Dmitrievich Nabokov, jurist, publicist and statesman, son
of Dmitri Nikolaevich Nabokov, Minister of Justice, and Baroness
Maria von Korff, was born on July 20, 1870, in Tsarskoe Selo
near St. Petersburg, and was killed by an assassin's bullet
on March 28, 1922, in Berlin. Till the age of thirteen he
was educated at home by French and English governesses and
by Russian and German tutors; from one of the latter he caught
and passed on to me the passio et morbus aureliani. In the
autumn of 1883, he started to attend the "Gymnasium"
(corresponding to a combination of American "high school"
and "junior college") on the then Gagarin Street
(presumably renamed in the twenties by the short-sighted Soviets)>
His desire to excel was overwhelming. One winter night, being
behind with a set task and preferring pneumonia to ridicule
at the blackboard, he exposed himself to the polar frost,
with the hope of a timely sickness, by sitting in nothing
but his nightshirt at the open window (it gave on the Palace
Square and its moon-polished pillar); on the morrow he still
enjoyed perfect health, and, undeservedly, it was the dreaded
teacher who happened to be laid up. At sixteen, in May 1887,
he completed the Gymnasium course, with a gold medal, and
studied law at the St. Petersburg University, graduating in
january 1891. He continued his studies in Germany (mainly
at La Halle). Thirty years later, a fellow student of his,
with whom he had gone for a bicycle trip in the Black Forest,
sent my widowed mother the Madame Bovary volume which my father
had had with him at the time and on the flyleaf of which he
had written "The unsurpassed pearl of French literature"-a
judgment that still holds.
On November 14 ( a date scrupulously celebrated every subsequent
year in our anniversary-conscious family), 1897, he married
Elena Ivanovna Rukavishnikov, the twenty-one-year-old daughter
of a country neighbor with whom he had six children (the first
was a stillborn boy).
In 1895 he had been made Junior Gentleman of the Chamber.
From 1896 to 1904 he lectured on criminal law at the Imperial
School of Jurisprudence (Pravovedenie) in St. Petersburg.
Gentlemen of the chamber were supposed to ask permission of
the "Court Minister" before performing a public
act. This permission my father did not ask, naturally, when
publishing in the review Pravo his celebrated article "The
Blood Bath of Kishinev" in which he condemned the part
played by the police in promoting the Kishinev pogrom of 1903.
By imperial decree he was deprived of his court title in January
1905, after which he severed all connection with the Tsar's
government and resolutely plunged into antidespotic politics,
while continuing his juristic labors. From 1905 to 1915 he
was president of the Russian section of the International
Criminology Association and at conferences in Holland amused
himself and amazed his audience by orally translating, when
needed, Russian and English speeches into German and French
and vice-versa. He was eloquently against capital punishment.
Unswervingly he conformed to his principles in private and
public matters. At an official banquet in 1904 he refused
to drink the Tsar's health. He is said to have coolly advertised
in the papers his court uniform for sale. From 1906 to 1917
he co-edited with I. V. Hessen and A. I. Kaminka one of the
few liberal dailies in Russia, the Rech ("Speech")
as well as the jurisprudential review Pravo. Politically he
was a "Kadet," i.e. a member of the KD (Konstitutsionno-demokraticheskaya
partiya), later renamed more aptly the party of the people's
freedom (Partiya Narodnoy Svobodi). With his keen sense of
humor he would have been by the helpless though vicious hash
Soviet lexicographers have made of his opinions and achievements
in their rare biographical comments on him. In 1906 he was
elected tot he First Russian Parliament (Pervaya Duma), a
humane and heroic institution, predominantly liberal (but
which ignorant foreign publicists, infected by Soviet propaganda,
often confuse with the ancient "boyar dumas"!).
There he made several splendid speeches with national repercussions.
When less than a year later the Tsar dissolved the Duma, a
number of members, including my father (who, as a photograph
taken at the Finland station shows, carried his railway ticket
tucked under the band of his hat), repaired to Vyborg for
an illegal session. In May 1908, he began a prison term of
three months in somewhat belated punishment for the revolutionary
manifesto he and his group had issued at Vyborg. "Did
V. get any 'Egerias' [Speckled Woods] this summer?" he
asks in one of his secret noted from prison, which, through
a bribed guard, and a faithful friend (Kaminka), were transmitted
to my mother at Vyra. "Tell
him that all I see in the prison yard are Brimstones and Cabbage
Whites." After his release he was forbidden to participate
in public elections, but (one of the paradoxes so common under
the Tsars) could freely work in the bitterly liberal Rech,
a task to which he devoted up to nine hours a day. In 1913,
he was fined by the government the token sum of one hundred
rubles (about as many dollars of the present time) forhis
reportage from Kiev, where after a stormy trial Beylis was
found innocent of murdering a Christian boy for "ritual"
purposes: justice and public opinion could still prevail occasionally
in old Russia; they had only five years to go. He was mobilized
soon after the beginning of World War One and sent to the
front. Eventually he was attached to the general staff in
St. Petersburg. Military ethics prevented him from taking
active part in the first turmoil of the liberal revolution
of March 1917. From the very start, History seems to have
been anxious of depriving him of a full opportunity to reveal
his great gifts of statesmanship in a Russian republic of
a Western type. In 1917, during the initial stage of the Provisional
Government-that is, while the Kadets still took part in it-he
occupied in the Council of Ministers the responsible but inconspicuous
position of Executive Secretary. In the winter of 1917-18,
he was elected to the constituent assembly, only to be arrested
by the energetic Bolshevist sailors when it was disbanded.
The November Revolution had already entered upon its gory
course, its police was already active, but in those days the
chaos of orders and counterorders sometimes took our side:
my father followed a dime corridor, saw an open door at the
end, walked out into a side street and made his way to the
Crimea with a knapsack he had ordered his valet Osip to bring
him to a secluded corner and a package of caviar sandwiches
which good Nikolay Andreevich, our cook, had added of his
own accord. From mid-1918 to the beginning of 1919, in an
interval between two occupations by the Bolshevists, and in
constant friction with trigger-happy elements in Denikin's
army' he was Minister of Justice ("of minimal justice"
as he used to say wryly) in one of the Regional Governments,
the Crimean one. In 1919, he went into voluntary exile, living
first inLondon, then in Berlin, where in collaboration with
Hessen, he edited the liberal émigré daily Rul'
("Rudder") until his assassination in 1922 by a
sinister ruffian whom, during World War Two, Hitler made administrator
of émigré Russian affairs.