The schoolteacher even became my principal enemy. I made a lot of enemies there, and all because of the children. Even Schneider tried to make me feel ashamed. And what were they so afraid of? One can tell a child everything - everything; I have always been struck by how little adults understand children, even the fathers and mothers of their own children. Nothing should be hidden from children on the pretext that they’re too young and it’s too soon for them to know. What a sad and unhappy idea! And how well children themselves notice that their fathers consider them too young and devoid of comprehension, while in fact they comprehend everything. Adults don’t realize that even in the most difficult matter a child can give extremely useful advice. Oh Lord! When that pretty little bird looks at you, trustingly and happily, why, you feel ashamed to deceive it! I call them little birds because there is nothing finer than a bird in all the world.
Indeed, there is nothing more vexing, for example, than to be wealthy, of decent family, of decent appearance, not badly educated, not stupid, even kind- hearted, and at the same time to possess no talent, no special quality, nor even any eccentricity, not a single idea of one’s own, to be decidedly ‘just like everyone else’. Wealth, perhaps, but not the wealth of a Rothschild; an honourable family, but not one that has ever distinguished itself in any way; a decent appearance, but really not very expressive; a decent education, but no idea about how to put it to use; intelligence, but an absence of one’s own ideas; a heart, but a lack of generosity, etcetera, etcetera, in every respect. There is an extremely large number of such people in the world, and even far more than it may seem; they are divided, like all human beings, into two main categories: those who are limited and those who are ‘far more intelligent’. The first category is the happier one. For the limited ‘ordinary’ person there is, for example, nothing easier than to imagine himself to be an unusual and original person, and to take enjoyment in this without hesitation. Some of our young ladies need only have their hair cut short, put on blue spectacles and call themselves nihilists in order to be instantly persuaded that, having donned the spectacles, they have at once begun to possess their own ‘convictions’. Some men need only feel a drop of some universally human and good-natured feeling within their hearts in order to be instantly persuaded that no one feels as they do, that they are in the vanguard of public enlightenment. Others need only accept some idea by word of mouth or read a page of something without beginning or end in order instantly to believe that this is ‘Their own idea’ and has been conceived within their own brains. In such cases, the insolence of naivety, if one may be permitted to express it thus, attains an astonishing dimension; it is all of it incredible, but is constantly encountered. This insolence of naivety, this undoubting trust the stupid man has in himself and in his own talent, is splendidly presented by Gogol in the remarkable type of Lieutenant Pirogov[Lieutenant Pirogov: The central character of Gogol’s story ‘Nevsky Prospect’]. Pirogov does not even doubt that he is a genius, even superior to any genius; so little does he doubt that he never once asks himself any question about it; as a matter of fact, questions do not exist for him. In the end, the great writer was forced to give him a thrashing in order to satisfy the outraged moral sensibilities of his readers, but seeing that the great man merely shook himself and ate a cream pie to fortify himself after his ordeal, he simply threw up his hands in amazement and walked out on his readers. I have always mourned the fact that Gogol bestowed such a lowly rank on the great Pirogov, for Pirogov is so self-satisfied that, as the epaulettes thicken and spiral on him with age and promotion, he finds nothing easier than to imagine himself a commander-in-chief; and not even imagine it, but simply not doubt it at all: if he were to be made a general, then why not a commander-in-chief? And how many such men later commit dreadful blunders on the battlefield? And how many Pirogovs have there been among our littérateurs, our scholars and propagandists? I say ‘have been’, but, of course, they exist even now ...