Anton Chekhov’s Diary
ANTON CHEKHOV’S DIARY
My neighbor V.N.S. told me that his uncle Fet-Shenshin, the famous poet, when driving through the Mokhovaia Street, would invariably let down the window of his carriage and spit at the University. He would expectorate and spit: Bah! His coachman got so used to this that every time he drove past the University, he would stop.
In January I was in Petersburg and stayed with Souvorin. I often saw Potapenko. Met Korolenko. I often went to the Maly Theatre. As Alexander [Chekhov's brother] came downstairs one day, B.V.G. simultaneously came out of the editorial office of the _Novoye Vremya_ and said to me indignantly: “Why do you set the old man (i.e. Souvorin) against Burenin?” I have never spoken ill of the contributors to the _Novoye Vremya_ in Souvorin’s presence, although I have the deepest disrespect for the majority of them.
In February, passing through Moscow, I went to see L.N. Tolstoi. He was irritated, made stinging remarks about the _décadents_, and for an hour and a half argued with B. Tchitcherin, who, I thought, talked nonsense all the time. Tatyana and Mary [Tolstoi's daughters] laid out a patience; they both wished, and asked me to pick a card out; I picked out the ace of spades separately for each of them, and that annoyed them. By accident there were two aces of spades in the pack. Both of them are extraordinarily sympathetic, and their attitude to their father is touching. The countess denounced the painter Gé all the evening. She too was irritated.
The sexton Ivan Nicolayevitch brought my portrait, which he has painted from a photograph. In the evening V.N.S. brought his friend N.He is director of the Foreign Department … editor of a magazine …and doctor of medicine. He gives the impression of being an unusually stupid person and a reptile. He said: “There’s nothing more pernicious on earth than a rascally liberal paper,” and told us that, apparently, the peasants whom he doctors, having got his advice and medicine free of charge, ask him for a tip. He and S. speak of the peasants with exasperation and loathing.
I was at the Vagankov Cemetery and saw the graves there of the victims of the Khodinka. [During the coronation of Nicholas II in Moscow hundreds of people were crushed to death in the Khodinka Fields.] I. Pavlovsky, the Paris correspondent of the _Novoye Vremya_, came with me to Melikhovo.
Opening of the school in Talezh. The peasants of Talezh, Bershov, Doubechnia and Sholkovo presented me with four loaves, an icon and two silver salt-cellars. The Sholkovo peasant Postnov made a speech. N. stayed with me from the 15th to the 18th August. He has been forbidden [by the authorities] to publish anything: he speaks contemptuously now of the younger G., who said to the new Chief of the Central Press Bureau that he was not going to sacrifice his weekly _Nedelya_ for N.’s sake and that “We have always anticipated the wishes of the Censorship.” In fine weather N. walks in goloshes, and carries an umbrella, so as not to die of sunstroke; he is afraid to wash in cold water, and complains of palpitations of the heart. From me he went on to L.N. Tolstoi.
I left Taganrog on August 24. In Rostov I had supper with a school-friend, L. Volkenstein, the barrister, who has already a house in town and a villa in Kislovodsk [in the Caucasus]. I was in Nakhichevan–what a change! All the streets are lit by electric light. In Kislovodsk, at the funeral of General Safonov, I met A.I. Tchouprov [a famous economist], later I met A.N. Vesselovsky [littérateur] in the park. On the 28th I went on a hunting party with Baron Steingel, passed the night in Bermamut. It was cold with a violent wind.
2 September in Novorissisk. Steamer _Alexander II_. On the 3rd I arrived at Feodossia and stopped with Souvorin. I saw I.K. Aivasovsky [famous painter] who said to me: “You no longer come to see me, an old man.” In his opinion I ought to have paid him a visit. On the 16th in Kharkov, I was in the theatre at the performance of “The Dangers of Intelligence.” 17th at home: wonderful weather.
Vladimir Sloviov [famous philosopher] told me that he always carried an oak-gall in his trouser pocket,–in his opinion, it is a radical cure for piles.
Performance of my “Seagull” at the Alexandrinsky Theatre. It was not a success.
29th. I was at a meeting of the Zemstvo Council at Sezpukhovo.
On the 10th November I had a letter from A.F. Koni who says he liked my “Seagull” very much.
A fire broke out in our house. Count S.I. Shakhovsky helped to put it out. When it was over, Sh. related that once, when a fire broke out in his house at night, he lifted a tank of water weighing 4-1/2 cwt. and poured the water on the flames.
For the performance [of the "Seagull"] on the 17th October see “Theatral,” No. 95, page 75. It is true that I fled from the theatre, but only when the play was over. In L.’s dressing-room during two or three acts. During the intervals there came to her officials of the State Theatres in uniform, wearing their orders, P.–with a Star; a handsome young official of the Department of the State Police also came to her. If a man takes up work which is alien to him, art for instance, then, since it is impossible for him to become an artist, he becomes an official. What a lot of people thus play the parasite round science, the theatre, the painting,–by putting on a uniform! Likewise the man to whom life is alien, who is incapable of living, nothing else remains for him, but to become an official. The fat actresses, who were in the dressing-room, made themselves pleasant to the officials–respectfully and flatteringly. (L. expressed her delight that P., so young, had already got the Star.) They were old, respectable house-keepers, serf-women, whom the masters honored with their presence.
Levitan suffers from dilation of the aorta. He carries clay on his chest. He has superb studies for pictures, and a passionate thirst for life.
P.I. Seryogin, the landscape painter, came.
From January 10 to February 3 busy with the census. I am enumerator of the 16th district, and have to instruct the other (fifteen) enumerators of our Bavykin Section. They all work superbly, except the priest of the Starospassky parish and the Government official, appointed to the Zemstvo, G., (who is in charge of the census district); he is away nearly all the time in Serpukhovo, spends every evening at the Club and keeps on wiring that he is not well. All the rest of the Government officials of our district are also said to do nothing.
With such critics as we have, authors like N.S. Lyeskov and S.V. Maximov cannot be a success.
Between “there is a God” and “there is no God” lies a whole vast tract, which the really wise man crosses with great effort. A Russian knows one or other of these two extremes, and the middle tract between them does not interest him; and therefore he usually knows nothing, or very little.
The ease with which Jews change their religion is justified by many on the ground of indifference. But this is not a justification. One has to respect even one’s indifference, and not change it for anything, since indifference in a decent man is also a religion.
Dinner at Mme. Morosov’s. Tchouprov, Sololevsky, Blaramberg, Sablin and myself were present.
Pancakes at Soldatienkov’s [a Moscow publisher]. Only Golziev [editor of _Russian Thought_] and myself were present. Many fine pictures, nearly all badly hung. After the pancakes we drove to Levitan, from whom Soldatienkov bought a picture and two studies for 1,100 roubles. Met Polyenov [famous painter]. In the evening I was at professor Ostroumov’s; he says that Levitan “can’t help dying.” O. himself is ill and obviously frightened.
Several of us met in the evening in the offices of _Russian Thought_ to discuss the People’s Theatre. Every one liked Shekhtel’s plan.
Dinner at the “Continental” to commemorate the great reform [the abolition of the serfdom in 1861]. Tedious and incongruous. To dine, drink champagne, make a racket, and deliver speeches about national consciousness, the conscience of the people, freedom, and such things, while slaves in tail-coats are running round your tables, veritable serfs, and your coachmen wait outside in the street, in the bitter cold–that is lying to the Holy Ghost.
I went to Serpukhovo to an amateur performance in aid of the school at Novossiolki. As far as Zarizin I was accompanied by … a little queen in exile,–an actress who imagines herself great; uneducated and a bit vulgar.
From March 25 till April 10 I was laid up in Ostroumov’s clinic. Hæmorrhage. Creaking, moisture in the apices of both my lungs; congestion in the apex of the right.
On March 28 L.N. Tolstoi came to see me. We spoke of immortality. I told him the gist of Nossilov’s story “The Theatre of the Voguls,” and he evidently listened with great pleasure.
N. arrived. He is always thanking you for tea and dinner, apologizing, afraid of being late for the train; he talks a great deal, keeps mentioning his wife, like Gogol’s Mijniev, pushes the proofs of his play over to you, first one sheet then another, giggles, attacks Menshikov, whom Tolstoi has “swallowed”; assures you that he would shoot Stassiulevitch, if the latter were to show himself at a review, as President of the Russian Republic; giggles again, wets his mustaches with the soup, eats hardly anything, and yet is quite a nice man after all.
The monks from the monastery paid us a visit. Dasha Moussin-Poushkin, the wife of the engineer Gliebov, who has been killed hunting, was there. She sang a great deal.
I was present at the examination of two schools in Tchirkov. [The Tchirkov and Mikhailovo schools.]
Opening of the school at Novossiolki which I have had built. The peasants gave me an icon with an inscription. The Zemstvo people were absent. Braz [painter] does my portrait (for the Tretiakov Gallery). Two sittings a day.
I received a medal for my work on the census.
In Petersburg. Stopped at Souvorin’s, in the drawing-room. Met VI. T…. who complained of his hysteria and praised his own books. I saw P. Gnyeditch and E. Karpov, who imitated Leykin showing off as a Spanish grandee.
At Leykin’s at Ivanovsk. 28th in Moscow. In the editorial offices of _Russian Thought_, bugs in the sofa.
Arrived in Paris. “Moulin Rouge,” danse du ventre, Café du Néon with Coffins, Café du Ciel, etc.
In Biarritz. V.M. Sobolevsky and Mme. V.A. Morosov are here. Every Russian in Biarritz complains of the number of Russians here.
Bayonne. Grande course landoise. Bull-fight.
From Biarritz to Nice via Toulouse.
Nice. I settled into the Pension Russe. Met Maxim Kovalevsky; lunched at his house at Beaulieu, with N.I. Yurassov and Yakobi, the artist. In Monte Carlo.
Confession of a spy.
I saw B.’s mother playing roulette. Unpleasant sight.
Monte Carlo. I saw how the croupier stole a louis d’or.
In Paris. Acquaintance with M.M. Antokolsky [sculptor] and negotiations for a statue of Peter the Great.
Sobolevsky came to Melikhovo. Must put down the fact that, in Paris, in spite of the rain and cold, I spent two or three weeks without being bored. Arrived here with M. Kovalevsky. Many interesting acquaintances: Paul Boyer, Art Roë, Bonnie, M. Dreyfus, De Roberti, Waliczewsky, Onieguin. Luncheons and dinners, at I.I. Schoukin’s house. Left by Nord-express for Petersburg, whence to Moscow. At home, found wonderful weather.
An example of clerical boorishness. At a dinner party the critic Protopopov came up to M. Kovalevsky, clinked glasses and said: “I drink to science, so long as it does no harm to the people.”
I was at L. Tolstoi’s.
Talked to L. Tolstoi over the telephone.
“Istorichesky Vestnik,” November 1902, “The Artistic Life of Moscow in the Seventies,” by I.N. Zakharin. It is said in that article that I sent in my “Three Sisters” to the Theatrical and Literary Committee. It is not true.