Love, Faith and Hope by Leonid Andreyev
According to his passport, he was called Max Z. But as it was stated in
the same passport that he had no special peculiarities about his features,
I prefer to call him Mr. N+1. He represented a long line of young men who
possess wavy, dishevelled locks, straight, bold, and open looks,
well-formed and strong bodies, and very large and powerful hearts.
All these youths have loved and perpetuated their love. Some of them have
succeeded in engraving it on the tablets of history, like Henry IV;
others, like Petrarch, have made literary preserves of it; some have
availed themselves for that purpose of the newspapers, wherein the
happenings of the day are recorded, and where they figured among those who
had strangled themselves, shot themselves, or who had been shot by others;
still others, the happiest and most modest of all, perpetuated their love
by entering it in the birth records—by creating posterity.
The love of N+1 was as strong as death, as a certain writer put it; as
strong as life, he thought.
Max was firmly convinced that he was the first to have discovered the
method of loving so intensely, so unrestrainedly, so passionately, and he
regarded with contempt all who had loved before him. Still more, he was
convinced that even after him no one would love as he did, and he felt
sorry that with his death the secret of true love would be lost to
mankind. But, being a modest young man, he attributed part of his
achievement to her—to his beloved. Not that she was perfection
itself, but she came very close to it, as close as an ideal can come to
There were prettier women than she, there were wiser women, but was there
ever a better woman? Did there ever exist a woman on whose face was so
clearly and distinctly written that she alone was worthy of love—of
infinite, pure, and devoted love? Max knew that there never were, and that
there never would be such women. In this respect, he had no special
peculiarities, just as Adam did not have them, just as you, my reader, do
not have them. Beginning with Grandmother Eve and ending with the woman
upon whom your eyes were directed—before you read these lines—the
same inscription is to be clearly and distinctly read on the face of every
woman at a certain time. The difference is only in the quality of the ink.
A very nasty day set in—it was Monday or Tuesday—when Max
noticed with a feeling of great terror that the inscription upon the dear
face was fading. Max rubbed his eyes, looked first from a distance, then
from all sides; but the fact was undeniable—the inscription was
fading. Soon the last letter also disappeared—the face was white
like the recently whitewashed wall of a new house. But he was convinced
that the inscription had disappeared not of itself, but that some one had
wiped it off. Who?
Max went to his friend, John N. He knew and he felt sure that such a true,
disinterested, and honest friend there never was and never would be. And
in this respect, too, as you see, Max had no special peculiarities. He
went to his friend for the purpose of taking his advice concerning the
mysterious disappearance of the inscription, and found John N. exactly at
the moment when he was wiping away that inscription by his kisses. It was
then that the records of the local occurrences were enriched by another
unfortunate incident, entitled "An Attempt at Suicide."
. . . . . . . .
It is said that death always comes in due time. Evidently, that time had
not yet arrived for Max, for he remained alive—that is, he ate,
drank, walked, borrowed money and did not return it, and altogether he
showed by a series of psycho-physiological acts that he was a living
being, possessing a stomach, a will, and a mind—but his soul was
dead, or, to be more exact, it was absorbed in lethargic sleep. The sound
of human speech reached his ears, his eyes saw tears and laughter, but all
that did not stir a single echo, a single emotion in his soul. I do not
know what space of time had elapsed. It may have been one year, and it may
have been ten years, for the length of such intermissions in life depends
on how quickly the actor succeeds in changing his costume.
One beautiful day—it was Wednesday or Thursday—Max awakened
completely. A careful and guarded liquidation of his spiritual property
made it clear that a fair piece of Max's soul, the part which contained
his love for woman and for his friends, was dead, like a
paralysis-stricken hand or foot. But what remained was, nevertheless,
enough for life. That was love for and faith in mankind. Then Max, having
renounced personal happiness, started to work for the happiness of others.
That was a new phase—he believed.
All the evil that is tormenting the world seemed to him to be concentrated
in a "red flower," in one red flower. It was but necessary to tear it
down, and the incessant, heart-rending cries and moans which rise to the
indifferent sky from all points of the earth, like its natural breathing,
would be silenced. The evil of the world, he believed, lay in the evil
will and in the madness of the people. They themselves were to blame for
being unhappy, and they could be happy if they wished. This seemed so
clear and simple that Max was dumfounded in his amazement at human
stupidity. Humanity reminded him of a crowd huddled together in a spacious
temple and panic-stricken at the cry of "Fire!"
Instead of passing calmly through the wide doors and saving themselves,
the maddened people, with the cruelty of frenzied beasts, cry and roar,
crush one another and perish—not from the fire (for it is only
imaginary), but from their own madness. It is enough sometimes when one
sensible, firm word is uttered to this crowd—the crowd calms down
and imminent death is thus averted. Let, then, a hundred calm, rational
voices be raised to mankind, showing them where to escape and where the
danger lies—and heaven will be established on earth, if not
immediately, then at least within a very brief time.
Max began to utter his word of wisdom. How he uttered it you will learn
later. The name of Max was mentioned in the newspapers, shouted in the
market places, blessed and cursed; whole books were written on what Max
N+1 had done, what he was doing, and what he intended to do. He appeared
here and there and everywhere. He was seen standing at the head of the
crowd, commanding it; he was seen in chains and under the knife of the
guillotine. In this respect Max did not have any special peculiarities,
either. A preacher of humility and peace, a stern bearer of fire and
sword, he was the same Max—Max the believer. But while he was doing
all this, time kept passing on. His nerves were shattered; his wavy locks
became thin and his head began to look like that of Elijah the Prophet;
here and there he felt a piercing pain....
The earth continued to turn light-mindedly around the sun, now coming
nearer to it, now retreating coquettishly, and giving the impression that
it fixed all its attention upon its household friend, the moon; the days
were replaced by other days, and the dark nights by other dark nights,
with such pedantic German punctuality and correctness that all the
artistic natures were compelled to move over to the far north by degrees,
where the devil himself would break his head endeavouring to distinguish
between day and night—when suddenly something happened to Max.
Somehow it happened that Max became misunderstood. He had calmed the crowd
by his words of wisdom many a time before and had saved them from mutual
destruction but now he was not understood. They thought that it was he who
had shouted "Fire!" With all the eloquence of which he was capable he
assured them that he was exerting all his efforts for their sake alone;
that he himself needed absolutely nothing, for he was alone, childless;
that he was ready to forget the sad misunderstanding and serve them again
with faith and truth—but all in vain. They would not trust him. And
in this respect Max did not have any special peculiarities, either. The
sad incident ended for Max in a new intermission.
. . . . . . . .
Max was alive, as was positively established by medical experts, who had
made a series of simple tests. Thus, when they pricked a needle into his
foot, he shook his foot and tried to remove the needle. When they put food
before him, he ate it, but he did not walk and did not ask for any loans,
which clearly testified to the complete decline of his energy. His soul
was dead—as much as the soul can be dead while the body is alive. To
Max all that he had loved and believed in was dead. Impenetrable gloom
wrapped his soul. There were neither feelings in it, nor desires, nor
thoughts. And there was not a more unhappy man in the world than Max, if
he was a man at all.
But he was a man.
According to the calendar, it was Friday or Saturday, when Max awakened as
from a prolonged sleep. With the pleasant sensation of an owner to whom
his property has been restored which had wrongly been taken from him, Max
realised that he was once more in possession of all his five senses.
His sight reported to him that he was all alone, in a place which might in
justice be called either a room or a chimney. Each wall of the room was
about a metre and a half wide and about ten metres high. The walls were
straight, white, smooth, with no openings, except one through which food
was brought to Max. An electric lamp was burning brightly on the ceiling.
It was burning all the time, so that Max did not know now what darkness
was. There was no furniture in the room, and Max had to lie on the stone
floor. He lay curled together, as the narrowness of the room did not
permit him to stretch himself.
His sense of hearing reported to him that until the day of his death he
would not leave this room.... Having reported this, his hearing sank into
inactivity, for not the slightest sound came from without, except the
sounds which Max himself produced, tossing about, or shouting until he was
hoarse, until he lost his voice.
Max looked into himself. In contrast to the outward light which never went
out he saw within himself impenetrable, heavy, and motionless darkness. In
that darkness his love and faith were buried.
Max did not know whether time was moving or whether it stood motionless.
The same even, white light poured down on him—the same silence and
quiet. Only by the beating of his heart Max could judge that Chronos had
not left his chariot. His body was aching ever more from the unnatural
position in which it lay, and the constant light and silence were growing
ever more tormenting. How happy are they for whom night exists, near whom
people are shouting, making noise, beating drums; who may sit on a chair,
with their feet hanging down, or lie with their feet outstretched, placing
the head in a corner and covering it with the hands in order to create the
illusion of darkness.
Max made an effort to recall and to picture to himself what there is in
life; human faces, voices, the stars.... He knew that his eyes would never
in life see that again. He knew it, and yet he lived. He could have
destroyed himself, for there is no position in which a man can not do
that, but instead Max worried about his health, trying to eat, although he
had no appetite, solving mathematical problems to occupy his mind so as
not to lose his reason. He struggled against death as if it were not his
deliverer, but his enemy; and as if life were to him not the worst of
infernal tortures—but love, faith, and happiness. Gloom in the Past,
the grave in the Future, and infernal tortures in the Present—and
yet he lived. Tell me, John N., where did he get the strength for that?