The Material Question

With this aim, instead of allowing myself some rest before and after my tiring journeys, as had been my habit in recent years, I began to devote all my available time to making arrangements for borrowing money from various people who trusted me and with whom I was in contact for one reason or another. Having thus collected a sum of several million francs, I invested all of it in this business.

Encouraged by the development of our enterprise and the prospect of substantial profits, my partner worked to procure merchandise without sparing his strength, and, as agreed upon, he arrived in America this year with his whole collection six weeks before I came here myself.

Unfortunately, however, a general economic depression had meanwhile come about, particularly affecting this trade, and we could no longer count on any profit, nor even hope for the recovery of our capital. And this was precisely what he came to tell me.

What words should I use this time to describe the unexpected material situation in which I now found myself, when I have just referred to the crisis of last year as having reached its zenith?

I cannot find a better expression than that of Mullah Nassr Eddin which I have just this moment remembered: ‘Ah, it’s no great wonder that a bald daughter should be born to the oldest spinster of the village by that rascal of a mullah! But now if an elephant’s head and a monkey’s tail should grow on a bed­ bug, that indeed would be astonishing!’

And to understand why my material situation had again passed through such a crisis, it is not necessary to have a college education.

Last year, when I first had the idea of developing my antique business in America on a large scale, I estimated and was fully convinced that this project of mine would yield a profit that would suffice not only to pay off all my accumulated debts, but would also enable me, without depending on anyone, to publish the first series of my writings— which I counted on having finished by then—and after that to give all my time to the second series. But unfortunately this unforeseen American crisis has plunged me, as Mullah Nassr Eddin would say, into such a ‘deep galosh’ that today I can scarcely see a single streak of daylight out of it.

For six years, for the purpose of preparing the material for the three series of books I intended to write, I had always and everywhere, in all conditions and circumstances, to ‘remember myself’ and to remember the task I had set myself, by the fulfilment of which I wished and still wish to justify the sense and aim of my life.