Events take place in July, in Lucerne, one of the most romantic cities in Switzerland. Travelers of all nations, and especially the English, in Lucerne – an abyss. Under their tastes the city is adjusted: old houses have broken, on a place of the old bridge have made straight, as a stick, quay. It may be that these embankments, and houses, and limes, and the English are very good somewhere – but not here, amid this oddly majestic and yet unspeakably harmonious and mild nature.
Prince Nekhlyudov was captivated by the beauty of the nature of Lucerne, under his influence he felt an inner anxiety and a need to express somehow the surplus of something that suddenly filled his soul. He’s telling me…
“… It was the seventh hour of the evening. In the splendor of nature, full of harmony in front of my window, the white stick of the embankment, the sticks with the supports and the green benches – poor, vulgar human works, stuck out foolishly, drowned as distant cottages and ruins, in the general harmony of beauty, but, on the contrary, rudely contradicting it. “I involuntarily tried to find a point of view with which I could not see it, and, after all, learned to look so.”
Then they called me to dinner. two tables, followed by English strict ü, decency, incompetence, based not on pride, but on the lack of need for rapprochement, and lonely contentment in the comfortable and pleasant satisfaction of their needs.
At such dinners, it always gets hard, unpleasant and at the end sad. It all seems to me that I am punished, as in my childhood. I tried to rebel against this feeling, I tried to talk to neighbors; but, except for the phrases, which, obviously, were repeated a hundred thousandth time in the same place and with the same person, I did not receive any other answers. Why, I asked myself, why do they deprive themselves of one of the best pleasures of life, of enjoying one another, of enjoying a person?
It was the case, sometimes, in our Paris boarding house, where we, twenty people of the most diverse nations, professions and characters, under the influence of French sociability, converged on the common table as a fun. And after dinner we moved the table and, in tact, not in tact, we started dancing until the evening. There we were though and coquettish, not so clever and respectable people, but we were people.
I became sad, as always after such dinners, and, not eating milk, in the most unhappy mood, I went to wander around the city. Dull dirty streets of the city further intensified my longing. It was quite dark in the streets when I, without looking round myself, without any thought in my head, went to the house, hoping to get rid of the gloomy mood of the spirit.
So I walked along the embankment to Schweizerhof, when suddenly I was struck by the sounds of strange, but extremely pleasant music. These sounds instantly life-giving effect on me. As if a bright light penetrated into my soul, and the beauty of the night and the lake, to which I had previously been indifferent, suddenly amazed me.
Directly in front of me, I saw in the middle of the street a half-round crowd of people in a half-circle, and in front of a crowd, at some distance, a tiny man in black clothes. Guitar chords and several voices floated in the air, which, interrupting each other, did not sing the theme, and here and there, singing the most prominent places, let it feel. It was not a song, but an easy workshop for a sketch of a song.
I could not understand what it was; but it was perfect. All the confused impressions of life suddenly got meaning and charm for me. Instead of fatigue, indifference to everything in the world, which I experienced a moment before, I suddenly felt the need for love, hope and the causeless joy of life.
I walked closer. The little man was a wandering Tyrolean. In his clothes, nothing was artistic, but a dashing, childishly cheerful pose and movements with his tiny growth constituted a touching and together amusing sight. I instantly felt affection for this man and gratitude for the coup he had made in me.
In the entrance, windows and balconies of the splendidly illuminated Schweitzerhof stood a noble audience, in the semicircle of the crowd stopped the elegant waiters walking. Everyone seemed to experience the same feeling that I felt.
The singer’s small voice was extremely pleasant, the tenderness, the taste and the sense of proportion with which he owned this voice were extraordinary and showed in him a huge natural gift.
I asked one aristocratic waiter who such a singer is, often comes here. The waiter replied that in the summer he came twice, that this was a mendicant singer from Argovia.
At this time, the little man finished his first song, took off his cap and approached the hotel. He threw back his head and turned to the gentlemen standing at the windows and on the balconies, for a little silence; But since no one gave him anything, he again threw up the guitar. Above the audience was silent, but continued to stand in anticipation of the next song, down below in the crowd laughed, probably, to what he so strangely expressed, and to the fact that nothing was given to him.
I gave him a few centimes. He began to sing again. This song, which he left for confinement, was even better than all the previous ones, and from all sides in the crowd there were sounds of approval.
The singer again took off his cap, put it forward, two steps closer to the windows, but in the voice and movements of him I noticed now some indecision and childish timidity. The elegant public still stood motionless. In the crowd below, the talk and laughter were heard louder.
The singer repeated his phrase for the third time, but still with the weakest voice, and did not even finish it and again extended his hand with his cap, but immediately lowered it. And for the second time out of this hundred brilliantly dressed people who listened to him, not one of them threw him a penny. The crowd laughed ruthlessly.
A little singer, said goodbye and put on his cap. The crowd giggled. On the boulevard, the party again resumed. Silent during the singing, the street revived again, several people just did not approach him, looked from afar to the singer and laughed. I heard a little man say something under his breath, turned and, as if becoming even smaller, walked quickly to the city. The merry revelers who looked at him, still followed him at some distance and laughed…
I was completely confused, I was hurt and, most importantly, ashamed of the little man, the crowd, for myself, as if I were asking for money, they gave me nothing and laughed at me. I, too, without looking back, with a pinched heart, walked swiftly to my house on the porch of the Schweitzerhof.
On a magnificent, lighted entrance, I was greeted by a courteously guarded doorman and an English family. And all of them seemed so calm, comfortable, clean and easy to live in the world, this in their movements and faces expressed indifference to all other people’s lives and the confidence that the porter would step aside and bow to them, and that, turning back, they they will find a clean bed and rooms, and that all this should be, and that they all have every right to do so-that I suddenly involuntarily countered them with a wandering singer who, tired, perhaps hungry, was now running with shame from the laughing crowd.
I twice passed there and back past the Englishman, with inexpressible pleasure both times pushing his elbow, and, coming down from the entrance, ran in the dark towards the city where the little man had disappeared.
He walked alone, with rapid steps, no one was approaching him, he all that, as it seemed to me, muttered angrily to himself. I went up to him and suggested that he go somewhere together to drink a bottle of wine. He proposed a “simple” cafe, and the word “unpretentious” involuntarily led me to the idea of not going to a simple cafe, but going to Schweizerhof. Despite the fact that he repeatedly refused Schweitzerhof with timid excitement, saying that it was too ceremonious, I insisted on my own.
The eldest waiter of Schweizerhof, from whom I asked for a bottle of wine, seriously listened to me and, looking from head to foot with the timid, small figure of the singer, told the porter strictly that we were led to the hall to the left. The hall to the left was a drinking room for the common people.
The waiter who came to serve us, looking at us with a mocking smile and his hands in his pockets, was talking about something with a hunchback dishwasher. He apparently tried to let us notice that he felt immensely superior to the singer by his social position.
– Champagne, and the best, – I said, trying to take the most proud and majestic appearance. But neither the champagne nor my sight affected the lackey. He did not hurry out of the room and soon returned with wine and two other footmen. All three smiles ambiguously, only the hunchbacked dishwasher seemed to be looking at us with participation.
With fire I considered the singer better. It was a tiny, sinewy man, almost a dwarf, with bristly black hair, always weeping with large black eyes, devoid of eyelashes, and an extremely pleasant, emotionally folded mouth. Clothes were the most simple and poor. He was unclean, torn, tanned, and generally looked like a working man. He was more like a poor merchant than an artist. Only in constantly damp, brilliant eyes and collected mouth was something original and touching. In appearance, he could have been given from twenty-five to forty; indeed he was thirty-eight.
The singer told us about his life. He comes from Argo. In his childhood, he lost his father and mother, he has no other relatives. He never had fortunes. He studied carpentry, but twenty-two years ago he had a caries in his hand, which deprived him of the opportunity to work. He since childhood had been hunting for a whip and began to sing. Foreigners gave him occasional money. He made a profession out of this, bought a guitar, and here the eighteenth year he wanders around Switzerland and Italy, singing in front of hotels. All his luggage – a guitar and a purse, in which he now had only one and a half francs. Every year, eighteen times, he passes all the best, most visited places in Switzerland. Now it’s hard for him to walk, because of the cold, the pain in his legs, is increasing every year and that his eyes and his voice are becoming weaker. Despite this, he now goes to Italy, which he especially likes; in general, as it seems, he is very pleased with his life. When I asked him why he was returning home, whether he had relatives there, or home and land, he replied:
“There is nothing, or should I have walked like that.” And I come home, because somehow I’m drawn to my homeland somehow.
I noticed that wandering singers, acrobats, magicians like to call themselves artists, and therefore several times hinted to his interlocutor that he was an artist, but he did not at all recognize this quality, but rather simply as a means to life, he looked on their own business. When I asked him if he himself composes songs that he sings, he was surprised at this question and answered that wherever he was, all the old Tyrolean songs.
We jabbed for the health of the artists; he drank half a glass and found it necessary to think and move his eyebrows thoughtfully.
– For a long time I did not drink this wine! In Italy, the wine is good, but it’s even better. Ah, Italy! it’s nice to be there!
“Yes, they know how to appreciate music and artists,” I said, wanting to lead him to an evening failure before Schweitzerhof.
“No,” he answered. “Italians are musicians themselves, which are not all around the world; but I’m just about Tyrolean songs. It’s all the same news to them.
– Well, there are more generous gentlemen? – I continued, wishing him to make me share my anger with the inhabitants of Schweitzerhof.
But the singer did not even think of resenting them; on the contrary, in my observation he saw a reproach to his talent, which did not cause a reward, and tried to justify himself in front of me.
– There is a lot of harassment from the police. Here, according to the laws of the republic, you are not allowed to sing, but in Italy you can go as long as you want, no one will say a word. Here if they want to allow, they will allow, but they will not, then they can put him in jail. And what I sing, so do I do any harm to somebody? What is it? rich can live as they want, but someone like me can not live. What kind of laws are these? If so, then we do not want the republic, but we want… we just want… we want… – he hesitated a little – we want natural laws.
I poured him another glass.
“I know what you want,” he said, screwing up his eyes and threatening me with a finger. “You want to podpoit me, see what will come of me, but no, you will not succeed…”
So we continued to drink and talk with the singer, and the footmen continued, without hesitation, to admire us and, it seems, to banter. Despite the interest of my conversation, I could not help noticing them and getting angry more and more. I already had a ready supply of anger to the inhabitants of Schweitzerhof, and now this servile audience was tempted me. The doorman, without removing his cap, entered the room and, leaning on the table, sat beside me. This last circumstance, hurting my self-esteem or vanity, finally blew me up and gave the outcome to the rage that gathered all evening in me.
I jumped to my feet.
“What are you laughing at?” I shouted at the footman, feeling my face turn pale. “What right have you to laugh at this gentleman and sit next to him when he is a guest, and you are a lackey?” Why did not you laugh at me today at dinner and sit next to me? Because he is poorly dressed and sings on the street? He is poor, but a thousand times better than you, I’m sure of that. Because he did not insult anyone, and you insult him.
“Yes, I’m nothing, you,” my footman timidly answered the footman. “Do not I prevent him from sitting.
The footman did not understand me, and my German speech was for nothing. The doorman stood up for the lackey, but I attacked him so swiftly that the porter pretended not to understand me either. The hunchbacked dishwasher, fearing a scandal, or sharing my opinion, took my side and, trying to stand between me and the doorman, persuaded him to keep quiet, saying that I was right, and asked me to calm down.
The singer represented the most miserable, frightened face and, apparently, not understanding what I’m excited from and what I want, he asked me to leave as soon as possible from here. But in me anger was growing hotter. I remembered everything: for the crowd that laughed at him, and the listeners who did not give him anything, I did not want to calm down for anything in the world.
-. .. Here it is equality! The English would not have dared to bring you into this room, those same Englishmen who listened to this gentleman for nothing, that is, they stole from him every few centimes that were supposed to give him. How dare you point this room?
“The other hall is locked,” the doorman answered.
Despite the admonition of the hunchback and the request of the singer to go home better, I demanded the chief-waiter to accompany us with the singer to that room. The Ober-waiter, hearing my embittered voice, did not argue and said with contemptful politeness that I could go where I pleased.
The hall was unlocked, lit, and on one of the tables sat an Englishman with a lady. Despite the fact that we were told a special table, I sat down with the dirty singer to the very Englishman and told me to give us an unfinished bottle.
The English were surprised at first, then they looked at the little man who was neither dead nor alive, and left. Behind the glass doors, I could see the Englishman saying something to the waiter, pointing his hand in our direction. I was happy to expect that they would come to take us out and we could finally pour out all their indignation on them. But, fortunately, although it was unpleasant to me then, they left us alone.
The singer, who had previously given up wine, now hurriedly drank everything that remained in the bottle, so that he could get out of here as soon as possible. He told me the most strange, confusing phrase of gratitude. But still this phrase was very pleasant to me. Together we went out into the passage. There stood footmen and my enemy the porter. They all looked at me as if I were mad. I gave the little man a level with all this audience and then with all the respectfulness I took off my hat and shook his hand with a stiff, dried-up finger. The footmen pretended not to pay the slightest attention to me. Only one of them laughed with a sardonic laugh.
When the singer bowed, bowing in the dark, I went upstairs, but, feeling too excited for sleep, I again went out into the street to walk until I calmed down, and I confess, moreover, in a vague hope that there will be a chance to mate with the doorman, footman or Englishman and prove to them all their cruelty and, most importantly, injustice. But, except for the doorman, who saw me, turned his back on me, I did not meet anybody, and one by one walked back and forth along the embankment.
“Here it is, the strange fate of poetry,” I reasoned, having calmed down a little. “Everyone loves her, she is desired and sought in life, and no one recognizes her strength, no one values this best good of the world. Ask these inhabitants of Schweitzerhof: what is the best good in the world? and all, having taken a sardonic expression, will tell you that the best good is money. Why did you all pour out onto the balconies and listen in a respectful silence to the song of a small beggar? Did this money collect you all on the balconies and made you stand silently and motionless? No! And it forces you to act, and forever will move the need for poetry, which you do not realize, stronger than all the other engines of life, but you feel and will feel until something human remains in you.
You allow love of the poetic only in children and foolish young ladies, and then you laugh at them. Yes, children look sensibly at life, they love what a person should love, and that will give happiness, and your life is so confused and corrupted, that you laugh at what you love and are looking for what you hate and what does your misfortune.
But it was not the strongest thing that hit me this evening. I was amazed at how you, the children of a free, human people, you, Christians, responded with coldness and ridicule to the pure pleasure that the unfortunate beggar brought you! Out of hundreds of you, happy, rich, there was not one that would throw him a coin! Shamed, he walked away from you, and the crowd, laughing, pursued and insulted not you but him, – for being cold, cruel and dishonest; because you stole from him the pleasure he gave you, for which he was insulted. ”
This is an event that historians of our time should write down in fiery letters, an event that is more significant and has a deeper meaning than facts in newspapers and stories. not for the history of human actions, but for the history of progress and civilization.
Why do these people, in their wards, rallies and societies, fervently caring about the condition of celibate Chinese in India, the spread of Christianity and education in Africa, the compilation of societies for the correction of all mankind, do not find in their souls their simple primitive human feelings for man? Is this equality for which so much innocent blood has been shed and so many crimes committed?
Civilization is good; barbarism is evil; freedom is good; bondage is evil. This imaginary knowledge destroys the instinctive, blissful primitive needs of good in human nature. And who will tell me that freedom, despotism, civilization, barbarism? One, only one, we have an infallible leader, the World Spirit, which penetrates us all together and everyone. And this one infallible voice drowns out the noisy, hasty development of civilization.
… At this time from the city in the dead silence of the night, I heard the guitar of a little man and his voice far away. There he is now sitting somewhere on the dirty threshold, looking at the moonlit sky and singing happily among the fragrant night, in his soul there is neither reproach, nor anger, nor remorse. And who knows what is happening now in the soul of all these people, behind these rich walls? Who knows, is there in them all so much carefree, meek joy of life and harmony with the world, how much does it live in the soul of this little man? Infinite is the goodness and wisdom of the one who allowed all these contradictions to exist. Only you, an insignificant worm, boldly trying to penetrate his laws, his intentions, only they seem to you contradictions. In your pride, you thought to break out of the general laws. No, and you, with your little, vulgar indignant at the lackeys,