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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Aleksander Griboyedov (1795–1829)

Muscovite Society

From “Wo from Wit”


Fam.(to SKALOZUB).I wonder, by the way, how we are related. There’s no legacy for us to fight about, though. Your cousin once told me how you were related to Nastasya Nikolaevna, but I have forgotten.

Skal.I—er—really don’t know; we were not in the same regiment.

Fam.What a pity! I would do anything for a relative. Yes, I would hunt the world for a relative, just to find him and do something for him. Why, nearly all my official subordinates are nephews of mine, or some other near relatives. Of course one always thinks of one’s family when there is any prospect of promotion or a decoration. But your cousin told me he did very well in the army through you.

Skal.We served together against Bonaparte in the Thirtieth Cavalry, and afterward in the Forty-fifth, with—er—some credit.

Fam.Dear me, fancy having a relative like that! He wears a ribbon in his buttonhole, if I am not mistaken.

Skal.Ah, yes—for a little affair in a trench; we held a trench together, you know. And then we each got a medal.

Fam.Your cousin is a splendid chap, to be sure!

Skal.Oh, his head is stuffed with new-fangled ideas! Just as he was going to be promoted, he left the army, and settled down in the country to read a lot of books.

Fam.What a peculiar fellow! You, however, have done the right thing. But you have been colonel for some time, though you have not been in the service so very long.

Skal.Oh, I don’t know; I’ve had fairly good luck; some of the men have been pensioned off, and others killed.

Fam.Yes, the Lord watches over his own!

Skal.But some have done better than I. Take my brigadier-general, for instance.


Skal.Oh, it’s not of that—er—I am complaining, you know. No, I cannot say I have been passed over—though I have been with my regiment for two years now.

Fam.I see; you want to be a general. But you have left a number of your colleagues behind, it seems to me.

Skal.Yes, I admit that I want to be a general. There are different ways of getting promotion, and I don’t care which way I get mine, so long as I become a general.

Fam.Quite right. I wish you good luck and the rank of general. And, by the by, is it not time for you to think of marriage?

Skal.Well—er—I don’t know; I should not mind.

Fam.There are plenty of chances here—any quantity of sisters and nieces and daughters to choose from. Oh, yes, all the opportunity you could wish for in Moscow. Yes, Moscow is a wonderful city, you must admit.

Skal.The distances are very great.

Fam.We are governed by good taste here, and by admirable rules and fine old traditions. For instance, there is a venerable custom of judging a man by his father. He may be a good-for-nothing sort of fellow, but if he has a couple of thousand serfs, that makes him an eligible match. Another might have more ability and pride, and that sort of thing—well, let him pass for a clever fellow. But we don’t want him in our families. No, no; we have a decent respect for birth. Besides, look at our hospitality—especially toward foreigners. They are always welcome, whether they have a good reputation or not. You can always tell a Muscovite when you see one. At fifteen or sixteen our youngsters know more than their teachers. As for our old men, you should hear them discuss things. Such wisdom! Such liberality! It would never do for their criticisms of the government to be published. Not that they ever suggest an innovation. Oh, dear, no! They simply find fault with this and that, or with nothing at all. They get warmed up, and make a good fuss, and then go home. Every one of them ought to be a cabinet minister. And the women! There is nothing they cannot do, from playing cards to commanding armies and managing politics. See what admiration the King of Prussia expressed for our girls when he was here—for their accomplishments, not their faces. Show me girls brought up better than ours! They know how to dress in any sort of clothes; they twist their mouths into the proper shape when they speak; they sing French songs, and dwell on the high notes; they are devoted to the military, because they are so patriotic. Yes, I must say it would be difficult to find another capital like Moscow!

Skal.The fire improved it a great deal, I think.

Fam.Quite so. Since the fire, our roads, our foot-walks, our houses, all creak in a new fashion.

Chat.The houses are new, but the prejudices are old. Let us rejoice! Neither time, nor change, nor fires will ever do away with them!

Fam.(aside to CHATSKI).Hush! Keep quiet! Can’t you remember?(To SKALOZUB.)Allow me to make you acquainted with my friend Chatski—the son of the late Audrey Ilich, you know. He is not in the government service; he does not care about it. It is a pity, too, because he would make a good official. He is a young man of high intelligence, and he writes a good hand, and translates well. I cannot help regretting——

Chat.Never mind your regrets!

Fam.Oh, but everybody else is of the same opinion about you!

Chat.What do I care for their opinions? A lot of old fossils with an invincible hatred against freedom, whose opinions are derived from newspapers dating back to the conquest of the Crimea! They are always ready to find fault; it’s always the same old song with them; and the older they grow the worse they get—only they never know it. Where are the reverend sires whom we are to look up to as examples? Those who have grown rich by jobbery and corruption, who escape the law through family patronage, who build fine palaces where they live in wasteful luxury? Pray, who is there in Moscow whose mouth has not been shut by dinners, suppers, and balls? Should it be he to whom I was taken as a mere suckling, for some incomprehensible reason, to make humble obeisances—that arch-scoundrel surrounded by a host of sycophants? They did everything in the world to please him, and more than once saved his honor and his life when he was besotted in his filthy debauches. And then what did he do for them? Gave them up for three dogs! Or that other worthy, who, to gratify a whim, had cart-loads of children torn away from their parents to dance before him in a ballet. Yes, he, and all Moscow, looked on and clapped their hands while the nymphs and cupids danced! But that did not satisfy his creditors. Nymphs and cupids were sold off by degrees, every one of them. And these are the old men whose gray hairs we are to respect, who are to be the arbiters of our conduct and sit in judgment upon us! But if only one of our young men, hating servility, and wanting neither place nor promotion, gives himself up to science or devotes his whole soul to art, immediately they raise the hue and cry against him: Murder! Help! Look at the dangerous dreamer! The uniform—there is nothing beyond the uniform; their horizon is limited by gold braid and brass buttons; and what was good enough for them is good enough for us. And it’s the same thing with their wives and daughters: Nothing like the uniform!