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V.D. Nabokov

Vladimir 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.