Victor Karlovich Stember - Diary
Below are Victor's diary entries that he began writing in 1918 when he was 55 years old. The hand-written diary was translated from Russian into English by Olga A. Fuhrman. Click any of the Month names below to begin reading, or you can expand each Month name and click on specific dates. "October, 1918" is the start of the diary.

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The complete list of Victor Stember’s family mentioned in the diary.

Friday, October 25, 1918 - Petrograd

What a big mistake we, intelligent people, are making by not keeping a diary, by not jotting down successively the events of our life, of our inner reactions. Not only the minor experiences, but also our life’s big events are forgotten and disappear without a trace, while we ourselves continue to live as if separated from our past, living only for the present moment, hoping for a future which in its turn gradually passes into oblivion.

At the same time all that has been experienced, minor and major events (and has often what seemed to be unimportant, in fact turns out to be of great consequence) form in their complexity, so to say, an image – “man’s history”, and therefore should be impressed in one’s consciousness.

A people that does not remember its history stands on the lowest rung of culture. The same is true of families, of an individual. They live vagabond-like, only interested in the present moment, unaware of their kinship with the past with which they form an organic link.

“Geneological records” are kept only by the aristocracy, and even though they sound vainglorious, are superficial and conventional; they have been kept nevertheless. The middle class, the intelligentsia, however, lives without any consciousness of its ties with the foregoing generation. And rarely does a man of this class remember not only the unique world in which his grandfather lived, but he is ignorant even of his name, having forgotten even his features.

Some writers have written their family chronology in the form of a literary work. Such chronology, however, should be carried on in every family, and every parent should impart to his children and descendents if only a brief knowledge of himself and the memory of his ancestors.

The plant and animal kingdom have no need of it, since they lack consciousness. Not so with man. And the greater man’s consciousness and intelligence, the more important and interesting is the acquaintance with his past and the penetration into his spiritual and material world and that of his near-departed ones. For man is but a part of an unbroken chain, the links of which are connected by unseen, mystical threads of logic and by the law of succession.

How much original beauty there is in the completed life of each individual and in an entire epoch, with all its joys and sufferings from which originated our own joys and sufferings. An endless poetry envelops our memory of this past, of which we were no witnesses, but to which we are linked by the mystical bonds of relationship.

A family chronology of memoirs, passed on from parent to his children, from generation to generation, would then serve as a stimulant to self-knowledge and self-development and would give to our material and spiritual existence a certain style. As every biography, personal memoirs are always interesting. They are mankind’s living and unfailing documents. And the simpler they are (if only they note some factual happenings), the more faithfully are pictured the events and man’s spiritual experiences.

Throughout my life and during my youth I have frequently begun a diary, but to my regret I discontinued, not having saved even any notes. I am more than sorry now, when I am old,* and the memory of the minutest happening of my past life has become especially precious. When young, one does not think of it.

Now, when I have not much longer to live, I am beginning to jot down again my experiences. It is never too late. Every moment of life is interesting, and at this our time, what we are experiencing just now, is so important, so tragic, so all-embracing. However, personally I am not interested in chronicles, these records are destined not for the future historian, but for my children and my grandchildren, and especially my dear far-away Natasha, torn away from her family and relatives. I am dedicating these writings to her, who does not hear nor see the way her dearest people live in their unfortunate motherland. Letters do not reach her. What must be her feelings when rumors reach New York of the horrors in Russia, in Petrograd. How she must tremble for the fate of her mother, father, sisters and brother. And I know what it will mean to her when in the course of time she will read in these lines how we have lived, how fate had protected us in the midst of the chaos and at a time when such a number had perished.

Saturday, October 26, 1918 - Petrograd

I am leaving tomorrow for Dr. Zabelin’s to paint his wife’s portrait, for the time being only for 2-3 days, and to “subsist.” In general we all are leaving and the whereabouts of each member of my family for the coming winter has been determined. Last night yet we still did not know anything, and I did not ransack much my brain, having faith in the law of necessity that clarifies the situation and directs it. Sonya is leaving in two days for the Ukraine, escorting a blind invalid. Otherwise she would not be able to travel. Mamulya and Nadya will stay in Dubrachok. Nadya is getting a commission from the Soviet Government for managing a “home” (club) for peasant children in the Strakhovo village, for 400 rubles a month, with lodging, meals, and servant. Mamulya will teach singing in the same place, but will live at home with little Kyrill, Nadya’s baby. She is urging me to join her. I will go with pleasure and shall stew away the winter with them in the country, living primitively no doubt, in two rooms and without a servant. As a matter of fact, there is nothing else left for me to do. There are no orders except the one of Zabelin.

Just recently, at the house meeting, it was announced that there will be a 40-50% raise on the apartment rent and that there will no longer be any elevator-man nor yard-keeper’s services, that we have to carry wood and the trash ourselves. Kolya will stay alone in the apartment if no tenant can be found. How will he manage to feed himself without me and at the terribly high cost of food? For instance the cost of food for each of us was:

Breakfast – coffee and bread: 22 rubles
Dinner: 20 rubles
Total: 42 rubles

This amounts for each person for food only in a month 1200 rubles. If one joins a Public Dining Hall and has for lunch potatoes, herring, etc., the cost can be reduced to half.

Wednesday, October 30, 1918 - Petrograd

Yesterday I left the Zabelin’s at Plyussy (along the Warsaw Railroad). The return was sudden: “Krasnov with Kaledin” are advancing from Pskov. This information was brought to us by the assistant surgeon from Toroshino. We became alarmed, in view of the unavoidable stop of all railroad communication with Petrograd. Just the same, I got through. It is said that fighting is in progress beyond Toroshino. The Soviet Army is siding with the Cossacks and the White Guards. In Petrograd radical changes are expected to take place by November 7, looked forward to by the “Octobrists” in celebration of the anniversary of the Revolution. Spirits are high! Sonya left for Poltava yesterday. Tomorrow is Mamulya’s birthday! I am very much worried about her and feel deeply sorry for her – how hard it must be for her, at her age, to manage the household alone with Nadya; all that work! And with a little child, and without a servant!!!

From now on Kolya and I will go to eat at the Public Hall. I brought from the Zabelin’s a large loaf of black bread and twelve pounds of barley. The Zabelin’s are unusually kind people!

Thursday, October 31, 1918 - Petrograd

From hour to hour it is not getting easier! Disappointments from this morning: There is no water in the faucets owing to shortage of coal. No washing up, no making coffee! From 8:00 am on Kolya has been trying to get food; stood in line and got cigarettes, 2 herrings, and 2 apples. Then dragged himself downstairs after water and I went after wood. Then I roasted and made the coffee and boiled the potatoes. Kolya is already lying down. Mamulya’s birthday we are not observing gaily! It turned out that the barley had not been thrashed and we cooked it with its dirt, husks and chaff – the result was a dirty mess.

Last night after Kolya played duets with Mlle. Dimanis (next door neighbors), we had tea there, something we are doing almost every evening. Over our tea we read Maeterlink’s philosophy “About the Silence” and Tutchev’s poetry. Kolya is apparently winning the admiration of the Dimanis with his playing.

Friday, November 1, 1918 - Petrograd

Yesterday at the Public Dining Hall, we ate so little, so badly, and at great cost, that today we did not go out to “dine” nor did we join any Dining Hall, but ate at home, what God gave, at the cost of about 40 rubles. A German woman, one of the neighbors, proposed to organize communistic dinners. If five to seven Apartment tenants will each, in turn, prepare meals in their kitchens, there would be a considerable economy in firewood. But the bourgeois families along our stairs will hardly consent to this. The Dimanis refused to cook for a horde of strange people. On the other hand, she offered Kolya and me to dine with them. This would be great. On the whole, she seems to like us very much!

All this fretting, trouble, worrying and running about from morning on, all only in order to eat, is having a depressing effect on us. Therefore Kolya practices little, almost not at all! Especially on a day like today when he is at school. There, however, his affairs, his prestige, are growing rapidly. Pupils already are going over to him from other teachers. What will then be after his debut? But will there be a debut? And what kind of debut will it be since Kolya himself works so little? All this worries me much and I am provoked at Kolya’s weakness, physical and moral, that lack of will power and endurance in him!

The general situation is much confused, full of persistent rumors and tense waiting. It is said that from Pskov the White Guards are on the move and that there are battles. I fear that along the Warsaw, railroad communication will definitely be cut off. How will I then get to Dr. Zabelin? It is absolutely necessary that I begin this work as there are only a few hundred “kerenki” (Kerensky’s paper certificates) in my pocket, and money, a lot of it, is needed.

Have gotten Kiev papers, also German papers from Berlin (through the German Consulate). One reads and the news seems to be as of another planet.

Saturday, November 2, 1918 - Petrograd

Today I hung around all day in “queues” in order to register, according to a decree, for compulsory public work, then for provisions in food stores and to obtain cigarettes. This took from 11:00 to 5:00 pm. We had “breakfast” at 6 o’clock. We made some kasha, cocoa with saccharine and fried potatoes. At that Kolya burned his hand. The registration is done by an 18-year old ferocious youth: if someone looks like a “bourgeois” and on top of it is a proprietor of a house or a merchant, he is registered to hard labor (the Countess Nirod was sent to clean the toilets in the barracks ), or he is taxed with 500 to 20,000 rubles, according to the fierce youth’s decision. I did not wait for my turn and left. Standing in queue from four to six hours is beyond my strength.

In the evening we were at the Dimanis. They will boil the potatoes for us! Hurrah!

Monday, November 4, 1918 - Petrograd

Yesterday Berezovsky posed for me. From a factory owner he became a clerk in the service of the Soviet Power. That is really the only way out and the “Power” gladly accepts in its service knowledgeable people. The Berezovsky’s want to invite Kolya to give their daughter music lessons.

Today the Dimanis sent us a bottle of milk. It was an indescribable joy, and we immediately made cocoa (half water). Dinner was given me by “kind people.” I brought it home in dinner-pails and we ate it with great relish. Thus we have not registered in the Public Dining Hall. Yesterday I received a letter from Dubrachok. Mamulya continues to wear herself out with the housework and without a servant. It appears that their work in the Strakhovo Kindergarten is materializing. They will have to live in Strakhovo. This raises the question in whose care to leave Dubrachok. I am in despair not to be able to send them money. It is absolutely necessary for me to go in the next few days to Zabelins at Plyussy (money is running out). But it is rumored that travel for passengers on that railroad has been cut off! What is going on there!

It is terribly cold in our apartment. I sit in my fur coat, not desiring to heat on account of the shortage of wood. I shall wait until December. We are heating, however, Kolya’s room.

We discovered we have three heads of cabbage. Kolya shredding and fermented them. We are cleaning up the dining room and kitchen after all the chaos. One of these days I shall wash the kitchen towels and my underwear.

Tuesday, November 5, 1918 - Petrograd

Today Zabelin arrived unexpectedly from Plyussy. Passage is very complicated: in Luga passports and documents are inspected. Permission to travel beyond Luga is give by the Commandant and there is a wait of two to three days in Luga. These measures are taken to prevent those who travel to Pskov to join the “Whites.” I shall wait until after the “festivities” of the “octobryad” (Anniversary of the October Revolution). Travel should be freer then and maybe there will be a “change?”

We were given, each of us, one-half pound of bread for two days, but we ate it all up this morning with black coffee. The dinner, not too satisfying, was given us by the “kind people.” Kolya’s share is still on the table, in pails wrapped in napkins. He has not returned yet from school. The electricity has not been turned on yet; the room is lit by a lamp that gives off only a dim light. The mood is sad and melancholy. Am feeling deeply sorry for Mamulya and Nadya with the child! I long to be with them – to share their loneliness and work. When together life would not be so hard.

Wednesday, November 6, 1918 - Petrograd

A wretched day. From nine o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock in the evening Kolya and I wore ourselves out by standing in queues and then preparing meals. This is the eve of the HOLIDAY! As though the Eve of Easter. Everybody is stocking up on food, having received increased rations and white saiki (small buns) with raisins. A large amount of raisins have been received by the bakers and eaten up by them, while only one raisin to every 10 saikis was left for the rest.

However, the point is not in the “little raisin” of the Bolshevist “Easter” but in the surprise that was published this morning and flashed like lightning through the mind of each inhabitant. Germany has openly cut off its mesailliance with Russia. In 24 hours she expelled from Germany the representatives of “Sovdeps” (Soviet deputies) and at the same time recalled its own representatives from Russia. This was in retaliation to the protest of Joffe (our envoy) addressed during the last days to Germany, regarding the assistance Germans have been giving the White Guards. “But why,” Germans asked, “are you stirring up a revolution in Germany and why have not the murderers of Mirbach been punished?” Germany demands a guarantee, but what kind of guarantee can Bolshevism give when its elemental principle is the establishment of a world-wide revolution? What a surprise for the “Holiday.” How it spoiled or holiday mood!!!

All these events prompted me to stock up on food at the bazaar, to the sum of 75.00 rubles. One would think I bought heaven knows, what an amount of items. But all I got was: one two-pound fresh white fish, some turnips, carrots, radish, parsley and stewed fruit. However, I made a good soup for three days. To do it I made a fire in the kitchen stove. I also wanted to take advantage of the fire to heat water and do some washing. But we discovered suddenly that there was no water coming from the faucets. Just the same, we were no longer hungry and we felt happy, though tired, forgetting even to think about art.

Thursday, November 7, 1918 - Petrograd

The great holiday turned out to be a drab one – fog, rain. Processions and demonstrations took place as they had been planned, it is said, but no enthusiasm was heard not felt. It has been told that tomorrow’s festivities have been revoked after additional meetings by the “authorities” at the Smolny, where it was decided that the game was lost. There were many arrests during the night among the Kadets (members of a Political Party). And it is rumored that in Beloostrov (near Petrograd) there are two Swedish Army Corps.

From 3:00 to 6:00 pm I was busy boiling water and washing clothes. Washed up the kitchen towels, my own underwear, and shirts and collars. Otherwise I would have had nothing to wear. Nice to say – a jolly occupation and very “appropriate” for a holiday. In the evening we were at Berezovskis. We had tartlets with preserves and tea with sugar. We listened to the playing of Kolya’s new pupil. Then Kolya played himself. We thought his playing bad, but the Berezovskis thought it wonderful.

Though free from all distracting conditions, Nikolai practices little, almost not at all. Regardless of my having taken over entirely all morning household duties, preparing coffee, etc., Kolya does not touch the piano until 11-12 o’clock. He always finds something else to do – busy reading the paper, busy at his toilette, etc....and so the days go by!.........

Saturday, November 9, 1918 - Petrograd

The whole day yesterday passed in cooking, baking flat cakes, and in fetching our dinner, which Klavdia Petrovna is supplying us with: meat, soup, tongue, and mashed potatoes, well prepared. Generally it’s nobody’s business how we manage to feed ourselves. Everybody talks, everybody sighs, but does not turn a finger, while Klavdiya Petrovna furnishes us two dinners and at a not too expensive a cost.

An extraordinary thing happened today. There came to us a destitute young girl to whom I had given three rubles in the restaurant, and then asked whether she would care to earn a little money by posing for me, as she appeared to me rather comely. She came, and while undressing and then dressing in Kolya’s room – the only room that is heated – she took his porte-monnaie with its 378.00 rubles in it. We discovered it immediately , but too late to pursue her. Besides we were not dressed. Half an hour later I went to the address she had first given me (she had given me another one when she left us, which proved to be fictitious). At her home I was met by her sister, a likeable young lady who inspired confidence. She was horrified and in tears, promised to take all measures to return to us the stolen money – while I was threatening to sue.

The next day I went back and the porte-monnaie with all the money was returned to me. The girl-thief had in the meantime spent more than 200.00 rubles for fancy pastry. But her brothers and her sister replaced the amount.

Sunday, November 10, 1918 - Petrograd

I am astonished at Kolya’s egotism! He got up at quarter to 9:00 am this morning and prepared coffee for himself, only for himself. While I got up as usual at 9:00 am and could not prepare our common coffee as usual because the little stove was still in use by Kolya! It seems his craving for breakfast was so strong he could not wait another quarter of an hour. And, by the way, he never thought of making enough coffee also for me! While it is I who always prepares all meals for both of us, it is I who starts the fire in his room. No, Kolya has apparently not grown up to the idea of communism; sometimes he even errs against the idea of simple cooperative solidarity. He did this, however, “for speed”, in order to get as soon as possible to the piano! In this I am in perfect accord. I only regret that this is not a lasting urge in him, a rule, a habit, but something like a casual fantasy, which by tomorrow will have changed to his usual perverted attitude in regard to economy and value of time.

Sunday, November 17, 1918 - Plyussy

This is my fourth day here, having arrived on November 13. I am at peace and feel as if being in another world. Politics, upheavals, the Sovdeps (Soviet deputies) and hunger seem to be far away; also that feverish condition that did not leave me in Petrograd. My outlook has become quieter, more objective concerning the “events,” and the changes that are to be expected. One thing only keeps bothering me here, more than it did in Petrograd. It is the thought of Kolya’s distressing situation, all alone in the Apartment on Chernyshev Pereulak (lane). Also the thought of my wife and Nadya with the child in Dubrachok. The long-ago feeling of being well-fed makes one doubly conscious and makes one suffer for the loved ones who are hungering. When swallowing a choice morsel, the thought unwillingly comes: “if only they too could have it” And makes one feel almost ill at ease!

It is good here. People are very kind. Nikolai Ivanovich Zabelin is a man out of this world. The same – Antonina Nikolaevna,, who is an unusual human being. What is especially nice in their home is the peace, the affability, the lack of irritableness. Even the children who are very lively and at times naughty (the little ones) do not irritate them. The noisiness of the youngest (four year old twins) annoys me sometimes, not being used to children , and hence the only negative aspect. Otherwise everything is good – the great outdoors, the people, the food and the work. The portrait is progressing well. The model is very stylish, slender, shapely. A handsome face, a-la- Rosetti, very long neck, all plastic, and the pose on the portrait is not banal.

Most of the time beside the work I spend reading. The library here is splendid and the books have begun to interest me somewhat more than the buckwheat kasha with pork cracklings. Am reading for the first time Darwin and am carried away by it. I regret that I shall not be able to get to the other authors.

I had mentioned above how kind my hosts are. And just now my hostess gave me another proof of her attention and considerateness. Having noticed that I have begun to write, she had the tea served in the study where I am sitting and had the doors into the dining room closed so that I should not be disturbed by the children’s voices! It is almost embarrassing to me.

Today during a walk with the whole company through the park, I became fascinated by the view above the pond. I returned there after dinner, with my easel, paints and canvas. Stayed there over an hour. Though almost frozen, I began a very interesting sketch of a grayish-blue, distant leafless view, the reflections in the water, and to the left a row of rugged oak trees, their branches spread above the water. What an enjoyment it is to paint a paysage from nature!!!

The Zabelins have frequently, as guests in the evening, the village teacher and Mlle. Reizenstein, the School’s teacher of foreign languages, daughter of the well-known admiral. They are very interesting people. He is mentally very alert and an enthusiast in his profession. He has introduced into the school system everything (almost everything) that I have always dreamed of and have written on school education. He is only somewhat tainted by the general malaise of the party’s left; it reflects itself in his viewpoint on the national history and on his characteristic teaching of history to a peasant audience. I want to attend his lecture on this subject. Last night in bed, before dropping off to sleep, I thought a lot on this subject – on the first lecture history, the way I would present it. I would begin by defining the idea of history and of the method of historical research, then I would begin with....Darwin.

Mlle Reisenstein is a very uncomely young lady, about 30 years old, but very likeable, serious, and far from the “bourgois” type. Shortly before the revolution, they were left orphaned, and during the October upheaval they lost their wealth, property, etc. But Olga Nikolaevna was allowed to stay in three rooms at the old manor house. The rest of the building was turned into a school while she was charged to teach the children the German and French languages!! What don’t they only teach the peasants nowadays?...... But are they teaching them to be good cultured village landlords and do they install in them a true citizenship sense? What a fermentation am I observing here and everywhere, what horizons are awakened among the peasants!.....In what a great time we are living.

Nikolai Ivanovich is in Petrograd today. He should be back by tonight. I asked him to pass on to Kolya $500.00 rubles: $300.00 rubles to be sent to Mamulya in Dubrochok and $200.00 rubles for the apartment rent. This gives me a great satisfaction. What news will Nikolai Ivanovich bring us? There are, fortunately, no papers here. Thanks to that, one can devote oneself to literature.

Tuesday, November 19, 1918 - Plyussy

It is morning. All is white. First snow fall. It is pleasant and cozy, and bright, yet there is a feeling of sadness and even of fear. Winter is here already. Time, time is passing, and there is still no end to suffering, still no work that is productive, that would guarantee my family’s well-being, as it had been up to a year ago, up to the complete collapse! I wonder how the family is living over there, in the country, in the cold and snowed under – the thought is terrifying and painful - and I wish I could be with them!

Nikolai Ivanovich brought back little news. However the slightest hints make one believe that changes are near... It has been told that British battleships have entered the Baltic Sea, and it has been announced that Allied troops will soon be passing through Helsingfors to Petrograd. They are in Odessa, it is said, in the Ukraine....what will happen?

Thursday, November 21, 1918 - Plyussy

Hurrah!... Kolya has forwarded me Mamulya’s letter. They have a domestic help. Thank God!.... Another hurrah: Kolya without me is eating well – getting my ration of bread, my meal from the Public Dining Hall, and Madame Dimanis has started furnishing his dinner. As if she had only waited for me to leave to take car of Kolya. All this gladdened me to the extent that I worked extraordinarily well today, and this delighted the Zabelins very much. The portrait is progressing fine. The Grandmother exclaimed, “It’s alive!” and then burst into tears! Nikolai Ivanovich is very attentive toward me.

We took many pictures today. I took a picture of her and him. He took one of her and me. In the evening, just now, we developed them.

She has beautiful hands; they are slender, but not thin. I am painting her wearing transparent sleeves. I would like to paint her with her arms bare. She has left for Petrograd to be gone three days. I asked her to telephone Kolya. The weather is wonderful: first frost, sunshine.

Friday, November 22, 1918 - Plyussy

We had a visit one night lately by the teacher, Vasili Nikiforovich (a frequent visitor) and by a young former Officer of the Guards. A heated argument developed during it. The officer declared himself to be a “monarchist” - this looks as if there still are such! I have been thinking that only the dull, the primitive individuals can still believe in a monarchy. The discussion was lively. The teacher is an arch-republican – a social-democrat, a doctrinaire. Between these two antipodes I found myself to be a non-party man. The officer argued more than feebly and stupidly repeated that he cannot be won over. The teacher denied the least hint of a positive side in tsarism, reviling all tsars, even Peter the Great, denying any possibility for a tsar to be of use to the people. I tried to prove to the officer his naivete and delusion of a man educated in the conception of cast egoism. But without success: he did not even understand what he was told. As to the teacher, I did not engage him much. He kept somewhat silent on the subject of the one-sidedness of social-democratism. I still anticipated the pleasure of demonstrating to him his one-sidedness. The Zabelins share apparently the teacher’s “platform” fully. As for me, however, regardless of the mathematical truth of this platform, and the childishness of the officer’s delusion, I have a greater sympathy for the ideology of the latter.

But the teacher is naturally a more up-to-date type. He belongs to the present generation, and to the generation of this historical moment, the generation of the future. This generation has to be taken into account and (if possible) polished up some. And this particular man, it seems to me, can be persuaded to modify his convictions. For instance, while expressing his enthusiasm for the Soviet orthography and denying the usefulness of the Slavic language he had to accede to his one-sided delusion when I made him see his error by ignoring the aesthetic beginning and linguistic laws of language, and to make him understand that the beauty of Shchedrin’s and Leskov’s Russian language is due to being tied in with the old Slavonic language. Also that the true innovations in a language, as is the case in political ideas, come about only by evolution, by the creative foresight of a people’s geniuses, and not by any decrees of Soviet Commissars.

Much can be said regarding “monarchism”. The sequence is as follows: 1. In the beginning there was wild anarchy (disorder); 2. It was followed by a patriarchal regime (order); 3. Then came feudalism; 4. Tsarism; 5. Constitutional monarchism or republicanism; 6. Communism; 7. Anarchism or enlightened lowlessness. After that – nothing. Anarchy in the beginning, anarchy in the end. And this may look completely a vicious circle, i.e., the enlightened lowlessness must degenerate into a state of savagery, and then begin all over again??..... In this evolutionary process, this transition from one state into the other, one can observe the development of culture, the utilitarian culture and the esthetic culture. As it seems, the epoch of monarchism appears to be the culmination point in the development of the esthetic culture, it contains the greater beauty. The utilitarian culture develops further in future eras, but already to the detriment of esthetic beginnings of life. Anarchism i.e., freedom of individualism, can serve as the turning point from the dull, ugly idea of general equality, from a rationed way of life, from the trivial monotony into the social inequality, to social contrasts which contain the beginning of beauty. However, anarchism degenerates most readily into its antithesis – monarchism.

Wednesday, November 27, 1918 - Plyussy

We had a visitor for three days, the painter Kever, the son. We went out into the park together, to paint in the freezing weather. I painted two landscapes, one with the figure of Nikolai Ivanovich in his famous yellow leather jacket. An autumn landscape with a sheet of ice covering the pond. Very successful and perhaps, more interesting than what Klever has painted. He is a very nice young man, but he belongs to a certain set of society, very talkative, not too clever, nor original. Nikolai Ivanovich has been very attentive to him. It seems to be a passion with the Zabelins – to invite guests, especially artist-painters, and pamper them. As a matter of fact, I can’t understand very well this amiable couple. What an even-tempered, a restrained attitude there is between them! He never caresses her, in word or deed, never kisses her hand, not even when parting, when leaving for or returning from Petrograd. Outwardly he is somewhat untidy, unkempt, run down, is often lost in thought. She, on the contrary, maintains her appearance, is always cheerful, looks young, though kept very busy in her household and also in the hospital. In disposition they certainly do not seem well-matched. A curious case happened with a young man, a frequent visitor in their home, who called her “my friend” and with whom she corresponded diligently. During her serious illness he stayed with them, but before long he began to take...Liberties, turning from “friend” into an “ami-cochon”. He was turned out almost, and was never invited again. He wrote her a foolish letter, in which he described the meaning of “friendship”, rehearsing the word according to all grammatical rules, and begging to be invited again (apparently because of hunger). She was in great difficulty, not knowing how to answer him. Then I volunteered to compose an answer. To me it is always a delight. My composition had great success and will be copied.

Thursday, November 28, 1918 - Plyussy

I am reading an essay on Dostoyevsky by Bulgakov, the Preface to the excellent Jubilee Edition of 1906.

How strange it seems to be reading in 1918 his discourse on the Russian Revolution on the occurrence of the year 1905, and on the fate of Dostoyevsky’s prophecies. As of now, Dostoyevsky and after him, Bulgakov, would have written differently.

Interesting are the thoughts of Dostoyevsky: “Not in communism, not in any mechanical forms socialism of the Russian people is comprised, people believe that their only salvation will come in the end from all-holy union in the name of Christ. This is our Russian socialism: The main idea of our people is in the faith that its future force reposes in the “destiny of God’s Universal Church”. So (says also Bulgakov) it is the greatest hope of Dostoyevsky himself – equally removed from the liberal socialism and from the Christian individualism.

Dostoyevsky: “...The character of religion which evolved in a people determined also the character of the civil and social forms of its government. Hence government’s ideals are always directly linked to the people’s moral ideals, they are organically and principally an outgrowth of them. Never do they result out of themselves because their only goal is to satisfy the moral self-improvement of said nationality and according to the extent of its moral development. And therefore the growth of the religious spirit is the faith that has been inherited, while “government’s ideals” can ever attain the perfection of these ideals, nor can they ever generate them.”

Did all this prove to be true in the year of 1917-1918?

Saturday, November 30, 1918 - Plyussy

I have just finished painting one more large view of the Hospital surrounded by great trees with the one in front broken by a storm. The picture of desolation and ruin of this once lordly mansion in the atmosphere of bareness and autumnal frost produced a very picturesque subject. To my great pleasure I am discovering in me great talent to paysage painting. And this at the age of 55!!!

The environment as well as my life here - the entire sense of which is work, also the beautiful park and the 3-day visit by Klever have aroused in me a great capacity for work and for energy. In 20 days I have painted a whole portrait and three landscapes! So it’s enough. I have grown tired, not by the work but by being in a strange home. Day before yesterday I received a letter from Mamulya with the sad news of the death of Djoyichka - our dear pet dog. I did a bit of crying.

Wednesday, December 4, 1918 - Petrograd

Day before yesterday, on Monday, Dr. Zabelin and I arrived in Petrograd. I brought a big loaf of bread, 1 bottle of milk and 3 pounds of honey – gifts of Zabelins. Kolya was very glad to see me. But the impression when I found myself “at home” was most distressing. Cold, dirt, disorder! Complete havoc. Condition – most discouraging. Perspectives – most gloomy.

Friday, December 6, 1918 - Petrograd

This is what I ate today: in the morning - 3 glasses of black “coffee”, i.e., some trash in which there was not a grain of coffee, with saccharin, and one-fourth pound of bread. At 4:00 pm – dinner at the Public Dining Hall: soup – a dirty mess, one-eighth pound of bread, small ration of caviar and a small bit of a baked potato. With it one-fourth pound of bread brought from home. Two glasses of substitute black coffee with a tiny bit of honey. This is all. In the evening in the Kuindgy Club – three glasses of tea with a tiny bit of sugar. Nothing at home before retiring. Result – it is 10:00 pm, we want to go to bed, but I am quite hungry.

There is much excitement in our building. The plan is to requisite the building and establish in it the Commissariat of Education, throwing out its lodgers on the street. I personally, and two or three other apartment dwellers are not in danger, having a protective certificate. But the rest of the people are threatened with eviction in 2-3 days.

Friday, December 13, 1918 - Plyussy

Here again since Tuesday. Am painting a portrait of Nicolai Ivanovich, NOT ordered. I also began to paint a view from the bathroom window – small part of the garden with a tree of many branches in the center heavily covered with snow. Once more I feel a satisfaction in my stomach, but also the awkwardness of being in a strange home, regardless of all the hospitality and frankness of my hosts. First of all, they themselves are not oversupplied with provisions, secondly, I keep worrying about the situation and questions “at home”. All of them, the most serious ones, are numerous: 1. Kolya is faced with military service. The order was issued on Tuesday for all House Committees to submit a list of men-tenants of eligible age. His teaching will not save him. 2. In connection with this is the question of our apartment which will be left to the mercy of fate. 3. The building was municipalized and the “city” will no doubt raise the rent 200% !! 4. If I don’t find anyone to whom to rent a room, the government will settle in the proletarians! 5. If Kolya is not taken for military service, the question of means for his livelihood comes up. His school is not nationalized, it pays him less than 100 rubles a month, but he needs besides his dinner (he has dinner at the Dimanis) and besides the apartment rent, - only for food, 300-400 rubles, while his entire income is only 200 rubles. If we can squeeze something out of the apartment, he would have enough. 6. At the moment of my departure from Petrograd, a certain combination came to my mind with the Tulins: They have no firewood, their portable iron stove smokes and it is incredibly damp in their apartment. But should they move into my apartment what will they do with their furniture? 7. I had also a conversation by telephone with Kolya’s pupil. Her father-physician is being evicted in seven days time. Maybe they can take my apartment? 8. Also Klever, the father, would like to use my studio for 150 rubles a month, but this only during one month. This brings up the question of firewood, which I cannot furnish him, since I have hardly enough to heat only Kolya’s room. 9. Another question is in regard to my action against Madame Pimenova who angered me by her inappropriate tone of voice when speaking to me. Her husband has been under arrest for four months already, while I am to suffer for material loss: her portrait is three-fourths completed, and even if she can not think of it now, in all fairness she should pay me now at least half of the cost’s amount, i.e., 2,000 rubles. I proposed this as an ultimatum to her. Otherwise, when in Petrograd, I shall sue her for the entire amount (4,000 rubles). 10. Another question is about my trip to Dubrachok where I long to be with all my heart. How shall I manage with all those parcels? How will I pack that little stove? Where will I be able to get candles? Also the many other items I have been asked to bring to Dubrachok? 11. And then – how shall I live there, that is – how shall I work? How shall I participate in the Spring Exhibit among all the present destruction? And therefore where will the means for living come from? I have in all not quite 2,000 rubles. We cannot count on Mamulya’s and Nadichka’s income from the Sovdeps (Soviet Deputies)!?

Many more questions torment my peace. What has become of Sonya? And when will we finally receive some news from Natasha? And then again, Nikolai and his debut on the 22nd of this month, and his work, his food, and the cold in his room, which he does not heat well, and then complains that his fingers are stiff and that he cannot play......And then again Dubrachok and the mental picture of Mamulya – how she manages at her age of dragging herself in a snowstorm to the station for letters, parcels, and to teaching of the station’s choir... And then again thoughts of our apartment, my orphaned things, Mamulya’s Natasha’s which were gathered and roped together by Natasha’s own hands before she departed for America two years ago. Sorting these things, also little Victor’s toys – these living witnesses of our happy family life once upon a time – and I begin to cry as over one’s dead...

What then? Will this never return and life not right itself again? I want to think that it will right itself, and will return!

Last night we had a visitor: the teacher Vasili Nikiforovich. We talked about the “school” and I read to them my notes on “The School and Ethics”. It aroused great interest, the fundamental thought being the school as a working commune. The teacher said that “the Soviet Government would offer me a high post”! Afterwards I could not sleep for half of the night and kept thinking – shouldn’t I go to Lunacharsky (Minister of Education) and as a matter of fact offer him my services. As to ideas, I would probably have more than they have!

Wednesday, December 18, 1918 - Plyussy

Here I am, living and working here and got a little used to my situation. The hospitality and simplicity of this home inspires me, while in the library I find books that give my thinking a philosophical turn of mind, and help me gain greater inner fortitude. Oscar Wilde has an article: “Man’s soul in a socialistic regime”.

One cannot but agree with him, that man’s worth is not in what he possesses, but in what he represents, i.e., not in what he has, but in what he is within. “Possessions” and the acquiring of material goods corrupt and humiliate the individualism and the inner liberty of man.

All this is very good, but the experiment of “liberation” that is taking place under our eyes at this moment does not give us the feeling of “individual liberty”, and this liberalism cannot be seen even in perspective. However, we shall wait and see what future developments this “experiment” will bring. If only one’s strength will hold out to live to the fulfillment. But this will not be easy in view of the exhaustion of physical strength, because the farther the move along this road to liberation, the more scarce becomes the food supply....Already an enormous number of people have perished from sheer hunger! The idealists of socialism had hardly in mind socialism’s fellow-traveler – hunger. The theorists of socialism had not foreseen the casual connection this fellow-traveler would have with socialism, communism, and their methods of propagation – history alone will be its judge. In the meantime we are walking with big strides toward decay, i.e. toward death, which is perhaps the only absolute form of liberation.

I have just written to Karl Loeve (my friend-painter), one of the few, I believe, left among my former comrades and friends: “I shall be going to the Tula county for Christmas, stopping on the way in Moscow. Will it be possible to see you? How much I would like to have one more look at an old friend before the end and recall with him the old times. Do you remember how we used to live, so cozily, sitting in a corner of a warm room, in witty conversation, evoking memories of delightful and dear figures and shadows, over a glass of good wine? Tell me, can it be true that all this is gone forever? My God, I have not even noticed how this life has slipped away! How many plans, projects have been left undone, as well as hopes and expectations, and how little has been accomplished! At the same time all the sorrow so widely experienced? Had it not been for the hope of a better future, we could not have survived it all. However the “future” has deceived us. Must we hope again? But maybe there isn’t any time left....Just the same, I hope to see you before wishing you and everybody else forever and the last time a “good night”!

Thursday, December 26, 1918 - Plyussy

Today is the name-day of Nikolai Ivanovich. Therefore the atmosphere in the house is festive. A name-day pirog was served for dinner (something like a kulebiaka) made of potato dough with cabbage. For tea there was a krendel (kind of a coffee cake in the shape of a pretzel), made of real white flour. With our coffee in the morning we had sweet cream butter. After dinner, hot chocolate with some kind of fancy pastry Nicolai Ivanovich had been preparing himself. Then arrived young Klever. He was delighted when he saw my portrait of Nicolai Ivanovich. It is indeed excellent and very artistic: - pale face, clear eyes, ironic, pensive expression, wearing the old yellow leather jacket, hands in the pockets, all against the white background of the fireplace. I have become acquainted with Oscar Wilde, with his paradoxes. For instance “In the soul there is animality, in the body “spirituality”. I agree with this perfectly. However, Wilde himself is not always true to himself in this appraisal of the body. For example, he always perceives more not the human being, but his covering – his clothes. He describes not the woman’s face, not what she is, what she represents, but what she is wearing.

My vision, on the contrary, is affected by the face and even by the body of the model, through the clothes, not noticing the clothes and afterwards often being unable to tell what the subject wore. Yes, to me the body is spiritual. Every object has some kind of an abstract soul. So much the body of a human being. And what delights me, what stimulates me, for instance, in the beauty of a female body is not only the nude form, but something mystical that is included in the form.

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