The great Russian writer Maxim Gorki passed away in Gorki, near Moscow, on June 18. During the last months three great Russians have left this world: the great physiologist Pavlov, the composer Glazunov, and now Gorki. All three were known to the entire world. Who has not heard of the famous experiments in the field of reflexes conducted by Pavlov? Who, next to Tchaikovsky and Rimski-Korsakov, did not also admire Glazunov? And who has not read among other great Russian classics the works of Gorki, who has recorded unfading images of Russian life?
Over half a million people went to pay homage to the remains of the great writer, and seven hundred thousand of his admirers accompanied the funeral procession. The state representatives of the Soviet Union stood as a guard of honor and after the cremation carried the urn to the Kremlin Wall, where it was immured. The entire diplomatic corps was present. A salute of guns resounded in honor of the great writer. Some French papers were amazed at the way a whole nation paid tribute to its national hero. There were wreaths from the French and Czechoslovakian governments. The foreign press unanimously hailed the achievements of Gorki.
The state resolved to erect monuments in honor of Gorki in Moscow, Leningrad, and in Nizhni Novgorod; the latter now bears his name.
The Municipal Council of Prague decided to name a street in the Czechoslovakian capital in his honor.
Benes, the President of Czechoslovakia, sent the following telegram to Moscow: "The death of Maxim Gorki will compel the entire world and Czechoslovakia in particular to ponder the progress of the Russian people during the Fast fifty years and of the Soviet Union since the revolution. The participation of Gorki in this process was, in its spiritual aspect, extremely great and convincing. For me personally, Gorki as well as all other Russian classics were my teachers in many respects; and I remember him with gratitude."
H.G. Wells sent a hearty message from England, and Remain Rolland telephoned the following message from Switzerland to Moscow: "At this painful hour of parting, I remember Gorki not so much as a great writer, or even his colorful path of life and mighty creativeness. I remember his full, saturated life which, like his mother Volga, flowed richly in his creations, in streams of thoughts and images. Gorki was the first among the world artists of the word who cleared the path for the people's revolution, who gave it his strength, the prestige of his glory, and his rich life experience: Like Dante, Gorki emerged from hell. But he emerged from there not alone, he brought out with him, and saved, his comrades in suffering."
The Paris papers that have reached the Himalayas record many signs of a world-wide esteem for the late writer. He was honored not only by friends but by all countries and by all sections of cultural life. Even the most restrained obituaries comment highly upon such of Gorki's works as The Lower Depths, Song of the Stormy Petrel, The Town of Okurov, The Smug Citizens, Mother, and his last works, The Artomonov Business and Klim Samgin and conclude with "a man and an artist whom we all loved has passed away." Thus art has united both friends and foes.
From the very beginning of his vivid literary career, Aleksei Maksimovich Peshkov, whom the whole world knows better by his pen name. Maxim Gorki, achieved an exclusive position among Russian classics. Just, as about every great man and great talent, there abound many legends about Gorki together with much fiction. Some tried to represent him as a soulless materialist, others based themselves on isolated expressions, by which it is impossible to judge a man and his work. But incorruptible history will depict this great image to full extent, and people will find in him many quite unexpected traits.
About his last minutes. Dr. L.Levin writes in "Izvestia" of June 20: "Aleksei Maksimovich died as he lived, a great man. In these painful hours of illness he never once spoke about himself. All his thoughts were in the Kremlin, in Moscow. Even in the interval between two oxygen masks, he asked me to show him the newspaper with the plan of Stalin's new constitution. During the short periods of relief from his illness he spoke about his beloved subjects — literature and the possibility of a future war, which worried him very much. The last day and night he was delirious. Remaining constantly at his bedside, I discerned the following short phrases: "There will be war: One should be ready: Fasten up all buttons!"
N. Berberova, who worked with Gorki, writes in the Paris press of a characteristic episode in Gorki's life:
"This was on the day when the current issue of "Sovremennye Zapiski" ("Contemporary Review") was received with the concluding chapter of Bunin's novel Mitya's Love. Everything was put aside — -work, correspondence, newspapers. Gorki locked himself up in his study and was late for lunch and absent-minded: Only at tea it became clear: 'Do you understand... a remarkable work . . . truly remarkable!' In these words he characterized Mitya's Love... It is difficult to believe that Gorki could cry with real tears when reading the poems of Lermontov, Blok, and many others:" Further, N. Berberova quotes from a letter she received from Gorki, in which his attitude to poets and poetry was clearly expressed: "I am greatly attracted by the broadness and multifacetedness of themes and subjects in poetry. I consider this quality as a good sign. It shows the broad outlook of the author, his inner freedom, the absence of being chained by any conventional moods, by any preconceived ideas. It seems to me that the definition, 'the poet is the echo of universal life is most correct. Of course, there are and should be ears which sense only the bass tones of life, and souls who hear only the lyricism of it. But Pushkin heard everything, felt everything, and therefore has no equal. Can there be anything higher than literature — the art of words? Certainly not. It is the most astounding, mysterious, and beautiful thing in this world!" Gorki's praise of Bunin's novel is characteristic of his sweep of judgment, for Bunin belongs to another literary camp, and therefore his praise is especially valuable.
Mny of Gorki's valuable traits will reveal themselves in the course of timer I happened to meet him on many occasions, in private talks and at all kinds of committee meetings, gatherings, etc. On all occasions I could trace some new remarkable details of his character, which very often did not correspond to the outwardly stern appearance of the writer. I remember how once during the organizing meeting of a big literary enterprise, when an urgent decision was required, I asked Gorki for his opinion. He smiled and said, "There is nothing to argue. You as an artist will feel what is needed. Yes, yes, precisely you will feel — you are an intuitivist. Often one should grasp the very essence — above reason!"
I also recollect how once at a friendly gathering Gorki revealed, quite unexpectedly for many, another interesting side of his character. We spoke about yogis and various unusual phenomena which exist in India. Some of the guests looked at Gorki, who kept silent, and they apparently awaited a severe resume. But his resume amazed many. He said, filled with an inner light, "The Hindus are a remarkable people. I will tell you of my personal experience. Once in the Caucasus I met a Hindu, about whom many mysterious stories were circulating. At that time I was rather inclined to shrug my shoulders about many things. At last we met and I will tell you what I saw with my own eyes. He unwound a long thread from a spool and threw it up into the air. To my surprise it remained hanging in the air without falling down. Then he asked me whether I would like to look at his album and precisely what I would like to see in it. I said I would like to see pictures of Indian cities. He took out his album and looking at me said, "Please, look at these pictures of Indian cities". The album contained polished brass sheets, on which were beautifully reproduced views of different cities, temples, and other views of India. I looked over the entire album attentively studying the pictures. Then I closed the album and returned it to the Hindu. He smiled and said, "Well, you have seen views of India". Then he blew at the album and returned it into my hands inviting me to look at it again. I opened the album and to my surprise found only polished plates without any pictures whatsoever. These Hindus are indeed remarkable people."
Does not this characteristic trait of Gorki prove his all-embracingness and broad consciousness?
He wanted very much to have one of my paintings. He selected from those, which I had at the time, not a realistic landscape, but one of the so-called prewar series, "The Doomed City"; precisely such a painting as would correspond to the mood of a poet. Indeed, the author of Song of the Stormy Petrel could be only a great poet. Through all the ups and downs of life, by all the paths of his many-sided talent, Gorki walked the path of the Russian people, encompassing the entire multifacetedness and richness of the Russian soul.
"Izvestia" of June 21 carried the following article from the Paris newspapers under the title "Gorki in the Role of Harun-al-Rashid." The story is accompanied by a photo of Gorki dressed as a tramp: "This happened in 1928. Gorki wanted to see what goes on in new public bars, what kinds of people visit them, whether he would find there any types similar to his old ones from The Lower Depths, what became of them, what the new visitors are like, etc.
But how to arrange such an expedition? Gorki decided to recall his youth and to disguise himself as a tramp. Wearing a beard and with hair overgrown like a bear, skillfully disguised, he entered into intimate talks with the people there, and as a result wrote an article which forms part of his book Across the Soviet Union.
"Those who know Gorki will understand that this episode is indeed typical of him. Being a true realist in the broadest sense, he considered it necessary to convince himself practically, not so much for the sake of entering sketches of new types into his notebook, but in order to affirm a synthesis for an actual expansion of his consciousness.
"He was trustful, he trusted, he loved to trust, and he was often deceived: Once he came out of his study singing, and his face expressed such glowing enthusiasm that everybody was amazed. It turned out that he had read a newspaper report that somewhere, somebody has discovered a new microbe."
Once I encountered Gorki at a meeting when the two publishing houses — Sytin in Moscow and the publishers of "Niva" — were merged into one big concern. Vast popular programs in the literary and educational fields were projected. It was interesting to witness how every conventionality and formality annoyed Gorki, who wanted to overcome all formal obstacles without delay. He knew how to build on a broad scale. Take, for example, the plan offered by him for three mighty cultural institutions: "The House of World Literature," "The House of Scientists," and "The House of Art." These three ideas show the creative scope of Gorki's thought, who was striving to find, in spite of all difficulties, the eternal words — words of enlightenment and culture. Throughout life he carried his chalice of service to humanity unspilt.
In the name of the "League of Culture" let us offer our sincere, heartiest thoughts to the memory of Gorki, which will remain forever steadfastly and vividly affirmed in the Pantheon of World Culture.
June 12, 1936