Letter to the Editor of the “Tiflis Messenger”
Тифлисский вестник (Tiflis Messenger), ???, 1878
[Translated from the original Russian text.]
Dear Sir:—In New York, where many people, who hearing the name of Tiflis, will face the serious problem of placing this city in their geographical conceptions—whether at the South Pole or on the White Sea—the newspaper Obzor [Review] is not read. This, of course, is their bad luck, and does not cast the slightest reflection on the highly unprejudiced and scholarly organ of Mr. Nikoladze. But I, as a Russian, was fortunate to receive a clipping of an editorial in No. 20 of the Obzor and to read therein some extremely interesting reminiscences about my unworthy self. The mere fact that such an aesthetical, philological and critical compendium of everything that is elegant in the literature of our era, as is the newspaper Obzor, has deigned to pay me for this flattering attention, honors me and gives pleasure to the readers in Tiflis.
Allow me, therefore, a distant half-compatriot of yours, to express in your respected journal a few words of gratitude, and to make a few remarks directed to your talented confrère . . . Having carefully pondered over this little page, as it were, torn from the book of my distant past, which represents me in the clear mirror of honest criticism (in my real appearance, and not a fancied one), and then, having fathomed the surprisingly profound review of my work Isis Unveiled, upon which neither Russia, nor Tiflis, nor even the thoughtful editor of the Obzor himself, have ever set eyes I became pensive, I must confess . . . It is not the numerous and laudable terms which riveted my attention; others might have been hurt by them, but not I. Oh no! Having lived so many years in America, I have long since become used to newspaper mud-slinging. Here they bark louder yet, and even the respected editor of the young Obzor—such a valiant expert in this branch of literary art, it would seem cannot outdo the American press. It made me ponder because, being inclined in my old age to hold to the wise precepts of pagan antiquity, I was reminded of the pronouncement of the Delphic Oracle: “To know yourself (man) as you are—in the present, know yourself as you were—in the past.” Thus I am even grateful to the kind editor who has, in such a timely manner, become the priest of the Delphic Oracle in print. However, as a citizen of the United States, I was hurt for America, which until now has been given priority in the case of new discoveries and practical inventions. The editorial in the Obzor has ruined that reputation. All our telephones, phonographs and even “electrical” men, have faded before the new and useful discovery of Mr. Nikoladze, namely, the ability to write reviews of books, not on the basis of their actual worth and as a result of honest analysis of the author’s ideas, but simply on a practical application of the science of Lavater and Galen,—i.e., by means of physiognomy or facial fortunetelling, and phrenology, according to the calendar of Martin Zadeki and Co., at Kiev. This great discovery belongs by rights to the Editor of the Obzor, who, as a result of facial recollections, has unveiled with one stroke of his pen both the unfortunate Isis and its no less unfortunate author. Who is unaware of the remarkable ability of Lavater faultlessly to divine and unveil the character, talents, vices, and the most intimate traits of anyone he met, for instance, on the street? Lavater, unfortunately, was killed in the days of the French Directorate by the soldiers of Masséna at Zurich; fate, however, showed its mercy for silly humanity in general, and the victims of the mercenary American press in particular, and did not permit the soldiers of Mukhtar Pasha and the Crescent to kill Mr. Nikoladze on the bloody fields of Armenia. It preserved him for the Obzor, and so that the great science of “facial fortunetelling” should not perish for lack of a worthy representative. From now on, Russia has found its own Lavater and . . . a new day has dawned in Russian literature. Henceforth, Mssrs. the critics may demand, not the actual published works, but merely the photographs of their authors. In this way the books may be subjected to the careful analysis of the reviewers, by means of their facial recollections alone. That will be cheaper and real fine. Clever was old Socrates not to have left any manuscripts; how bald and pug-nosed they would have appeared to the Editor of the Obzor, can be judged from the editorial in No. 20 of his Journal.
One might suppose that if the eyes of the author of Isis “were shifting in all directions, carefully avoiding meeting ones own”—it was because of a psychic foreboding of the dangerous Lavaterian abilities of Mr. Nikoladze. Unfortunately I do not remember him personally, and must confess that I never heard about such an unpleasant habit of my “eyes” from anyone else, and have never noticed it myself. It would appear I should ponder more deeply the Socratic precept: “Man, know thyself!”
Further, in the same editorial I learn that, while residing at Kutais, I “fooled local scribblers and cadets.” This is very flattering for me personally, but hardly so for the ex-scribblers. Considering that in those peaceful and flourishing days (the sixties) the numerous direct descendants of the reigning princes of Guriya and Imeretia rarely advanced beyond the ranks of cadets and writing clerks, preferring to rush straight from the lower grade benches in the local schools into the embraces of Hymen, and to begin their careers when already bearded, though youthful fathers of families; and furthermore, recollecting that in those distant days I was a mature and rather voluminous lady, and “in addition, with manners which produced a highly unpleasant impression upon the onlooker,” it is impossible not to be genuinely sorry for these innocent “fools.” With what cold-blooded and merciless satire does Mr. Nikoladze scoff at his compatriots—the illustrious “scribblers and cadets,” of the local aristocracy of Kutais.
In conclusion I will permit myself to observe that everything points to the fact that the talented critic, even if he has studied Lavater especially, has nevertheless neglected to acquaint himself with human nature in general. “Artificiality and charlatanry” are weapons only of those who aim at some honor or monetary benefit. Would Mr. Nikoladze dare to say that I or anyone else could possibly have expected anything of that kind in a circle of starving “scribblers and cadets” of Imeretia?
Let us hasten to complete the mystification of the poor Tiflis Messenger that was unable to detect the fact that the 64 newspapers and magazines in America which have so far published, and continue to publish, more or less lengthy reviews of Isis Unveiled, possibly too laudable, have all, to the very last, been bribed by me. That there are sixty-four of them, and those only the ones I have read myself, is easy for me to prove by means of the Scrapbook into which I have pasted them. With such an enormous influence upon the press as I exercise in America, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Russian government to flirt with me a little, as I might have some influence upon the forthcoming Russian-American progressive and defensive alliance. The press, it would appear is under my thumb in London also. As proof of this I send you a review of Isis Unveiled from the London Public Opinion of the 29th of December. This journal could also be called Obzor [Review]—but of the public opinion of Europe, and not the private and prejudiced opinions of its editor. Its specialty is to publish and to hold merely the opinions expressed by the voice of the majority in all matters of criticism, politics, literature and the arts. Would not Mr. Nikoladze like to acquaint himself with the standing of the Public Opinion of London, where all writers and artists fear it, as they would fire, on account of its impartiality and severity? Its reviewer, apparently, has so little concern with the personality of the writer, confining his entire attention to the production itself, that he has more than once called the author of Isis, Mr. Blavatsky. I am sending to the editor of the Tiflis Messenger the English original for comparison, and ask to be permitted to translate a few lines from the section on English Literature in that London review.
[Here followed a Russian translation of the review published in the London Public Opinion, December 29, 1877.]
Such is the opinion of one of the most serious among English literary organs concerning my Isis and its author, Mr. Blavatsky. Many people will of course think that praise of myself is out of place here. But in Tiflis, where many knew me, English is not understood, while everyone sees the Russian Obzor of Mr. Nikoladze. Probably he has overlooked the fact that it is quite possible to be the embodiment of all vices, and physical as well as moral deformity, and yet to be at the same time a good, and even an outstanding writer. The editor of Obzor has challenged me with an insulting public declaration, probably because I am located 8,000 miles from him—and I have answered. Will he not favor us now with his estimate of how much, for instance, I had to pay the scholarly journal, Public Opinion of London, for its flattering testimonial?