The treatment of cholera requires of the doctor deliberation before all things—that is, one has to devote to each patient from five to ten hours or even longer. As I mean to employ Kantani's treatment—that is clysters of tannin and sub-cutaneous injection of a solution of common salt—my position will be worse than foolish; while I am busying myself over one patient, a dozen can fall ill and die. You see I am the only man for twenty-five villages, apart from a feldsher who calls me "your honour," does not venture to smoke in my presence, and cannot take a step without me. If there are isolated cases I shall be capital; but if there is an epidemic of only five cases a day, then I shall do nothing but be irritable and exhausted and feel myself guilty.
Of course there is no time even to think of literature. I am writing nothing. I refused remuneration so as to preserve some little freedom of action for myself, and so I have not a halfpenny. I am waiting till they have threshed and sold the rye. Until then I shall be living on "The Bear" and mushrooms, of which there are endless masses here. By the way, I have never lived so cheaply as now. We have everything of our own, even our own bread. I believe in a couple of years all my household expenses will not exceed a thousand roubles a year.
When you learn from the newspapers that the cholera is over, you will know that I have gone back to writing again. Don't think of me as a literary man while I am in the service of the Zemstvo. One can't do two things at once.
You write that I have given up Sahalin. I cannot abandon that child of mine. When I am oppressed by the boredom of belles-lettres I am glad to turn to something else. The question when I shall finish Sahalin and when I shall print does not strike me as being important. While Galkin-Vrasskoy reigns over the prison system I feel very much disinclined to bring out my book. Of course if I am driven to it by need, that is a different matter.
In all my letters I have pertinaciously asked you one question, which of course you are not obliged to answer: "Where are you going to be in the autumn, and wouldn't you like to spend part of September and October with me in Feodosia or the Crimea?" I have an impatient desire to eat, drink, and sleep, and talk about literature—that is, do nothing, and at the same time feel like a decent person. However, if my idleness annoys you, I can promise to write with or beside you, a play or a story.... Eh? Won't you? Well, God be with you, then.
The astronomer has been here twice. I felt bored with her on both occasions. Svobodin has been here too. He grows better and better. His serious illness has made him pass through a spiritual metamorphosis.
See what a long letter I have written, even though I don't feel sure that the letter will reach you. Imagine my cholera-boredom, my cholera-loneliness, and compulsory literary inactivity, and write to me more, and oftener. Your contemptuous feeling for France I share. The Germans are far above them, though for some reason they are called stupid. And the Franco-Russian Entente Cordiale I am as fond of as Tolstoy is. There's something nastily suggestive about these cordialities. On the other hand I was awfully pleased at Virchow's visit to us.
We have raised a very nice potato and a divine cabbage. How do you manage to get on without cabbage-soup? I don't envy you your sea, nor your freedom, nor the happy frame of mind you are in abroad. The Russian summer is better than anything. And by the way, I don't feel any great longing to be abroad. After Singapore, Ceylon, and perhaps even our Amur, Italy and even the crater of Vesuvius do not seem fascinating. After being in India and China I did not see a great difference between other European countries and Russia.
A neighbour of ours, the owner of the renowned Otrad, Count X, is staying now at Biarritz, having run away from the cholera; he gave his doctor only five hundred roubles for the campaign against the cholera. His sister, the countess, who is living in my section, when I went to discuss the provision of barracks for her workmen, treated me as though I had come to apply for a situation. It mortified me, and I told her a lie, pretending to be a rich man. I told the same lie to the Archimandrite, who refuses to provide quarters for the cases which may occur in the monastery. To my question what would he do with the cases that might be taken ill in his hostel, he answered me: "They are persons of means and will pay you themselves...." Do you understand? And I flared up, and said I did not care about payment, as I was well off, and that all I wanted was the security of the monastery.... There are sometimes very stupid and humiliating positions.... Before the count went away I met his wife. Huge diamonds in her ears, wearing a bustle, and not knowing how to hold herself. A millionaire. In the company of such persons one has a stupid schoolboy feeling of wanting to be rude.
The village priest often comes and pays me long visits; he is a very good fellow, a widower, and has some illegitimate children.
Write or there will be trouble....
MELIHOVO, October 10, 1892.
Your telegram telling me of Svobodin's death caught me just as I was going out of the yard to see patients. You can imagine my feelings. Svobodin stayed with me this summer; he was very sweet and gentle, in a serene and affectionate mood, and became very much attached to me. It was evident to me that he had not very long to live, it was evident to him too. He had the thirst of the aged for everyday peace and quiet, and had grown to detest the stage and everything to do with the stage and dreaded returning to Petersburg. Of course I ought to go to the funeral, but to begin with, your telegram came towards evening, and the funeral is most likely tomorrow, and secondly the cholera is twenty miles away, and I cannot leave my centre. There are seven cases in one village, and two have died already. The cholera may break out in my section. It is strange that with winter coming on the cholera is spreading over a wider and wider region.
I have undertaken to be the section doctor till the fifteenth of October—my section will be officially closed on that day. I shall dismiss my feldsher, close the barracks, and if the cholera comes, I shall cut rather a comic figure. Add to that the doctor of the next section is ill with pleurisy and so, if the cholera appears in his section, I shall be bound, from a feeling of comradeship, to undertake his section.
So far I have not had a single case of cholera, but I have had epidemics of typhus, diphtheria, scarlatina, and so on. At the beginning of summer I had a great deal of work, then towards the autumn less and less.
* * * * *
The sum of my literary achievement this summer, thanks to the cholera, has been almost nil. I have written little, and have thought about literature even less. However, I have written two small stories—one tolerable, one bad.
Life has been hard work this summer, but it seems, to me now that I have never spent a summer so well as this one. In spite of the turmoil of the cholera, and the poverty which has kept tight hold of me all the summer, I have liked the life and wanted to live. How many trees I have planted! Thanks to our system of cultivation, Melihovo has become unrecognizable, and seems now extraordinarily snug and beautiful, though very likely it is good for nothing. Great is the power of habit and the sense of property. And it's marvellous how pleasant it is not to have to pay rent. We have made new acquaintances and formed new relations. Our old terrors in facing the peasants now seem ludicrous. I have served in the Zemstvo, have presided at the Sanitary Council and visited the factories, and I liked all that. They think of me now as one of themselves, and stay the night with me when they pass through Melihovo. Add to that, that we have bought ourselves a new comfortable covered carriage, have made a new road, so that now we don't drive through the village. We are digging a pond.... Anything else? In fact hitherto everything has been new and interesting, but how it will be later on, I don't know. There is snow already, it is cold, but I don't feel drawn to Moscow. So far I have not had any feeling of dulness.
* * * * *
The educated people here are very charming and interesting. What matters most, they are honest. Only the police are unattractive.
We have seven horses, a broad-faced calf, and puppies, called Muir and Merrilees....
November 22, 1892.
Snow is falling by day, while at night the moon is shining its utmost, a gorgeous amazing moon. It is magnificent. But nevertheless, I marvel at the fortitude of landowners who spend the winter in the country; there's so little to do that if anyone is not in one way or another engaged in intellectual work, he is inevitably bound to become a glutton or a drunkard, or a man like Turgenev's Pigasov. The monotony of the snowdrifts and the bare trees, the long nights, the moonlight, the deathlike stillness day and night, the peasant women and the old ladies—all that disposes one to indolence, indifference, and an enlarged liver....
November 25, 1892.
It is easy to understand you, and there is no need for you to abuse yourself for obscurity of expression. You are a hard drinker, and I have regaled you with sweet lemonade, and you, after giving the lemonade its due, justly observe that there is no spirit in it. That is just what is lacking in our productions—the alcohol which could intoxicate and subjugate, and you state that very well. Why not? Putting aside "Ward No. 6" and myself, let us discuss the matter in general, for that is more interesting. Let ms discuss the general causes, if that won't bore you, and let us include the whole age. Tell me honestly, who of my contemporaries—that is, men between thirty and forty-five—have given the world one single drop of alcohol? Are not Korolenko, Nadson, and all the playwrights of to-day, lemonade? Have Ryepin's or Shishkin's pictures turned your head? Charming, talented, you are enthusiastic; but at the same time you can't forget that you want to smoke. Science and technical knowledge are passing through a great period now, but for our sort it is a flabby, stale, and dull time. We are stale and dull ourselves, we can only beget gutta-percha boys, [Footnote: An allusion to Grigorovitch's well-known story.] and the only person who does not see that is Stassov, to whom nature has given a rare faculty for getting drunk on slops. The causes of this are not to be found in our stupidity, our lack of talent, or our insolence, as Burenin imagines, but in a disease which for the artist is worse than syphilis or sexual exhaustion. We lack "something," that is true, and that means that, lift the robe of our muse, and you will find within an empty void. Let me remind you that the writers, who we say are for all time or are simply good, and who intoxicate us, have one common and very important characteristic; they are going towards something and are summoning you towards it, too, and you feel not with your mind, but with your whole being, that they have some object, just like the ghost of Hamlet's father, who did not come and disturb the imagination for nothing. Some have more immediate objects—the abolition of serfdom, the liberation of their country, politics, beauty, or simply vodka, like Denis Davydov; others have remote objects—God, life beyond the grave, the happiness of humanity, and so on. The best of them are realists and paint life as it is, but, through every line's being soaked in the consciousness of an object, you feel, besides life as it is, the life which ought to be, and that captivates you. And we? We! We paint life as it is, but beyond that— nothing at all.... Flog us and we can do no more! We have neither immediate nor remote aims, and in our soul there is a great empty space. We have no politics, we do not believe in revolution, we have no God, we are not afraid of ghosts, and I personally am not afraid even of death and blindness. One who wants nothing, hopes for nothing, and fears nothing, cannot be an artist. Whether it is a disease or not—what it is does not matter; but we ought to recognize that our position is worse than a governor's. I don't know how it will be with us in ten or twenty years—then circumstances may be different, but meanwhile it would be rash to expect of us anything of real value, apart from the question whether we have talent or not. We write mechanically, merely obeying the long-established arrangement in accordance with which some men go into the government service, others into trade, others write.... Grigorovitch and you think I am clever. Yes, I am at least so far clever as not to conceal from myself my disease, and not to deceive myself, and not to cover up my own emptiness with other people's rags, such as the ideas of the sixties, and so on. I am not going to throw myself like Garshin over the banisters, but I am not going to flatter myself with hopes of a better future either. I am not to blame for my disease, and it's not for me to cure myself, for this disease, it must be supposed, has some good purpose hidden from us, and is not sent in vain....
My God! What a glorious thing "Fathers and Children" is! It is positively terrifying. Bazarov's illness is so powerfully done that I felt ill and had a sensation as though I had caught the infection from him. And the end of Bazarov? And the old men? And Kukshina? It's beyond words. It's simply a work of genius. I don't like the whole of "On the Eve," only Elena's father and the end. The end is full of tragedy. "The Dog" is very good, the language is wonderful in it. Please read it if you have forgotten it. "Acia" is charming, "A Quiet Backwater" is too compressed and not satisfactory. I don't like "Smoke" at all. "The House of Gentlefolk" is weaker than "Fathers and Children," but the end is like a miracle, too. Except for the old woman in "Fathers and Children"—that is, Bazarov's mother—and the mothers as a rule, especially the society ladies, who are, however, all alike (Liza's mother, Elena's mother), and Lavretsky's mother, who had been a serf, and the humble peasant woman, all Turgenev's girls and women are insufferable in their artificiality, and—forgive my saying it—falsity. Liza and Elena are not Russian girls, but some sort of Pythian prophetesses, full of extravagant pretensions. Irina in "Smoke," Madame Odintsov in "Fathers and Children," all the lionesses, in fact, fiery, alluring, insatiable creatures for ever craving for something, are all nonsensical. When one thinks of Tolstoy's "Anna Karenin," all these young ladies of Turgenev's, with their seductive shoulders, fade away into nothing. The negative types of women where Turgenev is slightly caricaturing (Kukshina) or jesting (the descriptions of balls) are wonderfully drawn, and so successful, that, as the saying is, you can't pick a hole in it.
The descriptions of nature are fine, but ... I feel that we have already got out of the way of such descriptions and that we need something different....
April 26, 1893.
... I am reading Pisemsky. His is a great, very great talent! The best of his works is "The Carpenters' Guild." His novels are exhausting in their minute detail. Everything in him that has a temporary character, all his digs at the critics and liberals of the period, all his critical observations with their assumption of smartness and modernity, and all the so-called profound reflections scattered here and there—how petty and naive it all is to our modern ideas! The fact of the matter is this: a novelist, an artist, ought to pass by everything that has only a temporary value. Pisemsky's people are living, his temperament is vigorous. Skabitchevsky in his history attacks him for obscurantism and treachery, but, my God! of all contemporary writers I don't know a single one so passionately and earnestly liberal as Pisemsky. All his priests, officials, and generals are regular blackguards. No one was so down on the old legal and military set as he.
By the way, I have read also Bourget's "Cosmopolis." Rome and the Pope and Correggio and Michael Angelo and Titian and doges and a fifty-year-old beauty and Russians and Poles are all in Bourget, but how thin and strained and mawkish and false it is in comparison even with our coarse and simple Pisemsky! ...
What a good thing I gave up the town! Tell all the Fofanovs, Tchermnys, et tutti quanti who live by literature, that living in the country is immensely cheaper than living in the town. I experience this now every day. My family costs me nothing now, for lodging, bread, vegetables, milk, butter, horses, are all our own. And there is so much to do, there is not time to get through it all. Of the whole family of Chekhovs, I am the only one to lie down, or sit at the table: all the rest are working from morning till night. Drive the poets and literary men into the country. Why should they live in starvation and beggary? Town life cannot give a poor man rich material in the sense of poetry and art. He lives within four walls and sees people only at the editors' offices and in eating-shops....
MELIHOVO, January 25, 1894.
I believe I am mentally sound. It is true I have no special desire to live, but that is not, so far, disease, but something probably passing and natural. It does not follow every time that an author describes someone mentally deranged, that he is himself deranged. I wrote "The Black Monk" without any melancholy ideas, through cool reflection. I simply had a desire to describe megalomania. The monk floating across the country was a dream, and when I woke I told Misha about it. So you can tell Anna Ivanovna that poor Anton Pavlovitch, thank God! has not gone out of his mind yet, but that he eats a great deal at supper and so he dreams of monks.
I keep forgetting to write to you: read Ertel's story "The Seers" in "Russkaya Mysl." There is poetry and something terrible in the old-fashioned fairy-tale style about it. It is one of the best new things that has come out in Moscow....
YALTA, March 27, 1894.
I am in good health generally, ill in certain parts. For instance, a cough, palpitations of the heart, haemorrhoids. I had palpitations of the heart incessantly for six days, and the sensation all the time was loathsome. Since I have quite given up smoking I have been free from gloomy and anxious moods. Perhaps because I am not smoking, Tolstoy's morality has ceased to touch me; at the bottom of my heart I take up a hostile attitude towards it, and that of course is not just. I have peasant blood in my veins, and you won't astonish me with peasant virtues. From my childhood I have believed in progress, and I could not help believing in it since the difference between the time when I used to be thrashed and when they gave up thrashing me was tremendous.... But Tolstoy's philosophy touched me profoundly and took possession of me for six or seven years, and what affected me was not its general propositions, with which I was familiar beforehand, but Tolstoy's manner of expressing it, his reasonableness, and probably a sort of hypnotism. Now something in me protests, reason and justice tell me that in the electricity and heat of love for man there is something greater than chastity and abstinence from meat. War is an evil and legal justice is an evil; but it does not follow from that that I ought to wear bark shoes and sleep on the stove with the labourer, and so on, and so on. But that is not the point, it is not a matter of pro and con; the thing is that in one way or another Tolstoy has passed for me, he is not in my soul, and he has departed from me, saying: "I leave this your house empty." I am untenanted. I am sick of theorizing of all sorts, and such bounders as Max Nordau I read with positive disgust. Patients in a fever do not want food, but they do want something, and that vague craving they express as "longing for something sour." I, too, want something sour, and that's not a mere chance feeling, for I notice the same mood in others around me. It is just as if they had all been in love, had fallen out of love, and now were looking for some new distraction. It is very possible and very likely that the Russians will pass through another period of enthusiasm for the natural sciences, and that the materialistic movement will be fashionable. Natural science is performing miracles now. And it may act upon people like Mamay, and dominate them by its mass and grandeur. All that is in the hands of God, however. And theorizing about it makes one's head go round.
TO L. S. MIZINOV.
YALTA, March 27, 1894.
Thanks for your letter. Though you do scare me in your letter saying you are soon going to die, though you do taunt me with having rejected you, yet thank you all the same; I know perfectly well you are not going to die, and that no one has rejected you.
I am in Yalta and I am dreary, very dreary indeed. The aristocracy, so to call it, are performing "Faust," and I go to the rehearsals and there I enjoy the spectacle of a perfect flower-bed of black, red, flaxen, and brown heads; I listen to the singing and I eat. At the house of the principal of the high school I eat tchibureks, and saddle of lamb with boiled grain; in various estimable families I eat green soup; at the confectioner's I eat—in my hotel also. I go to bed at ten and I get up at ten, and after dinner I lie down and rest, and yet I am bored, dear Lika. I am not bored because "my ladies" are not with me, but because the northern spring is better than the spring here, and because the thought that I must, that I ought to write never leaves me for an instant. To write and write and write! It is my opinion that true happiness is impossible without idleness. My ideal is to be idle and to love a plump girl. My loftiest happiness is to walk or to sit doing nothing; my favourite occupation is to gather up what is not wanted (leaves, straws, and so on) and to do what is useless. Meanwhile, I am a literary man, and have to write here in Yalta. Dear Lika, when you become a great singer and are paid a handsome salary, then be charitable to me, marry me, and keep me at your expense, that I may be free to do nothing. If you really are going to die, it might be undertaken by Varya Eberly, whom, as you know, I love. I am so all to pieces with the perpetual thought of work I ought to do and can't avoid that for the last week I have been continually tormented with palpitations of the heart. It's a loathsome sensation.
I have sold my fox-skin greatcoat for twenty roubles! It cost sixty, but as forty roubles' worth of fur has peeled off it, twenty roubles was not too low a price. The gooseberries are not ripe here yet, but it is warm and bright, the trees are coming out, the sea looks like summer, the young ladies are yearning for sensations: but yet the north is better than the south of Russia, in spring at any rate. In our part nature is more melancholy, more lyrical, more Levitanesque; here it is neither one thing nor the other, like good, sonorous, but frigid verse. Thanks to my palpitations I haven't drunk wine for a week, and that makes the surroundings seem even poorer....
M. gave a concert here, and made one hundred and fifty roubles clear profit. He roared like a grampus but had an immense success. I am awfully sorry I did not study singing; I could have roared too, as my throat is rich in husky elements, and they say I have a real octave. I should have earned money, and been a favourite with the ladies....
TO HIS BROTHER ALEXANDR.
MELIHOVO, April 15, 1894.
... I have come back from the flaming Tavrida and am already sitting on the cool banks of my pond. It's very warm, however: the thermometer runs up to twenty-six....
I am busy looking after the land: I am making new avenues, planting flowers, chopping down dead trees, and chasing the hens and the dogs out of the garden. Literature plays the part of Erakit, who was always in the background. I don't want to write, and indeed, it's hard to combine a desire to live and a desire to write....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MELIHOVO, April 21, 1894
Of course it is very nice in the country; in fine weather Russia is an extraordinarily beautiful and enchanting country, especially for those who have been born and spent their childhood in the country. But you will never buy yourself an estate, as you don't know what you want. To like an estate you must make up your mind to buy it; so long as it is not yours it will seem comfortless and full of defects. My cough is considerably better, I am sunburnt, and they tell me I am fatter, but the other day I almost fell down and I fancied for a minute that I was dying. I was walking along the avenue with the prince, our neighbour, and was talking when all at once something seemed to break in my chest, I had a feeling of warmth and suffocation, there was a singing in my ears, I remembered that I had been having palpitations for a long time and thought—"they must have meant something then." I went rapidly towards the verandah on which visitors were sitting, and had one thought—that it would be awkward to fall down and die before strangers; but I went into my bedroom, drank some water, and recovered.
So you are not the only one who suffers from staggering!
I am beginning to build a pretty lodge....
I have no news. The weather is most exquisite, and in the foliage near the house a nightingale is building and shouting incessantly. About twelve miles from me there is the village of Pokrovskoe-Meshtcherskoe; the old manor house there is now the lunatic asylum of the province. The Zemsky doctors from the whole Moscow province met there on the fourth of May, to the number of about seventy-five; I was there too. There are a great many patients but all that is interesting material for alienists and not for psychologists. One patient, a mystic, preaches that the Holy Trinity has come upon earth in the form of the metropolitan of Kiev, Ioannikiy. "A limit of ten years has been given us; eight have passed, only two years are left. If we do not want Russia to fall into ruins like Sodom, all Russia must go in a procession with the Cross to Kiev, as Moscow went to Troitsa, and pray there to the divine martyr in the noble form of the metropolitan Ioannikiy." This queer fellow is convinced that the doctors in the asylum are poisoning him, and that he is being saved by the miraculous intervention of Christ in the form of the metropolitan. He is continually praying to the East and singing, and, addressing himself to God, invariably adds the words, "in the noble form of the metropolitan Ioannikiy." He has a lovely expression of face....
From the madhouse I returned late at night in my troika. Two-thirds of the way I had to drive through the forest in the moonlight, and I had a wonderful feeling such as I have not had for a long time, as though I had come back from a tryst. I think that nearness to nature and idleness are essential elements of happiness; without them it is impossible....
TO MADAME AVILOV.
MELIHOVO, July, 1894.
I have so many visitors that I cannot answer your last letter. I want to write at length but am pulled up at the thought that any minute they may come in and hinder me. And in fact while I write the word "hinder," a girl has come in and announced that a patient has arrived; I must go.... I have grown to detest writing, and I don't know what to do. I would gladly take up medicine and would accept any sort of post, but I no longer have the physical elasticity for it. When I write now or think I ought to write I feel as much disgust as though I were eating soup from which I had just removed a beetle—forgive the comparison. What I hate is not the writing itself, but the literary entourage from which one cannot escape, and which one takes everywhere as the earth takes its atmosphere....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MELIHOVO, August 15, 1894.
Our trip on the Volga turned out rather a queer one in the end. Potapenko and I went to Yaroslav to take a steamer from there to Tsaritsyn, then to Kalatch, from there by the Don to Taganrog. The journey from Yaroslav to Nizhni is beautiful, but I had seen it before. Moreover, it was very hot in the cabin and the wind lashed in our faces on deck. The passengers were an uneducated set, whose presence was irritating. At Nizhni we were met by N., Tolstoy's friend. The heat, the dry wind, the noise of the fair and the conversation of N. suddenly made me feel so suffocated, so ill at ease, and so sick, that I took my portmanteau and ignominiously fled to the railway station.... Potapenko followed me. We took the train for Moscow, but we were ashamed to go home without having done anything, and we decided to go somewhere if it had to be to Lapland. If it had not been for his wife our choice would have fallen on Feodosia, but ... alas! we have a wife living at Feodosia. We thought it over, we talked it over, we counted over our money, and came to the Psyol to Suma, which you know.... Well, the Psyol is magnificent. There is warmth, there is space, an immensity of water and of greenery and delightful people. We spent six days on the Psyol, ate and drank, walked and did nothing: my ideal of happiness, as you know, is idleness. Now I am at Melihovo again. There is a cold rain, a leaden sky, mud.
* * * * *
It sometimes happens that one passes a third-class refreshment room and sees a cold fish, cooked long before, and wonders carelessly who wants that unappetising fish. And yet undoubtedly that fish is wanted, and will be eaten, and there are people who will think it nice. One may say the same of the works of N. He is a bourgeois writer, writing for the unsophisticated public who travel third class. For that public Tolstoy and Turgenev are too luxurious, too aristocratic, somewhat alien and not easily digested. There is a public which eats salt beef and horse-radish sauce with relish, and does not care for artichokes and asparagus. Put yourself at its point of view, imagine the grey, dreary courtyard, the educated ladies who look like cooks, the smell of paraffin, the scantiness of interests and tasks—and you will understand N. and his readers. He is colourless; that is partly because the life he describes lacks colour. He is false because bourgeois writers cannot help being false. They are vulgar writers perfected. The vulgarians sin together with their public, while the bourgeois are hypocritical with them and flatter their narrow virtue.
MELIHOVO, February 25, 1895.
... I should like to meet a philosopher like Nietzsche somewhere in a train or a steamer, and to spend the whole night talking to him. I consider his philosophy won't last long, however. It's more showy than convincing....
MELIHOVO, March 16, 1895.
Instead of you, heaven has sent me N., who has come to see me with E. and Z., two young duffers who never miss a single word but induce in the whole household a desperate boredom. N. looks flabby and physically slack; he has gone off, but has become warmer and more good-natured; he must be going to die. When my mother was ordering meat from the butcher, she said he must let us have better meat, as N. was staying with us from Petersburg.
"What N.?" asked the butcher in surprise—"the one who writes books?" and he sent us excellent meat. So the butcher does not know that I write books, for he never sends anything but gristle for my benefit....
Your little letter about physical games for students will do good if only you will go on insisting on the subject. Games are absolutely essential. Playing games is good for health and beauty and liberalism, since nothing is so conducive to the blending of classes, et cetera, as public games. Games would give our solitary young people acquaintances; young people would more frequently fall in love; but games should not be instituted before the Russian student ceases to be hungry. No skating, no croquet, can keep the student cheerful and confident on an empty stomach.
MELIHOVO, March 23, 1895.
I told you that Potapenko was a man very full of life, but you did not believe me. In the entrails of every Little Russian lie hidden many treasures. I fancy when our generation grows old, Potapenko will be the gayest and jolliest old man of us all.
By all means I will be married if you wish it. But on these conditions: everything must be as it has been hitherto—that is, she must live in Moscow while I live in the country, and I will come and see her. Happiness continued from day to day, from morning to morning, I cannot stand. When every day I am told of the same thing, in the same tone of voice, I become furious. I am furious, for instance, in the society of S., because he is very much like a woman ("a clever and responsive woman") and because in his presence the idea occurs to me that my wife might be like him. I promise you to be a splendid husband, but give me a wife who, like the moon, won't appear in my sky every day; I shan't write any better for being married....
Mamin-Sibiryak is a very nice fellow and an excellent writer. His last novel "Bread" is praised; Lyeskov was particularly enthusiastic about it. There are undoubtedly fine things in his work, and in his more successful stories the peasants are depicted every bit as well as in "Master and Man."
This is the fourth year I have been living at Melihovo. My calves have turned into cows, my copse has grown at least a yard higher, my heirs will make a capital bargain over the timber and will call me an ass, for heirs are never satisfied.
MELIHOVO, March 30, 1895.
... We have spring here but there are regular mountains of snow, and there is no knowing when it will thaw. As soon as the sun hides behind a cloud there begins to be a chill breath from the snow, and it is horrible. Masha is already busy in the flower-beds and borders. She tires herself out and is constantly cross, so there is no need for her to read Madame Smirnov's article. The advice given is excellent; the young ladies will read it, and it will be their salvation. Only one point is not clear: how are they going to get rid of the apples and cabbages if the estate is far from the town, and of what stuff are they going to make their own dresses if their rye does not sell at all, and they have not a halfpenny? To live on one's land by the labour of one's own hands and the sweat of one's brow is only possible on one condition; that is, if one works oneself like a peasant, without regard for class or sex. There is no making use of slaves nowadays, one must take the scythe and axe oneself, and if one can't do that, no gardens will help one. Even the smallest success in farming is only gained in Russia at the price of a cruel struggle with nature, and wishing is not enough for the struggle, you need bodily strength and grit, you want traditions—and have young ladies all that? To advise young ladies to take up farming is much the same as to advise them to be bears, and to bend yokes....
I have no money, but I live in the country: there are no restaurants and no cabmen, and money does not seem to be needed.
MELIHOVO, April 13, 1895.
I am sick of Sienkiewicz's "The Family of the Polonetskys." It's the Polish Easter cake with saffron. Add Potapenko to Paul Bourget, sprinkle with Warsaw eau-de-Cologne, divide in two, and you get Sienkiewicz. "The Polonetskys" is unmistakably inspired by Bourget's "Cosmopolis," by Rome and by marriage (Sienkiewicz has lately got married). We have the catacombs and a queer old professor sighing after idealism, and Leo XIII, with the unearthly face among the saints, and the advice to return to the prayer-book, and the libel on the decadent who dies of morphinism after confessing and taking the sacrament—that is, after repenting of his errors in the name of the Church. There is a devilish lot of family happiness and talking about love, and the hero's wife is so faithful to her husband and so subtly comprehends "with her heart" the mysteries of God and life, that in the end one feels mawkish and uncomfortable as after a slobbering kiss. Sienkiewicz has evidently not read Tolstoy, and does not know Nietzsche, he talks about hypnotism like a shopman; on the other hand every page is positively sprinkled with Rubens, Borghesi, Correggio, Botticelli—and that is done to show off his culture to the bourgeois reader and make a long nose on the sly at materialism. The object of the novel is to lull the bourgeoisie to sleep in its golden dreams. Be faithful to your wife, pray with her over the prayer-book, save money, love sport, and all is well with you in this world and the next. The bourgeoisie is very fond of so-called practical types and novels with happy endings, since they soothe it with the idea that one can both accumulate capital and preserve innocence, be a beast and at the same time be happy....
I wish you every sort of blessing. I congratulate you on the peace between Japan and China, and hope we may quickly obtain a Feodosia free from ice on the East Coast, and may make a railway to it.
The peasant woman had not troubles enough so she bought a pig. And I fancy we are saving up a lot of trouble for ourselves with this ice-free port. [Footnote: Prophetic of Port Arthur and the Japanese War.] It will cost us dearer than if we were to take it into our heads to wage war on all Japan. However, futura sunt in manibus deorum.
MELIHOVO, October 21, 1895.
Thanks for your letter, for your warm words and your invitation. I will come, but most likely not before the end of November, as I have a devilish lot to do. First in the spring I am going to build a new school in the village where I am school warden; before beginning I have to make a plan and calculations, and to drive off here and there, and so on. Secondly—can you imagine it—I am writing a play which I shall probably not finish before the end of November. I am writing it not without pleasure, though I swear fearfully at the conventions of the stage. It's a comedy, there are three women's parts, six men's, four acts, landscapes (view over a lake); a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love. [Footnote: "The Seagull."] I read of Ozerova's failure and was sorry, for nothing is more painful than failing.... I have read of the success of the "Powers of Darkness" in your theatre.... When I was at Tolstoy's in August, he told me, as he was wiping his hands after washing, that he wouldn't alter his play. And now, remembering that, I fancy that he knew even then that his play would be passed by the censor in toto. I spent two days and a night with him. He made a delightful impression, I felt as much at ease as though I were at home, and our talks were easy....
MOSCOW, October 26, 1895.
Tolstoy's daughters are very nice. They adore their father and have a fanatical faith in him and that means that Tolstoy really is a great moral force, for if he were insincere and not irreproachable his daughters would be the first to take up a sceptical attitude to him, for daughters are like sparrows: you don't catch them with empty chaff.... A man can deceive his fiancee or his mistress as much as he likes, and, in the eyes of a woman he loves, an ass may pass for a philosopher; but a daughter is a different matter....
MELIHOVO, November 21, 1895.
Well, I have finished with the play. I began it forte and ended it pianissimo—contrary to all the rules of dramatic art. It has turned into a novel. I am rather dissatisfied than satisfied with it, and reading over my new-born play, I am more convinced than ever that I am not a dramatist. The acts are very short. There are four of them. Though it is so far only the skeleton of a play, a plan which will be altered a million times before the coming season, I have ordered two copies to be typed and will send you one, only don't let anyone read it....
TO HIS BROTHER MIHAIL.
PETERSBURG, October 15, 1896.
... My "Seagull" comes on on the seventeenth of October. Madame Kommissarzhevsky acts amazingly. There is no news. I am alive and well. I shall be at Melihovo about the twenty-fifth or towards the end of October. On the twenty-ninth is the meeting of the Zemstvo, at which I must be present as there will be a discussion about roads....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
PETERSBURG, October 18, 1896.
I am off to Melihovo. All good wishes.... Stop the printing of the plays. I shall never forget yesterday evening, but still I slept well, and am setting off in a very tolerable good humour.
Write to me.... I have received your letter. I am not going to produce the play in Moscow. I shall never either write plays or have them acted.
TO HIS SISTER.
PETERSBURG, October 18, 1896.
I am setting off to Melihovo. I shall be there tomorrow between one or two o'clock in the afternoon. Yesterday's adventure did not astonish or greatly disappoint me, for I was prepared for it by the rehearsals—and I don't feel particularly bad.
When you come to Melihovo bring Lika with you.
TO HIS BROTHER MIHAIL.
PETERSBURG, October 18, 1896.
The play has fallen flat, and come down with a crash. There was an oppressive strained feeling of disgrace and bewilderment in the theatre. The actors played abominably stupidly. The moral of it is, one ought not to write plays.
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MELIHOVO, October 22, 1896.
In your last letter (of October 18) you three times call me womanish, and say that I was in a funk. Why this libel? After the performance I had supper at Romanov's. On my word of honour. Then I went to bed, slept soundly, and next day went home without uttering a sound of complaint. If I had been in a funk I should have run from editor to editor and actor to actor, should have nervously entreated them to be considerate, should nervously have inserted useless corrections and should have spent two or three weeks in Petersburg fussing over my "Seagull," in excitement, in a cold perspiration, in lamentation.... When you were with me the night after the performance you told me yourself that it would be the best thing for me to go away; and next morning I got a letter from you to say good-bye. How did I show funk? I acted as coldly and reasonably as a man who has made an offer, received a refusal, and has nothing left but to go. Yes, my vanity was stung, but you know it was not a bolt from the blue; I was expecting a failure, and was prepared for it, as I warned you with perfect sincerity beforehand.
When I got home I took a dose of castor oil, and had a cold bath, and now I am ready to write another play. I no longer feel exhausted and irritable, and am not afraid that Davydov and Jean will come to me and talk about the play. I agree with your corrections, and a thousand thanks for them. Only please don't regret that you were not at the rehearsals. You know there was in reality only one rehearsal, at which one could make out nothing. One could not see the play at all through the loathsome acting.
I have got a telegram from Potapenko—"A colossal success." I have had a letter from Mlle. Veselitsky (Mikulitch) whom I don't know. She expresses her sympathy in a tone as if one of my family were dead. It's really quite inappropriate; that's all nonsense, though.
My sister is delighted with you and Anna Ivanovna, and I am inexpressibly glad of it, for I love your family like my own. She hastened home from Petersburg, possibly imagining that I would hang myself....
TO E. M. S.
MELIHOVO, November, 1896.
If, O honoured "One of the Audience", you are writing of the first performance, then allow—oh, allow me to doubt your sincerity. You hasten to pour healing balsam on the author's wounds, supposing that, under the circumstances, that is more necessary and better than sincerity; you are kind, very kind, and it does credit to your heart. At the first performance I did not see all, but what I did see was dingy, grey, dismal and wooden. I did not distribute the parts and was not given new scenery. There were only two rehearsals, the actors did not know their parts—and the result was a general panic and utter depression; even Madame Kommissarzhevsky's acting was not up to much, though at one of the rehearsals she acted marvellously, so that people sitting in the stalls wept with bowed heads.
In any case I am grateful and very, very much touched. All my plays are being printed, and as soon as they are ready I shall send you a copy....
TO A. F. KONI.
MELIHOVO, November 11, 1896.
You cannot imagine how your letter rejoiced me. I saw from the front only the two first acts of my play. Afterwards I sat behind the scenes and felt the whole time that "The Seagull" was a failure. After the performance that night and next day, I was assured that I had hatched out nothing but idiots, that my play was clumsy from the stage point of view, that it was not clever, that it was unintelligible, even senseless, and so on and so on. You can imagine my position—it was a collapse such as I had never dreamed of! I felt ashamed and vexed, and I went away from Petersburg full of doubts of all sorts. I thought that if I had written and put on the stage a play so obviously brimming over with monstrous defects, I had lost all instinct and that, therefore, my machinery must have gone wrong for good. After I had reached home, they wrote to me from Petersburg that the second and third performances were a success; several letters, some signed, some anonymous, came praising the play and abusing the critics. I read them with pleasure, but still I felt vexed and ashamed, and the idea forced itself upon me that if kind-hearted people thought it was necessary to comfort me, it meant that I was in a bad way. But your letter has acted upon me in a most definite way. I have known you a long time, I have a deep respect for you, and I believe in you more than in all the critics taken together—you felt that when you wrote your letter, and that is why it is so excellent and convincing. My mind is at rest now, and I can think of the play and the performance without loathing. Kommissarzhevskaia is a wonderful actress. At one of the rehearsals many people were moved to tears as they looked at her, and said that she was the first actress in Russia to-day; but at the first performance she was affected by the general attitude of hostility to my "Seagull," and was, as it were, intimidated by it and lost her voice. Our press takes a cold tone to her that doesn't do justice to her merits, and I am sorry for her. Allow me to thank you with all my heart for your letter. Believe me, I value the feelings that prompted you to write it far more than I can express in words, and the sympathy you call "unnecessary" at the end of your letter I shall never never forget, whatever happens.
TO V. I. NEMIROVITCH-DANTCHENKO.
MELIHOVO, November 26, 1896.
I am answering the chief substance of your letter—the question why we so rarely talk of serious subjects. When people are silent, it is because they have nothing to talk about or because they are ill at ease. What is there to talk about? We have no politics, we have neither public life nor club life, nor even a life of the streets; our civic existence is poor, monotonous, burdensome, and uninteresting—and to talk is as boring as corresponding with L. You say that we are literary men, and that of itself makes our life a rich one. Is that so? We are stuck in our profession up to our ears, it has gradually isolated us from the external world, and the upshot of it is that we have little free time, little money, few books, we read little and reluctantly, we hear little, we rarely go anywhere. Should we talk about literature? ... But we have talked about it already. Every year it's the same thing again and again, and all we usually say about literature may be reduced to discussing who write better, and who write worse. Conversations upon wider and more general topics never catch on, because when you have tundras and Esquimaux all round you, general ideas, being so inappropriate to the reality, quickly lose shape and slip away like thoughts of eternal bliss. Should we talk of personal life? Yes, that may sometimes be interesting and we might perhaps talk about it; but there again we are constrained, we are reserved and insincere: we are restrained by an instinct of self-preservation and we are afraid. We are afraid of being overheard by some uncultured Esquimaux who does not like us, and whom we don't like either. I personally am afraid that my acquaintance, N., whose cleverness attracts us, will hold forth with raised finger, in every railway carriage and every house about me, settling the question why I became so intimate with X. while I was beloved by Z. I am afraid of our morals, I am afraid of our ladies.... In short, for our silence, for the frivolity and dulness of our conversations, don't blame yourself or me, blame what the critics call "the age," blame the climate, the vast distances, what you will, and let circumstances go on their own fateful, relentless course, hoping for a better future.
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
MELIHOVO, January 11, 1897.
We are having a census. They have served out to the numerators detestable inkpots, detestable clumsy badges like the labels of a brewery, and portfolios into which the census forms will not fit—giving the effect of a sword that won't go into its sheath. It is a disgrace. From early morning I go from hut to hut, and knock my head in the low doorways which I can't get used to, and as ill-luck will have it my head aches hellishly; I have migraine and influenza. In one hut a little girl of nine years old, boarded out from the foundling hospital, wept bitterly because all the other little girls in the hut were Mihailovnas while she was called Lvovna after her godfather. I said call yourself Mihailovna. They were all highly delighted, and began thanking me. That's what's called making friends with the Mammon of Unrighteousness.
The "Journal of Surgery" has been sanctioned by the Censor. We are beginning to bring it out. Be so good as to do us a service—have the enclosed advertisement printed on your front page and charge it to my account. The journal will be a very good one, and this advertisement can lead to nothing but unmistakable and solid benefit. It's a great benefit, you know, to cut off people's legs.
While we are on medical topics—a remedy for cancer has been found. For almost a year past, thanks to a Russian doctor Denisenko, they have been trying the juice of the celandine, and one reads of astonishing results. Cancer is a terrible unbearable disease, the death from it is agonizing; you can imagine how pleasant it is for a man initiated into the secrets of Aesculapius to read of such results....
MOSCOW, February 8, 1897.
The census is over. I was pretty sick of the business, as I had both to enumerate and to write till my fingers ached, and to give lectures to fifteen numerators. The numerators worked excellently, with a pedantic exactitude almost absurd. On the other hand the Zemsky Natchalniks, to whom the census was entrusted in the districts, behaved disgustingly. They did nothing, understood little, and at the most difficult moments used to report themselves sick. The best of them turned out to be a man who drinks and draws the long bow a la Hlestakov [Translator's Note: A character in Gogol's "Inspector General."]—but was all the same a character, if only from the point of view of comedy, while the others were colourless beyond words, and it was annoying beyond words to have anything to do with them.
I am in Moscow at the Great Moscow Hotel. I am staying a short time, ten days, and then going home. The whole of Lent and the whole of April after it, I shall have to be busy again with carpenters and so on. I am building a school again. A deputation came to me from the peasants begging me for it, and I had not the courage to refuse. The Zemstvo is giving a thousand roubles, the peasants have collected three hundred, and that is all, while the school will not cost less than three thousand. So again I shall have all the summer to be thinking about money, and scraping it together here and there. Altogether life in the country is full of work and care....
The police have made a raid upon Tchertkov, the well-known Tolstoyan, have carried off all that the Tolstoyans had collected relating to the Duhobors and sectarians—and so all at once as though by magic all evidence against Pobyedonostsev and his angels has vanished. Goremykin called upon Tchertkov's mother and said: "Your son must make the choice—either the Baltic Province where Prince Hilkov is already living in exile, or a foreign country." Tchertkov has chosen London.
He is setting off on the thirteenth of February. L. N. Tolstoy has gone to Petersburg to see him off; and yesterday they sent his winter overcoat after him. A great many are going to see him off, even Sytin, and I am sorry that I cannot do the same. I don't cherish tender sentiments for Tchertkov, but the way he has been treated fills me with intense, intense indignation....
MOSCOW, April 1, 1897.
The doctors have diagnosed tuberculosis in the upper part of the lungs, and have ordered me to change my manner of life. I understand their diagnosis but I don't understand their prescription, because it is almost impossible. They tell me I must live in the country, but you know living permanently in the country involves continual worry with peasants, with animals, with elementary forces of all kinds, and to escape from worries and anxieties in the country is as difficult as to escape burns in hell. But still I will try to change my life as far as possible, and have already, through Masha, announced that I shall give up medical practice in the country. This will be at the same time a great relief and a great deprivation to me. I shall drop all public duties in the district, shall buy a dressing-gown, bask in the sun, and eat a great deal. They tell me to eat six times a day and are indignant with me for eating, as they think, very little. I am forbidden to talk much, to swim, and so on, and so on.
Except my lungs, all my organs were found to be healthy. Hitherto I fancied I drank just so much as not to do harm; now it turns out on investigation that I was drinking less than I was entitled to. What a pity!
The author of "Ward No. 6" has been moved from Ward No. 16 to Ward No. 14. There is plenty of room here, two windows, lighting a la Potapenko, three tables. There is very little haemorrhage. After the evening when Tolstoy was here (we talked for a long time) at four o'clock in the morning I had violent haemorrhage again.
Melihovo is a healthy place; it stands exactly on a watershed, on high ground, so that there is never fever or diphtheria in it. They have decided, after general consultation, that I am not to go away anywhere but to go on living at Melihovo. I must only arrange the house somewhat more comfortably....
MOSCOW, April 7, 1897.
... You write that my ideal is laziness. No, it is not laziness. I despise laziness as I despise weakness and lack of mental and moral energy. I was not talking of laziness but of leisure, and I did not say leisure was an ideal but only one of the essential conditions of personal happiness.
If the experiments with Koch's new serum give favourable results, I shall go of course to Berlin. Feeding is absolutely no use to me. Here for the last fortnight they have been feeding me zealously, but it's no use, I have not gained weight.
I ought to get married. Perhaps a cross wife would cut down the number of my visitors by at least a half. Yesterday they were coming all day long, it was simply awful. They came two at a time—and each one begs me not to speak and at the same time asks me questions....
TO A. I. ERTEL.
MELIHOVO, April 17, 1897.
DEAR FRIEND ALEXANDR IVANOVITCH,
I am now at home. For a fortnight before Easter I was lying in Ostroumov's clinic and was spitting blood. The doctor diagnosed tuberculosis in the lungs. I feel splendid, nothing aches, nothing is uneasy inside, but the doctors have forbidden me vinum, movement, and conversation, they have ordered me to eat a great deal, and forbidden me to practise—and I feel as it were dreary.
I hear nothing about the People's Theatre. At the congress it was spoken of apathetically, without interest, and the circle that had undertaken to write its constitution and set to work have evidently cooled off a little. It is due to the spring, I suppose. The only one of the circle I saw was Goltsev, and I had not time to talk to him about the theatre.
There is nothing new. A dead calm in literature. In the editor's offices they are drinking tea and cheap wine, drinking it without relish as they walk about, evidently from having nothing to do. Tolstoy is writing a little book about Art. He came to see me in the clinic, and said that he had flung aside his novel "Resurrection" as he did not like it, and was writing only about Art, and had read sixty books about Art. His idea is not a new one; all intelligent old men in all the ages have sung the same tune in different keys. Old men have always been prone to see the end of the world, and have always declared that morality was degenerating to the uttermost point, that Art was growing shallow and wearing thin, that people were growing feebler, and so on, and so on.
Lyov Nikolaevitch wants to persuade us in his little book that at the present time Art has entered upon its final phase, that it is in a blind alley, from which it has no outlet (except retreat).
I am doing nothing, I feed the sparrows with hemp-seed and prune a rose-tree a day. After my pruning, the roses flower magnificently. I am not looking after the farming.
Keep well, dear Alexandr Ivanovitch, thank you for your letter and friendly sympathy. Write to me for the sake of my infirmity, and don't blame me too much for my carelessness in correspondence.
In future I am going to try and answer your letters as soon as I have read them. Warmest greetings.
MELIHOVO, July 12, 1897.
... I am reading Maeterlinck, I have read his "Les Aveugles," "L'Intrus," and am reading "Aglavaine et Selysette." They are all strange wonderful things, but they make an immense impression, and if I had a theatre I should certainly stage "Les Aveugles." There is, by the way, a magnificent scenic effect in it, with the sea and a lighthouse in the distance. The public is semi-idiotic, but one might avoid the play's failing by writing the contents of the play—in brief, of course—on the programme, saying the play is the work of Maeterlinck, a Belgian author and decadent, and that what happens in it is that an old man, who leads about some blind men, has died in silence and that the blind men, not knowing this, are sitting and waiting for his return....
TO MADAME AVILOV.
NICE, October 6, 1897.
... You complain that my heroes are gloomy—alas! that's not my fault. This happens apart from my will, and when I write it does not seem to me that I am writing gloomily; in any case, as I work I am always in excellent spirits. It has been observed that gloomy, melancholy people always write cheerfully, while those who enjoy life put their depression into their writings. And I am a man who enjoys life; the first thirty years of my life I have lived as they say in pleasure and content....
TO F. D. BATYUSHKOV.
NICE, December 15, 1897.
... In one of your letters you expressed a desire that I should send you an international story, taking for my subject something from the life here. Such a story I can write only in Russia from reminiscences. I can only write from reminiscences, and I have never written directly from Nature. I have let my memory sift the subject, so that only what is important or typical is left in it as in a filter....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
NICE, January 4, 1898.
... Judging from the extract printed in Novoye Vremya, Tolstoy's article on Art does not seem interesting. All that is old. He says about Art that it is decrepit, that it has got into a blind alley, that it is not what it ought to be, and so on, and so on. That's just like saying the desire to eat and drink has grown old, has outlived its day, and is not what it ought to be. Of course hunger is an old story, in the desire to eat we have got into a blind alley, but still eating is necessary, and we shall go on eating however the philosophers and irate old men moralise....
TO F. D. BATYUSHKOV.
NICE, January 28, 1898.
... We talk of nothing here but Zola and Dreyfus. The immense majority of educated people are on Zola's side and believe that Dreyfus is innocent. Zola has gained immensely in public esteem; his letters of protest are like a breath of fresh air, and every Frenchman has felt that, thank God! there is still justice in the world, and that if an innocent man is condemned there is still someone to champion him. The French papers are extremely interesting while the Russian are worthless. Novoye Vremya is simply loathsome....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
NICE, February 6, 1898.
... You write that you are annoyed with Zola, and here everyone has a feeling as though a new, better Zola had arisen. In his trial he has been cleansed as though in turpentine from grease-spots, and now shines before the French in his true brilliance. There is a purity and moral elevation that was not suspected in him. You should follow the whole scandal from the very beginning. The degradation of Dreyfus, whether it was just or not, made on all (you were of the number I remember) a painful and depressing impression. It was noticed that at the time of the sentence Dreyfus behaved like a decent well-disciplined officer, while those present at the sentence, the journalists for instance, shouted at him, "Hold your tongue, Judas,"—that is, behaved badly and indecently. Everyone came back from the sentence dissatisfied and with a troubled conscience. Dreyfus' counsel Demange, an honest man, who even during the preliminary stages of the trial felt that something shifty was being done behind the scenes, was particularly dissatisfied—and then the experts who, to convince themselves that they had not made a mistake, kept talking of nothing but Dreyfus, of his being guilty, and kept wandering all over Paris! ...
Of the experts one turned out to be mad, the author of a monstrously absurd project; two were eccentric creatures.
People could not help talking of the Intelligence Department at the War Office, that military consistory which is employed in hunting for spies and reading other people's letters; it began to be said that the head of that Department, Sandhen, was suffering from progressive paralysis; Paty de Clam has shown himself to be something after the style of Tausch of Berlin; Picquart suddenly took his departure mysteriously, causing a lot of talk. All at once a series of gross judicial blunders came to light. By degrees people became convinced that Dreyfus had been condemned on the strength of a secret document, which had been shown neither to the accused man nor his defending counsel, and decent law-abiding people saw in this a fundamental breach of justice. If the latter were the work not simply of Wilhelm, but of the centre of the solar system, it ought to have been shown to Demange. All sorts of guesses were made as to the contents of this letter, the most impossible stories circulated. Dreyfus was an officer, the military were suspect; Dreyfus was a Jew, the Jews were suspect. People began talking about militarism, about the Jews. Such utterly disreputable people as Drumont held up their heads; little by little they stirred up a regular pother on a substratum of anti-semitism, on a substratum that smelt of the shambles. When something is wrong with us we look for the causes outside ourselves, and readily find them. "It's the Frenchman's nastiness, it's the Jews', it's Wilhelm's." Capital, brimstone, the freemasons, the Syndicate, the Jesuits—they are all bogeys, but how they relieve our uneasiness! They are of course a bad sign. Since the French have begun talking about the Jews, about the Syndicate, it shows they are feeling uncomfortable, that there is a worm gnawing at them, that they feel the need of these bogeys to soothe their over-excited conscience.
Then this Esterhazy, a duellist, in the style of Turgenev's duellists, an insolent ruffian, who had long been an object of suspicion, and was not respected by his comrades; the striking resemblance of his handwriting with that of the bordereau, the Uhlan's letters, his threats which for some reason he does not carry out; finally the judgment, utterly mysterious, strangely deciding that the bordereau was written in Esterhazy's handwriting but not by his hand! ... And the gas has been continually accumulating, there has come to be a feeling of acute tension, of overwhelming oppression. The fighting in the court was a purely nervous manifestation, simply the hysterical result of that tension, and Zola's letter and his trial are a manifestation of the same kind. What would you have? The best people, always in advance of the nation, were bound to be the first to raise an agitation—and so it has been. The first to speak was Scherer-Kestner, of whom Frenchmen who know him intimately (according to Kovalevsky) say that he is a "sword-blade," so spotless and without blemish is he. The second is Zola, and now he is being tried.
Yes, Zola is not Voltaire, and we are none of us Voltaires, but there are in life conjunctions of circumstances when the reproach that we are not Voltaires is least of all appropriate. Think of Korolenko, who defended the Multanovsky natives and saved them from penal servitude. Dr. Haas is not a Voltaire either, and yet his wonderful life has been well spent up to the end.
I am well acquainted with the case from the stenographers' report, which is utterly different from what is in the newspapers, and I have a clear view of Zola. The chief point is that he is sincere—that is, he bases his judgments simply on what he sees, and not on phantoms like the others. And sincere people can be mistaken, no doubt of it, but such mistakes do less harm than calculated insincerity, prejudgments, or political considerations. Let Dreyfus be guilty, and Zola is still right, since it is the duty of writers not to accuse, not to prosecute, but to champion even the guilty once they have been condemned and are enduring punishment. I shall be told: "What of the political position? The interests of the State?" But great writers and artists ought to take part in politics only so far as they have to protect themselves from politics. There are plenty of accusers, prosecutors, and gendarmes without them, and in any case, the role of Paul suits them better than that of Saul. Whatever the verdict may be, Zola will anyway experience a vivid delight after the trial, his old age will be a fine old age, and he will die with a conscience at peace, or at any rate greatly solaced. The French are very sick. They clutch at every word of comfort and at every genuine reproach coming to them from outside. That is why Bernstein's letter and our Zakrevsky's article (which was read here in the Novosti) have had such a great success here, and why they are so disgusted by abuse of Zola, such as the gutter press, which they despise, flings at him every day. However neurotic Zola may be, still he stands before the court of French common sense, and the French love him for it and are proud of him, even though they do applaud the Generals who, in the simplicity of their hearts, scare them first with the honour of the army, then with war....
TO HIS BROTHER ALEXANDR.
NICE, February 23, 1898.
... Novoye Vremya has behaved simply abominably about the Zola case. The old man and I have exchanged letters on the subject (in a tone of great moderation, however), and have both dropped the subject.
I don't want to write and I don't want his letters, in which he keeps justifying the tactlessness of his paper by saying he loves the military: I don't want them because I have been thoroughly sick of it all for a long time past. I love the military too, but I would not if I had a newspaper allow the cactuses to print Zola's novel for nothing in the Supplement, while they pour dirty water over this same Zola in the paper—and what for? For what not one of the cactuses has ever known—for a noble impulse and moral purity. And in any case to abuse Zola when he is on his trial—that is unworthy of literature....
TO HIS BROTHER MIHAIL.
YALTA, October 26, 1898.
... I am buying a piece of land in Yalta and am going to build so as to have a place in which to spend the winters. The prospect of continual wandering with hotel rooms, hotel porters, chance cooking, and so on, and so on, alarms my imagination. Mother will spend the winter with me. There is no winter here; it's the end of October, but the roses and other flowers are blooming freely, the trees are green and it is warm.
There is a great deal of water. Nothing will be needed apart from the house, no outbuildings of any sort; it will all be under one roof. The coal, wood and everything will be in the basement. The hens lay the whole year round, and no special house is needed for them, an enclosure is enough. Close by there is a baker's shop and the bazaar, so that it will be very cosy for Mother and very convenient. By the way, there are chanterelles and boletuses to be gathered all the autumn, and that will be an amusement for Mother. I am not doing the building myself, the architect is doing it all. The houses will be ready by April. The grounds, for a town house, are considerable. There will be a garden and flowerbeds, and a vegetable garden. The railway will come to Yalta next year....
As for getting married, upon which you are so urgent—what am I to say to you? To marry is interesting only for love; to marry a girl simply because she is nice is like buying something one does not want at the bazaar solely because it is of good quality.
The most important screw in family life is love, sexual attraction, one flesh, all the rest is dreary and cannot be reckoned upon, however cleverly we make our calculations. So the point is not in the girl's being nice but in her being loved; putting it off as you see counts for little....
My "Uncle Vanya" is being done all over the province, and everywhere with success. So one never knows where one will gain and where one will lose; I had not reckoned on that play at all....
YALTA, December 3, 1898.
Your last letter has given me great pleasure. I thank you with all my heart. "Uncle Vanya" was written long, long ago; I have never seen it on the stage. Of late years it has often been produced at provincial theatres. I feel cold about my plays as a rule; I gave up the theatre long ago, and feel no desire now to write for the stage.
You ask what is my opinion of your stories. My opinion? The talent is unmistakable and it is a real, great talent. For instance, in the story "In the Steppe" it is expressed with extraordinary vigour, and I actually felt a pang of envy that it was not I who had written it. You are an artist, a clever man, you feel superbly, you are plastic—that is, when you describe a thing you see it and you touch it with your hands. That is real art. There is my opinion for you, and I am very glad I can express it to you. I am, I repeat, very glad, and if we could meet and talk for an hour or two you would be convinced of my high appreciation of you and of the hopes I am building on your gifts.
Shall I speak now of defects? But that is not so easy. To speak of the defects of a talent is like speaking of the defects of a great tree growing in the garden; what is chiefly in question, you see, is not the tree itself but the tastes of the man who is looking at it. Is not that so?
I will begin by saying that to my mind you have not enough restraint. You are like a spectator at the theatre who expresses his transports with so little restraint that he prevents himself and other people from listening. This lack of restraint is particularly felt in the descriptions of nature with which you interrupt your dialogues; when one reads those descriptions one wishes they were more compact, shorter, put into two or three lines. The frequent mention of tenderness, whispering, velvetiness, and so on, give those descriptions a rhetorical and monotonous character—and they make one feel cold and almost exhaust one. The lack of restraint is felt also in the descriptions of women ("Malva," "On the Raft") and love scenes. It is not vigour, not breadth of touch, but just lack of restraint. Then there is the frequent use of words quite unsuitable in stories of your type. "Accompaniment," "disc," "harmony," such words spoil the effect. You often talk of waves. There is a strained feeling and a sort of circumspection in your descriptions of educated people; that is not because you have not observed educated people sufficiently, you know them, but you don't seem to know from what side to approach them.
How old are you? I don't know you, I don't know where you came from or who you are, but it seems to me that while you are still young you ought to leave Nizhni and spend two or three years rubbing shoulders with literature and literary people; not to learn to crow like the rest of us and to sharpen your wits, but to take the final plunge head first into literature and to grow to love it. Besides, the provinces age a man early. Korolenko, Potapenko, Mamin, Ertel, are first-rate men; you would perhaps at first feel their company rather boring, but in a year or two you would grow used to them and appreciate them as they deserve, and their society would more than repay you for the disagreeableness and inconvenience of life in the capital....
YALTA, January 3, 1899.
... Apparently you have misunderstood me a little. I did not write to you of coarseness of style, but only of the incongruity of foreign, not genuinely Russian, or rarely used words. In other authors such words as, for instance, "fatalistically," pass unnoticed, but your things are musical, harmonious, and every crude touch jars fearfully. Of course it is a question of taste, and perhaps this is only a sign of excessive fastidiousness in me, or the conservatism of a man who has adopted definite habits for himself long ago. I am resigned to "a collegiate assessor," and "a captain of the second rank" in descriptions, but "flirt" and "champion" when they occur in descriptions excite repulsion in me.
Are you self-educated? In your stories you are completely an artist and at the same time an "educated" man in the truest sense.
Nothing is less characteristic of you than coarseness, you are clever and subtle and delicate in your feelings. Your best things are "In the Steppe," and "On the Raft,"—did I write to you about that? They are splendid things, masterpieces, they show the artist who has passed through a very good school. I don't think that I am mistaken. The only defect is the lack of restraint, the lack of grace. When a man spends the least possible number of movements over some definite action, that is grace. One is conscious of superfluity in your expenditure.
The descriptions of nature are the work of an artist; you are a real landscape painter. Only the frequent personification (anthropomorphism) when the sea breathes, the sky gazes, the steppe barks, nature whispers, speaks, mourns, and so on—such metaphors make your descriptions somewhat monotonous, sometimes sweetish, sometimes not clear; beauty and expressiveness in nature are attained only by simplicity, by such simple phrases as "The sun set," "It was dark," "It began to rain," and so on—and that simplicity is characteristic of you in the highest degree, more so perhaps than of any other writer....
TO A. S. SUVORIN.
YALTA, January 17, 1899.
... I have been reading Tolstoy's son's story: "The Folly of the Mir." The construction of the story is poor, indeed it would have been better to write it simply as an article, but the thought is treated with justice and passion. I am against the Commune myself. There is sense in the Commune when one has to deal with external enemies who make frequent invasions, and with wild animals; but now it is a crowd artificially held together, like a crowd of convicts. They will tell us Russia is an agricultural country. That is so, but the Commune has nothing to do with that, at any rate at the present time. The commune exists by husbandry, but once husbandry begins to pass into scientific agriculture the commune begins to crack at every seam, as the commune and culture are not compatible ideas. Our national drunkenness and profound ignorance are, by the way, sins of the commune system....
TO HIS BROTHER MIHAIL.
YALTA, February 6, 1899.
... Being bored, I am reading "The Book of my Life" by Bishop Porfiry. This passage about war occurs in it:
"Standing armies in time of peace are locusts devouring the people's bread and leaving a vile stench in society, while in time of war they are artificial fighting machines, and when they grow and develop, farewell to freedom, security, and national glory! ... They are the lawless defenders of unjust and partial laws, of privilege and of tyranny." ...
That was written in the forties....
TO I. I. ORLOV.
YALTA, February 22, 1899.
... In your letter there is a text from Scripture. To your complaint in regard to the tutor and failures of all sorts I will reply by another text: "Put not thy trust in princes nor in any sons of man" ... and I recall another expression in regard to the sons of man, those in particular who so annoy you: they are the sons of their age.
Not the tutor but the whole educated class—that is to blame, my dear sir. While the young men and women are students they are a good honest set, they are our hope, they are the future of Russia, but no sooner do those students enter upon independent life and become grown up than our hope and the future of Russia vanishes in smoke, and all that is left in the filter is doctors owning house property, hungry government clerks, and thieving engineers. Remember that Katkov, Pobyedonostsev, Vishnegradsky, were nurselings of the Universities, that they were our Professors—not military despots, but professors, luminaries.... I don't believe in our educated class, which is hypocritical, false, hysterical, badly educated and indolent. I don't believe in it even when it's suffering and complaining, for its oppressors come from its own entrails. I believe in individual people, I see salvation in individual personalities scattered here and there all over Russia—educated people or peasants—they have strength though they are few. No prophet is honoured in his own country, but the individual personalities of whom I am speaking play an unnoticed part in society, they are not domineering, but their work can be seen; anyway, science is advancing and advancing, social self-consciousness is growing, moral questions begin to take an uneasy character, and so on, and so on-and all this is being done in spite of the prosecutors, the engineers, and the tutors, in spite of the intellectual class en masse and in spite of everything....
TO MADAME AVILOV.
YALTA, March 9, 1899.
I shall not be at the writers' congress. In the autumn I shall be in the Crimea or abroad—that is, of course, if I am alive and free. I am going to spend the whole summer on my own place in the Serpuhov district. [Footnote: Melihovo.]
By the way, in what district of the Tula province have you bought your estate? For the first two years after buying an estate one has a hard time, at moments it is very bad indeed, but by degrees one is led to Nirvana, by sweet habit. I bought an estate and mortgaged it, I had a very hard time the first years (famine, cholera). Afterwards everything went well, and now it is pleasant to remember that I have somewhere near the Oka a nook of my own. I live in peace with the peasants, they never steal anything from me, and when I walk through the village the old women smile and cross themselves. I use the formal address to all except children, and never shout at them; but what has done most to build up our good relations is medicine. You will be happy on your estate, only please don't listen to anyone's advice and gloomy prognostications, and don't at first be disappointed, or form an opinion about the peasants. The peasants behave sullenly and not genuinely to all new-comers, and especially so in the Tula province. There is indeed a saying: "He's a good man though he is from Tula."
So here's something like a sermon for you, you see, madam. Are you satisfied?
Do you know L. N. Tolstoy? Will your estate be far from Tolstoy's? If it is near I shall envy you. I like Tolstoy very much.
Speaking of new writers, you throw Melshin in with a whole lot. That's not right. Melshin stands apart. He is a great and unappreciated writer, an intelligent, powerful writer, though perhaps he will not write more than he has written already. Kuprin I have not read at all. Gorky I like, but of late he has taken to writing rubbish, revolting rubbish, so that I shall soon give up reading him. "Humble People" is good, though one could have done without Buhvostov, whose presence brings into the story an element of strain, of tiresomeness and even falsity. Korolenko is a delightful writer. He is loved—and with good reason. Apart from all the rest there is sobriety and purity in him.
You ask whether I am sorry for Suvorin. Of course I am. He is paying heavily for his mistakes. But I'm not at all sorry for those who are surrounding him....
MOSCOW, April 25, 1899.
... The day before yesterday I was at L. N. Tolstoy's; he praised you very highly and said that you were "a remarkable writer." He likes your "The Fair" and "In the Steppe" and does not like "Malva." He said: "You can invent anything you like, but you can't invent psychology, and in Gorky one comes across just psychological inventions: he describes what he has never felt." So much for you! I said that when you were next in Moscow we would go together to see him.
When will you be in Moscow? On Thursday there will be a private performance—for me—of "The Seagull." If you come to Moscow I will give you a seat....
From Petersburg I get painful letters, as it were from the damned, [Footnote: From Suvorin.] and it's painful to me as I don't know what to answer, how to behave. Yes, life when it is not a psychological invention is a difficult business....
TO O. L. KNIPPER.
YALTA, September 30, 1899.
At your command I hasten to answer your letter in which you ask me about Astrov's last scene with Elena.
You write that Astrov addresses Elena in that scene like the most ardent lover, "clutches at his feeling like a drowning man at a straw."
But that's not right, not right at all! Astrov likes Elena, she attracts him by her beauty; but in the last act he knows already that nothing will come of it, and he talks to her in that scene in the same tone as of the heat in Africa, and kisses her quite casually, to pass the time. If Astrov takes that scene violently, the whole mood of the fourth act—quiet and despondent—is lost....
TO G. I. ROSSOLIMO.
YALTA, October 11, 1899.
... Autobiography? I have a disease—Auto-biographophobia. To read any sort of details about myself, and still more to write them for print, is a veritable torture to me. On a separate sheet I send a few facts, very bald, but I can do no more....
I, A. P. Chekhov, was born on the 17th of January, 1860, at Taganrog. I was educated first in the Greek School near the church of Tsar Constantine; then in the Taganrog high school. In 1879 I entered the Moscow University in the Faculty of Medicine. I had at the time only a slight idea of the Faculties in general, and chose the Faculty of Medicine I don't remember on what grounds, but did not regret my choice afterwards. I began in my first year to publish stories in the weekly journals and newspapers, and these literary pursuits had, early in the eighties, acquired a permanent professional character. In 1888 I took the Pushkin prize. In 1890 I travelled to the Island of Sahalin, to write afterwards a book upon our penal colony and prisons there. Not counting reviews, feuilletons, paragraphs, and all that I have written from day to day for the newspapers, which it would be difficult now to seek out and collect, I have, during my twenty years of literary work, published more than three hundred signatures of print, of tales, and novels. I have also written plays for the stage.
I have no doubt that the study of medicine has had an important influence on my literary work; it has considerably enlarged the sphere of my observation, has enriched me with knowledge the true value of which for me as a writer can only be understood by one who is himself a doctor. It has also had a guiding influence, and it is probably due to my close association with medicine that I have succeeded in avoiding many mistakes.
Familiarity with the natural sciences and with scientific method has always kept me on my guard, and I have always tried where it was possible to be consistent with the facts of science, and where it was impossible I have preferred not to write at all. I may observe in passing that the conditions of artistic creation do not always admit of complete harmony with the facts of science. It is impossible to represent upon the stage a death from poisoning exactly as it takes place in reality. But harmony with the facts of science must be felt even under those conditions—i.e., it must be clear to the reader or spectator that this is only due to the conditions of art, and that he has to do with a writer who understands.
I do not belong to the class of literary men who take up a sceptical attitude towards science; and to the class of those who rush into everything with only their own imagination to go upon, I should not like to belong....
TO O. L. KNIPPER.
YALTA, October 30, 1899.
... You ask whether I shall be excited, but you see I only heard properly that "Uncle Vanya" was to be given on the twenty-sixth from your letter which I got on the twenty-seventh. The telegrams began coming on the evening of the twenty-seventh when I was in bed. They send them on to me by telephone. I woke up every time and ran with bare feet to the telephone, and got very much chilled; then I had scarcely dozed off when the bell rang again and again. It's the first time that my own fame has kept me awake. The next evening when I went to bed I put my slippers and dressing-gown beside my bed, but there were no more telegrams.
The telegrams were full of nothing but the number of calls and the brilliant success, but there was a subtle, almost elusive something in them from which I could conclude that the state of mind of all of you was not exactly of the very best. The newspapers I have got to-day confirm my conjectures.
Yes, dear actress, ordinary medium success is not enough now for all you artistic players: you want an uproar, big guns, dynamite. You have been spoiled at last, deafened by constant talk about successes, full and not full houses: you are already poisoned with that drug, and in another two or three years you will be good for nothing! So much for you!
How are you getting on? How are you feeling? I am still in the same place, and am still the same; I am working and planting trees.
But visitors have come, I can't go on writing. Visitors have been sitting here for more than an hour. They have asked for tea. They have sent for the samovar. Oh, how dreary!
Don't forget me, and don't let your friendship for me die away, so that we may go away together somewhere again this summer. Good-bye for the present. We shall most likely not meet before April. If you would all come in the spring to Yalta, would act here and rest—that would be wonderfully artistic. A visitor will take this letter and drop it into the post-box....
P.S.—Dear actress, write for the sake of all that's holy, I am so dull and depressed. I might be in prison and I rage and rage....
YALTA, November 1, 1899.
I understand your mood, dear actress, I understand it very well; but yet in your place I would not be so desperately upset. Both the part of Anna [Footnote: In Hauptmann's "Lonely Lives."] and the play itself are not worth wasting so much feeling and nerves over. It is an old play. It is already out of date, and there are a great many defects in it; if more than half the performers have not fallen into the right tone, then naturally it is the fault of the play. That's one thing, and the second is, you must once and for all give up being worried about successes and failures. Don't let that concern you. It's your duty to go on working steadily day by day, quite quietly, to be prepared for mistakes which are inevitable, for failures—in short, to do your job as actress and let other people count the calls before the curtain. To write or to act, and to be conscious at the time that one is not doing the right thing—that is so usual, and for beginners so profitable!
The third thing is that the director has telegraphed that the second performance went magnificently, that everyone played splendidly, and that he was completely satisfied....
YALTA, January 2, 1900.
PRECIOUS ALEXEY MAXIMOVITCH,
I wish you a happy New Year! How are you getting on? How are you feeling? When are you coming to Yalta? Write fully. I have received the photograph, it is very good; many thanks for it.
Thank you, too, for the trouble you have taken in regard to our committee for assisting invalids coming here. Send any money there is or will be to me, or to the executive of the Benevolent Society, no matter which.
My story (i.e., "In the Ravine") has already been sent off to Zhizn. Did I tell you that I liked your story "An Orphan" extremely, and sent it to Moscow to first-rate readers? There is a certain Professor Foht in the Medical Faculty in Moscow who reads Slyeptsov capitally. I don't know a better reader. So I have sent your "Orphan" to him. Did I tell you how much I liked a story in your third volume, "My Travelling Companion"? There is the same strength in it as "In the Steppe." If I were you, I would take the best things out of your three volumes and republish them in one volume at a rouble—and that would be something really remarkable for vigour and harmony. As it is, everything seems shaken up together in the three volumes; there are no weak things, but it leaves an impression as though the three volumes were not the work of one author but of seven.
Scribble me a line or two.
TO O. L. KNIPPER.
YALTA, January 2, 1900.
My greetings, dear actress! Are you angry that I haven't written for so long? I used to write often, but you didn't get my letters because our common acquaintance intercepted them in the post.
I wish you all happiness in the New Year. I really do wish you happiness and bow down to your little feet. Be happy, wealthy, healthy, and gay.
We are getting on pretty well, we eat a great deal, chatter a great deal, laugh a great deal, and often talk of you. Masha will tell you when she goes back to Moscow how we spent Christmas.