Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To A. S. Suvorin.

MOSCOW, October 25, 1891.

Print “The Duel” not twice a week but only once. To print it twice is breaking a long-established custom of the paper, and it would seem as though I were robbing the other contributors of one day a week; and meanwhile it makes no difference to me or my novel whether it is printed once a week or twice. The literary brotherhood in Petersburg seems to talk of nothing but the uncleanness of my motives. I have just received the good news that I am to be married to the rich Madame Sibiryakov. I get a lot of agreeable news altogether.

I wake up every night and read “War and Peace.” One reads it with the same interest and naive wonder as though one had never read it before. It’s amazingly good. Only I don’t like the passages in which Napoleon appears. As soon as Napoleon comes on the scene there are forced explanations and tricks of all sorts to prove that he was stupider than he really was. Everything that is said and done by Pierre, Prince Andrey, or the absolutely insignificant Nikolay Rostov — all that is good, clever, natural, and touching; everything that is thought and done by Napoleon is not natural, not clever, inflated and worthless.

When I live in the provinces (of which I dream now day and night), I shall practice as a doctor and read novels.

I am not coming to Petersburg.

If I had been by Prince Andrey I should have saved him. It is strange to read that the wound of a prince, a rich man spending his days and nights with a doctor and being nursed by Natasha and Sonya, should have smelt like a corpse. What a scurvy affair medicine was in those days! Tolstoy could not help getting soaked through with hatred for medicine while he was writing his thick novel. . . .

MOSCOW, November 18, 1891.

. . . I have read your letter about the influenza and Solovyov. I was unexpectedly aware of a dash of cruelty in it. The phrase “I hate” does not suit you at all; and a public confession “I am a sinner, a sinner, a sinner,” is such pride that it made me feel uncomfortable. When the pope took the title “holiness,” the head of the Eastern church, in pique, called himself “The servant of God’s servants.” So you publicly expatiate on your sinfulness from pique of Solovyov, who has the impudence to call himself orthodox. But does a word like orthodoxy, Judaism, or Catholicism contain any implication of exceptional personal merit or virtue? To my thinking everybody is bound to call himself orthodox if he has that word inscribed on his passport. Whether you believe or not, whether you are a prince of this world or an exile in penal servitude, you are, for practical purposes, orthodox. And Solovyov made no sort of pretension when he said he was no Jew or Chaldean but orthodox. . . .

I still feel dull, blighted, foolish, and indifferent, and I am still sneezing and coughing, and I am beginning to think I shall not get back to my former health. But that’s all in God’s hands. Medical treatment and anxiety about one’s physical existence arouse in me a feeling not far from loathing. I am not going to be doctored. I will take water and quinine, but I am not going to let myself be sounded. . . .

I had only just finished this letter when I received yours. You say that if I go into the wilds I shall be quite cut off from you. But I am going to live in the country in order to be nearer Petersburg. If I have no flat in Moscow you must understand, my dear sir, I shall spend November, December, and January in Petersburg: that will be possible then. I shall be able to be idle all the summer too; I shall look out for a house in the country for you, but you are wrong in disliking Little Russians, they are not children or actors in the province of Poltava, but genuine people, and cheerful and well-fed into the bargain.

Do you know what relieves my cough? When I am working I sprinkle the edge of the table with turpentine with a sprayer and inhale its vapour. When I go to bed I spray my little table and other objects near me. The fine drops evaporate sooner than the liquid itself. And the smell of turpentine is pleasant. I drink Obersalzbrunnen, avoid hot things, talk little, and blame myself for smoking so much. I repeat, dress as warmly as possible, even at home. Avoid draughts at the theatre. Treat yourself like a hothouse plant or you will not soon be rid of your cough. If you want to try turpentine, buy the French kind. Take quinine once a day, and be careful to avoid constipation. Influenza has completely taken away from me any desire to drink spirituous liquors. They are disgusting to my taste. I don’t drink my two glasses at night, and so it is a long time before I can get to sleep. I want to take ether.

I await your story. In the summer let us each write a play. Yes, by God! why the devil should we waste our time. . . .


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