From the Memoirs of Mikhail Vasilevich Danilov (1722-1790)

[excerpted from Anthology of Russian Literature From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, Leo Wiener, ed. and Tr. Pt. 1 (New York, 1902), pp. 269-271]


I was my father's favourite son. When I was about seven years old, or more, I was turned over, in the village of Kharin where my father lived, to the sexton Philip, named Brudasty, for instruction. The sexton was of low stature, broad in his shoulders; a large round beard covered his chest, his head of thick hair came down to his shoulders, and gave the appearance of having no neck. There studied with him at the same time two of my cousins, Elisey and Boris. Our teacher Brudasty lived alone with his wife in a very small hut; I used to come to Brudasty for my lessons early in the morning, and I never dared to open his door, until I had said aloud my prayer, and he answered "Amen." I remember to the present day the instruction I received from Brudisty, probably for the reason that he often whipped me with a switch. I cannot in all faithfulness say that I was then guilty of indolence or stubbornness; on the contrary I studied very well for my years, and my teacher gave me lessons of moderate length and not above my strength, so that I readily memorised them. But we were not allowed to leave Brudisty for a moment, except for dinner; we had to sit uninterruptedly on the bench, and during the long summer days I suffered greatly from this continuous sitting, and grew so faint that my memory left me, and when it came to reciting my lesson in the evening, I had forgotten all I knew, and could not read half of it, for which the final resolve was that I was to be whipped for my stupidity. I grew to believe that punishment was an indispensable accompaniment of study. Brudasty's wife kept on inciting us, during the absence of her husband, that we should yell louder, even if it was not our lesson. We felt some relief in our tedious sitting when Brudisty was away in the field working. Whenever Brudasty returned I recited my lessons correctly and without breaking down, just as I did in the morning when my thoughts were not yet tired out. From this I conclude that compulsory study is useless to the child, because the mental powers weaken from bodily labour and become languid. This truth becomes apparent when we compel a child to play beyond its pleasure: both the game and toys become wearisome to the child from mere ennui, and it will rarely play with them, if not altogether hate them. . . . Such is the fruit of senseless and worthless teachers, like Brudasty: from mere weary sitting, I got into the habit of inventing all kinds of accidents and diseases, which, in reality, I never had.

Having learned the A B C from Brudasty, my father took me near the city of Tula to a widow, Matrena Petrovna, who had married a relative of ours, Afanasi Denisovich Danilov. Matrena Petrovna had at her house a nephew of hers and heir to her property, Epishkov. It was for his sake that she had asked my father to bring me to her house to study, that her nephew might have a companion. As the widow loved her nephew very much and fondled him, we were never compelled to study; but being left to my choice in the matter, and fearing no punishment, I soon finished my oral instruction, which consisted only of the two books: the Book of the Hours and the Psalter.

The widow was a very pious woman: hardly a day passed without having divine services in her house, either with a priest, or sometimes a servant acted in his capacity. I was employed to read the prayers during these services, and as the widow's favourite cousin had not yet learned to read, he, from great envy and anger, used to come to the table where I was reading the psalms, and kick me so painfully with his boots that I could not repress my tears. Though the widow saw her nephew's naughtiness, she never said anything more than in a drawling voice, as if against her will: " Vanya, you have had enough fun! " as though she did not see that Vanya's fun had caused tears to flow from my eyes. She could not read; but she used to open every day a large book on her table, and pretended to read loudly the prayer of the Holy Virgin to her people. The widow was very fond of cabbage soup with mutton at dinner, and I must confess that as long as I lived at her house I do not remember a single day that passed without a drubbing. The moment she seated herself at the table to eat her favourite soup, some of the servants dragged the cook that had cooked the soup into the dining-room, put her on the floor and mercilessly beat her with rods, and the widow never stopped eating as long as they beat the cook and she cried with pain; that had become a regular custom and evidently served to heighten her appetite. The widow was so stout that her width was only a trifle less than her height.

One day her nephew and I took a walk, and there was with us a young servant of hers who taught us to read and was at the same time studying himself Her nephew and prospective heir led us to an apple-tree that grew outside the enclosure, and he began to knock down some apples, without having first asked his aunt's permission. This crime was reported to his aunt. She ordered all three of us to be brought into her presence for a just punishment. She ordered in great anger to take up at once our innocent servant and teacher and to place him on a wooden horse, and he was unmercifully whipped for a long time, while they kept on repeating: " Don't knock the apples off the tree! " Then came my turn: the widow ordered to have me put on the horse, and I received three blows on my back, though I, like the teacher, had not knocked down any apples. Her nephew was frightened, and he thought that his turn would now come to be punished, but his fear was groundless; all the widow did was to reprimand him as follows: " It is wrong, it is not proper, sir, to knock down apples without having received my permission," and then she kissed him and said: " I suppose, Vanya, you were frightened as they whipped your companions; don't be afraid, my darling! I'll not have you whipped."