TO MADAME M. V. KISELYOV. BABKINO, June, 1886. LOVE UNRIPPLED
(A NOVEL) Part I. It was noon.... The setting sun with its crimson, fiery rays gilded the tops of pines, oaks, and fir-trees.... It was still; only in the air the birds were singing, and in the distance a hungry wolf howled mournfully.... The driver turned round and said: “More snow has fallen, sir.” “What?” “I say, more snow has fallen.” “Ah!” Vladimir Sergeitch Tabatchin, who is the hero of our story, looked for the last time at the sun and expired. * * * * * A week passed.... Birds and corncrakes hovered, whistling, over a newly-made grave. The sun was shining. A young widow, bathed in tears, was standing by, and in her grief sopping her whole handkerchief.... MOSCOW, September 21, 1886. ... It is not much fun to be a great writer. To begin with, it’s a dreary life. Work from morning till night and not much to show for it. Money is as scarce as cats’ tears. I don’t know how it is with Zola and Shtchedrin, but in my flat it is cold and smoky.... They give me cigarettes, as before, on holidays only. Impossible cigarettes! Hard, damp, sausage-like. Before I begin to smoke I light the lamp, dry the cigarette over it, and only then I begin on it; the lamp smokes, the cigarette splutters and turns brown, I burn my fingers ... it is enough to make one shoot oneself! ... I am more or less ill, and am gradually turning into a dried dragon-fly. ... I go about as festive as though it were my birthday, but to judge from the critical glances of the lady cashier at the _Budilnik_, I am not dressed in the height of fashion, and my clothes are not brand-new. I go in buses, not in cabs. But being a writer has its good points. In the first place, my book, I hear, is going rather well; secondly, in October I shall have money; thirdly, I am beginning to reap laurels: at the refreshment bars people point at me with their fingers, they pay me little attentions and treat me to sandwiches. Korsh caught me in his theatre and straight away presented me with a free pass.... My medical colleagues sigh when they meet me, begin to talk of literature and assure me that they are sick of medicine. And so on.... September 29. ... Life is grey, there are no happy people to be seen.... Life is a nasty business for everyone. When I am serious I begin to think that people who have an aversion for death are illogical. So far as I understand the order of things, life consists of nothing but horrors, squabbles, and trivialities mixed together or alternating! December 3. This morning an individual sent by Prince Urusov turned up and asked me for a short story for a sporting magazine edited by the said Prince. I refused, of course, as I now refuse all who come with supplications to the foot of my pedestal. In Russia there are now two unattainable heights: Mount Elborus and myself. The Prince’s envoy was deeply disappointed by my refusal, nearly died of grief, and finally begged me to recommend him some writers who are versed in sport. I thought a little, and very opportunely remembered a lady writer who dreams of glory and has for the last year been ill with envy of my literary fame. In short, I gave him your address.... You might write a story “The Wounded Doe”--you remember, how the huntsmen wound a doe; she looks at them with human eyes, and no one can bring himself to kill her. It’s not a bad subject, but dangerous because it is difficult to avoid sentimentality--you must write it like a report, without pathetic phrases, and begin like this: “On such and such a date the huntsmen in the Daraganov forest wounded a young doe....” And if you drop a tear you will strip the subject of its severity and of everything worth attention in it. December 13. ... With your permission I steal out of your last two letters to my sister two descriptions of nature for my stories. It is curious that you have quite a masculine way of writing. In every line (except when dealing with children) you are a man! This, of course, ought to flatter your vanity, for speaking generally, men are a thousand times better than women, and superior to them. In Petersburg I was resting--i.e., for days together I was rushing about town paying calls and listening to compliments which my soul abhors. Alas and alack! In Petersburg I am becoming fashionable like Nana. While Korolenko, who is serious, is hardly known to the editors, my twaddle is being read by all Petersburg. Even the senator G. reads me.... It is gratifying, but my literary feeling is wounded. I feel ashamed of the public which runs after lap-dogs simply because it fails to notice elephants, and I am deeply convinced that not a soul will know me when I begin to work in earnest. TO HIS BROTHER NIKOLAY. MOSCOW, 1886. ... You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”! Goethe and Newton did not complain of that.... Only Christ complained of it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself.... People understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is not their fault. I assure you as a brother and as a friend I understand you and feel for you with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you, I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts; you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil.... You have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things are forgiven. You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it. That is your utter lack of culture. Forgive me, please, but _veritas magis amicitiae...._ You see, life has its conditions. In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but ... you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers _vis-a-vis._ Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions: 1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes. 2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see.... They sit up at night in order to help P...., to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother. 3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts. 4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk. 5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false.... 6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns.... If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted.... The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement.... Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one. 7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity.... They are proud of their talent.... Besides, they are fastidious. 8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct.... What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow ... They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood.... They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion.... For they want _mens sana in corpore sano._ And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” ... What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will.... Every hour is precious for it.... Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read.... Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read. You must drop your vanity, you are not a child ... you will soon be thirty. It is time! I expect you.... We all expect you.