The present year is a memorial date for many things. I am transporting myself back more than a quarter of a century, thirty years; everywhere life's milestones, full of inner meaning, are encountered. Some paintings and frescoes were conceived, and also these were years of public activity — a great deal of everything.
Amidst all this diversity certain mementos of special significance to the heart stand out, among them the unforgettable year of the beginning of the foreign exhibitions. Now we are used to traverse the oceans, to transport ourselves over mountains and vast spaces, but thirty years ago people were much more immobile. Every trip was connected with some special decisions. How could one talk about trips abroad or expeditions when Russia itself was hardly explored, and to travel in one's own country was almost regarded as a sign of bad taste. That was the period when we asked in newspaper columns why the Russians do not love their country and know so little of her priceless monuments of antiquity and of her natural beauty. And to these questions we received in answer cold glances and shrugging of shoulders.
When remarkable travelers were met, such as Prjevalsky, Potanin, Mikluha-Maklai and other, one may say, equal heroes of learning, they were looked upon as peculiar people, almost as fanatics. However, the ponderous-ness of uninterrupted "settledness" was not akin to us Russians alone. Occasionally we heard also about Frenchmen who said with pride that in their entire life they had never left their native city.
True, everywhere was to be found a special type of people, the so-called wanderers. Even the homebodies grown heavy loved to listen to the fairy-like tales of wanderings to holy places and throughout the world when even every night's lodging became a vivid record of events. Let us but recall Aphanasy Nikitin1 from Tver who exclaims in the fifteenth century, "Getting away from all our sorrows, let us depart for India." And he himself undertakes a journey of many years which was not talked about just as Marco Polo was not talked about; similarly one also did not speak much about Mendeleyev in his time. There are special reasons for this. Let us also recall from remote ages Prokopy the Blessed, who, from the high shores of Northern Dvina, blessed the unknown travelers as follows, "To the seafarers, to the travelers:"
Because of this unbroken circle of settledness, it was not so easy thirty years ago to dream about going outside of the boundaries — "Beyond the seas are great lands." But to all such far-off lands, to all the calling mountains, to the inspiring heights some kind of key must be found so that a messenger may knock and sound a call.
A letter came from the "Manes" Society in Prague, with an invitation to exhibit; they offered to transport all paintings, to arrange everything. In this invitation there is something hearty, which reveals Pan-Slavic, pan-human hearts. Thirty years have passed since that time, but I remember now, as then, all the joy blossoming from that hearty call. It was that door set ajar which at once broadened the possibilities, the quests, and the beautiful affirmations. This yet unrealized, but long inwardly awaited message came from completely unknown people — simply out of the blue sky. At that time I did not know the kind Milosh Marten. There, somewhere beyond the mountains, beyond the valleys, a new friend was found, and he called to the path longed for in the depth of the heart.
And the message came not from chance people, but from Slavs close in spirit. After all, we do consider them as brothers, and in every Slavic meeting the harmonies of a kindred soul are spontaneously created. The paintings went to the exhibition. And then came joyous news, a special issue of the magazine "Dilo," with an excellent, sincere article by Marten. F. Salda in "The Wave of Death" dedicated a powerfully ringing article. Hubert Tzyriak in "Modern Revue" called the exhibition, with deep poetic feeling, "A dream of the past." In this "dream of the past" I dreamt not at all of the past, but of the future. Therefore Golden Prague forever remained for me the gates into the future.
I recall that Elena Ivanovna, who was always striding into the future, rejoiced especially at this invitation from Prague. In every circumstance, aside from its outer appearance, is also contained the seed of the inner meaning. The seed of the Prague Exhibition contained something unusually friendly. True, Milosh Marten, F. Salda, and H. Tzyriak, and also others, who spoke about the exhibition, were very fine cultural experts. But besides this special knowledge in the domain of art, they were primarily men imbued with that pan-human feeling which makes possible the true advance of culture.
During the following years the unrestrainable progress of Czechoslovakia became evident. The great war itself was for the Bohemian people the gates into the glorious future. How many renowned Czech names were affirmed during this time of renaissance for Golden Prague! It was precisely Czechoslovakia which provided an unforgettable example for the world of the venerable scientist Professor Masaryk, who became a true leader of culture and proved that verily a leader of spirit, a leader of culture molds the people's stronghold. Since that time every meeting with the representatives of Czechoslovakia filled us with joy. Jan Masaryk in London, Osussky in Paris, Novak in New York, and many other representatives and scientists of Czechoslovakia only affirmed with their judgments that my joy of years ago about Golden Prague was not accidental.
We recall what was said in 1933 by Dr. Ferdinand Veverka, the Minister of Czechoslovakia in Washington, at our Convention of the Pact and Banner of Peace: "The main reason why nations reject war lies not only in its horrors, but in its stupidity, in its senselessness, in its unproductivity, economically and politically. War has turned from a profitable into an especially unprofitable undertaking. Rejection of war as a means of solving international conflicts — this new hypothesis which brings to the world a concept of peace as a basic social order — compels us to truly re-examine and change the very foundations of civilization. Peace is a state of mind, peace is a fundamental state of affairs, not the reverse side of war, not a free sigh between battles. When this realization shall become to us a reality, then the time will come when oppressed and harassed humanity will understand and accept the true peace, that of the Gospel — "Peace on Earth, good will toward men."
These words are the summons of a true bearer of the banner of culture. To think about such fully realized, operative peace can only be done by a nation that understands the entire practicality of the foundations of labor and the treasures of creativeness which will always be the true treasures. In such a direction of, mutual magnanimity and understanding proceeded my relations with Golden Prague.
One more encounter — a stormy crossing from Le Havre to New York; not many passengers on the liner "Paris," and suddenly we meet friends of whom we had heard so much, toward whom our hearts were open for years. And this meeting took place during a storm on the Atlantic. This meeting reminded me of another one which took place in Paris, in the home of Princess Tenischeff. There, quite unexpectedly and simply, I met my as yet unknown friend Milosh Marten. And here, amidst stormy waves, we met his former widow, now married to General Kletchanda. She and the General were going to Columbia. We met as if we had been personally acquainted for years. That mutual trust rang out without which human relations have no meaning. God grant that every country may possess such leaders as General Kletchanda! Prior to the date of the thirtieth anniversary of friendship with Golden Prague, the meeting with General Kletchanda and his wife was a conclusive chord which once again affirmed the right feeling of joy about Golden Prague that flashed out already in 1906.
Memories can be of different natures. Sometimes they are only a necklace of facts, the collection of an observer. And these accumulations can be written down; they will also be needed in some mutual relationships. But in such a collection the heart may remain outside of the tremor of exaltation. Only where the circumstances merge into heartfelt rapture is there true significance in recording that which gave joy.
"Let us rejoice." It is easy to say, but not always easy to fulfill this summons. Therefore, let us value with a special solicitude all that can vitally support the joy of the spirit. That joy is real when in its foundation lie culture, friendship, and humanness. Greeting to Golden Prague.
1A Russian merchant and explorer from Tver, hence his pen name. His real name was Nikitin. Traveled in Persia and India 1466-1472. Author of Traveling Over Three Seas. Died in 1472.