There are, indeed, as I have said, plenty of suggestions for a portrait of Turgenev, quite apart from his novels. Mr. Garnett refers to some of them in two excellent biographical chapters. He reminds us, for example, of the immense generosity of Turgenev to his contemporaries and rivals, as when he introduced the work of Tolstoy to a French editor. “Listen,” said Turgenev. “Here is ‘copy’ for your paper of an absolutely first-rate kind. This means that I am not its author. The master—for he is a real master—is almost unknown in France; but I assure you, on my soul and conscience, that I do not consider myself worthy to unloose the latchet of his shoes.” The letter he addressed to Tolstoy from his death-bed, urging him to return from propaganda to literature, is famous, but it is a thing to which one always returns fondly as an example of the noble disinterestedness of a great man of letters. “I cannot recover,” Turgenev wrote:—
That is out of the question. I am writing to you specially to say how glad I am to be your contemporary, and to express my last and sincere request. My friend, return to literary activity! That gift came to you whence comes all the rest. Ah, how happy I should be if I could think my request would have an effect on you!... I can neither walk, nor eat, nor sleep. It is wearisome even to repeat it all! My friend—great writer of our Russian land, listen to my request!... I can write no more; I am tired.
One sometimes wonders how Tolstoy and Dostoevsky could ever have quarrelled with a friend of so beautiful a character as Turgenev. Perhaps it was that there was something barbarous and brutal in each of them that was intolerant of his almost feminine refinement. They were both men of action in literature, militant, and by nature propagandist. And probably Turgenev was as impatient with the faults of their strength as they were with the faults of his weakness. He was a man whom it was possible to disgust. Though he was Zola’s friend, he complained that L’Assommoir left a bad taste in the mouth. Similarly, he discovered something almost Sadistic in the manner in which Dostoevsky let his imagination dwell on scenes of cruelty and horror. And he was as strongly repelled by Dostoevsky’s shrieking Pan-Slavism as by his sensationalism among horrors. One can guess exactly the frame of mind he was in when, in the course of an argument with Dostoevsky, he said: “You see, I consider myself a German.” This has been quoted against Turgenev as though he meant it literally, and as though it were a confession of denationalization. His words were more subtle than that in their irony. What they meant was simply: “If to be a Russian is to be a bigot, like most of you Pan-Slav enthusiasts, then I am no Russian, but a European.” Has he not put the whole gospel of Nationalism in half a dozen sentences in Rudin? He refused, however, to adopt along with his Nationalism the narrowness with which it has been too often associated.