FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 3

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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“Do you know, I’ve been
thinking about you,” said Sergey Ivanovitch. 
“It’s beyond everything what’s being
done in the district, according to what this doctor
tells me.  He’s a very intelligent fellow. 
And as I’ve told you before, I tell you again: 
it’s not right for you not to go to the meetings,
and altogether to keep out of the district business. 
If decent people won’t go into it, of course
it’s bound to go all wrong.  We pay the
money, and it all goes in salaries, and there are no
schools, nor district nurses, nor midwives, nor drugstores ­
nothing.”

“Well, I did try, you know,”
Levin said slowly and unwillingly.  “I can’t!
and so there’s no help for it.”

“But why can’t you? 
I must own I can’t make it out.  Indifference,
incapacity ­I won’t admit; surely it’s
not simply laziness?”

“None of those things. 
I’ve tried, and I see I can do nothing,”
said Levin.

He had hardly grasped what his brother
was saying.  Looking towards the plough land
across the river, he made out something black, but
he could not distinguish whether it was a horse or
the bailiff on horseback.

“Why is it you can do nothing? 
You made an attempt and didn’t succeed, as you
think, and you give in.  How can you have so
little self-respect?”

“Self-respect!” said Levin,
stung to the quick by his brother’s words; “I
don’t understand.  If they’d told
me at college that other people understood the integral
calculus, and I didn’t, then pride would have
come in.  But in this case one wants first to
be convinced that one has certain qualifications for
this sort of business, and especially that all this
business is of great importance.”

“What! do you mean to say it’s
not of importance?” said Sergey Ivanovitch,
stung to the quick too at his brother’s considering
anything of no importance that interested him, and
still more at his obviously paying little attention
to what he was saying.

“I don’t think it important;
it does not take hold of me, I can’t help it,”
answered Levin, making out that what he saw was the
bailiff, and that the bailiff seemed to be letting
the peasants go off the ploughed land.  They
were turning the plough over.  “Can they
have finished ploughing?” he wondered.

“Come, really though,”
said the elder brother, with a frown on his handsome,
clever face, “there’s a limit to everything. 
It’s very well to be original and genuine,
and to dislike everything conventional ­I
know all about that; but really, what you’re
saying either has no meaning, or it has a very wrong
meaning.  How can you think it a matter of no
importance whether the peasant, whom you love as you
assert…”

“I never did assert it,” thought Konstantin
Levin.

“…dies without help? 
The ignorant peasant-women starve the children, and
the people stagnate in darkness, and are helpless
in the hands of every village clerk, while you have
at your disposal a means of helping them, and don’t
help them because to your mind it’s of no importance.”

And Sergey Ivanovitch put before him
the alternative:  either you are so undeveloped
that you can’t see all that you can do, or you
won’t sacrifice your ease, your vanity, or whatever
it is, to do it.

Konstantin Levin felt that there was
no course open to him but to submit, or to confess
to a lack of zeal for the public good.  And this
mortified him and hurt his feelings.

“It’s both,” he
said resolutely:  “I don’t see that
it was possible…”

“What! was it impossible, if
the money were properly laid out, to provide medical
aid?”

“Impossible, as it seems to
me….  For the three thousand square miles of
our district, what with our thaws, and the storms,
and the work in the fields, I don’t see how
it is possible to provide medical aid all over. 
And besides, I don’t believe in medicine.”

“Oh, well, that’s unfair…I
can quote to you thousands of instances…. 
But the schools, anyway.”

“Why have schools?”

“What do you mean?  Can
there be two opinions of the advantage of education? 
If it’s a good thing for you, it’s a good
thing for everyone.”

Konstantin Levin felt himself morally
pinned against a wall, and so he got hot, and unconsciously
blurted out the chief cause of his indifference to
public business.

“Perhaps it may all be very
good; but why should I worry myself about establishing
dispensaries which I shall never make use of, and
schools to which I shall never send my children, to
which even the peasants don’t want to send their
children, and to which I’ve no very firm faith
that they ought to send them?” said he.

Sergey Ivanovitch was for a minute
surprised at this unexpected view of the subject;
but he promptly made a new plan of attack.  He
was silent for a little, drew out a hook, threw it
in again, and turned to his brother smiling.

“Come, now….  In the
first place, the dispensary is needed.  We ourselves
sent for the district doctor for Agafea Mihalovna.”

“Oh, well, but I fancy her wrist
will never be straight again.”

“That remains to be proved…. 
Next, the peasant who can read and write is as a
workman of more use and value to you.”

“No, you can ask anyone you
like,” Konstantin Levin answered with decision,
“the man that can read and write is much inferior
as a workman.  And mending the highroads is an
impossibility; and as soon as they put up bridges
they’re stolen.”

“Still, that’s not the
point,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, frowning. 
He disliked contradiction, and still more, arguments
that were continually skipping from one thing to another,
introducing new and disconnected points, so that there
was no knowing to which to reply.  “Do
you admit that education is a benefit for the people?”

“Yes, I admit it,” said
Levin without thinking, and he was conscious immediately
that he had said what he did not think.  He felt
that if he admitted that, it would be proved that he
had been talking meaningless rubbish.  How it
would be proved he could not tell, but he knew that
this would inevitably be logically proved to him,
and he awaited the proofs.

The argument turned out to be far
simpler than he had expected.

“If you admit that it is a benefit,”
said Sergey Ivanovitch, “then, as an honest
man, you cannot help caring about it and sympathizing
with the movement, and so wishing to work for it.”

“But I still do not admit this
movement to be just,” said Konstantin Levin,
reddening a little.

“What!  But you said just now…”

“That’s to say, I don’t
admit it’s being either good or possible.”

“That you can’t tell without making the
trial.”

“Well, supposing that’s
so,” said Levin, though he did not suppose so
at all, “supposing that is so, still I don’t
see, all the same, what I’m to worry myself
about it for.”

“How so?”

“No; since we are talking, explain
it to me from the philosophical point of view,”
said Levin.

“I can’t see where philosophy
comes in,” said Sergey Ivanovitch, in a tone,
Levin fancied, as though he did not admit his brother’s
right to talk about philosophy.  And that irritated
Levin.

“I’ll tell you, then,”
he said with heat, “I imagine the mainspring
of all our actions is, after all, self-interest. 
Now in the local institutions I, as a nobleman, see
nothing that could conduce to my prosperity, and the
roads are not better and could not be better; my horses
carry me well enough over bad ones.  Doctors
and dispensaries are no use to me.  An arbitrator
of disputes is no use to me.  I never appeal to
him, and never shall appeal to him.  The schools
are no good to me, but positively harmful, as I told
you.  For me the district institutions simply
mean the liability to pay fourpence halfpenny for
every three acres, to drive into the town, sleep with
bugs, and listen to all sorts of idiocy and loathsomeness,
and self-interest offers me no inducement.”

“Excuse me,” Sergey Ivanovitch
interposed with a smile, “self-interest did
not induce us to work for the emancipation of the
serfs, but we did work for it.”

“No!” Konstantin Levin
broke in with still greater heat; “the emancipation
of the serfs was a different matter.  There self-interest
did come in.  One longed to throw off that yoke
that crushed us, all decent people among us. 
But to be a town councilor and discuss how many dustmen
are needed, and how chimneys shall be constructed
in the town in which I don’t live ­to
serve on a jury and try a peasant who’s stolen
a flitch of bacon, and listen for six hours at a stretch
to all sorts of jabber from the counsel for the defense
and the prosecution, and the president cross-examining
my old half-witted Alioshka, ’Do you admit,
prisoner in the dock, the fact of the removal of the
bacon?’ ‘Eh?’”

Konstantin Levin had warmed to his
subject, and began mimicking the president and the
half-witted Alioshka:  it seemed to him that it
was all to the point.

But Sergey Ivanovitch shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, what do you mean to say, then?”

“I simply mean to say that those
rights that touch me…my interest, I shall always
defend to the best of my ability; that when they made
raids on us students, and the police read our letters,
I was ready to defend those rights to the utmost, to
defend my rights to education and freedom.  I
can understand compulsory military service, which
affects my children, my brothers, and myself, I am
ready to deliberate on what concerns me; but deliberating
on how to spend forty thousand roubles of district
council money, or judging the half-witted Alioshka ­I
don’t understand, and I can’t do it.”

Konstantin Levin spoke as though the
floodgates of his speech had burst open.  Sergey
Ivanovitch smiled.

“But tomorrow it’ll be
your turn to be tried; would it have suited your tastes
better to be tried in the old criminal tribunal?”

“I’m not going to be tried. 
I shan’t murder anybody, and I’ve no
need of it.  Well, I tell you what,” he
went on, flying off again to a subject quite beside
the point, “our district self-government and
all the rest of it ­it’s just like
the birch branches we stick in the ground on Trinity
Day, for instance, to look like a copse which has
grown up of itself in Europe, and I can’t gush
over these birch branches and believe in them.”

Sergey Ivanovitch merely shrugged
his shoulders, as though to express his wonder how
the birch branches had come into their argument at
that point, though he did really understand at once
what his brother meant.

“Excuse me, but you know one
really can’t argue in that way,” he observed.

But Konstantin Levin wanted to justify
himself for the failing, of which he was conscious,
of lack of zeal for the public welfare, and he went
on.

“I imagine,” he said,
“that no sort of activity is likely to be lasting
if it is not founded on self-interest, that’s
a universal principle, a philosophical principle,”
he said, repeating the word “philosophical”
with determination, as though wishing to show that
he had as much right as any one else to talk of philosophy.

Sergey Ivanovitch smiled.  “He
too has a philosophy of his own at the service of
his natural tendencies,” he thought.

“Come, you’d better let
philosophy alone,” he said.  “The
chief problem of the philosophy of all ages consists
just in finding the indispensable connection which
exists between individual and social interests. 
But that’s not to the point; what is to the
point is a correction I must make in your comparison. 
The birches are not simply stuck in, but some are
sown and some are planted, and one must deal carefully
with them.  It’s only those peoples that
have an intuitive sense of what’s of importance
and significance in their institutions, and know how
to value them, that have a future before them ­it’s
only those peoples that one can truly call historical.”

And Sergey Ivanovitch carried the
subject into the regions of philosophical history
where Konstantin Levin could not follow him, and showed
him all the incorrectness of his view.

“As for your dislike of it,
excuse my saying so, that’s simply our Russian
sloth and old serf-owner’s ways, and I’m
convinced that in you it’s a temporary error
and will pass.”

Konstantin was silent.  He felt
himself vanquished on all sides, but he felt at the
same time that what he wanted to say was unintelligible
to his brother.  Only he could not make up his
mind whether it was unintelligible because he was not
capable of expressing his meaning clearly, or because
his brother would not or could not understand him. 
But he did not pursue the speculation, and without
replying, he fell to musing on a quite different and
personal matter.

Sergey Ivanovitch wound up the last
line, untied the horse, and they drove off.

 

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