Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. S. Suvorin.

MOSCOW, March 22, 1890.

. . . Yesterday a young lady told me that Professor Storozhenko had related to her the following anecdote. The Sovereign liked the Kreutzer Sonata. Pobyedonostsev, Lubimov, and the other cherubim and seraphim, hastened to justify their attitude to Tolstoy by showing his Majesty “Nikolay Palkin.” After reading it, his Majesty was so furious that he ordered measures to be taken. Prince Dolgorukov was informed. And so one fine day an adjutant from Dolgorukov comes to Tolstoy and invites him to go at once to the prince. The latter replies: “Tell the prince that I only visit the houses of my acquaintances.” The adjutant, overcome with confusion, rides away, and next day brings Tolstoy the official notice demanding from him an explanation in regard to his “Nikolay Palkin.” Tolstoy reads the document and says:

“Tell his excellency that I have not for a long time past written anything for publication; I write only for my friends, and if my friends spread my writings abroad, they are responsible and not I. Tell him that!”

“But I can’t tell him that,” cried the adjutant in horror, “the prince will not believe me!”

“The prince will not believe his subordinates? That’s bad.”

Two days later the adjutant comes again with a fresh document, and learns that Tolstoy has gone away to Yasnaya Polyana. That is the end of the anecdote.

Now about the new movements. They flog in our police stations; a rate has been fixed; from a peasant they take ten kopecks for a beating, from a workman twenty — that’s for the rods and the trouble. Peasant women are flogged too. Not long ago, in their enthusiasm for beating in a police station, they thrashed a couple of budding lawyers, an incident upon which Russkiya Vyedomosti has a vague paragraph to-day; an investigation has begun.

Another sign of the times: the cabmen approve of the students’ disturbances.

“They are making a riot for the poor to be taken in to study,” they explain, “learning is not only for the rich.” It is said that when a crowd of students were being taken by night to the prison the populace fell upon the gendarmes to rescue the students from them. The populace is said to have shouted: “You have set up flogging for us, but they stand up for us.”

March 29.

. . . Fatigue is a relative matter. You say you used to work twenty hours out of the twenty-four and were not exhausted. But you know one may be exhausted lying all day long on the sofa. You used to write for twenty hours, but you know you were in perfect health all that time, you were stimulated by success, defiance, a sense of your talent; you liked your work, or you wouldn’t have written. Your heir-apparent sits up late, not because he has a talent for journalism or a love for his work, but simply because his father is an editor of a newspaper. The difference is vast. He ought to have been a doctor or a lawyer, to have had an income of two thousand roubles a year, and published his articles not in Novoye Vremya and not in the spirit of Novoye Vremya. Only those young people can be accepted as healthy who refuse to be reconciled with the old order and foolishly or wisely struggle against it — such is the will of nature and it is the foundation of progress, while your son began by absorbing the old order. In our most intimate talks he has never once abused Tatistchev or Burenin, and that’s a bad sign. You are a hundred times as liberal as he is, and it ought to be the other way. He utters a listless and indolent protest, he soon drops his voice and soon agrees, and altogether one has the impression that he has no interest whatever in the contest; that is, he looks on at the cock-fight like a spectator and has no cock of his own. And one ought to have one’s own cock, else life is without interest. The unfortunate thing, too, is that he is intelligent, and great intelligence with little interest in life is like a great machine which produces nothing, yet requires a great deal of fuel and exhausts the owner. . . .

April 1.

You abuse me for objectivity, calling it indifference to good and evil, lack of ideals and ideas, and so on. You would have me, when I describe horse-stealers, say: “Stealing horses is an evil.” But that has been known for ages without my saying so. Let the jury judge them, it’s my job simply to show what sort of people they are. I write: you are dealing with horse-stealers, so let me tell you that they are not beggars but well-fed people, that they are people of a special cult, and that horse-stealing is not simply theft but a passion. Of course it would be pleasant to combine art with a sermon, but for me personally it is extremely difficult and almost impossible, owing to the conditions of technique. You see, to depict horse-stealers in seven hundred lines I must all the time speak and think in their tone and feel in their spirit, otherwise, if I introduce subjectivity, the image becomes blurred and the story will not be as compact as all short stories ought to be. When I write I reckon entirely upon the reader to add for himself the subjective elements that are lacking in the story.

April 11.

Madame N. who used at one time to live in your family is here now. She married the artist N., a nice but tedious man who wants at all costs to travel with me to Sahalin to sketch. To refuse him my company I haven’t the courage, but to travel with him would be simple misery. He is going to Petersburg in a day or two to sell his pictures, and at his wife’s request will call on you to ask your advice. With a view to this his wife came to ask me for a letter of introduction to you. Be my benefactor, tell N. that I am a drunkard, a swindler, a nihilist, a rowdy character, and that it is out of the question to travel with me, and that a journey in my company will do nothing but upset him. Tell him he will be wasting his time. Of course it would be very nice to have my book illustrated, but when I learned that N. was hoping to get not less than a thousand roubles for it, I lost all appetite for illustrations. My dear fellow, advise him against it!!! Why it is your advice he wants, the devil only knows.

April 15.

And so, my dear friend, I am setting off on Wednesday or Thursday at latest. Good-bye till December. Good luck in my absence. I received the money, thank you very much, though fifteen hundred roubles is a great deal; I don’t know where to put it. . . . I feel as though I were preparing for the battlefield, though I see no dangers before me but toothache, which I am sure to have on the journey. As I am provided with nothing in the way of papers but a passport, I may have unpleasant encounters with the authorities, but that is a passing trouble. If they refuse to show me something, I shall simply write in my book that they wouldn’t show it me, and that’s all, and I won’t worry. In case I am drowned or anything of that sort, you might keep it in mind that all I have or may have in the future belongs to my sister; she will pay my debts.

I am taking my mother with me and putting her down at the Troitsky Monastery; I am taking my sister too, and leaving her at Kostroma. I am telling them I shall be back in September.

I shall go over the university in Tomsk. As the only faculty there is medicine I shall not show myself an ignoramus.

I have bought myself a fur coat, an officer’s waterproof leather coat, big boots, and a big knife for cutting sausage and hunting tigers. I am equipped from head to foot.

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