The Writer and the Robber

Kriloff’s Original Fables
Within the gloomy realm, where dwell The Shades, before the court of hell, In the same hour, were brought a Thief
(He on the highways travellers would slay, And to a gibbet found his way),
And a great Writer with him, whose fame had passed
belief
:
His works, with subtlest poison filled, Debauchery gave root, rank unbelief instilled ; Sweet-tongued like Sirens, he could sing,
And like a Siren, ruin bring. In hell a trial’s short and rough
;
No dragging out to useless length : Ended, the sentence comes,—enough ! From two dread chains of iron strength,
Hung two forged caldrons black, vast, motionless on high
:
A criminal in each was seated. A monstrous pyre of logs the Robber’s prison heated ; Megaera’s self was there,
And stirred up such great jets of fiercest flame,
That almost down, split through, the rocks of hell’s vault came. The Writer’s punishment, it seemed, was not severe ; The smouldering fire beneath could hardly sear At first, but as time passed it hotter grew. Ages went by, and still the fire increased anew.
Beneath the Robber now the flames had long worn out, But with each hour fiercer the Writer swept about. Seeing no respite near, Our author, ‘mid his torments, called on the gods to
hear,
Shrieking aloud that justice among them ne’er was found : His fame, he said, the world went round,
And if his writings had been somewhat free, His punishment had outpassed all degree
;
As to his sins, he thought the Robber’s crimes were
greater. In all her awful grace, one minute later, With hissing snakes among her hair’s long bands,
With bloodstained whips in clutching hands, Before him stood one Sister of hell’s Three : ” Unhappy wretch ! ” saith she ; ” Is’t thou to rail at Providence that darest ? Thou, that the Robber with thyself comparest ? A saint he counts aside of thee. By savagery and rancour spotted,
His was a life Of harm and strife ; But thou * * * already have thy bones for long years
rotted, And still the sun’s rise every morn
Fresh evils doth light up of thee but newly born. The poison of thy works, not only doth not grow
Weaker, but wider, deeper from age to age doth flow. Look there ! (she opens wide the portals unto earth) See all the evil deeds whose birth,
The miseries whose cause, hath been thy fault alone ! Those children, who upon their families bring shame,
Whom fathers, nay, whom mothers despairing hardly
name;
What poison hath their hearts and minds corroded, but
thine own ? Who laughed to scorn, as dreams of children now,
All wedlock, government, and rule ? Who laid unto their charge all ills that men should school,
And all the ties that bind the world to loosen strove ?

’twas thou ! Who was’t but thou, that unbelief enlightenment did
call? Who was’t but thou, that pictured in deceitful colours
bright
The vices’ and the passions’ might ? Behold there, drunken with thy teaching, fall The pearl of lands Into the hands
Of murderers and robbers,
Revolters, wretched jobbers,
And to her utter ruin led by her faith in thee ! Of not one drop of blood, one tear she sheds, thou’rt
free
!
And, darest thou against the gods to raise thy cry ? Ah, countless still the unborn ills that lie Within thy books to vex the world ! Keep still ; for here thou hast but thy deserving ! ”
Megsera said, from wrath unswerving

And down the lid upon the caldron hurled.
[This fable was from the first supposed to be directed
against Voltaire, but Kenevitch prefers the opinion of Gogol, that it was not directed against any particular
writer, but against the evils of immoral and unprincipled
writing in general. As Kriloff never admitted to his most
intimate friends any personal application of any of his
fables, the question must be decided by the internal evi- dence of the fable itself. To me it seems there can be no
doubt, from what we have already seen of Kriloff’s opinions,
and from the text of the fable itself, in which the allusion to France is transparent, that it was specially directed against the French writers who prepared the way for the French Revolution, and surely Voltaire stands at the head
of them. Such is the opinion of Poltoratsky, one of the
best Russian critics. It has been suggested to me that the fable might at least equally apply to Rousseau, but
the allusion to the Sirens shows that a poet was intended,
and the evident allusions to a number of varied works
apply only to Voltaire.]