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I had witnessed in the Lyapinsky house. All the lodgings were full, all
the bunks were occupied, not by one person only, but often by two. The
sight was terrible in that narrow space into which the people were
huddled, and men and women were mixed together. All the women who were
not dead drunk slept with men; and women with two children did the same.
The sight was terrible, on account of the poverty, dirt, rags, and terror
of the people. And it was chiefly dreadful on account of the vast
numbers of people who were in this situation. One lodging, and then a
second like it, and a third, and a tenth, and a twentieth, and still
there was no end to them. And everywhere there was the same foul odor,
the same close atmosphere, the same crowding, the same mingling of the
sexes, the same men and women intoxicated to stupidity, and the same
terror, submission and guilt on all faces; and again I was overwhelmed
with shame and pain, as in the Lyapinsky house, and I understood that
what I had undertaken was abominable and foolish and therefore
impracticable. And I no longer took notes of anybody, and I asked no
questions, knowing that nothing would come of this.

I was deeply pained. In the Lyapinsky house I had been like a man who
has seen a fearful wound, by chance, on the body of another man. He is
sorry for the other man, he is ashamed that he has not pitied the man
before, and he can still rise to the succor of the sufferer. But now I
was like a physician, who has come with his medicine to the sick man, has
uncovered his sore, and examined it, and who must confess to himself that
every thing that he has done has been in vain, and that his remedy is
good for nothing.


This visit dealt the final blow to my self-delusion. It now appeared
indisputable to me, that what I had undertaken was not only foolish but

But, in spite of the fact that I was aware of this, it seemed to me that
I could not abandon the whole thing on the spot. It seemed to me that I
was bound to carry out this enterprise, in the first place, because by my
article, by my visits and promises, I had aroused the expectations of the
poor; in the second, because by my article also, and by my talk, I had
aroused the sympathies of benevolent persons, many of whom had promised
me their co-operation both in personal labor and in money. And I
expected that both sets of people would turn to me for an answer to this.

What happened to me, so far as the appeal of the needy to me is
concerned, was as follows: By letter and personal application I received
more than a hundred; these applications were all from the wealthy-poor,
if I may so express myself. I went to see some of them, and some of them
received no answer. Nowhere did I succeed in doing any thing. All
applications to me were from persons who had once occupied privileged
positions (I thus designate those in which people receive more from
others than they give), who had lost them, and who wished to occupy them
again. To one, two hundred rubles were indispensable, in order that he
might prop up a failing business, and complete the education of his
children which had been begun; another wanted a photographic outfit; a
third wanted his debts paid, and respectable clothing purchased for him;
a fourth needed a piano, in order to perfect himself and support his
family by giving lessons. But the majority did not stipulate for any
given sum of money, and simply asked for assistance; and when I came to
examine into what was required, it turned out that their demands grew in
proportion to the aid, and that there was not and could not be any way of
satisfying them. I repeat, that it is very possible that this arose from
the fact that I did not understand how; but I did not help any one,
although I sometimes endeavored to do so.

A very strange and unexpected thing happened to me as regards the
co-operation of the benevolently disposed. Out of all the persons who
had promised me financial aid, and who had even stated the number of
rubles, not a single one handed to me for distribution among the poor one
solitary ruble. But according to the pledges which had been given me, I
could reckon on about three thousand rubles; and out of all these people,
not one remembered our former discussions, or gave me a single kopek.
Only the students gave the money which had been assigned to them for
their work on the census, twelve rubles, I think. So my whole scheme,
which was to have been expressed by tens of thousands of rubles
contributed by the wealthy, for hundreds and thousands of poor people who
were to be rescued from poverty and vice, dwindled down to this, that I
gave away, haphazard, a few scores of rubles to those people who asked me
for them, and that there remained in my hands twelve rubies contributed
by the students, and twenty-five sent to me by the City Council for my
labor as a superintendent, and I absolutely did not know to whom to give

The whole matter came to an end. And then, before my departure for the
country, on the Sunday before carnival, I went to the Rzhanoff house in
the morning, in order to get rid of those thirty-seven rubles before I
should leave Moscow, and to distribute them to the poor. I made the
round of the quarters with which I was familiar, and in them found only
one sick man, to whom I gave five rubles. There was no one else there to
give any to. Of course many began to beg of me. But as I had not known
them at first, so I did not know them now, and I made up my mind to take
counsel with Ivan Fedotitch, the landlord of the tavern, as to the
persons upon whom it would be proper to bestow the remaining thirty-two

It was the first day of the carnival. Everybody was dressed up, and
everybody was full-fed, and many were already intoxicated. In the court-
yard, close to the house, stood an old man, a rag-picker, in a tattered
smock and bast shoes, sorting over the booty in his basket, tossing out
leather, iron, and other stuff in piles, and breaking into a merry song,
with a fine, powerful voice. I entered into conversation with him. He
was seventy years old, he was alone in the world, and supported himself
by his calling of a rag-picker; and not only did he utter no complaints,
but he said that he had plenty to eat and drink. I inquired of him as to
especially needy persons. He flew into a rage, and said plainly that
there were no needy people, except drunkards and lazy men; but, on
learning my object, he asked me for a five-kopek piece to buy a drink,
and ran off to the tavern. I too entered the tavern to see Ivan
Fedotitch, and commission him to distribute the money which I had left.
The tavern was full; gayly-dressed, intoxicated girls were flitting in
and out; all the tables were occupied; there were already a great many
drunken people, and in the small room the harmonium was being played, and
two persons were dancing. Out of respect to me, Ivan Fedotitch ordered
that the dance should be stopped, and seated himself with me at a vacant
table. I said to him, that, as he knew his tenants, would not he point
out to me the most needy among them; that I had been entrusted with the
distribution of a little money, and, therefore, would he indicate the
proper persons? Good-natured Ivan Fedotitch (he died a year later),
although he was pressed with business, broke away from it for a time, in
order to serve me. He meditated, and was evidently undecided. An
elderly waiter heard us, and joined the conference.

They began to discuss the claims of persons, some of whom I knew, but
still they could not come to any agreement. "The Paramonovna," suggested
the waiter. "Yes, that would do. Sometimes she has nothing to eat. Yes,
but then she tipples." - "Well, what of that? That makes no
difference." - "Well, Sidoron Ivanovitch has children. He would do." But
Ivan Fedotitch had his doubts about Sidoron Ivanovitch also. "Akulina
shall have some. There, now, give something to the blind." To this I
responded. I saw him at once. He was a blind old man of eighty years,
without kith or kin. It seemed as though no condition could be more
painful, and I went immediately to see him. He was lying on a feather-
bed, on a high bedstead, drunk; and, as he did not see me, he was
scolding his comparatively youthful female companion in a frightful bass
voice, and in the very worst kind of language. They also summoned an
armless boy and his mother. I saw that Ivan Fedotitch was in great
straits, on account of his conscientiousness, for me knew that whatever
was given would immediately pass to his tavern. But I had to get rid of
my thirty-two rubles, so I insisted; and in one way and another, and half
wrongfully to boot, we assigned and distributed them. Those who received
them were mostly well dressed, and we had not far to go to find them, as
they were there in the tavern. The armless boy appeared in wrinkled
boots, and a red shirt and vest. With this my charitable career came to
an end, and I went off to the country; irritated at others, as is always
the case, because I myself had done a stupid and a bad thing. My
benevolence had ended in nothing, and it ceased altogether, but the
current of thoughts and feelings which it had called up with me not only
did not come to an end, but the inward work went on with redoubled force.


What was its nature?

I had lived in the country, and there I was connected with the rustic
poor. Not out of humility, which is worse than pride, but for the sake
of telling the truth, which is indispensable for the understanding of the
whole course of my thoughts and sentiments, I will say that in the
country I did very little for the poor, but the demands which were made
upon me were so modest that even this little was of use to the people,
and formed around me an atmosphere of affection and union with the
people, in which it was possible to soothe the gnawing sensation of
remorse at the independence of my life. On going to the city, I had
hoped to be able to live in the same manner. But here I encountered want
of an entirely different sort. City want was both less real, and more
exacting and cruel, than country poverty. But the principal point was,
that there was so much of it in one spot, that it produced on me a
frightful impression. The impression which I experienced in the
Lyapinsky house had, at the very first, made me conscious of the
deformity of my own life. This feeling was genuine and very powerful.
But, notwithstanding its genuineness and power, I was, at that time, so
weak that I feared the alteration in my life to which this feeling
commended me, and I resorted to a compromise. I believed what everybody
told me, and everybody has said, ever since the world was made, - that
there is nothing evil in wealth and luxury, that they are given by God,
that one may continue to live as a rich man, and yet help the needy. I
believed this, and I tried to do it. I wrote an essay, in which I
summoned all rich people to my assistance. The rich people all
acknowledged themselves morally bound to agree with me, but evidently
they either did not wish to do any thing, or they could not do any thing
or give any thing to the poor. I began to visit the poor, and I beheld
what I had not in the least expected. On the one hand, I beheld in those
dens, as I called them, people whom it was not conceivable that I should
help, because they were working people, accustomed to labor and
privation, and therefore standing much higher and having a much firmer
foothold in life than myself; on the other hand, I saw unfortunate people
whom I could not aid because they were exactly like myself. The majority
of the unfortunates whom I saw were unhappy only because they had lost
the capacity, desire, and habit of earning their own bread; that is to
say, their unhappiness consisted in the fact that they were precisely
such persons as myself.

I found no unfortunates who were sick, hungry, or cold, to whom I could
render immediate assistance, with the solitary exception of hungry
Agafya. And I became convinced, that, on account of my remoteness from
the lives of those people whom I desired to help, it would be almost
impossible to find any such unfortunates, because all actual wants had
already been supplied by the very people among whom these unfortunates
live; and, most of all, I was convinced that money cannot effect any
change in the life led by these unhappy people.

I was convinced of all this, but out of false shame at abandoning what I
had once undertaken, because of my self-delusion as a benefactor, I went
on with this matter for a tolerably long time, - and would have gone on
with it until it came to nothing of itself, - so that it was with the
greatest difficulty that, with the help of Ivan Fedotitch, I got rid,
after a fashion, as well as I could, in the tavern of the Rzhanoff house,
of the thirty-seven rubles which I did not regard as belonging to me.

Of course I might have gone on with this business, and have made out of
it a semblance of benevolence; by urging the people who had promised me
money, I might have collected more, I might have distributed this money,
and consoled myself with my charity; but I perceived, on the one hand,
that we rich people neither wish nor are able to share a portion of our a
superfluity with the poor (we have so many wants of our own), and that
money should not be given to any one, if the object really be to do good
and not to give money itself at haphazard, as I had done in the Rzhanoff
tavern. And I gave up the whole thing, and went off to the country with
despair in my heart.

In the country I tried to write an essay about all this that I had
experienced, and to tell why my undertaking had not succeeded. I wanted
to justify myself against the reproaches which had been made to me on the
score of my article on the census; I wanted to convict society of its in
difference, and to state the causes in which this city poverty has its
birth, and the necessity of combating it, and the means of doing so which
I saw.

I began this essay at once, and it seemed to me that in it I was saying a
very great deal that was important. But toil as I would over it, and in
spite of the abundance of materials, in spite of the superfluity of them
even, I could not get though that essay; and so I did not finish it until
the present year, because of the irritation under the influence of which
I wrote, because I had not gone through all that was requisite in order
to bear myself properly in relation to this essay, because I did not
simply and clearly acknowledge the cause of all this, - a very simple
cause, which had its root in myself.

In the domain of morals, one very remarkable and too little noted
phenomenon presents itself.

If I tell a man who knows nothing about it, what I know about geology,
astronomy, history, physics, and mathematics, that man receives entirely
new information, and he never says to me: "Well, what is there new in
that? Everybody knows that, and I have known it this long while." But
tell that same man the most lofty truth, expressed in the clearest, most
concise manner, as it has never before been expressed, and every ordinary
individual, especially one who takes no particular interest in moral
questions, or, even more, one to whom the moral truth stated by you is
displeasing, will infallibly say to you: "Well, who does not know that?
That was known and said long ago." It really seems to him that this has
been said long ago and in just this way. Only those to whom moral truths
are dear and important know how important and precious they are, and with
what prolonged labor the elucidation, the simplification, of moral
truths, their transit from the state of a misty, indefinitely recognized
supposition, and desire, from indistinct, incoherent expressions, to a
firm and definite expression, unavoidably demanding corresponding
concessions, are attained.

We have all become accustomed to think that moral instruction is a most
absurd and tiresome thing, in which there can be nothing new or
interesting; and yet all human life, together with all the varied and
complicated activities, apparently independent, of morality, both
governmental and scientific, and artistic and commercial, has no other
aim than the greater and greater elucidation, confirmation,
simplification, and accessibility of moral truth.

I remember that I was once walking along the street in Moscow, and in
front of me I saw a man come out and gaze attentively at the stones of
the sidewalk, after which he selected one stone, seated himself on it,
and began to plane (as it seemed to me) or to rub it with the greatest
diligence and force. "What is he doing to the sidewalk?" I said to
myself. On going close to him, I saw what the man was doing. He was a
young fellow from a meat-shop; he was whetting his knife on the stone of
the pavement. He was not thinking at all of the stones when he
scrutinized them, still less was he thinking of them when he was
accomplishing his task: he was whetting his knife. He was obliged to
whet his knife so that he could cut the meat; but to me it seemed as
though he were doing something to the stones of the sidewalk. Just so it
appears as though humanity were occupied with commerce, conventions,
wars, sciences, arts; but only one business is of importance to it, and
with only one business is it occupied: it is elucidating to itself those
moral laws by which it lives. The moral laws are already in existence;
humanity is only elucidating them, and this elucidation seems unimportant
and imperceptible for any one who has no need of moral laws, who does not
wish to live by them. But this elucidation of the moral law is not only
weighty, but the only real business of all humanity. This elucidation is
imperceptible just as the difference between the dull and the sharp knife
is imperceptible. The knife is a knife all the same, and for a person
who is not obliged to cut any thing with this knife, the difference
between the dull and the sharp one is imperceptible. For the man who has
come to an understanding that his whole life depends on the greater or
less degree of sharpness in the knife, - for such a man, every whetting of
it is weighty, and that man knows that the knife is a knife only when it
is sharp, when it cuts that which needs cutting.

This is what happened to me, when I began to write my essay. It seemed
to me that I knew all about it, that I understood every thing connected
with those questions which had produced on me the impressions of the
Lyapinsky house, and the census; but when I attempted to take account of
them and to demonstrate them, it turned out that the knife would not cut,
and that it must be whetted. And it is only now, after the lapse of
three years, that I have felt that my knife is sufficiently sharp, so
that I can cut what I choose. I have learned very little that is new. My
thoughts are all exactly the same, but they were duller then, and they
all scattered and would not unite on any thing; there was no edge to
them; they would not concentrate on one point, on the simplest and
clearest decision, as they have now concentrated themselves.


I remember that during the entire period of my unsuccessful efforts at
helping the inhabitants of the city, I presented to myself the aspect of
a man who should attempt to drag another man out of a swamp while he
himself was standing on the same unstable ground. Every attempt of mine
had made me conscious of the untrustworthy character of the soil on which
I stood. I felt that I was in the swamp myself, but this consciousness
did not cause me to look more narrowly at my own feet, in order to learn
upon what I was standing; I kept on seeking some external means, outside
myself, of helping the existing evil.

I then felt that my life was bad, and that it was impossible to live in
that manner. But from the fact that my life was bad, and that it was
impossible to live in that manner, I did not draw the very simple and
clear deduction that it was necessary to amend my life and to live
better, but I knew the terrible deduction that in order to live well
myself, I must needs reform the lives of others; and so I began to reform
the lives of others. I lived in the city, and I wished to reform the
lives of those who lived in the city; but I soon became convinced that
this I could not by any possibility accomplish, and I began to meditate
on the inherent characteristics of city life and city poverty.

"What are city life and city poverty? Why, when I am living in the city,
cannot I help the city poor?"

I asked myself. I answered myself that I could not do any thing for
them, in the first place, because there were too many of them here in one
spot; in the second place, because all the poor people here were entirely
different from the country poor. Why were there so many of them here?
and in what did their peculiarity, as opposed to the country poor,
consist? There was one and the same answer to both questions. There
were a great many of them here, because here all those people who have no
means of subsistence in the country collect around the rich; and their
peculiarity lies in this, that they are not people who have come from the
country to support themselves in the city (if there are any city paupers,
those who have been born here, and whose fathers and grandfathers were
born here, then those fathers and grandfathers came hither for the
purpose of earning their livelihood). What is the meaning of this: _to
earn one's livelihood in the city_? In the words "to earn one's
livelihood in the city," there is something strange, resembling a jest,
when you reflect on their significance. How is it that people go from
the country, - that is to say, from the places where there are forests,
meadows, grain, and cattle, where all the wealth of the earth lies, - to
earn their livelihood in a place where there are neither trees, nor
grass, nor even land, and only stones and dust? What is the significance
of the words "to earn a livelihood in the city," which are in such
constant use, both by those who earn the livelihood, and by those who
furnish it, as though it were something perfectly clear and

I recall the hundreds and thousands of city people, both those who live
well and the needy, with whom I have conversed on the reason why they
came hither: and all without exception said, that they had come from the
country to earn their living; that in Moscow, where people neither sow
nor reap, - that in Moscow there is plenty of every thing, and that,
therefore, it is only in Moscow that they can earn the money which they
require in the country for bread and a cottage and a horse, and articles
of prime necessity. But assuredly, in the country lies the source of all
riches; there only is real wealth, - bread, and forests, and horses, and
every thing. And why, above all, take away from the country that which
dwellers in the country need, - flour, oats, horses, and cattle?

Hundreds of times did I discuss this matter with peasants living in town;
and from my discussions with them, and from my observations, it has been
made apparent to me, that the congregation of country people in the city
is partly indispensable because they cannot otherwise support themselves,
partly voluntary, and that they are attracted to the city by the
temptations of the city.

It is true, that the position of the peasant is such that, for the
satisfaction of his demands made on him in the country, he cannot
extricate himself otherwise than by selling the grain and the cattle
which he knows will be indispensable to him; and he is forced, whether he
will or no, to go to the city in order there to win back his bread. But
it is also true, that the luxury of city life, and the comparative ease
with which money is there to be earned, attract him thither; and under
the pretext of gaining his living in the town, he betakes himself thither
in order that he may have lighter work, better food, and drink tea three
times a day, and dress well, and even lead a drunken and dissolute life.
The cause of both is identical, - the transfer of the riches of the
producers into the hands of non-producers, and the accumulation of wealth
in the cities. And, in point of fact, when autumn has come, all wealth
is collected in the country. And instantly there arise demands for
taxes, recruits, the temptations of vodka, weddings, festivals; petty
pedlers make their rounds through the villages, and all sorts of other

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