Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. S. Suvorin.

TOMSK, May 20, 1890.

Greetings to you at last from Siberia, dear Alexey Sergeyevitch! I have missed you and our correspondence terribly.

I will begin from the beginning, however. At Tyumen I was told the first steamer to Tomsk went on the 18th of May. I had to do the journey with horses. For the first three days every joint and sinew ached, but afterwards I got used to the jolting and felt no more aches. Only the lack of sleep, the continual worry over the luggage, the jolting and the fasting brought on spitting of blood when I coughed, and this depressed my spirits, which were none too grand before. For the first few days it was bearable but then a cold wind began to blow, the windows of heaven were opened, the rivers flooded the meadows and roads, I was continually having to change my chaise for a boat. You’ll read of my struggles with the floods and the mud in the article I enclose. I did not mention in it that my big high boots were tight, and that I waded through the mud and the water in my felt boots, and that my felt boots were soaked to jelly. The road was so abominable that during the last two days of my journey I only did seventy versts.

When I set off I promised to send you notes of my journey after Tomsk, since the road between Tyumen and Tomsk has been described a thousand times already. But in your telegram you have expressed the desire to get my impressions of Siberia as quickly as possible, and have even had the cruelty, sir, to reproach me with lapse of memory, as though I had forgotten you. It was absolutely impossible to write on the road. I kept a brief diary in pencil and can offer you now only what is written in that diary. To avoid writing at great length and getting mixed up, I divided all my impressions into chapters. I am sending you six chapters. They are written for you personally. I wrote for you only, and so have not been afraid of being too subjective, and have not been afraid of there being more of Chekhov’s feelings and thoughts than of Siberia in them. If you find some lines interesting and worth printing, give them a profitable publicity, signing them with my name and printing them in separate chapters, a tablespoonful once an hour. The general title can be From Siberia, then From Trans-Baikalia, then From the Amur, and so on.

You shall have another helping from Irkutsk, for which I am starting to-morrow. I shall not be less than ten days on the journey — the road is bad. I shall send you a few chapters again, and shall send them whether you intend to print them or not. Read them and when you are tired of them telegraph to me “Shut up!”

I have been as hungry as a dog the whole way. I stuffed myself with bread so as not to dream of turbot, asparagus, and suchlike. I even dreamed of buckwheat porridge. I have dreamed of it for hours at a time.

At Tyumen I bought some sausage for the journey, but what sausage! When you take a bit in your mouth there’s a sniff as though you had gone into a stable at the very moment when the coachmen were taking off their leg-wrappers; when you begin chewing it, you feel as though you had fastened your teeth into a dog’s tail defiled with pitch. Tfoo! I ate some once or twice, and threw it away.

I have had one telegram and the letter from you in which you write that you want to bring out an encyclopaedic dictionary. I don’t know why, but the news of that dictionary rejoiced me greatly. Do, my dear friend! If I am any use for working on it, I will devote November and December to you, and will spend those months in Petersburg. I will sit at it from morning till night.

I made a fair copy of my notes at Tomsk in horrid hotel surroundings, but I took trouble about it and was not without a desire to please you. I thought, he must be bored and hot in Feodosia, let him read about the cold. These notes will come to you instead of a letter which has been taking shape in my head during the whole journey. In return you must send to me at Sahalin all your critical reviews except the first two, which I have read; have Peshel’s “Ethnology” sent me there too, except the first two instalments, which I have already.

The post to Sahalin goes both by sea and across Siberia, so if people write to me I shall get letters often. Don’t lose my address — Island of Sahalin, Alexandrovsky Post.

Oh, the expense! Gewalt! Thanks to the floods, I had to pay the drivers double and almost treble, for it has been fiendishly hard work. My trunk, a very charming article, has turned out unsuitable for the journey; it takes a lot of room, pokes one in the ribs, and rattles, and worst of all threatens to burst open. “Don’t take boxes on long journeys!” good people said to me, but I remembered this advice only when I had gone half-way. Well, I am leaving my trunk to reside permanently at Tomsk, and am buying instead of it a sort of leather carcase, which has the advantage that it can be tied so as to form two halves at the bottom of the chaise as one likes. I paid sixteen roubles for it. Next point. To travel to the Amur, changing one’s conveyance at every station, is torture. You shatter both yourself and all your luggage. I was advised to buy a trap. I bought one to-day for one hundred and thirty roubles. If I don’t succeed in selling it at Sryetensk, where my horse journey ends, I shall be in a fix and shall howl aloud. To-day I dined with the editor of the Sibirsky Vyestnik, a local Nozdryov, a broad nature. . . . He drank to the tune of six roubles.

Stop! They announce that the deputy police master wants to see me. What can it be?!?

My alarm was unnecessary. The police officer turns out to be devoted to literature and himself an author; he has come to pay his respects to me. He went home to fetch his play, and I believe intends to regale me with it. He is just coming again and preventing me from writing to you. . . .

. . . My greetings to Nastyusha and Boris. I should be genuinely delighted for their satisfaction to fling myself into the jaws of a tiger and call them to my aid, but, alas! I haven’t reached the tigers here: the only furry animals I have seen so far in Siberia are many hares and one mouse.

Stop! The police officer has returned. He has not read me his drama though he brought it, but regaled me with a story. It’s not bad, only too local. He showed me a nugget of gold. He asked for some vodka. I don’t remember a single educated Siberian who has not asked for vodka on coming to see me. He told me he had a mistress, a married woman; he gave me a petition to the Tsar about divorce to read. . . .

* * * * *

How glad I am when I am forced to stop somewhere for the night! I no sooner roll into bed than I am asleep. Here, travelling and not sleeping at night, one prizes sleep above everything. There is no greater enjoyment in life than sleep when one is sleepy. In Moscow, in Russia generally, I never was sleepy as I understand the word now. I went to bed simply because one had to. But now! Another observation. On a journey one has no desire for spirits. I can’t drink. I smoke a great deal. One’s mind does not work well. I cannot put my thoughts together. Time flies rapidly, so that one scarcely notices it, from ten o’clock in the morning to seven o’clock in the evening. Evening comes quickly after morning. It’s just the same when one is seriously ill. The wind and the rain have made my face all scaly, and when I look in the looking-glass I don’t recognize my once noble features.

I am not going to describe Tomsk. All the towns are alike in Russia. Tomsk is a dull and intemperate town. There are absolutely no good-looking women, and the disregard for justice is Asiatic. The town is remarkable for the fact that governors die in it.

If my letters are short, careless, or dry, don’t be cross, for one cannot always be oneself on a journey and write as one wants to. The ink is bad, and there is always a hair or a splodge on one’s pen.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06