But how direct, how powerful is Gogol, and what an artist he is! His "Marriage" alone is worth two hundred thousand roubles. It is simply delicious, and that is all about it. He is the greatest of Russian writers. In "The Inspector General" the first act is the best, in "The Marriage" the third act is the worst. I am going to read it aloud to my people.
* * * * *
May 4, 1889.
... Nature is an excellent sedative. It pacifies—that is, it makes one indifferent. And it is essential in this world to be indifferent. Only those who are indifferent are able to see things clearly, to be just and to work. Of course, I am only speaking of intelligent people of fine natures; the empty and selfish are indifferent enough any way.
You say that I have grown lazy. That does not mean that I am now lazier than I used to be. I work now as much as I did three or five years ago. To work and to look as though I were working from nine in the morning till dinner, and from evening tea till bedtime has become a habit with me, and in that respect I am just like a government clerk. And if my work does not produce two novels a month or an income of ten thousand, it is not my laziness that is at fault, but my fundamental, psychological peculiarities. I do not care enough for money to succeed in medicine, and for literature I have not enough passion and therefore not enough talent. The fire burns in me slowly and evenly, without suddenly spluttering and flaring up, and this is why it does not happen to me to write three or four signatures a night, or to be so carried away by work as to prevent myself from going to bed if I am sleepy; this is why I commit no particular follies nor do anything particularly wise.
I am afraid that in this respect I resemble Gontcharov, whom I don't like, who is ten heads taller than I am in talent. I have not enough passion; add to that this sort of lunacy: for the last two years I have for no reason at all ceased to care about seeing my work in print, have become indifferent to reviews, to literary conversations, to gossip, to success and failure, to good pay—in short, I have gone downright silly. There is a sort of stagnation in my soul. I explain it by the stagnation in my personal life. I am not disappointed, I am not tired, I am not depressed, but simply everything has suddenly become less interesting. I must do something to rouse myself.
I have read Bourget's "Disciple" in the Russian translation. This is how it strikes me. Bourget is a gifted, very intelligent and cultured man. He is as thoroughly acquainted with the method of the natural sciences, and as imbued with it as though he had taken a good degree in science or medicine. He is not a stranger in the domain he proposes to deal with—a merit absent in Russian writers both new and old.
... The novel is interesting. I have read it and understand why you were so absorbed by it. It is clever, interesting, in places witty, somewhat fantastic. As to its defects, the chief of them is his pretentious crusade against materialism. Forgive me, but I can't understand such crusades. They never lead to anything and only bring needless confusion into people's thoughts. Whom is the crusade against, and what is its object? Where is the enemy and what is there dangerous about him? In the first place, the materialistic movement is not a school or tendency in the narrow journalistic sense; it is not something passing or accidental; it is necessary, inevitable, and beyond the power of man. All that lives on earth is bound to be materialistic. In animals, in savages, in Moscow merchants, all that is higher and non-animal is conditioned by an unconscious instinct, while all the rest is material, and they of course cannot help it. Beings of a higher order, thinking men, are also bound to be materialists. They seek for truth in matter, for there is nowhere else to seek for it, since they see, hear, and sense matter alone. Of necessity they can only seek for truth where their microscopes, lancets, and knives are of use to them. To forbid a man to follow the materialistic line of thought is equivalent to forbidding him to seek truth. Outside matter there is neither knowledge nor experience, and consequently there is no truth....
I think that when dissecting a corpse, the most inveterate spiritualist will be bound to ask himself, "Where is the soul here?" And if one knows how great is the likeness between bodily and mental diseases, and that both are treated by the same remedies, one cannot help refusing to separate the soul from the body.
... To speak of the danger and harm of materialism, and even more to fight against it, is, to say the least, premature. We have not enough data to draw up an indictment. There are many theories and suppositions, but no facts.... The priests complain of unbelief, immorality, and so on. There is no unbelief. People believe in something, whatever it may be....
As to immorality, it is not people like Mendeleyev but poets, abbots, and personages regularly attending Embassy churches, who have the reputation of being perverted debauchees, libertines, and drunkards.
In short, I cannot understand Bourget's crusade. If, in starting upon it, he had at the same time taken the trouble to point out to the materialists an incorporeal God in the sky, and to point to Him in such a way that they should see Him, that would be another matter, and I should understand what he is driving at.
May 14, 1889.
... You want to know if the lady doctor hates you as before. Alas! she has grown stouter and much more resigned, which I do not like at all. There are not many women doctors left on earth. They are disappearing and dying out like the branches in the Byelovyezhsky forest. Some die of consumption, others become mystics, some marry widowed squadron-commanders, some still try to stand firm, but are obviously losing heart. Probably the first tailors and the first astrologers also died out rapidly. Life is hard on those who have the temerity first to enter upon an unknown path. The vanguard always has a bad time of it.
May 15, 1889.
If you have not gone abroad yet, I will answer your letter about Bourget.... You are speaking of the "right to live" of this or that branch of knowledge; I am speaking of peace, not of rights. I want people not to see war where there is none. Different branches of knowledge have always lived together in peace. Anatomy and belles-lettres are of equally noble descent; they have the same purpose and the same enemy—the devil—and there is absolutely nothing for them to fight about. There is no struggle for existence between them. If a man knows about the circulation of the blood, he is rich; if he also learns the history of religion and the song "I remember a marvellous moment," he becomes richer, not poorer—that is to say, we are concerned with pluses alone. This is why geniuses have never fought, and in Goethe the poet lived amicably side by side with the scientist.
It is not branches of knowledge such as poetry and anatomy, but errors—that is to say, men—that fight with one another. When a man fails to understand something he is conscious of a discord, and seeks for the cause of it not in himself, as he should, but outside himself—hence the war with what he does not understand. In the middle ages alchemy was gradually in a natural, peaceful way changing into chemistry, and astrology into astronomy; the monks did not understand, saw a conflict and fought against it. Just such a belligerent Spanish monk was our Pisarev in the sixties.
Bourget, too, is fighting. You say he is not, and I say he is. Imagine his novel falling into the hands of a man whose children are studying in the faculty of science, or of a bishop who is looking for a subject for his Sunday sermon. Will the effect be anything like peace? It will not. Or imagine the novel catching the eye of an anatomist or a physiologist, or any such. It will not breathe peace into anyone's soul; it will irritate those who know and give false ideas to those who don't.
TO A. N. PLESHTCHEYEV.
MOSCOW, September 30, 1889.
... I do not think I ought to change the title of the story. [Footnote: "A Dreary Story."] The wags who will, as you foretell, make jokes about "A Dreary Story," are so dull that one need not fear them; and if someone makes a good joke I shall be glad to have given him the occasion for it. The professor could not write about Katya's husband because he did not know him, and Katya does not say anything about him; besides, one of my hero's chief characteristics is that he cares far too little about the inner life of those who surround him, and while people around him are weeping, making mistakes, telling lies, he calmly talks about the theatre or literature. Were he a different sort of man, Liza and Katya might not have come to grief.
I am afraid of those who look for a tendency between the lines, and who are determined to regard me either as a liberal or as a conservative. I am not a liberal, not a conservative, not a believer in gradual progress, not a monk, not an indifferentist. I should like to be a free artist and nothing more, and I regret that God has not given me the power to be one. I hate lying and violence in all their forms, and am equally repelled by the secretaries of consistories and by Notovitch and Gradovsky. Pharisaism, stupidity and despotism reign not in merchants' houses and prisons alone. I see them in science, in literature, in the younger generation.... That is why I have no preference either for gendarmes, or for butchers, or for scientists, or for writers, or for the younger generation. I regard trade-marks and labels as a superstition. My holy of holies is the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love, and the most absolute freedom—freedom from violence and lying, whatever forms they may take. This is the programme I would follow if I were a great artist.
MOSCOW, February 15, 1890.
I answer you, dear Alexey Nikolaevitch, at once on receiving your letter. It was your name-day, and I forgot it!! Forgive me, dear friend, and accept my belated congratulations.
Did you really not like the "Kreutzer Sonata"? I don't say it is a work of genius for all time, of that I am no judge; but to my thinking, among the mass of all that is written now, here and abroad, one scarcely could find anything else as powerful both in the gravity of its conception and the beauty of its execution. To say nothing of its artistic merits, which in places are striking, one must be grateful to the novel, if only because it is keenly stimulating to thought. As one reads it, one can scarcely refrain from crying out: "That's true," or "That's absurd." It is true it has some very annoying defects. Apart from all those you enumerate, it has one for which one cannot readily forgive the author—that is, the audacity with which Tolstoy holds forth about what he doesn't know and is too obstinate to care to understand. Thus his statements about syphilis, foundling hospitals, the aversion of women for the sexual relation, and so on, are not merely open to dispute, but show him up as an ignoramus who has not, in the course of his long life, taken the trouble to read two or three books written by specialists. But yet these defects fly away like feathers in the wind; one simply does not notice them in face of the real worth of the story, or, if one notices them, it is only with a little vexation that the story has not escaped the fate of all the works of man, all imperfect and never free from blemish.
My Petersburg friends and acquaintances are angry with me? What for? For my not having bored them enough with my presence, which has for so long been a bore to myself! Soothe their minds. Tell them that in Petersburg I ate a great many dinners and a great many suppers, but did not fascinate one lady; that every day I was confident of leaving by the evening train, that I was detained by my friends and by The Marine Almanack, the whole of which I had to look through from the year 1852. While I was in Petersburg, I got through in one month more than my young friends would in a year. Let them be angry, though!
* * * * *
I sit all day long reading and making extracts. I have nothing in my head or on paper except Sahalin. Mental obsession. Mania Sachalinosa.
Not long ago I dined with Madame Yermolov. [Translator's Note: The celebrated actress.] A wild-flower thrust into the same nosegay with the carnation was the more fragrant for the good company it had kept. So I, after dining with the star, was aware of a halo round my head for two days afterwards ...
Good-bye, my dear friend; come and see us....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MOSCOW, February 23, 1890.
... My brother Alexandr is a slow-witted creature; he is enthusiastic over Ornatsky's missionary speech, in which he says that the natives do not become Christians because they are waiting for a special ukaz (that is, command) from the Tsar on the subject and are waiting for their chiefs to be baptized ... (by force—be it understood). This eloquent pontifex says, too, that the native priests ought, in view of their ascetic manner of life, to be removed from the natives and put into special institutions somewhat after the fashion of monasteries. A nice set of people and no mistake! They have wasted two million roubles, they send out every year from the academy dozens of missionaries who cost the treasury and the people large sums, yet they cannot convert the natives, and what is more, want the police and the military to help them with fire and sword....
If you have Madame Tsebrikov's article, do not trouble to send it. Such articles give no information and only waste time; I want facts. Indeed, in Russia there is a terrible poverty of facts, and a terrible abundance of reflections of all sorts.
... To-morrow is spring, and within ten to fifteen days the larks will come back. But alas!—the coming spring seems strange to me, for I am going away from it.
In Sahalin there is very good fish, but there are no hot drinks....
Our geologists, ichthyologists, zoologists and so on, are fearfully uneducated people. They write such a vile jargon that it not only bores one to read it, but one actually has at times to remodel the sentences before one can understand them; on the other hand, they have solemnity and earnestness enough and to spare. It's really beastly....
I have sent you to-day two stories: Filippov's (he was here yesterday) and Yezhov's. I have not had time to read the latter, and I think it is as well to say, once for all, that I am not responsible for what I send you. My handwriting on the address does not mean that I like the story.
Poor Yezhov has been to see me; he sat near the table crying: his young wife is in consumption. He must take her at once to the south. To my question whether he had money he answered that he had.... It's vile catch-cold weather; the sky itself is sneezing. I can't bear to look at it.... I have already begun writing of Sahalin. I have written five pages. It reads all right, as though written with intelligence and authority ... I quote foreign authors second-hand, but minutely and in a tone as though I could speak every foreign language perfectly. It's regular swindling.
Yezhov has upset me with his tears. He reminded me of something, and I was sorry for him too.
Don't forget us sinners.
TO N. M. LINTVARYOV.
MOSCOW, March 5, 1890.
... As for me, I have a cough too, but I am alive and I believe I'm well. I shan't be with you this summer, as I am going in April, on affairs of my own, to the island of Sahalin, and shall not be back till December. I am going across Siberia (eleven thousand versts) and shall come back by sea. I believe Misha wrote to you as though someone were commissioning me to go, but that's nonsense. I am commissioning myself to go, on my own account. There are lots of bears and escaped convicts in Sahalin, so that in case messieurs the wild beasts dine off me or some tramp cuts my throat, I beg you not to remember evil against me.
Of course if I have the time and the skill to write what I want to about Sahalin, I shall send you the book immediately that it comes into the world; it will be dull, a specialist's book consisting of nothing but figures, but let me count upon your indulgence: you will suppress your yawns as you read it....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MOSCOW, March 9.
About Sahalin we are both mistaken, but you probably more than I. I am going in the full conviction that my visit will furnish no contribution of value either to literature or science: I have neither the knowledge, nor the time, nor the ambition for that. I have neither the plans of a Humboldt nor of a Kennan. I want to write some 100 to 200 pages, and so do something, however little, for medical science, which, as you are aware, I have neglected shockingly. Possibly I shall not succeed in writing anything, but still the expedition does not lose its charm for me: reading, looking about me, and listening, I shall learn a great deal and gain experience. I have not yet travelled, but thanks to the books which I have been compelled to read, I have learned a great deal which anyone ought to be flogged for not knowing, and which I was so ignorant as not to have known before. Moreover, I imagine the journey will be six months of incessant hard work, physical and mental, and that is essential for me, for I am a Little Russian and have already begun to be lazy. I must take myself in hand. My expedition may be nonsense, obstinacy, a craze, but think a moment and tell me what I am losing if I go. Time? Money? Shall I suffer hardships? My time is worth nothing; money I never have anyway; as for hardships, I shall travel with horses, twenty-five to thirty days, not more, all the rest of the time I shall be sitting on the deck of a steamer or in a room, and shall be continually bombarding you with letters.
Suppose the expedition gives me nothing, yet surely there will be 2 or 3 days out of the whole journey which I shall remember all my life with ecstasy or bitterness, etc., etc.... So that's how it is, sir. All that is unconvincing, but you know you write just as unconvincingly. For instance, you say that Sahalin is of no use and no interest to anyone. Can that be true? Sahalin can be useless and uninteresting only to a society which does not exile thousands of people to it and does not spend millions of roubles on it. Except Australia in the past and Cayenne, Sahalin is the only place where one can study colonization by convicts; all Europe is interested in it, and is it no use to us? Not more than 25 to 30 years ago our Russians exploring Sahalin performed amazing feats which exalt them above humanity, and that's no use to us: we don't know what those men were, and simply sit within four walls and complain that God has made man amiss. Sahalin is a place of the most unbearable sufferings of which man, free and captive, is capable. Those who work near it and upon it have solved fearful, responsible problems, and are still solving them. I am not sentimental, or I would say that we ought to go to places like Sahalin to worship as the Turks go to Mecca, and that sailors and gaolers ought to think of the prison in Sahalin as military men think of Sevastopol. From the books I have read and am reading, it is evident that we have sent millions of men to rot in prison, have destroyed them—casually, without thinking, barbarously; we have driven men in fetters through the cold ten thousand versts, have infected them with syphilis, have depraved them, have multiplied criminals, and the blame for all this we have thrown upon the gaolers and red-nosed superintendents. Now all educated Europe knows that it is not the superintendents that are to blame, but all of us; yet that has nothing to do with us, it is not interesting. The vaunted sixties did nothing for the sick and for prisoners, so breaking the chief commandment of Christian civilization. In our day something is being done for the sick, nothing for prisoners; prison management is entirely without interest for our jurists. No, I assure you that Sahalin is of use and of interest to us, and the only thing to regret is that I am going there, and not someone else who knows more about it and would be more able to rouse public interest. Nothing much will come of my going there.
* * * * *
There have been disturbances among the students on a grand scale here. It began with the Petrovsky Academy, where the authorities forbade the students to take young ladies to their rooms, suspecting the ladies of politics as well as of prostitution. From the Academy it spread to the University, where now the students, surrounded by fully armed and mounted Hectors and Achilleses with lances, make the following demands:
1. Complete autonomy for the universities.
2. Complete freedom of teaching.
3. Free right of entrance to the university without distinction of religious denomination, nationality, sex, and social position.
4. Right of entrance to the university for the Jews without restriction, and equal rights for them with the other students.
5. Freedom of meeting and recognition of the students' associations.
6. The establishment of a university and students' tribunal.
7. The abolition of the police duties of the inspectors.
8. Lowering of the fees for instruction.
This I copied from a manifesto, with some abbreviations.
TO I. L. SHTCHEGLOV.
MOSCOW, March 22, 1890.
My greetings, dear Jean! Thanks for your long letter and for the good will of which it is full from beginning to end. I shall be delighted to read your military story. Will it come out in the Easter number? It is a long time since I read anything of yours or my own. You say that you want to give me a harsh scolding "especially on the score of morality and art," you speak vaguely of my crimes as deserving friendly censure, and threaten me with "an influential newspaper criticism." If you scratch out the word "art," the whole phrase in quotation marks becomes clearer, but gains a significance which, to tell the truth, perplexes me not a little. Jean, what is it? How is one to understand it? Can I really be different in my ideas of morality from people like you, and so much so as to deserve censure and even an influential article? I cannot take it that you mean some subtle higher morality, as there are no lower, higher, or medium moralities, but only one which Jesus Christ gave us, and which now prevents you and me and Barantsevitch from stealing, insulting, lying, and so on. If I can trust the ease of my conscience, I have never by word or deed, in thought, or in my stories, or in my farces, coveted my neighbour's wife, nor his man, nor his ox, nor any of his cattle, I have not stolen, nor been a hypocrite, I have not flattered the great nor sought their favour, I have not blackmailed, nor lived at other people's expense. It is true I have waxed wanton and slothful, have laughed heedlessly, have eaten too much and drunk too much and been profligate. But all that is a personal matter, and all that does not deprive me of the right to think that, as far as morals are concerned, I am nothing out of the ordinary, one way or the other. Nothing heroic and nothing scoundrelly—I am just like everyone else; I have many sins, but I am quits with morality, as I pay for those sins with interest in the discomforts they bring with them. If you want to abuse me cruelly because I am not a hero, you'd better throw your cruelty out of the window, and instead of abuse, let me hear your charming tragic laugh—that's better.
But of the word "art" I am terrified, as merchants' wives are terrified of "brimstone." When people talk to me of what is artistic and inartistic, of what is dramatic and not dramatic, of tendency, realism, and so on, I am bewildered, hesitatingly assent, and answer with banal half-truths not worth a brass farthing. I divide all works into two classes: those I like and those I don't. I have no other criterion, and if you ask me why I like Shakespeare and don't like Zlatovratsky, I don't venture to answer. Perhaps in time and as I grow wiser I may work out some criterion, but meanwhile all conversations about what is "artistic" only weary me, and seem to me like a continuation of the scholastic disputations with which people wearied themselves in the middle ages.
If criticism, on the authority of which you rely, knows what you and I don't know, why has it up till now not spoken? why does it not reveal the truth and the immutable laws? If it knew, believe me, it would long ago have shown us the true path and we should have known what to do, and Fofanov would not have been in a madhouse, Garshin would have been alive to-day, Barantsevitch would not have been so depressed and we should not be so dull and ill at ease as we are, and you would not feel drawn to the theatre and I to Sahalin. But criticism maintains a dignified silence or gets out of it with idle trashy babble. If it seems to you authoritative it is because it is stupid, conceited, impudent, and clamorous; because it is an empty barrel one cannot help hearing.
But let us have done with that and sing something out of a different opera. Please don't build any literary hopes on my Sahalin trip. I am not going for the sake of impressions or observations, but simply for the sake of living for six months differently from how I have lived hitherto. Don't rely on me, old man; if I am successful and clever enough to do something, so much the better; if not, don't blame me. I am going after Easter. I will send you in due time my Sahalin address and minute instructions....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MOSCOW, March 22, 1890.
... Yesterday a young lady told me that Professor Storozhenko had related to her the following anecdote. The Sovereign liked the Kreutzer Sonata. Pobyedonostsev, Lubimov, and the other cherubim and seraphim, hastened to justify their attitude to Tolstoy by showing his Majesty "Nikolay Palkin." After reading it, his Majesty was so furious that he ordered measures to be taken. Prince Dolgorukov was informed. And so one fine day an adjutant from Dolgorukov comes to Tolstoy and invites him to go at once to the prince. The latter replies: "Tell the prince that I only visit the houses of my acquaintances." The adjutant, overcome with confusion, rides away, and next day brings Tolstoy the official notice demanding from him an explanation in regard to his "Nikolay Palkin." Tolstoy reads the document and says:
"Tell his excellency that I have not for a long time past written anything for publication; I write only for my friends, and if my friends spread my writings abroad, they are responsible and not I. Tell him that!"
"But I can't tell him that," cried the adjutant in horror, "the prince will not believe me!"
"The prince will not believe his subordinates? That's bad."
Two days later the adjutant comes again with a fresh document, and learns that Tolstoy has gone away to Yasnaya Polyana. That is the end of the anecdote.
Now about the new movements. They flog in our police stations; a rate has been fixed; from a peasant they take ten kopecks for a beating, from a workman twenty—that's for the rods and the trouble. Peasant women are flogged too. Not long ago, in their enthusiasm for beating in a police station, they thrashed a couple of budding lawyers, an incident upon which Russkiya Vyedomosti has a vague paragraph to-day; an investigation has begun.
Another sign of the times: the cabmen approve of the students' disturbances.
"They are making a riot for the poor to be taken in to study," they explain, "learning is not only for the rich." It is said that when a crowd of students were being taken by night to the prison the populace fell upon the gendarmes to rescue the students from them. The populace is said to have shouted: "You have set up flogging for us, but they stand up for us."
... Fatigue is a relative matter. You say you used to work twenty hours out of the twenty-four and were not exhausted. But you know one may be exhausted lying all day long on the sofa. You used to write for twenty hours, but you know you were in perfect health all that time, you were stimulated by success, defiance, a sense of your talent; you liked your work, or you wouldn't have written. Your heir-apparent sits up late, not because he has a talent for journalism or a love for his work, but simply because his father is an editor of a newspaper. The difference is vast. He ought to have been a doctor or a lawyer, to have had an income of two thousand roubles a year, and published his articles not in Novoye Vremya and not in the spirit of Novoye Vremya. Only those young people can be accepted as healthy who refuse to be reconciled with the old order and foolishly or wisely struggle against it—such is the will of nature and it is the foundation of progress, while your son began by absorbing the old order. In our most intimate talks he has never once abused Tatistchev or Burenin, and that's a bad sign. You are a hundred times as liberal as he is, and it ought to be the other way. He utters a listless and indolent protest, he soon drops his voice and soon agrees, and altogether one has the impression that he has no interest whatever in the contest; that is, he looks on at the cock-fight like a spectator and has no cock of his own. And one ought to have one's own cock, else life is without interest. The unfortunate thing, too, is that he is intelligent, and great intelligence with little interest in life is like a great machine which produces nothing, yet requires a great deal of fuel and exhausts the owner....
You abuse me for objectivity, calling it indifference to good and evil, lack of ideals and ideas, and so on. You would have me, when I describe horse-stealers, say: "Stealing horses is an evil." But that has been known for ages without my saying so. Let the jury judge them, it's my job simply to show what sort of people they are. I write: you are dealing with horse-stealers, so let me tell you that they are not beggars but well-fed people, that they are people of a special cult, and that horse-stealing is not simply theft but a passion. Of course it would be pleasant to combine art with a sermon, but for me personally it is extremely difficult and almost impossible, owing to the conditions of technique. You see, to depict horse-stealers in seven hundred lines I must all the time speak and think in their tone and feel in their spirit, otherwise, if I introduce subjectivity, the image becomes blurred and the story will not be as compact as all short stories ought to be. When I write I reckon entirely upon the reader to add for himself the subjective elements that are lacking in the story.
Madame N. who used at one time to live in your family is here now. She married the artist N., a nice but tedious man who wants at all costs to travel with me to Sahalin to sketch. To refuse him my company I haven't the courage, but to travel with him would be simple misery. He is going to Petersburg in a day or two to sell his pictures, and at his wife's request will call on you to ask your advice. With a view to this his wife came to ask me for a letter of introduction to you. Be my benefactor, tell N. that I am a drunkard, a swindler, a nihilist, a rowdy character, and that it is out of the question to travel with me, and that a journey in my company will do nothing but upset him. Tell him he will be wasting his time. Of course it would be very nice to have my book illustrated, but when I learned that N. was hoping to get not less than a thousand roubles for it, I lost all appetite for illustrations. My dear fellow, advise him against it!!! Why it is your advice he wants, the devil only knows.
And so, my dear friend, I am setting off on Wednesday or Thursday at latest. Good-bye till December. Good luck in my absence. I received the money, thank you very much, though fifteen hundred roubles is a great deal; I don't know where to put it.... I feel as though I were preparing for the battlefield, though I see no dangers before me but toothache, which I am sure to have on the journey. As I am provided with nothing in the way of papers but a passport, I may have unpleasant encounters with the authorities, but that is a passing trouble. If they refuse to show me something, I shall simply write in my book that they wouldn't show it me, and that's all, and I won't worry. In case I am drowned or anything of that sort, you might keep it in mind that all I have or may have in the future belongs to my sister; she will pay my debts.
I am taking my mother with me and putting her down at the Troitsky Monastery; I am taking my sister too, and leaving her at Kostroma. I am telling them I shall be back in September.
I shall go over the university in Tomsk. As the only faculty there is medicine I shall not show myself an ignoramus.
I have bought myself a fur coat, an officer's waterproof leather coat, big boots, and a big knife for cutting sausage and hunting tigers. I am equipped from head to foot.
TO HIS SISTER.
STEAMER "ALEXANDR NEVSKY 23," April, 1890, early in the morning.
My dear Tunguses!
Did you have rain when Ivan was coming back from the monastery? In Yaroslavl there was such a downpour that I had to swathe myself in my leather chiton. My first impression of the Volga was poisoned by the rain, by the tear-stained windows of the cabin, and the wet nose of G., who came to meet me at the station. In the rain Yaroslavl looks like Zvenigorod, and its churches remind me of Perervinsky Monastery; there are lots of illiterate signboards, it's muddy, jackdaws with big heads strut about the pavement.
In the steamer I made it my first duty to indulge my talent—that is, to sleep. When I woke I beheld the sun. The Volga is not bad; water meadows, monasteries bathed in sunshine, white churches; the wide expanse is marvellous, wherever one looks it would be a nice place to sit down and begin fishing. Class ladies [Translator's Note: I.e., School chaperons, whose duty it is to sit in the classroom while the girls are receiving instruction from a master.] wander about on the banks, nipping at the green grass. The shepherd's horn can be heard now and then. White gulls, looking like the younger Drishka, hover over the water.
The steamer is not up to much....
* * * * *
Kundasova is travelling with me. Where she is going and with what object I don't know. When I question her about it, she launches off into extremely misty allusions about someone who has appointed a tryst with her in a ravine near Kineshma, then goes off into a wild giggle and begins stamping her feet or prodding with her elbow whatever comes first. We have passed both Kineshma and the ravine, but she still goes on in the steamer, at which of course I am very much pleased; by the way, yesterday for the first time in my life I saw her eating. She eats no less than other people, but she eats mechanically, as though she were munching oats.
Kostroma is a nice town. I saw the stretch of river on which the languid Levitan used to live. I saw Kineshma, where I walked along the boulevard and watched the local beaus. Here I went into the chemist's shop to buy some Bertholet salts for my tongue, which was like leather after the medicine I had taken. The chemist, on seeing Olga Petrovna, was overcome with delight and confusion; she was the same. They were evidently old acquaintances, and judging from the conversation between them they had walked more than once about the ravines near Kineshma.
... It's rather cold and rather dull, but interesting on the whole. The steamer whistles every minute; its whistle is midway between the bray of an ass and an Aeolian harp. In five or six hours we shall be in Nizhni. The sun is rising. I slept last night artistically. My money is safe; that is because I am constantly pressing my hands on my stomach.
Very beautiful are the steam-tugs, dragging after them four or five barges each; they look like some fine young intellectual trying to run away while a plebeian wife, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and wife's grandmother hold on to his coat-tails.
* * * * *
The sun is hiding behind the clouds, the sky is overcast, and the broad Volga looks gloomy. Levitan ought not to live on the Volga. It lays a weight of gloom on the soul. Though it would not be bad to have an estate on its banks.
* * * * *
If the waiter would wake I should ask him for some coffee; as it is, I have to drink water without any relish for it. My greetings to Maryushka and Olga. [Footnote: The Chekhovs' servants.]
Well, keep well and take care of yourselves. I will write regularly.
Your bored Volga-travelling Homo Sachaliensis, A. CHEKHOV.
FROM THE STEAMER, Evening, April 24, 1890.
MY DEAR TUNGUSES!
I am floating on the Kama, but I can't fix the exact locality; I believe we are near Tchistopol. I cannot extol the beauties of the scenery either, as it is hellishly cold; the birches are not yet out, there are still patches of snow here and there, bits of ice float by—in short, the picturesque has gone to the dogs. I sit in the cabin, where people of all sorts and conditions sit at the table, and listen to the conversation, wondering whether it is not time for me to have tea. If I had my way I should do nothing all day but eat; as I haven't the money to be eating all day long I sleep and sleep. I don't go up on deck, it's cold. By night it rains and by day there is an unpleasant wind.
Oh, the caviare! I eat it and eat and never have enough.
... It is a pity I did not think to get myself a little bag for tea and sugar. I have to order it a glass at a time, which is tiresome and expensive. I meant to buy some tea and sugar to-day at Kazan, but I over-slept myself.
Rejoice, O mother! I believe I stop twenty-four hours at Ekaterinburg, and shall see the relations. Perhaps their hearts may be softened and they will give me three roubles and an ounce of tea.
From the conversation I am listening to at this moment, I gather that the members of a judicial tribunal are travelling with me. They are not gifted persons. The merchants, who put in their word from time to time seem, however, intelligent. One comes across fearfully rich people.
Sterlets are cheaper than mushrooms; you soon get sick of them. What more is there for me to write about? There is nothing.... There is a General, though, and a lean fair man. The former keeps dashing from his cabin to the deck and back again, and sending his photograph off somewhere; the latter is got up to look like Nadson, and tries thereby to give one to know that he is a writer. Today he was mendaciously telling a lady that he had a book published by Suvorin; I, of course, put on an expression of awe.
My money is all safe, except what I have eaten. They won't feed me for nothing, the scoundrels.
I am neither gay nor bored, but there is a sort of numbness in my soul. I like to sit without moving or speaking. To-day, for instance, I have scarcely uttered five words. That's not true, though: I talked to a priest on deck.
We begin to come across natives; there are lots of Tatars: they are a respectable and well-behaved people.
I beg Father and Mother not to worry, and not to imagine dangers which do not exist.
* * * * *
Excuse me for writing about nothing but food. If I did not write about food I should have to write about cold, for I have no other subjects.
* * * * *
April 29, 1890.
MY DEAR TUNGUSES!
The Kama is a very dull river. To realise its beauties one would have to be a native sitting motionless on a barge beside a barrel of naphtha, or a sack of dried fish, continually taking a pull at the bottle. The river banks are bare, the trees are bare, the earth is a dull brown, there are patches of snow, and there is such a wind that the devil himself could not blow as keenly and hatefully. When a cold wind blows and ruffles up the water, which now after the floods is the colour of coffee slops, one feels cold and bored and miserable; the strains of a concertina on the bank sound dejected, figures in tattered sheepskins standing motionless on the barges that meet us look as though they were petrified by some unending grief. The towns on the Kama are grey; one would think the inhabitants were employed in the manufacture of clouds, boredom, soaking fences and mud in the streets, as their sole occupation. The stopping-places are thronged with inhabitants of the educated class, for whom the arrival of a steamer is an event....
... To judge from appearances not one of them earns more than thirty-five roubles, and all of them are ailing in some way.
I have told you already there are some legal gentlemen in the steamer: the president of the court, one of the judges, and the prosecutor. The president is a hale and hearty old German who has embraced Orthodoxy, is pious, a homoeopath, and evidently a devotee of the sex. The judge is an old man such as dear Nikolay used to draw; he walks bent double, coughs, and is fond of facetious subjects. The prosecutor is a man of forty-three, dissatisfied with life, a liberal, a sceptic, and a very good-natured fellow. All the journey these gentlemen have been occupied in eating, settling mighty questions and eating, reading and eating. There is a library on the steamer, and I saw the prosecutor reading my "In the Twilight." They began talking about me. Mamin-Sibiryak, who has described the Urals, is the author most liked in these parts. He is more talked of than Tolstoy.
I have been two and a half years sailing to Perm, so it seems to me. We reached there at two o'clock in the night. The train went at six o'clock in the evening. I had to wait. It rained. Rain, cold, mud ... brrr! The Uralsky line is a good one.... That is due to the abundance of business-like people here, factories, mines, and so on, for whom time is precious.
Waking yesterday morning and looking out of the carriage window I felt an aversion for nature: the earth was white, trees covered with hoar-frost, and a regular blizzard pursuing the train. Now isn't it revolting? Isn't it disgusting? ... I have no goloshes, I pulled on my big boots, and on my way to the refreshment-room for coffee I made the whole Ural region smell of tar. And when we got to Ekaterinburg there was rain, snow, and hail. I put on my leather coat. The cabs are something inconceivable, wretched, dirty, drenched, without springs, the horse's four legs straddling, huge hoofs, gaunt spines ... the droshkies here are a clumsy parody of our britchkas. A tattered top is put on to a britchka, that is all. And the more exactly I describe the cabman here and his vehicle, the more it will seem like a caricature. They drive not on the middle of the road where it is jolting, but near the gutter where it is muddy and soft. All the cabmen are like Dobrolyubov.
In Russia all the towns are alike. Ekaterinburg is exactly the same as Perm or Tula. The note of the bells is magnificent, velvety. I stopped at the American Hotel (not at all bad), and at once sent word of my arrival to A. M. S., telling him I meant to stay in my hotel room for two days.
The people here inspire the newcomer with a feeling akin to horror. They are big-browed, big-jawed, broad-shouldered fellows with huge fists and tiny eyes. They are born in the local iron foundries, and at their birth a mechanic officiates instead of an accoucheur. A specimen comes into your room with a samovar or a bottle of water, and you expect him every minute to murder you. I stand aside. This morning just such a one came in, big-browed, big-jawed, huge, towering up to the ceiling, seven feet across the shoulders and wearing a fur coat too.
Well, I thought, this one will certainly murder me. It appeared that this was our relation A. M. S. We began to talk. He is a member of the local Zemstvo and manager of his cousin's mill, which is lighted by electric light; he is editor of the Ekaterinburg Week which is under the censorship of the police-master Baron Taube, is married and has two children, is growing rich and getting fat and elderly, and lives in a "substantial way." He says he has no time to be bored. He advised me to visit the museum, the factories, and the mines; I thanked him for his advice. He invited me to tea to-morrow evening; I invited him to dine with me. He did not invite me to dinner, and altogether did not press me very much to visit him. From this mother may conclude that the relations' heart is not softened.... Relations are a race in which I take no interest.
There is snow in the street, and I have purposely let down the blind over the windows so as not to see the Asiatic sight. I am sitting here waiting for an answer from Tyumen to my telegram. I telegraphed: "Tyumen. Kurbatov steamer line. Reply paid. Inform me when the passenger steamer starts Tomsk." It depends on the answer whether I go by steamer or gallop fifteen hundred versts in the slush of the thaw.
All night long they beat on sheets of iron at every corner here. You need a head of iron not to go crazy from the incessant clanging. To-day I tried to make myself coffee. The result was a horrid mess. I just drank it with a shrug. I looked at five sheets, handled them, and did not take one. I am going to-day to buy rubber overshoes.
* * * * *
Shall I find a letter from you at Irkutsk?
Ask Lika not to leave such big margins in her letters.
Your Homo Sachaliensis, A. CHEKHOV.
TO MADAME KISELYOV.
THE BANK OF THE IRTYSH, May 7, 1890.
My greetings, honoured Marya Vladimirovna! I meant to write you a farewell letter from Moscow, but I had not time; I write to you now sitting in a hut on the bank of the Irtysh.
It is night. This is how I have come to be here. I am driving across the plain of Siberia. I have already driven 715 versts; I have been transformed from head to foot into a great martyr. This morning a keen cold wind began blowing, and it began drizzling with the most detestable rain. I must observe that there is no spring yet in Siberia. The earth is brown, the trees are bare, and there are white patches of snow wherever one looks; I wear my fur coat and felt overboots day and night.... Well, the wind has been blowing since early morning.... Heavy leaden clouds, dull brown earth, mud, rain, wind.... Brrr! I drive on and on.... I drive on endlessly, and the weather does not improve. Towards evening I am told at the station I can't go on further, as everything is under water, the bridges have been carried away, and so on. Knowing how fond these drivers are of frightening one with the elements so as to keep the traveller for the night (it is to their interest), I did not believe them, and ordered them to harness the three horses; and now—alas for me!—I had not driven more than five versts when I saw the land on the bank of the Irtysh all covered with great lakes, the road disappeared under water, and the bridges on the road really had been swept away or had decayed. I was prevented from turning back partly by obstinacy and partly by the desire to get out of these dreary parts as quickly as possible. We began driving through the lakes.... My God, I have never experienced anything like it in my life! The cutting wind, the cold, the loathsome rain, and one had to get out of the chaise (not a covered one), if you please, and hold the horses: at each little bridge one could only lead the horses over one at a time.... What had I come to? Where was I? All around, desert, dreariness; the bare sullen bank of the Irtysh in sight.... We drive into the very biggest lake. Now I should be glad to turn back, but it is not easy.... We drive on a long strip of land ... the strip comes to an end—we go splash! Again a strip of land, again a splash.... My hands were numb, and the wild ducks seemed jeering at us and floated in huge flocks over our heads.... It got dark. The driver said nothing—he was bewildered. But at last we reached the last strip that separated the Irtysh from the lake.... The sloping bank of the Irtysh was nearly three feet above the level; it was of clay, bare, hollowed out, and looked slippery. The water was muddy.... White waves splashed on the clay, but the Irtysh itself made no roar or din, but gave forth a strange sound as though someone were nailing up a coffin under the water.... The further bank was a flat, disconsolate plain.... You often dream of the Bozharovsky pool; in the same way now I shall dream of the Irtysh....
But behold a ferry. We must be ferried across to the other side. A peasant shrinking from the rain comes out of a hut, and tells us that the ferry cannot cross now as it is too windy.... (The ferries are worked by oars). He advises us to wait for calm weather....
And so I am sitting at night in a hut on a lake at the very edge of the Irtysh. I feel a penetrating dampness to the very marrow of my bones, and a loneliness in my soul; I hear my Irtysh banging on the coffins and the wind howling, and wonder where I am, why I am here.
In the next room the peasants who work the ferry and my driver are asleep. They are good-natured people. But if they were bad people they could perfectly well rob me and drown me in the Irtysh. The hut is the only one on the river bank; there would be no witnesses.
The road to Tomsk is absolutely free from danger as far as brigands are concerned. It isn't the fashion even to talk of robbery. There is no stealing even from travellers. When you go into a hut you can leave your things outside and they will all be safe.
But they very nearly did kill me all the same. Imagine the night just before dawn.... I was driving along in a chaise, thinking and thinking.... All at once I see coming flying towards us at full gallop a post-cart with three horses; my driver had hardly time to turn to the right, the three horses dashed by, and I noticed in it the driver who had to take it back.... Behind it came another, also at full speed; we had turned to the right, it turned to the left. "We shall smash into each other," flashed into my mind ... one instant, and—there was a crash, the horses were mixed up in a black mass, my chaise was rearing in the air, and I was rolling on the ground with all my bags and boxes on the top of me. I leap up and see—a third troika dashing upon us....
My mother must have been praying for me that night, I suppose. If I had been asleep, or if the third troika had come immediately after the second, I should have been crushed to death or maimed. It appeared the foremost driver lashed on the horses, while the drivers in the second and the third carts were asleep and did not see us. The collision was followed by the blankest amazement on both sides, then a storm of ferocious abuse. The traces were torn, the shafts were broken, the yokes were lying about on the road.... Ah, how the drivers swore! At night, in that swearing turbulent crew, I felt in utter solitude such as I have never felt before in my life....
But my paper is running out.
TO HIS SISTER.
THE VILLAGE OF YAR, 45 VERSTS FROM TOMSK, May 14, 1890.
My glorious mother, my splendid Masha, my sweet Misha, and all my household! At Ekaterinburg I got my reply telegram from Tyumen. "The first steamer to Tomsk goes on the 18th May." This meant that, whether I liked it or not, I must do the journey with horses. So I did. I drove out of Tyumen on the third of May after spending in Ekaterinburg two or three days, which I devoted to the repair of my coughing and haemorrhoidal person. Besides the public posting service, one can get private drivers that take one across Siberia. I chose the latter: it is just the same. They put me, the servant of God, into a basketwork chaise and drove me with two horses; one sits in the basket like a goldfinch, looking at God's world and thinking of nothing.... The plain of Siberia begins, I think, from Ekaterinburg, and ends goodness knows where; I should say it is very like our South Russian Steppe, except for the little birch copses here and there and the cold wind that stings one's cheeks. Spring has not begun yet. There is no green at all, the woods are bare, the snow has not thawed everywhere. There is opaque ice on the lakes. On the ninth of May there was a hard frost, and to-day, the fourteenth, snow has fallen to the depth of three or four inches. No one speaks of spring but the ducks. Ah, what masses of ducks! Never in my life have I seen such abundance. They fly over one's head, they fly up close to the chaise, swim on the lakes and in the pools—in short, with the poorest sort of gun I could have shot a thousand in one day. One can hear the wild geese calling.... There are lots of them here too. One often comes upon a string of cranes or swans.... Snipe and woodcock flutter about in the birch copses. The hares which are not eaten or shot here, stand on their hindlegs, and, pricking up their ears, watch the passer-by with an inquisitive stare without the slightest misgiving. They are so often running across the road that to see them doing so is not considered a bad omen.
It's cold driving ...; I have my fur coat on. My body is all right, but my feet are freezing. I wrap them in the leather overcoat-but it is no use.... I have two pairs of breeches on. Well, one drives on and on.... Telegraph poles, pools, birch copses flash by. Here we overtake some emigrants, then an etape.... We meet tramps with pots on their back; these gentry promenade all over the plain of Siberia without hindrance. One time they will murder some poor old woman to take her petticoat for their leg-wrappers; at another they will strip from the verst post the metal plate with the number on it—it might be useful; at another will smash the head of some beggar or knock out the eyes of some brother exile; but they never touch travellers. Altogether, travelling here is absolutely safe as far as brigands are concerned. Neither the post-drivers nor the private ones from Tyumen to Tomsk remember an instance of any things being stolen from a traveller. When you reach a station you leave your things outside; if you ask whether they won't be stolen, they merely smile in answer. It is not the thing even to speak of robbery and murder on the road. I believe, if I were to lose my money in the station or in the chaise, the driver would certainly give it me if he found it, and would not boast of having done so. Altogether the people here are good and kindly, and have excellent traditions. Their rooms are simply furnished but clean, with claims to luxury; the beds are soft, all feather mattresses and big pillows. The floors are painted or covered with home-made linen rugs. The explanation of this, of course, is their prosperity, the fact that a family has sixteen dessyatins [Footnote: I.e., about 48 acres.] of black earth, and that excellent wheat grows in this black earth. (Wheaten flour costs thirty kopecks a pood here. [Footnote: I.e., about 7-1/2d. for 36 lb.]) But it cannot all be put down to prosperity and being well fed. One must give some of the credit to their manner of life. When you go at night into a room where people are asleep, the nose is not aware of any stuffiness or "Russian smell." It is true one old woman when she handed me a teaspoon wiped it on the back of her skirt; but they don't set you down to drink tea without a tablecloth, and they don't search in each other's heads in your presence, they don't put their fingers inside the glass when they hand you milk or water; the crockery is clean, the kvass is transparent as beer—in fact, there is a cleanliness of which our Little Russians can only dream, yet the Little Russians are far and away cleaner than the Great Russians! They make the most delicious bread here—I over-ate myself with it at first. The pies and pancakes and fritters and the fancy rolls, which remind one of the spongy Little Russian ring rolls, are very good too.... But all the rest is not for the European stomach. For instance, I am regaled everywhere with "duck broth." It's perfectly disgusting, a muddy-looking liquid with bits of wild duck and uncooked onion floating in it.... I once asked them to make me some soup from meat and to fry me some perch. They gave me soup too salt, dirty, with hard bits of skin instead of meat; and the perch was cooked with the scales on it. They make their cabbage soup from salt meat; they roast it too. They have just served me some salt meat roasted: it's most repulsive; I chewed at it and gave it up. They drink brick tea. It is a decoction of sage and beetles—that's what it is like in taste and appearance.
By the way, I brought from Ekaterinburg a quarter of a pound of tea, five pounds of sugar, and three lemons. It was not enough tea and there is nowhere to buy any. In these scurvy little towns even the government officials drink brick tea, and even the best shops don't keep tea at more than one rouble fifty kopecks a pound. I have to drink the sage brew.
The distance apart of the posting stations depends on the distance of the nearest villages from each other—that is, 20 to 40 versts. The villages here are large, there are no little hamlets. There are churches and schools everywhere, the huts are of wood and there are some with two storeys.
Towards the evening the road and the puddles begin to freeze, and at night there is a regular frost, one wants an extra fur coat ... Brrr! It's jolting, for the mud is transformed into hard lumps. One's soul is shaken inside out.... Towards daybreak one is fearfully exhausted by the cold, by the jolting and the jingle of the bells: one has a passionate longing for warmth and a bed. While they change horses one curls up in some corner and at once drops asleep, and a minute later the driver pulls at one's sleeve and says: "Get up, friend, it is time to start." On the second night I had acute toothache in my heels. It was unbearably painful. I wondered whether they were frostbitten.
I can't write more though. The "president," that is the district police inspector, has come. We have made acquaintance and are beginning to talk. Goodbye till to-morrow.
TOMSK, May 16.
It seems my strong boots were the cause, being too tight at the back. My sweet Misha, if you ever have any children, which I have no doubt you will, the advice I bequeath to them is not to run after cheap goods. Cheapness in Russian goods is the label of worthlessness. To my mind it is better to go barefoot than to wear cheap boots. Picture my agony! I keep getting out of the chaise, sitting down on damp ground and taking off my boots to rest my heels. So comfortable in the frost! I had to buy felt over-boots in Ishim.... So I drove in felt boots till they collapsed from the mud and the damp.
In the morning between five and six o'clock one drinks tea at a hut. Tea on a journey is a great blessing. I know its value now, and drink it with the fury of a Yanov. It warms one through and drives away sleep; one eats a lot of bread with it, and in the absence of other nourishment, bread has to be eaten in great quantities; that is why peasants eat so much bread and farinaceous food. One drinks tea and talks with the peasant women, who are sensible, tenderhearted, industrious, as well as being devoted mothers and more free than in European Russia; their husbands don't abuse or beat them, because they are as tall, as strong, and as clever as their lords and masters are. They act as drivers when their husbands are away from home; they like making jokes. They are not severe with their children, they spoil them. The children sleep on soft beds and lie as long as they like, drink tea and eat with the men, and scold the latter when they laugh at them affectionately. There is no diphtheria. Malignant smallpox is prevalent here, but strange to say, it is less contagious than in other parts of the world; two or three catch it and die and that is the end of the epidemic. There are no hospitals or doctors. The doctoring is done by feldshers. Bleeding and cupping are done on a grandiose, brutal scale. I examined a Jew with cancer in the liver. The Jew was exhausted, hardly breathing, but that did not prevent the feldsher from cupping him twelve times. Apropos of the Jews. Here they till the land, work as drivers and ferry-men, trade and are called Krestyany, [Translator's Note: I.e., Peasants, literally "Christians." ] because they are de jure and de facto Krestyany. They enjoy universal respect, and according to the "president" they are not infrequently chosen as village elders. I saw a tall thin Jew who scowled with disgust and spat when the "president" told indecent stories: a chaste soul; his wife makes splendid fish-soup. The wife of the Jew who had cancer regaled me with pike caviare and with most delicious white bread. One hears nothing of exploitation by the Jews. And, by the way, about the Poles. There are a few exiles here, sent from Poland in 1864. They are good, hospitable, and very refined people. Some of them live in a very wealthy way; others are very poor, and serve as clerks at the stations. Upon the amnesty the former went back to their own country, but soon returned to Siberia again—here they are better off; the latter dream of their native land, though they are old and infirm. At Ishim a wealthy Pole, Pan Zalyessky, who has a daughter like Sasha Kiselyov, for a rouble gave me an excellent dinner and a room to sleep in; he keeps an inn and has become a money-grubber to the marrow of his bones; he fleeces everyone, but yet one feels the Polish gentleman in his manner, in the way the meals are served, in everything. He does not go back to Poland through greed, and through greed endures snow till St. Nikolay's day; when he dies his daughter, who was born at Ishim, will remain here for ever and so will multiply the black eyes and soft features in Siberia! This casual intermixture of blood is to the good, for the Siberian people are not beautiful. There are no dark-haired people. Perhaps you would like me to write about the Tatars? Certainly. There are very few of them here. They are good people. In the province of Kazan everyone speaks well of them, even the priests, and in Siberia they are "better than the Russians" as the "president" said to me in the presence of Russians, who assented to this by their silence. My God, how rich Russia is in good people! If it were not for the cold which deprives Siberia of the summer, and if it were not for the officials who corrupt the peasants and the exiles, Siberia would be the richest and happiest of lands.
I have nothing for dinner. Sensible people usually take twenty pounds of provisions when they go to Tomsk. It seems I was a fool and so I have fed for a fortnight on nothing but milk and eggs, which are boiled so that the yolk is hard and the white is soft. One is sick of such fare in two days. I have only twice had dinner during the whole journey, not counting the Jewess's fish-soup, which I swallowed after I had had enough to eat with my tea. I have not had any vodka: the Siberian vodka is disgusting, and indeed, I got out of the habit of taking it while I was on the way to Ekaterinburg. One ought to drink vodka: it stimulates the brain, dull and apathetic from travelling, which makes one stupid and feeble.
Stop! I can't write: the editor of the Sibirsky Vyestnik, N., a local Nozdryov, a drunkard and a rake, has come to make my acquaintance.
N. has drunk some beer and gone away. I continue.
For the first three days of my journey my collarbones, my shoulders and my vertebrae ached from the shaking and jolting. I couldn't stand or sit or lie.... But on the other hand, all pains in my head and chest have vanished, my appetite has developed incredibly, and my haemorrhoids have subsided completely. The overstrain, the constant worry with luggage and so on, and perhaps the farewell drinking parties in Moscow, had brought on spitting of blood in the mornings, which induced something like depression, arousing gloomy thoughts, but towards the end of the journey it has left off; now I haven't even a cough. It is a long time since I have coughed so little as now, after being for a fortnight in the open air. After the first three days of travelling my body grew used to the jolting, and in time I did not notice the coming of midday and then of evening and night. The time flew by rapidly as it does in serious illness. You think it is scarcely midday when the peasants say—"You ought to put up for the night, sir, or we may lose our way in the dark"; you look at your watch, and it is actually eight o'clock.
They drive quickly, but the speed is nothing remarkable. Probably I have come upon the roads in bad condition, and in winter travelling would have been quicker. They dash uphill at a gallop, and before setting off and before the driver gets on the box, the horses need two or three men to hold them. The horses remind me of the fire brigade horses in Moscow. One day we nearly ran over an old woman, and another time almost dashed into an etape. Now, would you like an adventure for which I am indebted to Siberian driving? Only I beg mother not to wail and lament, for it all ended well. On the 6th of May towards daybreak I was being driven with two horses by a very nice old man. It was a little chaise, I was drowsy, and, to while away the time, watched the gleaming of zigzagging lights in the fields and birch copses—it was last year's grass on fire; it is their habit here to burn it. Suddenly I hear the swift rattle of wheels, a post-cart at full speed comes flying towards us like a bird, my old man hastens to move to the right, the three horses dash by, and I see in the dusk a huge heavy post-cart with a driver for the return journey in it. It was followed by a second cart also going at full speed. We made haste to move aside to the right. To my great amazement and alarm the approaching cart moved not to its right, but its left ... I hardly had time to think, "Good heavens! we shall run into each other," when there was a desperate crash, the horses were mixed up in a dark blur, the yokes fell off, my chaise reared up into the air, and I flew to the ground, and my luggage on the top of me. But that was not all ... A third cart was dashing upon us. This really ought to have smashed me and my luggage to atoms but, thank God! I was not asleep, I broke no bones in the fall, and managed to jump up so quickly that I was able to get out of the way. "Stop," I bawled to the third cart, "Stop!" The third dashed up to the second and stopped. Of course if I were able to sleep in a chaise, or if the third cart had followed instantly on the second, I should certainly have come back a cripple or a headless horseman. The results of the collision were broken shafts, torn traces, yokes and luggage scattered on the ground, the horses scared and harassed, and the alarming feeling that we had just been in danger. It turned out that the first driver had lashed up the horses; while in the other two carts the drivers were asleep, and the horses followed the first team with no one controlling them. On recovering from the shock, my old man and the other three men fell to abusing each other ferociously. Oh, how they swore! I thought it would end in a fight. You can't imagine the feeling of isolation in the middle of that savage swearing crew in the open country, just before dawn, in sight of the fires far and near consuming the grass, but not warming the cold night air! Oh, how heavy my heart was! One listened to the swearing, looked at the broken shafts and at one's tormented luggage, and it seemed as though one were cast away in another world, as though one would be crushed in a moment.... After an hour's abuse my old man began splicing together the shafts with cord and tying up the traces; my straps were forced into the service too. We got to the station somehow, crawling along and stopping from time to time.
After five or six days rain with high winds began. It rained day and night. The leather overcoat came to the rescue and kept me safe from rain and wind. It's a wonderful coat. The mud was almost impassable, the drivers began to be unwilling to go on at night. But what was worst of all, and what I shall never forget, was crossing the rivers. One reaches a river at night.... One begins shouting and so does the driver.... Rain, wind, pieces of ice glide down the river, there is a sound of splashing.... And to add to our gaiety there is the cry of a heron. Herons live on the Siberian rivers, so it seems they don't consider the climate but the geographical position.... Well, an hour later, in the darkness, a huge ferry-boat of the shape of a barge comes into sight with huge oars that look like the pincers of a crab. The ferry-men are a rowdy set, for the most part exiles banished here by the verdict of society for their vicious life. They use insufferably bad language, shout, and ask for money for vodka.... The ferrying across takes a long, long time ... an agonizingly long time. The ferryboat crawls. Again the feeling of loneliness, and the heron seems calling on purpose, as though he means to say: "Don't be frightened, old man, I am here, the Lintvaryovs have sent me here from the Psyol."
On the 7th of May when I asked for horses the driver said the Irtysh had overflowed its banks and flooded the meadows, that Kuzma had set off the day before and had difficulty in getting back, and that I could not go, but must wait.... I asked: "Wait till when?" Answer: "The Lord only knows!" That was vague. Besides, I had taken a vow to get rid on the journey of two of my vices which were a source of considerable expense, trouble, and inconvenience; I mean my readiness to give in, and be overpersuaded. I am quick to agree, and so I have had to travel anyhow, sometimes to pay double and to wait for hours at a time. I had taken to refusing to agree and to believe—and my sides have ached less. For instance, they bring out not a proper carriage but a common, jolting cart. I refuse to travel in the jolting cart, I insist, and the carriage is sure to appear, though they may have declared that there was no such thing in the whole village, and so on. Well, I suspected that the Irtysh floods were invented simply to avoid driving me by night through the mud. I protested and told them to start. The peasant who had heard of the floods from Kuzma, and had not himself seen them, scratched himself and consented; the old men encouraged him, saying that when they were young and used to drive, they were afraid of nothing. We set off. Much rain, a vicious wind, cold ... and felt boots on my feet. Do you know what felt boots are like when they are soaked? They are like boots of jelly. We drive on and on, and behold, there lies stretched before my eyes an immense lake from which the earth appears in patches here and there, and bushes stand out: these are the flooded meadows. In the distance stretches the steep bank of the Irtysh, on which there are white streaks of snow.... We begin driving through the lake. We might have turned back, but obstinacy prevented me, and an incomprehensible impulse of defiance mastered me—that impulse which made me bathe from the yacht in the middle of the Black Sea and has impelled me to not a few acts of folly ... I suppose it is a special neurosis. We drive on and make for the little islands and strips of land. The direction is indicated by bridges and planks; they have been washed away. To cross by them we had to unharness the horses and lead them over one by one.... The driver unharnesses the horses, I jump out into the water in my felt boots and hold them.... A pleasant diversion! And the rain and wind.... Queen of Heaven! At last we get to a little island where there stands a hut without a roof.... Wet horses are wandering about in the wet dung. A peasant with a long stick comes out of the hut and undertakes to guide us. He measures the depth of the water with his stick, and tries the ground. He led us out—God bless him for it!—on to a long strip of ground which he called "the ridge." He instructs us that we must keep to the right—or perhaps it was to the left, I don't remember—and get on to another ridge. This we do. My felt boots are soaking and squelching, my socks are snuffling. The driver says nothing and clicks dejectedly to his horses. He would gladly turn back, but by now it was late, it was dark.... At last—oh, joy!—we reach the Irtysh.... The further bank is steep but the near bank is sloping. The near one is hollowed out, looks slippery, hateful, not a trace of vegetation.... The turbid water splashes upon it with crests of white foam, and dashes back again as though disgusted at touching the uncouth slippery bank on which it seems that none but toads and the souls of murderers could live.... The Irtysh makes no loud or roaring sound, but it sounds as though it were hammering on coffins in its depths.... A damnable impression! The further bank is steep, dark brown, desolate....
There is a hut; the ferry-men live in it. One of them comes out and announces that it is impossible to work the ferry as a storm has come up. The river, they said, was wide, and the wind was strong. And so I had to stay the night at the hut.... I remember the night. The snoring of the ferry-men and my driver, the roar of the wind, the patter of the rain, the mutterings of the Irtysh.... Before going to sleep I wrote a letter to Marya Vladimirovna; I was reminded of the Bozharovsky pool.
In the morning they were unwilling to ferry me across: there was a high wind. We had to row across in the boat. I am rowed across the river, while the rain comes lashing down, the wind blows, my luggage is drenched and my felt boots, which had been dried overnight in the oven, become jelly again. Oh, the darling leather coat! If I did not catch cold I owe it entirely to that. When I come back you must reward it with an anointing of tallow or castor-oil. On the bank I sat for a whole hour on my portmanteau waiting for horses to come from the village. I remember it was very slippery clambering up the bank. In the village I warmed myself and had some tea. Some exiles came to beg for alms. Every family makes forty pounds of wheaten flour into bread for them every day. It's a kind of forced tribute.
The exiles take the bread and sell it for drink at the tavern. One exile, a tattered, closely shaven old man, whose eyes had been knocked out in the tavern by his fellow-exiles, hearing that there was a traveller in the room and taking me for a merchant, began singing and repeating the prayers. He recited the prayer for health and for the rest of the soul, and sang the Easter hymn, "Let the Lord arise," and "With thy Saints, O Lord"—goodness knows what he didn't sing! Then he began telling lies, saying that he was a Moscow merchant. I noticed how this drunken creature despised the peasants upon whom he was living.
On the 11th I drove with posting horses. I read the books of complaints at the posting station in my boredom.
... On the 12th of May they would not give me horses, saying that I could not drive, because the River Ob had overflowed its banks and flooded all the meadows. They advised me to turn off the track as far as Krasny Yar; then go by boat twelve versts to Dubrovin, and at Dubrovin you can get posting horses.... I drove with private horses as far as Krasny Yar. I arrive in the morning; I am told there is a boat, but that I must wait a little as the grandfather had sent the workman to row the president's secretary to Dubrovin in it. Very well, we will wait.... An hour passes, a second, a third.... Midday arrives, then evening.... Allah kerim, what a lot of tea I drank, what a lot of bread I ate, what a lot of thoughts I thought! And what a lot I slept! Night came on and still no boat.... Early morning came.... At last at nine o'clock the workmen returned.... Thank heaven, we are afloat at last! And how pleasant it is! The air is still, the oarsmen are good, the islands are beautiful.... The floods caught men and cattle unawares and I see peasant women rowing in boats to the islands to milk the cows. And the cows are lean and dejected. There is absolutely no grass for them, owing to the cold. I was rowed twelve versts. At the station of Dubrovin I had tea, and for tea they gave me, can you imagine! waffles.... I suppose the woman of the house was an exile or the wife of an exile. At the next station an old clerk, a Pole, to whom I gave some antipyrin for his headache, complained of his poverty, and said Count Sapyega, a Pole who was a gentleman-in-waiting at the Austrian Court, and who assisted his fellow-countrymen, had lately arrived there on his way to Siberia, "He stayed near the station," said the clerk, "and I didn't know it! Holy Mother! He would have helped me! I wrote to him at Vienna, but I got no answer, ..." and so on. Why am I not a Sapyega? I would send this poor fellow to his own country.
On the 14th of May again they would not give me horses. The Tom was flooded. How vexatious! It meant not mere vexation but despair! Fifty versts from Tomsk and how unexpected! A woman in my place would have sobbed. Some kind-hearted people found a solution for me. "Drive on, sir, as far as the Tom, it is only six versts from here; there they will row you across to Yar, and Ilya Markovitch will take you on from there to Tomsk." I hired a horse and drove to the Tom, to the place where the boat was to be. I drove—there was no boat. They told me it had just set off with the post, and was hardly likely to return as there was such a wind. I began waiting.... The ground was covered with snow, it rained and hailed and the wind blew.... One hour passed, a second, and no boat. Fate was laughing at me. I returned to the station. There the driver of the mail with three posting horses was just setting off for the Tom. I told him there was no boat. He stayed. Fate rewarded me; the clerk in response to my hesitating inquiry whether there was anything to eat told me the woman of the house had some cabbage soup. Oh, rapture! Oh, radiant day! And the daughter of the house did in fact give me some excellent cabbage soup, with some capital meat with roast potatoes and cucumbers. I have not had such a dinner since I was at Pan Zalyessky's. After the potatoes I let myself go, and made myself some coffee.
Towards evening the mail driver, an elderly man who had evidently endured a good deal in his day, and who did not venture to sit down in my presence, began preparing to set off to the Tom. I did the same. We drove off. As soon as we reached the river the boat came into sight—a long boat: I have never dreamed of a boat so long. While the post was being loaded on to the boat I witnessed a strange phenomenon—there was a peal of thunder, a queer thing in a cold wind, with snow on the ground. They loaded up and rowed off. My sweet Misha, forgive me for being so rejoiced that I did not bring you with me! How sensible it was of me not to take anyone with me! At first our boat floated over a meadow near willow-bushes.... As is common before a storm or during a storm, a violent wind suddenly sprang up on the water and stirred up the waves. The boatman who was sitting at the helm advised our waiting in the willow-bushes till the storm was over. They answered him that if the storm grew worse, they might stay in the willow-bushes till night and be drowned all the same. They proceeded to settle it by majority of votes, and decided to row on. An evil mocking fate is mine. Oh, why these jests? We rowed on in silence, concentrating our thoughts.... I remember the figure of the mail-driver, a man of varied experiences. I remember the little soldier who suddenly became as crimson as cherry juice. I thought, if the boat upsets I will fling off my fur coat and my leather coat ... then my felt boots, then ... and so on.... But the bank came nearer and nearer, one's soul felt easier and easier, one's heart throbbed with joy, one heaved deep sighs as though one could breathe freely at last, and leapt on the wet slippery bank.... Thank God!
At Ilya Markovitch's, the converted Jew's, I was told that I could not drive at night; the road was bad; that I must remain till next day. Very good, I stayed. After tea I sat down to write you this letter, interrupted by the visit of the "president." The president is a rich mixture of Nozdryov, Hlestakov and a cur. A drunkard, a rake, a liar, a singer, a story-teller, and with all that a good-natured man. He had brought with him a big trunk stuffed full of business papers, a bedstead and mattress, a gun, and a secretary. The secretary is an excellent, well-educated man, a protesting liberal who has studied in Petersburg, and is free in his ideas; I don't know how he came to Siberia, he is infected to the marrow of his bones with every sort of disease, and is taking to drink, thanks to his principal, who calls him Kolya. The representative of authority sends for a cordial. "Doctor," he bawls, "drink another glass, I beseech you humbly!" Of course, I drink it. The representative of authority drinks soundly, lies outrageously, uses shameless language. We go to bed. In the morning a cordial is sent for again. They swill the cordial till ten o'clock and at last they go. The converted Jew, Ilya Markovitch, whom the peasants here idolize—so I was told—gave me horses to drive to Tomsk.
The "president," the secretary and I got into the same conveyance. All the way the "president" told lies, drank out of the bottle, boasted that he did not take bribes, raved about the scenery, and shook his fist at the tramps that he met. We drove fifteen versts, then halt! The village of Brovkino.... We stop near a Jew's shop and go to take "rest and refreshment." The Jew runs to fetch us a cordial while his wife makes us some fish-soup, of which I have written to you already. The "president" gave orders that the sotsky, the desyatsky, and the road contractor should come to him, and in his drunkenness began reproving them, not the least restrained by my presence. He swore like a Tatar.
I soon parted from the "president," and on the evening of the 15th of May by an appalling road reached Tomsk. During the last two days I have only done seventy versts; you can imagine what the roads are like!
In Tomsk the mud was almost impassable. Of the town and the manner of living here I will write in a day or two, but good-bye for now—I am tired of writing.
* * * * *
There are no poplars. The Kuvshinnikov General was lying. I have seen no nightingales. There are magpies and cuckoos.
I received a telegram of eighty words from Suvorin to-day.
Excuse this letter's being like a hotch-potch. It's incoherent, but I can't help it. Sitting in an hotel room one can't write better. Excuse its being long, It's not my fault. My pen ran away with me—besides, I wanted to go on talking to you. It's three o'clock in the night. My hand is tired. The wick of the candle wants snuffing, I can hardly see. Write to me at Sahalin every four or five days. It seems that the post goes there, not only by sea but across Siberia, so I shall get letters frequently.
* * * * *
All the Tomsk people tell me that there has not been a spring so cold and rainy as this one since 1842. Half Tomsk is under water. My luck!
I am eating sweets.
I shall have to stay at Tomsk till the rains are over. They say the road to Irkutsk is awful.
TOMSK, May 20.
It is Trinity Sunday with you, while with us even the willow has not yet come out, and there is still snow on the banks of the Tom. To-morrow I am starting for Irkutsk. I am rested. There is no need for hurry, as steam navigation on Lake Baikal does not begin till the 10th of June; but I shall go all the same.
I am alive and well, my money is safe; I have a slight pain in my right eye. It aches.
... Everyone advises me to go back across America, as they say one may die of boredom in the Volunteer Fleet; it's all military discipline and red tape regulations, and they don't often touch at a port.
To fill up my time I have been writing some impressions of my journey and sending them to Novoye Vremya; you will read them soon after the 10th of June. I write a little about everything, chit-chat. I don't write for glory but from a financial point of view, and in consideration of the money I have had in advance.
Tomsk is a very dull town. To judge from the drunkards whose acquaintance I have made, and from the intellectual people who have come to the hotel to pay their respects to me, the inhabitants are very dull too.
* * * * *
In two and a half days I shall be in Krasnoyarsk, and in seven or eight in Irkutsk. It's fifteen hundred versts to Irkutsk. I have made myself coffee and am just going to drink it.
... After Tomsk the Taiga begins. We shall see it.
My greeting to all the Lintvaryovs and to our old Maryushka. I beg mother not to worry and not to put faith in bad dreams. Have the radishes succeeded? There are none here at all.
Keep well, don't worry about money—there will be plenty; don't try to spend less and spoil the summer for yourselves.
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
TOMSK, May 20, 1890.
Greetings to you at last from Siberia, dear Alexey Sergeyevitch! I have missed you and our correspondence terribly.
I will begin from the beginning, however. At Tyumen I was told the first steamer to Tomsk went on the 18th of May. I had to do the journey with horses. For the first three days every joint and sinew ached, but afterwards I got used to the jolting and felt no more aches. Only the lack of sleep, the continual worry over the luggage, the jolting and the fasting brought on spitting of blood when I coughed, and this depressed my spirits, which were none too grand before. For the first few days it was bearable but then a cold wind began to blow, the windows of heaven were opened, the rivers flooded the meadows and roads, I was continually having to change my chaise for a boat. You'll read of my struggles with the floods and the mud in the article I enclose. I did not mention in it that my big high boots were tight, and that I waded through the mud and the water in my felt boots, and that my felt boots were soaked to jelly. The road was so abominable that during the last two days of my journey I only did seventy versts.
When I set off I promised to send you notes of my journey after Tomsk, since the road between Tyumen and Tomsk has been described a thousand times already. But in your telegram you have expressed the desire to get my impressions of Siberia as quickly as possible, and have even had the cruelty, sir, to reproach me with lapse of memory, as though I had forgotten you. It was absolutely impossible to write on the road. I kept a brief diary in pencil and can offer you now only what is written in that diary. To avoid writing at great length and getting mixed up, I divided all my impressions into chapters. I am sending you six chapters. They are written for you personally. I wrote for you only, and so have not been afraid of being too subjective, and have not been afraid of there being more of Chekhov's feelings and thoughts than of Siberia in them. If you find some lines interesting and worth printing, give them a profitable publicity, signing them with my name and printing them in separate chapters, a tablespoonful once an hour. The general title can be From Siberia, then From Trans-Baikalia, then From the Amur, and so on.
You shall have another helping from Irkutsk, for which I am starting to-morrow. I shall not be less than ten days on the journey—the road is bad. I shall send you a few chapters again, and shall send them whether you intend to print them or not. Read them and when you are tired of them telegraph to me "Shut up!"
I have been as hungry as a dog the whole way. I stuffed myself with bread so as not to dream of turbot, asparagus, and suchlike. I even dreamed of buckwheat porridge. I have dreamed of it for hours at a time.
At Tyumen I bought some sausage for the journey, but what sausage! When you take a bit in your mouth there's a sniff as though you had gone into a stable at the very moment when the coachmen were taking off their leg-wrappers; when you begin chewing it, you feel as though you had fastened your teeth into a dog's tail defiled with pitch. Tfoo! I ate some once or twice, and threw it away.
I have had one telegram and the letter from you in which you write that you want to bring out an encyclopaedic dictionary. I don't know why, but the news of that dictionary rejoiced me greatly. Do, my dear friend! If I am any use for working on it, I will devote November and December to you, and will spend those months in Petersburg. I will sit at it from morning till night.
I made a fair copy of my notes at Tomsk in horrid hotel surroundings, but I took trouble about it and was not without a desire to please you. I thought, he must be bored and hot in Feodosia, let him read about the cold. These notes will come to you instead of a letter which has been taking shape in my head during the whole journey. In return you must send to me at Sahalin all your critical reviews except the first two, which I have read; have Peshel's "Ethnology" sent me there too, except the first two instalments, which I have already.
The post to Sahalin goes both by sea and across Siberia, so if people write to me I shall get letters often. Don't lose my address—Island of Sahalin, Alexandrovsky Post.
Oh, the expense! Gewalt! Thanks to the floods, I had to pay the drivers double and almost treble, for it has been fiendishly hard work. My trunk, a very charming article, has turned out unsuitable for the journey; it takes a lot of room, pokes one in the ribs, and rattles, and worst of all threatens to burst open. "Don't take boxes on long journeys!" good people said to me, but I remembered this advice only when I had gone half-way. Well, I am leaving my trunk to reside permanently at Tomsk, and am buying instead of it a sort of leather carcase, which has the advantage that it can be tied so as to form two halves at the bottom of the chaise as one likes. I paid sixteen roubles for it. Next point. To travel to the Amur, changing one's conveyance at every station, is torture. You shatter both yourself and all your luggage. I was advised to buy a trap. I bought one to-day for one hundred and thirty roubles. If I don't succeed in selling it at Sryetensk, where my horse journey ends, I shall be in a fix and shall howl aloud. To-day I dined with the editor of the Sibirsky Vyestnik, a local Nozdryov, a broad nature.... He drank to the tune of six roubles.
Stop! They announce that the deputy police master wants to see me. What can it be?!?
My alarm was unnecessary. The police officer turns out to be devoted to literature and himself an author; he has come to pay his respects to me. He went home to fetch his play, and I believe intends to regale me with it. He is just coming again and preventing me from writing to you....
... My greetings to Nastyusha and Boris. I should be genuinely delighted for their satisfaction to fling myself into the jaws of a tiger and call them to my aid, but, alas! I haven't reached the tigers here: the only furry animals I have seen so far in Siberia are many hares and one mouse.
Stop! The police officer has returned. He has not read me his drama though he brought it, but regaled me with a story. It's not bad, only too local. He showed me a nugget of gold. He asked for some vodka. I don't remember a single educated Siberian who has not asked for vodka on coming to see me. He told me he had a mistress, a married woman; he gave me a petition to the Tsar about divorce to read....
* * * * *
How glad I am when I am forced to stop somewhere for the night! I no sooner roll into bed than I am asleep. Here, travelling and not sleeping at night, one prizes sleep above everything. There is no greater enjoyment in life than sleep when one is sleepy. In Moscow, in Russia generally, I never was sleepy as I understand the word now. I went to bed simply because one had to. But now! Another observation. On a journey one has no desire for spirits. I can't drink. I smoke a great deal. One's mind does not work well. I cannot put my thoughts together. Time flies rapidly, so that one scarcely notices it, from ten o'clock in the morning to seven o'clock in the evening. Evening comes quickly after morning. It's just the same when one is seriously ill. The wind and the rain have made my face all scaly, and when I look in the looking-glass I don't recognize my once noble features.
I am not going to describe Tomsk. All the towns are alike in Russia. Tomsk is a dull and intemperate town. There are absolutely no good-looking women, and the disregard for justice is Asiatic. The town is remarkable for the fact that governors die in it.
If my letters are short, careless, or dry, don't be cross, for one cannot always be oneself on a journey and write as one wants to. The ink is bad, and there is always a hair or a splodge on one's pen.
TO HIS SISTER.
KRASNOYARSK, May 28, 1890.
What a deadly road! It was all we could do to crawl to Krasnoyarsk and my trap had to be repaired twice. The first thing to be broken was the vertical piece of iron connecting the front of the carriage with the axle; then the so-called circle under the front broke. I have never in all my life seen such a road—such impassable mud and such an utterly neglected road. I am going to write about its horrors to the Novoye Vremya, and so won't talk about it now.
The last three stations have been splendid; as one comes down to Krasnoyarsk one seems to be getting into a different world. You come out of the forest into a plain which is like our Donets steppe, but here the mountain ridges are grander. The sun shines its very best and the birch-trees are out, though three stations back the buds were not even bursting. Thank God, I have at last reached a summer in which there is neither rain nor a cold wind. Krasnoyarsk is a picturesque, cultured town; compared with it, Tomsk is "a pig in a skull-cap and the acme of mauvais ton." The streets are clean and paved, the houses are of stone and large, the churches are elegant.
I am alive and perfectly well. My money is all right, and so are my things; I lost my woollen stockings but soon found them again.
Apart from my trap, everything so far has been satisfactory and I have nothing to complain of. Only I am spending an awful lot of money. Incompetence in the practical affairs of life is never felt so much as on a journey. I pay more than I need to, I do the wrong thing, and I say the wrong thing, and I am always expecting what does not happen.
... I shall be in Irkutsk in five or six days, shall spend as many days there, then drive on to Sryetensk—and that will be the end of my journey on land. For more than a fortnight I have been driving without a break, I think about nothing else, I live for nothing else; every morning I see the sunrise from beginning to end. I've grown so used to it that it seems as though all my life I had been driving and struggling with the muddy roads. When it does not rain, and there are no pits of mud on the road, one feels queer and even a little bored. And how filthy I am, what a rapscallion I look! What a state my luckless clothes are in!