Gogol’s ancestors were themselves small landowners and possessors of serfs. He came from the South and his types are nearly all Little Russian, as those of Dostoieffsky and Turgeniev are for the most part Northern and Great Russian. In Gogol we find relief from Dostoieffsky: just as in the gentle South of Russia you find sanctuary from the heavy and frozen North. Gogol gives pictures of the marvellous Southern Spring, of the bright flowers, the songs of the birds, the tinkling of troika bells, the lure of the road, and the delirious youth of the Earth when the snows have just melted. His heart beats quicker than that of a Northerner; his colours are warmer. He is quick to be glad. He is, however, quick to be melancholy also. He is quick to be generous; he is also quick to understand the subtleties of bargaining. This is reflected in his writings and in his life.

Gogol was born in 1809 in Cossack country. He put all the legends of the countryside into his writings. For besides being a realist he was a romanticist. He wrote the greatest Russian historical novel, a story of the Cossack warrior—Tarass Bulba, a wonderful presentation of the old life of the Cossacks. He rescued a picture of manners from oblivion. It is a fine book, and can be compared advantageously with the best work of Merimée or Sir Walter Scott. Tarass Bulba did for Gogol what Waverley did for Scott in Great Britain. It gave him an immense popularity, both at court and among the rank and file of reading people. On the strength of its success he was given a professor’s chair in Russian history, and he lectured at the Imperial University at St. Petersburg. His position in Russian literature has always been remarkable. For besides writing the greatest humorous novel and the greatest historical novel in the Russian language, he wrote also one of the greatest and most amusing of her dramas, The Revizor, or, as it is sometimes called in English, The Inspector-General. The Revizor is played with great success by the Theatre of Art at Moscow, and indeed could be played with success in London, but for the fact that British actors and actresses have very great difficulty in reproducing the Russian national characteristics.

Gogol’s other contributions to the literature of his country are less remarkable. He wrote many short stories, one of which is a sort of master type—Akaky Akakievitch’s New Cloak. This probably gave Dostoieffsky the idea for his first novel Poor Folk, and it is much alluded to generally in Russian literature. It also has become national. That is one of the characteristics of Russia—the giving to stories and to people a national significance. Gogol also wrote a great number of stories and sketches founded on Little Russian folk-lore. He illustrates a great number of curious beliefs about devils and witches, and incidentally gives a rather wonderful picture of the country of his time.

It is said he was a very backward scholar. He seemed dull at school, and his genius did not appear. He finished the school course, taking the school-leaving examination equivalent to our Matriculation, and there his scholastic career ended. This was when he was eighteen. It is said that he often felt the lack of a good educational background afterwards. Life did not promise him much at eighteen. He was sent next year to St. Petersburg and took a small clerical post in a Government office. The pay was twenty roubles—two pounds—a month, and he had very little else to depend on except, as it turned out—writing stories. But he found material for Akaky Akakievitch and several other tales, saw Tchichikof himself no doubt, and he wrote a great deal. His first story came out when he was twenty years old, published in an obscure magazine under a pseudonym. He had success at once, and during the next two years had several tales and sketches printed. He started writing out his folk-lore stories. When he was twenty-five he wrote Tarass Bulba, the novel that brought him such great success, and the same year the one-time backward scholar was made professor of history. He wrote The Revizor the same year. At twenty-six he began Dead Souls. When he was twenty-seven, that is in 1836, The Revizor was licensed by the Censor and produced in St. Petersburg. The Tsar himself was present, and led the applause of what was at the time a great fashionable success, though it was, as a matter of fact, a satire on the official life of a provincial town. The fame of Gogol grew to rival that of Pushkin; money flowed in to him like water. He became a rich man and could winter at Rome and Baden-Baden. Thus in a few short years he ran through all the stages of life between that of a poor underpaid official and being a second Walter Scott. He would probably have done well to have kept the anonymity that Scott kept. He would have done more things for Russia. As it is, looking at his history, one cannot but feel that success was too much for him. He wrote practically the whole of this volume of Dead Souls in the year of his greatest fame, that is 1837, when he was twenty-eight, and he never wrote anything more

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