By calling such a death happy, the journalist hints that it is the death he himself would wish for. Everyone to his taste, and we can only hope that the editor may obtain his wish; but who told this silly fellow that Catherine desired such a death? If he regards such a wish as natural to a person of her profound genius I would ask who told him that men of genius consider a sudden death to be a happy one? Is it because that is his opinion, and are we to conclude that he is therefore person of genius? To come to the truth we should have to interrogate the late empress, and ask her some such question as:
"Are you well pleased to have died suddenly?"
She would probably reply:
"What a foolish question! Such might be the wish of one driven to despair, or of someone suffering from a long and grievous malady. Such was not my position, for I enjoyed the blessings of happiness and good health; no worse fate could have happened to me. My sudden death prevented me from concluding several designs which I might have brought to a successful issue if God had granted me the warning of a, slight illness. But it was not so; I had to set out on the long journey at a moment's notice, without the time to make any preparations. Is my death any the happier from my not foreseeing it? Do you think me such a coward as to dread the approach of what is common to all? I tell you that I should have accounted myself happy if I had had a respite of but a day. Then I should not complain of the Divine justice."
"Does your highness accuse God of injustice, then?"
"What boots it, since I am a lost soul? Do you expect the damned to acknowledge the justice of the decree which has consigned them to eternal woe?"
"No doubt it is a difficult matter, but I should have thought that a sense of the justice of your doom would have mitigated the pains of it."
"Perhaps so, but a damned soul must be without consolation for ever."
"In spite of that there are some philosophers who call you happy in your death by virtue of its suddenness."
"Not philosophers, but fools, for in its suddenness was the pain and woe."
"Well said; but may I ask your highness if you admit the possibility of a happy eternity after an unhappy death, or of an unhappy doom after a happy death?"
"Such suppositions are inconceivable. The happiness of futurity lies in the ecstasy of the soul in feeling freed from the trammels of matter, and unhappiness is the doom of a soul which was full of remorse at the moment it left the body. But enough, for my punishment forbids my farther speech."
"Tell me, at least, what is the nature of your punishment?"
"An everlasting weariness. Farewell."
After this long and fanciful digression the reader will no doubt be obliged by my returning to this world.
Count Panin told me that in a few days the empress would leave for her country house, and I determined to have an interview with her, foreseeing that it would be for the last time.
I had been in the garden for a few minutes when heavy rain began to fall, and I was going to leave, when the empress summoned me into an apartment on the ground floor of the palace, where she was walking up and down with Gregorovitch and a maid of honour.
"I had forgotten to ask you," she said, graciously, "if you believe the new calculation of the calendar to be exempt from error?"
"No, your majesty; but the error is so minute that it will not produce any sensible effect for the space of nine or ten thousand years."
"I thought so; and in my opinion Pope Gregory should not have acknowledged any mistake at all. The Pope, however, had much less difficulty in carrying out his reform than I should have with my subjects, who are too fond of their ancient usages and customs." "Nevertheless, I am sure your majesty would meet with obedience." "No doubt, but imagine the grief of my clergy in not being able to celebrate the numerous saints' days, which would fall on the eleven days to be suppressed. You have only one saint for each day, but we have a dozen at least.