Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. S. Suvorin.


. . . Hurrah! Here at last I am sitting at my table at home! I pray to my faded penates and write to you. I have now a happy feeling as though I had not been away from home at all. I am well and thriving to the marrow of my bones. Here’s a very brief report for you. I was in Sahalin not two months, as you have printed, but three months plus two days. I worked at high pressure. I made a full and minute census of the whole of Sahalin’s population, and saw everything except the death penalty. When we see each other I will show you a whole trunkful of stuff about the convicts which is very valuable as raw material. I know a very great deal now, but I have brought away a horrid feeling. While I was staying in Sahalin, I only had a bitter feeling in my inside as though from rancid butter; and now, as I remember it, Sahalin seems to me a perfect hell. For two months I worked intensely, putting my back into it; in the third month I began to feel ill from the bitterness I have spoken of, from boredom, and the thought that the cholera would come from Vladivostok to Sahalin, and that so I was in danger of having to winter in the convict settlement. But, thank God! the cholera ceased, and on the 13th of October the steamer bore me away from Sahalin. I have been in Vladivostok. About the Primorsky Region and our Eastern sea-coast with its fleets, its problems, and its Pacific dreams altogether, I have only one thing to tell of: its crying poverty! Poverty, ignorance, and worthlessness, that might drive one to despair. One honest man for ninety-nine thieves, that are blackening the name of Russia. . . . We passed Japan because the cholera was there, and so I have not bought you anything Japanese, and the five hundred you gave me for your purchases I have spent on my own needs, for which you have, by law, the right to send me to a settlement in Siberia. The first foreign port we reached was Hong Kong. It is an exquisite bay. The traffic on the sea was such as I had never seen before even in pictures; excellent roads, trams, a railway to the mountains, a museum, botanical gardens; wherever you look you see the tenderest solicitude on the part of the English for the men in their service; there is even a club for the sailors. I went about in a jinrickshaw — that is, carried by men — bought all sorts of rubbish of the Chinese, and was moved to indignation at hearing my Russian fellow-travellers abuse the English for exploiting the natives. I thought: Yes, the English exploit the Chinese, the Sepoys, the Hindoos, but they do give them roads, aqueducts, museums, Christianity, and what do you give them?

When we left Hong Kong the boat began to rock. The steamer was empty and lurched through an angle of thirty-eight degrees, so that we were afraid it would upset. I am not subject to sea-sickness: that discovery was very agreeable to me. On the way to Singapore we threw two corpses into the sea. When one sees a dead man, wrapped in sailcloth, fly, turning somersaults in the water, and remembers that it is several miles to the bottom, one feels frightened, and for some reason begins to fancy that one will die oneself and will be thrown into the sea. Our horned cattle have fallen sick. Through the united verdict of Dr. Stcherbak and your humble servant, the cattle have been killed and thrown into the sea.

I have no clear memory of Singapore as, for some reason, I felt very sad while I was driving about it, and was almost weeping. Next after it comes Ceylon — an earthly Paradise. There in that Paradise I went more than a hundred versts on the railway and gazed at palm forests and bronze women to my heart’s content. . . . After Ceylon we sailed for thirteen days and nights without stopping and were all stupid from boredom. I bear the heat well. The Red Sea is depressing; I felt touched as I gazed at Sinai.

God’s world is a good place. The one thing not good in it is we. How little justice and humility there is in us. How little we understand true patriotism! A drunken, broken-down debauchee of a husband loves his wife and children, but of what use is that love? We, so we are told in our own newspapers, love our great motherland, but how does that love express itself? Instead of knowledge — insolence and immeasurable conceit; instead of work — sloth and swinishness; there is no justice, the conception of honour does not go beyond “the honour of the uniform”— the uniform which is so commonly seen adorning the prisoner’s dock in our courts. Work is what is wanted, and the rest can go to the devil. First of all we must be just, and all the rest will be added unto us,

I have a passionate desire to talk to you. My soul is in a ferment. I want no one else but you, for it is only with you I can talk.

* * * * *

How glad I am that everything was managed without Galkin-Vrasskoy’s help. He didn’t write one line about me, and I turned up in Sahalin utterly unknown.

* * * * *

MOSCOW, December 24, 1890.

I believe in Koch and in spermine and praise God for it. All that — that is the kochines, spermines, and so on — seem to the public a kind of miracle that leaped forth from some brain, after the fashion of Pallas Athene; but people who have a closer acquaintance with the facts know that they are only the natural sequel of what has been done during the last twenty years. A great deal has been done, my dear fellow! Surgery alone has done so much that one is fairly dumbfoundered at it. To one who is studying medicine now, the time before twenty years ago seems simply pitiable. My dear friend, if I were offered the choice between the “ideals” of the renowned “sixties,” or the very poorest Zemstvo hospital of to-day, I should, without a moment’s hesitation, choose the second.

Will kochine cure syphilis? It’s possible. But as for cancer, you must allow me to have my doubts. Cancer is not a microbe; it’s a tissue, growing in the wrong place, and like a noxious weed smothering all the neighbouring tissues. If N.’s uncle feels better, that is, because the microbes of erysipelas — that is, the elements that produce the disease of erysipelas — form a component part of kochine. It was observed long ago that with the development of erysipelas, the growth of malignant tumours is temporarily checked.

* * * * *

It’s a strange business — while I was travelling to Sahalin and back I felt perfectly well, but now, at home, the devil knows what is happening to me. My head is continually aching, I have a feeling of languor all over, I am quickly exhausted, apathetic, and worst of all, my heart is not beating regularly. My heart is continually stopping for a few seconds. . . .

MOSCOW, January, 1891.

I shall probably come to Petersburg on the 8th of January. . . . Since by February I shall not have a farthing, I must make haste and finish the novel [Footnote: “The Duel.”] I’ve begun. There is something in the novel about which I must talk to you and ask your advice.

I spent Christmas in a horrible way. To begin with, I had palpitations of the heart; secondly, my brother Ivan came to stay and was ill with typhoid, poor fellow; thirdly, after my Sahalin labours and the tropics, my Moscow life seems to me now so petty, so bourgeois, and so dull, that I feel ready to bite; fourthly, working for my daily bread prevents my giving up my time to Sahalin; fifthly, my acquaintances bother me, and so on.

The poet Merezhkovsky has been to see me twice; he is a very intelligent man.

How sorry I am you did not see my mongoose. It is a wonderful creature.


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