N. A. BERDYAEV (BERDIAEV)
In Memory of Romain Rolland
(1945 – #454)
Here was a great man, great in physique and in his moral stature. A man of deep seriousness and sincerity in the Carlyle sense of the word. He received world acclaim, he was a well known writer not only in Europe, but also in Asia, and they especially esteemed him in India. And this is explained not only by his qualities as a writer, but also by his qualities as a moral person. His themes in life and his creativity — were very serious, and the most serious theme of them all was this — he all his life sought for pravda, for righteous truth.
It is appropriate here to employ the wondrous Russian word pravda, righteous truth, which cannot be properly conveyed into another language. And in the search for pravda, for righteous truth, he distinguished himself by a rare quality of independence, he was never swayed by any sort of authorities, nor before any sort of public opinion. He was always prepared to sacrifice popular acclaim and success in the name of what he regarded as righteous truth.
In the past war of 1914, when Romain Rolland was a convinced pacifist, close to the ideas of L. Tolstoy and Gandhi, he rose up against the war, against the hatred towards Germany and aroused against himself all the social opinion of Europe. In the present day war he was no longer a pacifist. This time he decidedly expressed his great sympathy for Soviet Russia and for Communism, which evoked hostility towards him from very many. He invariably loved Soviet Russia, which also is Russia, he awaited from it the arising of a new, better, more just a life, and he traveled to Soviet Russia, where his name became popular.
His connection with our Rodina, our Native-Land, was strengthened still more by this, that he was married to a Russian, to the widow of my nephew, whom I have known almost since she was a young girl.
I also well knew Romain Rolland himself, true — already old and sick, and I have my own personal impressions about this remarkable man.
He saw a just-truth in Communism, just as he saw a terrible unjust-truth in the bourgeois-capitalist world. He accepted the social structuring of Communism, but he was least of all a materialist. His faith they termed an idealist humanism, perhaps, — but this is not entirely precise. His nature was that of a mystic, and he sought for not only a social just-truth, but also spirituality. Of a time the closest to him was the spirituality of India. He wrote books about Ramakrishna, about Vivekananda and Gandhi.
In his later years he turned moreso towards Christianity and became interested with Christian mysticism. But he combined this with sympathies for Communism, with a belief in its future. He was never a man of party partisanship.
He likewise never belonged to the French literary groups, to the shut circles, esteeming themselves the elite. In this regard he was a very singular writer, standing aside from trendy struggles. Only a very remarkable person could permit himself this.
Certain French writers, affecting themselves amongst the number of the elite, disliked the manner of Romain Rolland, and regarded his novels as insufficiently French, closer rather to the German type, deriving from the “Wilhelm Meister” of Goethe. Here no small a role was played by the fact, that the author of the 10 volume “Jean Christophe” was deeply involved with music. A powerful love of his life was for Beethoven, and through him he sensed himself connected with German culture. The hero of his chief novel — was a musician. It traces his fate in the struggle with the surrounding medium, with the trials of life.
This novel belongs to the compendium of pedagogical novels, which the French do not very much love.
Romain Rolland was not especially a French writer, as was Paul Valery or Paul Claudel, he was an international writer, a world writer.
His beautiful biographies of remarkable people (Michelangelo, Beethoven et al.) were pervaded by the cult of heroic persons, those elevating themselves above the average. He was a citizen of the universe.
He did not want to stay locked in within the European culture. He always wanted to unite French culture with the German, European culture with that of Russia and of Asia (particularly with India).
Suchlike people are few, all too few. we, as Russians, ought especially to esteem him. He believed in the great future of our Rodina, our Native-Land.
I saw him some several weeks prior to his death. Up to the end he maintained a lucid mind and writing ability. In his final years he penned a large book about Ch. Peguy, with whom he was close.
His ashes they want to convey into the Pantheon, as they did with the ashes of Ch. Peguy.
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteous-truth (pravda), for they shalt be satisfied”.
© 2003 by translator Fr. S. Janos
PAMYATI ROMENA ROLLANA. First published in the France-based periodical “Russkii patriot”, 20 Jan. 1945, No. 13. Subsequently reprinted Moscow in 1994 Liga “Iskusstvo” edition, Vol. 2, p. 493-495.