Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To His Sister.

ROME, April 1, 1891.

When I got to Rome I went to the post-office and did not find a single letter. Suvorin has got several letters. I made up my mind to pay you out, not to write to you at all — but there, God bless you! I am not so very fond of letters, but when one is travelling nothing is so bad as uncertainty. How have you settled the summer villa question? Is the mongoose alive? And so on and so on.

I have been in St. Peter’s, in the Capitol, in the Coliseum, in the Forum — I have even been in a cafe’-chantant, but did not derive from it the gratification I had expected. The weather is a drawback, it is raining. I am hot in my autumn overcoat, and cold in my summer one.

Travelling is very cheap. One may pay a visit to Italy with only four hundred roubles and go back with purchases. If I were travelling alone or with Ivan, I should have brought away the conviction that travelling in Italy was much cheaper than travelling in the Caucasus. But alas! I am with the Suvorins. . . . In Venice we lived in the best of hotels like Doges; here in Rome we live like Cardinals, for we have taken a salon of what was once the palace of Cardinal Conti, now the Hotel Minerva; two huge drawing-rooms, chandeliers, carpets, open fireplaces, and all sorts of useless rubbish, costing us forty francs a day.

My back aches, and the soles of my feet burn from tramping about. It’s awful how we walk!

It seems odd to me that Levitan did not like Italy. It’s a fascinating country. If I were a solitary person, an artist, and had money, I should live here in the winter. You see, Italy, apart from its natural scenery and warmth, is the one country in which you feel convinced that art is really supreme over everything, and that conviction gives one courage.

NAPLES, April 4, 1891.

I arrived in Naples, went to the post-office and found there five letters from home, for which I am very grateful to you all. Well done, relations! Even Vesuvius is so touched it has gone out.

Vesuvius hides its top in clouds and can only be seen well in the evening. By day the sky is overcast. We are staying on the sea-front and have a view of everything: the sea, Vesuvius, Capri, Sorrento. . . . We drove in the daytime up to the monastery of St. Martini: the view from here is such as I have never seen before, a marvellous panorama. I saw something like it at Hong Kong when I went up the mountain in the railway.

In Naples there is a magnificent arcade. And the shops!! The shops make me quite giddy. What brilliance! You, Masha, and you, Lika, would be rabid with delight.

* * * * *

There is a wonderful aquarium in Naples. There are even sharks and squids. When a squid (an octopus) devours some animals it’s a revolting sight.

I have been to a barber’s and watched a young man having his beard clipped for a whole hour. He was probably engaged to be married or else a cardsharper. At the barber’s the ceiling and all the four walls were made of looking-glass, so that you feel that you are not at a hairdresser’s but at the Vatican where there are eleven thousand rooms. They cut your hair wonderfully.

I shan’t bring you any presents, as you don’t write to me about the summer villa and the mongoose. I bought you a watch, Masha, but I have cast it to the swine. But there, God forgive you!

P.S. — I shall be back by Easter, come and meet me at the station.

NAPLES, April 7, 1891.

Yesterday I went to Pompeii and went over it. As you know, it is a Roman town buried under the lava and ashes of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. I walked about the streets of the town and saw the houses, the temples, the theatre, the squares. . . . I saw and marvelled at the faculty of the Romans for combining simplicity with convenience and beauty. After viewing Pompeii, I lunched at a restaurant and then decided to go to Vesuvius. The excellent red wine I had drunk had a great deal to do with this decision. I had to ride on horseback to the foot of Vesuvius. I have in consequence to-day a sensation in some parts of my mortal frame as though I had been in the Third Division, and had there been flogged. What an agonising business it is climbing up Vesuvius! Ashes, mountains of lava, solid waves of molten minerals, mounds of earth, and every sort of abomination. You take one step forward and fall half a step back, the soles of your feet hurt you, your breathing is oppressed. . . . You go on and on and on, and it is still a long way to the top. You wonder whether to turn back, but you are ashamed to turn back, you would be laughed at. The ascent began at half-past two, and ended at six. The crater of Vesuvius is a great many yards in diameter. I stood on its edge and looked down as into a cup. The soil around, covered by a layer of sulphur, was smoking vigorously. From the crater rose white stinking smoke; spurts of hot water and red-hot stones fly out while Satan lies snoring under cover of the smoke. The noise is rather mixed, you hear in it the beating of breakers and the roar of thunder, and the rumble of the railway line and the falling of planks. It is very terrible, and at the same time one has an impulse to jump right into the crater. I believe in hell now. The lava has such a high temperature that copper coins melt in it.

Coming down was as horrid as going up. You sink up to your knees in ashes. I was fearfully tired. I went back on horseback through a little village and by houses; there was a glorious fragrance and the moon was shining. I sniffed, gazed at the moon, and thought of her — that is, of Lika L.

All the summer, noble gentlemen, we shall have no money, and the thought of that spoils my appetite. I have got into debt for a thousand for a tour, which I could have made solo for three hundred roubles. All my hopes now are in the fools of amateurs who are going to act my “Bear.”

Have you taken a house for the holidays, signori? You treat me piggishly, you write nothing to me, and I don’t know what’s going on, and how things are at home.

Humble respects to you all. Take care of yourselves, and don’t completely forget me.

MONTE CARLO, April 13, 1891.

I am writing to you from Monte Carlo, from the very place where they play roulette. I can’t tell you how thrilling the game is. First of all I won eighty francs, then I lost, then I won again, and in the end was left with a loss of forty francs. I have twenty francs left, I shall go and try my luck again. I have been here since the morning, and it is twelve o’clock at night. If I had money to spare I believe I should spend the whole year gambling and walking about the magnificent halls of the casino. It is interesting to watch the ladies who lose thousands. This morning a young lady lost 5000 francs. The tables with piles of gold are interesting too. In fact it is beyond all words. This charming Monte Carlo is extremely like a fine . . . den of thieves. The suicide of losers is quite a regular thing.

Suvorin fils lost 300 francs.

We shall soon see each other. I am weary of wandering over the face of the earth. One must draw the line. My heels are sore as it is.

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