Letter 55

Date 9/21 June 1861
Addressed to Aleksandra Davydova
Where written Saint Petersburg
Language Russian
Autograph Location Saint Petersburg (Russia): National Library of Russia (ф. 834, ед. хр. 16, л. 3–4)
Publication Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1900), p. 140 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к родным (1940), p. 49–50
П. И. Чайковский. Письма к близким. Избранное (1955), p. 5 (abridged)
П. И. Чайковский. Полное собрание сочинений, том V (1959), p. 63–64
Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Letters to his family. An autobiography (1981), p. 4–5 (English translation; abridged)

Text and Translation

Russian text
(original)
English translation
By Luis Sundkvist
С[анкт]-Петербург
1861 г[ода] 9 июня

Наконец я собрался написать к тебе, Саша. Уж не сердись, что так редко; я в первом письме выразил, кажется, с какой точки зрения я смотрю на письмо... Как тебе небезызвестно, я еду за границу; ты можешь себе представить мой восторг, а особенно, когда примешь в соображение, что, как оказывается, путешествие мне почти ничего не будет стоить: я буду что-то вроде секретаря, переводчика или драгомана Писарева... Конечно, оно бы лучше и без исполнения этих обязанностей, но что же делать?..

Путешествие это мне кажется каким-то соблазнительным, несбыточным сном. Покамест не сяду на пароход, я не могу поверить, что всё это действительно... Я! в Париже, в Швейцарии, — это даже смешно. А ты, бедная, — сам-друг? Не бойся, я испытал это интересное положение, — это совсем не страшно. Бабушка у меня была хорошая, и если у тебя такая же будет, — так это отлично.

Живу теперь попеременно то на Головке, в которой ничего не переменилось, то у себя внизу. Наверху воцарилась Маврунька и сейчас только поила меня преизрядным кофе. В то время, как я усердно глотал эту волшебно упоительную жидкость, она два часа мне говорила про то, что ты была всегда в большой вражде с какой-то Ньюшой Мерц. Я доказывал, что ты даже её никогда не знала, но она утверждает, что были какие-то столкновения с Ньюшей и тобой. Когда будешь говеть в будущем году, не забудь с Ньюшей помириться.

Вчера я обедал у Сони Адамовой. Она всё ещё жалеет, что ты не вышла за Моля (который, между прочим, на-днях женится!). Софи похорошела и пополнела, слава Богу, а то ведь как спичка была. Говорят, она в интересном положении, чему виною, как слышно, отставной генерал-майор Друри, бывший любовник Авдотьи Яковлевны. Сия последняя совершенно погибает от любви. A propos. Софи Адамова рассказывала мне, что в прошлом году Вареньки обе были в меня серьёзно влюблены и что даже Катоновна подверглась за это сильнейшим притеснениям со стороны Надежды Савишны, а слёз сколько было пролито! Рассказ этот крайне польстил моему самолюбию...

Недавно я познакомился с некою M[ada]me Гернгросс и влюбился немножко в её старшую дочку. Представь, как странно? Её всё-таки зовут Софи. Софи Киреева, Соня Лапинская, Софи Боборыкина, Софи Гернгросс, — все Софьи! Вот много-то премудрости.

Сегодня я за чашкой кофе
Мечтал о тех, по ком вздыхал,
И поневоле имя Софья
Четыре раза сосчитал.

Извини, что письмо моё так глупо. Но я в хорошем расположении духа, а ты знаешь, в такие довольно редкие минуты у меня только глупость на уме. Не обещаю писать тебе из-за границы, зато буду аккуратно вести дневник и когда-нибудь тебе прочитаю. Думал о том, не заехать ли на возвратном пути к тебе, да денег, вероятно, не хватит, а крюк нужно будет сделать большой.

Поцелуй от меня благородного Лёва Давыдова и пожелай ему успеха в управлении имением. Ещё раз целую Вас обоих, и есть ваш преданный

П. Чайковский

Saint Petersburg
1861 9 June

I have finally mustered myself to writing to you, Sasha. Now don't be angry that it happens so rarely. In my first letter I think I stated from what point of view I look upon letters. As you are aware, I am going abroad. You can imagine how thrilled I am, especially if you take into account that, as it turns out, my trip isn't going to cost me almost anything: I will be a kind of secretary, translator or dragoman for Pisarev... Of course, it would be better if I didn't have to fulfil these obligations, but what's to be done?... [1]

This trip appears to me like some enticing, impossible dream. Until I have boarded the steam-ship I cannot believe that all this is real... Me in Paris, in Switzerland! Why, that even sounds like a joke! And you, poor girl, what about you and the other one? Don't be afraid, I have experienced this interesting condition—it is not awful at all. I had a good midwife, and if you have one too, then it will go splendidly [2].

I am now staying by turns at Golovka [3], in which nothing has changed, and at our house, downstairs. Mavrun'ka has installed herself upstairs and was only just treating me to some very decent coffee. While I was diligently swallowing that magically intoxicating liquid she spoke to me for two hours about how you had always been at daggers drawn with a certain Nyusha Merts. I tried to demonstrate to her that you didn't even know her, but she maintains that there were some confrontations between Nyusha and you. When you fast next year don't forget to reconcile yourself with her.

Yesterday I had dinner with Sonya Adamova [4]. She still regrets that you didn't marry Molya (who, by the way, is to be married any day now!). Sophie has grown prettier and plumper—thank God, as otherwise she was quite like a match-stick. It is said that she is in an interesting condition, and that the man responsible for this, so I've heard, is retired Major-General Druri, the former lover of Avdotya Yakovlevna. The latter is quite perishing of love. À propos. Sophie Adamova told me that last year both Varenkas [5] were seriously in love with me, that [Varvara] Katonovna was even subjected to intense pressure by Nadezhda Savishna because of this, and that tears galore were shed! This story extremely flattered my vanity...

I recently made the acquaintance of a certain Madame Gerngross and fell a little in love with her eldest daughter. Just think how odd this is: she's also called Sophie! Sophie Kireyeva [6], Sonya Lapinskaya, Sophie Boborykina, Sophie Gerngross — they're all Sophies! Truly, this is beyond my understanding.

Today, while having a cup of coffee,
I dreamt of those o'er whom I'd sighed,
And willy-nilly the name Sophie
I counted four times.

I'm sorry that this letter is so silly. But I am in a good mood, and, as you know, in these rather rare moments I have only silly things on my mind. I don't promise that I shall write to you from abroad, but what I will do is to keep a regular diary and some day I shall read it out to you. I've been thinking about dropping in to see you on the return journey, but I probably won't have enough money and it would mean having to make a big detour.

Give the noble Lev Davydov a kiss from me and wish him success in managing the estate. Once again I kiss you both, and remain yours devotedly,

P. Tchaikovsky

Notes and References

  1. Vasily Vasilyevich Pisarev, an engineer acquainted with Ilya Tchaikovsky, had invited Pyotr to join him on a trip abroad, chiefly because he didn't know any foreign languages and needed the assistance of an interpreter. Pisarev offered to take upon himself all the travel expenses, although Ilya did provide his son with some pocket-money so that he would not be too financially dependent on his travelling-companion. This trip, which lasted from July to September 1861, was the first time that Tchaikovsky visited Western Europe. See Жизнь Петра Ильича Чайковского, том 1 (1997), p. 128-129.
  2. Aleksandra Davydova was expecting her first child. She would give birth to a daughter, Tatyana, on 6/18 September 1861.
  3. A dacha in the outskirts of Saint Petersburg belonging to a certain Golov which Ilya Tchaikovsky rented almost every summer in those years.
  4. Sofiya (or Sonya) Ivanovna Adamova was the mother of Vladimir Stepanovich Adamov (1838-1877), who, like Tchaikovsky, was a graduate of the School of Jurisprudence. It seems that she also had a daughter, who was also called Sofiya, but who was referred to as Sophie by her friends.
  5. It is not clear who these young women were. Varenka is an affectionate diminutive of Varvara, and Tchaikovsky may have been acquainted at the time with Varvara Maslova (1839-1905), the sister of his schoolfriend Fyodor Maslov, but it is unlikely that she is being referred to here.
  6. Sofiya (or "Sophie") Kireyeva was the sister of Sergey Kireyev (1845-1888), the object of Tchaikovsky's unrequited and chivalric love during his last three or four years at the School of Jurisprudence, and for several years afterwards. According to the "Autobiography" which Modest Tchaikovsky wrote towards the end of his life, this infatuation had inspired his brother to devote himself to music in earnest and to seek to win glory as a composer in order to touch Kireyev's heart. See Пётр Чайковский. Биография, том I (2009), p. 116-118. As the same author points out, it is very likely that in this letter to his sister Tchaikovsky was merely pretending (deliberately or instinctively) to have romantic feelings for Sophie Kireyeva.