​The Sparrow Hills. A 'sacred' vow on the Sparrow Hills

My Past and Thoughts by Alexander Herzen.

The Sparrow Hills, at the foot of which Karl Ivanovich had been so nearly drowned, soon became our 'sacred hills'.

One day after dinner my father proposed to drive out into the country. Ogarev was with us and my father invited him and Sonnenberg to go too ...

At Luzhniki we crossed the river Moskva in a boat at the very spot where the Cossack had pulled Karl Ivanovich out of the water. My father walked, bent and morose as always; beside him Karl Ivanovich tripped along, entertaining him with gossip and scandal. We went on in front of them, and getting far ahead ran up to the Sparrow Hills at the spot where the first stone of Vitberg's temple was laid.

Flushed and breathless, we stood there mopping our faces. The sun was setting, the cupolas glittered, beneath the hill the city extended farther than the eye could reach; a fresh breeze blew on our faces, we stood leaning against each other and, suddenly embracing, vowed in sight of all Moscow to sacrifice our lives to the struggle we had chosen.

This scene may strike others as very affected and theatrical, and yet twenty-six years afterwards I am moved to tears as I recall it; there was a sacred sincerity in it, and our whole life has proved this

We did not know all the strength of the foe with whom we were entering into battle, but we took up the fight. That strength broke much in us, but it was not that strength that shattered us, and we did not surrender to it in spite of all its blows. The wounds received from it were honourable. Jacob's strained thigh was the sign that he had wrestled in the night with God.

From that day the Sparrow Hills became a place of worship for us and once or twice a year we went there, and always by ourselves. There, five years later, Ogarev asked me timidly and shyly whether I believed in his poetic talent, and wrote to me afterwards (1833) from his country house: 'I have come away and feel sad, as sad as I have never been before. And it's all the Sparrow Hills. For a long time I hid my enthusiasm in myself; shyness or something else, I don't myself know what, prevented me from uttering it; but on the Sparrow Hills that enthusiasm was not burdened with solitude: you shared it with me and those moments have been unforgettable; like memories of past happiness they have followed me on my way, while round me I saw nothing but forest; it was all so blue, dark blue, and in my soul was darkness, darkness.

Write then,' he concluded, 'how in this place' (that is, on the Sparrow Hills) 'the story of our lives, yours and mine, began to unfold.'