Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

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. . . .

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