1. And when Death itself approaches our bed on cat’s paws and, uttering “ahem”, starts to strip from us our priceless and, up to this point, dear life, there will be one emotion we will likely most regret losing in the process.
2. Of all the marvelous things and feelings that nature, in its infinite generosity, has showered upon us, our most piteous parting will, I think, probably be with love.
And to use the language of poetic analogy, as it departs from this world, our extracted soul will start to flail and groan, begging to go back, embarrassing itself, and saying that it hadn’t yet seen everything there is to see and that it would still like to see something else.
But that’s nonsense. It’s seen everything. And these are nothing but empty excuses, pointing rather to the highfalutedness of our feelings and aspirations than to anything else.
3. Of course, besides all of that there are all kinds of exceptional and worthy happenings and sensations that we will sigh after plaintively.
We will, no doubt, be sorry never to hear the music of marching bands and symphony orchestras, never to, say, go on a cruise aboard a ship or gather sweet-smelling lilies-of-the-valley in the forest. We will be most sad to leave our wonderful job, and sad not to lie on the seashore with the object of relaxing.
Yes, these are all wonderful things, and we will also be sorry to part with all of them, of course. And maybe we’ll even shed a tear. But it is love that will beget a special and most bitter bout of tears from us. And when we part with this emotion, the majesty of the entire world before us will probably be extinguished, and it will seem to us empty, cold and of little interest.
As one poet said:
Love gives color to life,
Love is the charm of nature,
There exists an inner conviction
That all that replaces love is worthless.
So you see, the French poet De Miusse pronounced everything worthless compared with this emotion. But, of course, he was somewhat mistaken. Went a bit too far out on that limb, he did.
4. Besides, we would do well to remember that these lines were uttered by a Frenchman. That is, someone by nature very sensitive and, excuse the thought, probably a womanizer, who, under the effect of extraordinary emotion could really let some such nonsense fly.
These Frenchmen over there in Paris (much as we’ve been told) they come out in the evening onto the boulevards, and except for all kinds of cuties that they call chickies, from the get-go they see positively nothing else. That’s how much they appreciate female grace and beauty!…
So we have reason to dampen the uncommon fire of these poetic lines a bit.
5. But have a look at a Russian poet. The Russian poet stays on par with the fiery Gallic brain. And more still. We find not just love, but even infatuation in these surprising verses:
O, infatuation! How much stricter than fate is your mettle,
Greater even than ancient commandments…
Sweeter still than the call of the bugle to battle.
Which allows us to conclude that this great poet of ours thought this emotion something extraordinarily lofty, as something or other of a magnitude not to be equaled even by the text of the criminal code, nor by the teachings of father or, you know, mother. In short, nothing, says he, had the same impact on him as this emotion did. The poet is even hinting at something or other here about being drafted into the army – says that he couldn’t care less for that. Looks like the poet’s probably got something he’s not saying.
Mentioned the bugle’s call to battle and all of a sudden got all mysterious on us. I bet he dodged the draft himself in his day. That’s probably why he’s getting all allegorical.
Prose, in this respect, is much easier to deal with. You can’t have nebulousness like that in prose. Everything’s clear. But, as you can see, even poetry can be explained.
6. No less impressive are another Russian poet’s verses.
Actually, this poet once had his house burn down, the house where he was born and spent his best childhood days. And it’s a curious thing what this poet obtained for himself as comfort after the fire.
He tells it like this. He describes it in a poem. This is what he writes:
It seemed that all of childhood’s joys
Had vanished in the burning house,
And death to me was welcome then,
And I bent down to the water,
But then, a woman in a boat
The moon’s reflection mirrored, gliding,
And if she should have the desire
And if the moon allows it too,
I’ll build myself a new abode
In that unknown heart of hers.
Et cetera, something to that effect.
7. That is, in other words, liberally translating lofty verse into egalitarian prose, we can partly understand how this guy, mad with grief, wanted to throw himself into the water, but at this critical moment he saw a pretty woman taking a boat ride. And so he all of a sudden fell in love with her at first sight, and this love eclipsed, so to speak, his horrible suffering and even distracted him from the toils of locating a new place to live. Especially since, judging by the poem, the poet seems to just want to move in with this lady. Or maybe he wants to build an addition onto her house if she, as he nebulously puts it, should have the desire, and if the moon and management allow it.
Well, in terms of the moon, the poet threw her in for a sort of a greater poetic impact. I mean, the moon, really, has little to do with all of this. As far as building management goes, it might very well turn him down, even if the lady in the boat has the desire, since these two lovebirds aren’t officially married, and, who knows, maybe there’s something impermissibly fishy going on here.
8. I mean, I don’t know, maybe this coarse mind of a soldier, worked over with heavy artillery in two wars, doesn’t apprehend the intricate and delicate poetic pattern of verse and feeling. But we do venture to think approximately in that vein, based on a certain knowledge of life and an understanding of the real needs of people whose lives don’t always follow the canons of florid poetry.
So basically, even here the poet speaks of love as the greatest of emotions, which, assuming a certain carefree streak, may substitute for even the most basic things, even including living arrangements. But we’ll let the poet sort out these kinds of opinions with his conscience.
But this, of course, is not the view of only three fiery poets.
For all the others have sung words of love even more ridiculous and shameless than these, while strumming carelessly, so to speak, the strings of even the most dilapidated lyres.
9. Something or other out of Apukhtin comes to me now:
My heart leapt up, in love again,
Shoop, shoobe-doop, doop-doop…
All that the soul holds holy and dear…
And this was no boy of eighteen writing. A serious man of about forty-eight wrote this; very extremely fat and unhappy in his personal life. Nevertheless, as you can see, he too thinks that all is dead and lifeless until love comes into one’s heart.
I’m remembering more crazy verses:
What is love? What is love? Love! Oh, what is your name?
Love is fire in the blood; it is blood in the flame…
Something, something; pretty damn… I don’t know…
It is paradise lost, yet regained again.
Death trumps life, yet love rules over mortal domain.
10. I’d say even French poetry falls a bit flat here – they don’t have that, you know, crazy energy, like we see in these lines. And this was a Russian poetess. She lived in the beginning of this century and was, by all accounts, pretty good-looking. With a developed poetic temperament, to be sure. That lady was probably shaking all over when she was composing this poem. Which is really more of a biographical detail than a sample of poetry… The poor husband had it rough enough, I bet… She must have been real fickle. Hardly did anything. Probably spent the whole day laying around in bed without even washing that mug of hers. And reading her little poems aloud all the time. And her idiot-husband sitting there; “Oh,” he exclaims, “this is amazing, honeybunny, it’s genius!” And she says, “Really?”…
The idiots! And then they both up and died. She got tuberculosis, I think, and he must have gotten infected with something too.
11. Here’s where all these skeptics, academics and pedants, whose hearts have iced over in their lonely wanderings through the polar regions of science, reading these lines of verse, will probably shrug and say that what we have here is the unwarranted view of certain excessively fiery hearts, promiscuous souls and a perverted worldview.
And they will be surprised that this emotion has been described in such views and such poems and such words, which they had not even known about, and could not even have thought that something like this had ever been said about it.
And maybe it really is surprising that this is so, and that we have this kind of poetry, but not long ago we happened upon this work of prose by a singer – Fyodor Ivanovich Shalyapin. So, in this book he admits with complete candor that everything he did in his life he did mainly for love and for a woman. These are the kinds of opinions of love that we hear from poetically minded people.
12. And as far as sober-minded and levelheaded people, as far as philosophers and all kinds of, you know, thinkers, whose minds have shed much light on life’s most mysterious and complicated aspects, as far as these people go, for the most part they didn’t say much about this emotion, but there were times, of course, when they looked its way, chuckled, and were even known to utter certain pithy quotes showcasing their life experience.
We can, if you so desire, give you one of the more melancholy quotes, which is by Schopenhauer, one of the gloomiest philosophers the world has known.
This gloomy philosopher, whose wife undoubtedly cheated on him at every turn, said this about love:
“Love is a blind will to live. It lures man with the illusion of individual happiness, making him the means to its ends.”
Of the more inane sayings of old, there’s:
“Love is a sort of harmony of celestial sounds.”
Of the more poetic:
“Never hit a woman, not even with a flower.”
Of the more sober ones, but tending towards idealism:
“Love springs from those advantages, which the loving one values all the more the less he himself commands them.”
Plato, a known philosopher, even proposed this theorem:
“The essence of love is the polar difference between possibly even greater contradictions.”
As an example of a truer aphorism, we offer the words of our glorious poet and philosopher, Pushkin:
She fell in love, in time and season;
A seed that falls into the ground
By springtime’s fire is thus unbound.
The myriad pangs of gentle passion
Had long assailed her virgin breast –
Her heart would welcome any guest.
14. But that is the philosophy and mechanics of love, in a manner of speaking.
As far as more rigorous research in this field, we really don’t know much about these things. And maybe there’s no need to know, even. Because consciousness spoils and clouds over almost everything it touches.
Dostoevsky really had it right: “Too much consciousness and even any kind of consciousness at all is an illness.” Another poet said: “Woe from wit.” And we do believe these words were far from having been said by chance. Whether it springs from idiosyncrasy – or most probably there is a certain exact formula; something from the uninvestigated realm of electricity – the truth is we know nothing and positively do not want to know anything about the origins of love.
And so, realizing that we know little about love, but at the same time, recognizing that this tender emotion encompasses something significant and even grand, it is with a feeling of special awe and with our heart aflutter that we take into our hands the weighty tomes of history.
We cannot wait to see the worthy role that this emotion played in the lives of nations. We desire to witness larger-than-life things or the, you know, magnificent deeds of certain persons that happened on account of love. And therefore, to indulge the soul, we make ourselves more comfortable in our armchair and, lighting an aromatic cigar, we begin to turn the yellowed pages of history with a sure hand.
And this is what we see.
15. First, all we ever get are all sorts of goddam petty love stories and small, stupid, everyday-life stuff – all kinds of marriages, proposals and weddings, arranged by businesslike and sober minds.
Here we see some kind of duke… Something or other… He is marrying the king’s daughter with hopes for the throne.
Here, another VIP, desiring to snag a number of cities to append to his lands, also proposes to some fit-prone princess…
The Russian Grand Dukes… Something, something… From the era of the Tartar yoke… “They endeavour to outwit one another (according to one historian) in order to marry the Hun’s daughters, with the aim of obtaining his favour…”
Here’s another one, some – so help me – Khylperykh I… King of the Francs… Marries the daughter of the King of Spain… literally, we read, “with the aim of scoring a win over his enemy, Prince Ziegbert.”
16. And the thing is, historians write about all these dealings, cloaked with love but lined with commerce, without any kind of – how to put it – exhilaration, but in a languid, bureaucratic tone, as if these things were completely unimportant and all-too-familiar. The historians don’t even add any personal comments, nothing like: “Tut-tut!” or “That’s a heck of duke for ya!” or “Now, that’s not nice!” or even “Look, another shameless bastard!”
Nope, we hear no exclamations of this sort from the impartial historians. Although, if you think about it, once you start exclaiming, there wouldn’t be enough exclamations to go around, because in the course of world history we seem to see a sea of similar affairs.
But we probably won’t be making a list of these commercial dealings. We would like to touch on more interesting matters. Although, to be honest, many, many amazing happenings and stories worthy of the modern reader’s attention are known in this department.
17. For instance, here is a very fun fact. Its, shall we say, characteristic plot is what appealed to us. It’s very typical, this fact is. It’s taken from old times in Russia. We’re talking the time of Ivan the Terrible.
This German duke, called Golschtinski, arrives in Russia.
We have no idea what he was doing in that Germany of his, but historians have discovered that he came to Russia with the purpose of furthering his political ends by means of marrying Ivan IV’s cousin’s daughter.
And so he arrives. All gussied up, probably. Wearing some sort of silk pantaloons. Bows. Ribbons. A rapier on the hip. Gotta be a real lanky guy, with a ruddy mug and a huge red moustache. Probably a drinker, a screamer, and a pawer.
So he comes to Russia, and since everything has already been arranged by letter, the wedding day is set.
18. Everybody’s running around, it’s this huge hassle. Mother of the bride’s everywhere at once. Chickens being slaughtered. The bride being led to the banya. The groom’s sitting with Dad. Putting the vodka away. Probably lying up a storm. You know, like, “let me tell ye, in Germany, where I come from, …” You know, like, “we’re Dukes!” and all that.
And suddenly something really sad happens. The bride, alas, dies unexpectedly. She returns from the banya, is taken with a terrible cold, the poor lass, and dies within the space of three days.
The groom, stricken with unutterable woe, of course, wants to go back to Germany. And here he is, all falling apart, saying his good-byes to the parents, when all of a sudden he hears:
“O, Mister Duke! Don’t go yet. As your luck would have it, we’ve got another young lady for you. True, she is a bit older than the first, and she’s not as nice to look at, but maybe she’ll do after all. You came all this way from Germany – it would be a shame to return empty-handed.
So the duke says:
“Of course she’ll do. Why didn’t you tell me before? No question about it. I mean – come on! Where is she? Lemme have a gander.”
All in all, the mourning aside, they were soon wed.
19. But, who the hell knows, maybe such facts and acts occurred only among kings and happened only to dukes and such?
Maybe nowhere but the palaces of kings did this cold pragmatism and marriage without any kind of love thrive, on account of, you know, things like diplomatic necessities, chronic shortages of funds or all kinds of unwholesome conditions of kingly life.
Maybe when it comes to mere mortals, it’s just the other way around – maybe the course of love ran naturally, bringing joy and happiness to the hearts of everyone.
It strikes us that certain categories of mere mortals were kind of not even interested in love. I mean it’s common knowledge that the landed and the affluent married off their loyal serfs in any way it struck them to do it.
Not long ago, we had occasion to read that Russian landowners married their serfs in this manner: they lined them up according to height and married them to whoever matched – tall men with tall women, short little ones with little short ones. And then this list of pairs was sent to the priest to be enacted. As you can see, love wasn’t really the prime consideration here.
And as far as different sorts of, excuse my French, government officials, profiteers, carpetbaggers and so forth, it doesn’t seem like the dear sirs understood much about love either. To them, getting married was akin to striking a deal. And the way they had it set up was that without a dowry no one would even let you in the door.
20. And even if we aim for a higher plane and take, for example, a smattering of counts, barons and men of commerce, it turns out that even with all the leisure in their lives, they still didn’t have much of an idea of the true color of love.
Here’s a wonderful little short story of a historical nature, which paints in vivid detail how it worked back then.
In the France of Louis XV (1720 we’re talking about), this one profiteer accumulated a huge fortune through all kinds of shady dealings. He achieved everything. And had it all. But on top of that, he got the overwhelming urge to associate himself with the oldest aristocratic dynasty in all of France. He had a bout of fantasizing, this guy, and knowing no bounds on account of his wealth, decided to have his daughter marry an impoverished marquis by the famous name of d’Ouau.
The daughter was actually just three years old at the time. The marquis was actually about thirty. And even though the dowry was outrageously huge, the impoverished marquis had no intention whatsoever of waiting for twelve years.
Shrugging in the most elegant Gallic fashion and sending sparks around the room with his gleaming lorgnette, he probably said to the profiteering dad in a hoarse voice:
“Monsieur, although nothing would please me more than to become your son-in-law, the bride you offer me is much too young. Let her grow up a bit, and then we’ll see. There’s a chance I will marry her.”
21. But the status-conscious dad desired to become the marquis’s relation immediately. This would allow him to touch the highest rungs of aristocracy, so to speak. And so he struck this agreement with the marquis. The latter is paid a huge monthly salary until the daughter is of legal age. After twelve years, the marquis has to marry her. And the engagement takes place now.
For nine full years, the marquis received the exact amount of his salary and denied himself none of life’s pleasures. And then, the little twelve-year-old bride fell ill with diphtheria and died.
We can just imagine how the profiteering daddy howled and cried. First of all, what a pity! – such a young girl, and then, just think of all that money gone down the drain! And, of course, it would be foolish to expect the esteemed marquis to return even a measly part of it. That marquis guy was probably telling the woestruck dad, while rubbing his hands together, “Well, you understand, I’m sure, how it is about the money. The girl croaked – I’m in luck.”
22. But that’s nothing. Even more curious things have been known to happen in the love department. It is, for example, very strange to read about all these men – all kinds of pretty boys, barons, brave knights, cavalry officers, men of commerce, landlords, and czars – getting married without laying their eyes on their brides. And this was a pretty common occurrence. And we, the modern reader, do find it somewhat baffling. The only thing they’d ask was what the family does, and the finances and such, and how the bride is doing property-wise, what post daddy holds or what lands he rules, and that’s it. Well, maybe some of the grooms who weren’t big on taking risks asked what, approximately, their second half looks like – you know, whether she’s got a hump or not, things like that – and that’s it.
Then they said ‘yes’ and were married in the dark, so to speak, eyes closed, sight unseen. The bride they would see at the very last moment.
No, today, we can’t even imagine how this would have gone off in these parts. We’d probably have a whole lotta wailing, neurotic yelling, second thoughts, commotion, black eyes and broken noses and the devil knows what else. But over there, they somehow managed without that.
23. But not without the occasional trouble or outrage.
For example, we know of two world-class scandals.
The first is famous to the point that even in theatres it is played out as a grotesque tragedy and royal conflict.
Philip II of Spain, a geezer of about sixty, had a mind to marry off his son and heir, the famous Don Carlos. For his wife he chose the French princess Isabelle, which was advantageous and necessary, as dictated by high politics. But he had never seen the princess. All he knew was that she’s real young and antsin’ to get married, but he had no idea what she looked like.
But when he saw her after the engagement, he fell in love and married her himself, to the great chagrin of his son, who was also partial to the charms of his beautiful bride. This, as we know, caused the conflict between father and son.
24. The second scandal took place in Persia. The Persian king Ambyses (son of the famous Cyrus) proposed to the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh Amasis II (529 BC). Ambyses did this without having seen the bride. Travel and transportation in those times was a pretty hefty proposition, and the trip to Egypt would have taken months.
Rumor had it, though, that the Egyptian pharaoh’s daughter is alone among women in her beauty and attractiveness.
And so, the mighty Persian king, whose father had conquered practically the entire world, decided to propose to the daughter of the Egyptian pharaoh by mail.
The pharaoh, who harbored a rare affection for his only daughter, had no desire to send her off to undiscovered countries. At the same time, he feared to offend the Master of the Universe with his refusal. And so, he chose the most beautiful of his female slaves and sent her to Persia in place of his daughter. What’s more, her sent her as his daughter, supplying her with the appropriate information for that purpose.
History relates to us that Ambyses, having married the woman, truly loved her, but when the artifice was accidentally discovered, he mercilessly put her to death and, offended to his very heart, set out to make war on Egypt.
This was probably one of the grandest love dramas ever, which shows how love can spring, and also how it can end.
25. Oh, how vividly we can see in our mind’s eye the dramatic scene and the tragic moment when the lie was revealed in its entirety.
They’re sitting there in an embrace on a Persian ottoman.
On this really low-slung bench; and you can just imagine all these eastern sweetmeats and things to drink they have there – all kinds of Turkish delight and honey-cakes and so on. This really fat Persian dude with a huge fan in his hands is chasing the flies away from these sweets.
And Ambyses, the King of Persia, having taken a glass of, you know, sherry or brandy or whatever, looks upon his beautiful wife with an enthralled gaze, whispering all kinds of sweet little nothings in her ear, like, “My pretty little Egyptian mummy, you! How was your life in Egypt? Your daddy, the Pharaoh, must have spoiled you rotten. And how could he not, when you’re so sweet? My dear princess, I fell in love with you at the very first sight for your regal bearing, and so on.”
26. Now, it’s not clear whether at this point she put too much faith in her womanly charms, or God knows what was happening in her little woman’s heart, but she laughs a sparkling laugh and says that the funny thing is that the pharaoh’s daughter has got her own life in Egypt, while Ambyses, the King of Persia, he’s just gaga over her, the one next to him, who’s got nothing to do with the pharaoh’s daughter. He’s fallen in love with a simple girl of slave stock. This is what love can do with a man’s heart.
It is hard not to shudder when imagining what happened next.
He probably started screaming in an unnatural voice. Jumped up from the sofa in just his underpants. One of his slippers slipped off. Lips went white. Hands are shaking. Knees are buckling.
“What?!” he screamed in Persian. “What did you just say?! Ministers! Arrest the impostress!”
The ministers come running.
“Oh! Oh! What’s happened? Your majesty, please calm yourself! … See, you have lost a slipper, and it is most unbecoming of a king to be in just one slipper.”
But, of course, it isn’t so easy to calm oneself, because an enormous blow has been dealt to the ego.
27. And so, in the evening, after the poor Egyptian girl had her head roundly cut off, Ambyses is probably having an extended council with his ministers.
Nervous, waving his hands, he walks the room in fits and starts.
“I can’t believe what a bastard that Egyptian pharaoh is!” he exclaims indignantly.
The ministers sigh respectfully, shake their heads and shrug, exchanging glances full of malevolence.
“And what am supposed to do now, huh? After being slapped in the face like that? Go to war with this punk?”
“That’s an idea, your majesty.”
“But he’s awfully far, the sonofabitch, … I mean, Egypt… That’s in Africa, right? That’s almost a year’s journey … Probably need camels to get there…”
“That’s all right, your majesty … The armies will make it.”
“I showed her love,” says Ambyses, working himself up again. “I received her like an Egyptian princess, fell madly in love with her, and it turns out she was something else … How can this be, I ask you? What am I, a dog, that I cannot have his daughter? Where does he get off sending me crap on the sly, huh? … Huh!?!”
28. The foreign minister, working hard not to burst laughing out loud, says:
“The real problem, your majesty, is the international PR, … the scandal….”
“That’s exactly right! …. That’s what I mean – the scandal. What to do, what to do?!”
“The real problem, your majesty, is that this will go down in the annals of history, that’s the worst part of it … I mean, Persia, … King Ambyses, … Got slipped a slave girl…”
“Enough, you sonofabitch! Enough already! Call up the armies! Set out at once! Egypt must be conquered and erased off the face of the frigging Earth!”
To make a long story short, Ambyses led the armies himself and in short order conquered Egypt. But, by that time, the sad and senile pharaoh Amasis had died. His nephew Psammetichus, seeing he was in for no good, took his own life. As far as the daughter, who started the whole mess – unfortunately, history gives us no clues about her fate.
One history professor I know, who teaches at university, told me that Ambyses sent the Egyptian girl to one of his minister’s harems. But we can’t vouch for the truth of that. Although it is possible, of course. Anyway, the love they had vanished like smoke. Which shows plenty well what a pound of the stuff is worth.
29. So what do we have here? Seems like things ain’t so great for love, are they? Where is the notorious love glorified by poets and singers? Where is this emotion, sung of in wondrous poems?
Could it be that these know-nothing poets, rhyme slappers, and lovers of all kinds of grace and beauty have allowed such a shocking exaggeration to take place? Because we don’t really see any of these impressive sufferings while reading our history.
I mean, sure, we do see a thing here and there between the pages. But there’s too little, really. We want an unforgettable jewel of a story shining from every page. But all we get is some pathetic little love story once every hundred years.
We barely scraped up a few of these romantic narratives here. And to do that we had to diligently read history in its entirety, starting with all kinds of, pardon me, Chaldaeans and Ethiopians, and the creation of the world, and all the way up to our times.
And all we’ve got is what you’re gonna see next. Here, for instance, is a pretty powerful love, as a result of which this one daughter ran her dad over with a chariot.
Here’s how it happened.
30. Servius Tulius, the Roman caesar, had a daughter. And the daughter had a husband, this pretty disreputable guy. But the daughter loved him exceptionally nevertheless.
And so this sneak contrived a scheme to depose this daughter’s noble father – Servius Tulius, that is. Now, to be honest, Servius Tulius was kinda old, and he engaged in all kinds of losing wars with – wouldn’t you know it – some kind of Etruscans. Still, it wasn’t right to depose him. And there certainly was no need to kill him. That was just downright messed up.
Yet this dynamic son-in-law consulted the old man’s daughter and decided to kill her daddy after all. And she agreed, out of love for this bloodsucker.
And so the wheeling-and-dealing son-in-law hires a murderer and has the noble old man mercilessly stabbed to death in the middle of the forum.
He falls without even uttering a sound. And the people say: “Who will be the emperor now, we ask?”
And instead of weeping inconsolably and flinging herself upon the body of her dead dad, this daughter of a murdered father springs into a chariot, and wishing to greet her husband, the new emperor, with a joyous cry she runs the body of her freshly killed father the hell over.
A powerful sight, although utterly disgusting to some extent. And a substantial love this caesar’s daughter exhibits. I mean, you gotta really love someone to run the old man over at a moment like this.
There she is, standing up in the chariot. Whooping. Hair waving about. A grimace contorts her face.
“Hail!” she screams to the new emperor, and rides toward him over whatever’s in the way.
People in the crowd are yelling:
“Hey, looks like this shameless wench had the gall to ride over her own father.”
But this was love, no matter what you say. Mixed in with a little bit of a desire to rule herself. I mean – it’s really hard to say.
31. But here’s a love that was even stronger, which happened to this one pretty famous historical lady in her sunset years.
Catherine II, the Russian Empress, as she was growing old, (being, oh, fifty-eight years of age or so,) lost her wits over this one young, valiant pretty boy – Plato Zuboff. He was twenty-one, and he really was quite good-looking. Although his brother Valerian was even more handsome. The Russian Museum in St. Petersburg has both of their portraits, and it’s true: the brother was amazingly handsome.
But the old hag saw the brother later on, which is why in the meantime, not knowing what’s up, she immediately fell in love with Plato. When she saw Valerian, she caught her breath and said: “Hmmm. Coulda had me that young man. But since I’ve already fallen in love with Plato, I’ll just stick to what I’ve got.”
But Plato, seeing the huge effect Valerian had on the hag, sent that little brother of his off to war, where the pretty boy had his leg ripped off by a cannonball.
And so the hag was all about Plato, showering him with all kinds of wonderful privileges.
It’d be fun to imagine how their little affair sprang up. The pretty boy was probably awful coy at first, and would just freeze up when the elderly dame would get pushy. I mean, anyone would freeze up. I mean, you got your Holy Empress, so to speak, The Monarch of All of Russia and so on, and here, all of a sudden – what the hell?! – these crude advances!
32. So let us imagine this affair.
“Embrace me, you fool!” the empress would entreat.
“Gee, I mean, I can’t, Your Majesty,” the minion would mutter. “Out of, you know, timidity and awe for your imperial title.”
“Oh, just forget about that. Come, call me Catherine Vasilievna (or whatever her full name was.)
And so, with a strained laugh, the kid would respectfully touch the empress’ shoulders, already touched by signs of age. But in time he grew accustomed to it and received much more in return for his love than was just.
At twenty-four the pretty boy was already commander-in-chief, the governor-general of the Novorossiysk region, and the head of the entire artillery. This not-exactly-young woman fell deeper and deeper in love with him with each passing year, and was running out of favors to lavish upon him.
She allowed him to see all secret dispatches and intelligence from abroad. All the ministers and generals had to go through him to get to Catherine.
The young man would receive ministers and courtiers while reclining on a couch, wrapped in a silk Bukhara robe. Wizened generals would tremble reverentially as they stood at full attention in front of the pretty boy.
Head over heels in love, the old empress entrusted him with all the state secrets. Her love literally blinded her.
33. At the same time, this boy’s understanding of life and politics was quite vague. We know, for example, of his plan for a new Russia.
This mind-boggling work proudly lists the following cities as capitals of the first order: St. Petersburg, Berlin, Astrakhan, Moscow and Constantinople. Among the second-tier cities we, for some reason, have Krakow, Taganrog and Danzig. This plan has the following words:
“The woman who rules such a vast empire must become like the sun, whose benevolent glance warms everything within reach of its rays.” All in all, this plan alone tells us to what extent the old dame didn’t care about affairs of state, and how world politics was absolutely nothing compared with her last love.
But this is rather the portrait of someone aging in all her sad beauty than of the happy properties of love.
Yet here is a story for you of a big love that happened in someone’s full bloom.
34. This is also a fairly famous tale, which has been enacted on many a stage. So we won’t dwell on it for too long. It’s, shall we say, about how a Roman consul, Marc Antony, fell in love with the Egyptian queen Cleopatra. Well, actually, let’s refresh this story in our minds, especially since the touching story is extremely unusual. An ambitious man, who had reached a position of – believe it or not – great power, falls in love with a woman and forsakes absolutely everything. He forsook even the conquering armies he was leading. And became permanently stuck in Egypt.
As gifts, he gave Cleopatra Roman lands – albeit lands he conquered – Armenia, Syria, Cilicia, and Phoenicia. And bestowed upon her the title of Queen of Kings. Having gotten wind of the military leader’s scandalous behavior, the Roman Senate hastily deprived Antony of the title of First Consul. But being lovestruck, Antony refused even to return to his homeland. And then, Rome declared war on Cleopatra. And everyone was in for a great fight.
Antony, together with Cleopatra, set out against the Roman army. As the Roman armies were nearing Alexandria, the Roman consul Octavian wrote Cleopatra a letter about how she may still save her life and throne if she sacrifices Antony.
35. Seeing that things weren’t going that great for her, Mrs. Queen decided to indeed sacrifice her fiery lover. And while Antony was battling Octavian, Cleopatra sent her lover a message via servants, saying that she had taken her life. She knew that Antony, besotted by her, would not be able to live with this sorrow. And wouldn’t you know it – upon learning of Cleopatra’s death, Antony ran himself through with a sword. Yet the wound wasn’t fatal. And learning that Cleopatra was alive, Antony ordered himself to be brought to her on a stretcher. And died in her arms, forgiving her for lying.
This amazing story really is about a pretty great love, which overshadowed absolutely everything else.
By the way, later on, Cleopatra also committed suicide.
The thing is that Octavian was going to send her to Rome as a trophy. She did try to also win this leader over with her flirting, but nothing came of it, and then, unwilling to live through the shame, she poisoned herself. And thirty of her servants poisoned themselves along with her.
And for some reason, we feel sorry for this beauty, to whom Octavian said: “You can quit your trickery, queen. I’m not gonna fall for that.” In the meantime, she was already forty, and she realized that the jig was up.
36. But here’s another great love that made one man forget even his revolutionary duty.
We’re talking about the famous Mme. Tallien.
During the French Revolution, Tallien, the Secretary General of the Revolutionary Council, was sent by Robespierre to Bordeaux in order to arrest the aristocrats who fled there.
And in a jail he met Teresa de Fontenay, a young woman who had been arrested. He fell in love with her and let her out of jail.
When Robespierre found out that Tallien let her out, he ordered that she be arrested again.
And then, joining forces with Danton’s supporters, Tallien waged a battle against Robespierre so fierce, that in a short time he managed to topple him. There’s no doubt that his love for Theresa Fontenay was one of the motives for this battle. Tallien later married her, but soon she left him to marry some grand duke.
But this isn’t all history tells us.
Apart from this, there were these small and at first sight unnotable events, but still, these events literally like the sun shone through the impenetrable forest. This indeed was great love.
37. For example, the Decembrists’s wives, these glorious society women, left it all and voluntarily, although no one had exiled them, went to Siberia with their husbands.
The ill Radischev was to be exiled. His wife had died not long before that. And his wife’s sister went along with him to live in a Siberian settlement.
The son of a wealthy landowner, the illustrious horse-guardsman Ivashov fell in love with Camilla, the governess who worked in his household. His parents, of course, refused to allow him to marry her. But a year later, when, as a Decembrist, Ivashov was sentenced to twenty years of exile in Siberia, the young governess voluntarily followed him.
The poet Robert Browning loved his wife dearly. When she died, the inconsolably grieving Browning put the most valuable thing he had into the coffin; it was a notebook with his newly written sonnets.
Although later on, when the poet fell in love again, he retrieved that notebook, but that’s not that important.
In 1796, in the midst of battle, Napoleon wrote to Josephine: “When I am far from you, the world is a desert where I am abandoned and alone. You are the only thought in my entire life.”
Lassale wrote to Helen Denniges: ”I have huge powers and I will multiply them a thousandfold in order to have you. There is no one in the world who is able to tear me away from you. I suffer more than Prometheus on the cliff.”
38. In love with his wife, Chernyshevsky wrote to Nekrasov: “Not for problems on a global scale do people drown or shoot themselves or turn into alcoholics – I experienced this and I know that the poetry of the heart carries as much weight as the poetry of ideas”.
The city of Weinsberg was besieged by the enemy. The victors let women leave the city before pillaging it. They also allowed each woman to take with her the one thing she considered most precious. And a few women carried their valiant husbands out of the city.
Of course, this last one sounds like a legend. Once every while, history is fond of inventing something touchy-feely; for the sake of moral balance, so to speak.
39. Here’s an interesting touchy-feely story.
Some knight was setting out on a campaign and entrusted his wife to his friend. The friend fell in love with the wife. The wife fell in love with him. But the oath of chastity is, of course, inviolable. And so, to preserve and test this chastity, they sleep in one bed, with a double-edged sword between them.
I mean, maybe they did put the sword between them, and maybe they really did sleep in the same bed – we’re not contesting the actual historical fact. But as far as everything else, we beg to doubt it.
And so, on this petty sentimental note, we end our historical short stories.
This is what history tells us about love.
Basically, it tells us very little about this emotion. You know, like, yeah, seems that there is this emotion. Seems that history did run into it at some point. Seems that there even were certain kinds of historical events and things that happened on account of it. And certain kinds of business done and crimes committed.
But it’s not as if it was something terribly huge, not really like what the poets sang about in their tenor voices – history barely knows anything like that. On the contrary, this emotion has pretty much been saddled by commercial souls. And it poses no threat to the quiet march of history.
40. No, this emotion hasn’t stood in the way of people traveling down the road which they are honestly and patiently trodding.
And history can monotonously intone to us about what was and about how many “golde coins” a certain groom received for such and such a feeling.
Now, it’s true that we were talking about centuries past here. And maybe something’s changed?
Unfortunately, we have not been abroad, and on that account cannot fully satisfy your completely legitimate curiosity.
But we are of the opinion that it is unlikely that any kind of big changes have happened there.
There’s probably (so we think) some marquise with his big-sounding name, who is fiancé to a tiny three-year-old girl. And the daddy makes monthly salary payments.
And some aging dame, having lost sight of everything else, probably keeps some dancer Zuboff at her side, showering him with her largesse. Everything (we assume) is going the way it did before.
And as for how it is in our parts, we’ve had considerable changes happen.
41. And certain lamentable things having to do with love have actually started to disappear here bit by bit. For example, the financial calculations have practically stopped. And the monetary arrangements have gotten easier and much fewer in number. And really, all in all, all of it has somehow cleared up, and become less troublesome, and not as burdensome.
So, let us look at what kinds of negative things we might have in the love department. And, in a manner of speaking, let’s sweep up what we can with the steel broom of satire.
And so, on to the love stories from our lives.