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- Letters of Anton Chekhov - 50/64 -

M. gave a concert here, and made one hundred and fifty roubles clear profit. He roared like a grampus but had an immense success. I am awfully sorry I did not study singing; I could have roared too, as my throat is rich in husky elements, and they say I have a real octave. I should have earned money, and been a favourite with the ladies....


MELIHOVO, April 15, 1894.

... I have come back from the flaming Tavrida and am already sitting on the cool banks of my pond. It's very warm, however: the thermometer runs up to twenty-six....

I am busy looking after the land: I am making new avenues, planting flowers, chopping down dead trees, and chasing the hens and the dogs out of the garden. Literature plays the part of Erakit, who was always in the background. I don't want to write, and indeed, it's hard to combine a desire to live and a desire to write....


MELIHOVO, April 21, 1894

Of course it is very nice in the country; in fine weather Russia is an extraordinarily beautiful and enchanting country, especially for those who have been born and spent their childhood in the country. But you will never buy yourself an estate, as you don't know what you want. To like an estate you must make up your mind to buy it; so long as it is not yours it will seem comfortless and full of defects. My cough is considerably better, I am sunburnt, and they tell me I am fatter, but the other day I almost fell down and I fancied for a minute that I was dying. I was walking along the avenue with the prince, our neighbour, and was talking when all at once something seemed to break in my chest, I had a feeling of warmth and suffocation, there was a singing in my ears, I remembered that I had been having palpitations for a long time and thought--"they must have meant something then." I went rapidly towards the verandah on which visitors were sitting, and had one thought--that it would be awkward to fall down and die before strangers; but I went into my bedroom, drank some water, and recovered.

So you are not the only one who suffers from staggering!

I am beginning to build a pretty lodge....

May 9.

I have no news. The weather is most exquisite, and in the foliage near the house a nightingale is building and shouting incessantly. About twelve miles from me there is the village of Pokrovskoe-Meshtcherskoe; the old manor house there is now the lunatic asylum of the province. The Zemsky doctors from the whole Moscow province met there on the fourth of May, to the number of about seventy-five; I was there too. There are a great many patients but all that is interesting material for alienists and not for psychologists. One patient, a mystic, preaches that the Holy Trinity has come upon earth in the form of the metropolitan of Kiev, Ioannikiy. "A limit of ten years has been given us; eight have passed, only two years are left. If we do not want Russia to fall into ruins like Sodom, all Russia must go in a procession with the Cross to Kiev, as Moscow went to Troitsa, and pray there to the divine martyr in the noble form of the metropolitan Ioannikiy." This queer fellow is convinced that the doctors in the asylum are poisoning him, and that he is being saved by the miraculous intervention of Christ in the form of the metropolitan. He is continually praying to the East and singing, and, addressing himself to God, invariably adds the words, "in the noble form of the metropolitan Ioannikiy." He has a lovely expression of face....

From the madhouse I returned late at night in my troika. Two-thirds of the way I had to drive through the forest in the moonlight, and I had a wonderful feeling such as I have not had for a long time, as though I had come back from a tryst. I think that nearness to nature and idleness are essential elements of happiness; without them it is impossible....


MELIHOVO, July, 1894.

I have so many visitors that I cannot answer your last letter. I want to write at length but am pulled up at the thought that any minute they may come in and hinder me. And in fact while I write the word "hinder," a girl has come in and announced that a patient has arrived; I must go.... I have grown to detest writing, and I don't know what to do. I would gladly take up medicine and would accept any sort of post, but I no longer have the physical elasticity for it. When I write now or think I ought to write I feel as much disgust as though I were eating soup from which I had just removed a beetle--forgive the comparison. What I hate is not the writing itself, but the literary entourage from which one cannot escape, and which one takes everywhere as the earth takes its atmosphere....


MELIHOVO, August 15, 1894.

Our trip on the Volga turned out rather a queer one in the end. Potapenko and I went to Yaroslav to take a steamer from there to Tsaritsyn, then to Kalatch, from there by the Don to Taganrog. The journey from Yaroslav to Nizhni is beautiful, but I had seen it before. Moreover, it was very hot in the cabin and the wind lashed in our faces on deck. The passengers were an uneducated set, whose presence was irritating. At Nizhni we were met by N., Tolstoy's friend. The heat, the dry wind, the noise of the fair and the conversation of N. suddenly made me feel so suffocated, so ill at ease, and so sick, that I took my portmanteau and ignominiously fled to the railway station.... Potapenko followed me. We took the train for Moscow, but we were ashamed to go home without having done anything, and we decided to go somewhere if it had to be to Lapland. If it had not been for his wife our choice would have fallen on Feodosia, but ... alas! we have a wife living at Feodosia. We thought it over, we talked it over, we counted over our money, and came to the Psyol to Suma, which you know.... Well, the Psyol is magnificent. There is warmth, there is space, an immensity of water and of greenery and delightful people. We spent six days on the Psyol, ate and drank, walked and did nothing: my ideal of happiness, as you know, is idleness. Now I am at Melihovo again. There is a cold rain, a leaden sky, mud.

* * * * *

It sometimes happens that one passes a third-class refreshment room and sees a cold fish, cooked long before, and wonders carelessly who wants that unappetising fish. And yet undoubtedly that fish is wanted, and will be eaten, and there are people who will think it nice. One may say the same of the works of N. He is a bourgeois writer, writing for the unsophisticated public who travel third class. For that public Tolstoy and Turgenev are too luxurious, too aristocratic, somewhat alien and not easily digested. There is a public which eats salt beef and horse-radish sauce with relish, and does not care for artichokes and asparagus. Put yourself at its point of view, imagine the grey, dreary courtyard, the educated ladies who look like cooks, the smell of paraffin, the scantiness of interests and tasks--and you will understand N. and his readers. He is colourless; that is partly because the life he describes lacks colour. He is false because bourgeois writers cannot help being false. They are vulgar writers perfected. The vulgarians sin together with their public, while the bourgeois are hypocritical with them and flatter their narrow virtue.

MELIHOVO, February 25, 1895.

... I should like to meet a philosopher like Nietzsche somewhere in a train or a steamer, and to spend the whole night talking to him. I consider his philosophy won't last long, however. It's more showy than convincing....

MELIHOVO, March 16, 1895.

Instead of you, heaven has sent me N., who has come to see me with E. and Z., two young duffers who never miss a single word but induce in the whole household a desperate boredom. N. looks flabby and physically slack; he has gone off, but has become warmer and more good-natured; he must be going to die. When my mother was ordering meat from the butcher, she said he must let us have better meat, as N. was staying with us from Petersburg.

"What N.?" asked the butcher in surprise--"the one who writes books?" and he sent us excellent meat. So the butcher does not know that I write books, for he never sends anything but gristle for my benefit....

Your little letter about physical games for students will do good if only you will go on insisting on the subject. Games are absolutely essential. Playing games is good for health and beauty and liberalism, since nothing is so conducive to the blending of classes, et cetera, as public games. Games would give our solitary young people acquaintances; young people would more frequently fall in love; but games should not be instituted before the Russian student ceases to be hungry. No skating, no croquet, can keep the student cheerful and confident on an empty stomach.

MELIHOVO, March 23, 1895.

Letters of Anton Chekhov - 50/64

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