Gruppy i portrety
Groups and Portraits
Dmitrii Stakheev (1840-?) was a writer and journalist.
. . .
Sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of several colleagues from my newspaper, I would head toward Malyi Iaroslavets, which was located in the same building then as it is now, close to the one that housed the editorial offices of Russkii mir [The Russian world].
We did not always have lunch by ourselves or have it in the same rooms. Sometimes when the tavern was very crowded, we ended up in rooms in which the usual habitues had their lunch, or more exactly, swilled their bottles of beer and wine. I am unable to name them all, as I was unacquainted with most of them. I remember that I used to meet Musorgsky there, presiding at a table loaded with bottles, and Sergei Vasilievich Maksimov,1 talking in his hoarse voice about Siberian mountains, forests, and convicts; the actor Pavel Vasilievich Vasil’ev, who also assiduously drained his bottles of beer and wine; and the operatic bass Vladimir Ivanovich, who was also a Vasil’ev. Vladimir Ivanovich’s principal difference with his boon companions was the fact that he drank nothing but pure vodka.
Vladimir Ivanovich was not seen often at Malyi Iaroslavets, especially not in the winter. His drinking companions said that he often declined their invitations to go to the tavern. “I can’t,” he would say, “it’s not the right time now. These are hard times, my friends. Napravnik is a beast—and you must behave. Miss a rehearsal and he will peck you to death. He talks softly, makes small talk, and smiles, but it is obvious when you look him in the eye that he is ferocious and wicked. I can drink on Saturday. That’s my day. It says: ‘Remember the Sabbath day.’ That’s the day I can drink until dawn, and, if necessary, I can drink on Sunday too. Same thing during Lent, I can ‘perform a good deed’ to the glory of the all-Russian pure vodka. Lent, my friends, is a very nice thing: you can sing religious hymns and no Napravnik can stop you.”
He would talk thus in his bass voice, while emptying a carafe of vodka and clinking glasses with Maksimov. I repeat, I did not see him often, but I did meet Maksimov, Gorbunov, and the other devotees of Bacchus many times in the Malyi Iaroslavets.
I remember a little vignette: Musorgsky sitting on a chair by a table loaded with bottles, holding a newspaper with both hands. One would not say that he was very stable on his seat, for although his back was rather firmly pressed against the back of the chair, he still swayed slightly to keep his balance. The open newspaper gave one the impression that Musorgsky intended to read it. But taking a close look at this face, swollen from excessive drink, and at his eyes wildly roving all over the sheet of paper, one could definitely conclude that Musorgsky was barely able to decipher one line even if he were to read it syllable by syllable. The room was silent. Gorbunov was telling something about A[leksandr] N[ikolaevich] Ostrovskii,2 something about his trip with him to London; everyone was laughing, except for Musorgsky who puffed quietly under his breath. . . . Pavel Vasilievich got up from the bottle-covered table and tried to reach Musorgsky. Maksimov quickly stood up and grabbed him by the arm. “Don’t touch him, don’t touch him: he will fall!” he said hoarsely, shaking his beard.