Vatslav Vorovsky translations

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Vatslav Vorovsky translations
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I post here a few short pieces by Vatslav Vorovsky, who was the first director of Gosizdat (State Publishing House).


Sclavus saltans (Dancing slave)

V.V. Vorovsky. (signed as: 'P. Orlovsky'), Odessa Review, January 8, 1909.


There is a good custom of summarizing the past year at the beginning of the year and thus check the passed stage of development ... or decline.

And, following this good custom, today I want to invite the reader to pay attention to one feature that very vividly characterizes the past year.

This trait – is laughter.

If we observe in a person or in some society, so to speak, the history of his laugh – how he laughs, with what he laughs, when he laughs – we will get the richest material for studying his psychology.

This time we will limit ourselves to one sphere of laughter – the literary sphere.

We, pious Russians, did not have much literary laughter. Satire and caricature never could develop well in our country "for reasons, beyond the control of the editorial board".

The short period of the 60s, when satire and caricature were nearly strengthened in literature, passed too quickly.1

The only satirist we had was Saltykov-Shchedrin.

Humor fared no better. The best comedians – Gogol, Chekhov, Novodvorsky2 – laugh so much (especially the last two) that they want to cry from their laughter.

We did not, and still do not know the healthy, sincere laugh at an ugliness accountable for itself. Because our ugliness has always expressed an alien will and could not account for itself.

The situation seemed to have changed three years ago.

The humorous and satirical press blossomed in full color, and for the first time notes of a sincere, free laugh sounded in it.

It was felt that people got not only an opportunity, but also a desire to laugh "over what seems ridiculous".

However, this urge to laugh was short-lived too. Magazines began to die suddenly, and with that, the laughter.3

But there remains one literary heritage from this period.

The need for laughter created a demand for laughter; just like a market-demand, that exists for bright fabrics or fashionable furs.

Under the influence of this demand, a whole profession of laughing to amusing writers, usually called small feuilletonists, was created.

Each self-respecting newspaper necessarily began to acquire such ridiculers – those who were richer, supported two, three. Finally, a special Monday newspaper was created, which gave only laughter.

After a week of politics, literature, science and boredom, the reader was overwhelmed with an entire issue of laughter.

But laughter is only a determined relation toward some object. Objects were needed on which laughter could be refined.

In theories of literature it is usually explained that the comedic is created then, when stupid, bad, harmful is done in the sincere belief that it is smart, good and useful. Well, but our whole social life from this point of view is extremely comical. So it would seem that there should not be a shortage of objects.

But, unfortunately, the authors of the comedic in [real] life possessed the magical power of not allowing the comedic in literature. The scope of laughter was narrowed, its circle limited.

But laughter as a profession did not cease to exist. There was a whole caste of people who adapted and got used to express all their emotions with laughter: joy and grief, indignation and delight, fun and tears. They were professionals of laughter, just as their colleagues were professionals in politics, theater, and literary criticism. They lived with this and were not adapted to anything else.

To all their doubts and perplexities they answered one thing: "laugh, clown!"


Sclavus saltans!


And they came to laugh. Gloom and doom reigned all around, but they laughed. Social life was driven into a narrow circle, where, apart from literature and art, nothing was left for her, but they all laughed.

And when they had nothing to laugh at, they pounced on graceful literature and began to laugh at it. They wrote parodies, cartoons, caricatures. Both about that which deserved laughter, and that which was worth tears. Both about the pretentious parrots of fashionable geniuses, and about the blood of the heart of the suffering artist.

For it was necessary to live, and to live, it was necessary to work, and they could work only with laughter.


Sclavus saltans!


And this miserable picture of a dancing slave, when the abomination of desolation reigns around him, especially brightly stood out in the past year.

What this year will be like – we don’t know whether it will be any good, but that the past year was the most gloomy, is indisputable. And among this darkness, perhaps the darkest spot – thanks to its unnecessary loudness – was this laugh at itself.

Probably many of these dancing slaves realize that they do this only by force of sad necessity. But, it seems, there are those who seriously imagine that they are doing a smart, good and useful matter.

The criterion of the comedic would also be applicable to them, if they were not simply pathetic.

Oh, if together with the old year had gone into eternity this sad heritage of it!



1In the 1860s, under the influence of the liberation movement in Russia, satire journalism flourished. The satirical magazines Svistok (Whistle), an appendix to Sovremennik, edited by N. Dobrolyubov, and Iskra, headed by the poet V. Kurochkin, were distinguished by political acuity.

2Novodvorsky Andrej O. (pseudonym A. Osipovich) - writer-populist.

3In 1905-1907 in Russia there were many satirical-humorous magazines, newspapers, leaflets; some of them were confiscated by the tsarist authorities from the first issue.


Market of vanity

Market of vanity

Torzhische suety

Vatslav Vorovsky (under the pseudonym: 'Centaur'), Odessa Review, September 29, 1909.


The other day Mr. Leonid Andreyev, as the newspapers narrate, went with his family to the Saturn cinema in St. Petersburg, where on the screen his own private life for a day was shown.

There was the riding of a bicycle with his son, and there was L. Andreyev at work, and L. Andreyev speaking in a gramophone, and L. Andreyev drinking tea, and so on and so forth.

Leonid Andreyev was left, it is said, very pleased with himself on the screen.

All this is very interesting, instructive and, most importantly, indicative.

A person is pleased to look at their life from the side. We are willing to take amateur pictures that show how we eat, drink, work, have fun, sleep. It is funny and interesting for us. For us and for our close friends. And this interest – is harmless, quite understandable, [and] if one may so put it, healthy.

And no one would care that L. Andreyev admires his image in the cinema, or poses for the cinema, or “voice-records” into a gramophone – if all this had a private, domestic character.

But the trouble is that L. Andreyev poses and “voice-records” not for his own fun, but as edification to the public. His cinematic images are shown to everyone, who pays admission to Saturn, and the gramophone roll with his "voice-recording”, it is said, even went to North America.

For L. Andreyev it is not enough that the public know his spiritual life, reflected in his works. He wants to show himself in private life... true, specially cleaned up for cinema, just as a city is cleaned up for the arrival of an influential person.

This desire to pose and to show is very indicative of our time and, it must be acknowledged, very displeasing.

What does it matter to me, to the reader, how L. Andreyev drinks tea, walks with his wife, how he loves his child. His private life is his private stuff, the touch of which by an outsider does not admit a sense of respect for one's own private life; and only unhealthy interest in scandal can raise the lurking crowd to admire how the "famous” writer dines or digests after dinner on his terrace. But if the vacuous crowd glances in a stupidly curious and insatiable way into the private life of those whom it considers demigods, to a certain extent this deplorable feeling is forgiven, but it is completely unforgivable when a writer, i.e. a supposedly intelligent person, prostitutes their appearance in thousands of photographs, full of bents and poses, on cinema screens, almost on wall posters. This is, perhaps, okay for some courtesan who without advertising has difficulty finding accomodation of her capital, but for the artist, the writer – pish!

About ten years ago M. Gorky gave a sharp rebuff to the lurking crowd, climbing with its dirty overshoes into his personal life. Alas, the young generation of talents has forgotten this good tradition. They themselves reveal to all curious people their intimate life, turning their personal private life into some kind of a porter establishment, where anyone can quench their interest in a scandal and on the takeaway. Common advertising, self-advertising, mutual advertising – such is that “ideological” connection with the reader, which for modern authors has replaced the former covert, blushful, touchingly close relation between talents and fans. It remains only to find out: is advertisment adapted to the output itself of modern authors, or is this output such, that without advertisment it cannot conquer a market for itself? Who knows, if the latter is not more true.


A Rebellious Spirit

A Rebellious Spirit

Vatslav Vorovsky, Odessa Review, 13 September 1909.

A rare fate fell to Heine – an enviable, glorious fate. Not only during his lifetime was he a thorn in the eye for all the powerful and stupid of this world – he remained so after his death until our days.

A truly rare fate!

How many great poets, fighters for the happiness of mankind, died from official veneration.

The impetuous Schiller, the frantic Byron, the virulent Goethe, the rebellious Pushkin – all in the end, some during life, some after death, were humiliated and vulgarized by the official recognition and worship of the bourgeoisie.

Only Heine had the enviable fate, even now, many years after his death, to tease the "representatives of order" and "virtue", to spoil the mood and digestion of the well-fed and complacent, to raise by himself the bile in them and upset nerves.

When Heine lived, he was the bête noire of the bourgeois world and its idols. Such is his [same] image today.

Amongst the higher milieu by chance there was a person, who loved and appreciated the genius of Heine. It was the unfortunate Empress of Austria, Elizabeth [“Sisi”]. Wanting to perpetuate the memory of her beloved poet, she erected a monument to him – the only monument erected to the glory of Germany by German hands.

But even this monument she could erect only in her private villa "Archileion", on the island of Corfu. Only there the Empress of Austria could admire the image of the poet.

But then evil fate pushed the killer's hand. Elizabeth fell victim to a senseless, absurd assassination attempt. Her villa in Corfu passed into the hands of Wilhelm.

And so the idol of industrial-militaristic Germany met with the statue of the singer of the Spring of the German people.

It is clear, that it was slightly too close for the two of them on the globe.

The proud, bold song of Heine threatened to blunt the claws of the Prussian bear, eager to capture everything in its insatiable embrace.

Only monuments of dubious glory are placed in Wilhelm's field of vision. Rough, ridiculous statues of his antediluvian ancestors, [placed on] the caricature-like Siegesallee, which made his name famous all over the world.

And suddenly Heinrich Heine!

It was too much.

The monument was immediately removed. And only the obligatory respect for the late Elizabeth did not allow Wilhelm to put his own statue in Heine's place. He erected a monument to Elizabeth there.

The son of Heine's publisher, the Hamburg bookseller [Julius Heinrich] Campe, having learned about Heine's eviction from the Archileion villa, asked to give up the monument to him. This was done with pleasure.

Then Campe offered to donate the monument to the city of Hamburg, asking for a place for it and taking all the costs upon himself.

But the presence of a taunter - a bard - is just as unbearable for the knights of measurement and girdles [textile traders], as it was for the new owner of the Archileion villa. And they refused the gift of Campe. They refused it without any motivation!

There is no room in Germany for the bard of the free spirit of the German people. He will find this place only in the people's spirit itself.

Blessed Heine! How many geniuses look with envy at your crown of thorns when their memory is defamed with the praises by all sorts of state professors and dignitary patrons and connoisseurs. Your eternally rebellious spirit saved you from this bitter fate.

On Negroes in Russia

On Negroes in Russia

O negrach v Rossii

Vatslav Vorovsky (using Faun as pseudonym), Odessa Review, 22 January 1908.

[As this satirical piece deals with the Black Hundreds, one could believe its central joke is just constructed upon the colour in their name (black), but the pun is, according to one blogger, also on the Russian word for 'illiterate', which was apparently commonly abbreviated as 'negr.' in official documents at the time.]

Note by editor of Vorovsky's collected works:

The reason for this feuilleton was the pogrom speech of the head of the "Union of the Russian People" [S.R.N.], Alexander Dubrovin, in the city of Kostroma. Calling on the members of the local branch of the Union to fight the revolution, Dubrovin at the same time expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the [state] bureaucracy, in his opinion, did not pay enough to the "unionites" for their merits in the fight against the liberation movement.

The figures given in the feuilleton are taken by Vorovsky from Dubrovin’s speech. [Vorovsky makes one joke about these claimed figures]



This is a very interesting question, both from an ethnographic and a political viewpoint.

I am especially interested in it, as Faun, who feels some primitive kinship with African savages – probably through a monkey.

And so I began to study the issue of the situation of Negroes in Russia.

First I looked into the data of the 1897 census. But, alas, there I found only a brief, vague phrase:

"The number of people who did not exhibit the mother tongue [that is Russian] included a few Africans as well."

Not a word more. I appeal to the Central Statistical Committee – they don’t know anything. I appeal to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the same thing. I appeal to the police department – they just shrug their shoulders.

Knowing from experience that if in Russia there is no sense made anywhere, you need to turn to "knowledgeable" people – I go to Dubrovin.

“Here,” – I say, – “doctor, help, advise, guide me! I’m studying the Negro issue in Russia, but I can’t find the data anywhere.”

- Oh, my friend, you are an oddball, – Dubrovin says and claps me on the shoulder in a friendly manner. – In fact the Negroes are us, we... Didn't you read in the newspapers about my speech in Kostroma? I said so also directly there:

"While the revolution was in full swing, the bureaucracy strongly supported the Union of the Russian people, [whereas] now that the Negroes have done their job, the Negro goes away!"

– It seems the words of the Moor in Schiller's Fiesco... – I remarked timidly. [Muley Hassan in Act 3, at the end of Scene 4: “The Moor has done his job, the Moor can go.”]

“Really?” Dubrovin was surprised. “So he stole from my speech. You can’t bluntly say anything – now some "extortionist" will pick it up. Yes, yes, – he continued fervently, – the Negroes are us! We are the Russian Negroes. Do you think the signs "S.R.N." should read like everyone else usually reads? Nothing like this! This is how liberals interpret it, so as to discredit us. "S.R.N." means: "Union of Russian Negroes."

I immediately realized that I got to the source of the question that interests me. I took out a notebook and arranged a structured interview with the sweet doctor.

– Oh, us Negroes, millions! – Dubrovin told me with enthusiasm, freely lounging on a true Russian-style armchair.

- In total, ten million Negroes are recorded in our union. Solely the Volyn province has 1,700,000 of ours.

Our conversation dragged on after midnight. I left, imbued with boundless gratitude to the leader of the Russian Negroes.

The next day, I already wrote my work:


"The population of the Russian Empire totals 125,640,121 people of both sexes, divided according to nationality into six groups:

Indo-Europeans, in the amount of 90 331 516 people.

Ural-Altaians, in the amount of 17 669 067 people.

Semites, in the amount of 5 870 205 people.

Isolated nationalities, in the amount of 2 477 919 people.

Cultural peoples of the Far East, in the amount of 86 113 people.

Russian Negroes, in the amount of 10 million people.

In some provinces, Negroes make up a very large percentage, often exceeding half the entire population. So, for example, in the Volyn province for 2 898 482 people of both sexes Negroes account for 1,700,000 (58.62 percent).

In their religious conceptions, Russian Negroes are similar to Abyssinian Negroes [Ethiopian Orthodox]. In their culture and in their social views, they also stand on the same level as the Abyssinians.

Russian Negroes are very hostile to Russian Semites. Some scientists attribute this to economic reasons. We do not share this view, because the vast majority of Russian Negroes do not engage in economic activity and live by unknown sources of income. It seems to us much more likely that the national antagonism of Negroes toward the Semites was inherited from the time of the Egyptian captivity. The Negro population [Cushites, in the Bible] of ancient Egypt (parasitic classes, living at the expense of the ruling classes and the state) could never forgive the Semites for their thirst to free themselves from Egyptian captivity.

Due to their black colouration, the Negroes in Russia are simply called 'blacks' or 'black hundreds,' which, as we have seen, is also quite consistent with their numbers."


My work is drawing to a close. I read some chapters to Dubrovin. He listened carefully, then shook my hand tightly and said:

– Young man, you are provided a department in the southernmost of our universities.

And in his voice tears trembled. A lovely person! An honourable Negro.