The First and the Last

For more information about Isaiah Berlin, see the Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library. For permission to reprint any material by Isaiah Berlin, contact Curtis Brown Group Ltd.

Following are the first known piece and the last essay written by Isaiah Berlin, who died on November 5, 1997.

Isaiah Berlin came to England in early 1921, aged eleven, with virtually no English. This story (untitled in the manuscript), which according to Berlin won “a hamper of tuck” in a children’s magazine competition, was written in February 1922, when he was twelve; it is signed “I. Berlyn” at the end. As far as is known, it is his earliest surviving extended piece of writing, as well as his only story, and shows how far his English had developed after just a year. It appears here in an exact transcription, apart from a few trivial alterations where total fidelity might hold the reader up.

Moise Solomonovich Uritsky, Commissar for Internal Affairs in the Northern Region Commune of Soviet Russia, and Chairman of the Petrograd Cheka, was murdered by a member of the Russian gentry named Kunnegiesser on August 31, 1918. Uritsky’s “motto” has been chosen as the title because it signals the way in which the story points forward to Berlin’s repeated later insistence on the inadmissibility of justifying present suffering as a route to some imaginary future state of bliss. In this sense the story is the first recorded step on his intellectual journey through life, a journey summarized in his last essay, “My Intellectual Path,” written seventy-four years later in 1996, which also appears here for the first time.

Berlin always ascribed his lifelong horror of violence, especially when ideologically inspired, to an episode he witnessed at the age of seven during the February Revolution in Petrograd in 1917: while out walking he watched a policeman loyal to the tsar, white-faced with terror, being dragged off to his death by a lynch mob. This story surely vividly reflects the power of this early experience.

—Henry Hardy

The story of which I am going to tell is about the murder of Uritzky minister of justice of soviet Russia in the y. 1918. already in the year 1918 the people in Russia and its Capital Petrograd especially, were very depressed by the Bolshevicks who terrorized the people to the utmost. One of the most noble families in Petrograd was the family of the Ivanov’s. It consisted of Andrew Ivanov an old man aged 64, his son Peter a handsome and brave young man, and an old servant named Vasily. although very depressed they had a cozy little home in which peace and friendships reigned undisturbed until a sudden shock came about to destroy their well earned happiness. It was a bright cold winter morning the sun appeared as a little red disc on the clear sky. all nature seemed to be enjoying itself lapped by the bright rays of the sun. A sudden knock at the door was heard and the next moment an officer and two soldiers entered Ivanovs’ little hall.

Is Andrew Ivanov living here? asked the officer curtly

I am Andrew Ivanov and …

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