FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 28

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

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Levin was insufferably bored that
evening with the ladies; he was stirred as he had
never been before by the idea that the dissatisfaction
he was feeling with his system of managing his land
was not an exceptional case, but the general condition
of things in Russia; that the organization of some
relation of the laborers to the soil in which they
would work, as with the peasant he had met half-way
to the Sviazhskys’, was not a dream, but a problem
which must be solved.  And it seemed to him that
the problem could be solved, and that he ought to try
and solve it.

After saying good-night to the ladies,
and promising to stay the whole of the next day, so
as to make an expedition on horseback with them to
see an interesting ruin in the crown forest, Levin
went, before going to bed, into his host’s study
to get the books on the labor question that Sviazhsky
had offered him.  Sviazhsky’s study was
a huge room, surrounded by bookcases and with two
tables in it ­one a massive writing table,
standing in the middle of the room, and the other
a round table, covered with recent numbers of reviews
and journals in different languages, ranged like the
rays of a star round the lamp.  On the writing
table was a stand of drawers marked with gold lettering,
and full of papers of various sorts.

Sviazhsky took out the books, and
sat down in a rocking-chair.

“What are you looking at there?”
he said to Levin, who was standing at the round table
looking through the reviews.

“Oh, yes, there’s a very
interesting article here,” said Sviazhsky of
the review Levin was holding in his hand.  “It
appears,” he went on, with eager interest, “that
Friedrich was not, after all, the person chiefly responsible
for the partition of Poland.  It is proved…”

And with his characteristic clearness,
he summed up those new, very important, and interesting
revelations.  Although Levin was engrossed at
the moment by his ideas about the problem of the land,
he wondered, as he heard Sviazhsky:  “What
is there inside of him?  And why, why is he interested
in the partition of Poland?” When Sviazhsky
had finished, Levin could not help asking:  “Well,
and what then?” But there was nothing to follow. 
It was simply interesting that it had been proved to
be so and so.  But Sviazhsky did not explain,
and saw no need to explain why it was interesting
to him.

“Yes, but I was very much interested
by your irritable neighbor,” said Levin, sighing. 
“He’s a clever fellow, and said a lot
that was true.”

“Oh, get along with you! 
An inveterate supporter of serfdom at heart, like
all of them!” said Sviazhsky.

“Whose marshal you are.”

“Yes, only I marshal them in
the other direction,” said Sviazhsky, laughing.

“I’ll tell you what interests
me very much,” said Levin.  “He’s
right that our system, that’s to say of rational
farming, doesn’t answer, that the only thing
that answers is the money-lender system, like that
meek-looking gentleman’s, or else the very simplest…. 
Whose fault is it?”

“Our own, of course.  Besides,
it’s not true that it doesn’t answer. 
It answers with Vassiltchikov.”

“A factory…”

“But I really don’t know
what it is you are surprised at.  The people
are at such a low stage of rational and moral development,
that it’s obvious they’re bound to oppose
everything that’s strange to them.  In
Europe, a rational system answers because the people
are educated; it follows that we must educate the
people ­that’s all.”

“But how are we to educate the people?”

“To educate the people three
things are needed:  schools, and schools, and
schools.

“But you said yourself the people
are at such a low stage of material development: 
what help are schools for that?”

“Do you know, you remind me
of the story of the advice given to the sick man ­You
should try purgative medicine.  Taken:  worse. 
Try leeches.  Tried them:  worse.  Well,
then, there’s nothing left but to pray to God. 
Tried it:  worse.  That’s just how
it is with us.  I say political economy; you
say ­worse.  I say socialism: 
worse.  Education:  worse.”

“But how do schools help matters?”

“They give the peasant fresh wants.”

“Well, that’s a thing
I’ve never understood,” Levin replied with
heat.  “In what way are schools going to
help the people to improve their material position? 
You say schools, education, will give them fresh
wants.  So much the worse, since they won’t
be capable of satisfying them.  And in what way
a knowledge of addition and subtraction and the catechism
is going to improve their material condition, I never
could make out.  The day before yesterday, I
met a peasant woman in the evening with a little baby,
and asked her where she was going.  She said she
was going to the wise woman; her boy had screaming
fits, so she was taking him to be doctored. 
I asked, ’Why, how does the wise woman cure
screaming fits?’ ’She puts the child on
the hen-roost and repeats some charm….’ “

“Well, you’re saying it
yourself!  What’s wanted to prevent her
taking her child to the hen-roost to cure it of screaming
fits is just…”  Sviazhsky said, smiling
good-humoredly.

“Oh, no!” said Levin with
annoyance; “that method of doctoring I merely
meant as a simile for doctoring the people with schools. 
The people are poor and ignorant ­that we
see as surely as the peasant woman sees the baby is
ill because it screams.  But in what way this
trouble of poverty and ignorance is to be cured by
schools is as incomprehensible as how the hen-roost
affects the screaming.  What has to be cured
is what makes him poor.”

“Well, in that, at least, you’re
in agreement with Spencer, whom you dislike so much. 
He says, too, that education may be the consequence
of greater prosperity and comfort, of more frequent
washing, as he says, but not of being able to read
and write…”

“Well, then, I’m very
glad ­or the contrary, very sorry, that
I’m in agreement with Spencer; only I’ve
known it a long while.  Schools can do no good;
what will do good is an economic organization in which
the people will become richer, will have more leisure ­and
then there will be schools.”

“Still, all over Europe now schools are obligatory.”

“And how far do you agree with
Spencer yourself about it?” asked Levin.

But there was a gleam of alarm in
Sviazhsky’s eyes, and he said smiling: 

“No; that screaming story is
positively capital!  Did you really hear it yourself?”

Levin saw that he was not to discover
the connection between this man’s life and his
thoughts.  Obviously he did not care in the least
what his reasoning led him to; all he wanted was the
process of reasoning.  And he did not like it
when the process of reasoning brought him into a blind
alley.  That was the only thing he disliked,
and avoided by changing the conversation to something
agreeable and amusing.

All the impressions of the day, beginning
with the impression made by the old peasant, which
served, as it were, as the fundamental basis of all
the conceptions and ideas of the day, threw Levin
into violent excitement.  This dear good Sviazhsky,
keeping a stock of ideas simply for social purposes,
and obviously having some other principles hidden
from Levin, while with the crowd, whose name is legion,
he guided public opinion by ideas he did not share;
that irascible country gentleman, perfectly correct
in the conclusions that he had been worried into by
life, but wrong in his exasperation against a whole
class, and that the best class in Russia; his own dissatisfaction
with the work he had been doing, and the vague hope
of finding a remedy for all this ­all was
blended in a sense of inward turmoil, and anticipation
of some solution near at hand.

Left alone in the room assigned him,
lying on a spring mattress that yielded unexpectedly
at every movement of his arm or his leg, Levin did
not fall asleep for a long while.  Not one conversation
with Sviazhsky, though he had said a great deal that
was clever, had interested Levin; but the conclusions
of the irascible landowner required consideration. 
Levin could not help recalling every word he had
said, and in imagination amending his own replies.

“Yes, I ought to have said to
him:  You say that our husbandry does not answer
because the peasant hates improvements, and that they
must be forced on him by authority.  If no system
of husbandry answered at all without these improvements,
you would be quite right.  But the only system
that does answer is where laborer is working in accordance
with his habits, just as on the old peasant’s
land half-way here.  Your and our general dissatisfaction
with the system shows that either we are to blame
or the laborers.  We have gone our way ­the
European way ­a long while, without asking
ourselves about the qualities of our labor force. 
Let us try to look upon the labor force not as an
abstract force, but as the Russian peasant with
his instincts, and we shall arrange our system of
culture in accordance with that.  Imagine, I
ought to have said to him, that you have the same
system as the old peasant has, that you have found
means of making your laborers take an interest in
the success of the work, and have found the happy
mean in the way of improvements which they will admit,
and you will, without exhausting the soil, get twice
or three times the yield you got before.  Divide
it in halves, give half as the share of labor, the
surplus left you will be greater, and the share of
labor will be greater too.  And to do this one
must lower the standard of husbandry and interest
the laborers in its success.  How to do this? ­that’s
a matter of detail; but undoubtedly it can be done.”

This idea threw Levin into a great
excitement.  He did not sleep half the night,
thinking over in detail the putting of his idea into
practice.  He had not intended to go away next
day, but he now determined to go home early in the
morning.  Besides, the sister-in-law with her
low-necked bodice aroused in him a feeling akin to
shame and remorse for some utterly base action. 
Most important of all ­he must get back
without delay:  he would have to make haste to
put his new project to the peasants before the sowing
of the winter wheat, so that the sowing might be undertaken
on a new basis.  He had made up his mind to revolutionize
his whole system.

 

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