- Historic Sites
Innocents At Home
February 1965 | Volume 16, Issue 2
MAXIM GORKY : The day of justice and deliverance for the oppressed of all the world is at hand. MARK TWAIN : My sympathies are with the Russian revolution. We are going to offer Gorky the literary hospitality of the country. REPORTER (to Gorky): Who was that lady I saw you with last night?
At two o’clock on the afternoon of March 27, 1906, Mark Twain, then living at 21 Fifth Avenue in New York City, received a visit from a Russian, one Nicholas Tchaykoffsky, who said that he had come to America to gather funds for the overthrow of the Czar and the founding of a Russian republic. The famous Russian novelist and revolutionary Maxim Gorky would arrive in early April to spur the movement, but meanwhile, Tchaykoffsky wondered, would Twain lend his support? Would he address a meeting of people sympathetic to the revolution, on the twenty-ninth of March? Twain assured his caller that he detested the Czar, admired the rebels’ cause, and although he had a previous engagement on the twenty-ninth of March, would do what he could to assist. Then, quickly, he drafted a letter for Mr. Tchaykoffsky to read to his gathering.
“Dear Mr. Tchaykoffsky,” it began, and, after a short apology for Twain’s not being able to attend, continued:
My sympathies are with the Russian revolution, of course. It goes without saying. I hope it will succeed, and now that I have talked with you I take heart to believe it will. Government by falsified promises, by lies, by treachery, and by the butcher-knife, for the aggrandizement of a single family of drones and its idle and vicious kin, has been borne quite long enough in Russia, I should think, and it is to be hoped that the roused nation, now rising in its strength, will presently put an end to it and set up a republic in its place. Some of us, even the white-headed, may live to see the blessed day when tsars and grand-dukes will be as scarce there as I trust they are in heaven.
Most sincerely yours, Mark Twain
When, two nights later, the letter was read to a crowd of three thousand at the Grand Central Palace, it received an ovation. The crowd was encouraged. Mark Twain was on their side, and Gorky, they knew, was coming.
Mark Twain, white-haired and seventy now, considered himself an iconoclast and revolutionary. Recently, in 1905, he had strongly opposed President Roosevelt’s settlement of the Russo-Japanese War, on the grounds that, had the war gone on, the Russian autocracy would have fallen and a republic been born. The settlement had preserved the Czar. The Czar was, in Twain’s opinion, an imbecile unworthy of preservation, and Roosevelt, “far and away the worst president we have ever had.” Freely, though in general privately, Twain also attacked American Christianity —”a shell, a sham, a hypocrisy”—and, to Tchaykoffsky, spoke so savagely about America’s utter indifference to liberty that the old Russian left his interview much depressed. In his dealings with the public, of which he was as contemptuous as he was fond, Twain was gentler. He limited himself to the minor shock of, say, a risqué motto—“ Do your duty today and repent tomorrow”—or, at some afternoon affair, kissing a flock of Vassar girls. He had recently taken to wearing nothing but white—“his efflorescence in white serge,” William Dean Howells called it. It was a revolutionary color for a revolutionary to choose, and, with his white heap of hair, white mustache, white suit and shoes, Twain was a dazzling and immaculate rebel.
Tchaykoffsky had arrived in America little more than a week before his interview with Twain. He was staying at 3 Fifth Avenue, in what had been a mansion but was now a co-operative rooming house known as Club A. As a mansion it had housed a duchess; as a rooming house it contained an assortment of writers, Socialists, and transient Russians. One of the roomers was a young lady named Catherine Teller, who lived on the top floor with her grandmother.
Miss Teller was a bright young playwright, brisk, lovely, and leftish. When she heard Tchaykoffsky say that he would like to meet Mark Twain, she told him that although she herself had never met Twain, she would be glad to walk up to his house—just two blocks away—and ask for an appointment. To her surprise, when she did so she was invited to bring Tchaykoffsky back that afternoon at two. At two, Miss Teller and her grizzled friend arrived. She introduced the Russian and was about to leave when suddenly Twain asked her name again. When she added that she had written a play about Joan of Arc, he immediately asked her if she would call on him the next day. She called. The two saw each other almost daily for the next three months.
Gorky was scheduled to arrive in New York on April io. A day or two before, Twain strolled down the avenue to Club A and told Tchaykoffsky that he proposed to give a literary dinner in honor of Gorky and his wife, who, according to reports, was travelling with him. It should be, Twain suggested, a grand occasion to which an excellent literary few would come to pay their respects to, and perhaps impress, the Russian novelist. It would also help the cause, of course, if Gorky were to become associated with established American names.
Aboard the steamship Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse , on April 10, Maxim Gorky rose before dawn to see America. The captain had told him the night before that he would be able to see land in the morning, and Gorky didn’t want to miss a bit of it. When, at last, he saw the slight blue rise of the Shinnecock Hills above Hampton Bays, he exclaimed that he had waited years for that sight. For a good ten minutes he stood on the wet deck, silent and gazing, his arms folded, his back turned to the other passengers who had gathered to watch Gorky watch America. Later that day he passed safely through quarantine, answering satisfactorily the one question New York papers thought—and the Czar’s ambassador in Washington fervently hoped—might bar him from the country: Did he believe in law and order? Gorky smiled ami replied: “I am not an anarchist; I am a socialist. I believe in law and order, and for that reason am opposed to the Russian government, which at this particular time is organized anarchy.”
After quarantine and before the ship proceeded to her pier, friends and reporters swarmed aboard from boats that had come alongside. One of the boats was a revenue cutter that had taken along a greeting party unused to such government hospitality; it included Abraham Cahan, editor of the Socialist paper Vorwacrts; Morris Hillquit, a Socialist lawyer; Joseph Mandelkern, an unusual real-estate agent who, the year before, had visited Tolstoy and Gorky in Russia; Ivan Narodny, who lived at Club A and spent his time raising money for the insurgent cause; Dr. Maxim Romm, another revolutionist active in New York; and Zinovy Peshkov, Gorky’s twenty-two-year old adopted son, who, after tramping through Scandinavia, taking ship for Canada, and wandering America’s eastern seaboard, had settled down to live at Club A and work in the mailroom of Wilshire’s Magazine , a fiery monthly whose motto was: “Let the Nation Own the Trusts.” Mr. H. Gaylord Wilshire, owner and editor of the magazine, was also aboard the cutter. A fox-faced man with a finely shaped beard and mustache, Wilshire had the flamboyantly jarring manners of an independently rich Socialist. He had volunteered to play host to Gorky and his wife.
On deck, as the ship’s band played Sousa’s “Hands Across the Sea,” the greeting party made its way through the crowds toward the Gorky suite. The door was jammed with reporters. Gorky’s personal secretary, Nicholas Burenin, was shoving the reporters back into the corridor, asking them to please be quiet, to please wait a moment, while, inside the room, the Russian couple looked out through the porthole at the Statue of Liberty. One of the more lyric newsmen, pressed in at the door, reported later in tranquillity: “It had been raining just before, and the sun, which peeped out a moment behind the clouds before setting, broke oddly on the wet, bronze robes of the Goddess until little violet shadows flitted all over her giant limbs and the folds of her draperies.” After ga/ing at the Goddess, the Russian couple turned to face the reporters and meet their friends.
At the pier in Hoboken, thousands of Russian Americans had been waiting in the rain for hours, and when Gorky stepped off the boat at last, the crowd roared and rushed forward. Tchaykoffsky struggled up to ask Gorky, “Do you bring us hope or tears?” but scarcely had time to hear the reassuring reply before a bunch of young men, laughing and shouting, hoisted Gorky onto their shoulders and bore him away in triumph. Others ran to hoist the lady as well. Young Peshkov kept them olf. The police, meanwhile, were having a hard time controlling the exuberant crowd, some of whom were unharnessing the carriage horses that were to draw the visitors to the ferry slip—they wanted to pull Gorky through the streets of Hoboken themselves. A squad of police moved in and got the horses back in the shafts. It was some time before Gorky and his party could step into the carriage and be driven away. After crossing the Hudson by ferry, they proceeded up Broadway to the Hotel Belleclaire at Broadway and Seventy-seventh Street, where Mr. Wilshire had booked rooms for them.
Gorky was glad to be in America. He looked forward not only to raising funds to promote revolution at home, but to a long rest. He had tuberculosis and he was weary. Thirty-eight years old, black-haired, with a black, drooping mustache, he gave the appearance of being both melancholy and powerful. The last six years had been crowded with work, danger, and sudden fame. Before the ama/ing success of his first book, Sketches and Stories , published in 1898 when he was thirty, Gorky had roamed through much of Russia, earning his living in various ways—gardening, dish washing, singing in a choir, working in a bakery, peddling liquor—and his writings, drawn from those years of tramping the land, portrayed a Russia new to literature. One hundred thousand copies of his collected stories were rapidly sold—an enormous sale for a country largely illiterate. After this success, and at the urging of his new friend Chekhov, Gorky turned to drama, changing and expanding it as radically as he had the short story, by focussing on the derelict and poor and presenting harsher, sharper scenes of life than audiences were accustomed to. His The Lower Depths , produced in Moscow in 1902, appalled conservative critics but fascinated audiences both in Russia and abroad. Gorky did not confine the expression of his revolutionary feelings to literature. He spoke against the Czar’s regime at forbidden meetings, helped collect money for guns and propaganda, and in 1905 was arrested and imprisoned for his activities. Only international protest—from Anatole France, Rodin, Monet, and from artists, scientists, statesmen, and even industrialists in Europe and America—forced the govern: ment to release him in March. In December, 1905, he took active part in a violent Moscow uprising, then escaped to Finland, and then moved on to Berlin, where even the Crown Prince turned out to hear him read. Alter a stopover in Switzerland, he headed lor America.
On Wednesday, his first full day in New York, Gorky looked out of his ninth-story windows at the Belleclaire and was impressed. “Striking,” he wrote that morning to the playwright Leonid Andreev. “Broadway stretches for about five versts. Central Park, a sea of houses, the harbor, and the Hudson River—all this is at our feet. And from the depths of dark city blocks, buildings of twenty-eight, of thirty-three stories rise skyward. It is all stupendous.” Later that morning he told reporters, whom he met wearing boots, black pants, and peasant blouse, that the long view reminded him of his native Nizhni Novgorod, that the Hudson seemed the Volga. He felt at home, he said. All day people called to pay their respects—among them a member of the Nihilist Central Committee anil a former American ambassador to Turkey—and various organizations proudly announced their plans for dinners to be given in Gorky’s honor. The East Side Socialists were planning a banquet; the Aldine Association, a publishers’ club, was planning a luncheon for l he following Wednesday; and the literary dinner proposed by Mark Twain was slowly taking form.
That evening Gorky, with his adopted son Peshkov in low, attended two dinners in his honor. The first was held at Club A, and was mainly an organizational alfair. Gorky, in a blue blouse, sat next to Twain, and young Peshkov acted as interpreter. The two authors delivered short speeches of salute and of encouragement to the revolution. Twain, Gorky said, was “a man of force—one who, when he strikes a blow, strikes hard,” and indeed, Twain’s brief address was forceful. “If we can build a Russian republic to give the persecuted people of the Czar’s domain the same measure of freedom that we enjoy,” he said, “let us go ahead and do it. We need not discuss the methods by which that purpose is to be attained. Let us hope that fighting will be postponed or averted for a while, but if it must come …” Mr. Clemens’ hiatus, the Times reported, was significant.
A fund-raising committee had been formed and its imposing membership list was read aloud: Mr. Samuel Clemens, Mr. William Dean Howells, Mr. Finley Peter Dunne, Miss Jane Addams, and—novelists and publishers—Mr. Robert Collier, Mr. Robert Hunter, and Mr. David Graham Phillips.
Gorky left Club A early in order to attend a dinner thai Gaylord Wilshire was giving for him and for H. G. Wells, who had also recently arrived in town. Edwin Markham, still famous for “The Man With the Hoe,” was there too. The party was chatty and informal. After the meal the guests drank Russian tea and smoked Russian cigarettes, and Gorky announced to a reporter that his favorite American author was Mark Twain, and then again Walt Whitman too, and finally Edgar Allan Poe as well. He admired them all. On his second night in New York, Gorky was in high spirits: “America,” he said, “is home as soon as one sets loot on its shores.”
The next morning, Thursday, April 12, the Times headlined its story of the dinner at Club A: GORKY AND MARK TWAIN PLEAD FOR REVOLUTION . The World was running a series called “Socialism in America—What It Means,” composed of letters from its readers. Politically speaking, there was an incendiary air about Manhattan that made the eruptions of Vesuvius that week seem timely and apropos.
That afternoon Gorky went out to see the city. Mr. Mandelkern, the liberal real-estate broker, who spoke Russian, had invited Gorky and his party to take an automobile drive through Central Park and up to Grant’s Tomb, then considered to be one of the city’s beauty spots. It wasn’t the tomb, however, that caught the novelist’s attention. It was the fact that only one policeman was on duty there. Gorky was so delighted by the contrast with Russia, where, he said, dozens of police guarded every monument in Moscow, that he sprang out of the auto, shook the astonished policeman’s hand, and excitedly spoke to him in Russian for some time before realizing that the man could not understand a word of what he said. After a ride down Riverside Drive, with Mr. Mandelkern pointing out the houses of the rich, the party lunched at the St. Regis and then returned to their hotel.
In the early evening, Mark Twain and William Dean Howells stopped in at the Belleclaire, set a tentative date for the literary dinner, and stayed on to talk, through an interpreter, about Russian and American literature. When they left, they spoke to some of the reporters who were lounging about in the hotel lobby. “We are going to offer Gorky the literary hospitality of the country,” said Twain. “He is big enough for the honor. It is going to be a dinner with only authors and literary men present.”
Gorky had a few friends in for dinner that night, and then set off with them for an evening at the circus at Madison Square Garden.
The following day, Friday the thirteenth, was an odd and crucial one for the visiting novelist. First, it was reported in the Times that a spy—a senior man in the Russian intelligence service—had followed Gorky from Europe to America on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse . On the trip across, the article asserted, the agent had cunningly concealed his importance by travelling second-class. Since arriving in Manhattan he had, with equal guile, passed himself off at the Belleclaire as a revolutionist eager to pay his respects to Gorky; at Club A as a German newspaperman busily taking notes; and at Mr. Wilshire’s party as an unobtrusive liberal sipping Russian tea. The agent, who took good care to vary his accent and his suit with each part he played, was afflicted with an occupational handicap, however—a small blonde mustache set in a florid face—and this gave him away at last. It was gradually remarked that what seemed a variety of people in a variety of clothes lacked variety of face; after the revelation in the Times , the man was seen no more.
Then, at about eleven that morning, large numbers of people began coming into the Gorky suite, as if they were welcome. The imperious callers stood, chatting with one another, and then formed a line that proceeded slowly past the startled Russians. Neither Gorky nor Madame nor the secretary, Burenin, could imagine why the crowd was there, nor could they quite make out what was being said to them. None of the three spoke more than a few phrases of English. Madame, who had attended none of the parties that week, was especially troubled, and asked Burenin, who usually knew what was going on, why those men and women passed by in procession, shaking her hand. He didn’t know. Then Gaylord Wilshire and Peshkov arrived, and Wilshire began introducing some of the more important callers to Gorky—Kuechi Kaneko, the Japanese Socialist; Bliss Carman, the poet; Ida Tarbell, who two days before had predicted imminent revolution to a convocation of Barnard girls. Wilshire went on to mention in an offhand manner that he had arranged this reception as a surprise party for Gorky and that it offered a fine opportunity for Gorky to meet some essential Socialists. With the shifting faces and the delayed reactions of translated talk, Gorky found conversation difficult, and it was in the midst of this turmoil that Wilshire came up again and began speaking excitedly about two union men in Idaho who, Wilshire said, had been charged with murder and jailed simply because they were union organizers. Gorky listened and sympathized with the men. Later, Wilshire took aside young Peshkov, to whom the names of the two men—W. D. Haywood and Charles Moyer—signified something, and went through the story again. Haywood and Moyer, secretary-treasurer and president of the Western Federation of Miners, had been jailed on a charge of conspiracy to murder Frank Steunenberg, former governor of Idaho; Wilshire was sure the charge had been trumped up (a jury later decided that it indeed had been), and a telegram of support from Gorky would hearten the prisoners. In fact, Wilshire had a draft of such a telegram in his pocket. He read it aloud to Peshkov, who told him he thought “it expressed Gorky’s sentiments.”
The crowd diminished and at last the Gorkys were left alone with two couples whom they had invited to lunch—the Markhams and the Leroy Scotts. (Scott was a writer of revolutionary thrillers who had recently returned from Russia and who belonged to the Club A set.) They sat down to lunch. There was considerable discussion about the jailed union leaders—after all, Gorky’s guests pointed out, the men had been accused of a serious crime; they had not yet been tried; their innocence or guilt was for the jury to decide; and they might well be acquitted—and, after lunch, Gorky was worried. He wasn’t sure what Wilshire might do and he felt he knew far too little about the whole case to allow himself to get involved. He sent for a messenger and had him run a note to Wilshire’s home stating that he did not want that message sent in his name. The telegram, however, had been sent, and copies released to the press:
GREETINGS TO YOU, MY BROTHER SOCIALISTS. COURAGE! THE DAY OF JUSTICE AND DELIVERANCE FOR THE OPPRESSED OF ALL THE WORLD IS AT HAND. EVER FRATERNALLY YOURS
That evening, while Gorky was still annoyed at Wilshire’s manner of playing host, someone knocked at the door of his suite and, when Gorky opened, handed him a note written in Russian. The note stated that the bearer was a reporter from the World, and in prim and stilted words it asked Gorky to say whether Madame was his wife or his mistress. “The novelist read it without visible surprise,” the reporter wrote next day, “shrugged his shoulders expressively, and returned the note with a shake of his head which … was intended to mean: ‘Nothing to say.’ ” The reporter folded up his note and departed, and Gorky left to attend a dinner which the Russian Social Democratic League was giving for him at the Murray Hill Lyceum. He arrived late, said he felt tired, and made a short, modest speech, mostly disclaiming the chairman’s flattering comparisons of Gorky with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. The audience was more political than literary; when Gorky announced that he had an appointment to meet John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers, they shouted with approval. As he left, women showered him with rose petals.
On Saturday, while most New York newspapers were speculating on the damage done to Gorky by Wilshire’s telegram—the impression was that he had lost much general support by allowing himself to become aligned, even unwittingly, with extreme Socialists —the World came out with a front-page story headlined: GORKY BRINGS ACTRESS HERE AS …MME. GORKY.’
The story was lavishly illustrated. There was a picture of Gorky’s travelling companion—already identified as the actress Maria Federovna Andreyeva—and another of Gorky together with his wife, Katharine Pavlovna Volzhina, and their sons, aged five and eight, back in Russia. “The New York admirers of Maxim Gorky,” the article began, “have been divided into two camps by an embarrassing discovery which was made on the novelist’s arrival and was then whispered around among the circle of Socialists, revolutionists, and literary folk who flocked to his company.” Conservative Socialists, the World said, were “disconcerted” at the liaison, while “extreme Socialists regarded the situation calmly.” The article described Mme. Andreyeva as being “a sweet-faced, intensely feminine and intensely vivacious little woman … with a bubbling flow of conversation and high spirits,” and went on to say that Gorky had lived with her for the past few years, that he was amicably separated from his wife, and that, at least for a rebel in Russia, divorce was impossible—“the cost is great, and the church … would have refused any favors to an agitator like Gorky.”
Mr. Milton Roblee, manager of the Belleclaire, was upset by this news. After reading the World story, Roblee telephoned Wilshire and told him Gorky must leave the Belleclaire immediately. “My hotel is a family hotel,” he explained to the reporters milling around the lobby, “and in justice to my other guests I cannot possibly tolerate the presence of any persons whose characters are questioned in the slightest manner.” Wilshire arrived, bringing Mr. Mandelkern along as translator, and after a fruitless discussion with Roblee, who was furious at Wilshire for having brought the couple into his family hotel in the first place, they proceeded upstairs to Gorky’s suite. There, Wilshire invited the whole group to come to live at his home on West Ninety-third Street. Gorky declined. Wilshire also wanted to pay the bill at the Belleclaire. Gorky wouldn’t hear of it. Wilshire left, feeling he had been treated rather roughly for a host, but downstairs, confronting the reporters, he supported Gorky, in a way. “I knew that Gorky was not married to the lady,” he said. “I thought everybody else knew it. You have to make allowances for genius. … When Bernhardt came here with a trail of scandal behind her, she was allowed to live as she pleased in American hotels.”
Leroy Scott and his wife came up from Club A to help with the packing. On his way out of the hotel, stopping to speak to the crowd of newsmen, Gorky insisted that Mme. Andreyeva was, as far as he was concerned, his wife. “My wife is my wife—the wife of Maxim Gorky. She and I both consider it below us to go into any explanation”; then, in a Slavic crescendo, he mused: “It is in the great and tragic moments of life that I find the real Maxim Gorky. I am always strongest when I stand alone. The bitter cup contains the noblest wine of life, and I am not afraid to drain it. All is harmony in my soul. There is music in the air and an atmosphere of poetry all about.”
Meanwhile, at 21 Fifth Avenue, Mark Twain and his crony, William Dean Howells, were having an agitated talk about the news. Twain’s biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, came to call just as Howells was leaving Twain. “I thought he had an unhappy, hunted look,” Paine later wrote. Howells’ later comment on these events: “Gorky was expelled from his hotel with the woman who was not his wife, but who, I am bound to say, did not look as if she were not, at least to me, who am, however, not versed in those aspects of nature.” “I went up to the study, and on opening the door I found the atmosphere semiopaque with cigar smoke, and Clemens among the drifting blue-wreaths and layers, pacing up and down rather fiercely.” Paine had brought along a cartoon ( right ) clipped from yesterday’s World which he was sure Twain would enjoy—titled “A Yankee in Czar Nicholas’s Court,” it showed Twain using his pen as a lever to dethrone the Czar—but Twain wouldn’t even glance at it. Instead, he strode from the room.
That evening, facing the expected squad of reporters, Twain insisted that he was “a revolutionist, by birth, breeding, principle, and everything else. I love all revolutions no matter where or when they start,” but he was annoyed with Gorky’s behavior and was afraid, he said, “that Mr. Gorky has seriously impaired —I was about to say destroyed—his efficiency as a persuader.” When the reporters questioned him about the gala dinner, Twain replied that he didn’t know what the committee (which he headed) would do and that he could answer more adequately after speaking to the members. Meanwhile, he added, “I believe in sticking to the flag until the last minute.” When he went on to say that if the contemplated dinner did not take place it would only be because no satisfactory date had been found, the last minute seemed to have come and gone. Two days later, Twain resigned from the committee. The dinner did not take place. (On the night for which it had been tentatively scheduled, Twain addressed a fashionable and politically unassailable gathering—the Robert Fulton Memorial Association-at Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie himself was there. Cornelius Vanderbilt III presided. Music was provided by the Old Guard Band.) The rush to entertain Gorky now reversed itself. John Mitchell of the United Mine Workers called to say he had no time to visit Gorky; the Aldine Association scratched its luncheon plans; a speech scheduled in Boston was cancelled because of “this horrid news”; and the White House announced—a gratuitous uninvitation—that neither President Roosevelt nor his Secretary of State would see the Russian novelist.
Shortly after four that afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Scott accompanied Gorky, Mme. Andreyeva, and Burenin downtown to the Lafayette-Brevoort, on Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, and a new suite of rooms was found for them. They were scarcely settled when Mr. Antoine Lablanche, the manager, called on them. They might take their meals at the Brevoort, in a private dining room, Mr. Lablanche said, but he regretted to add that they might not sleep in his hotel. He offered, however, to find rooms for them across the street at the Rhinelander apartments, an offer that they gladly accepted. While Gorky dined at the Brevoort, a porter, coached to say only that “a foreign family” was coming, moved their luggage across the street and into the third lodgings of that hectic day. After dinner, Gorky and Mme. Andreyeva drove off to the Grand Central Palace.
A great crowd, largely of Russian nationals, undaunted by the World ’s revelations, had come to the Palace for a concert and ball given to raise funds for the revolution, and when Gorky and Mme. Andreyeva entered, the orchestra was drowned out by cheering. The music stopped, and people climbed on chairs to get a glimpse of the novelist and his “friend,” as Mme. Andreyeva was being called now. Men helped women onto the backs of the chairs, the chairs tipping and tumbling down in rows and the women screaming as they fell—but all this was little noticed amid the applause and shouts that greeted the couple. After a short speech, Gorky and Mme. Andreyeva left the Palace. Then, according to the Times , “order was restored, the broken chairs were removed, and dancing began.” Gorky and “friend” had gone on to the Berkeley Lyceum to see a performance of Ibsen’s Ghosts .
When they returned to the Rhinelander at midnight, they found their trunks and bags piled up in the lobby. The manager, Frank Geraty, had discovered who his new guests were. Earlier that evening, someone had walked into the lobby with what he said was an important letter for Mr. Gorky—Geraty knew of no one by that name living there. Later, a bill was serat over from the Brevoort—$12.40 for dinner and removal of bags—marked “Maxim Gorky.” Geraty then conferred with a superior and was told that Gorky must go.
Although he tried to joke about sleeping in the street that night, Gorky was now disturbed and angry. A carriage was ordered, trunks and bags loaded on, the whole party—young Peshkov was along—climbed up into the seat, and with Burenin crying out, “Drive us to some first-class hotel,” they set off again. They drove to the Hotel Victoria on Broadway at Twenty-seventh Street, but Peshkov, after getting down, turned at the door, stepped back into the carriage, and ordered the driver to take them to Grand Central Station. There they got out, and as far as the public or the newspapers knew, they simply vanished.
H. G. Wells, in The Future in America , recorded the curious story of his search for Gorky. When he tried to discover the Russians the next night, he couldn’t find a trace. Wells was astounded at the change in attitude that had come over the city in those few hours. “On one day Gorky was at the zenith,” Wells wrote later, “on the next he had been swept from the world. … It was terrifying. I wanted to talk to Gorky about it, to find out the hidden springs of this amazing change. I spent a Sunday evening looking for him. … I had a quaint conversation with the clerk of the hotel in Fifth Avenue from which he had first been driven. Europeans can scarcely hope to imagine the moral altitudes at which American hotels are conducted. … I went thence to see Mr. Abraham Cahan in the East Side, and thence to other people I knew, but in vain. Gorky was obliterated.”
Reporters too tried to find the obliterated man. They too called on Mr. Cahan, who assured them Gorky was living in a cottage owned by a Mr. Miller, editor of a progressive paper called Die Wahrheit. It was a spacious cottage, Cahan said, with a lovely view overlooking the Botanical Gardens. They went to Mr. Miller, who addressed them in apocalyptic terms. “Gorky,” he announced, “is cut off from the whole world. Only one man knows where he is [Miller was not the man], and he is under oath not to divulge the secret or even that he knows it. … All I know is that Gorky has not left the city, and I do not think he will do so, but his quarters of today will not be his quarters of tomorrow.” The World, which had sunk Gorky, now most assiduously sought him, sending a reporter frequently to Club A, where a series of whispering women told him they didn’t know where Gorky was, and where he saw “a cordon of determined young men with high foreheads who stood at the foot of the stairs and barred ascent to the upper floors.”
Reaction to “the Gorky affair” was swift and varied. Most New York editorials expressed satisfaction with the exile’s exile from society; others felt American inns were endangered as long as Gorky remained in the nation; and the Sunday Times was caught between the praise of its Magazine Section, which had gone to press before the story broke—“he has the tongue of the poet, the heart of the poet—a Burns fired with a infinite pity and zeal”—and the censure of Section One. A far-flung Herald correspondent wired from Yalta an interview with Gorky’s wife. She was, she told the correspondent, “very indignant at the intrusion into the personal and intimate life of a man, and astonished that the Americans, citizens of a free country, are not free from the prejudices dead already even with us in Russia.” Parisian opinion was outraged at New York’s treatment of the novelist. “The inordinate and absurd regime of women in the United States” was held to blame, and the French expected Twain to demolish these “fresh manifestations of the outworn feminine pietist” with a brisk satirical charge.
Twain charged, all right, but in the opposite direction. In late April, he wrote The Gorki Incident . This fable, unpublished in his lifetime, tells of a savage, found in his customary nudity in Tierra del Fuego, who is brought to England, taught to dress, becomes a favorite of society, and is invited to the King’s ball. Donning what he considers his native and most noble costume, he appears at the palace nude, scandalizing king and court. The moral of the tale, in which Gorky is named only in the title and in the next-to-last paragraph, is an unusual one for a satirist: know and obey convention.
The New York Sun faced the incident more squarely, inquiring in an editorial: “Must revolution, to have the support of American amateurs … clothe itself in immaculate and conventional respectability and observe rigidly the tenets of morality…?”Like Twain, the Sun concluded that it must.
It was the American concept of immaculate revolution that Colonel Nikolayev, the chief of Russia’s diplomatic intelligence service in Washington, had counted on to assist him when, in March, he learned of Gorky’s intended visit. The Colonel’s simple counterplot to the rebel’s arrival was based on the conviction that Americans, although they might rush to the call of revolution, would defect at the mention of a mistress. The Colonel possessed photographs of Gorky’s wife and children, and it was he who had supplied the World , which then had the largest circulation of any New York paper, with the pictures. (The World did not credit Russian Intelligence for its assistance; it was only much later that the embassy’s plotting of the exposé was proven.) As if the story had done more damage than the editors intended, the next day the World mentioned Gorky in two editorials that ran side by side—one calmly extolling his writing, coneluding that “but for the comparative narrowness of his field, he might be called the Zola of Russia”; the other blandly remarking how interesting it was to have so many talented authors visiting America—Jerome K. Jerome recently, and now both Wells and Gorky.
Gorky’s written impressions of New York, called The City of Mammon , first appeared in Appleton’s Magazine in August, 1906. It was an exceptionally violent piece of writing, in which Gorky reserved some of his sharpest words for American moralists—“such smug, round, lardy creatures … people who, being born scoundrels, act as if they were the world’s attorneys.” And Manhattan, which at first had seemed so splendid to Gorky, is seen as “a huge jaw with black, uneven teeth. … When you enter it you feel that you have fallen into a stomach of brick and iron which has swallowed up millions of people, and churns, grinds, and digests them.” In later years, he felt differently about New York. He recalled the place fondly, welcomed Americans in his villa in Russia, and spoke of his stay without bitterness.
On the night of April the fifteenth, while Wells roamed the city in search of Gorky, Gorky was at Club A, cordoned from the world by its determined boarders. Mme. Andreyeva was on Staten Island at the home of John Martin, a British-born Fabian Socialist. Gorky joined her there, with all their luggage, the next day, and there they remained for most of their six-month stay in America. John Martin spoke Russian, and when Gorky made an occasional foray back into New York or down to Philadelphia, Martin went along to translate for him.
The forays, though, were few. In New York, public interest in revolution faded. On the twenty-fifth of April, Gorky addressed an audience of about five thousand at the Grand Central Palace, but when he spoke at Carnegie Hall in May, only the twenty-five-cent seats in the top gallery were filled; the dollar seats in the orchestra were empty. In Philadelphia, at the Grand Opera House, Gorky was received with great enthusiasm, and in New York, Mme. Andreyeva was a guest of honor at a party given by Mr. and Mrs. John Dewey; yet the couple felt more at ease with the Martins on Staten Island and with the few friends who came out to call. H. G. Wells spent the last day of his American visit with Gorky. He admired the Russian, finding him “not only a great master of the art I practice, but a splendid personality,” “a big, quiet figure … [with] a large simplicity in his voice and gesture.” In The Future in America , Wells describes the scene and mood of his last visit to the Martins’ home: “After dinner we sat together in the deepening twilight upon a broad veranda that looks out upon one of the most beautiful views in the world, upon serene large spaces of land and sea … upon the glittering clusters of lights and the black and luminous shipping that comes and goes about the Narrows and the Upper Bay. Half masked by a hill contour to the left was the light of the torch of Liberty.” They talked together all night, Mme. Andreyeva translating into French for Wells.
In late May, Gorky and Mme. Andreyeva went north with their hosts to the Martins’ cottage in the Adirondacks, not far from Lake Placid. There Gorky worked on a novel and, often at evening, would climb up in one of the trees around the cottage, chatting with the others from the branches and teaching Russian phrases to Mrs. Martin: Lyubitye drug druga , “Love one another.” On the thirteenth of October, with twenty-five people to see them off, Gorky and Mme. Andreyeva sailed for Italy. They lived in Capri, and then Sorrento, until they returned to Russia a few years after the revolution.
When, that fall, Mark Twain returned to New York from summering in New Hampshire, he had not forgotten Gorky, nor the moral of his visit. Much agitated, he told his young playwright friend, Miss Teller, that she must leave Club A and move uptown, farther away from where he lived, for there was too much gossip about them in New York. “He was,” Miss Teller wrote, “at that time, I remember, two years older than my grandmother.” She refused to move.