Old and New Masters eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 290 pages of information about Old and New Masters.

He does not, Mr. Murry urges, believe, as has often been said, that men are purified by suffering.  It seems to me that Dostoevsky believes that men are purified, if not by their own sufferings, at least by the sufferings of others.  Or even by the compassion of others, like Prince Myshkin in The Idiot.  But the truth is, it is by no means easy to systematize the creed of a creature at war with life, as Dostoevsky was—­a man tortured by the eternal conflict of the devilish and the divine in his own breast.

His work, like his face, bears the mark of this terrible conflict.  The novels are the perfect image of the man.  As to the man himself, the Vicomte de Voguee described him as he saw him in the last years of his life:—­

Short, lean, neurotic, worn and bowed down with sixty years of misfortune, faded rather than aged, with a look of an invalid of uncertain age, with a long beard and hair still fair, and for all that still breathing forth the “cat-life.” ...  The face was that of a Russian peasant; a real Moscow mujik, with a flat nose, small, sharp eyes deeply set, sometimes dark and gloomy, sometimes gentle and mild.  The forehead was large and lumpy, the temples were hollow as if hammered in.  His drawn, twitching features seemed to press down on his sad-looking mouth....  Eyelids, lips, and every muscle of his face twitched nervously the whole time.  When he became excited on a certain point, one could have sworn that one had seen him before seated on a bench in a police-court awaiting trial, or among vagabonds who passed their time begging before the prison doors.  At all other times he carried that look of sad and gentle meekness seen on the images of old Slavonic saints.

That is the portrait of the man one sees behind Dostoevsky’s novels—­a portrait one might almost have inferred from the novels.  It is a figure that at once fascinates and repels.  It is a figure that leads one to the edge of the abyss.  One cannot live at all times with such an author.  But his books will endure as the confession of the most terrible spiritual and imaginative experiences that modern literature has given us.



Jane Austen has often been praised as a natural historian.  She is a naturalist among tame animals.  She does not study man (as Dostoevsky does) in his wild state before he has been domesticated.  Her men and women are essentially men and women of the fireside.

Nor is Jane Austen entirely a realist in her treatment even of these.  She idealizes them to the point of making most of them good-looking, and she hates poverty to such a degree that she seldom can endure to write about anybody who is poor.  She is not happy in the company of a character who has not at least a thousand pounds.  “People get so horridly poor and economical in this part of the world,” she writes on one occasion, “that I have no

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Old and New Masters from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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