Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To His Uncle, M. G. Chekhov.

MOSCOW, January 18, 1887.

. . . During the holidays I was so overwhelmed with work that on Mother’s name-day I was almost dropping with exhaustion.

I must tell you that in Petersburg I am now the most fashionable writer. One can see that from papers and magazines, which at the end of 1886 were taken up with me, bandied my name about, and praised me beyond my deserts. The result of this growth of my literary reputation is that I get a number of orders and invitations — and this is followed by work at high pressure and exhaustion. My work is nervous, disturbing, and involving strain. It is public and responsible, which makes it doubly hard. Every newspaper report about me agitates both me and my family. . . . My stories are read at public recitations, wherever I go people point at me, I am overwhelmed with acquaintances, and so on, and so on. I have not a day of peace, and feel as though I were on thorns every moment.

. . . Volodya [Translator’s Note: He had apparently criticized the name Vladimir, which means “lord of the world.”] is right. . . . It is true that a man cannot possess the world, but a man can be called “the lord of the world.” Tell Volodya that out of gratitude, reverence, or admiration of the virtues of the best men — those qualities which make a man exceptional and akin to the Deity — peoples and historians have a right to call their elect as they like, without being afraid of insulting God’s greatness or of raising a man to God. The fact is we exalt, not a man as such, but his good qualities, just that divine principle which he has succeeded in developing in himself to a high degree. Thus remarkable kings are called “great,” though bodily they may not be taller than I. I. Loboda; the Pope is called “Holiness,” the patriarch used to be called “Ecumenical,” although he was not in relations with any planet but the earth; Prince Vladimir was called “the lord of the world,” though he ruled only a small strip of ground, princes are called “serene” and “illustrious,” though a Swedish match is a thousand times brighter than they are — and so on. In using these expressions we do not lie or exaggerate, but simply express our delight, just as a mother does not lie when she calls her child “my golden one.” It is the feeling of beauty that speaks in us, and beauty cannot endure what is commonplace and trivial; it induces us to make comparisons which Volodya may, with his intellect, pull to pieces, but which he will understand with his heart. For instance, it is usual to compare black eyes with the night, blue with the azure of the sky, curls with waves, etc., and even the Bible likes these comparisons; for instance, “Thy womb is more spacious than heaven,” or “The Sun of righteousness arises,” “The rock of faith,” etc. The feeling of beauty in man knows no limits or bounds. This is why a Russian prince may be called “the lord of the world”; and my friend Volodya may have the same name, for names are given to people, not for their merits, but in honour and commemoration of remarkable men of the past. . . . If your young scholar does not agree with me, I have one more argument which will be sure to appeal to him: in exalting people even to God we do not sin against love, but, on the contrary, we express it. One must not humiliate people — that is the chief thing. Better say to man “My angel” than hurl “Fool” at his head — though men are more like fools than they are like angels.

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