In Canto Three of his poem Shade describes his visit to Mrs. Z. (who mentioned Shade’s poem about Mont Blanc):


"I can't believe," she said, "that it is you!
I loved your poem in the Blue Review.
That one about Mon Blon. I have a niece
Who's climbed the Matterhorn. The other piece
I could not understand. I mean the sense.
Because, of course, the sound--But I'm so dense!" (ll. 781-786)


In his Commentary Kinbote writes:


An image of Mont Blanc's "blue-shaded buttresses and sun-creamed domes" is fleetingly glimpsed through the cloud of that particular poem which I wish I could quote but do not have at hand. The "white mountain" of the lady's dream, caused by a misprint to tally with Shade's "white fountain," makes a thematic appearance here, blurred as it were by the lady's grotesque pronunciation. (note to Line 782)


Shade’s “white fountain” brings to mind Pushkin’s poem Bakhchisarayskiy fontan (“The Fountain of Bakhchisaray,” 1823). In his essay Sud’ba Pushkina (“The Fate of Pushkin,” 1897) V. Solovyov quotes Pushkin’s sonnet Poetu (“To a Poet,” 1828) and the lines from Byron’s Manfred (1816-17), in which Mont Blanc (“the monarch of mountains”) is mentioned:


Уже в сонете "Поэту" высота самосознания смешивается с высокомерием и требование бесстрастия - с обиженным и обидным выражением отчуждения.


Ты - царь, живи один!


Это взято, кажется, из Байрона: the solitude of kings. Но ведь одиночество царей состоит не в том, что они живут одни,- чего, собственно, и не бывает,- а в том, что они среди других имеют единственное положение. Это есть одиночество горных вершин.


Монблан - монарх соседних гор:

Они его венчали.

("Манфред" Байрона). (chapter VII)


Mont Blanc is the monarch of mountains;

They crown'd him long ago (Manfred, Act One, scene 1).


According to V. Solovyov, the idea ty – tsar’, zhivi odin! (“You are a king, live alone!”) expressed by Pushkin in his sonnet “To a Poet” was borrowed from Byron (“the solitude of kings”). In Byron’s poem The Prophecy of Dante (1819) Dante (the poet who was expelled from Florence and wrote The Divine Comedy in exile) mentions the solitude of kings in which he feels “without the power that makes them bear a crown:”


A wanderer, while even wolves can find a den,
Ripped from all kindred, from all home, all things
That make communion sweet, and soften pain—
To feel me in the solitude of kings
Without the power that makes them bear a crown— (Canto the First, ll. 163-167)


Korona (crown) is one of the words in a series of misprints mentioned by Kinbote in his Commentary:


Translators of Shade's poem are bound to have trouble with the transformation, at one stroke, of "mountain" into "fountain:" it cannot be rendered in French or German, or Russian, or Zemblan; so the translator will have to put it into one of those footnotes that are the rogue's galleries of words. However! There exists to my knowledge one absolutely extraordinary, unbelievably elegant case, where not only two, but three words are involved. The story itself is trivial enough (and probably apocryphal). A newspaper account of a Russian tsar's coronation had, instead of korona (crown), the misprint vorona (crow), and when next day this apologetically "corrected," it got misprinted a second time as korova (cow). The artistic correlation between the crown-crow-cow series and the Russian korona-vorona-korova series is something that would have, I am sure, enraptured my poet. I have seen nothing like it on lexical playfields and the odds against the double coincidence defy computation. (note to Line 803)


In his poem “To L. M. Lopatin” (1897) V. Solovyov mentions korova and vorona:


Левон! ты феномен! Российскому акцизу
Феноменальный ты даёшь доход.
Взгляну ли на тебя я сверху или снизу —
Ты феномен… Но феномен и Грот!
Мы все феномены, всем тварям по закону
Субстанциями быть запрещено,—
Куда б ни метил ты: в корову иль в ворону,—
Субстанцию минуешь всё равно.
Итак, Левон, будь твёрд, и царскому акцизу
Потщись доход являемый платить
Не прыгай слишком вверх и не спускайся книзу:
Феномену субстанцией не быть!


According to Solovyov, his friend and fellow philosopher Lev Lopatin helped to increase enormously the income of Russian wine monopolists. In another humorous poem V. Solovyov mentions Leo Tolstoy who just published a pamphlet against alcoholism (I quote from memory):


Против пьянства Лев Толстой

Выпустил брошюру.


In V. Solovyov’s Tri razgovora o voyne, progresse i kontse vsemirnoy istorii so vklyucheniem kratkoy povesti ob Antikhriste (“Three Conversations about War, Progress and the End of Human History, with the Inclusion of a Short Tale about the Antichrist,” 1900) Mr. Z. (whose acronym brings mind Mrs. Z. in PF) expresses the opinions of Leo Tolstoy.


In the Russian version of his autobiography, Drugie berega (“Other Shores,” 1954), VN describes his best chess problem that he composed in the spring of 1940, just before leaving Europe, and mentions Leo Tolstoy:


Помню, как я медленно выплыл из обморока шахматной мысли, и вот, на громадной английской сафьяновой доске в бланжевую и красную клетку, безупречное положение было сбалансировано, как созвездие. Задача действовала, задача жила. Мои Staunton'ские шахматы (в 1920-ом году дядя Константин подарил их моему отцу), великолепные массивные фигуры на байковых подошвах, отягощённые свинцом, с пешками в шесть сантиметров ростом и королями почти в десять, важно сияли лаковыми выпуклостями, как бы сознавая свою роль на доске. За такой же доской, как раз уместившейся на низком столике, сидели Лев Толстой и А. Б. Гольденвейзер 6-го ноября 1904-го года по старому стилю (рисунок Морозова, ныне в Толстовском Музее в Москве), и рядом с ними, на круглом столе под лампой, виден не только открытый ящик для фигур, но и бумажный ярлычок (с подписью Staunton), приклеенный к внутренней стороне крышки. (Chapter Thirteen, 4)


According to Kinbote, when Shade asked him to tell more about the last King of Zembla, he compared the King to the only black piece in what a composer of chess problems might term a king-in-the-corner waiter of the solus rex type:


In simple words I described the curious situation in which the King found himself during the first months of the rebellion. He had the amusing feeling of his being the only black piece in what a composer of chess problems might term a king-in-the-corner waiter of the solus rex type. (note to Line 130)


Solus Rex was the title of VN’s last Russian novel that remained unfinished. The name of its main character, the painter Sineusov (siniy – blue; us – whisker), brings to mind the Blue Review mentioned by Mrs. Z.


Alexey Sklyarenko

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