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کتاب The Secret City

کتاب The Secret City

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درباره کتاب The Secret City

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  • حجم فایل 1.7 مگابایت
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Chapter 1


There are certain things that I feel, as I look through this bundle of manuscript, that I must say. The first is that of course no writer ever has fulfilled his intention and no writer ever will; secondly, that there was, when I began, another intention than that of dealing with my subject adequately, namely that of keeping myself outside the whole of it; I was to be, in the most abstract and immaterial sense of the word, a voice, and that simply because this business of seeing Russian psychology through English eyes has no excuse except that it is English. That is its only interest, its only atmosphere, its only motive, and if you are going to tell me that any aspect of Russia psychological, mystical, practical, or commercial seen through an English medium is either Russia as she really is or Russia as Russians see her, I say to you, without hesitation, that you don't know of what you are talking.

Of Russia and the Russians I know nothing, but of the effect upon myself and my ideas of life that Russia and the Russians have made during these last three years I know something. You are perfectly free to say that neither myself nor my ideas of life are of the slightest importance to any one. To that I would say that any one's ideas about life are of importance and that any one's ideas about Russian life are of interest… and beyond that, I have simply been compelled to write. I have not been able to help myself, and all the faults and any virtues in this story come from that. The facts are true, the inferences absolutely my own, so that you may reject them at any moment and substitute others. It is true that I have known Vera Michailovna, Nina, Alexei Petrovitch, Henry, Jerry, and the rest—some of them intimately—and many of the conversations here recorded I have myself heard. Nevertheless the inferences are my own, and I think there is no Russian who, were he to read this book, would not say that those inferences were wrong. In an earlier record, to which this is in some ways a sequel,[1] my inferences were, almost without exception, wrong, and there is no Russian alive for whom this book can have any kind of value except as a happy example of the mistakes that the Englishman can make about the Russian.

But it is over those very mistakes that the two souls, Russian and English, so different, so similar, so friendly, so hostile, may meet…. And in any case the thing has been too strong for me. I have no other defence. For one's interest in life is stronger, God knows how much stronger, than one's discretion, and one's love of life than one's wisdom, and one's curiosity in life than one's ability to record it. At least, as I have said, I have endeavoured to keep my own history, my own desires, my own temperament out of this, as much as is humanly possible….

And the facts are true.

Chapter 2


They had been travelling for a week, and had quite definitely decided that they had nothing whatever in common. As they stood there, lost and desolate on the grimy platform of the Finland station, this same thought must have been paramount in their minds: "Thank God we shan't have to talk to one another any longer. Whatever else may happen in this strange place that at least we're spared." They were probably quite unconscious of the contrast they presented, unconscious because, at this time, young Bohun never, I should imagine, visualised himself as anything more definite than absolutely "right," and Lawrence simply never thought about himself at all. But they were perfectly aware of their mutual dissatisfaction, although they were of course absolutely polite. I heard of it afterwards from both sides, and I will say quite frankly that my sympathy was all with Lawrence. Young Bohun can have been no fun as a travelling companion at that time. If you had looked at him there standing on the Finland station platform and staring haughtily about for porters you must have thought him the most self-satisfied of mortals. "That fellow wants kicking," you would have said. Good-looking, thin, tall, large black eyes, black eyelashes, clean and neat and "right" at the end of his journey as he had been at the beginning of it, just foreign-looking enough with his black hair and pallor to make him interesting—he was certainly arresting. But it was the self-satisfaction that would have struck any one. And he had reason; he was at that very moment experiencing the most triumphant moment of his life.

He was only twenty-three, and was already as it seemed to the youthfully limited circle of his vision, famous. Before the war he had been, as he quite frankly admitted to myself and all his friends, nothing but ambitious. "Of course I edited the Granta for a year," he would say, "and I don't think I did it badly…. But that wasn't very much."

No, it really wasn't a great deal, and we couldn't tell him that it was. He had always intended, however, to be a great man; the Granta was simply a stepping-stone. He was already, during his second year at Cambridge, casting about as to the best way to penetrate, swiftly and securely, the fastnesses of London journalism. Then the war came, and he had an impulse of perfectly honest and selfless patriotism…, not quite selfless perhaps, because he certainly saw himself as a mighty hero, winning V.C.'s and saving forlorn hopes, finally received by his native village under an archway of flags and mottoes (the local postmaster, who had never treated him very properly, would make the speech of welcome). The reality did him some good, but not very much, because when he had been in France only a fortnight he was gassed and sent home with a weak heart. His heart remained weak, which made him interesting to women and allowed time for his poetry. He was given an easy post in the Foreign Office and, in the autumn of 1916 he published Discipline: Sonnets and Poems. This appeared at a very fortunate moment, when the more serious of British idealists were searching for signs of a general improvement, through the stress of war, of poor humanity…. "Thank God, there are our young poets," they said.

The little book had excellent notices in the papers, and one poem in especial "How God spoke to Jones at Breakfast-time" was selected for especial praise because of its admirable realism and force. One paper said that the British breakfast-table lived in that poem "in all its tiniest most insignificant details," as no breakfast-table, save possibly that of Major Pendennis at the beginning of Pendennis has lived before. One paper said, "Mr. Bohun merits that much-abused word 'genius.'"

The young author carried these notices about with him and I have seen them all. But there was more than this. Bohun had been for the last four years cultivating Russian. He had been led into this through a real, genuine interest. He read the novelists and set himself to learn the Russian language. That, as any one who has tried it will know is no easy business, but Henry Bohun was no fool, and the Russian refugee who taught him was no fool. After Henry's return from France he continued his lessons, and by the spring of 1916 he could read easily, write fairly, and speak atrociously. He then adopted Russia, an easy thing to do, because his supposed mastery of the language gave him a tremendous advantage over his friends. "I assure you that's not so," he would say. "You can't judge Tchehov till you've read him in the original. Wait till you can read him in Russian." "No, I don't think the Russian characters are like that," he would declare. "It's a queer thing, but you'd almost think I had some Russian blood in me… I sympathise so." He followed closely the books that emphasised the more sentimental side of the Russian character, being of course grossly sentimental himself at heart. He saw Russia glittering with fire and colour, and Russians, large, warm, and simple, willing to be patronised, eagerly confessing their sins, rushing forward to make him happy, entertaining him for ever and ever with a free and glorious hospitality.

"I really think I do understand Russia," he would say modestly. He said it to me when he had been in Russia two days.

Then, in addition to the success of his poems and the general interest that he himself aroused the final ambition of his young heart was realised. The Foreign Office decided to send him to Petrograd to help in the great work of British propaganda.

He sailed from Newcastle on December 2, 1916….

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