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- Letters of Anton Chekhov - 40/64 -

Greetings, honoured Marya Vladimirovna.

For God's sake write what you are doing, whether you are all well and how things are in regard to mushrooms and gudgeon.

We are living at Bogimovo in the province of Kaluga.... It's a huge house, a fine park, the inevitable views, at the sight of which I am for some reason expected to say "Ach!" A river, a pond with hungry carp who love to get on to the hook, a mass of sick people, a smell of iodoform, and walks in the evenings. I am busy with my Sahalin; and in the intervals, that I may not let my family starve, I cherish the muse and write stories. Everything goes on in the old way, there is nothing new. I get up every day at five o'clock, and prepare my coffee with my own hands--a sign that I have already got into old bachelor habits and am resigned to them. Masha is painting, Misha wears his cockade creditably, father talks about bishops, mother bustles about the house, Ivan fishes. On the same estate with us there is living a zoologist called Wagner and his family, and some Kisilyovs--not the Kisilyovs, but others, not the real ones.

Wagner catches ladybirds and spiders, and Kisilyov the father sketches, as he is an artist. We get up performances, _tableaux-vivants_, and picnics. It is very gay and amusing, but I have only to catch a perch or find a mushroom for my head to droop, and my thoughts to be carried back to the past, and my brain and soul begin in a funereal voice to sing the duet "We are parted." The "deposed idol and the deserted temple" rise up before my imagination, and I think devoutly: "I would exchange all the zoologists and great artists in the world for one little Idiotik." [Footnote: Madame Kisilyov's son.] The weather has all the while been hot and dry, and only to-day there has been a crash of thunder and the gates of heaven are open. One longs to get away somewhere--for instance, to America, or Norway.... Be well and happy, and may the good spirits, of whom there are so many at Babkino, have you in their keeping.


ALEXIN, July, 1891.


I got a letter from you a long time ago with the photographs of Semashko, but I haven't answered till now, because I have been all the time trying to formulate the great thoughts befitting my answer. All our people are alive and well, we often talk of you, and regret that your prolificness prevents you from coming to us here where you would be very welcome. Father, as I have written to you already, has thrown up Ivanygortch, and is living with us. Suvorin has been here twice; he talked about you, and caught fish. I am up to my neck in work with Sahalin, and other things no less wearisome and hard labour. I dream of winning forty thousand, so as to cut myself off completely from writing, which I am sick of, to buy a little bit of land and live like a hermit in idle seclusion, with you and Ivan in the neighbourhood--I dream of presenting you with fifteen acres each as poor relations. Altogether I have a dreary existence, I am sick of toiling over lines and halfpence, and old age is creeping nearer and nearer.

Your last story, in my opinion, shared by Suvorin, is good. Why do you write so little?

The zoologist V. A. Wagner, who took his degree with you, is staying in the same courtyard. He is writing a very solid dissertation. Kisilyov, the artist, is living in the same yard too. We go walks together in the evenings and discuss philosophy....


BOGIMOVO, July 24, 1891.

... Thanks for the five kopecks addition. Alas, it will not settle my difficulties! To save up a reserve, as you write, and extricate myself from the abyss of halfpenny anxieties and petty terrors, there is only one resource left me--an immoral one. To marry a rich woman or give out Anna Karenin as my work. And as that is impossible I dismiss my difficulties in despair and let things go as they please.

You once praised Rod, a French writer, and told me Tolstoy liked him. The other day I happened to read a novel of his and flung up my hands in amazement. He is equivalent to our Matchtet, only a little more intelligent. There is a terrible deal of affectation, dreariness, straining after originality, and as little of anything artistic as there was salt in that porridge we cooked in the evening at Bogimovo. In the preface this Rod regrets that he was in the past a "naturalist," and rejoices that the spiritualism of the latest recruits of literature has replaced materialism. Boyish boastfulness which is at the same time coarse and clumsy.... "If we are not as talented as you, Monsieur Zola, to make up for it we believe in God." ...

July 29.

Well, thank God! To-day I have received from the bookshop notice that there is 690 roubles 6 kopecks coming to me. I have written in answer that they are to send five hundred roubles to Feodosia and the other one hundred and ninety to me. And so I am left owing you only one hundred and seventy. That is comforting, it's an advance anyway. To meet the debt to the newspaper I am arming myself with an immense story which I shall finish in a day or two and send. I ought to knock three hundred roubles off the debt, and get as much for myself. Ough! ...

August 6.

... The death of a servant in the house makes a strange impression, doesn't it? The man while he was alive attracted attention only so far as he was one's "man"; but when he is dead he suddenly engrosses the attention of all, lies like a weight on the whole house, and becomes the despotic master who is talked of to the exclusion of everything.

... I shall finish my story to-morrow or the day after, but not to-day, for it has exhausted me fiendishly towards the end. Thanks to the haste with which I have worked at it, I have wasted a pound of nerves over it. The composition of it is a little complicated. I got into difficulties and often tore up what I had written, and for days at a time was dissatisfied with my work--that is why I have not finished it till now. How awful it is! I must rewrite it! It's impossible to leave it, for it is in a devil of a mess. My God! if the public likes my works as little as I do those of other people which I am reading, what an ass I am! There is something asinine about our writing....

To my great pleasure the amazing astronomer has arrived. She is angry with you, and calls you for some reason an "eloquent gossip." To begin with, she is free and independent; and then she has a poor opinion of men; and further, according to her, everyone is a savage or a ninny--and you dared to give her my address with the words "the being you adore lives at ...," and so on. Upon my word, as though one could suspect earthly feelings in astronomers who soar among the clouds! She talks and laughs all day, is a capital mushroom-gatherer, and dreams of the Caucasus to which she is departing today.

August 18.

At last I have finished my long, wearisome story [Footnote: "The Duel."] and am sending it to you in Feodosia. Please read it. It is too long for the paper, and not suitable for dividing into parts. Do as you think best, however....

There are more than four signatures of print in the story. It's awful. I am exhausted, and dragged the end, like a train of waggons on a muddy night in autumn, at a walking pace with halts--that is why I am late with it....

August 18.

Speaking of Nikolay and the doctor who attends him, you emphasize that "all that is done without love, without self-sacrifice, even in regard to trifling conveniences." You are right, speaking of people generally, but what would you have the doctors do? If, as your old nurse says, "The bowel has burst," what's one to do, even if one is ready to give one's life to the sufferer? As a rule, while the family, the relations, and the servants are doing "everything they can" and are straining every nerve, the doctor sits and looks like a fool, with his hands folded, disconsolately ashamed of himself and his science, and trying to preserve external tranquillity....

Doctors have loathsome days and hours, such as I would not wish my worst enemy. It is true that ignoramuses and coarse louts are no rarity among doctors, nor are they among writers, engineers, people in general; but those loathsome days and hours of which I speak fall to the lot of doctors only, and for that, truly, much may be forgiven them....

The amazing astronomer is at Batum now. As I told her I should go to Batum too, she will send her address to Feodosia. She has grown cleverer than ever of late. One day I overheard a learned discussion between her and the zoologist Wagner, whom you know. It seemed to me that in comparison with her the learned professor was simply a schoolboy. She has excellent logic and plenty of good common sense, but no rudder, ... so that she drifts and drifts, and doesn't know where she is going....

A woman was carting rye, and she fell off the waggon head downwards. She was terribly injured: concussion of the brain, straining of the vertebrae of the neck, sickness, fearful pains, and so on. She was brought to me. She was moaning and groaning and praying for death, and yet she looked at the man who brought her and muttered: "Let the lentils go, Kirila, you can thresh them later, but thresh the oats now." I told her that she could talk about oats afterwards, that there was something more serious to talk about, but she said to me: "His oats are ever so good!" A managing, vigilant woman. Death comes easy to such people....

Letters of Anton Chekhov - 40/64

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