Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. S. Suvorin.

MELIHOVO, March, 1892.

The cost of labour is almost nil, and so I am very well off. I begin to see the charms of capitalism. To pull down the stove in the servants’ quarters and build up there a kitchen stove with all its accessories, then to pull down the kitchen stove in the house arid put up a Dutch stove instead, costs twenty roubles altogether. The price of two men to dig, twenty-five kopecks. To fill the ice cellar it costs thirty kopecks a day to the workmen. A young labourer who does not drink or smoke, and can read and write, whose duties are to work the land and clean the boots and look after the flower-garden, costs five roubles a month. Floors, partitions, papering walls — all that is cheaper than mushrooms. And I am at ease. But if I were to pay for labour a quarter of what I get for my leisure I should be ruined in a month, as the number of stove-builders, carpenters, joiners, and so on, threatens to go for ever after the fashion of a recurring decimal. A spacious life not cramped within four walls requires a spacious pocket too. I have bored you already, but I must tell you one thing more: the clover seed costs one hundred roubles a pood, and the oats needed for seed cost more than a hundred. Think of that! They prophesy a harvest and wealth for me, but what is that to me! Better five kopecks in the present than a rouble in the future. I must sit and work. I must earn at least five hundred roubles for all these trifles. I have earned half already. And the snow is melting, it is warm, the birds are singing, the sky is bright and spring-like.

I am reading a mass of things. I have read Lyeskov’s “Legendary Characters,” religious and piquant — a combination of virtue, piety, and lewdness, but very interesting. Read it if you haven’t read it. I have read again Pisarev’s “Criticism of Pushkin.” Awfully naive. The man pulls Onyegin and Tatyana down from their pedestals, but Pushkin remains unhurt. Pisarev is the grandfather and father of all the critics of to-day, including Burenin — the same pettiness in disparagement, the same cold and conceited wit, and the same coarseness and indelicacy in their attitude to people. It is not Pisarev’s ideas that are brutalizing, for he has none, but his coarse tone. His attitude to Tatyana, especially to her charming letter, which I love tenderly, seems to me simply abominable. The critic has the foul aroma of an insolent captious procurator.

We have almost finished furnishing; only the shelves for my books are not done yet. When we take out the double windows we shall begin painting everything afresh, and then the house will have a very presentable appearance.

There are avenues of lime-trees, apple-trees, cherries, plums, and raspberries in the garden. . . .

MELIHOVO, April 6, 1892.

It is Easter. There is a church here, but no clergy. We collected eleven roubles from the whole parish and got a priest from the Davydov Monastery, who began celebrating the service on Friday. The church is very old and chilly, with lattice windows. We sang the Easter service — that is, my family and my visitors, young people. The effect was very good and harmonious, particularly the mass. The peasants were very much pleased, and they say they have never had such a grand service. Yesterday the sun shone all day, it was warm. In the morning I went into the fields, from which the snow has gone already, and spent half an hour in the happiest frame of mind: it was amazingly nice! The winter corn is green already, and there is grass in the copse.

You will not like Melihovo, at least at first. Here everything is in miniature; a little avenue of lime-trees, a pond the size of an aquarium, a little garden and park, little trees; but when you have walked about it once or twice the impression of littleness goes off. There is great feeling of space in spite of the village being so near. There is a great deal of forest around. There are numbers of starlings, and the starling has the right to say of itself: “I sing to my God all the days of my life.” It sings all day long without stopping. . . .

MELIHOVO, April 8, 1892.

If Shapiro were to present me with the gigantic photograph of which you write, I should not know what to do with it. A cumbersome present. You say that I used to be younger. Yes, imagine! Strange as it may seem, I have passed thirty some time ago, and I already feel forty close at hand. I have grown old not in body only, but in spirit. I have become stupidly indifferent to everything in the world, and for some reason or other the beginning of this indifference coincided with my tour abroad. I get up and go to bed feeling as though interest in life had dried up in me. This is either the illness called in the newspapers nervous exhaustion, or some working of the spirit not clear to the consciousness, which is called in novels a spiritual revulsion. If it is the latter it is all for the best, I suppose.

* * * * *

The artist Levitan is staying with me. Yesterday evening I went out with him shooting. He shot at a snipe; the bird, shot in the wing, fell into a pool. I picked it up: a long beak, big black eyes, and beautiful plumage. It looked at me with surprise. What was I to do with it? Levitan scowled, shut his eyes, and begged me, with a quiver in his voice: “My dear fellow, hit him on the head with the butt-end of your gun.” I said: “I can’t.” He went on nervously, shrugging his shoulders, twitching his head and begging me to; and the snipe went on looking at me in wonder. I had to obey Levitan and kill it. One beautiful creature in love the less, while two fools went home and sat down to supper.

Jean Shtcheglov, in whose company you were so bored for a whole evening, is a great opponent of every sort of heresy, and amongst others of feminine intellect; and yet if one compares him with K., for instance, beside her he seems like a foolish little monk. By the way, if you see K., give her my greetings, and tell her that we are expecting her here. She is very interesting in the open air and far more intelligent than in town. . . .

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