Mary Ross: The epigram for Pale Fire is a quote from Boswell's Life of Johnson:
This reminds me of the ludicrous account he have Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. “Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.” And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, “But Hodge shan’t be shot: no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.” James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
The meaning of this could be said, “Others may, but I shall not be touched by death”.
John Shade iterates this sentiment in his syllogism:
"A syllogism: other men die, but I am not another, therefore I’ll not die. "
I noticed this (and wrote of it to the List) long ago. In Exegi monumentum (1836) Pushkin says that he will not wholly die, that his soul in the sacred lyre is to survive his dust, etc. and, in the poem's last line, asks the Muse not contradict a fool. In other words, "Hodge shall not be shot." At the beginning of Eugene Onegin (One: II: 5) Pushkin addresses his readers and calls them "friends of Lyudmila and Ruslan." According to Pushkin, he heard the fairy tale about Ruslan and Lyudmila from a learned cat (that walks to and fro along a golden chain around the green oak-tree). Pushkin's kot uchyonyi (learned cat) brings to mind kot or (Zemblan for "what is the time"). To the question kotoryi chas ("what is the time") mad Batyushkov replied vechnost' ("eternity"). In his last poem, written on a slate a few days before his death, Derzhavin says that the river of time sinks into oblivion nations, kingdoms and kings (Kinbote imagines that he is Charles the Beloved, the last self-exiled king of Zembla) and, if there is something that remains through sounds of lyre and trumpet, it too will disappear into the maw of eternity (vechnosti zherlom pozhryotsya) and not avoid the common fate. In Exegi monumentum Pushkin line for line parodies Derzhavin’s poem Pamyatnik (“The Monument,” 1795), an imitation of Horace’s Ode 30 (Book III). But the last line of Pushkin’s poem (“and do not contradict the fool”) slyly implies that only fools believe in their immortality.
Shade's syllogism is borrowed from Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilyich" (in Tolstoy's story Ivan Ilyich read it in Kiesewetter's "Logic") In his essay "On Annenski" Hodasevich (the author of "In Memory of the Tomcat Murr," 1934) compares Annenski to Tolstoy's hero, quotes this syllogism and mentions Annenski's penname Nik. T-o ("Mr. Nobody"). In Pushkin's little tragedy "Mozart and Salieri" (1830) Salieri says that he cut up music like a corpse and Mozart uses the phrase nikto b (none would). Nikto b is Botkin (Shade's, Kinbote's and Gradus' "real" name) backwards.
"Epigram" should be "epigraph" (or "motto"). According to VN, in choosing the master motto (Pétri de vanité...) for EO Pushkin was influenced by Byron. As pointed out by VN (EO Commentary, vol. II, p. 5), the first two Cantos of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage have the following motto:
L'univers est une espece de livre, dont on n'a lu que la premiere page quand on n'a vu que son pays. J'en ai feuillete un assez grand nombre, que j'ai trouve egalement mauvaises. Get examen ne m'a point ete infructueux. Ja haissais ma patrie. Toutes les impertinences des peuples divers, parmi lesquels j'ai vecu, m'ont reconcilie avec elle. Quand je n'aurais tire d'autre benefice de mes voyages que celui-la, je n'en regretterais ni les frais ni les fatigues.
[The universe is a sort of book, whose first page one has read when one has seen only one's own country. I have leafed through a great many that I have found equally bad. This inquiry has not been at all unfruitful. I hated my country. All the oddities of the different people among whom I have lived have reconciled me to it. Should I gain no other benefit from my travels than this, I will have regretted neither the pains nor the fatigues.]
Fougeret de Monbron
In a letter of October 19, 1836, to Chaadaev Pushkin says that he would never want to change his motherland or have a history other than that of our ancestors as God gave it to us:
Quoique personnellement attaché de coeur à l’empereur, je suis loin d’admirer tout ce que je vois autour de moi; comme homme de lettre, je suis aigri; comme homme à préjugés, je suis froissé — mais je vous jure sur mon honneur, que pour rien au monde je n’aurais voulu changer de patrie, ni avoir d’autre histoire que celle de nos ancêtres, telle que Dieu nous l’a donnée.
Kinbote completes his work on Shade's poem and commits suicide on October 19, 1959.
In his letter to Chaadaev Pushkin responds to the publication in "Telescope" of the first of Chaadaev's "Philosophical Letters." As a result of the publication Nadezhdin (the editor of "Telescope") was exiled to the far north and Chaadaev was declared a madman. Botkin went mad and became Shade, Kinbote and Gradus after the tragic death of his daughter Nadezhda (Hazel Shade of Kinbote's Commentary). There is a hope (nadezhda) that, after Kinbote's suicide, Botkin, like Count Vorontsov (the Governor of New Russia, a target of Pushkin's epigrams), will be "full" again.