FictionForest

PART SEVEN : Chapter 3

Leo TolstoyAug 25, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Levin had on this visit to town seen
a great deal of his old friend at the university,
Professor Katavasov, whom he had not seen since his
marriage.  He liked in Katavasov the clearness
and simplicity of his conception of life.  Levin
thought that the clearness of Katavasov’s conception
of life was due to the poverty of his nature; Katavasov
thought that the disconnectedness of Levin’s
ideas was due to his lack of intellectual discipline;
but Levin enjoyed Katavasov’s clearness, and
Katavasov enjoyed the abundance of Levin’s untrained
ideas, and they liked to meet and to discuss.

Levin had read Katavasov some parts
of his book, and he had liked them.  On the previous
day Katavasov had met Levin at a public lecture and
told him that the celebrated Metrov, whose article
Levin had so much liked, was in Moscow, that he had
been much interested by what Katavasov had told him
about Levin’s work, and that he was coming to
see him tomorrow at eleven, and would be very glad
to make Levin’s acquaintance.

“You’re positively a reformed
character, I’m glad to see,” said Katavasov,
meeting Levin in the little drawing room.  “I
heard the bell and thought:  Impossible that
it can be he at the exact time!…  Well, what
do you say to the Montenegrins now?  They’re
a race of warriors.”

“Why, what’s happened?” asked Levin.

Katavasov in a few words told him
the last piece of news from the war, and going into
his study, introduced Levin to a short, thick-set
man of pleasant appearance.  This was Metrov. 
The conversation touched for a brief space on politics
and on how recent events were looked at in the higher
spheres in Petersburg.  Metrov repeated a saying
that had reached him through a most trustworthy source,
reported as having been uttered on this subject by
the Tsar and one of the ministers.  Katavasov
had heard also on excellent authority that the Tsar
had said something quite different.  Levin tried
to imagine circumstances in which both sayings might
have been uttered, and the conversation on that topic
dropped.

“Yes, here he’s written
almost a book on the natural conditions of the laborer
in relation to the land,” said Katavasov; “I’m
not a specialist, but I, as a natural science man,
was pleased at his not taking mankind as something
outside biological laws; but, on the contrary, seeing
his dependence on his surroundings, and in that dependence
seeking the laws of his development.”

“That’s very interesting,” said
Metrov.

“What I began precisely was
to write a book on agriculture; but studying the chief
instrument of agriculture, the laborer,” said
Levin, reddening, “I could not help coming to
quite unexpected results.”

And Levin began carefully, as it were,
feeling his ground, to expound his views.  He
knew Metrov had written an article against the generally
accepted theory of political economy, but to what
extent he could reckon on his sympathy with his own
new views he did not know and could not guess from
the clever and serene face of the learned man.

“But in what do you see the
special characteristics of the Russian laborer?”
said Metrov; “in his biological characteristics,
so to speak, or in the condition in which he is placed?”

Levin saw that there was an idea underlying
this question with which he did not agree.  But
he went on explaining his own idea that the Russian
laborer has a quite special view of the land, different
from that of other people; and to support this proposition
he made haste to add that in his opinion this attitude
of the Russian peasant was due to the consciousness
of his vocation to people vast unoccupied expanses
in the East.

“One may easily be led into
error in basing any conclusion on the general vocation
of a people,” said Metrov, interrupting Levin. 
“The condition of the laborer will always depend
on his relation to the land and to capital.”

And without letting Levin finish explaining
his idea, Metrov began expounding to him the special
point of his own theory.

In what the point of his theory lay,
Levin did not understand, because he did not take
the trouble to understand.  He saw that Metrov,
like other people, in spite of his own article, in
which he had attacked the current theory of political
economy, looked at the position of the Russian peasant
simply from the point of view of capital, wages, and
rent.  He would indeed have been obliged to admit
that in the eastern ­much the larger ­part
of Russia rent was as yet nil, that for nine-tenths
of the eighty millions of the Russian peasants wages
took the form simply of food provided for themselves,
and that capital does not so far exist except in the
form of the most primitive tools.  Yet it was
only from that point of view that he considered every
laborer, though in many points he differed from the
economists and had his own theory of the wage-fund,
which he expounded to Levin.

Levin listened reluctantly, and at
first made objections.  He would have liked to
interrupt Metrov, to explain his own thought, which
in his opinion would have rendered further exposition
of Metrov’s theories superfluous.  But
later on, feeling convinced that they looked at the
matter so differently, that they could never understand
one another, he did not even oppose his statements,
but simply listened.  Although what Metrov was
saying was by now utterly devoid of interest for him,
he yet experienced a certain satisfaction in listening
to him.  It flattered his vanity that such a
learned man should explain his ideas to him so eagerly,
with such intensity and confidence in Levin’s
understanding of the subject, sometimes with a mere
hint referring him to a whole aspect of the subject. 
He put this down to his own credit, unaware that
Metrov, who had already discussed his theory over
and over again with all his intimate friends, talked
of it with special eagerness to every new person, and
in general was eager to talk to anyone of any subject
that interested him, even if still obscure to himself.

“We are late though,”
said Katavasov, looking at his watch directly Metrov
had finished his discourse.

“Yes, there’s a meeting
of the Society of Amateurs today in commemoration
of the jubilee of Svintitch,” said Katavasov
in answer to Levin’s inquiry.  “Pyotr
Ivanovitch and I were going.  I’ve promised
to deliver an address on his labors in zoology. 
Come along with us, it’s very interesting.”

“Yes, and indeed it’s
time to start,” said Metrov.  “Come
with us, and from there, if you care to, come to my
place.  I should very much like to hear your
work.”

“Oh, no!  It’s no
good yet, it’s unfinished.  But I shall
be very glad to go to the meeting.”

“I say, friends, have you heard? 
He has handed in the separate report,” Katavasov
called from the other room, where he was putting on
his frock coat.

And a conversation sprang up upon
the university question, which was a very important
event that winter in Moscow.  Three old professors
in the council had not accepted the opinion of the
younger professors.  The young ones had registered
a separate resolution.  This, in the judgment
of some people, was monstrous, in the judgment of
others it was the simplest and most just thing to
do, and the professors were split up into two parties.

One party, to which Katavasov belonged,
saw in the opposite party a scoundrelly betrayal and
treachery, while the opposite party saw in them childishness
and lack of respect for the authorities.  Levin,
though he did not belong to the university, had several
times already during his stay in Moscow heard and talked
about this matter, and had his own opinion on the
subject.  He took part in the conversation that
was continued in the street, as they all three walked
to the buildings of the old university.

The meeting had already begun. 
Round the cloth-covered table, at which Katavasov
and Metrov seated themselves, there were some half-dozen
persons, and one of these was bending close over a
manuscript, reading something aloud.  Levin sat
down in one of the empty chairs that were standing
round the table, and in a whisper asked a student
sitting near what was being read.  The student,
eyeing Levin with displeasure, said: 

“Biography.”

Though Levin was not interested in
the biography, he could not help listening, and learned
some new and interesting facts about the life of the
distinguished man of science.

When the reader had finished, the
chairman thanked him and read some verses of the poet
Ment sent him on the jubilee, and said a few words
by way of thanks to the poet.  Then Katavasov
in his loud, ringing voice read his address on the
scientific labors of the man whose jubilee was being
kept.

When Katavasov had finished, Levin
looked at his watch, saw it was past one, and thought
that there would not be time before the concert to
read Metrov his book, and indeed, he did not now care
to do so.  During the reading he had thought over
their conversation.  He saw distinctly now that
though Metrov’s ideas might perhaps have value,
his own ideas had a value too, and their ideas could
only be made clear and lead to something if each worked
separately in his chosen path, and that nothing would
be gained by putting their ideas together.  And
having made up his mind to refuse Metrov’s invitation,
Levin went up to him at the end of the meeting. 
Metrov introduced Levin to the chairman, with whom
he was talking of the political news.  Metrov
told the chairman what he had already told Levin,
and Levin made the same remarks on his news that he
had already made that morning, but for the sake of
variety he expressed also a new opinion which had
only just struck him.  After that the conversation
turned again on the university question.  As
Levin had already heard it all, he made haste to tell
Metrov that he was sorry he could not take advantage
of his invitation, took leave, and drove to Lvov’s.

 

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