There’s a long and fascinating entry (April 18, 1919) featuring Gorky talking about Tolstoy; with any luck you’ll be able to read it, or at least part of it, at Google Books. I’m just going to quote the striking final paragraph about Gorky’s [thanks, read!] memory for names (translation by Michael Henry Heim, except for the bit he omitted, which I’ve translated and added in brackets; the Russian, as usual, is below the cut):

As we talked, I noticed a special trait of his: he kept hundreds of names—first names, patronymics, and surnames, names of cities, titles of books—in his head. The stories he told had to go like this: “[This was when the governor was Leonid Evgenevich von Kruse, and Amvrosy was metropolitan then;] at the factory belonging to the Kudashin brothers, Stepan Stepanovich and Mitrofan Stepanovich, there was a bookkeeper by the name of Alexander Ivanovich Korenev. It was at his house that I saw Mikhailovsky’s book On Shchedrin, published in 1889.” I suspect that all his vast and amazing erudition can be summed up in this ability of his to name. He believes in appellations, in proper names, in titles, in lists and catalogues.

Во время беседы с Горьким я заметил его особенность: он отлично помнит сотни имен, отчеств, фамилий, названий городов, заглавий книг. Ему необходимо рассказывать так: это было при губернаторе Леониде Евгеньевиче фон Крузе, а митрополитом был тогда Амвросий, в это время на фабрике у братьев Кудашиных — Степана Степановича и Митрофана Степановича был бухгалтер Коренев, Александр Иванович. У него-то я и увидел книгу Михайловского “О Щедрине” издания 1889 года. Думаю, что вся его огромная и поражающая эрудиция сводится именно к этому — к номенклатуре. Он верит в названия, в собственные имена, в заглавия, в реестр и каталог.


  1. whose memory, i’m a bit confused, Gorky’s, Tolstoy’s?
    the Russian text says “vo vremya besedy is Gor’kim ya zametil ego osobennost”

  2. You’re right, of course, and I’ll change it—thanks!

  3. John Emerson says

    I haven’t read much Gorky, possibly none, but was he one of those naturalists who heaped up enormous piles of detailed description?

  4. oh, it was not my ADD :0
    i read his childhood memories Moi Universitetu and loved the book, his description of his life with his grandma, grandfather and all other people in there are very interesting
    the other day I was reading RM’s diaries and he mentions the book and compares his own life to the eventful life of MG
    and what was in the school literature programs, and that’s all

  5. There’s an entire website dedicated to Chukovsky, his daughter and grand-daughter at
    References languagehat in the bibliography too.

  6. So it does! I’m cited in the last section of this page.

  7. I wonder if he just had a knack for names and used them as the tree to hang the rest of his memories on.
    I’m terrible at recollection, myself, but have little clue as to how to improve. I’ve bought a book on the subject (recommended in comments on the Log), but so far it seems to cater to people with good imaginations. Not something I possess either.

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