Reminiscences by Pierre Pascal
by Klaus Bambauer
Pierre Pascal (born 1890 in
Issoire/France) lived from 1916 to 1933 in Russia as officer at the French
embassy in St. Petersburg, later on he worked as translator and librarian. 1936
he became lecturer for Russian language at the University of Lille, 1937 professor
for Russian language in Paris, 1950 professor for Slavic languages and
literature at Sorbonne/Paris. He wrote many books on Russian culture, among
these in German: Stroemungen des russischen Denkens 1850-1950, Vienna 1981.
Pascal gave a lecture on his
reminiscences at the Colloque Berdiaev 1975 in Paris. The title of this lecture
was: "The Man Berdjajew." It was published in: "Colloque
Berdiaev", Paris 1975, together with the other contributions to this
Here follows a translation of
some passages of his paper from French to English:
"I will begin with an apparent portrait [of Berdjajew]: a man with excellent common figure, with perfect education […], the clothes always correct and elegant, the upper part of the body very straight, a nice imposing appearance, a man, perfect, seldom to met with in the splendid Russian society" (p. 11).
Berdjajew never mentioned
questions of money, but he and his familiy lived in Paris only from his work as
author of books, as chief editor of the "Put'", as lecturer in the
Religious-Philosophical academy, and supported by the Association de
Jeunesse chrétienne (YMCA) in the United States of America. This
association never pressured him.
Berdjajew tended often without
reason to become very excited. People at first may have been frightened, but
then they became accustomed to it. L.Schestow, his old friend from Kiew, a
highly esteemed thinker, always present at the weekly meetings at Berdjajew,
was sometimes a victim of Berdjajew's anger concerning questions, that had been
solved long ago.
Pierre Pascal describes a
visit to Berdjajew: "We, my wife and I had the habit to be the first
people in the Sunday afternoon (meetings) in Clamart. If one arrived before 16
o'clock, the lady of the house, Lydia Judifowna and her sister, Eugenie, who
managed the household, welcomed the guests. They both were very different: the
first very fine-looking, rather modest and very lovely. She hardly took part at
the discussions. The later (Eugenie) more passionate in character and figure,
with pleasure was taking part in the discussions by strenghthening the opinion
of her brother-in-law. Lydia was Catholic, but both with a deep and hidden
piety. Eugenie tended to a strong Orthodox faith, but very indulgent vis à vis
the impudences and negative answers of Nikolaj Alexandrowitsch. In this house
had been another fellow-lodger, a very old lady, who never leaved her room, the
mother of these two sisters. My wife came often so see her and obtained her
personal confidence. Here was something signifying and characteristic of the
spirit of love in this house. At times the old lady remembered their estate,
possessed in the province of Charkow. She said: 'The estate is now a rest-home
for the workers. I hope, that they are happy there'.
At 16 o'clock one could hear
the voice of the head of the family, who was in the upper stage in his study:
'The samowar – is it ready?' Then he came upstairs. Different visitors had also
come, other visitors were presented, regularly visitors and new people. There were
Russians, foreigners passing through, and Frenchmen. After a moment one took
tea at the table. Nikolai Alexandrowitsch interrupted and directed to the
serious subject, which was to occupy the afternoon discussion. It was not the
academy of Moscow, not the president or the protocol, but it was Berdjajew who
directed the discussions. He inspired the conversations, he made them
interesting, sometimes by his ideas, by his generalizations, his categorical
conclusions and his outbursts.
He regretted the absence of
Charles Du Bos, whom he esteemed and who could not come because of illness.
Sometimes there were visitors like Maritain, Gabriel Marcel, Maurice de
Gandillac. Berdjajew acquired – rare for a foreigner – an outstanding place in
the world of philosophers and theologians in the French language. A Thomist
(i.e. an adherent of Thomas Aquinas) from Switzerland, then Abbé, now Cardinal
Journet, quoted Berdjajew with eulogies in his large work 'Von der Kirche' and
his retrospective 'Neues und Altes'.
A special enjoyment for the
visitors had been the duel Berdjajew-Schestow. There seemed to be something
missing, when Schestow was absent. Among the Russians one of the most
interesting persons was Fedotow, nearly a pupil of Berdjajew […].
I cannot complete this portrait
with a conclusion, first, it would be imperfect – resting but on my limited
experience – I say only, that this portrait engaged a person, an intellectual
and richly gifted, with passionate temperament and pure morality, and with rare
high-minded a spirit."
Additional Remark: To the connection between Berdjajew and Schestow, cf.
H.Arjakovsky, "Leon Chestow et Nicolas Berdiaev, une amitié
orageuse", in: Cahiers de l'émigration russe 3, Paris 1996, p. 141-153,
published by: Institut d'études slaves.