Franz Kafka

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

A short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," 1877. Full Text in English. (Russian: Сон смешного человека)

Portrait of Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872


THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN


I

I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a
promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as
before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when
they laugh at me--and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly
dear to me. I could join in their laughter--not exactly at myself, but
through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad
because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to
be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No,
they won't understand it.

In old days I used to be miserable at seeming ridiculous. Not seeming, but
being. I have always been ridiculous, and I have known it, perhaps, from
the hour I was born. Perhaps from the time I was seven years old I knew I
was ridiculous. Afterwards I went to school, studied at the university,
and, do you know, the more I learned, the more thoroughly I understood that
I was ridiculous. So that it seemed in the end as though all the sciences I
studied at the university existed only to prove and make evident to me as I
went more deeply into them that I was ridiculous. It was the same with life
as it was with science. With every year the same consciousness of the
ridiculous figure I cut in every relation grew and strengthened. Every one
always laughed at me. But not one of them knew or guessed that if there
were one man on earth who knew better than anybody else that I was absurd,
it was myself, and what I resented most of all was that they did not know
that. But that was my own fault; I was so proud that nothing would have
ever induced me to tell it to any one. This pride grew in me with the
years; and if it had happened that I allowed myself to confess to any one
that I was ridiculous, I believe that I should have blown out my brains the
same evening. Oh, how I suffered in my early youth from the fear that I
might give way and confess it to my schoolfellows. But since I grew to
manhood, I have for some unknown reason become calmer, though I realised my
awful characteristic more fully every year. I say "unknown," for to this
day I cannot tell why it was. Perhaps it was owing to the terrible misery
that was growing in my soul through something which was of more consequence
than anything else about me: that something was the conviction that had
come upon me that _nothing in the world mattered_. I had long had an
inkling of it, but the full realisation came last year almost suddenly. I
suddenly felt that it was all the same to me whether the world existed or
whether there had never been anything at all: I began to feel with all my
being that there was _nothing existing_. At first I fancied that many
things had existed in the past, but afterwards I guessed that there never
had been anything in the past either, but that it had only seemed so for
some reason. Little by little I guessed that there would be nothing in the
future either. Then I left off being angry with people and almost ceased to
notice them. Indeed this showed itself even in the pettiest trifles: I
used, for instance, to knock against people in the street. And not so much
from being lost in thought: what had I to think about? I had almost given
up thinking by that time; nothing mattered to me. If at least I had solved
my problems! Oh, I had not settled one of them, and how many they were! But
I gave up caring about anything, and all the problems disappeared.

And it was after that that I found out the truth. I learnt the truth last
November--on the third of November, to be precise--and I remember every
instant since. It was a gloomy evening, one of the gloomiest possible
evenings. I was going home at about eleven o'clock, and I remember that I
thought that the evening could not be gloomier. Even physically. Rain had
been falling all day, and it had been a cold, gloomy, almost menacing rain,
with, I remember, an unmistakable spite against mankind. Suddenly between
ten and eleven it had stopped, and was followed by a horrible dampness,
colder and damper than the rain, and a sort of steam was rising from
everything, from every stone in the street, and from every by-lane if one
looked down it as far as one could. A thought suddenly occurred to me, that
if all the street lamps had been put out it would have been less cheerless,
that the gas made one's heart sadder because it lighted it all up. I had
had scarcely any dinner that day, and had been spending the evening with an
engineer, and two other friends had been there also. I sat silent--I fancy
I bored them. They talked of something rousing and suddenly they got
excited over it. But they did not really care, I could see that, and only
made a show of being excited. I suddenly said as much to them. "My
friends," I said, "you really do not care one way or the other." They were
not offended, but they all laughed at me. That was because I spoke without
any note of reproach, simply because it did not matter to me. They saw it
did not, and it amused them.

As I was thinking about the gas lamps in the street I looked up at the sky.
The sky was horribly dark, but one could distinctly see tattered clouds,
and between them fathomless black patches. Suddenly I noticed in one of
these patches a star, and began watching it intently. That was because that
star gave me an idea: I decided to kill myself that night. I had firmly
determined to do so two months before, and poor as I was, I bought a
splendid revolver that very day, and loaded it. But two months had passed
and it was still lying in my drawer; I was so utterly indifferent that I
wanted to seize a moment when I would not be so indifferent--why, I don't
know. And so for two months every night that I came home I thought I would
shoot myself. I kept waiting for the right moment. And so now this star
gave me a thought. I made up my mind that it should certainly be that
night. And why the star gave me the thought I don't know.

And just as I was looking at the sky, this little girl took me by the
elbow. The street was empty, and there was scarcely any one to be seen. A
cabman was sleeping in the distance in his cab. It was a child of eight
with a kerchief on her head, wearing nothing but a wretched little dress
all soaked with rain, but I noticed particularly her wet broken shoes and I
recall them now. They caught my eye particularly. She suddenly pulled me by
the elbow and called me. She was not weeping, but was spasmodically crying
out some words which she could not utter properly, because she was
shivering and shuddering all over. She was in terror about something, and
kept crying, "Mammy, mammy!" I turned facing her, I did not say a word and
went on; but she ran, pulling at me, and there was that note in her voice
which in frightened children means despair. I know that sound. Though she
did not articulate the words, I understood that her mother was dying, or
that something of the sort was happening to them, and that she had run out
to call some one, to find something to help her mother. I did not go with
her; on the contrary, I had an impulse to drive her away. I told her first
to go to a policeman. But clasping her hands, she ran beside me sobbing and
gasping, and would not leave me. Then I stamped my foot, and shouted at
her. She called out "Sir! sir!..." but suddenly abandoned me and rushed
headlong across the road. Some other passer-by appeared there, and she
evidently flew from me to him.

I mounted up to my fifth storey. I have a room in a flat where there are
other lodgers. My room is small and poor, with a garret window in the
shape of a semicircle. I have a sofa covered with American leather, a table
with books on it, two chairs and a comfortable arm-chair, as old as old can
be, but of the good old-fashioned shape. I sat down, lighted the candle,
and began thinking. In the room next to mine, through the partition wall, a
perfect Bedlam was going on. It had been going on for the last three days.
A retired captain lived there, and he had half a dozen visitors, gentlemen
of doubtful reputation, drinking vodka and playing _stoss_ with old cards.
The night before there had been a fight, and I know that two of them had
been for a long time engaged in dragging each other about by the hair. The
landlady wanted to complain, but she was in abject terror of the captain.
There was only one other lodger in the flat, a thin little regimental lady,
on a visit to Petersburg, with three little children who had been taken ill
since they came into the lodgings. Both she and her children were in mortal
fear of the captain, and lay trembling and crossing themselves all night,
and the youngest child had a sort of fit from fright. That captain, I know
for a fact, sometimes stops people in the Nevsky Prospect and begs. They
won't take him into the service, but strange to say (that's why I am
telling this), all this month that the captain has been here his behaviour
has caused me no annoyance. I have, of course, tried to avoid his
acquaintance from the very beginning, and he, too, was bored with me from
the first; but I never care how much they shout the other side of the
partition nor how many of them there are in there: I sit up all night and
forget them so completely that I do not even hear them. I stay awake till
daybreak, and have been going on like that for the last year. I sit up all
night in my arm-chair at the table, doing nothing. I only read by day. I
sit--don't even think; ideas of a sort wander through my mind and I let
them come and go as they will. A whole candle is burnt every night. I sat
down quietly at the table, took out the revolver and put it down before
me. When I had put it down I asked myself, I remember, "Is that so?" and
answered with complete conviction, "It is." That is, I shall shoot myself.
I knew that I should shoot myself that night for certain, but how much
longer I should go on sitting at the table I did not know. And no doubt I
should have shot myself if it had not been for that little girl.


II

You see, though nothing mattered to me, I could feel pain, for instance. If
any one had struck me it would have hurt me. It was the same morally: if
anything very pathetic happened, I should have felt pity just as I used to
do in old days when there were things in life that did matter to me. I had
felt pity that evening. I should have certainly helped a child. Why, then,
had I not helped the little girl? Because of an idea that occurred to me at
the time: when she was calling and pulling at me, a question suddenly arose
before me and I could not settle it. The question was an idle one, but I
was vexed. I was vexed at the reflection that if I were going to make an
end of myself that night, nothing in life ought to have mattered to me. Why
was it that all at once I did not feel that nothing mattered and was sorry
for the little girl? I remember that I was very sorry for her, so much so
that I felt a strange pang, quite incongruous in my position. Really I do
not know better how to convey my fleeting sensation at the moment, but the
sensation persisted at home when I was sitting at the table, and I was very
much irritated as I had not been for a long time past. One reflection
followed another. I saw clearly that so long as I was still a human being
and not nothingness, I was alive and so could suffer, be angry and feel
shame at my actions. So be it. But if I am going to kill myself, in two
hours, say, what is the little girl to me and what have I to do with shame
or with anything else in the world? I shall turn into nothing, absolutely
nothing. And can it really be true that the consciousness that I shall
_completely_ cease to exist immediately and so everything else will cease
to exist, does not in the least affect my feeling of pity for the child nor
the feeling of shame after a contemptible action? I stamped and shouted at
the unhappy child as though to say--not only I feel no pity, but even if I
behave inhumanly and contemptibly, I am free to, for in another two hours
everything will be extinguished. Do you believe that that was why I shouted
that? I am almost convinced of it now. It seemed clear to me that life and
the world somehow depended upon me now. I may almost say that the world now
seemed created for me alone: if I shot myself the world would cease to be
at least for me. I say nothing of its being likely that nothing will exist
for any one when I am gone, and that as soon as my consciousness is
extinguished the whole world will vanish too and become void like a
phantom, as a mere appurtenance of my consciousness, for possibly all this
world and all these people are only me myself. I remember that as I sat and
reflected, I turned all these new questions that swarmed one after another
quite the other way, and thought of something quite new. For instance, a
strange reflection suddenly occurred to me, that if I had lived before on
the moon or on Mars and there had committed the most disgraceful and
dishonourable action and had there been put to such shame and ignominy as
one can only conceive and realise in dreams, in nightmares, and if, finding
myself afterwards on earth, I were able to retain the memory of what I had
done on the other planet and at the same time knew that I should never,
under any circumstances, return there, then looking from the earth to the
moon--_should I care or not_? Should I feel shame for that action or not?
These were idle and superfluous questions for the revolver was already
lying before me, and I knew in every fibre of my being that it would happen
for certain, but they excited me and I raged. I could not die now without
having first settled something. In short, the child had saved me, for I
put off my pistol shot for the sake of these questions. Meanwhile the
clamour had begun to subside in the captain's room: they had finished their
game, were settling down to sleep, and meanwhile were grumbling and
languidly winding up their quarrels. At that point I suddenly fell asleep
in my chair at the table--a thing which had never happened to me before. I
dropped asleep quite unawares.

Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented
with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish
of jewellery, while others one gallops through, as it were, without
noticing them at all, as, for instance, through space and time. Dreams seem
to be spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the
heart, and yet what complicated tricks my reason has played sometimes in
dreams, what utterly incomprehensible things happen to it! My brother died
five years ago, for instance. I sometimes dream of him; he takes part in my
affairs, we are very much interested, and yet all through my dream I quite
know and remember that my brother is dead and buried. How is it that I am
not surprised that, though he is dead, he is here beside me and working
with me? Why is it that my reason fully accepts it? But enough. I will
begin about my dream. Yes, I dreamed a dream, my dream of the third of
November. They tease me now, telling me it was only a dream. But does it
matter whether it was a dream or reality, if the dream made known to me the
truth? If once one has recognised the truth and seen it, you know that it
is the truth and that there is no other and there cannot be, whether you
are asleep or awake. Let it be a dream, so be it, but that real life of
which you make so much I had meant to extinguish by suicide, and my dream,
my dream--oh, it revealed to me a different life, renewed, grand and full
of power!

Listen.


III

I have mentioned that I dropped asleep unawares and even seemed to be still
reflecting on the same subjects. I suddenly dreamt that I picked up the
revolver and aimed it straight at my heart--my heart, and not my head; and
I had determined beforehand to fire at my head, at my right temple. After
aiming at my chest I waited a second or two, and suddenly my candle, my
table, and the wall in front of me began moving and heaving. I made haste
to pull the trigger.

In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but
you never feel pain unless, perhaps, you really bruise yourself against the
bedstead, then you feel pain and almost always wake up from it. It was the
same in my dream. I did not feel any pain, but it seemed as though with my
shot everything within me was shaken and everything was suddenly dimmed,
and it grew horribly black around me. I seemed to be blinded and benumbed,
and I was lying on something hard, stretched on my back; I saw nothing, and
could not make the slightest movement. People were walking and shouting
around me, the captain bawled, the landlady shrieked--and suddenly another
break and I was being carried in a closed coffin. And I felt how the coffin
was shaking and reflected upon it, and for the first time the idea struck
me that I was dead, utterly dead, I knew it and had no doubt of it, I could
neither see nor move and yet I was feeling and reflecting. But I was soon
reconciled to the position, and as one usually does in a dream, accepted
the facts without disputing them.

And now I was buried in the earth. They all went away, I was left alone,
utterly alone. I did not move. Whenever before I had imagined being buried
the one sensation I associated with the grave was that of damp and cold. So
now I felt that I was very cold, especially the tips of my toes, but I felt
nothing else.

I lay still, strange to say I expected nothing, accepting without dispute
that a dead man had nothing to expect. But it was damp. I don't know how
long a time passed--whether an hour, or several days, or many days. But all
at once a drop of water fell on my closed left eye, making its way through
a coffin lid; it was followed a minute later by a second, then a minute
later by a third--and so on, regularly every minute. There was a sudden
glow of profound indignation in my heart, and I suddenly felt in it a pang
of physical pain. "That's my wound," I thought; "that's the bullet...." And
drop after drop every minute kept falling on my closed eyelid. And all at
once, not with my voice, but with my whole being, I called upon the power
that was responsible for all that was happening to me:

"Whoever you may be, if you exist, and if anything more rational than what
is happening here is possible, suffer it to be here now. But if you are
revenging yourself upon me for my senseless suicide by the hideousness and
absurdity of this subsequent existence, then let me tell you that no
torture could ever equal the contempt which I shall go on dumbly feeling,
though my martyrdom may last a million years!"

I made this appeal and held my peace. There was a full minute of unbroken
silence and again another drop fell, but I knew with infinite unshakable
certainty that everything would change immediately. And behold my grave
suddenly was rent asunder, that is, I don't know whether it was opened or
dug up, but I was caught up by some dark and unknown being and we found
ourselves in space. I suddenly regained my sight. It was the dead of night,
and never, never had there been such darkness. We were flying through space
far away from the earth. I did not question the being who was taking me; I
was proud and waited. I assured myself that I was not afraid, and was
thrilled with ecstasy at the thought that I was not afraid. I do not know
how long we were flying, I cannot imagine; it happened as it always does in
dreams when you skip over space and time, and the laws of thought and
existence, and only pause upon the points for which the heart yearns. I
remember that I suddenly saw in the darkness a star. "Is that Sirius?" I
asked impulsively, though I had not meant to ask any questions.

"No, that is the star you saw between the clouds when you were coming
home," the being who was carrying me replied.

I knew that it had something like a human face. Strange to say, I did not
like that being, in fact I felt an intense aversion for it. I had expected
complete non-existence, and that was why I had put a bullet through my
heart. And here I was in the hands of a creature not human, of course, but
yet living, existing. "And so there is life beyond the grave," I thought
with the strange frivolity one has in dreams. But in its inmost depth my
heart remained unchanged. "And if I have got to exist again," I thought,
"and live once more under the control of some irresistible power, I won't
be vanquished and humiliated."

"You know that I am afraid of you and despise me for that," I said suddenly
to my companion, unable to refrain from the humiliating question which
implied a confession, and feeling my humiliation stab my heart as with a
pin. He did not answer my question, but all at once I felt that he was not
even despising me, but was laughing at me and had no compassion for me, and
that our journey had an unknown and mysterious object that concerned me
only. Fear was growing in my heart. Something was mutely and painfully
communicated to me from my silent companion, and permeated my whole being.
We were flying through dark, unknown space. I had for some time lost sight
of the constellations familiar to my eyes. I knew that there were stars in
the heavenly spaces the light of which took thousands or millions of years
to reach the earth. Perhaps we were already flying through those spaces. I
expected something with a terrible anguish that tortured my heart. And
suddenly I was thrilled by a familiar feeling that stirred me to the
depths: I suddenly caught sight of our sun! I knew that it could not be
_our_ sun, that gave life to _our_ earth, and that we were an infinite
distance from our sun, but for some reason I knew in my whole being that it
was a sun exactly like ours, a duplicate of it. A sweet, thrilling feeling
resounded with ecstasy in my heart: the kindred power of the same light
which had given me light stirred an echo in my heart and awakened it, and I
had a sensation of life, the old life of the past for the first time since
I had been in the grave.

"But if that is the sun, if that is exactly the same as our sun," I cried,
"where is the earth?"

And my companion pointed to a star twinkling in the distance with an
emerald light. We were flying straight towards it.

"And are such repetitions possible in the universe? Can that be the law of
Nature?... And if that is an earth there, can it be just the same earth as
ours ... just the same, as poor, as unhappy, but precious and beloved for
ever, arousing in the most ungrateful of her children the same poignant
love for her that we feel for our earth?" I cried out, shaken by
irresistible, ecstatic love for the old familiar earth which I had left.
The image of the poor child whom I had repulsed flashed through my mind.

"You shall see it all," answered my companion, and there was a note of
sorrow in his voice.

But we were rapidly approaching the planet. It was growing before my eyes;
I could already distinguish the ocean, the outline of Europe; and suddenly
a feeling of a great and holy jealousy glowed in my heart.

"How can it be repeated and what for? I love and can love only that earth
which I have left, stained with my blood, when, in my ingratitude, I
quenched my life with a bullet in my heart. But I have never, never ceased
to love that earth, and perhaps on the very night I parted from it I loved
it more than ever. Is there suffering upon this new earth? On our earth we
can only love with suffering and through suffering. We cannot love
otherwise, and we know of no other sort of love. I want suffering in order
to love. I long, I thirst, this very instant, to kiss with tears the earth
that I have left, and I don't want, I won't accept life on any other!"

But my companion had already left me. I suddenly, quite without noticing
how, found myself on this other earth, in the bright light of a sunny day,
fair as paradise. I believe I was standing on one of the islands that make
up on our globe the Greek archipelago, or on the coast of the mainland
facing that archipelago. Oh, everything was exactly as it is with us, only
everything seemed to have a festive radiance, the splendour of some great,
holy triumph attained at last. The caressing sea, green as emerald,
splashed softly upon the shore and kissed it with manifest, almost
conscious love. The tall, lovely trees stood in all the glory of their
blossom, and their innumerable leaves greeted me, I am certain, with their
soft, caressing rustle and seemed to articulate words of love. The grass
glowed with bright and fragrant flowers. Birds were flying in flocks in the
air, and perched fearlessly on my shoulders and arms and joyfully struck me
with their darling, fluttering wings. And at last I saw and knew the people
of this happy land. They came to me of themselves, they surrounded me,
kissed me. The children of the sun, the children of their sun--oh, how
beautiful they were! Never had I seen on our own earth such beauty in
mankind. Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might
find some remote, faint reflection of this beauty. The eyes of these happy
people shone with a clear brightness. Their faces were radiant with the
light of reason and fullness of a serenity that comes of perfect
understanding, but those faces were gay; in their words and voices there
was a note of childlike joy. Oh, from the first moment, from the first
glance at them, I understood it all! It was the earth untarnished by the
Fall; on it lived people who had not sinned. They lived just in such a
paradise as that in which, according to all the legends of mankind, our
first parents lived before they sinned; the only difference was that all
this earth was the same paradise. These people, laughing joyfully, thronged
round me and caressed me; they took me home with them, and each of them
tried to reassure me. Oh, they asked me no questions, but they seemed, I
fancied, to know everything without asking, and they wanted to make haste
and smoothe away the signs of suffering from my face.


IV

And do you know what? Well, granted that it was only a dream, yet the
sensation of the love of those innocent and beautiful people has remained
with me for ever, and I feel as though their love is still flowing out to
me from over there. I have seen them myself, have known them and been
convinced; I loved them, I suffered for them afterwards. Oh, I understood
at once even at the time that in many things I could not understand them at
all; as an up-to-date Russian progressive and contemptible Petersburger, it
struck me as inexplicable that, knowing so much, they had, for instance, no
science like ours. But I soon realised that their knowledge was gained and
fostered by intuitions different from those of us on earth, and that their
aspirations, too, were quite different. They desired nothing and were at
peace; they did not aspire to knowledge of life as we aspire to understand
it, because their lives were full. But their knowledge was higher and
deeper than ours; for our science seeks to explain what life is, aspires to
understand it in order to teach others how to live, while they without
science knew how to live; and that I understood, but I could not understand
their knowledge. They showed me their trees, and I could not understand the
intense love with which they looked at them; it was as though they were
talking with creatures like themselves. And perhaps I shall not be mistaken
if I say that they conversed with them. Yes, they had found their language,
and I am convinced that the trees understood them. They looked at all
Nature like that--at the animals who lived in peace with them and did not
attack them, but loved them, conquered by their love. They pointed to the
stars and told me something about them which I could not understand, but I
am convinced that they were somehow in touch with the stars, not only in
thought, but by some living channel. Oh, these people did not persist in
trying to make me understand them, they loved me without that, but I knew
that they would never understand me, and so I hardly spoke to them about
our earth. I only kissed in their presence the earth on which they lived
and mutely worshipped them themselves. And they saw that and let me worship
them without being abashed at my adoration, for they themselves loved much.
They were not unhappy on my account when at times I kissed their feet with
tears, joyfully conscious of the love with which they would respond to
mine. At times I asked myself with wonder how it was they were able never
to offend a creature like me, and never once to arouse a feeling of
jealousy or envy in me? Often I wondered how it could be that, boastful and
untruthful as I was, I never talked to them of what I knew--of which, of
course, they had no notion--that I was never tempted to do so by a desire
to astonish or even to benefit them.

They were as gay and sportive as children. They wandered about their lovely
woods and copses, they sang their lovely songs; their fare was light--the
fruits of their trees, the honey from their woods, and the milk of the
animals who loved them. The work they did for food and raiment was brief
and not laborious. They loved and begot children, but I never noticed in
them the impulse of that _cruel_ sensuality which overcomes almost every
man on this earth, all and each, and is the source of almost every sin of
mankind on earth. They rejoiced at the arrival of children as new beings to
share their happiness. There was no quarrelling, no jealousy among them,
and they did not even know what the words meant. Their children were the
children of all, for they all made up one family. There was scarcely any
illness among them, though there was death; but their old people died
peacefully, as though falling asleep, giving blessings and smiles to those
who surrounded them to take their last farewell with bright and loving
smiles. I never saw grief or tears on those occasions, but only love, which
reached the point of ecstasy, but a calm ecstasy, made perfect and
contemplative. One might think that they were still in contact with the
departed after death, and that their earthly union was not cut short by
death. They scarcely understood me when I questioned them about
immortality, but evidently they were so convinced of it without reasoning
that it was not for them a question at all. They had no temples, but they
had a real living and uninterrupted sense of oneness with the whole of the
universe; they had no creed, but they had a certain knowledge that when
their earthly joy had reached the limits of earthly nature, then there
would come for them, for the living and for the dead, a still greater
fullness of contact with the whole of the universe. They looked forward to
that moment with joy, but without haste, not pining for it, but seeming to
have a foretaste of it in their hearts, of which they talked to one
another.

In the evening before going to sleep they liked singing in musical and
harmonious chorus. In those songs they expressed all the sensations that
the parting day had given them, sang its glories and took leave of it. They
sang the praises of nature, of the sea, of the woods. They liked making
songs about one another, and praised each other like children; they were
the simplest songs, but they sprang from their hearts and went to one's
heart. And not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to
do nothing but admire one another. It was like being in love with each
other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling.

Some of their songs, solemn and rapturous, I scarcely understood at all.
Though I understood the words I could never fathom their full significance.
It remained, as it were, beyond the grasp of my mind, yet my heart
unconsciously absorbed it more and more. I often told them that I had had a
presentiment of it long before, that this joy and glory had come to me on
our earth in the form of a yearning melancholy that at times approached
insufferable sorrow; that I had had a foreknowledge of them all and of
their glory in the dreams of my heart and the visions of my mind; that
often on our earth I could not look at the setting sun without tears ...
that in my hatred for the men of our earth there was always a yearning
anguish: why could I not hate them without loving them? why could I not
help forgiving them? and in my love for them there was a yearning grief:
why could I not love them without hating them? They listened to me, and I
saw they could not conceive what I was saying, but I did not regret that I
had spoken to them of it: I knew that they understood the intensity of my
yearning anguish over those whom I had left. But when they looked at me
with their sweet eyes full of love, when I felt that in their presence my
heart, too, became as innocent and just as theirs, the feeling of the
fullness of life took my breath away, and I worshipped them in silence.

Oh, every one laughs in my face now, and assures me that one cannot dream
of such details as I am telling now, that I only dreamed or felt one
sensation that arose in my heart in delirium and made up the details myself
when I woke up. And when I told them that perhaps it really was so, my God,
how they shouted with laughter in my face, and what mirth I caused! Oh,
yes, of course I was overcome by the mere sensation of my dream, and that
was all that was preserved in my cruelly wounded heart; but the actual
forms and images of my dream, that is, the very ones I really saw at the
very time of my dream, were filled with such harmony, were so lovely and
enchanting and were so actual, that on awakening I was, of course,
incapable of clothing them in our poor language, so that they were bound to
become blurred in my mind; and so perhaps I really was forced afterwards to
make up the details, and so of course to distort them in my passionate
desire to convey some at least of them as quickly as I could. But on the
other hand, how can I help believing that it was all true? It was perhaps a
thousand times brighter, happier and more joyful than I describe it.
Granted that I dreamed it, yet it must have been real. You know, I will
tell you a secret: perhaps it was not a dream at all! For then something
happened so awful, something so horribly true, that it could not have been
imagined in a dream. My heart may have originated the dream, but would my
heart alone have been capable of originating the awful event which happened
to me afterwards? How could I alone have invented it or imagined it in my
dream? Could my petty heart and my fickle, trivial mind have risen to such
a revelation of truth? Oh, judge for yourselves: hitherto I have concealed
it, but now I will tell the truth. The fact is that I ... corrupted them
all!


V

Yes, yes, it ended in my corrupting them all! How it could come to pass I
do not know, but I remember it clearly. The dream embraced thousands of
years and left in me only a sense of the whole. I only know that I was the
cause of their sin and downfall. Like a vile trichina, like a germ of the
plague infecting whole kingdoms, so I contaminated all this earth, so happy
and sinless before my coming. They learnt to lie, grew fond of lying, and
discovered the charm of falsehood. Oh, at first perhaps it began
innocently, with a jest, coquetry, with amorous play, perhaps indeed with a
germ, but that germ of falsity made its way into their hearts and pleased
them. Then sensuality was soon begotten, sensuality begot jealousy,
jealousy--cruelty.... Oh, I don't know, I don't remember; but soon, very
soon the first blood was shed. They marvelled and were horrified, and began
to be split up and divided. They formed into unions, but it was against one
another. Reproaches, upbraidings followed. They came to know shame, and
shame brought them to virtue. The conception of honour sprang up, and every
union began waving its flags. They began torturing animals, and the animals
withdrew from them into the forests and became hostile to them. They began
to struggle for separation, for isolation, for individuality, for mine and
thine. They began to talk in different languages. They became acquainted
with sorrow and loved sorrow; they thirsted for suffering, and said that
truth could only be attained through suffering. Then science appeared. As
they became wicked they began talking of brotherhood and humanitarianism,
and understood those ideas. As they became criminal, they invented justice
and drew up whole legal codes in order to observe it, and to ensure their
being kept, set up a guillotine. They hardly remembered what they had lost,
in fact refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They
even laughed at the possibility of this happiness in the past, and called
it a dream. They could not even imagine it in definite form and shape, but,
strange and wonderful to relate, though they lost all faith in their past
happiness and called it a legend, they so longed to be happy and innocent
once more that they succumbed to this desire like children, made an idol of
it, set up temples and worshipped their own idea, their own desire; though
at the same time they fully believed that it was unattainable and could not
be realised, yet they bowed down to it and adored it with tears!
Nevertheless, if it could have happened that they had returned to the
innocent and happy condition which they had lost, and if some one had shown
it to them again and had asked them whether they wanted to go back to it,
they would certainly have refused. They answered me:

"We may be deceitful, wicked and unjust, we _know_ it and weep over it, we
grieve over it; we torment and punish ourselves more perhaps than that
merciful Judge Who will judge us and whose Name we know not. But we have
science, and by means of it we shall find the truth and we shall arrive at
it consciously. Knowledge is higher than feeling, the consciousness of life
is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom, wisdom will reveal the
laws, and the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness."

That is what they said, and after saying such things every one began to
love himself better than any one else, and indeed they could not do
otherwise. All became so jealous of the rights of their own personality
that they did their very utmost to curtail and destroy them in others, and
made that the chief thing in their lives. Slavery followed, even voluntary
slavery; the weak eagerly submitted to the strong, on condition that the
latter aided them to subdue the still weaker. Then there were saints who
came to these people, weeping, and talked to them of their pride, of their
loss of harmony and due proportion, of their loss of shame. They were
laughed at or pelted with stones. Holy blood was shed on the threshold of
the temples. Then there arose men who began to think how to bring all
people together again, so that everybody, while still loving himself best
of all, might not interfere with others, and all might live together in
something like a harmonious society. Regular wars sprang up over this idea.
All the combatants at the same time firmly believed that science, wisdom
and the instinct of self-preservation would force men at last to unite into
a harmonious and rational society; and so, meanwhile, to hasten matters,
"the wise" endeavoured to exterminate as rapidly as possible all who were
"not wise" and did not understand their idea, that the latter might not
hinder its triumph. But the instinct of self-preservation grew rapidly
weaker; there arose men, haughty and sensual, who demanded all or nothing.
In order to obtain everything they resorted to crime, and if they did not
succeed--to suicide. There arose religions with a cult of non-existence and
self-destruction for the sake of the everlasting peace of annihilation. At
last these people grew weary of their meaningless toil, and signs of
suffering came into their faces, and then they proclaimed that suffering
was a beauty, for in suffering alone was there meaning. They glorified
suffering in their songs. I moved about among them, wringing my hands and
weeping over them, but I loved them perhaps more than in old days when
there was no suffering in their faces and when they were innocent and so
lovely. I loved the earth they had polluted even more than when it had been
a paradise, if only because sorrow had come to it. Alas! I always loved
sorrow and tribulation, but only for myself, for myself; but I wept over
them, pitying them. I stretched out my hands to them in despair, blaming,
cursing and despising myself. I told them that all this was my doing, mine
alone; that it was I had brought them corruption, contamination and
falsity. I besought them to crucify me, I taught them how to make a cross.
I could not kill myself, I had not the strength, but I wanted to suffer at
their hands. I yearned for suffering, I longed that my blood should be
drained to the last drop in these agonies. But they only laughed at me, and
began at last to look upon me as crazy. They justified me, they declared
that they had only got what they wanted themselves, and that all that now
was could not have been otherwise. At last they declared to me that I was
becoming dangerous and that they should lock me up in a madhouse if I did
not hold my tongue. Then such grief took possession of my soul that my
heart was wrung, and I felt as though I were dying; and then ... then I
awoke.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was morning, that is, it was not yet daylight, but about six o'clock. I
woke up in the same arm-chair; my candle had burnt out; every one was
asleep in the captain's room, and there was a stillness all round, rare in
our flat. First of all I leapt up in great amazement: nothing like this had
ever happened to me before, not even in the most trivial detail; I had
never, for instance, fallen asleep like this in my arm-chair. While I was
standing and coming to myself I suddenly caught sight of my revolver lying
loaded, ready--but instantly I thrust it away! Oh, now, life, life! I
lifted up my hands and called upon eternal truth, not with words but with
tears; ecstasy, immeasurable ecstasy flooded my soul. Yes, life and
spreading the good tidings! Oh, I at that moment resolved to spread the
tidings, and resolved it, of course, for my whole life. I go to spread the
tidings, I want to spread the tidings--of what? Of the truth, for I have
seen it, have seen it with my own eyes, have seen it in all its glory.

And since then I have been preaching! Moreover I love all those who laugh
at me more than any of the rest. Why that is so I do not know and cannot
explain, but so be it. I am told that I am vague and confused, and if I am
vague and confused now, what shall I be later on? It is true indeed: I am
vague and confused, and perhaps as time goes on I shall be more so. And of
course I shall make many blunders before I find out how to preach, that is,
find out what words to say, what things to do, for it is a very difficult
task. I see all that as clear as daylight, but, listen, who does not make
mistakes? And yet, you know, all are making for the same goal, all are
striving in the same direction anyway, from the sage to the lowest robber,
only by different roads. It is an old truth, but this is what is new: I
cannot go far wrong. For I have seen the truth; I have seen and I know
that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the power of living
on earth. I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition
of mankind. And it is just this faith of mine that they laugh at. But how
can I help believing it? I have seen the truth--it is not as though I had
invented it with my mind, I have seen it, seen it, and _the living image_
of it has filled my soul for ever. I have seen it in such full perfection
that I cannot believe that it is impossible for people to have it. And so
how can I go wrong? I shall make some slips no doubt, and shall perhaps
talk in second-hand language, but not for long: the living image of what I
saw will always be with me and will always correct and guide me. Oh, I am
full of courage and freshness, and I will go on and on if it were for a
thousand years! Do you know, at first I meant to conceal the fact that I
corrupted them, but that was a mistake--that was my first mistake! But
truth whispered to me that I was _lying_, and preserved me and corrected
me. But how establish paradise--I don't know, because I do not know how to
put it into words. After my dream I lost command of words. All the chief
words, anyway, the most necessary ones. But never mind, I shall go and I
shall keep talking, I won't leave off, for anyway I have seen it with my
own eyes, though I cannot describe what I saw. But the scoffers do not
understand that. It was a dream, they say, delirium, hallucination. Oh! As
though that meant so much! And they are so proud! A dream! What is a dream?
And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise
will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching
it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, _in one hour_ everything could be
arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's
the great thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted--you will
find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has
been told and retold a billion times--but it has not formed part of our
lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the
laws of happiness is higher than happiness--that is what one must contend
against. And I shall. If only every one wants it, it can all be arranged at
once.

       *       *       *       *       *

And I tracked out that little girl ... and I shall go on and on!

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