In a carefully stage-managed charade Dostoyevsky and the rest of the group were taken on the morning of 22 December 1849 to a regimental parade ground, where scaffolding had been erected and decorated with black crepe. Their crimes and sentence were read out and an Orthodox priest asked them to repent.
Three of the group were tied to stakes in readiness for execution. At the last moment there was a roll of drums, and the firing squad lowered its rifles. Reprieved, the prisoners were put in shackles and sent into Siberian exile – in Dostoyevsky’s case for four years of hard labour, followed by compulsory service in the Russian army.
Dostoyevsky’s experience had altered him profoundly. He did not abandon his view that Russian society needed to be radically changed. He continued to believe that the institution of serfdom was profoundly immoral, and to the end of his life he detested the landed aristocracy. But his experience of being on what he’d believed was the brink of death had given him a new perspective on time and history. Many years later he remarked: “I cannot recall when I was ever as happy as on that day.”
John Gray A Point of View: the writer who foresaw the rise of the totalitarian state, BBC News Magazine
That’s the feeling I want, in a bottle.
Perhaps not the bowel-melting expectation of being executed this very morning, but rather – as I imagine it – a sensation of boundless wonder at waking, body and mind, loved and loving, into the infinite moment of another day.