Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. S. Suvorin.

THE STEAMER “BAIKAL,” September 11, 1890.

Greetings! I am sailing on the Gulf of Tartary from the north of Sahalin to the south. I am writing; and don’t know when this letter will reach you. I am well, though I see on all sides glaring at me the green eyes of cholera which has laid a trap for me. In Vladivostok, in Japan, in Shanghai, Tchifu, Suez, and even in the moon, I fancy — everywhere there is cholera, everywhere quarantine and terror. . . . They expect the cholera in Sahalin and keep all vessels in quarantine. In short, it is a bad lookout. Europeans are dying at Vladivostok, among others the wife of a general has died.

I have spent just two months in the north of Sahalin. I was received by the local administration very amicably, though Galkin had not written a single word about me. Neither Galkin nor the Baroness V., nor any of the other genii I was so foolish as to appeal to for help, turned out of the slightest use to me; I had to act on my own initiative.

The Sahalin general, Kononovitch, is a cultivated and gentlemanly man. We soon got on together, and everything went off well. I am bringing some papers with me from which you will see that I was put on the most agreeable footing from the first. I have seen everything, so that the question is not now what I have seen, but how I have seen it.

I don’t know what will come of it, but I have done a good deal. I have got enough material for three dissertations. I got up every morning at five o’clock and went to bed late; and all day long was on the strain from the thought that there was still so much I hadn’t done; and now that I have done with the convict system, I have the feeling that I have seen everything but have not noticed the elephants.

By the way, I had the patience to make a census of the whole Sahalin population. I made the round of all the settlements, went into every hut and talked to everyone; I made use of the card system in making the census, and I have already registered about ten thousand convicts and settlers. In other words, there is not in Sahalin one convict or settler who has not talked with me. I was particularly successful with the census of the children, on which I am building great hopes.

I dined at Landsberg’s; I sat in the kitchen of the former Baroness Gembruk. . . . I visited all the celebrities. I was present at a flogging, after which I dreamed for three or four nights of the executioner and the revolting accessories. I have talked to men who were chained to trucks. Once when I was drinking tea in a mine, Borodavkin, once a Petersburg merchant who was convicted of arson, took a teaspoon out of his pocket and gave it to me, and the long and the short of it is that I have upset my nerves and have vowed not to come to Sahalin again.

I should write more to you, but there is a lady in the cabin who giggles and chatters unceasingly. I haven’t the strength to write. She has been laughing and cackling ever since yesterday evening.

This letter will go across America, but I shall go probably not across America. Everyone says that the American way is duller and more expensive.

To-morrow I shall see Japan, the Island of Matsmai. Now it is twelve o’clock at night. It is dark on the sea, the wind is blowing. I don’t understand how the steamer can go on and find its direction when one can’t see a thing, and above all in such wild, little-known waters as those in the Gulf of Tartary.

When I remember that I am ten thousand versts away from my world I am overcome with apathy. It seems I shall not be home for a hundred years. . . . God give you health and all blessings. I feel dreary.

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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53