Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To His Sister.

PETERSBURG, March 16. Midnight.

I have just seen the Italian actress Duse in Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. I don’t know Italian, but she acted so well that it seemed to me I understood every word. A remarkable actress! I have never seen anything like it before. I gazed at that Duse and felt overcome with misery at the thought that we have to educate our temperaments and tastes on such wooden actresses as N. and her like, whom we call great because we have seen nothing better. Looking at Duse I understood why it is that the Russian theatre is so dull.

I sent three hundred roubles to-day, did you get them?

After Duse it was amusing to read the address I enclose. [Footnote: A newspaper cutting containing an address: From the Students of the Technological Institute of Harkov to M. M. Solovtsov, was enclosed.] My God, how low taste and a sense of justice have sunk! And these are the students — the devil take them! Whether it is Solovtsov or whether it is Salvini, it’s all the same to them, both equally “stir a warm response in the hearts of the young.” They are worth a farthing, all those hearts.

We set off for Warsaw at half-past one to-morrow. My greetings to all, even the mongooses, though they don’t deserve it. I will write.

VIENNA, March 20, 1891.

MY DEAR CZECHS,

I write to you from Vienna, which I reached yesterday at four o’clock in the afternoon. Everything went well on the journey. From Warsaw to Vienna I travelled like a railway Nana in a luxurious compartment of the “Societe Internationale des Wagons-Lits.” Beds, looking-glasses, huge windows, rugs, and so on.

Ah, my dears, if you only knew how nice Vienna is! It can’t be compared with any of the towns I have seen in my life. The streets are broad and elegantly paved, there are numbers of boulevards and squares, the houses have always six or seven storeys, and shops — they are not shops, but a perfect delirium, a dream! There are myriads of neckties alone in the windows! Such amazing things made of bronze, china, and leather! The churches are huge, but they do not oppress one by their hugeness; they caress the eye, for it seems as though they are woven of lace. St. Stephen and the Votiv-Kirche are particularly fine. They are not like buildings, but like cakes for tea. The parliament, the town hall, and the university are magnificent. It is all magnificent, and I have for the first time realized, yesterday and to-day, that architecture is really an art. And here the art is not seen in little bits, as with us, but stretches over several versts. There are numbers of monuments. In every side street there is sure to be a bookshop. In the windows of the bookshops there are Russian books to be seen — not, alas, the works of Albov, of Barantsevitch, and of Chekhov, but of all sorts of anonymous authors who write and publish abroad. I saw “Renan,” “The Mysteries of the Winter Palace,” and so on. It is strange that here one is free to read anything and to say what one likes. Understand, O ye peoples, what the cabs are like here! The devil take them! There are no droshkys, but they are all new, pretty carriages with one and often two horses. The horses are splendid. On the box sit dandies in top-hats and reefer jackets, reading the newspaper, all politeness and readiness to oblige.

The dinners are good. There is no vodka; they drink beer and fairly good wine. There is one thing that is nasty: they make you pay for bread. When they bring the bill they ask, Wie viel brodchen? — that is, how many rolls have you devoured? And you have to pay for every little roll.

The women are beautiful and elegant. Indeed, everything is diabolically elegant.

I have not quite forgotten German. I understand, and am understood.

When we crossed the frontier it was snowing. In Vienna there is no snow, but it is cold all the same.

I am homesick and miss you all, and indeed I am conscience-stricken, too, at deserting you all again. But there, never mind! I shall come back and stay at home for a whole year. I send my greetings to everyone, everyone.

I wish you all things good; don’t forget me with my many transgressions. I embrace you, I bless you, send my greetings and remain,

Your loving
A. Chekhov.

Everyone who meets us recognises that we are Russians, and stares not at my face, but at my grizzled cap. Looking at my cap they probably think I am a very rich Russian Count.

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