Theo Rothstein March 1899

Both are the Best

(Translated from the Russian of A. Herzen, 1857)

Source: Social Democrat,Vol. III, No. 3, March, 1899, pp.92-96;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

"Do you know that gentleman - here, on the right, reading a paper?"


"I should like to know what be is."

"Is it so very difficult Nowadays people are being turned out wholesale, there are no individualities in Europe. The gentleman who interests you is either a Horace of Georges Sand …."[1]

"I don't think so."

"Well, then, he is a Barnum."

"Are those really the only types in existence?"

"No, there is yet a mean type: a Barnum-Horace."

"Well, I met people entirely unlike either Barnum or Horace."

"Where At Khou-Khou-Noor - at Hoang-ho?"

"No; here in England."

"That might be. I was thinking more of the Continent. But did it not strike you that all those peculiar folk, unlike either Barnum or Horace, that all of them …. Well? ….. One, two, three …"

"I cannot guess."

"Think a little"


"Of course."


When I returned home, the half-jocular, wholly pessimistic remark of my friend came to my mind. Indeed, Barnum and Horace seem so entirely created after the image and likeness of the bourgeois and rhetorical age that they are to be met with everywhere - on the top and at the bottom, on the right and on the left, on the judge's bench and at the prisoner's dock.

Barnum embodies the business, the practical side of our age; it is the prose of the age, its labours, its occupation. Horace stands for poesy, for the artistic side. Barnum, one might say, is the Socrates of the bourgeoisie, Horace its Alcybiades.

Georges Sand observes quite rightly that in our time all that ladies' race, the perennial love lasses, the enamoured marquisses, do not exist at all, that the type a young man of the forties is quite different. Since she wrote her "Horace" some fifteen years or so have elapsed; nothing has changed within this period: the former Horaces have become older, the newer have grown up. The entire acting and scribbling France is made up of Horaces, and the Germans also have evolved - with an admixture of a profound, but patriarchally simple lewdness and a thorough and heavy immorality - a type of Horace (whom they classically call "Horaz").

In England, Horaces are few and far between; in America, none; but the Anglo-American species, has produced another type, not less universal, and this is no longer a hero of a novel, but a real human being living to this day in New York - Phineas Barnum.

Which of the two is the best I cannot tell, and am obliged to reply, like children do: "Both are best." Though I cannot but confess that Horace is somewhat more interesting to us - he is still a man of letters, a brother-in-­arms, as it were. But Barnum, too, is good in his antic simplicity - the wise man of life and conduct, the hard worker and genius.

Without means from the very childhood, Barnum passes his young days in a petty shop. He lives in an atmosphere of fraud; under his eyes there is going on a peaceful, marauding war of petty commerce in its lower stage, where the shopkeeper buys agricultural produce of the small farmer and sells to him industrial articles. The least diversion of mind, and the shopkeeper is deceived; the least mistake, and the farmer is befooled. This commercial game of chicanery amuses everybody, either side tries the first to checkmate the other. At the next round the latter will try to avenge himself, not hiding his intentions in the least.

Barnum looks upon this systematically carried on robbery with an eye of a clever, resourceful boy, and the first conclusion he draws is, that while you can live by your work, you cannot gain much, and he from his cradle onwards has been dreaming of nothing but a lot. By means of tricks, on the contrary, you can achieve all. With this excellent beginning Barnum scrutinises life, and, having tried his hand on penny lotteries and half-penny sales of cakes and lemonade, realises the great secret of the rhetorical age, the age of loud effects and words, shows and bold advertise­ments, viz., that the main thing with the modern nominalists is nothing else but the bill and poster.

Loud effects and high-sounding words are means used by Barnum and Horace in common; but to Barnum they are only means for making money, and, having emptied your purse, he leaves you alone. But Horace, he creeps into your very heart and soul, and there steals something else, and lies. That is why Horace becomes at the end a barrister, that is, a smooth-­tongued liar by profession, whilst Barnum amasses a large fortune and becomes a philanthropist.

Barnum's unshaken belief in human foolishness has proved correct. He never hides his opinions; on the contrary, he naively relates his tricks just like a successful general relates his strategic manoeuvres. Every one and all he regarded as means for getting rich - just like all others do, but with a greater moral force, with a closer consistency. Having exhausted all possible means to make money, and having become rich, he made further money by selling to the public an account of how he used to befool it. Here Barnum becomes a veritable genius in his line.

Barnum happened to meet a half- crazy old woman hardly able to stand erect, and babbling all sorts of stuff. A happy idea struck him at once. "What if I were to give her out as Washington's nurse?" Excellent, and lo! the negress is carried about from one place to another. Wherever he brings her, everyone cries: "It is absurd, it is scandalous. Washington's nurse would have been by now more than 150 years," and all hurry out of sheer curiosity to see what this nurse is like. The crowd leaves the show roaring with laughter, another one enters, and both are convinced that it is nonsense and a fraud, whilst Barnum puts away thousands of dollars.

Having exhibited to the world the Mermaid and Tom Thumb, the adulterated nurse to Washington, and the genuine Jenny Lind, Barnum, by his roguery arrived at a very high standard of honesty, came a chairman of a charitable society, and now gives fatherly advice and hints to beginners. To the mind of the bourgeoisie the past has no effect on a million in cash. The million covers everything.

However, Barnum has always been - even before - a moral man to the tips of his fingers; he naïvely stops in the middle of his narrative to tell the reader that, in spite of his having been sometimes obliged not to be over-scrupulous in the choice of his means, he, nevertheless, was a constant Bible reader and always went to church on Sundays wherever he was. He does not forget even to point out an incident characteristic of the sensitive­ness of his heart, that when sailing from Now York for London with Tom Thumb, he wiped off a tear that came to his eye when parting with his wife on board the steamer.

Horace is more tearful, more nervous, than Barnum. Horace is himself an advertisement, a living piece stage decoration, an incarnated lie. Always an actor, he puts on different airs every minute. He has an ideal Horace whom he wants to be taken for, and whom he personified for all known and unknown people, for all men and women, for the old and for the young.

In fortune and misfortune he only seeks the showy side, and is enraptured with the effect he produces on others. His epicureanism is not a simple, but, so to speak, a reflected one. He appeals for sympathy, for which he, on his part, pays nothing, and even if he would he could not. He has no feeling for anything whatever outside himself; he has only a superficial insight of passions which binds him to nothing. He likes their skin-irritation, their effect on the spectators; he persuades himself of them - that is, he lies before himself; but as soon as the breeze becomes violent, dangerous, he quietly makes for the shore, and goes home quite dry. If he feels sometimes affection for men it is for the same reason that we feel affection for caviare or game. He has no inner limit which would stop him in anything - that instinctive limit which declares its veto previous to every consideration. Apart from his own danger, there is only one check for Horace - the gallery, the public opinion. Leave him alone by himself, and he won't work his hands. More than anything else in the world, he is afraid of derision; to escape a ridiculous position he will insult his own sister, sell his own friend.

He is addicted to every and any sort of pleasure, though in reality he is nothing but a long-ago extinguished volcano. I am quite sure he secretly buys sweetmeats, and eats them closetted in his room.

The distance between Barnum and Horace is not so great as it may seem; instead of exhibiting Washington's nurse he exhibits sacred prin­ciples - love, brotherhood, despair. All this is so insincere with him that Horace is not even dissolute; one must give oneself up to dissoluteness in order to like it; dissoluteness requires some sort of frankness. But Horace will play the part of a lorette, of a fallen angel - an unhappy love which longs to die in the deadly waves of sensuality, else it will fall asleep.

By his opinions he is, of course, a Radical; hates aristocracy, and especially the bankers. But he is, all the same, passionately attached to money, and as soon as he finds himself in a rich saloon, with carpets, silk curtains and chandeliers, his head begins to turn round, and he feels he was born for such a life. He consoles himself with the thought that he sacrificed it - without having the least right to do it - for the sake of his principles. Give him 100,000 francs a year and monsieur le marquis before his name  -  and he will not let you on his threshold.

This creature, gilded on the outside and rotten in his heart of hearts, who has every passionate appetite developed, but not a single real passion, carries ruin and misfortune into every circle of simple and sincere people until he is found out. Occupied exclusively with himself and with his effects, he never so much as notices that he profanes the finest chords of other people's hearts.

Playing with false money, he is always a gainer, since he takes from others gold until the trick is realised. Horace is irresistible, but, like ghosts, he loses his power at daylight.

The moment when Martha [2] went over from love to hatred - nay, to contempt - was that when Horace played the game of suicide at her feet - and remained, thank heaven, alive.

Horace is the chief author of the misfortunes that befel Europe within recent times. By his phrases he carried away the masses, just like he carried away Martha in the novel, in order to leave them in the lurch at the first sign of danger.


G. Sand says that her novel has been received with murmur. And very naturally so. Have not they been angry in Russia with "Revisór"[3] The business has been seized by her remarkably, insultingly. She was frightened herself, she felt awkward before her acquaintances and friends. The brush trembled in her hand, towards the end, she changes the smile of contempt for a smile of indulgence. She makes Horace a barrister, and goes so far as to hint at his moral rejuvenescence. Of course, a barrister he will be, and an excellent one, too, a champion of widows and orphans, an indig­nant judge of human frailties; but a Horace he will always remain since he can only happily personify rejuvenescence - no more.

People who become better men are people without hidden thoughts, people carried away without premeditation on their part, people with sound hearts like, for instance, Faublas.[4] Apropos, Faublas: He is a desperate "wild-oats sower," and Horace, in the face of him, is but a hermit. Why, then, do we want to shake our finger at the former, and to give a kick at the latter?

….  The difference between natives of New Zealand and the inhabitants of a Paris quarter is no greater than that between Faublas and Horace - and this, in spite of the comparatively short period that divides the two. Faublas, when old, could yet have met Horace at the marchioness' or give him a good thrashing at the opera, when he was boasting so bourgeois-like of his victory, and that with the same stick which he had left at the actress's and his son had found.

Faublas is quite a sincere man, he seeks not victory, but pleasure, he is light-minded, sensitive, and repents of his faithlessness towards Lodoïska [5] (always by twenty hours later than he ought to have done it) just as straightforward as he deceives her. To stop Faublas is too late, but there is no need to feel anxiety for him. He will settle down by and by and become a man. He might, in the mean time, lose his fortune, his health, but he will keep his heart.

Faublas lived in the polluted air of the "boudoirs," a thunderclap, and he became a La Rochejacquelin.[6] Horace will not be regenerated even by an earthquake; he has no longer any "nerve" about him, as the French say.

The weaknesses of Faublas are manly, those of Horace feminine; his real call and destiny to live the life of a parasite, to torture women - to make of them an altar, a footstool, to rob them, to long for them, to indulge in caprices, and, when talking to them, to look in the glass at himself.

But why is it so? Why?

Why, on the other hand, in spite of Faublas being sometimes more licentious than Paul de Kock's[7] novels, you feel, when reading the latter, that the mud is deeper, more sticky! The level got lower!

Between Louvet and Paul de Kock, between Faublas and Horace, some. thing has passed and lowered the men. Since then the level gets always. lower and lower. Beaumarchais [8] Figaro and Beranger’s [9] Lisette have now become ideals like Bayard and Genevieve.[10] Figaro, the frolicsome, lovable, scoundrel, has been superseded by Robert Macaire [11], who steals, robs, forges, and kills. Instead of Manon Lescaut [12] and Lisette, appears Marco [13], who loves nothing - "neither flowers, nor nightingales", nor "le chant de Romeo"  - but louis d'ors ….

Marco is a woman, numbered, patented, and guaranteed by the Prefecture. Not much better is the satirical literary Parisian Saint Lazare, the doors of which were opened by A. Dumas fils.

Between Faublas and Horace, between Figaro and Robert Macaire,. between Manon and Marco, has passed the bourgeoisie, got hold of the people, and formed two different generations.



[1] The hero of a novel of the same name by the famous French author (1841).

[2] Of the self same novel, "Horace.''

[3] "Revisór" (The Controller), a famous Russian play by N. GogoI, vividly depict­ing the corrupt practices of public life in Russia during the forties.

[4] The hero of a very licentious novel, "Adventures des chevalier de Faublas" (1737) by J.B. Louvet de Couvray, th, famous Girondist, who hurled at Robespierre the celebrated philippic "Robespierre je l’accuse."

[5] The heroine of the selfsame novel for which Louvet's beautiful "maitresse" stood as a model.

[6] The well-known leader of the Vendée.

[7] A pornographic French author, extremely dull.

[8] The immortal author of "Figaro's Marriage" and "The Barber of Seville."

[9] The famous people's song-writer.

[10] Bayard, the knight "without fear and reproach." Genevieve, the maiden who saved Paris.

[11] The hero of a French play of the same name by Benjamin Antier and Frédèric Lemaitre (1834).

[12] Of the immortal "l'Histoire de Manon Lescaut" (1783) by l’Abbé Prevost.

[13] Of the play "Les Titles de Marbre" (1853), by Theodore Barrière and Lambert Thiboust, written in refutation of Dumas' "La Dame aux Camélias."