehensive glance (as though to fix in his mind the general topography of the place) and betook himself home. There, gently aided by the waiter, he ascended the stairs to his bedroom, drank a glass of tea, and, seating himself at the table, called for a candle; which having been brought him, he produced from his pocket the notice, held it close to the flame, and conned its tenour–slightly contracting his right eye as he did so. Yet there was little in the notice to call for remark. All that it said was that shortly one of Kotzebue’s plays would be given, and that one of the parts in the play was to be taken by a certain Monsieur Poplevin, and another by a certain Mademoiselle Ziablova, while the remaining parts were to be filled by a number of less important personages. Nevertheless the gentleman perused the notice with careful attention, and even jotted down the prices to be asked for seats for the performance. Also, he remarked that the bill had been printed in the press of the Provincial Government. Next, he turned over the paper, in order to see if anything further was to be read on the reverse side; but, finding nothing there, he refolded the document, placed it in the box which served him as a receptacle for odds and ends, and brought the day to a close with a portion of cold veal, a bottle of pickles, and a sound sleep.
 A German dramatist (1761-1819) who also filled sundry posts in the service of the Russian Government.
The following day he devoted to paying calls upon the various municipal officials–a first, and a very respectful, visit being paid to the Governor. This personage turned out to resemble Chichikov himself in that he was neither fat nor thin. Also, he wore the riband of the order of Saint Anna about his neck, and was reported to have been recommended also for the star. For the rest, he was large and good-natured, and had a habit of amusing himself with occasional spells of knitting. Next, Chichikov repaired to the Vice-Governor’s, and thence to the house of the Public Prosecutor, to that of the President of the Local Council, to that of the Chief of Police, to that of the Commissioner of Taxes, and to that of the local Director of State Factories. True, the task of remembering every big-wig in this world of ours is not a very easy one; but at least our visitor displayed the greatest activity in his work of paying calls, seeing that he went so far as to pay his respects also to the Inspector of the Municipal Department of Medicine and to the City Architect. Thereafter he sat thoughtfully in his britchka–plunged in meditation on the subject of whom else it might be well to visit. However, not a single magnate had been neglected, and in conversation with his hosts he had contrived to flatter each separate one. For instance to the Governor he had hinted that a stranger, on arriving in his, the Governor’s province, would conceive that he had reached Paradise, so velvety were the roads. “Governors who appoint capable subordinates,” had said Chichikov, “are deserving of the most ample meed of praise.” Again, to the Chief of Police our hero had passed a most gratifying remark on the subject of the local gendarmery; while in his conversation with the Vice-Governor and the President of the Local Council (neither of whom had, as yet, risen above the rank of State Councillor) he had twice been guilty of the gaucherie of addressing his interlocutors with the title of “Your Excellency”–a blunder which had not failed to delight them. In the result the Governor had invited him to a reception the same evening, and certain other officials had followed suit by inviting him, one of them to dinner, a second to a tea-party, and so forth, and so forth.
Of himself, however, the traveller had spoken little; or, if he had spoken at any length, he had done so in a general sort of way and with marked modesty. Indeed, at moments of the kind his discourse had assumed something of a literary vein, in that invariably he had stated that, being a worm of no account in the world, he was deserving of no consideration at the hands of his fellows; that in his time he had undergone many strange experiences; that subsequently he had suffered much in the cause of Truth; that he had many enemies seeking his life; and that, being desirous of rest, he was now engaged in searching for a spot wherein to dwell–wherefore, having stumbled upon the town in which he now found himself, he had considered it his bounden duty to evince his respect for the chief authorities of the place. This, and no more, was all that, for the moment, the town succeeded in learning about the new arrival. Naturally he lost no time in presenting himself at the Governor’s evening party. First, however, his preparations for that function occupied a space of over two hours, and necessitated an attention to his toilet of a kind not commonly seen. That is to say, after a brief post-grandial nap he called for soap and water, and spent a considerable period in the task of scrubbing his cheeks (which, for the purpose, he supported from within with his tongue) and then of drying his full, round face, from the ears downwards, with a towel which he took from the waiter’s shoulder. Twice he snorted into the waiter’s countenance as he did this, and then he posted himself in front of the mirror, donned a false shirt-front, plucked out a couple of hairs which were protruding from his nose, and appeared vested in a frockcoat of bilberry-coloured check. Thereafter driving through broad streets sparsely lighted with lanterns, he arrived at the Governor’s residence to find it illuminated as for a ball. Barouches with gleaming lamps, a couple of gendarmes posted before the doors, a babel of postillions’ cries–nothing of a kind likely to be impressive was wanting; and, on reaching the salon, the visitor actually found himself obliged to close his eyes for a moment, so strong was the mingled sheen of lamps, candles, and feminine apparel. Everything seemed suffused with light, and everywhere, flitting and flashing, were to be seen black coats–even as on a hot summer’s day flies revolve around a sugar loaf while the old housekeeper is cutting it into cubes before the open window, and the children of the house crowd around her to watch the movements of her rugged hands as those members ply the smoking pestle; and airy squadrons of flies, borne on the breeze, enter boldly, as though free of the house, and, taking advantage of the fact that the glare of the sunshine is troubling the old lady’s sight, disperse themselves over broken and unbroken fragments alike, even though the lethargy induced by the opulence of summer and the rich shower of dainties to be encountered at every step has induced them to enter less for the purpose of eating than for that of showing themselves in public, of parading up and down the sugar loaf, of rubbing both their hindquarters and their fore against one another, of cleaning their bodies under the wings, of extending their forelegs over their heads and grooming themselves, and of flying out of the window again to return with other predatory squadrons. Indeed, so dazed was Chichikov that scarcely did he realise that the Governor was taking him by the arm and presenting him to his (the Governor’s) lady. Yet the newly-arrived guest kept his head sufficiently to contrive to murmur some such compliment as might fittingly come from a middle-aged individual of a rank neither excessively high nor excessively low. Next, when couples had been formed for dancing and the remainder of the company found itself pressed back against the walls, Chichikov folded his arms, and carefully scrutinised the dancers. Some of the ladies were dressed well and in the fashion, while the remainder were clad in such garments as God usually bestows upon a provincial town. Also here, as elsewhere, the men belonged to two separate and distinct categories; one of which comprised slender individuals who, flitting around the ladies, were scarcely to be distinguished from denizens of the metropolis, so carefully, so artistically, groomed were their whiskers, so presentable their oval, clean-shaven faces, so easy the manner of their dancing attendance upon their womenfolk, so glib their French conversation as they quizzed their female companions. As for the other category, it comprised individuals who, stout, or of the same build as Chichikov (that is to say, neither very portly nor very lean), backed and sidled away from the ladies, and kept peering hither and thither to see whether the Governor’s footmen had set out green tables for whist. Their features were full and plump, some of them had beards, and in no case was their hair curled or waved or arranged in what the French call “the devil-may-care” style. On the contrary, their heads were either close-cropped or brushed very smooth, and their faces were round and firm. This category represented the more respectable officials of the town. In passing, I may say that in business matters fat men always prove superior to their leaner brethren; which is probably the reason why the latter are mostly to be found in the Political Police, or acting as mere ciphers whose existence is a purely hopeless, airy, trivial one. Again, stout individuals never take a back seat, but always a front one, and, wheresoever it be, they sit firmly, and with confidence, and decline to budge even though the seat crack and bend with their weight. For comeliness of exterior they care not a rap, and therefore a dress coat sits less easily on their figures than is the case with figures of leaner individuals. Yet invariably fat men amass the greater wealth. In three years’ time a thin man will not have a single serf whom he has left unpledged; whereas–well, pray look at a fat man’s fortunes, and what will you see? First of all a suburban villa, and then a larger suburban villa, and then a villa close to a town, and lastly a country estate which comprises every amenity! That is to say, having served both God and the State, the stout individual has won universal respect, and will end by retiring from business, reordering his mode of life, and becoming a Russian landowner–in other words, a fine gentleman who dispenses hospitality, lives in comfort and luxury, and is destined to leave his property to heirs who are purposing to squander the same on foreign travel.
That the foregoing represents pretty much the gist of Chichikov’s reflections as he stood watching the company I will not attempt to deny. And of those reflections the upshot was that he decided to join himself to the stouter section of the guests, among whom he had already recognised several familiar faces–namely, those of the Public Prosecutor (a man with beetling brows over eyes which seemed to be saying with a wink, “Come into the next room, my friend, for I have something to say to you”–though, in the main, their owner was a man of grave and taciturn habit), of the Postmaster (an insignificant-looking individual, yet a would-be wit and a philosopher), and of the President of the Local Council (a man of much amiability and good sense). These three personages greeted Chichikov as an old acquaintance, and to their salutations he responded with a sidelong, yet a sufficiently civil, bow. Also, he became acquainted with an extremely unctuous and approachable landowner named Manilov, and with a landowner of more uncouth exterior named Sobakevitch–the latter of whom began the acquaintance by treading heavily upon Chichikov’s toes, and then begging his pardon. Next, Chichikov received an offer of a “cut in” at whist, and accepted the same with his usual courteous inclination of the head. Seating themselves at a green table, the party did not rise therefrom till supper time; and during that period all conversation between the players became hushed, as is the custom when men have given themselves up to a really serious pursuit. Even the Postmaster–a talkative man by nature–had no sooner taken the cards into his hands than he assumed an expression of profound thought, pursed his lips, and retained this attitude unchanged throughout the game. Only when playing a court card was it his custom to strike the table with his fist, and to exclaim (if the card happened to be a queen), “Now, old popadia!” and (if the card happened to be a king), “Now, peasant of Tambov!” To which ejaculations invariably the President of the Local Council retorted, “Ah, I have him by the ears, I have him by the ears!” And from the neighbourhood of the table other strong ejaculations relative to the play would arise, interposed with one or another of those nicknames which participants in a game are apt to apply to members of the various suits. I need hardly add that, the game over, the players fell to quarrelling, and that in the dispute our friend joined, though so artfully as to let every one see that, in spite of the fact that he was wrangling, he was doing so only in the most amicable fashion possible. Never did he say outright, “You played the wrong card at such and such a point.” No, he always employed some such phrase as, “You permitted yourself to make a slip, and thus afforded me the honour of covering your deuce.” Indeed, the better to keep in accord with his antagonists, he kept offering them his silver-enamelled snuff-box (at the bottom of which lay a couple of violets, placed there for the sake of their scent). In particular did the newcomer pay attention to landowners Manilov and Sobakevitch; so much so that his haste to arrive on good terms with them led to his leaving the President and the Postmaster rather in the shade. At the same time, certain questions which he put to those two landowners evinced not only curiosity, but also a certain amount of sound intelligence; for he began by asking how many peasant souls each of them possessed, and how their affairs happened at present to be situated, and then proceeded to enlighten himself also as their standing and their families. Indeed, it was not long before he had succeeded in fairly enchanting his new friends. In particular did Manilov–a man still in his prime, and possessed of a pair of eyes which, sweet as sugar, blinked whenever he laughed–find himself unable to make enough of his enchanter. Clasping Chichikov long and fervently by the hand, he besought him to do him, Manilov, the honour of visiting his country house (which he declared to lie at a distance of not more than fifteen versts from the boundaries of the town); and in return Chichikov averred (with an exceedingly affable bow and a most sincere handshake) that he was prepared not only to fulfil his friend’s behest, but also to look upon the fulfilling of it as a sacred duty. In the same way Sobakevitch said to him laconically: “And do you pay ME a visit,” and then proceeded to shuffle a pair of boots of such dimensions that to find a pair to correspond with them would have been indeed difficult–more especially at the present day, when the race of epic heroes is beginning to die out in Russia.
 Priest’s wife.
Next day Chichikov dined and spent the evening at the house of the Chief of Police–a residence where, three hours after dinner, every one sat down to whist, and remained so seated until two o’clock in the morning. On this occasion Chichikov made the acquaintance of, among others, a landowner named Nozdrev–a dissipated little fellow of thirty who had no sooner exchanged three or four words with his new acquaintance than he began to address him in the second person singular. Yet although he did the same to the Chief of Police and the Public Prosecutor, the company had no sooner seated themselves at the card-table than both the one and the other of these functionaries started to keep a careful eye upon Nozdrev’s tricks, and to watch practically every card which he played. The following evening Chichikov spent with the President of the Local Council, who received his guests–even though the latter included two ladies–in a greasy dressing-gown. Upon that followed an evening at the Vice-Governor’s, a large dinner party at the house of the Commissioner of Taxes, a smaller dinner-party at the house of the Public Prosecutor (a very wealthy man), and a subsequent reception given by the Mayor. In short, not an hour of the day did Chichikov find himself forced to spend at home, and his return to the inn became necessary only for the purposes of sleeping. Somehow or other he had landed on his feet, and everywhere he figured as an experienced man of the world. No matter what the conversation chanced to be about, he always contrived to maintain his part in the same. Did the discourse turn upon horse-breeding, upon horse-breeding he happened to be peculiarly well-qualified to speak. Did the company fall to discussing well-bred dogs, at once he had remarks of the most pertinent kind possible to offer. Did the company touch upon a prosecution which had recently been carried out by the Excise Department, instantly he showed that he too was not wholly unacquainted with legal affairs. Did an opinion chance to be expressed concerning billiards, on that subject too he was at least able to avoid committing a blunder. Did a reference occur to virtue, concerning virtue he hastened to deliver himself in a way which brought tears to every eye. Did the subject in hand happen to be the distilling of brandy–well, that was a matter concerning which he had the soundest of knowledge. Did any one happen to mention Customs officials and inspectors, from that moment he expatiated as though he too had been both a minor functionary and a major. Yet a remarkable fact was the circumstance that he always contrived to temper his omniscience with a certain readiness to give way, a certain ability so to keep a rein upon himself that never did his utterances become too loud or too soft, or transcend what was perfectly befitting. In a word, he was always a gentleman of excellent manners, and every official in the place felt pleased when he saw him enter the door. Thus the Governor gave it as his opinion that Chichikov was a man of excellent intentions; the Public Prosecutor, that he was a good man of business; the Chief of Gendarmery, that he was a man of education; the President of the Local Council, that he was a man of breeding and refinement; and the wife of the Chief of Gendarmery, that his politeness of behaviour was equalled only by his affability of bearing. Nay, even Sobakevitch–who as a rule never spoke well of ANY ONE–said to his lanky wife when, on returning late from the town, he undressed and betook himself to bed by her side: “My dear, this evening, after dining with the Chief of Police, I went on to the Governor’s, and met there, among others, a certain Paul Ivanovitch Chichikov, who is a Collegiate Councillor and a very pleasant fellow.” To this his spouse replied “Hm!” and then dealt him a hearty kick in the ribs.
Such were the flattering opinions earned by the newcomer to the town; and these opinions he retained until the time when a certain speciality of his, a certain scheme of his (the reader will learn presently what it was), plunged the majority of the townsfolk into a sea of perplexity.
For more than two weeks the visitor lived amid a round of evening parties and dinners; wherefore he spent (as the saying goes) a very pleasant time. Finally he decided to extend his visits beyond the urban boundaries by going and calling upon landowners Manilov and Sobakevitch, seeing that he had promised on his honour to do so. Yet what really incited him to this may have been a more essential cause, a matter of greater gravity, a purpose which stood nearer to his heart, than the motive which I have just given; and of that purpose the reader will learn if only he will have the patience to read this prefatory narrative (which, lengthy though it be, may yet develop and expand in proportion as we approach the denouement with which the present work is destined to be crowned).
One evening, therefore, Selifan the coachman received orders to have the horses harnessed in good time next morning; while Petrushka received orders to remain behind, for the purpose of looking after the portmanteau and the room. In passing, the reader may care to become more fully acquainted with the two serving-men of whom I have spoken. Naturally, they were not persons of much note, but merely what folk call characters of secondary, or even of tertiary, importance. Yet, despite the fact that the springs and the thread of this romance will not DEPEND upon them, but only touch upon them, and occasionally include them, the author has a passion for circumstantiality, and, like the average Russian, such a desire for accuracy as even a German could not rival. To what the reader already knows concerning the personages in hand it is therefore necessary to add that Petrushka usually wore a cast-off brown jacket of a size too large for him, as also that he had (according to the custom of individuals of his calling) a pair of thick lips and a very prominent nose. In temperament he was taciturn rather than loquacious, and he cherished a yearning for self-education. That is to say, he loved to read books, even though their contents came alike to him whether they were books of heroic adventure or mere grammars or liturgical compendia. As I say, he perused every book with an equal amount of attention, and, had he been offered a work on chemistry, would have accepted that also. Not the words which he read, but the mere solace derived from the act of reading, was what especially pleased his mind; even though at any moment there might launch itself from the page some devil-sent word whereof he could make neither head nor tail. For the most part, his task of reading was performed in a recumbent position in the anteroom; which circumstance ended by causing his mattress to become as ragged and as thin as a wafer. In addition to his love of poring over books, he could boast of two habits which constituted two other essential features of his character–namely, a habit of retiring to rest in his clothes (that is to say, in the brown jacket above-mentioned) and a habit of everywhere bearing with him his own peculiar atmosphere, his own peculiar smell–a smell which filled any lodging with such subtlety that he needed but to make up his bed anywhere, even in a room hitherto untenanted, and to drag thither his greatcoat and other impedimenta, for that room at once to assume an air of having been lived in during the past ten years. Nevertheless, though a fastidious, and even an irritable, man, Chichikov would merely frown when his nose caught this smell amid the freshness of the morning, and exclaim with a toss of his head: “The devil only knows what is up with you! Surely you sweat a good deal, do you not? The best thing you can do is to go and take a bath.” To this Petrushka would make no reply, but, approaching, brush in hand, the spot where his master’s coat would be pendent, or starting to arrange one and another article in order, would strive to seem wholly immersed in his work. Yet of what was he thinking as he remained thus silent? Perhaps he was saying to himself: “My master is a good fellow, but for him to keep on saying the same thing forty times over is a little wearisome.” Only God knows and sees all things; wherefore for a mere human being to know what is in the mind of a servant while his master is scolding him is wholly impossible. However, no more need be said about Petrushka. On the other hand, Coachman Selifan–
But here let me remark that I do not like engaging the reader’s attention in connection with persons of a lower class than himself; for experience has taught me that we do not willingly familiarise ourselves with the lower orders–that it is the custom of the average Russian to yearn exclusively for information concerning persons on the higher rungs of the social ladder. In fact, even a bowing acquaintance with a prince or a lord counts, in his eyes, for more than do the most intimate of relations with ordinary folk. For the same reason the author feels apprehensive on his hero’s account, seeing that he has made that hero a mere Collegiate Councillor–a mere person with whom Aulic Councillors might consort, but upon whom persons of the grade of full General would probably bestow one of those glances proper to a man who is cringing at their august feet. Worse still, such persons of the grade of General are likely to treat Chichikov with studied negligence–and to an author studied negligence spells death.
 In this case the term General refers to a civil grade equivalent to the military rank of the same title.
However, in spite of the distressfulness of the foregoing possibilities, it is time that I returned to my hero. After issuing, overnight, the necessary orders, he awoke early, washed himself, rubbed himself from head to foot with a wet sponge (a performance executed only on Sundays–and the day in question happened to be a Sunday), shaved his face with such care that his cheeks issued of absolutely satin-like smoothness and polish, donned first his bilberry-coloured, spotted frockcoat, and then his bearskin overcoat, descended the staircase (attended, throughout, by the waiter) and entered his britchka. With a loud rattle the vehicle left the inn-yard, and issued into the street. A passing priest doffed his cap, and a few urchins in grimy shirts shouted, “Gentleman, please give a poor orphan a trifle!” Presently the driver noticed that a sturdy young rascal was on the point of climbing onto the splashboard; wherefore he cracked his whip and the britchka leapt forward with increased speed over the cobblestones. At last, with a feeling of relief, the travellers caught sight of macadam ahead, which promised an end both to the cobblestones and to sundry other annoyances. And, sure enough, after his head had been bumped a few more times against the boot of the conveyance, Chichikov found himself bowling over softer ground. On the town receding into the distance, the sides of the road began to be varied with the usual hillocks, fir trees, clumps of young pine, trees with old, scarred trunks, bushes of wild juniper, and so forth, Presently there came into view also strings of country villas which, with their carved supports and grey roofs (the latter looking like pendent, embroidered tablecloths), resembled, rather, bundles of old faggots. Likewise the customary peasants, dressed in sheepskin jackets, could be seen yawning on benches before their huts, while their womenfolk, fat of feature and swathed of bosom, gazed out of upper windows, and the windows below displayed, here a peering calf, and there the unsightly jaws of a pig. In short, the view was one of the familiar type. After passing the fifteenth verst-stone Chichikov suddenly recollected that, according to Manilov, fifteen versts was the exact distance between his country house and the town; but the sixteenth verst stone flew by, and the said country house was still nowhere to be seen. In fact, but for the circumstance that the travellers happened to encounter a couple of peasants, they would have come on their errand in vain. To a query as to whether the country house known as Zamanilovka was anywhere in the neighbourhood the peasants replied by doffing their caps; after which one of them who seemed to boast of a little more intelligence than his companion, and who wore a wedge-shaped beard, made answer:
“Perhaps you mean Manilovka–not ZAmanilovka?”
“Manilovka, eh? Well, you must continue for another verst, and then you will see it straight before you, on the right.”
“On the right?” re-echoed the coachman.
“Yes, on the right,” affirmed the peasant. “You are on the proper road for Manilovka, but ZAmanilovka–well, there is no such place. The house you mean is called Manilovka because Manilovka is its name; but no house at all is called ZAmanilovka. The house you mean stands there, on that hill, and is a stone house in which a gentleman lives, and its name is Manilovka; but ZAmanilovka does not stand hereabouts, nor ever has stood.”
So the travellers proceeded in search of Manilovka, and, after driving an additional two versts, arrived at a spot whence there branched off a by-road. Yet two, three, or four versts of the by-road had been covered before they saw the least sign of a two-storied stone mansion. Then it was that Chichikov suddenly recollected that, when a friend has invited one to visit his country house, and has said that the distance thereto is fifteen versts, the distance is sure to turn out to be at least thirty.
Not many people would have admired the situation of Manilov’s abode, for it stood on an isolated rise and was open to every wind that blew. On the slope of the rise lay closely-mown turf, while, disposed here and there, after the English fashion, were flower-beds containing clumps of lilac and yellow acacia. Also, there were a few insignificant groups of slender-leaved, pointed-tipped birch trees, with, under two of the latter, an arbour having a shabby green cupola, some blue-painted wooden supports, and the inscription “This is the Temple of Solitary Thought.” Lower down the slope lay a green-coated pond–green-coated ponds constitute a frequent spectacle in the gardens of Russian landowners; and, lastly, from the foot of the declivity there stretched a line of mouldy, log-built huts which, for some obscure reason or another, our hero set himself to count. Up to two hundred or more did he count, but nowhere could he perceive a single leaf of vegetation or a single stick of timber. The only thing to greet the eye was the logs of which the huts were constructed. Nevertheless the scene was to a certain extent enlivened by the spectacle of two peasant women who, with clothes picturesquely tucked up, were wading knee-deep in the pond and dragging behind them, with wooden handles, a ragged fishing-net, in the meshes of which two crawfish and a roach with glistening scales were entangled. The women appeared to have cause of dispute between themselves–to be rating one another about something. In the background, and to one side of the house, showed a faint, dusky blur of pinewood, and even the weather was in keeping with the surroundings, since the day was neither clear nor dull, but of the grey tint which may be noted in uniforms of garrison soldiers which have seen long service. To complete the picture, a cock, the recognised harbinger of atmospheric mutations, was present; and, in spite of the fact that a certain connection with affairs of gallantry had led to his having had his head pecked bare by other cocks, he flapped a pair of wings–appendages as bare as two pieces of bast–and crowed loudly.
As Chichikov approached the courtyard of the mansion he caught sight of his host (clad in a green frock coat) standing on the verandah and pressing one hand to his eyes to shield them from the sun and so get a better view of the approaching carriage. In proportion as the britchka drew nearer and nearer to the verandah, the host’s eyes assumed a more and more delighted expression, and his smile a broader and broader sweep.
“Paul Ivanovitch!” he exclaimed when at length Chichikov leapt from the vehicle. “Never should I have believed that you would have remembered us!”
The two friends exchanged hearty embraces, and Manilov then conducted his guest to the drawing-room. During the brief time that they are traversing the hall, the anteroom, and the dining-room, let me try to say something concerning the master of the house. But such an undertaking bristles with difficulties–it promises to be a far less easy task than the depicting of some outstanding personality which calls but for a wholesale dashing of colours upon the canvas–the colours of a pair of dark, burning eyes, a pair of dark, beetling brows, a forehead seamed with wrinkles, a black, or a fiery-red, cloak thrown backwards over the shoulder, and so forth, and so forth. Yet, so numerous are Russian serf owners that, though careful scrutiny reveals to one’s sight a quantity of outre peculiarities, they are, as a class, exceedingly difficult to portray, and one needs to strain one’s faculties to the utmost before it becomes possible to pick out their variously subtle, their almost invisible, features. In short, one needs, before doing this, to carry out a prolonged probing with the aid of an insight sharpened in the acute school of research.
Only God can say what Manilov’s real character was. A class of men exists whom the proverb has described as “men unto themselves, neither this nor that–neither Bogdan of the city nor Selifan of the village.” And to that class we had better assign also Manilov. Outwardly he was presentable enough, for his features were not wanting in amiability, but that amiability was a quality into which there entered too much of the sugary element, so that his every gesture, his every attitude, seemed to connote an excess of eagerness to curry favour and cultivate a closer acquaintance. On first speaking to the man, his ingratiating smile, his flaxen hair, and his blue eyes would lead one to say, “What a pleasant, good-tempered fellow he seems!” yet during the next moment or two one would feel inclined to say nothing at all, and, during the third moment, only to say, “The devil alone knows what he is!” And should, thereafter, one not hasten to depart, one would inevitably become overpowered with the deadly sense of ennui which comes of the intuition that nothing in the least interesting is to be looked for, but only a series of wearisome utterances of the kind which are apt to fall from the lips of a man whose hobby has once been touched upon. For every man HAS his hobby. One man’s may be sporting dogs; another man’s may be that of believing himself to be a lover of music, and able to sound the art to its inmost depths; another’s may be that of posing as a connoisseur of recherche cookery; another’s may be that of aspiring to play roles of a kind higher than nature has assigned him; another’s (though this is a more limited ambition) may be that of getting drunk, and of dreaming that he is edifying both his friends, his acquaintances, and people with whom he has no connection at all by walking arm-in-arm with an Imperial aide-de-camp; another’s may be that of possessing a hand able to chip corners off aces and deuces of diamonds; another’s may be that of yearning to set things straight–in other words, to approximate his personality to that of a stationmaster or a director of posts. In short, almost every man has his hobby or his leaning; yet Manilov had none such, for at home he spoke little, and spent the greater part of his time in meditation–though God only knows what that meditation comprised! Nor can it be said that he took much interest in the management of his estate, for he never rode into the country, and the estate practically managed itself. Whenever the bailiff said to him, “It might be well to have such-and-such a thing done,” he would reply, “Yes, that is not a bad idea,” and then go on smoking his pipe–a habit which he had acquired during his service in the army, where he had been looked upon as an officer of modesty, delicacy, and refinement. “Yes, it is NOT a bad idea,” he would repeat. Again, whenever a peasant approached him and, rubbing the back of his neck, said “Barin, may I have leave to go and work for myself, in order that I may earn my obrok?” he would snap out, with pipe in mouth as usual, “Yes, go!” and never trouble his head as to whether the peasant’s real object might not be to go and get drunk. True, at intervals he would say, while gazing from the verandah to the courtyard, and from the courtyard to the pond, that it would be indeed splendid if a carriage drive could suddenly materialise, and the pond as suddenly become spanned with a stone bridge, and little shops as suddenly arise whence pedlars could dispense the petty merchandise of the kind which peasantry most need. And at such moments his eyes would grow winning, and his features assume an expression of intense satisfaction. Yet never did these projects pass beyond the stage of debate. Likewise there lay in his study a book with the fourteenth page permanently turned down. It was a book which he had been reading for the past two years! In general, something seemed to be wanting in the establishment. For instance, although the drawing-room was filled with beautiful furniture, and upholstered in some fine silken material which clearly had cost no inconsiderable sum, two of the chairs lacked any covering but bast, and for some years past the master had been accustomed to warn his guests with the words, “Do not sit upon these chairs; they are not yet ready for use.” Another room contained no furniture at all, although, a few days after the marriage, it had been said: “My dear, to-morrow let us set about procuring at least some TEMPORARY furniture for this room.” Also, every evening would see placed upon the drawing-room table a fine bronze candelabrum, a statuette representative of the Three Graces, a tray inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and a rickety, lop-sided copper invalide. Yet of the fact that all four articles were thickly coated with grease neither the master of the house nor the mistress nor the servants seemed to entertain the least suspicion. At the same time, Manilov and his wife were quite satisfied with each other. More than eight years had elapsed since their marriage, yet one of them was for ever offering his or her partner a piece of apple or a bonbon or a nut, while murmuring some tender something which voiced a whole-hearted affection. “Open your mouth, dearest”–thus ran the formula–“and let me pop into it this titbit.” You may be sure that on such occasions the “dearest mouth” parted its lips most graciously! For their mutual birthdays the pair always contrived some “surprise present” in the shape of a glass receptacle for tooth-powder, or what not; and as they sat together on the sofa he would suddenly, and for some unknown reason, lay aside his pipe, and she her work (if at the moment she happened to be holding it in her hands) and husband and wife would imprint upon one another’s cheeks such a prolonged and languishing kiss that during its continuance you could have smoked a small cigar. In short, they were what is known as “a very happy couple.” Yet it may be remarked that a household requires other pursuits to be engaged in than lengthy embracings and the preparing of cunning “surprises.” Yes, many a function calls for fulfilment. For instance, why should it be thought foolish or low to superintend the kitchen? Why should care not be taken that the storeroom never lacks supplies? Why should a housekeeper be allowed to thieve? Why should slovenly and drunken servants exist? Why should a domestic staff be suffered in indulge in bouts of unconscionable debauchery during its leisure time? Yet none of these things were thought worthy of consideration by Manilov’s wife, for she had been gently brought up, and gentle nurture, as we all know, is to be acquired only in boarding schools, and boarding schools, as we know, hold the three principal subjects which constitute the basis of human virtue to be the French language (a thing indispensable to the happiness of married life), piano-playing (a thing wherewith to beguile a husband’s leisure moments), and that particular department of housewifery which is comprised in the knitting of purses and other “surprises.” Nevertheless changes and improvements have begun to take place, since things now are governed more by the personal inclinations and idiosyncracies of the keepers of such establishments. For instance, in some seminaries the regimen places piano-playing first, and the French language second, and then the above department of housewifery; while in other seminaries the knitting of “surprises” heads the list, and then the French language, and then the playing of pianos–so diverse are the systems in force! None the less, I may remark that Madame Manilov–
 An annual tax upon peasants, payment of which secured to the payer the right of removal.
But let me confess that I always shrink from saying too much about ladies. Moreover, it is time that we returned to our heroes, who, during the past few minutes, have been standing in front of the drawing-room door, and engaged in urging one another to enter first.
“Pray be so good as not to inconvenience yourself on my account,” said Chichikov. “_I_ will follow YOU.”
“No, Paul Ivanovitch–no! You are my guest.” And Manilov pointed towards the doorway.
“Make no difficulty about it, I pray,” urged Chichikov. “I beg of you to make no difficulty about it, but to pass into the room.”
“Pardon me, I will not. Never could I allow so distinguished and so welcome a guest as yourself to take second place.”
“Why call me ‘distinguished,’ my dear sir? I beg of you to proceed.”
“Nay; be YOU pleased to do so.”
“For the reason which I have stated.” And Manilov smiled his very pleasantest smile.
Finally the pair entered simultaneously and sideways; with the result that they jostled one another not a little in the process.
“Allow me to present to you my wife,” continued Manilov. “My dear–Paul Ivanovitch.”
Upon that Chichikov caught sight of a lady whom hitherto he had overlooked, but who, with Manilov, was now bowing to him in the doorway. Not wholly of unpleasing exterior, she was dressed in a well-fitting, high-necked morning dress of pale-coloured silk; and as the visitor entered the room her small white hands threw something upon the table and clutched her embroidered skirt before rising from the sofa where she had been seated. Not without a sense of pleasure did Chichikov take her hand as, lisping a little, she declared that she and her husband were equally gratified by his coming, and that, of late, not a day had passed without her husband recalling him to mind.
“Yes,” affirmed Manilov; “and every day SHE has said to ME: ‘Why does not your friend put in an appearance?’ ‘Wait a little dearest,’ I have always replied. ”Twill not be long now before he comes.’ And you HAVE come, you HAVE honoured us with a visit, you HAVE bestowed upon us a treat–a treat destined to convert this day into a gala day, a true birthday of the heart.”
The intimation that matters had reached the point of the occasion being destined to constitute a “true birthday of the heart” caused Chichikov to become a little confused; wherefore he made modest reply that, as a matter of fact, he was neither of distinguished origin nor distinguished rank.
“Ah, you ARE so,” interrupted Manilov with his fixed and engaging smile. “You are all that, and more.”
“How like you our town?” queried Madame. “Have you spent an agreeable time in it?”
“Very,” replied Chichikov. “The town is an exceedingly nice one, and I have greatly enjoyed its hospitable society.”
“And what do you think of our Governor?”
“Yes; IS he not a most engaging and dignified personage?” added Manilov.
“He is all that,” assented Chichikov. “Indeed, he is a man worthy of the greatest respect. And how thoroughly he performs his duty according to his lights! Would that we had more like him!”
“And the tactfulness with which he greets every one!” added Manilov, smiling, and half-closing his eyes, like a cat which is being tickled behind the ears.
“Quite so,” assented Chichikov. “He is a man of the most eminent civility and approachableness. And what an artist! Never should I have thought he could have worked the marvellous household samplers which he has done! Some specimens of his needlework which he showed me could not well have been surpassed by any lady in the land!”
“And the Vice-Governor, too–he is a nice man, is he not?” inquired Manilov with renewed blinkings of the eyes.
“Who? The Vice-Governor? Yes, a most worthy fellow!” replied Chichikov.
“And what of the Chief of Police? Is it not a fact that he too is in the highest degree agreeable?”
“Very agreeable indeed. And what a clever, well-read individual! With him and the Public Prosecutor and the President of the Local Council I played whist until the cocks uttered their last morning crow. He is a most excellent fellow.”
“And what of his wife?” queried Madame Manilov. “Is she not a most gracious personality?”
“One of the best among my limited acquaintance,” agreed Chichikov.
Nor were the President of the Local Council and the Postmaster overlooked; until the company had run through the whole list of urban officials. And in every case those officials appeared to be persons of the highest possible merit.
“Do you devote your time entirely to your estate?” asked Chichikov, in his turn.
“Well, most of it,” replied Manilov; “though also we pay occasional visits to the town, in order that we may mingle with a little well-bred society. One grows a trifle rusty if one lives for ever in retirement.”
“Quite so,” agreed Chichikov.
“Yes, quite so,” capped Manilov. “At the same time, it would be a different matter if the neighbourhood were a GOOD one–if, for example, one had a friend with whom one could discuss manners and polite deportment, or engage in some branch of science, and so stimulate one’s wits. For that sort of thing gives one’s intellect an airing. It, it–” At a loss for further words, he ended by remarking that his feelings were apt to carry him away; after which he continued with a gesture: “What I mean is that, were that sort of thing possible, I, for one, could find the country and an isolated life possessed of great attractions. But, as matters stand, such a thing is NOT possible. All that I can manage to do is, occasionally, to read a little of A Son of the Fatherland.”
With these sentiments Chichikov expressed entire agreement: adding that nothing could be more delightful than to lead a solitary life in which there should be comprised only the sweet contemplation of nature and the intermittent perusal of a book.
“Nay, but even THAT were worth nothing had not one a friend with whom to share one’s life,” remarked Manilov.
“True, true,” agreed Chichikov. “Without a friend, what are all the treasures in the world? ‘Possess not money,’ a wise man has said, ‘but rather good friends to whom to turn in case of need.'”
“Yes, Paul Ivanovitch,” said Manilov with a glance not merely sweet, but positively luscious–a glance akin to the mixture which even clever physicians have to render palatable before they can induce a hesitant patient to take it. “Consequently you may imagine what happiness–what PERFECT happiness, so to speak–the present occasion has brought me, seeing that I am permitted to converse with you and to enjoy your conversation.”
“But WHAT of my conversation?” replied Chichikov. “I am an insignificant individual, and, beyond that, nothing.”
“Oh, Paul Ivanovitch!” cried the other. “Permit me to be frank, and to say that I would give half my property to possess even a PORTION of the talents which you possess.”
“On the contrary, I should consider it the highest honour in the world if–“
The lengths to which this mutual outpouring of soul would have proceeded had not a servant entered to announce luncheon must remain a mystery.
“I humbly invite you to join us at table,” said Manilov. “Also, you will pardon us for the fact that we cannot provide a banquet such as is to be obtained in our metropolitan cities? We partake of simple fare, according to Russian custom–we confine ourselves to shtchi, but we do so with a single heart. Come, I humbly beg of you.”
 Cabbage soup.
After another contest for the honour of yielding precedence, Chichikov succeeded in making his way (in zigzag fashion) to the dining-room, where they found awaiting them a couple of youngsters. These were Manilov’s sons, and boys of the age which admits of their presence at table, but necessitates the continued use of high chairs. Beside them was their tutor, who bowed politely and smiled; after which the hostess took her seat before her soup plate, and the guest of honour found himself esconsed between her and the master of the house, while the servant tied up the boys’ necks in bibs.
“What charming children!” said Chichikov as he gazed at the pair. “And how old are they?”
“The eldest is eight,” replied Manilov, “and the younger one attained the age of six yesterday.”
“Themistocleus,” went on the father, turning to his first-born, who was engaged in striving to free his chin from the bib with which the footman had encircled it. On hearing this distinctly Greek name (to which, for some unknown reason, Manilov always appended the termination “eus”), Chichikov raised his eyebrows a little, but hastened, the next moment, to restore his face to a more befitting expression.
“Themistocleus,” repeated the father, “tell me which is the finest city in France.”
Upon this the tutor concentrated his attention upon Themistocleus, and appeared to be trying hard to catch his eye. Only when Themistocleus had muttered “Paris” did the preceptor grow calmer, and nod his head.
“And which is the finest city in Russia?” continued Manilov.
Again the tutor’s attitude became wholly one of concentration.
“St. Petersburg,” replied Themistocleus.
“And what other city?”
“Moscow,” responded the boy.
“Clever little dear!” burst out Chichikov, turning with an air of surprise to the father. “Indeed, I feel bound to say that the child evinces the greatest possible potentialities.”
“You do not know him fully,” replied the delighted Manilov. “The amount of sharpness which he possesses is extraordinary. Our younger one, Alkid, is not so quick; whereas his brother–well, no matter what he may happen upon (whether upon a cowbug or upon a water-beetle or upon anything else), his little eyes begin jumping out of his head, and he runs to catch the thing, and to inspect it. For HIM I am reserving a diplomatic post. Themistocleus,” added the father, again turning to his son, “do you wish to become an ambassador?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Themistocleus, chewing a piece of bread and wagging his head from side to side.
At this moment the lacquey who had been standing behind the future ambassador wiped the latter’s nose; and well it was that he did so, since otherwise an inelegant and superfluous drop would have been added to the soup. After that the conversation turned upon the joys of a quiet life–though occasionally it was interrupted by remarks from the hostess on the subject of acting and actors. Meanwhile the tutor kept his eyes fixed upon the speakers’ faces; and whenever he noticed that they were on the point of laughing he at once opened his mouth, and laughed with enthusiasm. Probably he was a man of grateful heart who wished to repay his employers for the good treatment which he had received. Once, however, his features assumed a look of grimness as, fixing his eyes upon his vis-a-vis, the boys, he tapped sternly upon the table. This happened at a juncture when Themistocleus had bitten Alkid on the ear, and the said Alkid, with frowning eyes and open mouth, was preparing himself to sob in piteous fashion; until, recognising that for such a proceeding he might possibly be deprived of his plate, he hastened to restore his mouth to its original expression, and fell tearfully to gnawing a mutton bone–the grease from which had soon covered his cheeks.
Every now and again the hostess would turn to Chichikov with the words, “You are eating nothing–you have indeed taken little;” but invariably her guest replied: “Thank you, I have had more than enough. A pleasant conversation is worth all the dishes in the world.”
At length the company rose from table. Manilov was in high spirits, and, laying his hand upon his guest’s shoulder, was on the point of conducting him to the drawing-room, when suddenly Chichikov intimated to him, with a meaning look, that he wished to speak to him on a very important matter.
“That being so,” said Manilov, “allow me to invite you into my study.” And he led the way to a small room which faced the blue of the forest. “This is my sanctum,” he added.
“What a pleasant apartment!” remarked Chichikov as he eyed it carefully. And, indeed, the room did not lack a certain attractiveness. The walls were painted a sort of blueish-grey colour, and the furniture consisted of four chairs, a settee, and a table–the latter of which bore a few sheets of writing-paper and the book of which I have before had occasion to speak. But the most prominent feature of the room was tobacco, which appeared in many different guises–in packets, in a tobacco jar, and in a loose heap strewn about the table. Likewise, both window sills were studded with little heaps of ash, arranged, not without artifice, in rows of more or less tidiness. Clearly smoking afforded the master of the house a frequent means of passing the time.
“Permit me to offer you a seat on this settee,” said Manilov. “Here you will be quieter than you would be in the drawing-room.”
“But I should prefer to sit upon this chair.”
“I cannot allow that,” objected the smiling Manilov. “The settee is specially reserved for my guests. Whether you choose or no, upon it you MUST sit.”
Accordingly Chichikov obeyed.
“And also let me hand you a pipe.”
“No, I never smoke,” answered Chichikov civilly, and with an assumed air of regret.
“And why?” inquired Manilov–equally civilly, but with a regret that was wholly genuine.
“Because I fear that I have never quite formed the habit, owing to my having heard that a pipe exercises a desiccating effect upon the system.”
“Then allow me to tell you that that is mere prejudice. Nay, I would even go so far as to say that to smoke a pipe is a healthier practice than to take snuff. Among its members our regiment numbered a lieutenant–a most excellent, well-educated fellow–who was simply INCAPABLE of removing his pipe from his mouth, whether at table or (pardon me) in other places. He is now forty, yet no man could enjoy better health than he has always done.”
Chichikov replied that such cases were common, since nature comprised many things which even the finest intellect could not compass.
“But allow me to put to you a question,” he went on in a tone in which there was a strange–or, at all events, RATHER a strange–note. For some unknown reason, also, he glanced over his shoulder. For some equally unknown reason, Manilov glanced over HIS.
“How long is it,” inquired the guest, “since you last rendered a census return?”
“Oh, a long, long time. In fact, I cannot remember when it was.”
“And since then have many of your serfs died?”
“I do not know. To ascertain that I should need to ask my bailiff. Footman, go and call the bailiff. I think he will be at home to-day.”
Before long the bailiff made his appearance. He was a man of under forty, clean-shaven, clad in a smock, and evidently used to a quiet life, seeing that his face was of that puffy fullness, and the skin encircling his slit-like eyes was of that sallow tint, which shows that the owner of those features is well acquainted with a feather bed. In a trice it could be seen that he had played his part in life as all such bailiffs do–that, originally a young serf of elementary education, he had married some Agashka of a housekeeper or a mistress’s favourite, and then himself become housekeeper, and, subsequently, bailiff; after which he had proceeded according to the rules of his tribe–that is to say, he had consorted with and stood in with the more well-to-do serfs on the estate, and added the poorer ones to the list of forced payers of obrok, while himself leaving his bed at nine o’clock in the morning, and, when the samovar had been brought, drinking his tea at leisure.
“Look here, my good man,” said Manilov. “How many of our serfs have died since the last census revision?”
“How many of them have died? Why, a great many.” The bailiff hiccoughed, and slapped his mouth lightly after doing so.
“Yes, I imagined that to be the case,” corroborated Manilov. “In fact, a VERY great many serfs have died.” He turned to Chichikov and repeated the words.
“How many, for instance?” asked Chichikov.
“Yes; how many?” re-echoed Manilov.
“HOW many?” re-echoed the bailiff. “Well, no one knows the exact number, for no one has kept any account.”
“Quite so,” remarked Manilov. “I supposed the death-rate to have been high, but was ignorant of its precise extent.”
“Then would you be so good as to have it computed for me?” said Chichikov. “And also to have a detailed list of the deaths made out?”
“Yes, I will–a detailed list,” agreed Manilov.
The bailiff departed.
“For what purpose do you want it?” inquired Manilov when the bailiff had gone.
The question seemed to embarrass the guest, for in Chichikov’s face there dawned a sort of tense expression, and it reddened as though its owner were striving to express something not easy to put into words. True enough, Manilov was now destined to hear such strange and unexpected things as never before had greeted human ears.
“You ask me,” said Chichikov, “for what purpose I want the list. Well, my purpose in wanting it is this–that I desire to purchase a few peasants.” And he broke off in a gulp.
“But may I ask HOW you desire to purchase those peasants?” asked Manilov. “With land, or merely as souls for transferment–that is to say, by themselves, and without any land?”
“I want the peasants themselves only,” replied Chichikov. “And I want dead ones at that.”
“What?–Excuse me, but I am a trifle deaf. Really, your words sound most strange!”
“All that I am proposing to do,” replied Chichikov, “is to purchase the dead peasants who, at the last census, were returned by you as alive.”
Manilov dropped his pipe on the floor, and sat gaping. Yes, the two friends who had just been discussing the joys of camaraderie sat staring at one another like the portraits which, of old, used to hang on opposite sides of a mirror. At length Manilov picked up his pipe, and, while doing so, glanced covertly at Chichikov to see whether there was any trace of a smile to be detected on his lips–whether, in short, he was joking. But nothing of the sort could be discerned. On the contrary, Chichikov’s face looked graver than usual. Next, Manilov wondered whether, for some unknown reason, his guest had lost his wits; wherefore he spent some time in gazing at him with anxious intentness. But the guest’s eyes seemed clear–they contained no spark of the wild, restless fire which is apt to wander in the eyes of madmen. All was as it should be. Consequently, in spite of Manilov’s cogitations, he could think of nothing better to do than to sit letting a stream of tobacco smoke escape from his mouth.
“So,” continued Chichikov, “what I desire to know is whether you are willing to hand over to me–to resign–these actually non-living, but legally living, peasants; or whether you have any better proposal to make?”
Manilov felt too confused and confounded to do aught but continue staring at his interlocutor.
“I think that you are disturbing yourself unnecessarily,” was Chichikov’s next remark.
“I? Oh no! Not at all!” stammered Manilov. “Only–pardon me–I do not quite comprehend you. You see, never has it fallen to my lot to acquire the brilliant polish which is, so to speak, manifest in your every movement. Nor have I ever been able to attain the art of expressing myself well. Consequently, although there is a possibility that in the–er–utterances which have just fallen from your lips there may lie something else concealed, it may equally be that–er–you have been pleased so to express yourself for the sake of the beauty of the terms wherein that expression found shape?”
“Oh, no,” asserted Chichikov. “I mean what I say and no more. My reference to such of your pleasant souls as are dead was intended to be taken literally.”
Manilov still felt at a loss–though he was conscious that he MUST do something, he MUST propound some question. But what question? The devil alone knew! In the end he merely expelled some more tobacco smoke–this time from his nostrils as well as from his mouth.
“So,” went on Chichikov, “if no obstacle stands in the way, we might as well proceed to the completion of the purchase.”
“What? Of the purchase of the dead souls?”
“Of the ‘dead’ souls? Oh dear no! Let us write them down as LIVING ones, seeing that that is how they figure in the census returns. Never do I permit myself to step outside the civil law, great though has been the harm which that rule has wrought me in my career. In my eyes an obligation is a sacred thing. In the presence of the law I am dumb.”
These last words reassured Manilov not a little: yet still the meaning of the affair remained to him a mystery. By way of answer, he fell to sucking at his pipe with such vehemence that at length the pipe began to gurgle like a bassoon. It was as though he had been seeking of it inspiration in the present unheard-of juncture. But the pipe only gurgled, et praeterea nihil.
“Perhaps you feel doubtful about the proposal?” said Chichikov.
“Not at all,” replied Manilov. “But you will, I know, excuse me if I say (and I say it out of no spirit of prejudice, nor yet as criticising yourself in any way)–you will, I know, excuse me if I say that possibly this–er–this, er, SCHEME of yours, this–er–TRANSACTION of yours, may fail altogether to accord with the Civil Statutes and Provisions of the Realm?”
And Manilov, with a slight gesture of the head, looked meaningly into Chichikov’s face, while displaying in his every feature, including his closely-compressed lips, such an expression of profundity as never before was seen on any human countenance–unless on that of some particularly sapient Minister of State who is debating some particularly abstruse problem.
Nevertheless Chichikov rejoined that the kind of scheme or transaction which he had adumbrated in no way clashed with the Civil Statutes and Provisions of Russia; to which he added that the Treasury would even BENEFIT by the enterprise, seeing it would draw therefrom the usual legal percentage.
“What, then, do you propose?” asked Manilov.
“I propose only what is above-board, and nothing else.”
“Then, that being so, it is another matter, and I have nothing to urge against it,” said Manilov, apparently reassured to the full.
“Very well,” remarked Chichikov. “Then we need only to agree as to the price.”
“As to the price?” began Manilov, and then stopped. Presently he went on: “Surely you cannot suppose me capable of taking money for souls which, in one sense at least, have completed their existence? Seeing that this fantastic whim of yours (if I may so call it?) has seized upon you to the extent that it has, I, on my side, shall be ready to surrender to you those souls UNCONDITIONALLY, and to charge myself with the whole expenses of the sale.”
I should be greatly to blame if I were to omit that, as soon as Manilov had pronounced these words, the face of his guest became replete with satisfaction. Indeed, grave and prudent a man though Chichikov was, he had much ado to refrain from executing a leap that would have done credit to a goat (an animal which, as we all know, finds itself moved to such exertions only during moments of the most ecstatic joy). Nevertheless the guest did at least execute such a convulsive shuffle that the material with which the cushions of the chair were covered came apart, and Manilov gazed at him with some misgiving. Finally Chichikov’s gratitude led him to plunge into a stream of acknowledgement of a vehemence which caused his host to grow confused, to blush, to shake his head in deprecation, and to end by declaring that the concession was nothing, and that, his one desire being to manifest the dictates of his heart and the psychic magnetism which his friend exercised, he, in short, looked upon the dead souls as so much worthless rubbish.
“Not at all,” replied Chichikov, pressing his hand; after which he heaved a profound sigh. Indeed, he seemed in the right mood for outpourings of the heart, for he continued–not without a ring of emotion in his tone: “If you but knew the service which you have rendered to an apparently insignificant individual who is devoid both of family and kindred! For what have I not suffered in my time–I, a drifting barque amid the tempestuous billows of life? What harryings, what persecutions, have I not known? Of what grief have I not tasted? And why? Simply because I have ever kept the truth in view, because ever I have preserved inviolate an unsullied conscience, because ever I have stretched out a helping hand to the defenceless widow and the hapless orphan!” After which outpouring Chichikov pulled out his handkerchief, and wiped away a brimming tear.
Manilov’s heart was moved to the core. Again and again did the two friends press one another’s hands in silence as they gazed into one another’s tear-filled eyes. Indeed, Manilov COULD not let go our hero’s hand, but clasped it with such warmth that the hero in question began to feel himself at a loss how best to wrench it free: until, quietly withdrawing it, he observed that to have the purchase completed as speedily as possible would not be a bad thing; wherefore he himself would at once return to the town to arrange matters. Taking up his hat, therefore, he rose to make his adieus.
“What? Are you departing already?” said Manilov, suddenly recovering himself, and experiencing a sense of misgiving. At that moment his wife sailed into the room.
“Is Paul Ivanovitch leaving us so soon, dearest Lizanka?” she said with an air of regret.
“Yes. Surely it must be that we have wearied him?” her spouse replied.
“By no means,” asserted Chichikov, pressing his hand to his heart. “In this breast, madam, will abide for ever the pleasant memory of the time which I have spent with you. Believe me, I could conceive of no greater blessing than to reside, if not under the same roof as yourselves, at all events in your immediate neighbourhood.”
“Indeed?” exclaimed Manilov, greatly pleased with the idea. “How splendid it would be if you DID come to reside under our roof, so that we could recline under an elm tree together, and talk philosophy, and delve to the very root of things!”
“Yes, it WOULD be a paradisaical existence!” agreed Chichikov with a sigh. Nevertheless he shook hands with Madame. “Farewell, sudarina,” he said. “And farewell to YOU, my esteemed host. Do not forget what I have requested you to do.”
“Rest assured that I will not,” responded Manilov. “Only for a couple of days will you and I be parted from one another.”
With that the party moved into the drawing-room.
“Farewell, dearest children,” Chichikov went on as he caught sight of Alkid and Themistocleus, who were playing with a wooden hussar which lacked both a nose and one arm. “Farewell, dearest pets. Pardon me for having brought you no presents, but, to tell you the truth, I was not, until my visit, aware of your existence. However, now that I shall be coming again, I will not fail to bring you gifts. Themistocleus, to you I will bring a sword. You would like that, would you not?”
“I should,” replied Themistocleus.
“And to you, Alkid, I will bring a drum. That would suit you, would it not?” And he bowed in Alkid’s direction.
“Zeth–a drum,” lisped the boy, hanging his head.
“Good! Then a drum it shall be–SUCH a beautiful drum! What a tur-r-r-ru-ing and a tra-ta-ta-ta-ing you will be able to kick up! Farewell, my darling.” And, kissing the boy’s head, he turned to Manilov and Madame with the slight smile which one assumes before assuring parents of the guileless merits of their offspring.
“But you had better stay, Paul Ivanovitch,” said the father as the trio stepped out on to the verandah. “See how the clouds are gathering!”
“They are only small ones,” replied Chichikov.
“And you know your way to Sobakevitch’s?”
“No, I do not, and should be glad if you would direct me.”
“If you like I will tell your coachman.” And in very civil fashion Manilov did so, even going so far as to address the man in the second person plural. On hearing that he was to pass two turnings, and then to take a third, Selifan remarked, “We shall get there all right, sir,” and Chichikov departed amid a profound salvo of salutations and wavings of handkerchiefs on the part of his host and hostess, who raised themselves on tiptoe in their enthusiasm.
For a long while Manilov stood following the departing britchka with his eyes. In fact, he continued to smoke his pipe and gaze after the vehicle even when it had become lost to view. Then he re-entered the drawing-room, seated himself upon a chair, and surrendered his mind to the thought that he had shown his guest most excellent entertainment. Next, his mind passed imperceptibly to other matters, until at last it lost itself God only knows where. He thought of the amenities of a life, of friendship, and of how nice it would be to live with a comrade on, say, the bank of some river, and to span the river with a bridge of his own, and to build an enormous mansion with a facade lofty enough even to afford a view to Moscow. On that facade he and his wife and friend would drink afternoon tea in the open air, and discuss interesting subjects; after which, in a fine carriage, they would drive to some reunion or other, where with their pleasant manners they would so charm the company that the Imperial Government, on learning of their merits, would raise the pair to the grade of General or God knows what–that is to say, to heights whereof even Manilov himself could form no idea. Then suddenly Chichikov’s extraordinary request interrupted the dreamer’s reflections, and he found his brain powerless to digest it, seeing that, turn and turn the matter about as he might, he could not properly explain its bearing. Smoking his pipe, he sat where he was until supper time.
Meanwhile, Chichikov, seated in his britchka and bowling along the turnpike, was feeling greatly pleased with himself. From the preceding chapter the reader will have gathered the principal subject of his bent and inclinations: wherefore it is no matter for wonder that his body and his soul had ended by becoming wholly immersed therein. To all appearances the thoughts, the calculations, and the projects which were now reflected in his face partook of a pleasant nature, since momentarily they kept leaving behind them a satisfied smile. Indeed, so engrossed was he that he never noticed that his coachman, elated with the hospitality of Manilov’s domestics, was making remarks of a didactic nature to the off horse of the troika, a skewbald. This skewbald was a knowing animal, and made only a show of pulling; whereas its comrades, the middle horse (a bay, and known as the Assessor, owing to his having been acquired from a gentleman of that rank) and the near horse (a roan), would do their work gallantly, and even evince in their eyes the pleasure which they derived from their exertions.
 Three horses harnessed abreast.
“Ah, you rascal, you rascal! I’ll get the better of you!” ejaculated Selifan as he sat up and gave the lazy one a cut with his whip. “YOU know your business all right, you German pantaloon! The bay is a good fellow, and does his duty, and I will give him a bit over his feed, for he is a horse to be respected; and the Assessor too is a good horse. But what are YOU shaking your ears for? You are a fool, so just mind when you’re spoken to. ‘Tis good advice I’m giving you, you blockhead. Ah! You CAN travel when you like.” And he gave the animal another cut, and then shouted to the trio, “Gee up, my beauties!” and drew his whip gently across the backs of the skewbald’s comrades–not as a punishment, but as a sign of his approval. That done, he addressed himself to the skewbald again.
“Do you think,” he cried, “that I don’t see what you are doing? You can behave quite decently when you like, and make a man respect you.”
With that he fell to recalling certain reminiscences.
“They were NICE folk, those folk at the gentleman’s yonder,” he mused. “I DO love a chat with a man when he is a good sort. With a man of that kind I am always hail-fellow-well-met, and glad to drink a glass of tea with him, or to eat a biscuit. One CAN’T help respecting a decent fellow. For instance, this gentleman of mine–why, every one looks up to him, for he has been in the Government’s service, and is a Collegiate Councillor.”
Thus soliloquising, he passed to more remote abstractions; until, had Chichikov been listening, he would have learnt a number of interesting details concerning himself. However, his thoughts were wholly occupied with his own subject, so much so that not until a loud clap of thunder awoke him from his reverie did he glance around him. The sky was completely covered with clouds, and the dusty turnpike beginning to be sprinkled with drops of rain. At length a second and a nearer and a louder peal resounded, and the rain descended as from a bucket. Falling slantwise, it beat upon one side of the basketwork of the tilt until the splashings began to spurt into his face, and he found himself forced to draw the curtains (fitted with circular openings through which to obtain a glimpse of the wayside view), and to shout to Selifan to quicken his pace. Upon that the coachman, interrupted in the middle of his harangue, bethought him that no time was to be lost; wherefore, extracting from under the box-seat a piece of old blanket, he covered over his sleeves, resumed the reins, and cheered on his threefold team (which, it may be said, had so completely succumbed to the influence of the pleasant lassitude induced by Selifan’s discourse that it had taken to scarcely placing one leg before the other). Unfortunately, Selifan could not clearly remember whether two turnings had been passed or three. Indeed, on collecting his faculties, and dimly recalling the lie of the road, he became filled with a shrewd suspicion that A VERY LARGE NUMBER of turnings had been passed. But since, at moments which call for a hasty decision, a Russian is quick to discover what may conceivably be the best course to take, our