What To Do? - thoughts evoked by the census of Moscow
by Count Lyof N. Tolstoi
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Transcribed from the 1887 Tomas Y. Crowell edition by David Price, email








Books which are prohibited by the Russian Censor are not always inaccessible. An enterprising publishing-house in Geneva makes a specialty of supplying the natural craving of man for forbidden fruit, under which heading some of Count L. N. Tolstoi's essays belong. These essays circulate in Russia in manuscript; and it is from one of these manuscripts, which fell into the hands of the Geneva firm, that the first half of the present translation has been made. It is thus that the Censor's omissions have been noted, even in cases where such omissions are in no way indicated in the twelfth volume of Count Tolstoi's collected works, published in Moscow. As an interesting detail in this connection, I may mention that this twelfth volume contains all that the censor allows of "My Religion," amounting to a very much abridged scrap of Chapter X. in the last-named volume as known to the public outside of Russia. The last half of the present book has not been published by the Geneva house, and omissions cannot be marked.


BOSTON, Sept. 1, 1887


The object of a census is scientific. A census is a sociological investigation. And the object of the science of sociology is the happiness of the people. This science and its methods differ sharply from all other sciences.

Its peculiarity lies in this, that sociological investigations are not conducted by learned men in their cabinets, observatories and laboratories, but by two thousand people from the community. A second peculiarity is this, that the investigations of other sciences are not conducted on living people, but here living people are the subjects. A third peculiarity is, that the aim of every other science is simply knowledge, while here it is the good of the people. One man may investigate a nebula, but for the investigation of Moscow, two thousand persons are necessary. The object of the study of nebulae is merely that we may know about nebulae; the object of the study of inhabitants is that sociological laws may be deduced, and that, on the foundation of these laws, a better life for the people may be established. It makes no difference to the nebula whether it is studied or not, and it has waited long, and is ready to wait a great while longer; but it is not a matter of indifference to the inhabitants of Moscow, especially to those unfortunates who constitute the most interesting subjects of the science of sociology.

The census-taker enters a night lodging-house; in the basement he finds a man dying of hunger, and he politely inquires his profession, his name, his native place, the character of his occupation, and after a little hesitation as to whether he is to be entered in the list as alive, he writes him in and goes his way.

And thus will the two thousand young men proceed. This is not as it should be.

Science does its work, and the community, summoned in the persons of these two thousand young men to aid science, must do its work. A statistician drawing his deductions from figures may feel indifferent towards people, but we census-takers, who see these people and who have no scientific prepossessions, cannot conduct ourselves towards them in an inhuman manner. Science fulfils its task, and its work is for its objects and in the distant future, both useful and necessary to us. For men of science, we can calmly say, that in 1882 there were so many beggars, so many prostitutes, and so many uncared-for children. Science may say this with composure and with pride, because it knows that the confirmation of this fact conduces to the elucidation of the laws of sociology, and that the elucidation of the laws of sociology leads to a better constitution of society. But what if we, the unscientific people, say: "You are perishing in vice, you are dying of hunger, you are pining away, and killing each other; so do not grieve about this; when you shall have all perished, and hundreds of thousands more like you, then, possibly, science may be able to arrange everything in an excellent manner." For men of science, the census has its interest; and for us also, it possesses an interest of a wholly different significance. The interest and significance of the census for the community lie in this, that it furnishes it with a mirror into which, willy nilly, the whole community, and each one of us, gaze.

The figures and deductions will be the mirror. It is possible to refrain from reading them, as it is possible to turn away from the looking-glass. It is possible to glance cursorily at both figures and mirror, and it is also possible to scrutinize them narrowly. To go about in connection with the census as thousands of people are now about to do, is to scrutinize one's self closely in the mirror.

What does this census, that is about to be made, mean for us people of Moscow, who are not men of science? It means two things. In the first place, this, that we may learn with certainty, that among us tens of thousands who live in ease, there dwell tens of thousands of people who lack bread, clothing and shelter; in the second place, this, that our brothers and sons will go and view this and will calmly set down according to the schedules, how many have died of hunger and cold.

And both these things are very bad.

All cry out upon the instability of our social organization, about the exceptional situation, about revolutionary tendencies. Where lies the root of all this? To what do the revolutionists point? To poverty, to inequality in the distribution of wealth. To what do the conservatives point? To the decline in moral principle. If the opinion of the revolutionists is correct, what must be done? Poverty and the inequality of wealth must be lessened. How is this to be effected? The rich must share with the poor. If the opinion of the conservatives is correct, that the whole evil arises from the decline in moral principle, what can be more immoral and vicious than the consciously indifferent survey of popular sufferings, with the sole object of cataloguing them? What must be done? To the census we must add the work of affectionate intercourse of the idle and cultivated rich, with the oppressed and unenlightened poor.

Science will do its work, let us perform ours also. Let us do this. In the first place, let all of us who are occupied with the census, superintendents and census-takers, make it perfectly clear to ourselves what we are to investigate and why. It is the people, and the object is that they may be happy. Whatever may be one's view of life, every one will agree that there is nothing more important than human life, and that there is no more weighty task than to remove the obstacles to the development of this life, and to assist it.

This idea, that the relations of men to poverty are at the foundation of all popular suffering, is expressed in the Gospels with striking harshness, but at the same time, with decision and clearness for all.

"He who has clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the prisoner, that man has clothed Me, fed Me, visited Me," that is, has done the deed for that which is the most important thing in the world.

However a man may look upon things, every one knows that this is more important than all else on earth.

And this must not be forgotten, and we must not permit any other consideration to veil from us the most weighty fact of our existence. Let us inscribe, and reckon, but let us not forget that if we encounter a man who is hungry and without clothes, it is of more moment to succor him than to make all possible investigations, than to discover all possible sciences. Perish the whole census if we may but feed an old woman. The census will be longer and more difficult, but we cannot pass by people in the poorer quarters and merely note them down without taking any heed of them and without endeavoring, according to the measure of our strength and moral sensitiveness, to aid them. This in the first place. In the second, this is what must be done: All of us, who are to take part in the census, must refrain from irritation because we are annoyed; let us understand that this census is very useful for us; that if this is not cure, it is at least an effort to study the disease, for which we should be thankful; that we must seize this occasion, and, in connection with it, we must seek to recover our health, in some small degree. Let all of us, then, who are connected with the census, endeavor to take advantage of this solitary opportunity in ten years to purify ourselves somewhat; let us not strive against, but assist the census, and assist it especially in this sense, that it may not have merely the harsh character of the investigation of a hopelessly sick person, but may have the character of healing and restoration to health. For the occasion is unique: eighty energetic, cultivated men, having under their orders two thousand young men of the same stamp, are to make their way over the whole of Moscow, and not leave a single man in Moscow with whom they have not entered into personal relations. All the wounds of society, the wounds of poverty, of vice, of ignorance—all will be laid bare. Is there not something re-assuring in this? The census-takers will go about Moscow, they will set down in their lists, without distinction, those insolent with prosperity, the satisfied, the calm, those who are on the way to ruin, and those who are ruined, and the curtain will fall. The census-takers, our sons and brothers, these young men will behold all this. They will say: "Yes, our life is very terrible and incurable," and with this admission they will live on like the rest of us, awaiting a remedy for the evil from this or that extraneous force. But those who are perishing will go on dying, in their ruin, and those on the road to ruin will continue in their course. No, let us rather grasp the idea that science has its task, and that we, on the occasion of this census, have our task, and let us not allow the curtain once lifted to be dropped, but let us profit by the opportunity in order to remove the immense evil of the separation existing between us and the poor, and to establish intercourse and the work of redressing the evil of unhappiness and ignorance, and our still greater misfortune,—the indifference and aimlessness of our life.

I already hear the customary remark: "All this is very fine, these are sounding phrases; but do you tell us what to do and how to do it?" Before I say what is to be done, it is indispensable that I should say what is not to be done. It is indispensable, first of all, in my opinion, in order that something practical may come of this activity, that no society should be formed, that there should be no publicity, that there should be no collection of money by balls, bazaars or theatres; that there should be no announcement that Prince A. has contributed one thousand rubles, and the honorable citizen B. three thousand; that there shall be no collection, no calling to account, no writing up,—most of all, no writing up, so that there may not be the least shadow of any institution, either governmental or philanthropic.

But in my opinion, this is what should be done instantly: Firstly, All those who agree with me should go to the directors, and ask for their shares the poorest sections, the poorest dwellings; and in company with the census-takers, twenty-three, twenty-four or twenty-five in number, they should go to these quarters, enter into relations with the people who are in need of assistance, and labor for them.

Secondly: We should direct the attention of the superintendents and census-takers to the inhabitants in need of assistance, and work for them personally, and point them out to those who wish to work over them. But I am asked: What do you mean by working over them? I reply; Doing good to people. The words "doing good" are usually understood to mean, giving money. But, in my opinion, doing good and giving money are not only not the same thing, but two different and generally opposite things. Money, in itself, is evil. And therefore he who gives money gives evil. This error of thinking that the giving of money means doing good, arose from the fact, that generally, when a man does good, he frees himself from evil, and from money among other evils. And therefore, to give money is only a sign that a man is beginning to rid himself of evil. To do good, signifies to do that which is good for man. But, in order to know what is good for man, it is necessary to be on humane, i.e., on friendly terms with him. And therefore, in order to do good, it is not money that is necessary, but, first of all, a capacity for detaching ourselves, for a time at least, from the conditions of our own life. It is necessary that we should not be afraid to soil our boots and clothing, that we should not fear lice and bedbugs, that we should not fear typhus fever, diphtheria, and small-pox. It is necessary that we should be in a condition to seat ourselves by the bunk of a tatterdemalion and converse earnestly with him in such a manner, that he may feel that the man who is talking with him respects and loves him, and is not putting on airs and admiring himself. And in order that this may be so, it is necessary that a man should find the meaning of life outside himself. This is what is requisite in order that good should be done, and this is what it is difficult to find.

When the idea of assisting through the medium of the census occurred to me, I discussed the matter with divers of the wealthy, and I saw how glad the rich were of this opportunity of decently getting rid of their money, that extraneous sin which they cherish in their hearts. "Take three hundred—five hundred rubles, if you like," they said to me, "but I cannot go into those dens myself." There was no lack of money. Remember Zaccheus, the chief of the Publicans in the Gospel. Remember how he, because he was small of stature, climbed into a tree to see Christ, and how when Christ announced that he was going to his house, having understood but one thing, that the Master did not approve of riches, he leaped headlong from the tree, ran home and arranged his feast. And how, as soon as Christ entered, Zaccheus instantly declared that he gave the half of his goods to the poor, and if he had wronged any man, to him he would restore fourfold. And remember how all of us, when we read the Gospel, set but little store on this Zaccheus, and involuntarily look with scorn on this half of his goods, and fourfold restitution. And our feeling is correct. Zaccheus, according to his lights, performed a great deed. He had not even begun to do good. He had only begun in some small measure to purify himself from evil, and so Christ told him.

He merely said to him: "To-day is salvation come nigh unto this house."

What if the Moscow Zaccheuses were to do the same that he did? Assuredly, more than one milliard could be collected. Well, and what of that? Nothing. There would be still greater sin if we were to think of distributing this money among the poor. Money is not needed. What is needed is self-sacrificing action; what is needed are people who would like to do good, not by giving extraneous sin-money, but by giving their own labor, themselves, their lives. Where are such people to be found? Here they are, walking about Moscow. They are the student enumerators. I have seen how they write out their charts. The student writes in the night lodging-house, by the bedside of a sick man. "What is your disease?"—"Small-pox." And the student does not make a wry face, but proceeds with his writing. And this he does for the sake of some doubtful science. What would he do if he were doing it for the sake of his own undoubted good and the good of others?

When children, in merry mood, feel a desire to laugh, they never think of devising some reason for laughter, but they laugh without any reason, because they are gay; and thus these charming youths sacrifice themselves. They have not, as yet, contrived to devise any means of sacrificing themselves, but they devote their attention, their labor, their lives, in order to write out a chart, from which something does or does not appear. What would it be if this labor were something really worth their while? There is and there always will be labor of this sort, which is worthy of the devotion of a whole life, whatever the man's life may be. This labor is the loving intercourse of man with man, and the breaking-down of the barriers which men have erected between themselves, so that the enjoyment of the rich man may not be disturbed by the wild howls of the men who are reverting to beasts, and by the groans of helpless hunger, cold and disease.

This census will place before the eyes of us well-to-do and so-called cultivated people, all the poverty and oppression which is lurking in every corner of Moscow. Two thousand of our brothers, who stand on the highest rung of the ladder, will come face to face with thousands of people who stand on the lowest round of society. Let us not miss this opportunity of communion. Let us, through these two thousand men, preserve this communion, and let us make use of it to free ourselves from the aimlessness and the deformity of our lives, and to free the condemned from that indigence and misery which do not allow the sensitive people in our ranks to enjoy our good fortune in peace.

This is what I propose: (1) That all our directors and enumerators should join to their business of the census a task of assistance,—of work in the interest of the good of these people, who, in our opinion, are in need of assistance, and with whom we shall come in contact; (2) That all of us, directors and enumerators, not by appointment of the committee of the City Council, but by the appointment of our own hearts, shall remain in our posts,—that is, in our relations to the inhabitants of the town who are in need of assistance,—and that, at the conclusion of the work of the census, we shall continue our work of aid. If I have succeeded in any degree in expressing what I feel, I am sure that the only impossibility will be getting the directors and enumerators to abandon this, and that others will present themselves in the places of those who leave; (3) That we should collect all those inhabitants of Moscow, who feel themselves fit to work for the needy, into sections, and begin our activity now, in accordance with the hints of the census-takers and directors, and afterwards carry it on; (4) That all who, on account of age, weakness, or other causes, cannot give their personal labor among the needy, shall intrust the task to their young, strong, and willing relatives. (Good consists not in the giving of money, it consists in the loving intercourse of men. This alone is needed.)

Whatever may be the outcome of this, any thing will be better than the present state of things.

Then let the final act of our enumerators and directors be to distribute a hundred twenty-kopek pieces to those who have no food; and this will be not a little, not so much because the hungry will have food, but because the directors and enumerators will conduct themselves in a humane manner towards a hundred poor people. How are we to compute the possible results which will accrue to the balance of public morality from the fact that, instead of the sentiments of irritation, anger, and envy which we arouse by reckoning the hungry, we shall awaken in a hundred instances a sentiment of good, which will be communicated to a second and a third, and an endless wave which will thus be set in motion and flow between men? And this is a great deal. Let those of the two thousand enumerators who have never comprehended this before, come to understand that, when going about among the poor, it is impossible to say, "This is very interesting;" that a man should not express himself with regard to another man's wretchedness by interest only; and this will be a good thing. Then let assistance be rendered to all those unfortunates, of whom there are not so many as I at first supposed in Moscow, who can easily be helped by money alone to a great extent. Then let those laborers who have come to Moscow and have eaten their very clothing from their backs, and who cannot return to the country, be despatched to their homes; let the abandoned orphans receive supervision; let feeble old men and indigent old women, who subsist on the charity of their companions, be released from their half-famished and dying condition. (And this is very possible. There are not very many of them.) And this will also be a very, very great deal accomplished. But why not think and hope that more and yet more will be done? Why not expect that that real task will be partially carried out, or at least begun, which is effected, not by money, but by labor; that weak drunkards who have lost their health, unlucky thieves, and prostitutes who are still capable of reformation, should be saved? All evil may not be exterminated, but there will arise some understanding of it, and the contest with it will not be police methods, but by inward modes,—by the brotherly intercourse of the men who perceive the evil, with the men who do not perceive it because they are a part of it.

No matter what may be accomplished, it will be a great deal. But why not hope that every thing will be accomplished? Why not hope that we shall accomplish thus much, that there shall not exist in Moscow a single person in want of clothing, a single hungry person, a single human being sold for money, nor a single individual oppressed by the judgment of man, who shall not know that there is fraternal aid for him? It is not surprising that this should not be so, but it is surprising that this should exist side by side with our superfluous leisure and wealth, and that we can live on composedly, knowing that these things are so. Let us forget that in great cities and in London, there is a proletariat, and let us not say that so it must needs be. It need not be this, and it should not, for this is contrary to our reason and our heart, and it cannot be if we are living people. Why not hope that we shall come to understand that there is not a single duty incumbent upon us, not to mention personal duty, for ourselves, nor our family, nor social, nor governmental, nor scientific, which is more weighty than this? Why not think that we shall at last come to apprehend this? Only because to do so would be too great a happiness. Why not hope that some the people will wake up, and will comprehend that every thing else is a delusion, but that this is the only work in life? And why should not this "some time" be now, and in Moscow? Why not hope that the same thing may happen in society and humanity which suddenly takes place in a diseased organism, when the moment of convalescence suddenly sets in? The organism is diseased this means, that the cells cease to perform their mysterious functions; some die, others become infected, others still remain in perfect condition, and work on by themselves. But all of a sudden the moment comes when every living cell enters upon an independent and healthy activity: it crowds out the dead cells, encloses the infected ones in a living wall, it communicates life to that which was lifeless; and the body is restored, and lives with new life.

Why should we not think and expect that the cells of our society will acquire fresh life and re-invigorate the organism? We know not in what the power of the cells consists, but we do know that our life is in our own power. We can show forth the light that is in us, or we may extinguish it.

Let one man approach the Lyapinsky house in the dusk, when a thousand persons, naked and hungry, are waiting in the bitter cold for admission, and let that one man attempt to help, and his heart will ache till it bleeds, and he will flee thence with despair and anger against men; but let a thousand men approach that other thousand with a desire to help, and the task will prove easy and delightful. Let the mechanicians invent a machine for lifting the weight that is crushing us—that is a good thing; but until they shall have invented it, let us bear down upon the people, like fools, like muzhiki, like peasants, like Christians, and see whether we cannot raise them.

And now, brothers, all together, and away it goes!


And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?

He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise—LUKE iii. 10. 11.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?—MATT. vi. 19-25.

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.—MATT. vi. 31-34.

For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.—MATT. xix. 24; MARK x. 25; LUKE xviii. 25.


I had lived all my life out of town. When, in 1881, I went to live in Moscow, the poverty of the town greatly surprised me. I am familiar with poverty in the country; but city poverty was new and incomprehensible to me. In Moscow it was impossible to pass along the street without encountering beggars, and especially beggars who are unlike those in the country. These beggars do not go about with their pouches in the name of Christ, as country beggars are accustomed to do, but these beggars are without the pouch and the name of Christ. The Moscow beggars carry no pouches, and do not ask for alms. Generally, when they meet or pass you, they merely try to catch your eye; and, according to your look, they beg or refrain from it. I know one such beggar who belongs to the gentry. The old man walks slowly along, bending forward every time he sets his foot down. When he meets you, he rests on one foot and makes you a kind of salute. If you stop, he pulls off his hat with its cockade, and bows and begs: if you do not halt, he pretends that that is merely his way of walking, and he passes on, bending forward in like manner on the other foot. He is a real Moscow beggar, a cultivated man. At first I did not know why the Moscow beggars do not ask alms directly; afterwards I came to understand why they do not beg, but still I did not understand their position.

Once, as I was passing through Afanasievskaya Lane, I saw a policeman putting a ragged peasant, all swollen with dropsy, into a cab. I inquired: "What is that for?"

The policeman answered: "For asking alms."

"Is that forbidden?"

"Of course it is forbidden," replied the policeman.

The sufferer from dropsy was driven off. I took another cab, and followed him. I wanted to know whether it was true that begging alms was prohibited and how it was prohibited. I could in no wise understand how one man could be forbidden to ask alms of any other man; and besides, I did not believe that it was prohibited, when Moscow is full of beggars. I went to the station-house whither the beggar had been taken. At a table in the station-house sat a man with a sword and a pistol. I inquired:

"For what was this peasant arrested?"

The man with the sword and pistol gazed sternly at me, and said:

"What business is it of yours?"

But feeling conscious that it was necessary to offer me some explanation, he added:

"The authorities have ordered that all such persons are to be arrested; of course it had to be done."

I went out. The policeman who had brought the beggar was seated on the window-sill in the ante-chamber, staring gloomily at a note-book. I asked him:

"Is it true that the poor are forbidden to ask alms in Christ's name?"

The policeman came to himself, stared at me, then did not exactly frown, but apparently fell into a doze again, and said, as he sat on the window- sill:—

"The authorities have so ordered, which shows that it is necessary," and betook himself once more to his note-book. I went out on the porch, to the cab.

"Well, how did it turn out? Have they arrested him?" asked the cabman. The man was evidently interested in this affair also.

"Yes," I answered. The cabman shook his head. "Why is it forbidden here in Moscow to ask alms in Christ's name?" I inquired.

"Who knows?" said the cabman.

"How is this?" said I, "he is Christ's poor, and he is taken to the station-house."

"A stop has been put to that now, it is not allowed," said the cab-driver.

On several occasions afterwards, I saw policemen conducting beggars to the station house, and then to the Yusupoff house of correction. Once I encountered on the Myasnitzkaya a company of these beggars, about thirty in number. In front of them and behind them marched policemen. I inquired: "What for?"—"For asking alms."

It turned out that all these beggars, several of whom you meet with in every street in Moscow, and who stand in files near every church during services, and especially during funeral services, are forbidden to ask alms.

But why are some of them caught and locked up somewhere, while others are left alone?

This I could not understand. Either there are among them legal and illegal beggars, or there are so many of them that it is impossible to apprehend them all; or do others assemble afresh when some are removed?

There are many varieties of beggars in Moscow: there are some who live by this profession; there are also genuine poor people, who have chanced upon Moscow in some manner or other, and who are really in want.

Among these poor people, there are many simple, common peasants, and women in their peasant costume. I often met such people. Some of them have fallen ill here, and on leaving the hospital they can neither support themselves here, nor get away from Moscow. Some of them, moreover, have indulged in dissipation (such was probably the case of the dropsical man); some have not been ill, but are people who have been burnt out of their houses, or old people, or women with children; some, too, were perfectly healthy and able to work. These perfectly healthy peasants who were engaged in begging, particularly interested me. These healthy, peasant beggars, who were fit for work, also interested me, because, from the date of my arrival in Moscow, I had been in the habit of going to the Sparrow Hills with two peasants, and sawing wood there for the sake of exercise. These two peasants were just as poor as those whom I encountered on the streets. One was Piotr, a soldier from Kaluga; the other Semyon, a peasant from Vladimir. They possessed nothing except the wages of their body and hands. And with these hands they earned, by dint of very hard labor, from forty to forty-five kopeks a day, out of which each of them was laying by savings, the Kaluga man for a fur coat, the Vladimir man in order to get enough to return to his village. Therefore, on meeting precisely such men in the streets, I took an especial interest in them.

Why did these men toil, while those others begged?

On encountering a peasant of this stamp, I usually asked him how he had come to that situation. Once I met a peasant with some gray in his beard, but healthy. He begs. I ask him who is he, whence comes he? He says that he came from Kaluga to get work. At first he found employment chopping up old wood for use in stoves. He and his comrade finished all the chopping which one householder had; then they sought other work, but found none; his comrade had parted from him, and for two weeks he himself had been struggling along; he had spent all his money, he had no saw, and no axe, and no money to buy anything. I gave him money for a saw, and told him of a place where he could find work. I had already made arrangements with Piotr and Semyon, that they should take an assistant, and they looked up a mate for him.

"See that you come. There is a great deal of work there."

"I will come; why should I not come? Do you suppose I like to beg? I can work."

The peasant declares that he will come, and it seems to me that he is not deceiving me, and that he intents to come.

On the following day I go to my peasants, and inquire whether that man has arrived. He has not been there; and in this way several men deceived me. And those also deceived me who said that they only required money for a ticket in order to return home, and who chanced upon me again in the street a week later. Many of these I recognized, and they recognized me, and sometimes, having forgotten me, they repeated the same trick on me; and others, on catching sight of me, beat a retreat. Thus I perceived, that in the ranks of this class also deceivers existed. But these cheats were very pitiable creatures: all of them were but half-clad, poverty-stricken, gaunt, sickly men; they were the very people who really freeze to death, or hang themselves, as we learn from the newspapers.


When I mentioned this poverty of the town to inhabitants of the town, they always said to me: "Oh, all that you have seen is nothing. You ought to see the Khitroff market-place, and the lodging-houses for the night there. There you would see a regular 'golden company.'" {21a} One jester told me that this was no longer a company, but a golden regiment: so greatly had their numbers increased. The jester was right, but he would have been still more accurate if he had said that these people now form in Moscow neither a company nor a regiment, but an entire army, almost fifty thousand in number, I think. [The old inhabitants, when they spoke to me about the poverty in town, always referred to it with a certain satisfaction, as though pluming themselves over me, because they knew it. I remember that when I was in London, the old inhabitants there also rather boasted when they spoke of the poverty of London. The case is the same with us.] {21b}

And I wanted to have a sight of this poverty of which I had been told. Several times I set out in the direction of the Khitroff market-place, but on every occasion I began to feel uncomfortable and ashamed. "Why am I going to gaze on the sufferings of people whom I cannot help?" said one voice. "No, if you live here, and see all the charms of city life, go and view this also," said another voice. In December three years ago, therefore, on a cold and windy day, I betook myself to that centre of poverty, the Khitroff market-place. This was at four o'clock in the afternoon of a week-day. As I passed through the Solyanka, I already began to see more and more people in old garments which had not originally belonged to them, and in still stranger foot-gear, people with a peculiar, unhealthy hue of countenance, and especially with a singular indifference to every thing around them, which was peculiar to them all. A man in the strangest of all possible attire, which was utterly unlike any thing else, walked along with perfect unconcern, evidently without a thought of the appearance which he must present to the eyes of others. All these people were making their way towards a single point. Without inquiring the way, with which I was not acquainted, I followed them, and came out on the Khitroff market-place. On the market-place, women both old and young, of the same description, in tattered cloaks and jackets of various shapes, in ragged shoes and overshoes, and equally unconcerned, notwithstanding the hideousness of their attire, sat, bargained for something, strolled about, and scolded. There were not many people in the market itself. Evidently market-hours were over, and the majority of the people were ascending the rise beyond the market and through the place, all still proceeding in one direction. I followed them. The farther I advanced, the greater in numbers were the people of this sort who flowed together on one road. Passing through the market-place and proceeding along the street, I overtook two women; one was old, the other young. Both wore something ragged and gray. As they walked they were discussing some matter. After every necessary word, they uttered one or two unnecessary ones, of the most improper character. They were not intoxicated, but merely troubled about something; and neither the men who met them, nor those who walked in front of them and behind them, paid any attention to the language which was so strange to me. In these quarters, evidently, people always talked so. Ascending the rise, we reached a large house on a corner. The greater part of the people who were walking along with me halted at this house. They stood all over the sidewalk of this house, and sat on the curbstone, and even the snow in the street was thronged with the same kind of people. On the right side of the entrance door were the women, on the left the men. I walked past the women, past the men (there were several hundred of them in all) and halted where the line came to an end. The house before which these people were waiting was the Lyapinsky free lodging-house for the night. The throng of people consisted of night lodgers, who were waiting to be let in. At five o'clock in the afternoon, the house is opened, and the people permitted to enter. Hither had come nearly all the people whom I had passed on my way.

I halted where the line of men ended. Those nearest me began to stare at me, and attracted my attention to them by their glances. The fragments of garments which covered these bodies were of the most varied sorts. But the expression of all the glances directed towards me by these people was identical. In all eyes the question was expressed: "Why have you, a man from another world, halted here beside us? Who are you? Are you a self- satisfied rich man who wants to enjoy our wretchedness, to get rid of his tedium, and to torment us still more? or are you that thing which does not and can not exist,—a man who pities us?" This query was on every face. You glance about, encounter some one's eye, and turn away. I wished to talk with some one of them, but for a long time I could not make up my mind to it. But our glances had drawn us together already while our tongues remained silent. Greatly as our lives had separated us, after the interchange of two or three glances we felt that we were both men, and we ceased to fear each other. The nearest of all to me was a peasant with a swollen face and a red beard, in a tattered caftan, and patched overshoes on his bare feet. And the weather was eight degrees below zero. {24a} For the third or fourth time I encountered his eyes, and I felt so near to him that I was no longer ashamed to accost him, but ashamed not to say something to him. I inquired where he came from? he answered readily, and we began to talk; others approached. He was from Smolensk, and had come to seek employment that he might earn his bread and taxes. "There is no work," said he: "the soldiers have taken it all away. So now I am loafing about; as true as I believe in God, I have had nothing to eat for two days." He spoke modestly, with an effort at a smile. A sbiten{24b}-seller, an old soldier, stood near by. I called him up. He poured out his sbiten. The peasant took a boiling-hot glassful in his hands, and as he tried before drinking not to let any of the heat escape in vain, and warmed his hands over it, he related his adventures to me. These adventures, or the histories of them, are almost always identical: the man has been a laborer, then he has changed his residence, then his purse containing his money and ticket has been stolen from him in the night lodging-house; now it is impossible to get away from Moscow. He told me that he kept himself warm by day in the dram- shops; that he nourished himself on the bits of bread in these drinking places, when they were given to him; and when he was driven out of them, he came hither to the Lyapinsky house for a free lodging. He was only waiting for the police to make their rounds, when, as he had no passport, he would be taken to jail, and then despatched by stages to his place of settlement. "They say that the inspection will be made on Friday," said he, "then they will arrest me. If I can only get along until Friday." (The jail, and the journey by stages, represent the Promised Land to him.)

As he told his story, three men from among the throng corroborated his statements, and said that they were in the same predicament. A gaunt, pale, long-nosed youth, with merely a shirt on the upper portion of his body, and that torn on the shoulders, and a cap without a visor, forced his way sidelong through the crowd. He shivered violently and incessantly, but tried to smile disdainfully at the peasants' remarks, thinking by this means to adopt the proper tone with me, and he stared at me. I offered him some sbiten; he also, on taking the glass, warmed his hands over it; but no sooner had he begun to speak, than he was thrust aside by a big, black, hook-nosed individual, in a chintz shirt and waistcoat, without a hat. The hook-nosed man asked for some sbiten also. Then came a tall old man, with a mass of beard, clad in a great- coat girded with a rope, and in bast shoes, who was drunk. Then a small man with a swollen face and tearful eyes, in a brown nankeen round-jacket, with his bare knees protruding from the holes in his summer trousers, and knocking together with cold. He shivered so that he could not hold his glass, and spilled it over himself. The men began to reproach him. He only smiled in a woe-begone way, and went on shivering. Then came a crooked monster in rags, with pattens on his bare feet; then some sort of an officer; then something in the ecclesiastical line; then something strange and nose-less,—all hungry and cold, beseeching and submissive, thronged round me, and pressed close to the sbiten. They drank up all the sbiten. One asked for money, and I gave it. Then another asked, then a third, and the whole crowd besieged me. Confusion and a press resulted. The porter of the adjoining house shouted to the crowd to clear the sidewalk in front of his house, and the crowd submissively obeyed his orders. Some managers stepped out of the throng, and took me under their protection, and wanted to lead me forth out of the press; but the crowd, which had at first been scattered over the sidewalk, now became disorderly, and hustled me. All stared at me and begged; and each face was more pitiful and suffering and humble than the last. I distributed all that I had with me. I had not much money, something like twenty rubles; and in company with the crowd, I entered the Lyapinsky lodging-house. This house is huge. It consists of four sections. In the upper stories are the men's quarters; in the lower, the women's. I first entered the women's place; a vast room all occupied with bunks, resembling the third-class bunks on the railway. These bunks were arranged in two rows, one above the other. The women, strange, tattered creatures, both old and young, wearing nothing over their dresses, entered and took their places, some below and some above. Some of the old ones crossed themselves, and uttered a petition for the founder of this refuge; some laughed and scolded. I went up-stairs. There the men had installed themselves; among them I espied one of those to whom I had given money. [On catching sight of him, I all at once felt terribly abashed, and I made haste to leave the room. And it was with a sense of absolute crime that I quitted that house and returned home. At home I entered over the carpeted stairs into the ante-room, whose floor was covered with cloth; and having removed my fur coat, I sat down to a dinner of five courses, waited on by two lackeys in dress-coats, white neckties, and white gloves.

Thirty years ago I witnessed in Paris a man's head cut off by the guillotine in the presence of thousands of spectators. I knew that the man was a horrible criminal. I was acquainted with all the arguments which people have been devising for so many centuries, in order to justify this sort of deed. I knew that they had done this expressly, deliberately. But at the moment when head and body were severed, and fell into the trough, I groaned, and apprehended, not with my mind, but with my heart and my whole being, that all the arguments which I had heard anent the death-penalty were arrant nonsense; that, no matter how many people might assemble in order to perpetrate a murder, no matter what they might call themselves, murder is murder, the vilest sin in the world, and that that crime had been committed before my very eyes. By my presence and non-interference, I had lent my approval to that crime, and had taken part in it. So now, at the sight of this hunger, cold, and degradation of thousands of persons, I understood not with my mind, but with my heart and my whole being, that the existence of tens of thousands of such people in Moscow, while I and other thousands dined on fillets and sturgeon, and covered my horses and my floors with cloth and rugs,—no matter what the wise ones of this world might say to me about its being a necessity,—was a crime, not perpetrated a single time, but one which was incessantly being perpetrated over and over again, and that I, in my luxury, was not only an accessory, but a direct accomplice in the matter. The difference for me between these two impressions was this, that I might have shouted to the assassins who stood around the guillotine, and perpetrated the murder, that they were committing a crime, and have tried with all my might to prevent the murder. But while so doing I should have known that my action would not prevent the murder. But here I might not only have given sbiten and the money which I had with me, but the coat from my back, and every thing that was in my house. But this I had not done; and therefore I felt, I feel, and shall never cease to feel, myself an accomplice in this constantly repeated crime, so long as I have superfluous food and any one else has none at all, so long as I have two garments while any one else has not even one.] {28}


That very evening, on my return from the Lyapinsky house, I related my impressions to a friend. The friend, an inhabitant of the city, began to tell me, not without satisfaction, that this was the most natural phenomenon of town life possible, that I only saw something extraordinary in it because of my provincialism, that it had always been so, and always would be so, and that such must be and is the inevitable condition of civilization. In London it is even worse. Of course there is nothing wrong about it, and it is impossible to be displeased with it. I began to reply to my friend, but with so much heat and ill-temper, that my wife ran in from the adjoining room to inquire what had happened. It appears that, without being conscious of it myself, I had been shouting, with tears in my voice, and flourishing my hands at my friend. I shouted: "It's impossible to live thus, impossible to live thus, impossible!" They made me feel ashamed of my unnecessary warmth; they told me that I could not talk quietly about any thing, that I got disagreeably excited; and they proved to me, especially, that the existence of such unfortunates could not possibly furnish any excuse for imbittering the lives of those about me.

I felt that this was perfectly just, and held my peace; but in the depths of my soul I was conscious that I was in the right, and I could not regain my composure.

And the life of the city, which had, even before this, been so strange and repellent to me, now disgusted me to such a degree, that all the pleasures of a life of luxury, which had hitherto appeared to me as pleasures, become tortures to me. And try as I would, to discover in my own soul any justification whatever for our life, I could not, without irritation, behold either my own or other people's drawing-rooms, nor our tables spread in the lordly style, nor our equipages and horses, nor shops, theatres, and assemblies. I could not behold alongside these the hungry, cold, and down-trodden inhabitants of the Lyapinsky house. And I could not rid myself of the thought that these two things were bound up together, that the one arose from the other. I remember, that, as this feeling of my own guilt presented itself to me at the first blush, so it persisted in me, but to this feeling a second was speedily added which overshadowed it.

When I mentioned my impressions of the Lyapinsky house to my nearest friends and acquaintances, they all gave me the same answer as the first friend at whom I had begun to shout; but, in addition to this, they expressed their approbation of my kindness of heart and my sensibility, and gave me to understand that this sight had so especially worked upon me because I, Lyof Nikolaevitch, was very kind and good. And I willingly believed this. And before I had time to look about me, instead of the feeling of self-reproach and regret, which I had at first experienced, there came a sense of satisfaction with my own kindliness, and a desire to exhibit it to people.

"It really must be," I said to myself, "that I am not especially responsible for this by the luxury of my life, but that it is the indispensable conditions of existence that are to blame. In truth, a change in my mode of life cannot rectify the evil which I have seen: by altering my manner of life, I shall only make myself and those about me unhappy, and the other miseries will remain the same as ever. And therefore my problem lies not in a change of my own life, as it had first seemed to me, but in aiding, so far as in me lies, in the amelioration of the situation of those unfortunate beings who have called forth my compassion. The whole point lies here,—that I am a very kind, amiable man, and that I wish to do good to my neighbors." And I began to think out a plan of beneficent activity, in which I might exhibit my benevolence. I must confess, however, that while devising this plan of beneficent activity, I felt all the time, in the depths of my soul, that that was not the thing; but, as often happens, activity of judgment and imagination drowned that voice of conscience within me. At that juncture, the census came up. This struck me as a means for instituting that benevolence in which I proposed to exhibit my charitable disposition. I knew of many charitable institutions and societies which were in existence in Moscow, but all their activity seemed to me both wrongly directed and insignificant in comparison with what I intended to do. And I devised the following scheme: to arouse the sympathy of the wealthy for the poverty of the city, to collect money, to get people together who were desirous of assisting in this matter, and to visit all the refuges of poverty in company with the census, and, in addition to the work of the census, to enter into communion with the unfortunate, to learn the particulars of their necessities, and to assist them with money, with work, by sending them away from Moscow, by placing their children in school, and the old people in hospitals and asylums. And not only that, I thought, but these people who undertake this can be formed into a permanent society, which, by dividing the quarters of Moscow among its members, will be able to see to it that this poverty and beggary shall not be bred; they will incessantly annihilate it at its very inception; then they will fulfil their duty, not so much by healing as by a course of hygiene for the wretchedness of the city. I fancied that there would be no more simply needy, not to mention abjectly poor persons, in the town, and that all of us wealthy individuals would thereafter be able to sit in our drawing-rooms, and eat our five-course dinners, and ride in our carriages to theatres and assemblies, and be no longer annoyed with such sights as I had seen at the Lyapinsky house.

Having concocted this plan, I wrote an article on the subject; and before sending it to the printer, I went to some acquaintances, from whom I hoped for sympathy. I said the same thing to every one whom I met that day (and I applied chiefly to the rich), and nearly the same that I afterwards printed in my memoir; proposed to take advantage of the census to inquire into the wretchedness of Moscow, and to succor it, both by deeds and money, and to do it in such a manner that there should be no poor people in Moscow, and so that we rich ones might be able, with a quiet conscience, to enjoy the blessings of life to which we were accustomed. All listened to me attentively and seriously, but nevertheless the same identical thing happened with every one of them without exception. No sooner did my hearers comprehend the question, than they seemed to feel awkward and somewhat mortified. They seemed to be ashamed, and principally on my account, because I was talking nonsense, and nonsense which it was impossible to openly characterize as such. Some external cause appeared to compel my hearers to be forbearing with this nonsense of mine.

"Ah, yes! of course. That would be very good," they said to me. "It is a self-understood thing that it is impossible not to sympathize with this. Yes, your idea is a capital one. I have thought of that myself, but . . . we are so indifferent, as a rule, that you can hardly count on much success . . . however, so far as I am concerned, I am, of course, ready to assist."

They all said something of this sort to me. They all agreed, but agreed, so it seemed to me, not in consequence of my convictions, and not in consequence of their own wish, but as the result of some outward cause, which did not permit them not to agree. I had already noticed this, and, since not one of them stated the sum which he was willing to contribute, I was obliged to fix it myself, and to ask: "So I may count on you for three hundred, or two hundred, or one hundred, or twenty-five rubles?" And not one of them gave me any money. I mention this because, when people give money for that which they themselves desire, they generally make haste to give it. For a box to see Sarah Bernhardt, they will instantly place the money in your hand, to clinch the bargain. Here, however, out of all those who agreed to contribute, and who expressed their sympathy, not one of them proposed to give me the money on the spot, but they merely assented in silence to the sum which I suggested. In the last house which I visited on that day, in the evening, I accidentally came upon a large company. The mistress of the house had busied herself with charity for several years. Numerous carriages stood at the door, several lackeys in rich liveries were sitting in the ante- chamber. In the vast drawing-room, around two tables and lamps, sat ladies and young girls, in costly garments, dressing small dolls; and there were several young men there also, hovering about the ladies. The dolls prepared by these ladies were to be drawn in a lottery for the poor.

The sight of this drawing-room, and of the people assembled in it, struck me very unpleasantly. Not to mention the fact that the property of the persons there congregated amounted to many millions, not to mention the fact that the mere income from the capital here expended on dresses, laces, bronzes, brooches, carriages, horses, liveries, and lackeys, was a hundred-fold greater than all that these ladies could earn; not to mention the outlay, the trip hither of all these ladies and gentlemen; the gloves, linen, extra time, the candles, the tea, the sugar, and the cakes had cost the hostess a hundred times more than what they were engaged in making here. I saw all this, and therefore I could understand, that precisely here I should find no sympathy with my mission: but I had come in order to make my proposition, and, difficult as this was for me, I said what I intended. (I said very nearly the same thing that is contained in my printed article.)

Out of all the persons there present, one individual offered me money, saying that she did not feel equal to going among the poor herself on account of her sensibility, but that she would give money; how much money she would give, and when, she did not say. Another individual and a young man offered their services in going about among the poor, but I did not avail myself of their offer. The principal person to whom I appealed, told me that it would be impossible to do much because means were lacking. Means were lacking because all the rich people in Moscow were already on the lists, and all of them were asked for all that they could possibly give; because on all these benefactors rank, medals, and other dignities were bestowed; because in order to secure financial success, some new dignities must be secured from the authorities, and that this was the only practical means, but this was extremely difficult.

On my return home that night, I lay down to sleep not only with a presentment that my idea would come to nothing, but with shame and a consciousness that all day long I had been engaged in a very repulsive and disgraceful business. But I did not give up this undertaking. In the first place, the matter had been begun, and false shame would have prevented my abandoning it; in the second place, not only the success of this scheme, but the very fact that I was busying myself with it, afforded me the possibility of continuing to live in the conditions under which I was then living; failure entailed upon me the necessity of renouncing my present existence and of seeking new paths of life. And this I unconsciously dreaded, and I could not believe the inward voice, and I went on with what I had begun.

Having sent my article to the printer, I read the proof of it to the City Council (Dum). I read it, stumbling, and blushing even to tears, I felt so awkward. And I saw that it was equally awkward for all my hearers. In answer to my question at the conclusion of my reading, as to whether the superintendents of the census would accept my proposition to retain their places with the object of becoming mediators between society and the needy, an awkward silence ensued. Then two orators made speeches. These speeches in some measure corrected the awkwardness of my proposal; sympathy for me was expressed, but the impracticability of my proposition, which all had approved, was demonstrated. Everybody breathed more freely. But when, still desirous of gaining my object, I afterwards asked the superintendents separately: Were they willing, while taking the census, to inquire into the needs of the poor, and to retain their posts, in order to serve as go-betweens between the poor and the rich? they all grew uneasy again. They seemed to say to me with their glances: "Why, we have just condoned your folly out of respect to you, and here you are beginning it again!" Such was the expression of their faces, but they assured me in words that they agreed; and two of them said in the very same words, as though they had entered into a compact together: "We consider ourselves morally bound to do this." The same impression was produced by my communication to the student-census-takers, when I said to them, that while taking our statistics, we should follow up, in addition to the objects of the census, the object of benevolence. When we discussed this, I observed that they were ashamed to look the kind-hearted man, who was talking nonsense, in the eye. My article produced the same impression on the editor of the newspaper, when I handed it to him; on my son, on my wife, on the most widely different persons. All felt awkward, for some reason or other; but all regarded it as indispensable to applaud the idea itself, and all, immediately after this expression of approbation, began to express their doubts as to its success, and began for some reason (and all of them, too, without exception) to condemn the indifference and coldness of our society and of every one, apparently, except themselves.

In the depths of my own soul, I still continued to feel that all this was not at all what was needed, and that nothing would come of it; but the article was printed, and I prepared to take part in the census; I had contrived the matter, and now it was already carrying me a way with it.


At my request, there had been assigned to me for the census, a portion of the Khamovnitchesky quarter, at the Smolensk market, along the Prototchny cross-street, between Beregovoy Passage and Nikolsky Alley. In this quarter are situated the houses generally called the Rzhanoff Houses, or the Rzhanoff fortress. These houses once belonged to a merchant named Rzhanoff, but now belong to the Zimins. I had long before heard of this place as a haunt of the most terrible poverty and vice, and I had accordingly requested the directors of the census to assign me to this quarter. My desire was granted.

On receiving the instructions of the City Council, I went alone, a few days previous to the beginning of the census, to reconnoitre my section. I found the Rzhanoff fortress at once, from the plan with which I had been furnished.

I approached from Nikolsky Alley. Nikolsky Alley ends on the left in a gloomy house, without any gates on that side; I divined from its appearance that this was the Rzhanoff fortress.

Passing down Nikolsky Street, I overtook some lads of from ten to fourteen years of age, clad in little caftans and great-coats, who were sliding down hill, some on their feet, and some on one skate, along the icy slope beside this house. The boys were ragged, and, like all city lads, bold and impudent. I stopped to watch them. A ragged old woman, with yellow, pendent cheeks, came round the corner. She was going to town, to the Smolensk market, and she groaned terribly at every step, like a foundered horse. As she came alongside me, she halted and drew a hoarse sigh. In any other locality, this old woman would have asked money of me, but here she merely addressed me.

"Look there," said she, pointing at the boys who were sliding, "all they do is to play their pranks! They'll turn out just such Rzhanoff fellows as their fathers."

One of the boys clad in a great-coat and a visorless cap, heard her words and halted: "What are you scolding about?" he shouted to the old woman. "You're an old Rzhanoff nanny-goat yourself!"

I asked the boy:

"And do you live here?"

"Yes, and so does she. She stole boot-legs," shouted the boy; and raising his foot in front, he slid away.

The old woman burst forth into injurious words, interrupted by a cough. At that moment, an old man, all clad in rags, and as white as snow, came down the hill in the middle of the street, flourishing his hands [in one of them he held a bundle with one little kalatch and baranki" {39}]. This old man bore the appearance of a person who had just strengthened himself with a dram. He had evidently heard the old woman's insulting words, and he took her part.

"I'll give it to you, you imps, that I will!" he screamed at the boys, seeming to direct his course towards them, and taking a circuit round me, he stepped on to the sidewalk. This old man creates surprise on the Arbata by his great age, his weakness, and his indigence. Here he was a cheery laboring-man returning from his daily toil.

I followed the old man. He turned the corner to the left, into Prototchny Alley, and passing by the whole length of the house and the gate, he disappeared through the door of the tavern.

Two gates and several doors open on Prototchny Alley: those belonging to a tavern, a dram-shop, and several eating and other shops. This is the Rzhanoff fortress itself. Every thing here is gray, dirty, and malodorous—both buildings and locality, and court-yards and people. The majority of the people whom I met here were ragged and half-clad. Some were passing through, others were running from door to door. Two were haggling over some rags. I made the circuit of the entire building from Prototchny Alley and Beregovoy Passage, and returning I halted at the gate of one of these houses. I wished to enter, and see what was going on inside, but I felt that it would be awkward. What should I say when I was asked what I wanted there? I hesitated, but went in nevertheless. As soon as I entered the court-yard, I became conscious of a disgusting odor. The yard was frightfully dirty. I turned a corner, and at the same instant I heard to my left and overhead, on the wooden balcony, the tramp of footsteps of people running, at first along the planks of the balcony, and then on the steps of the staircase. There emerged, first a gaunt woman, with her sleeves rolled up, in a faded pink gown, and little boots on her stockingless feet. After her came a tattered man in a red shirt and very full trousers, like a petticoat, and with overshoes. The man caught the woman at the bottom of the steps.

"You shall not escape," he said laughing.

"See here, you cock-eyed devil," began the woman, evidently flattered by this pursuit; but catching sight of me, she shrieked viciously, "What do you want?"

As I wanted nothing, I became confused and beat a retreat. There was nothing remarkable about the place; but this incident, after what I had witnessed on the other side of the yard, the cursing old woman, the jolly old man, and the lads sliding, suddenly presented the business which I had concocted from a totally different point of view. I then comprehended for the first time, that all these unfortunates to whom I was desirous of playing the part of benefactor, besides the time, when, suffering from cold and hunger, they awaited admission into the house, had still other time, which they employed to some other purpose, that there were four and twenty hours in every day, that there was a whole life of which I had never thought, up to that moment. Here, for the first time, I understood, that all those people, in addition to their desire to shelter themselves from the cold and to obtain a good meal, must still, in some way, live out those four and twenty hours each day, which they must pass as well as everybody else. I comprehended that these people must lose their tempers, and get bored, show courage, and grieve and be merry. Strange as this may seem, when put into words, I understood clearly for the first time, that the business which I had undertaken could not consist alone in feeding and clothing thousands of people, as one would feed and drive under cover a thousand sheep, but that it must consist in doing good to them.

And then I understood that each one of those thousand people was exactly such a man,—with precisely the same past, with the same passions, temptations, failings, with the same thoughts, the same perplexities,—exactly such a man as myself, and then the thing that I had undertaken suddenly presented itself to me as so difficult that I felt my powerlessness; but the thing had been begun, and I went on with it.


On the first appointed day, the student enumerators arrived in the morning, and I, the benefactor, joined them at twelve o'clock. I could not go earlier, because I had risen at ten o'clock, then I had drunk my coffee and smoked, while waiting on digestion. At twelve o'clock I reached the gates of the Rzhanoff house. A policeman pointed out to me the tavern with a side entrance on Beregovoy Passage, where the census- takers had ordered every one who asked for them to be directed. I entered the tavern. It was very dark, ill-smelling, and dirty. Directly opposite the entrance was the counter, on the left was a room with tables, covered with soiled cloths, on the right a large apartment with pillars, and the same sort of little tables at the windows and along the walls. Here and there at the tables sat men both ragged and decently clad, like laboring-men or petty tradesmen, and a few women drinking tea. The tavern was very filthy, but it was instantly apparent that it had a good trade.

There was a business-like expression on the face of the clerk behind the counter, and a clever readiness about the waiters. No sooner had I entered, than one waiter prepared to remove my coat and bring me whatever I should order. It was evident that they had been trained to brisk and accurate service. I inquired for the enumerators.

"Vanya!" shouted a small man, dressed in German fashion, who was engaged in placing something in a cupboard behind the counter; this was the landlord of the tavern, a Kaluga peasant, Ivan Fedotitch, who hired one- half of the Zimins' houses and sublet them to lodgers. The waiter, a thin, hooked-nosed young fellow of eighteen, with a yellow complexion, hastened up.

"Conduct this gentleman to the census-takers; they went into the main building over the well." The young fellow threw down his napkin, and donned a coat over his white jacket and white trousers, and a cap with a large visor, and, tripping quickly along with his white feet, he led me through the swinging door in the rear. In the dirty, malodorous kitchen, in the out-building, we encountered an old woman who was carefully carrying some very bad-smelling tripe, wrapped in a rag, off somewhere. From the out-building we descended into a sloping court-yard, all encumbered with small wooden buildings on lower stories of stone. The odor in this whole yard was extremely powerful. The centre of this odor was an out-house, round which people were thronging whenever I passed it. It merely indicated the spot, but was not altogether used itself. It was impossible, when passing through the yard, not to take note of this spot; one always felt oppressed when one entered the penetrating atmosphere which was emitted by this foul smell.

The waiter, carefully guarding his white trousers, led me cautiously past this place of frozen and unfrozen uncleanness to one of the buildings. The people who were passing through the yard and along the balconies all stopped to stare at me. It was evident that a respectably dressed man was a curiosity in these localities.

The young man asked a woman "whether she had seen the census-takers?" And three men simultaneously answered his question: some said that they were over the well, but others said that they had been there, but had come out and gone to Nikita Ivanovitch. An old man dressed only in his shirt, who was wandering about the centre of the yard, said that they were in No. 30. The young man decided that this was the most probable report, and conducted me to No. 30 through the basement entrance, and darkness and bad smells, different from that which existed outside. We went down-stairs, and proceeded along the earthen floor of a dark corridor. As we were passing along the corridor, a door flew open abruptly, and an old drunken man, in his shirt, probably not of the peasant class, thrust himself out. A washerwoman, wringing her soapy hands, was pursuing and hustling the old man with piercing screams. Vanya, my guide, pushed the old man aside, and reproved him.

"It's not proper to make such a row," said me, "and you an officer, too!" and we went on to the door of No. 30.

Vanya gave it a little pull. The door gave way with a smack, opened, and we smelled soapy steam, and a sharp odor of spoilt food and tobacco, and we entered into total darkness. The windows were on the opposite side; but the corridors ran to right and left between board partitions, and small doors opened, at various angles, into the rooms made of uneven whitewashed boards. In a dark room, on the left, a woman could be seen washing in a tub. An old woman was peeping from one of these small doors on the right. Through another open door we could see a red-faced, hairy peasant, in bast shoes, sitting on his wooden bunk; his hands rested on his knees, and he was swinging his feet, shod in bast shoes, and gazing gloomily at them.

At the end of the corridor was a little door leading to the apartment where the census-takers were. This was the chamber of the mistress of the whole of No. 30; she rented the entire apartment from Ivan Feodovitch, and let it out again to lodgers and as night-quarters. In her tiny room, under the tinsel images, sat the student census-taker with his charts; and, in his quality of investigator, he had just thoroughly interrogated a peasant wearing a shirt and a vest. This latter was a friend of the landlady, and had been answering questions for her. The landlady herself, an elderly woman, was there also, and two of her curious tenants. When I entered, the room was already packed full. I pushed my way to the table. I exchanged greetings with the student, and he proceeded with his inquiries. And I began to look about me, and to interrogate the inhabitants of these quarters for my own purpose.

It turned out, that in this first set of lodgings, I found not a single person upon whom I could pour out my benevolence. The landlady, in spite of the fact that the poverty, smallness and dirt of these quarters struck me after the palatial house in which I dwell, lived in comfort, compared with many of the poor inhabitants of the city, and in comparison with the poverty in the country, with which I was thoroughly familiar, she lived luxuriously. She had a feather-bed, a quilted coverlet, a samovar, a fur cloak, and a dresser with crockery. The landlady's friend had the same comfortable appearance. He had a watch and a chain. Her lodgers were not so well off, but there was not one of them who was in need of immediate assistance: the woman who was washing linen in a tub, and who had been abandoned by her husband and had children, an aged widow without any means of livelihood, as she said, and that peasant in bast shoes, who told me that he had nothing to eat that day. But on questioning them, it appeared that none of these people were in special want, and that, in order to help them, it would be necessary to become well acquainted with them.

When I proposed to the woman whose husband had abandoned her, to place her children in an asylum, she became confused, fell into thought, thanked me effusively, but evidently did not wish to do so; she would have preferred pecuniary assistance. The eldest girl helped her in her washing, and the younger took care of the little boy. The old woman begged earnestly to be taken to the hospital, but on examining her nook I found that the old woman was not particularly poor. She had a chest full of effects, a teapot with a tin spout, two cups, and caramel boxes filled with tea and sugar. She knitted stockings and gloves, and received monthly aid from some benevolent lady. And it was evident that what the peasant needed was not so much food as drink, and that whatever might be given him would find its way to the dram-shop. In these quarters, therefore, there were none of the sort of people whom I could render happy by a present of money. But there were poor people who appeared to me to be of a doubtful character. I noted down the old woman, the woman with the children, and the peasant, and decided that they must be seen to; but later on, as I was occupied with the peculiarly unfortunate whom I expected to find in this house, I made up my mind that there must be some order in the aid which we should bestow; first came the most wretched, and then this kind. But in the next quarters, and in the next after that, it was the same story, all the people had to be narrowly investigated before they could be helped. But unfortunates of the sort whom a gift of money would convert from unfortunate into fortunate people, there were none. Mortifying as it is to me to avow this, I began to get disenchanted, because I did not find among these people any thing of the sort which I had expected. I had expected to find peculiar people here; but, after making the round of all the apartments, I was convinced that the inhabitants of these houses were not peculiar people at all, but precisely such persons as those among whom I lived. As there are among us, just so among them; there were here those who were more or less good, more or less stupid, happy and unhappy. The unhappy were exactly such unhappy beings as exist among us, that is, unhappy people whose unhappiness lies not in their external conditions, but in themselves, a sort of unhappiness which it is impossible to right by any sort of bank- note whatever.


The inhabitants of these houses constitute the lower class of the city, which numbers in Moscow, probably, one hundred thousand. There, in that house, are representatives of every description of this class. There are petty employers, and master-artisans, bootmakers, brush-makers, cabinet- makers, turners, shoemakers, tailors, blacksmiths; there are cab-drivers, young women living alone, and female pedlers, laundresses, old-clothes dealers, money-lenders, day-laborers, and people without any definite employment; and also beggars and dissolute women.

Here were many of the very people whom I had seen at the entrance to the Lyapinsky house; but here these people were scattered about among the working-people. And moreover, I had seen these people at their most unfortunate time, when they had eaten and drunk up every thing, and when, cold, hungry, and driven forth from the taverns, they were awaiting admission into the free night lodging-house, and thence into the promised prison for despatch to their places of residence, like heavenly manna; but here I beheld them and a majority of workers, and at a time, when by one means or another, they had procured three or five kopeks for a lodging for the night, and sometimes a ruble for food and drink.

And strange as the statement may seem, I here experienced nothing resembling that sensation which I had felt in the Lyapinsky house; but, on the contrary, during the first round, both I and the students experienced an almost agreeable feeling,—yes, but why do I say "almost agreeable"? This is not true; the feeling called forth by intercourse with these people, strange as it may sound, was a distinctly agreeable one.

Our first impression was, that the greater part of the dwellers here were working people and very good people at that.

We found more than half the inhabitants at work: laundresses bending over their tubs, cabinet-makers at their lathes, cobblers on their benches. The narrow rooms were full of people, and cheerful and energetic labor was in progress. There was an odor of toilsome sweat and leather at the cobbler's, of shavings at the cabinet-maker's; songs were often to be heard, and glimpses could be had of brawny arms with sleeves roiled high, quickly and skilfully making their accustomed movements. Everywhere we were received cheerfully and politely: hardly anywhere did our intrusion into the every-day life of these people call forth that ambition, and desire to exhibit their importance and to put us down, which the appearance of the enumerators in the quarters of well-to-do people evoked. It not only did not arouse this, but, on the contrary, they answered all other questions properly, and without attributing any special significance to them. Our questions merely served them as a subject of mirth and jesting as to how such and such a one was to be set down in the list, when he was to be reckoned as two, and when two were to be reckoned as one, and so forth.

We found many of them at dinner, or tea; and on every occasion to our greeting: "bread and salt," or "tea and sugar," they replied: "we beg that you will partake," and even stepped aside to make room for us. Instead of the den with a constantly changing population, which we had expected to find here, it turned out, that there were a great many apartments in the house where people had been living for a long time. One cabinet-maker with his men, and a boot-maker with his journeymen, had lived there for ten years. The boot-maker's quarters were very dirty and confined, but all the people at work were very cheerful. I tried to enter into conversation with one of the workmen, being desirous of inquiring into the wretchedness of his situation and his debt to his master, but the man did not understand me and spoke of his master and his life from the best point of view.

In one apartment lived an old man and his old woman. They peddled apples. Their little chamber was warm, clean, and full of goods. On the floor were spread straw mats: they had got them at the apple-warehouse. They had chests, a cupboard, a samovar, and crockery. In the corner there were numerous images, and two lamps were burning before them; on the wall hung fur coats covered with sheets. The old woman, who had star- shaped wrinkles, and who was polite and talkative, evidently delighted in her quiet, comfortable, existence.

Ivan Fedotitch, the landlord of the tavern and of these quarters, left his establishment and came with us. He jested in a friendly manner with many of the landlords of apartments, addressing them all by their Christian names and patronymics, and he gave us brief sketches of them. All were ordinary people, like everybody else,—Martin Semyonovitches, Piotr Piotrovitches, Marya Ivanovnas,—people who did not consider themselves unhappy, but who regarded themselves, and who actually were, just like the rest of mankind.

We had been prepared to witness nothing except what was terrible. And, all of a sudden, there was presented to us, not only nothing that was terrible, but what was good,—things which involuntarily compelled our respect. And there were so many of these good people, that the tattered, corrupt, idle people whom we came across now and then among them, did not destroy the principal impression.

This was not so much of a surprise to the students as to me. They simply went to fulfil a useful task, as they thought, in the interests of science, and, at the same time, they made their own chance observations; but I was a benefactor, I went for the purpose of aiding the unfortunate, the corrupt, vicious people, whom I supposed that I should meet with in this house. And, behold, instead of unfortunate, corrupt, and vicious people, I saw that the majority were laborious, industrious, peaceable, satisfied, contented, cheerful, polite, and very good folk indeed.

I felt particularly conscious of this when, in these quarters, I encountered that same crying want which I had undertaken to alleviate.

When I encountered this want, I always found that it had already been relieved, that the assistance which I had intended to render had already been given. This assistance had been rendered before my advent, and rendered by whom? By the very unfortunate, depraved creatures whom I had undertaken to reclaim, and rendered in such a manner as I could not compass.

In one basement lay a solitary old man, ill with the typhus fever. There was no one with the old man. A widow and her little daughter, strangers to him, but his neighbors round the corner, looked after him, gave him tea and purchased medicine for him out of their own means. In another lodging lay a woman in puerperal fever. A woman who lived by vice was rocking the baby, and giving her her bottle; and for two days, she had been unremitting in her attention. The baby girl, on being left an orphan, was adopted into the family of a tailor, who had three children of his own. So there remained those unfortunate idle people, officials, clerks, lackeys out of place, beggars, drunkards, dissolute women, and children, who cannot be helped on the spot with money, but whom it is necessary to know thoroughly, to be planned and arranged for. I had simply sought unfortunate people, the unfortunates of poverty, those who could be helped by sharing with them our superfluity, and, as it seemed to me, through some signal ill-luck, none such were to be found; but I hit upon unfortunates to whom I should be obliged to devote my time and care.


The unfortunates whom I noted down, divided themselves, according to my ideas, into three sections, namely: people who had lost their former advantageous position, and who were awaiting a return to it (there were people of this sort from both the lower and the higher class); next, dissolute women, of whom there are a great many in these houses; and a third division, children. More than all the rest, I found and noted down people of the first division, who had forfeited their former advantageous position, and who hoped to regain it. Of such persons, especially from the governmental and official world, there are a very great number in these houses. In almost all the lodgings which we entered, with the landlord, Ivan Fedotitch, he said to us: "Here you need not write down the lodger's card yourself; there is a man here who can do it, if he only happens not to be intoxicated to-day."

And Ivan Fedotitch called by name and patronymic this man, who was always one of those persons who had fallen from a lofty position. At Ivan Fedotitch's call, there crawled forth from some dark corner, a former wealthy member of the noble or official class, generally intoxicated and always undressed. If he was not drunk, he always readily acceded to the task proposed to him, nodded significantly, frowned, set down his remarks in learned phraseology, held the card neatly printed on red paper in his dirty, trembling hands, and glanced round at his fellow-lodgers with pride and contempt, as though now triumphing in his education over those who had so often humiliated him. He evidently enjoyed intercourse with that world in which cards are printed on red paper, and with that world of which he had once formed a part. Nearly always, in answer to my inquiries about his life, the man began, not only willingly, but eagerly, to relate the story of the misfortunes which he had undergone,—which he had learned by rote like a prayer,—and particularly of his former position, in which he ought still to be by right of his education.

A great many such people were scattered over all the corners of the Rzhanoff house. But one lodging was densely occupied by them alone—both men and women. After we had already entered, Ivan Fedotitch said to us: "Now, here are some of the nobility." The lodging was perfectly crammed; nearly all of the people, forty in number, were at home. More demoralized countenances, unhappy, aged, and swollen, young, pallid, and distracted, were not to be seen in the whole building. I conversed with several of them. The story was nearly identical in all cases, only in various stages of development. Every one of them had been rich, or his father, his brother or his uncle was still wealthy, or his father or he himself had had a very fine position. Then misfortune had overtaken him, the blame for which rested either on envious people, or on his own kind- heartedness, or some special chance, and so he had lost every thing, and had been forced to condescend to these surroundings to which he was not accustomed, and which were hateful to him—among lice, rags, among drunkards and corrupt persons, and to nourish himself on bread and liver, and to extend his hand in beggary. All the thoughts, desires, memories of these people were directed exclusively to the past. The present appeared to them something unreal, repulsive, and not worthy of attention. Not one of them had any present. They had only memories of the past, and expectations from the future, which might be realized at any moment, and for the realization of which only a very little was required; but this little they did not possess, it was nowhere to be obtained, and this had been ruining their whole future life in vain, in the case of one man, for a year, of a second for five years, and of a third for thirty years. All one needed was merely to dress respectably, so that he could present himself to a certain personage, who was well- disposed towards him another only needed to be able to dress, pay off his debts, and get to Orel; a third required to redeem a small property which was mortgaged, for the continuation of a law-suit, which must be decided in his favor, and then all would be well once more. They all declare that they merely require something external, in order to stand once more in the position which they regard as natural and happy in their own case.

Had my mind not been obscured by my pride as a benefactor, a glance at their faces, both old and young, which were mostly weak and sensitive, but amiable, would have given me to understand that their misfortunes were irreparable by any external means, that they could not be happy in any position whatever, if their views of life were to remain unchanged, that they were in no wise remarkable people, in remarkably unfortunate circumstances, but that they were the same people who surround us on all sides, and just like ourselves. I remember that intercourse with this sort of unfortunates was peculiarly difficult for me. I now understand why this was so; in them I beheld myself, as in a mirror. If I had reflected on my own life and on the life of the people in our circle, I should have seen that no real difference existed between them.

If those about me dwell in spacious quarters, and in their own houses on the Sivtzevy Vrazhok and on the Dimitrovka, and not in the Rzhanoff house, and still eat and drink dainties, and not liver and herrings with bread, that does not prevent them from being exactly as unhappy. They are just as dissatisfied with their own positions, they mourn over the past, and pine for better things, and the improved position for which they long is precisely the same as that which the inhabitants of the Rzhanoff house long for; that is to say, one in which they may do as little work as possible themselves, and derive the utmost advantage from the labors of others. The difference is merely one of degrees and time. If I had reflected at that time, I should have understood this; but I did not reflect, and I questioned these people, and wrote them down, supposing, that, having learned all the particulars of their various conditions and necessities, I could aid them later on. I did not understand that such a man can only be helped by changing his views of the world. But in order to change the views of another, one must needs have better views himself, and live in conformity with them; but mine were precisely the same as theirs, and I lived in accordance with those views, which must undergo a change, in order that these people might cease to be unhappy.

I did not see that these people were unhappy, not because they had not, so to speak, nourishing food, but because their stomachs had been spoiled, and because their appetites demanded not nourishing but irritating viands; and I did not perceive that, in order to help them, it was not necessary to give them food, but that it was necessary to heal their disordered stomachs. Although I am anticipating by so doing, I will mention here, that, out of all these persons whom I noted down, I really did not help a single one, in spite of the fact that for some of them, that was done which they desired, and that which, apparently, might have raised them. Three of their number were particularly well known to me. All three, after repeated rises and falls, are now in precisely the same situation in which they were three years ago.


The second class of unfortunates whom I also expected to assist later on, were the dissolute women; there were a very great many of them, of all sorts, in the Rzhanoff house—from those who were young and who resembled women, to old ones, who were frightful and horrible, and who had lost every semblance of humanity. The hope of being of assistance to these women, which I had not at first entertained, occurred to me later. This was in the middle of our rounds. We had already worked out several mechanical tricks of procedure.

When we entered a new establishment, we immediately questioned the landlady of the apartment; one of us sat down, clearing some sort of a place for himself where he could write, and another penetrated the corners, and questioned each man in all the nooks of the apartment separately, and reported the facts to the one who did the writing.

On entering a set of rooms in the basement, a student went to hunt up the landlady, while I began to interrogate all who remained in the place. The apartment was thus arranged: in the centre was a room six arshins square, {59} and a small oven. From the oven radiated four partitions, forming four tiny compartments. In the first, the entrance slip, which had four bunks, there were two persons—an old man and a woman. Immediately adjoining this, was a rather long slip of a room; in it was the landlord, a young fellow, dressed in a sleeveless gray woollen jacket, a good-looking, very pale citizen. {60} On the left of the first corner, was a third tiny chamber; there was one person asleep there, probably a drunken peasant, and a woman in a pink blouse which was loose in front and close-fitting behind. The fourth chamber was behind the partition; the entrance to it was from the landlord's compartment.

The student went into the landlord's room, and I remained in the entrance compartment, and questioned the old man and woman. The old man had been a master-printer, but now had no means of livelihood. The woman was the wife of a cook. I went to the third compartment, and questioned the woman in the blouse about the sleeping man. She said that he was a visitor. I asked the woman who she was. She replied that she was a Moscow peasant. "What is your business?" She burst into a laugh, and did not answer me. "What do you live on?" I repeated, thinking that she had not understood my question. "I sit in the taverns," she said. I did not comprehend, and again I inquired: "What is your means of livelihood?" She made no reply and laughed. Women's voices in the fourth compartment which we had not yet entered, joined in the laugh. The landlord emerged from his cabin and stepped up to us. He had evidently heard my questions and the woman's replies. He cast a stern glance at the woman and turned to me: "She is a prostitute," said he, apparently pleased that he knew the word in use in the language of the authorities, and that he could pronounce it correctly. And having said this, with a respectful and barely perceptible smile of satisfaction addressed to me, he turned to the woman. And no sooner had he turned to her, than his whole face altered. He said, in a peculiar, scornful, hasty tone, such as is employed towards dogs: "What do you jabber in that careless way for? 'I sit in the taverns.' You do sit in the taverns, and that means, to talk business, that you are a prostitute," and again he uttered the word. "She does not know the name for herself." This tone offended me. "It is not our place to abuse her," said I. "If all of us lived according to the laws of God, there would be none of these women."

"That's the very point," said the landlord, with an awkward smile.

"Therefore, we should not reproach but pity them. Are they to blame?"

I do not recollect just what I said, but I do remember that I was vexed by the scornful tone of the landlord of these quarters which were filled with women, whom he called prostitutes, and that I felt compassion for this woman, and that I gave expression to both feelings. No sooner had I spoken thus, than the boards of the bed in the next compartment, whence the laugh had proceeded, began to creak, and above the partition, which did not reach to the ceiling, there appeared a woman's curly and dishevelled head, with small, swollen eyes, and a shining, red face, followed by a second, and then by a third. They were evidently standing on their beds, and all three were craning their necks, and holding their breath with strained attention, and gazing silently at us.

A troubled pause ensued. The student, who had been smiling up to this time, became serious; the landlord grew confused and dropped his eyes. All the women held their breath, stared at me, and waited. I was more embarrassed than any of them. I had not, in the least, anticipated that a chance remark would produce such an effect. Like Ezekiel's field of death, strewn with dead men's bones, there was a quiver at the touch of the spirit, and the dead bones stirred. I had uttered an unpremeditated word of love and sympathy, and this word had acted on all as though they had only been waiting for this very remark, in order that they might cease to be corpses and might live. They all stared at me, and waited for what would come next. They waited for me to utter those words, and to perform those actions by reason of which these bones might draw together, clothe themselves with flesh, and spring into life. But I felt that I had no such words, no such actions, by means of which I could continue what I had begun; I was conscious, in the depths of my soul, that I had lied [that I was just like them], {62} and there was nothing further for me to say; and I began to inscribe on the cards the names and callings of all the persons in this set of apartments.

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