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

Maksim Gorky (1868–1936)

Promtov’s Marriage

From “Autobiography of a Vagabond”

AT last I married. A man of my disposition only does a thing like that either from being bored or while he is drunk. My wife was a clergyman’s daughter, and lived with her mother, the father having died. When I married her she owned a nice little house—or, rather, a pretty large house—and a fair sum of money. She was a good-looking, intelligent, cheerful sort of young woman, but she had a great passion for reading books, which had a bad effect on both of us. She was always fishing some wise maxim or other out of her blessed books, and whenever she had caught one she would come to me with it. But I never could endure moral reflections, not even as a child. At first I laughed at my wife, but she was incorrigible, and I could listen to her solemn speeches no longer. I always think of her as spouting some pompous phrase out of a book. Book-learning suits a woman about as well as a dress coat looks on a bootblack. Well, of course we took to quarreling.

About that time I made the acquaintance of a minor canon of the Orthodox Church—a merry soul, though a bit loose in his habits. He could strum on the guitar and sing songs; no one could beat him at dancing a breakdown, nor at drinking brandy either. I liked him better than anybody in the whole town, because he brought life into that dismal house of ours. My wife did nothing but scold me for my friendship with the minor canon, and did her utmost to draw me into her gang of literary people and humbugs. Every evening she received the visits of “the most serious and respectable people of the town,” as she put it. She was right: they looked as serious as if they had been hanged.

I was rather fond of reading myself in those days, only nothing I ever read bothered me in the least, and I don’t see why it should have. But those people—I mean my wife and her worthy friends—got so terribly excited from reading a book that one might have imagined their hair was being pulled out. My idea is this: a book—well, what of it? A book’s a book; if it’s a good one, so much the better. But, after all, a book is only written by an individual, and he no wiser than the rest of us. All books are written for the same purpose. They all try to prove that what’s good is good, and what’s bad is bad. Read a hundred volumes, or a thousand, none of them can alter a single fact. But my wife gobbled down print by the ton, so that I finally told her I should have done better to marry the minor canon instead of her. He was the only person who saved me from being bored to death. If it had not been for him, I should simply have decamped, and left my wife to kick her heels alone. As soon as her Philistines appeared I would rush off to see the minor canon.

In this way a year and a half went by. Merely for the sake of something to do I frequently helped the minor canon with the service. Sometimes I would read out the Gospel, and sometimes I would stand up before the organ and chant the words of the Psalmist, “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth.” I really had to endure a great deal, and at the Judgment Day I shall probably be excused a good many of my sins by way of reward.

One day a niece of the minor canon arrived. He had sent for her, in the first place, because he wanted company, and then because he had been eaten by pigs—not entirely, but still enough to damage his beauty very much. The poor fellow had fallen down in the yard, after drinking too much, and gone sound asleep. While he lay there, just like a log, out came the pigs from their sty and gnawed away at his ears and cheeks and neck. Pigs enjoy any sort of garbage. Well, that did for the minor canon, and he was laid up. So he sent for his niece. She was to nurse him, and I was to entertain her. We went at our duties with heart and soul, and succeeded remarkably well. But, of course, my wife got wind of the story, and flew into a temper. She abused me fearfully, and, not knowing what to answer, what could I do but return the abuse? Then she told me to get out of her house. Well, I thought the matter over, and finally decided to leave her house—and the town, too, while I was about it.

That was the end of my marriage. If she is still alive—my wife, I mean—I suppose she considers me as dead. I have never had the least inclination to see her again. I dare say she has completely forgotten me by this time, and is quite happy. But, heavens, how she bored me!