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Notes from the Underground, by Feodor Dostoevsky

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Notes from the Underground



*The author of the diary and the diary itself
are, of course, imaginary. Nevertheless it is clear
that such persons as the writer of these notes
not only may, but positively must, exist in our
society, when we consider the circumstances in
the midst of which our society is formed. I have
tried to expose to the view of the public more
distinctly than is commonly done, one of the
characters of the recent past. He is one of the
representatives of a generation still living. In this
fragment, entitled "Underground," this person
introduces himself and his views, and, as it were,
tries to explain the causes owing to which he has
made his appearance and was bound to make his
appearance in our midst. In the second fragment
there are added the actual notes of this person
concerning certain events in his life. --AUTHOR'S NOTE.


I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
believe my liver is diseased. However, I know nothing at all about my
disease, and do not know for certain what ails me. I don't consult a doctor
for it, and never have, though I have a respect for medicine and doctors.
Besides, I am extremely superstitious, sufficiently so to respect medicine,
anyway (I am well-educated enough not to be superstitious, but I am
superstitious). No, I refuse to consult a doctor from spite. That you
probably will not understand. Well, I understand it, though. Of course, I
can't explain who it is precisely that I am mortifying in this case by my
spite: I am perfectly well aware that I cannot "pay out" the doctors by not
consulting them; I know better than anyone that by all this I am only
injuring myself and no one else. But still, if I don't consult a doctor it is
from spite. My liver is bad, well--let it get worse!

I have been going on like that for a long time--twenty years. Now I am
forty. I used to be in the government service, but am no longer. I was a
spiteful official. I was rude and took pleasure in being so. I did not take
bribes, you see, so I was bound to find a recompense in that, at least. (A
poor jest, but I will not scratch it out. I wrote it thinking it would sound
very witty; but now that I have seen myself that I only wanted to show off
in a despicable way, I will not scratch it out on purpose!)

When petitioners used to come for information to the table at which I
sat, I used to grind my teeth at them, and felt intense enjoyment when I
succeeded in making anybody unhappy. I almost did succeed. For the
most part they were all timid people--of course, they were petitioners.
But of the uppish ones there was one officer in particular I could not
endure. He simply would not be humble, and clanked his sword in a
disgusting way. I carried on a feud with him for eighteen months over
that sword. At last I got the better of him. He left off clanking it. That
happened in my youth, though.
But do you know, gentlemen, what was the chief point about my spite?
Why, the whole point, the real sting of it lay in the fact that continually,
even in the moment of the acutest spleen, I was inwardly conscious with
shame that I was not only not a spiteful but not even an embittered man,
that I was simply scaring sparrows at random and amusing myself by it. I
might foam at the mouth, but bring me a doll to play with, give me a cup of
tea with sugar in it, and maybe I should be appeased. I might even be
genuinely touched, though probably I should grind my teeth at myself afterwards
and lie awake at night with shame for months after. That was my way.

I was lying when I said just now that I was a spiteful official. I was
lying from spite. I was simply amusing myself with the petitioners and with
the officer, and in reality I never could become spiteful. I was conscious
every moment in myself of many, very many elements absolutely opposite to
that. I felt them positively swarming in me, these opposite elements.
I knew that they had been swarming in me all my life and craving
some outlet from me, but I would not let them, would not let them,
purposely would not let them come out. They tormented me till I was
ashamed: they drove me to convulsions and--sickened me, at last, how
they sickened me! Now, are not you fancying, gentlemen, that I am
expressing remorse for something now, that I am asking your forgiveness
for something? I am sure you are fancying that ... However, I assure you
I do not care if you are. ...

It was not only that I could not become spiteful, I did not know how to
become anything; neither spiteful nor kind, neither a rascal nor an honest
man, neither a hero nor an insect. Now, I am living out my life in my
corner, taunting myself with the spiteful and useless consolation that an
intelligent man cannot become anything seriously, and it is only the fool
who becomes anything. Yes, a man in the nineteenth century must and
morally ought to be pre-eminently a characterless creature; a man of
character, an active man is pre-eminently a limited creature. That is my
conviction of forty years. I am forty years old now, and you know forty
years is a whole lifetime; you know it is extreme old age. To live longer
than forty years is bad manners, is vulgar, immoral. Who does live
beyond forty? Answer that, sincerely and honestly I will tell you who do:
fools and worthless fellows. I tell all old men that to their face, all these
venerable old men, all these silver-haired and reverend seniors! I tell the
whole world that to its face! I have a right to say so, for I shall go on
living to sixty myself. To seventy! To eighty! ... Stay, let me
take breath ...

You imagine no doubt, gentlemen, that I want to amuse you. You are
mistaken in that, too. I am by no means such a mirthful person as you
imagine, or as you may imagine; however, irritated by all this babble (and
I feel that you are irritated) you think fit to ask me who I am--then my
answer is, I am a collegiate assessor. I was in the service that I might have
something to eat (and solely for that reason), and when last year a distant
relation left me six thousand roubles in his will I immediately retired
from the service and settled down in my corner. I used to live in this
corner before, but now I have settled down in it. My room is a wretched,
horrid one in the outskirts of the town. My servant is an old country-
woman, ill-natured from stupidity, and, moreover, there is always a nasty
smell about her. I am told that the Petersburg climate is bad for me, and
that with my small means it is very expensive to live in Petersburg. I
know all that better than all these sage and experienced counsellors and
monitors. ... But I am remaining in Petersburg; I am not going away
from Petersburg! I am not going away because ... ech! Why, it is
absolutely no matter whether I am going away or not going away.

But what can a decent man speak of with most pleasure?

Answer: Of himself.

Well, so I will talk about myself.


I want now to tell you, gentlemen, whether you care to hear it or not, why
I could not even become an insect. I tell you solemnly, that I have many
times tried to become an insect. But I was not equal even to that. I swear,
gentlemen, that to be too conscious is an illness--a real thorough-going
illness. For man's everyday needs, it would have been quite enough to
have the ordinary human consciousness, that is, half or a quarter of the
amount which falls to the lot of a cultivated man of our unhappy
nineteenth century, especially one who has the fatal ill-luck to inhabit
Petersburg, the most theoretical and intentional town on the whole
terrestrial globe. (There are intentional and unintentional towns.) It
would have been quite enough, for instance, to have the consciousness
by which all so-called direct persons and men of action live. I bet you
think I am writing all this from affectation, to be witty at the expense of
men of action; and what is more, that from ill-bred affectation, I am
clanking a sword like my officer. But, gentlemen, whoever can pride
himself on his diseases and even swagger over them?

Though, after all, everyone does do that; people do pride themselves
on their diseases, and I do, may be, more than anyone. We will not
dispute it; my contention was absurd. But yet I am firmly persuaded that
a great deal of consciousness, every sort of consciousness, in fact, is a
disease. I stick to that. Let us leave that, too, for a minute. Tell me this:
why does it happen that at the very, yes, at the very moments when I am
most capable of feeling every refinement of all that is "sublime and
beautiful," as they used to say at one time, it would, as though of design,
happen to me not only to feel but to do such ugly things, such that ...
Well, in short, actions that all, perhaps, commit; but which, as though
purposely, occurred to me at the very time when I was most conscious
that they ought not to be committed. The more conscious I was of goodness
and of all that was "sublime and beautiful," the more deeply I sank
into my mire and the more ready I was to sink in it altogether. But the
chief point was that all this was, as it were, not accidental in me, but as
though it were bound to be so. It was as though it were my most normal
condition, and not in the least disease or depravity, so that at last all desire
in me to struggle against this depravity passed. It ended by my almost
believing (perhaps actually believing) that this was perhaps my normal
condition. But at first, in the beginning, what agonies I endured in that
struggle! I did not believe it was the same with other people, and all my
life I hid this fact about myself as a secret. I was ashamed (even now,
perhaps, I am ashamed): I got to the point of feeling a sort of secret
abnormal, despicable enjoyment in returning home to my corner on
some disgusting Petersburg night, acutely conscious that that day I had
committed a loathsome action again, that what was done could never be
undone, and secretly, inwardly gnawing, gnawing at myself for it, tearing
and consuming myself till at last the bitterness turned into a sort of
shameful accursed sweetness, and at last--into positive real enjoyment!
Yes, into enjoyment, into enjoyment! I insist upon that. I have spoken of
this because I keep wanting to know for a fact whether other people feel
such enjoyment? I will explain; the enjoyment was just from the too
intense consciousness of one's own degradation; it was from feeling
oneself that one had reached the last barrier, that it was horrible, but that
it could not be otherwise; that there was no escape for you; that you never
could become a different man; that even if time and faith were still left
you to change into something different you would most likely not wish to
change; or if you did wish to, even then you would do nothing; because
perhaps in reality there was nothing for you to change into.

And the worst of it was, and the root of it all, that it was all in accord
with the normal fundamental laws of over-acute consciousness, and
with the inertia that was the direct result of those laws, and that
consequently one was not only unable to change but could do absolutely
nothing. Thus it would follow, as the result of acute consciousness,
that one is not to blame in being a scoundrel; as though that were
any consolation to the scoundrel once he has come to realise that he
actually is a scoundrel. But enough. ... Ech, I have talked a lot of
nonsense, but what have I explained? How is enjoyment in this to be
explained? But I will explain it. I will get to the bottom of it! That is why
I have taken up my pen. ...

I, for instance, have a great deal of AMOUR PROPRE. I am as suspicious
and prone to take offence as a humpback or a dwarf. But upon my word I
sometimes have had moments when if I had happened to be slapped in
the face I should, perhaps, have been positively glad of it. I say, in
earnest, that I should probably have been able to discover even in that a
peculiar sort of enjoyment--the enjoyment, of course, of despair; but in
despair there are the most intense enjoyments, especially when one is
very acutely conscious of the hopelessness of one's position. And when
one is slapped in the face--why then the consciousness of being rubbed
into a pulp would positively overwhelm one. The worst of it is, look at it
which way one will, it still turns out that I was always the most to blame
in everything. And what is most humiliating of all, to blame for no fault
of my own but, so to say, through the laws of nature. In the first place, to
blame because I am cleverer than any of the people surrounding me. (I
have always considered myself cleverer than any of the people surrounding
me, and sometimes, would you believe it, have been positively
ashamed of it. At any rate, I have all my life, as it were, turned my eyes
away and never could look people straight in the face.) To blame, finally,
because even if I had had magnanimity, I should only have had more
suffering from the sense of its uselessness. I should certainly have never
been able to do anything from being magnanimous--neither to forgive,
for my assailant would perhaps have slapped me from the laws of nature,
and one cannot forgive the laws of nature; nor to forget, for even if it were
owing to the laws of nature, it is insulting all the same. Finally, even if I
had wanted to be anything but magnanimous, had desired on the
contrary to revenge myself on my assailant, I could not have revenged
myself on any one for anything because I should certainly never have
made up my mind to do anything, even if I had been able to. Why
should I not have made up my mind? About that in particular I want to
say a few words.


With people who know how to revenge themselves and to stand up for
themselves in general, how is it done? Why, when they are possessed, let
us suppose, by the feeling of revenge, then for the time there is nothing
else but that feeling left in their whole being. Such a gentleman simply
dashes straight for his object like an infuriated bull with its horns down,
and nothing but a wall will stop him. (By the way: facing the wall, such
gentlemen--that is, the "direct" persons and men of action--are genuinely
nonplussed. For them a wall is not an evasion, as for us people who
think and consequently do nothing; it is not an excuse for turning aside,
an excuse for which we are always very glad, though we scarcely believe
in it ourselves, as a rule. No, they are nonplussed in all sincerity. The
wall has for them something tranquillising, morally soothing, final--
maybe even something mysterious ... but of the wall later.)

Well, such a direct person I regard as the real normal man, as his
tender mother nature wished to see him when she graciously brought him
into being on the earth. I envy such a man till I am green in the face. He
is stupid. I am not disputing that, but perhaps the normal man should be
stupid, how do you know? Perhaps it is very beautiful, in fact. And I am
the more persuaded of that suspicion, if one can call it so, by the fact that
if you take, for instance, the antithesis of the normal man, that is, the
man of acute consciousness, who has come, of course, not out of the lap
of nature but out of a retort (this is almost mysticism, gentlemen, but I
suspect this, too), this retort-made man is sometimes so nonplussed in
the presence of his antithesis that with all his exaggerated consciousness
he genuinely thinks of himself as a mouse and not a man. It may be an
acutely conscious mouse, yet it is a mouse, while the other is a man, and
therefore, et caetera, et caetera. And the worst of it is, he himself, his very
own self, looks on himself as a mouse; no one asks him to do so; and that
is an important point. Now let us look at this mouse in action. Let us
suppose, for instance, that it feels insulted, too (and it almost always does
feel insulted), and wants to revenge itself, too. There may even be a
greater accumulation of spite in it than in L'HOMME DE LA NATURE ET DE LA
VERITE. The base and nasty desire to vent that spite on its assailant rankles
perhaps even more nastily in it than in L'HOMME DE LA NATURE ET DE LA
VERITE. For through his innate stupidity the latter looks upon his revenge
as justice pure and simple; while in consequence of his acute consciousness
the mouse does not believe in the justice of it. To come at last to the
deed itself, to the very act of revenge. Apart from the one fundamental
nastiness the luckless mouse succeeds in creating around it so many other
nastinesses in the form of doubts and questions, adds to the one question
so many unsettled questions that there inevitably works up around it a sort
of fatal brew, a stinking mess, made up of its doubts, emotions, and of the
contempt spat upon it by the direct men of action who stand solemnly
about it as judges and arbitrators, laughing at it till their healthy sides
ache. Of course the only thing left for it is to dismiss all that with a wave
of its paw, and, with a smile of assumed contempt in which it does not
even itself believe, creep ignominiously into its mouse-hole. There in its
nasty, stinking, underground home our insulted, crushed and ridiculed
mouse promptly becomes absorbed in cold, malignant and, above all,
everlasting spite. For forty years together it will remember its injury down
to the smallest, most ignominious details, and every time will add, of
itself, details still more ignominious, spitefully teasing and tormenting
itself with its own imagination. It will itself be ashamed of its imaginings,
but yet it will recall it all, it will go over and over every detail, it will
invent unheard of things against itself, pretending that those things
might happen, and will forgive nothing. Maybe it will begin to revenge
itself, too, but, as it were, piecemeal, in trivial ways, from behind the
stove, incognito, without believing either in its own right to vengeance,
or in the success of its revenge, knowing that from all its efforts at revenge
it will suffer a hundred times more than he on whom it revenges itself,
while he, I daresay, will not even scratch himself. On its deathbed it will
recall it all over again, with interest accumulated over all the years
and ...

But it is just in that cold, abominable half despair, half belief, in that
conscious burying oneself alive for grief in the underworld for forty years,
in that acutely recognised and yet partly doubtful hopelessness of one's
position, in that hell of unsatisfied desires turned inward, in that fever of
oscillations, of resolutions determined for ever and repented of again a
minute later--that the savour of that strange enjoyment of which I have
spoken lies. It is so subtle, so difficult of analysis, that persons who are a
little limited, or even simply persons of strong nerves, will not understand
a single atom of it. "Possibly," you will add on your own account
with a grin, "people will not understand it either who have never received
a slap in the face," and in that way you will politely hint to me that I, too,
perhaps, have had the experience of a slap in the face in my life, and so I
speak as one who knows. I bet that you are thinking that. But set your
minds at rest, gentlemen, I have not received a slap in the face, though it
is absolutely a matter of indifference to me what you may think about it.
Possibly, I even regret, myself, that I have given so few slaps in the face
during my life. But enough ... not another word on that subject of such
extreme interest to you.

I will continue calmly concerning persons with strong nerves who do
not understand a certain refinement of enjoyment. Though in certain
circumstances these gentlemen bellow their loudest like bulls, though
this, let us suppose, does them the greatest credit, yet, as I have said
already, confronted with the impossible they subside at once. The impossible
means the stone wall! What stone wall? Why, of course, the laws of
nature, the deductions of natural science, mathematics. As soon as they
prove to you, for instance, that you are descended from a monkey, then it
is no use scowling, accept it for a fact. When they prove to you that in
reality one drop of your own fat must be dearer to you than a hundred
thousand of your fellow-creatures, and that this conclusion is the final
solution of all so-called virtues and duties and all such prejudices and
fancies, then you have just to accept it, there is no help for it, for twice
two is a law of mathematics. Just try refuting it.

"Upon my word, they will shout at you, it is no use protesting: it is a
case of twice two makes four! Nature does not ask your permission, she
has nothing to do with your wishes, and whether you like her laws or
dislike them, you are bound to accept her as she is, and consequently all
her conclusions. A wall, you see, is a wall ... and so on, and so on."

Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and
arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that
twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by
battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it
down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone
wall and I have not the strength.

As though such a stone wall really were a consolation, and really did
contain some word of conciliation, simply because it is as true as twice
two makes four. Oh, absurdity of absurdities! How much better it is to
understand it all, to recognise it all, all the impossibilities and the stone
wall; not to be reconciled to one of those impossibilities and stone walls if
it disgusts you to be reconciled to it; by the way of the most inevitable,
logical combinations to reach the most revolting conclusions on the
everlasting theme, that even for the stone wall you are yourself somehow
to blame, though again it is as clear as day you are not to blame in the
least, and therefore grinding your teeth in silent impotence to sink into
luxurious inertia, brooding on the fact that there is no one even for you to
feel vindictive against, that you have not, and perhaps never will have, an
object for your spite, that it is a sleight of hand, a bit of juggling, a card-
sharper's trick, that it is simply a mess, no knowing what and no knowing
who, but in spite of all these uncertainties and jugglings, still there is an
ache in you, and the more you do not know, the worse the ache.


"Ha, ha, ha! You will be finding enjoyment in toothache next," you cry,
with a laugh.

"Well, even in toothache there is enjoyment," I answer. I had toothache
for a whole month and I know there is. In that case, of course,
people are not spiteful in silence, but moan; but they are not candid
moans, they are malignant moans, and the malignancy is the whole
point. The enjoyment of the sufferer finds expression in those moans; if
he did not feel enjoyment in them he would not moan. It is a good
example, gentlemen, and I will develop it. Those moans express in the
first place all the aimlessness of your pain, which is so humiliating to
your consciousness; the whole legal system of nature on which you spit
disdainfully, of course, but from which you suffer all the same while she
does not. They express the consciousness that you have no enemy to
punish, but that you have pain; the consciousness that in spite of all
possible Wagenheims you are in complete slavery to your teeth; that if
someone wishes it, your teeth will leave off aching, and if he does not,
they will go on aching another three months; and that finally if you are
still contumacious and still protest, all that is left you for your own
gratification is to thrash yourself or beat your wall with your fist as hard as
you can, and absolutely nothing more. Well, these mortal insults, these
jeers on the part of someone unknown, end at last in an enjoyment which
sometimes reaches the highest degree of voluptuousness. I ask you,
gentlemen, listen sometimes to the moans of an educated man of the
nineteenth century suffering from toothache, on the second or third day
of the attack, when he is beginning to moan, not as he moaned on the
first day, that is, not simply because he has toothache, not just as any
coarse peasant, but as a man affected by progress and European civilisation,
a man who is "divorced from the soil and the national elements," as
they express it now-a-days. His moans become nasty, disgustingly malignant,
and go on for whole days and nights. And of course he knows
himself that he is doing himself no sort of good with his moans; he knows
better than anyone that he is only lacerating and harassing himself and
others for nothing; he knows that even the audience before whom he is
making his efforts, and his whole family, listen to him with loathing, do
not put a ha'porth of faith in him, and inwardly understand that he might
moan differently, more simply, without trills and flourishes, and that he is
only amusing himself like that from ill-humour, from malignancy. Well,
in all these recognitions and disgraces it is that there lies a voluptuous
pleasure. As though he would say: "I am worrying you, I am lacerating
your hearts, I am keeping everyone in the house awake. Well, stay awake
then, you, too, feel every minute that I have toothache. I am not a hero
to you now, as I tried to seem before, but simply a nasty person, an
impostor. Well, so be it, then! I am very glad that you see through me. It
is nasty for you to hear my despicable moans: well, let it be nasty; here I
will let you have a nastier flourish in a minute. ..." You do not
understand even now, gentlemen? No, it seems our development and our
consciousness must go further to understand all the intricacies of this
pleasure. You laugh? Delighted. My jests, gentlemen, are of course in
bad taste, jerky, involved, lacking self-confidence. But of course that is
because I do not respect myself. Can a man of perception respect himself
at all?


Come, can a man who attempts to find enjoyment in the very feeling of
his own degradation possibly have a spark of respect for himself? I am not
saying this now from any mawkish kind of remorse. And, indeed, I could
never endure saying, "Forgive me, Papa, I won't do it again," not because
I am incapable of saying that--on the contrary, perhaps just because I
have been too capable of it, and in what a way, too. As though of design I
used to get into trouble in cases when I was not to blame in any way. That
was the nastiest part of it. At the same time I was genuinely touched and
penitent, I used to shed tears and, of course, deceived myself, though I
was not acting in the least and there was a sick feeling in my heart at the
time. ... For that one could not blame even the laws of nature, though
the laws of nature have continually all my life offended me more than
anything. It is loathsome to remember it all, but it was loathsome even
then. Of course, a minute or so later I would realise wrathfully that it was
all a lie, a revolting lie, an affected lie, that is, all this penitence, this
emotion, these vows of reform. You will ask why did I worry myself with
such antics: answer, because it was very dull to sit with one's hands
folded, and so one began cutting capers. That is really it. Observe
yourselves more carefully, gentlemen, then you will understand that it is
so. I invented adventures for myself and made up a life, so as at least to
live in some way. How many times it has happened to me--well, for
instance, to take offence simply on purpose, for nothing; and one knows
oneself, of course, that one is offended at nothing; that one is putting it
on, but yet one brings oneself at last to the point of being really offended.
All my life I have had an impulse to play such pranks, so that in the end I
could not control it in myself. Another time, twice, in fact, I tried hard to
be in love. I suffered, too, gentlemen, I assure you. In the depth of my
heart there was no faith in my suffering, only a faint stir of mockery, but
yet I did suffer, and in the real, orthodox way; I was jealous, beside myself
... and it was all from ENNUI, gentlemen, all from ENNUI; inertia overcame
me. You know the direct, legitimate fruit of consciousness is
inertia, that is, conscious sitting-with-the-hands-folded. I have referred
to this already. I repeat, I repeat with emphasis: all "direct" persons and
men of action are active just because they are stupid and limited. How
explain that? I will tell you: in consequence of their limitation they take
immediate and secondary causes for primary ones, and in that way
persuade themselves more quickly and easily than other people do that
they have found an infallible foundation for their activity, and their
minds are at ease and you know that is the chief thing. To begin to act,
you know, you must first have your mind completely at ease and no trace
of doubt left in it. Why, how am I, for example, to set my mind at rest?
Where are the primary causes on which I am to build? Where are my
foundations? Where am I to get them from? I exercise myself in reflection,
and consequently with me every primary cause at once draws after
itself another still more primary, and so on to infinity. That is just the
essence of every sort of consciousness and reflection. It must be a case of
the laws of nature again. What is the result of it in the end? Why, just the
same. Remember I spoke just now of vengeance. (I am sure you did not
take it in.) I said that a man revenges himself because he sees justice in it.
Therefore he has found a primary cause, that is, justice. And so he is at
rest on all sides, and consequently he carries out his revenge calmly and
successfully, being persuaded that he is doing a just and honest thing. But
I see no justice in it, I find no sort of virtue in it either, and consequently
if I attempt to revenge myself, it is only out of spite. Spite, of course,
might overcome everything, all my doubts, and so might serve quite
successfully in place of a primary cause, precisely because it is not a
cause. But what is to be done if I have not even spite (I began with that
just now, you know). In consequence again of those accursed laws of
consciousness, anger in me is subject to chemical disintegration. You
look into it, the object flies off into air, your reasons evaporate, the
criminal is not to be found, the wrong becomes not a wrong but a
phantom, something like the toothache, for which no one is to blame,
and consequently there is only the same outlet left again--that is, to beat
the wall as hard as you can. So you give it up with a wave of the hand
because you have not found a fundamental cause. And try letting yourself
be carried away by your feelings, blindly, without reflection, without a
primary cause, repelling consciousness at least for a time; hate or love, if
only not to sit with your hands folded. The day after tomorrow, at the
latest, you will begin despising yourself for having knowingly deceived
yourself. Result: a soap-bubble and inertia. Oh, gentlemen, do you
know, perhaps I consider myself an intelligent man, only because all my
life I have been able neither to begin nor to finish anything. Granted I am
a babbler, a harmless vexatious babbler, like all of us. But what is to be
done if the direct and sole vocation of every intelligent man is babble,
that is, the intentional pouring of water through a sieve?


Oh, if I had done nothing simply from laziness! Heavens, how I should
have respected myself, then. I should have respected myself because I
should at least have been capable of being lazy; there would at least have
been one quality, as it were, positive in me, in which I could have believed
myself. Question: What is he? Answer: A sluggard; how very pleasant it
would have been to hear that of oneself! It would mean that I was positively
defined, it would mean that there was something to say about me.
"Sluggard"--why, it is a calling and vocation, it is a career. Do not jest, it
is so. I should then be a member of the best club by right, and should find
my occupation in continually respecting myself. I knew a gentleman who
prided himself all his life on being a connoisseur of Lafitte. He considered
this as his positive virtue, and never doubted himself. He died, not simply
with a tranquil, but with a triumphant conscience, and he was quite right,
too. Then I should have chosen a career for myself, I should have been a
sluggard and a glutton, not a simple one, but, for instance, one with
sympathies for everything sublime and beautiful. How do you like that? I
have long had visions of it. That "sublime and beautiful" weighs heavily
on my mind at forty But that is at forty; then--oh, then it would have
been different! I should have found for myself a form of activity in keeping
with it, to be precise, drinking to the health of everything "sublime and
beautiful." I should have snatched at every opportunity to drop a tear into
my glass and then to drain it to all that is "sublime and beautiful." I should
then have turned everything into the sublime and the beautiful; in the
nastiest, unquestionable trash, I should have sought out the sublime and
the beautiful. I should have exuded tears like a wet sponge. An artist, for
instance, paints a picture worthy of Gay. At once I drink to the health of
the artist who painted the picture worthy of Gay, because I love all that is
"sublime and beautiful." An author has written AS YOU WILL: at once I drink
to the health of "anyone you will" because I love all that is "sublime and

I should claim respect for doing so. I should persecute anyone who
would not show me respect. I should live at ease, I should die with
dignity, why, it is charming, perfectly charming! And what a good round
belly I should have grown, what a treble chin I should have established,
what a ruby nose I should have coloured for myself, so that everyone
would have said, looking at me: "Here is an asset! Here is something real
and solid!" And, say what you like, it is very agreeable to hear such
remarks about oneself in this negative age.


But these are all golden dreams. Oh, tell me, who was it first announced,
who was it first proclaimed, that man only does nasty things because he
does not know his own interests; and that if he were enlightened, if his
eyes were opened to his real normal interests, man would at once cease to
do nasty things, would at once become good and noble because, being
enlightened and understanding his real advantage, he would see his own
advantage in the good and nothing else, and we all know that not one
man can, consciously, act against his own interests, consequently, so to
say, through necessity, he would begin doing good? Oh, the babe! Oh,
the pure, innocent child! Why, in the first place, when in all these
thousands of years has there been a time when man has acted only from
his own interest? What is to be done with the millions of facts that bear
witness that men, CONSCIOUSLY, that is fully understanding their real
interests, have left them in the background and have rushed headlong on
another path, to meet peril and danger, compelled to this course by
nobody and by nothing, but, as it were, simply disliking the beaten track,
and have obstinately, wilfully, struck out another difficult, absurd way,
seeking it almost in the darkness. So, I suppose, this obstinacy and
perversity were pleasanter to them than any advantage. ... Advantage!
What is advantage? And will you take it upon yourself to define with
perfect accuracy in what the advantage of man consists? And what if it so
happens that a man's advantage, SOMETIMES, not only may, but even
must, consist in his desiring in certain cases what is harmful to himself
and not advantageous. And if so, if there can be such a case, the whole
principle falls into dust. What do you think--are there such cases? You
laugh; laugh away, gentlemen, but only answer me: have man's advantages
been reckoned up with perfect certainty? Are there not some which not
only have not been included but cannot possibly be included under any
classification? You see, you gentlemen have, to the best of my
knowledge, taken your whole register of human advantages from the
averages of statistical figures and politico-economical formulas. Your
advantages are prosperity, wealth, freedom, peace--and so on, and so
on. So that the man who should, for instance, go openly and knowingly
in opposition to all that list would to your thinking, and indeed mine,
too, of course, be an obscurantist or an absolute madman: would not he?
But, you know, this is what is surprising: why does it so happen that all
these statisticians, sages and lovers of humanity, when they reckon up
human advantages invariably leave out one? They don't even take it into
their reckoning in the form in which it should be taken, and the whole
reckoning depends upon that. It would be no greater matter, they would
simply have to take it, this advantage, and add it to the list. But the
trouble is, that this strange advantage does not fall under any classification
and is not in place in any list. I have a friend for instance ... Ech!
gentlemen, but of course he is your friend, too; and indeed there is no
one, no one to whom he is not a friend! When he prepares for any
undertaking this gentleman immediately explains to you, elegantly and
clearly, exactly how he must act in accordance with the laws of reason and
truth. What is more, he will talk to you with excitement and passion of
the true normal interests of man; with irony he will upbraid the short-
sighted fools who do not understand their own interests, nor the true
significance of virtue; and, within a quarter of an hour, without any
sudden outside provocation, but simply through something inside him
which is stronger than all his interests, he will go off on quite a different
tack--that is, act in direct opposition to what he has just been saying
about himself, in opposition to the laws of reason, in opposition to his
own advantage, in fact in opposition to everything ... I warn you that
my friend is a compound personality and therefore it is difficult to blame
him as an individual. The fact is, gentlemen, it seems there must really
exist something that is dearer to almost every man than his greatest
advantages, or (not to be illogical) there is a most advantageous advantage
(the very one omitted of which we spoke just now) which is more
important and more advantageous than all other advantages, for the sake
of which a man if necessary is ready to act in opposition to all laws; that
is, in opposition to reason, honour, peace, prosperity--in fact, in opposition
to all those excellent and useful things if only he can attain that
fundamental, most advantageous advantage which is dearer to him
than all. "Yes, but it's advantage all the same," you will retort. But excuse
me, I'll make the point clear, and it is not a case of playing upon words.
What matters is, that this advantage is remarkable from the very fact that
it breaks down all our classifications, and continually shatters every
system constructed by lovers of mankind for the benefit of mankind. In
fact, it upsets everything. But before I mention this advantage to you, I
want to compromise myself personally, and therefore I boldly declare
that all these fine systems, all these theories for explaining to mankind
their real normal interests, in order that inevitably striving to pursue
these interests they may at once become good and noble--are, in my
opinion, so far, mere logical exercises! Yes, logical exercises. Why, to
maintain this theory of the regeneration of mankind by means of the
pursuit of his own advantage is to my mind almost the same thing ...
as to affirm, for instance, following Buckle, that through civilisation
mankind becomes softer, and consequently less bloodthirsty and less
fitted for warfare. Logically it does seem to follow from his arguments.
But man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that
he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the
evidence of his senses only to justify his logic. I take this example
because it is the most glaring instance of it. Only look about you: blood
is being spilt in streams, and in the merriest way, as though it were
champagne. Take the whole of the nineteenth century in which Buckle
lived. Take Napoleon--the Great and also the present one. Take North
America--the eternal union. Take the farce of Schleswig-Holstein ....
And what is it that civilisation softens in us? The only gain of civilisation
for mankind is the greater capacity for variety of sensations--and
absolutely nothing more. And through the development of this many-
sidedness man may come to finding enjoyment in bloodshed. In fact,
this has already happened to him. Have you noticed that it is the most
civilised gentlemen who have been the subtlest slaughterers, to whom
the Attilas and Stenka Razins could not hold a candle, and if they are
not so conspicuous as the Attilas and Stenka Razins it is simply because
they are so often met with, are so ordinary and have become so familiar
to us. In any case civilisation has made mankind if not more bloodthirsty,
at least more vilely, more loathsomely bloodthirsty. In old days
he saw justice in bloodshed and with his conscience at peace exterminated
those he thought proper. Now we do think bloodshed abominable
and yet we engage in this abomination, and with more energy than ever.
Which is worse? Decide that for yourselves. They say that Cleopatra
(excuse an instance from Roman history) was fond of sticking gold pins
into her slave-girls' breasts and derived gratification from their screams
and writhings. You will say that that was in the comparatively barbarous
times; that these are barbarous times too, because also, comparatively
speaking, pins are stuck in even now; that though man has now learned
to see more clearly than in barbarous ages, he is still far from having
learnt to act as reason and science would dictate. But yet you are fully
convinced that he will be sure to learn when he gets rid of certain old
bad habits, and when common sense and science have completely
re-educated human nature and turned it in a normal direction. You are
confident that then man will cease from INTENTIONAL error and will, so to
say, be compelled not to want to set his will against his normal interests.
That is not all; then, you say, science itself will teach man (though to my
mind it's a superfluous luxury) that he never has really had any caprice
or will of his own, and that he himself is something of the nature of a
piano-key or the stop of an organ, and that there are, besides, things
called the laws of nature; so that everything he does is not done by his
willing it, but is done of itself, by the laws of nature. Consequently we
have only to discover these laws of nature, and man will no longer have
to answer for his actions and life will become exceedingly easy for him.
All human actions will then, of course, be tabulated according to these
laws, mathematically, like tables of logarithms up to 108,000, and
entered in an index; or, better still, there would be published certain
edifying works of the nature of encyclopaedic lexicons, in which everything
will be so clearly calculated and explained that there will be no
more incidents or adventures in the world.

Then--this is all what you say--new economic relations will be
established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude,
so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye,
simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then
the "Palace of Crystal" will be built. Then ... In fact, those will be
halcyon days. Of course there is no guaranteeing (this is my comment)
that it will not be, for instance, frightfully dull then (for what will one
have to do when everything will be calculated and tabulated), but on the
other hand everything will be extraordinarily rational. Of course boredom
may lead you to anything. It is boredom sets one sticking golden
pins into people, but all that would not matter. What is bad (this is my
comment again) is that I dare say people will be thankful for the gold
pins then. Man is stupid, you know, phenomenally stupid; or rather he is
not at all stupid, but he is so ungrateful that you could not find another
like him in all creation. I, for instance, would not be in the least
surprised if all of a sudden, A PROPOS of nothing, in the midst of general
prosperity a gentleman with an ignoble, or rather with a reactionary and
ironical, countenance were to arise and, putting his arms akimbo, say to
us all: "I say, gentleman, hadn't we better kick over the whole show and
scatter rationalism to the winds, simply to send these logarithms to the
devil, and to enable us to live once more at our own sweet foolish will!"
That again would not matter, but what is annoying is that he would be
sure to find followers--such is the nature of man. And all that for the
most foolish reason, which, one would think, was hardly worth mentioning:
that is, that man everywhere and at all times, whoever he may
be, has preferred to act as he chose and not in the least as his reason and
advantage dictated. And one may choose what is contrary to one's own
interests, and sometimes one POSITIVELY OUGHT (that is my idea). One's
own free unfettered choice, one's own caprice, however wild it may be,
one's own fancy worked up at times to frenzy--is that very "most
advantageous advantage" which we have overlooked, which comes
under no classification and against which all systems and theories are
continually being shattered to atoms. And how do these wiseacres know
that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them
conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What
man wants is simply INDEPENDENT choice, whatever that independence
may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil
only knows what choice.


"Ha! ha! ha! But you know there is no such thing as choice in reality, say
what you like," you will interpose with a chuckle. "Science has succeeded
in so far analysing man that we know already that choice and
what is called freedom of will is nothing else than--"

Stay, gentlemen, I meant to begin with that myself I confess, I was
rather frightened. I was just going to say that the devil only knows what
choice depends on, and that perhaps that was a very good thing, but I
remembered the teaching of science ... and pulled myself up. And here
you have begun upon it. Indeed, if there really is some day discovered a
formula for all our desires and caprices--that is, an explanation of what
they depend upon, by what laws they arise, how they develop, what they
are aiming at in one case and in another and so on, that is a real
mathematical formula--then, most likely, man will at once cease to feel
desire, indeed, he will be certain to. For who would want to choose by
rule? Besides, he will at once be transformed from a human being into
an organ-stop or something of the sort; for what is a man without desires,
without free will and without choice, if not a stop in an organ? What do
you think? Let us reckon the chances--can such a thing happen or not?

"H'm!" you decide. "Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view
of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in
our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a
supposed advantage. But when all that is explained and worked out on
paper (which is perfectly possible, for it is contemptible and senseless to
suppose that some laws of nature man will never understand), then
certainly so-called desires will no longer exist. For if a desire should come
into conflict with reason we shall then reason and not desire, because it
will be impossible retaining our reason to be SENSELESS in our desires, and
in that way knowingly act against reason and desire to injure ourselves.
And as all choice and reasoning can be really calculated--because there
will some day be discovered the laws of our so-called free will--so, joking
apart, there may one day be something like a table constructed of them,
so that we really shall choose in accordance with it. If, for instance, some
day they calculate and prove to me that I made a long nose at someone
because I could not help making a long nose at him and that I had to do it
in that particular way, what FREEDOM is left me, especially if I am a learned
man and have taken my degree somewhere? Then I should be able to
calculate my whole life for thirty years beforehand. In short, if this could
be arranged there would be nothing left for us to do; anyway, we should
have to understand that. And, in fact, we ought unwearyingly to repeat to
ourselves that at such and such a time and in such and such circumstances
nature does not ask our leave; that we have got to take her as she is
and not fashion her to suit our fancy, and if we really aspire to formulas
and tables of rules, and well, even ... to the chemical retort, there's no
help for it, we must accept the retort too, or else it will be accepted
without our consent ...."

Yes, but here I come to a stop! Gentlemen, you must excuse me for being
over-philosophical; it's the result of forty years underground! Allow me to
indulge my fancy. You see, gentlemen, reason is an excellent thing, there's
no disputing that, but reason is nothing but reason and satisfies only
the rational side of man's nature, while will is a manifestation of the whole
life, that is, of the whole human life including reason and all the impulses.
And although our life, in this manifestation of it, is often worthless, yet
it is life and not simply extracting square roots. Here I, for instance,
quite naturally want to live, in order to satisfy all my capacities for
life, and not simply my capacity for reasoning, that is, not simply one
twentieth of my capacity for life. What does reason know? Reason only
knows what it has succeeded in learning (some things, perhaps, it will
never learn; this is a poor comfort, but why not say so frankly?) and
human nature acts as a whole, with everything that is in it, consciously
or unconsciously, and, even if it goes wrong, it lives. I suspect,
gentlemen, that you are looking at me with compassion; you tell me
again that an enlightened and developed man, such, in short, as the
future man will be, cannot consciously desire anything disadvantageous
to himself, that that can be proved mathematically. I thoroughly agree, it
can--by mathematics. But I repeat for the hundredth time, there is one
case, one only, when man may consciously, purposely, desire what is
injurious to himself, what is stupid, very stupid--simply in order to have
the right to desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be
bound by an obligation to desire only what is sensible. Of course, this
very stupid thing, this caprice of ours, may be in reality, gentlemen,
more advantageous for us than anything else on earth, especially in
certain cases. And in particular it may be more advantageous than any
advantage even when it does us obvious harm, and contradicts the
soundest conclusions of our reason concerning our advantage--for in
any circumstances it preserves for us what is most precious and most
important--that is, our personality, our individuality. Some, you see,
maintain that this really is the most precious thing for mankind; choice
can, of course, if it chooses, be in agreement with reason; and especially
if this be not abused but kept within bounds. It is profitable and sometimes
even praiseworthy. But very often, and even most often, choice is
utterly and stubbornly opposed to reason ... and ... and ... do you
know that that, too, is profitable, sometimes even praiseworthy? Gentlemen,
let us suppose that man is not stupid. (Indeed one cannot refuse to
suppose that, if only from the one consideration, that, if man is stupid,
then who is wise?) But if he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful!
Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of
man is the ungrateful biped. But that is not all, that is not his worst
defect; his worst defect is his perpetual moral obliquity, perpetual--from
the days of the Flood to the Schleswig-Holstein period. Moral obliquity
and consequently lack of good sense; for it has long been accepted that
lack of good sense is due to no other cause than moral obliquity. Put it to
the test and cast your eyes upon the history of mankind. What will you
see? Is it a grand spectacle? Grand, if you like. Take the Colossus of
Rhodes, for instance, that's worth something. With good reason Mr.
Anaevsky testifies of it that some say that it is the work of man's hands,
while others maintain that it has been created by nature herself. Is it
many-coloured? May be it is many-coloured, too: if one takes the dress
uniforms, military and civilian, of all peoples in all ages--that alone is
worth something, and if you take the undress uniforms you will never get
to the end of it; no historian would be equal to the job. Is it monotonous?
May be it's monotonous too: it's fighting and fighting; they are fighting
now, they fought first and they fought last--you will admit, that it is
almost too monotonous. In short, one may say anything about the history
of the world--anything that might enter the most disordered imagination.
The only thing one can't say is that it's rational. The very word sticks
in one's throat. And, indeed, this is the odd thing that is continually
happening: there are continually turning up in life moral and rational
persons, sages and lovers of humanity who make it their object to live all
their lives as morally and rationally as possible, to be, so to speak, a light
to their neighbours simply in order to show them that it is possible to live
morally and rationally in this world. And yet we all know that those very
people sooner or later have been false to themselves, playing some queer
trick, often a most unseemly one. Now I ask you: what can be expected of
man since he is a being endowed with strange qualities? Shower upon
him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that
nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him
economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but
sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and
even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some
nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire
the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to
introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is
just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain,
simply in order to prove to himself--as though that were so necessary--
that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of
nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to
desire nothing but by the calendar. And that is not all: even if man really
were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural
science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable,
but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude,
simply to gain his point. And if he does not find means he will contrive
destruction and chaos, will contrive sufferings of all sorts, only to gain his
point! He will launch a curse upon the world, and as only man can curse
(it is his privilege, the primary distinction between him and other animals),
may be by his curse alone he will attain his object--that is,
convince himself that he is a man and not a piano-key! If you say that all
this, too, can be calculated and tabulated--chaos and darkness and
curses, so that the mere possibility of calculating it all beforehand would
stop it all, and reason would reassert itself, then man would purposely go
mad in order to be rid of reason and gain his point! I believe in it, I
answer for it, for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing
but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!
It may be at the cost of his skin, it may be by cannibalism! And this being
so, can one help being tempted to rejoice that it has not yet come off, and
that desire still depends on something we don't know?

You will scream at me (that is, if you condescend to do so) that no one
is touching my free will, that all they are concerned with is that my will
should of itself, of its own free will, coincide with my own normal
interests, with the laws of nature and arithmetic.

Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we
come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a case of twice
two make four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will
meant that!


Gentlemen, I am joking, and I know myself that my jokes are not
brilliant,but you know one can take everything as a joke. I am, perhaps,
jesting against the grain. Gentlemen, I am tormented by questions;
answer them for me. You, for instance, want to cure men of their old
habits and reform their will in accordance with science and good sense.
But how do you know, not only that it is possible, but also that it is
DESIRABLE to reform man in that way? And what leads you to the conclusion
that man's inclinations NEED reforming? In short, how do you know
that such a reformation will be a benefit to man? And to go to the root of
the matter, why are you so positively convinced that not to act against his
real normal interests guaranteed by the conclusions of reason and arithmetic
is certainly always advantageous for man and must always be a law
for mankind? So far, you know, this is only your supposition. It may be
the law of logic, but not the law of humanity. You think, gentlemen,
perhaps that I am mad? Allow me to defend myself. I agree that man is
pre-eminently a creative animal, predestined to strive consciously for an
object and to engage in engineering--that is, incessantly and eternally to
make new roads, WHEREVER THEY MAY LEAD. But the reason why he wants
sometimes to go off at a tangent may just be that he is PREDESTINED to make
the road, and perhaps, too, that however stupid the "direct" practical
man may be, the thought sometimes will occur to him that the road
almost always does lead SOMEWHERE, and that the destination it leads to is
less important than the process of making it, and that the chief thing is to
save the well-conducted child from despising engineering, and so giving
way to the fatal idleness, which, as we all know, is the mother of all the
vices. Man likes to make roads and to create, that is a fact beyond dispute.
But why has he such a passionate love for destruction and chaos also? Tell
me that! But on that point I want to say a couple of words myself. May it
not be that he loves chaos and destruction (there can be no disputing that
he does sometimes love it) because he is instinctively afraid of attaining
his object and completing the edifice he is constructing? Who knows,
perhaps he only loves that edifice from a distance, and is by no means in
love with it at close quarters; perhaps he only loves building it and does
not want to live in it, but will leave it, when completed, for the use of
LES ANIMAUX DOMESTIQUES--such as the ants, the sheep, and so on. Now the
ants have quite a different taste. They have a marvellous edifice of that
pattern which endures for ever--the ant-heap.

With the ant-heap the respectable race of ants began and with the ant-
heap they will probably end, which does the greatest credit to their
perseverance and good sense. But man is a frivolous and incongruous
creature, and perhaps, like a chess player, loves the process of the game,
not the end of it. And who knows (there is no saying with certainty),
perhaps the only goal on earth to which mankind is striving lies in this
incessant process of attaining, in other words, in life itself, and not in the
thing to be attained, which must always be expressed as a formula, as
positive as twice two makes four, and such positiveness is not life,
gentlemen, but is the beginning of death. Anyway, man has always been
afraid of this mathematical certainty, and I am afraid of it now. Granted
that man does nothing but seek that mathematical certainty, he traverses
oceans, sacrifices his life in the quest, but to succeed, really to find it,
dreads, I assure you. He feels that when he has found it there will be
nothing for him to look for. When workmen have finished their work
they do at least receive their pay, they go to the tavern, then they are taken
to the police-station--and there is occupation for a week. But where can
man go? Anyway, one can observe a certain awkwardness about him
when he has attained such objects. He loves the process of attaining, but
does not quite like to have attained, and that, of course, is very absurd. In
fact, man is a comical creature; there seems to be a kind of jest in it all.
But yet mathematical certainty is after all, something insufferable. Twice
two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two
makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your
path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing,
but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes
a very charming thing too.

And why are you so firmly, so triumphantly, convinced that only the
normal and the positive--in other words, only what is conducive to
welfare--is for the advantage of man? Is not reason in error as regards
advantage? Does not man, perhaps, love something besides well-being?
Perhaps he is just as fond of suffering? Perhaps suffering is just as great a
benefit to him as well-being? Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately,
in love with suffering, and that is a fact. There is no need to appeal
to universal history to prove that; only ask yourself, if you are a man and
have lived at all. As far as my personal opinion is concerned, to care only
for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it's good or bad, it
is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things. I hold no brief for
suffering nor for well-being either. I am standing for ... my caprice, and
for its being guaranteed to me when necessary. Suffering would be out of
place in vaudevilles, for instance; I know that. In the "Palace of Crystal" it
is unthinkable; suffering means doubt, negation, and what would be the
good of a "palace of crystal" if there could be any doubt about it? And yet
I think man will never renounce real suffering, that is, destruction and
chaos. Why, suffering is the sole origin of consciousness. Though I did
lay it down at the beginning that consciousness is the greatest misfortune
for man, yet I know man prizes it and would not give it up for any
satisfaction. Consciousness, for instance, is infinitely superior to twice
two makes four. Once you have mathematical certainty there is nothing
left to do or to understand. There will be nothing left but to bottle up your
five senses and plunge into contemplation. While if you stick to
consciousness, even though the same result is attained, you can at least flog
yourself at times, and that will, at any rate, liven you up. Reactionary as it
is, corporal punishment is better than nothing.


You believe in a palace of crystal that can never be destroyed--a palace at
which one will not be able to put out one's tongue or make a long nose on
the sly. And perhaps that is just why I am afraid of this edifice, that it is
of crystal and can never be destroyed and that one cannot put one's tongue
out at it even on the sly.

You see, if it were not a palace, but a hen-house, I might creep into it
to avoid getting wet, and yet I would not call the hen-house a palace out
of gratitude to it for keeping me dry. You laugh and say that in such
circumstances a hen-house is as good as a mansion. Yes, I answer, if one
had to live simply to keep out of the rain.

But what is to be done if I have taken it into my head that that is not the
only object in life, and that if one must live one had better live in a
mansion? That is my choice, my desire. You will only eradicate it when
you have changed my preference. Well, do change it, allure me with
something else, give me another ideal. But meanwhile I will not take a
hen-house for a mansion. The palace of crystal may be an idle dream, it
may be that it is inconsistent with the laws of nature and that I have
invented it only through my own stupidity, through the old-fashioned
irrational habits of my generation. But what does it matter to me that it is
inconsistent? That makes no difference since it exists in my desires, or
rather exists as long as my desires exist. Perhaps you are laughing again?
Laugh away; I will put up with any mockery rather than pretend that I am
satisfied when I am hungry. I know, anyway, that I will not be put off with
a compromise, with a recurring zero, simply because it is consistent with
the laws of nature and actually exists. I will not accept as the crown of my
desires a block of buildings with tenements for the poor on a lease of a
thousand years, and perhaps with a sign-board of a dentist hanging out.
Destroy my desires, eradicate my ideals, show me something better, and I
will follow you. You will say, perhaps, that it is not worth your trouble;
but in that case I can give you the same answer. We are discussing things
seriously; but if you won't deign to give me your attention, I will drop
your acquaintance. I can retreat into my underground hole.

But while I am alive and have desires I would rather my hand were
withered off than bring one brick to such a building! Don't remind me
that I have just rejected the palace of crystal for the sole reason that one
cannot put out one's tongue at it. I did not say because I am so fond of
putting my tongue out. Perhaps the thing I resented was, that of all your
edifices there has not been one at which one could not put out one's
tongue. On the contrary, I would let my tongue be cut off out of gratitude
if things could be so arranged that I should lose all desire to put it out. It
is not my fault that things cannot be so arranged, and that one must be
satisfied with model flats. Then why am I made with such desires? Can I
have been constructed simply in order to come to the conclusion that all
my construction is a cheat? Can this be my whole purpose? I do not
believe it.

But do you know what: I am convinced that we underground folk
ought to be kept on a curb. Though we may sit forty years underground
without speaking, when we do come out into the light of day and break
out we talk and talk and talk ....


The long and the short of it is, gentlemen, that it is better to do nothing!
Better conscious inertia! And so hurrah for underground! Though I have
said that I envy the normal man to the last drop of my bile, yet I should
not care to be in his place such as he is now (though I shall not cease
envying him). No, no; anyway the underground life is more advantageous.
There, at any rate, one can ... Oh, but even now I am lying! I
am lying because I know myself that it is not underground that is better,
but something different, quite different, for which I am thirsting, but
which I cannot find! Damn underground!

I will tell you another thing that would be better, and that is, if I
myself believed in anything of what I have just written. I swear to you,
gentlemen, there is not one thing, not one word of what I have written that I
really believe. That is, I believe it, perhaps, but at the same time I feel
and suspect that I am lying like a cobbler.

"Then why have you written all this?" you will say to me. "I ought to
put you underground for forty years without anything to do and then
come to you in your cellar, to find out what stage you have reached! How
can a man be left with nothing to do for forty years?"

"Isn't that shameful, isn't that humiliating?" you will say, perhaps,
wagging your heads contemptuously. "You thirst for life and try to settle
the problems of life by a logical tangle. And how persistent, how insolent
are your sallies, and at the same time what a scare you are in! You talk
nonsense and are pleased with it; you say impudent things and are in
continual alarm and apologising for them. You declare that you are
afraid of nothing and at the same time try to ingratiate yourself in our
good opinion. You declare that you are gnashing your teeth and at the
same time you try to be witty so as to amuse us. You know that your
witticisms are not witty, but you are evidently well satisfied with their
literary value. You may, perhaps, have really suffered, but you have no
respect for your own suffering. You may have sincerity, but you have no
modesty; out of the pettiest vanity you expose your sincerity to publicity
and ignominy. You doubtlessly mean to say something, but hide your last
word through fear, because you have not the resolution to utter it, and
only have a cowardly impudence. You boast of consciousness, but you
are not sure of your ground, for though your mind works, yet your heart is
darkened and corrupt, and you cannot have a full, genuine consciousness
without a pure heart. And how intrusive you are, how you insist and
grimace! Lies, lies, lies!"

Of course I have myself made up all the things you say. That, too, is
from underground. I have been for forty years listening to you through a
crack under the floor. I have invented them myself, there was nothing
else I could invent. It is no wonder that I have learned it by heart and it
has taken a literary form ....

But can you really be so credulous as to think that I will print all this
and give it to you to read too? And another problem: why do I call you
"gentlemen," why do I address you as though you really were my readers?
Such confessions as I intend to make are never printed nor given to other
people to read. Anyway, I am not strong-minded enough for that, and I
don't see why I should be. But you see a fancy has occurred to me and I
want to realise it at all costs. Let me explain.

Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone,
but only to his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would
not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But
there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and
every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind.
The more decent he is, the greater the number of such things in his
mind. Anyway, I have only lately determined to remember some of my
early adventures. Till now I have always avoided them, even with a
certain uneasiness. Now, when I am not only recalling them, but have
actually decided to write an account of them, I want to try the experiment
whether one can, even with oneself, be perfectly open and not take
fright at the whole truth. I will observe, in parenthesis, that Heine says
that a true autobiography is almost an impossibility, and that man is
bound to lie about himself. He considers that Rousseau certainly told lies
about himself in his confessions, and even intentionally lied, out of
vanity. I am convinced that Heine is right; I quite understand how
sometimes one may, out of sheer vanity, attribute regular crimes to
oneself, and indeed I can very well conceive that kind of vanity. But
Heine judged of people who made their confessions to the public. I write
only for myself, and I wish to declare once and for all that if I write as
though I were addressing readers, that is simply because it is easier for me
to write in that form. It is a form, an empty form--I shall never have
readers. I have made this plain already ...

I don't wish to be hampered by any restrictions in the compilation of
my notes. I shall not attempt any system or method. I will jot things down
as I remember them.

But here, perhaps, someone will catch at the word and ask me: if you
really don't reckon on readers, why do you make such compacts with
yourself--and on paper too--that is, that you won't attempt any system
or method, that you jot things down as you remember them, and so on,
and so on? Why are you explaining? Why do you apologise?

Well, there it is, I answer.

There is a whole psychology in all this, though. Perhaps it is simply
that I am a coward. And perhaps that I purposely imagine an audience
before me in order that I may be more dignified while I write. There are
perhaps thousands of reasons. Again, what is my object precisely in
writing? If it is not for the benefit of the public why should I not simply
recall these incidents in my own mind without putting them on paper?

Quite so; but yet it is more imposing on paper. There is something
more impressive in it; I shall be better able to criticise myself and improve
my style. Besides, I shall perhaps obtain actual relief from writing.
Today, for instance, I am particularly oppressed by one memory of a
distant past. It came back vividly to my mind a few days ago, and has
remained haunting me like an annoying tune that one cannot get rid of.
And yet I must get rid of it somehow. I have hundreds of such reminiscences;
but at times some one stands out from the hundred and oppresses me.
For some reason I believe that if I write it down I should get rid of it.
Why not try?

Besides, I am bored, and I never have anything to do. Writing will be a
sort of work. They say work makes man kind-hearted and honest. Well,
here is a chance for me, anyway.

Snow is falling today, yellow and dingy. It fell yesterday, too, and a few
days ago. I fancy it is the wet snow that has reminded me of that incident
which I cannot shake off now. And so let it be a story A PROPOS of the
falling snow.


A Propos of the Wet Snow

When from dark error's subjugation
My words of passionate exhortation
Had wrenched thy fainting spirit free;
And writhing prone in thine affliction
Thou didst recall with malediction
The vice that had encompassed thee:
And when thy slumbering conscience, fretting
By recollection's torturing flame,
Thou didst reveal the hideous setting
Of thy life's current ere I came:
When suddenly I saw thee sicken,
And weeping, hide thine anguished face,
Revolted, maddened, horror-stricken,
At memories of foul disgrace.
(translated by Juliet Soskice).


AT THAT TIME I was only twenty-four. My life was even then gloomy, ill-
regulated, and as solitary as that of a savage. I made friends with no one
and positively avoided talking, and buried myself more and more in my
hole. At work in the office I never looked at anyone, and was perfectly
well aware that my companions looked upon me, not only as a queer
fellow, but even looked upon me--I always fancied this--with a sort of
loathing. I sometimes wondered why it was that nobody except me
fancied that he was looked upon with aversion? One of the clerks had a
most repulsive, pock-marked face, which looked positively villainous. I
believe I should not have dared to look at anyone with such an unsightly
countenance. Another had such a very dirty old uniform that there was
an unpleasant odour in his proximity. Yet not one of these gentlemen
showed the slightest self-consciousness--either about their clothes or
their countenance or their character in any way. Neither of them ever
imagined that they were looked at with repulsion; if they had imagined it
they would not have minded--so long as their superiors did not look at
them in that way. It is clear to me now that, owing to my unbounded
vanity and to the high standard I set for myself, I often looked at myself
with furious discontent, which verged on loathing, and so I inwardly
attributed the same feeling to everyone. I hated my face, for instance: I
thought it disgusting, and even suspected that there was something base
in my expression, and so every day when I turned up at the office I tried to
behave as independently as possible, and to assume a lofty expression, so
that I might not be suspected of being abject. "My face may be ugly," I
thought, "but let it be lofty, expressive, and, above all, EXTREMELY
intelligent." But I was positively and painfully certain that it was
impossible for my countenance ever to express those qualities. And what was
worst of all, I thought it actually stupid looking, and I would have been quite
satisfied if I could have looked intelligent. In fact, I would even have put
up with looking base if, at the same time, my face could have been
thought strikingly intelligent.

Of course, I hated my fellow clerks one and all, and I despised them all,
yet at the same time I was, as it were, afraid of them. In fact, it happened at
times that I thought more highly of them than of myself. It somehow
happened quite suddenly that I alternated between despising them and
thinking them superior to myself. A cultivated and decent man cannot be
vain without setting a fearfully high standard for himself, and without
despising and almost hating himself at certain moments. But whether I
despised them or thought them superior I dropped my eyes almost every
time I met anyone. I even made experiments whether I could face so and
so's looking at me, and I was always the first to drop my eyes. This worried
me to distraction. I had a sickly dread, too, of being ridiculous, and so had
a slavish passion for the conventional in everything external. I loved to fall
into the common rut, and had a whole-hearted terror of any kind of
eccentricity in myself. But how could I live up to it? I was morbidly
sensitive as a man of our age should be. They were all stupid, and as like
one another as so many sheep. Perhaps I was the only one in the office who
fancied that I was a coward and a slave, and I fancied it just because I was
more highly developed. But it was not only that I fancied it, it really was so.
I was a coward and a slave. I say this without the slightest embarrassment.
Every decent man of our age must be a coward and a slave. That is his
normal condition. Of that I am firmly persuaded. He is made and constructed
to that very end. And not only at the present time owing to some
casual circumstances, but always, at all times, a decent man is bound to
be a coward and a slave. It is the law of nature for all decent people all over
the earth. If anyone of them happens to be valiant about something, he
need not be comforted nor carried away by that; he would show the white
feather just the same before something else. That is how it invariably and
inevitably ends. Only donkeys and mules are valiant, and they only till
they are pushed up to the wall. It is not worth while to pay attention to
them for they really are of no consequence.

Another circumstance, too, worried me in those days: that there was no
one like me and I was unlike anyone else. "I am alone and they are
EVERYONE," I thought--and pondered.

From that it is evident that I was still a youngster.

The very opposite sometimes happened. It was loathsome sometimes
to go to the office; things reached such a point that I often came home ill.
But all at once, A PROPOS of nothing, there would come a phase of
scepticism and indifference (everything happened in phases to me), and I
would laugh myself at my intolerance and fastidiousness, I would reproach
myself with being ROMANTIC. At one time I was unwilling to speak
to anyone, while at other times I would not only talk, but go to the length
of contemplating making friends with them. All my fastidiousness would
suddenly, for no rhyme or reason, vanish. Who knows, perhaps I never
had really had it, and it had simply been affected, and got out of books. I
have not decided that question even now. Once I quite made friends with
them, visited their homes, played preference, drank vodka, talked of
promotions .... But here let me make a digression.

We Russians, speaking generally, have never had those foolish
transcendental "romantics"--German, and still more French--on whom
nothing produces any effect; if there were an earthquake, if all France
perished at the barricades, they would still be the same, they would not
even have the decency to affect a change, but would still go on singing
their transcendental songs to the hour of their death, because they are
fools. We, in Russia, have no fools; that is well known. That is what
distinguishes us from foreign lands. Consequently these transcendental
natures are not found amongst us in their pure form. The idea that they
are is due to our "realistic" journalists and critics of that day, always on
the look out for Kostanzhoglos and Uncle Pyotr Ivanitchs and foolishly
accepting them as our ideal; they have slandered our romantics, taking
them for the same transcendental sort as in Germany or France. On the
contrary, the characteristics of our "romantics" are absolutely and directly
opposed to the transcendental European type, and no European
standard can be applied to them. (Allow me to make use of this word
"romantic"--an old-fashioned and much respected word which has
done good service and is familiar to all.) The characteristics of our
romantic are to understand everything, TO SEE EVERYTHING AND TO SEE IT
refuse to accept anyone or anything, but at the same time not to despise
anything; to give way, to yield, from policy; never to lose sight of a useful
practical object (such as rent-free quarters at the government expense,
pensions, decorations), to keep their eye on that object through all the
enthusiasms and volumes of lyrical poems, and at the same time to preserve
"the sublime and the beautiful" inviolate within them to the hour of
their death, and to preserve themselves also, incidentally, like some precious
jewel wrapped in cotton wool if only for the benefit of "the sublime
and the beautiful." Our "romantic" is a man of great breadth and the
greatest rogue of all our rogues, I assure you .... I can assure you from
experience, indeed. Of course, that is, if he is intelligent. But what am I
saying! The romantic is always intelligent, and I only meant to observe
that although we have had foolish romantics they don't count, and they
were only so because in the flower of their youth they degenerated into
Germans, and to preserve their precious jewel more comfortably, settled
somewhere out there--by preference in Weimar or the Black Forest.

I, for instance, genuinely despised my official work and did not openly
abuse it simply because I was in it myself and got a salary for it. Anyway,
take note, I did not openly abuse it. Our romantic would rather go out of
his mind--a thing, however, which very rarely happens--than take to
open abuse, unless he had some other career in view; and he is never
kicked out. At most, they would take him to the lunatic asylum as "the
King of Spain" if he should go very mad. But it is only the thin, fair people
who go out of their minds in Russia. Innumerable "romantics" attain later
in life to considerable rank in the service. Their many-sidedness is
remarkable! And what a faculty they have for the most contradictory
sensations! I was comforted by this thought even in those days, and I am of
the same opinion now. That is why there are so many "broad natures" among
us who never lose their ideal even in the depths of degradation; and though
they never stir a finger for their ideal, though they are arrant thieves and
knaves, yet they tearfully cherish their first ideal and are extraordinarily
honest at heart. Yes, it is only among us that the most incorrigible rogue
can be absolutely and loftily honest at heart without in the least ceasing to
be a rogue. I repeat, our romantics, frequently, become such accomplished
rascals (I use the term "rascals" affectionately), suddenly display
such a sense of reality and practical knowledge that their bewildered superiors
and the public generally can only ejaculate in amazement.

Their many-sidedness is really amazing, and goodness knows what it
may develop into later on, and what the future has in store for us. It is not
a poor material! I do not say this from any foolish or boastful patriotism.
But I feel sure that you are again imagining that I am joking. Or perhaps
it's just the contrary and you are convinced that I really think so. Anyway,
gentlemen, I shall welcome both views as an honour and a special favour.
And do forgive my digression.

I did not, of course, maintain friendly relations with my comrades and
soon was at loggerheads with them, and in my youth and inexperience I
even gave up bowing to them, as though I had cut off all relations. That,
however, only happened to me once. As a rule, I was always alone.

In the first place I spent most of my time at home, reading. I tried to
stifle all that was continually seething within me by means of external
impressions. And the only external means I had was reading. Reading, of
course, was a great help--exciting me, giving me pleasure and pain. But
at times it bored me fearfully. One longed for movement in spite of
everything, and I plunged all at once into dark, underground, loathsome
vice of the pettiest kind. My wretched passions were acute, smarting,
from my continual, sickly irritability I had hysterical impulses, with
tears and convulsions. I had no resource except reading, that is, there was
nothing in my surroundings which I could respect and which attracted
me. I was overwhelmed with depression, too; I had an hysterical craving
for incongruity and for contrast, and so I took to vice. I have not said all
this to justify myself .... But, no! I am lying. I did want to justify
myself. I make that little observation for my own benefit, gentlemen. I don't
want to lie. I vowed to myself I would not.

And so, furtively, timidly, in solitude, at night, I indulged in filthy
vice, with a feeling of shame which never deserted me, even at the most
loathsome moments, and which at such moments nearly made me curse.
Already even then I had my underground world in my soul. I was
fearfully afraid of being seen, of being met, of being recognised. I visited
various obscure haunts.

One night as I was passing a tavern I saw through a lighted window
some gentlemen fighting with billiard cues, and saw one of them thrown
out of the window. At other times I should have felt very much disgusted,
but I was in such a mood at the time, that I actually envied the gentleman
thrown out of the window--and I envied him so much that I even went
into the tavern and into the billiard-room. "Perhaps," I thought, "I'll
have a fight, too, and they'll throw me out of the window."

I was not drunk--but what is one to do--depression will drive a man
to such a pitch of hysteria? But nothing happened. It seemed that I was
not even equal to being thrown out of the window and I went away
without having my fight.

An officer put me in my place from the first moment.

I was standing by the billiard-table and in my ignorance blocking up
the way, and he wanted to pass; he took me by the shoulders and without a
word--without a warning or explanation--moved me from where I was
standing to another spot and passed by as though he had not noticed me. I
could have forgiven blows, but I could not forgive his having moved me
without noticing me.

Devil knows what I would have given for a real regular quarrel--a
more decent, a more LITERARY one, so to speak. I had been treated like a
fly. This officer was over six foot, while I was a spindly little fellow. But
the quarrel was in my hands. I had only to protest and I certainly would
have been thrown out of the window. But I changed my mind and
preferred to beat a resentful retreat.

I went out of the tavern straight home, confused and troubled, and the
next night I went out again with the same lewd intentions, still more
furtively, abjectly and miserably than before, as it were, with tears in my
eyes--but still I did go out again. Don't imagine, though, it was coward-
ice made me slink away from the officer; I never have been a coward at
heart, though I have always been a coward in action. Don't be in a hurry
to laugh--I assure you I can explain it all.

Oh, if only that officer had been one of the sort who would consent to
fight a duel! But no, he was one of those gentlemen (alas, long extinct!)
who preferred fighting with cues or, like Gogol's Lieutenant Pirogov,
appealing to the police. They did not fight duels and would have thought
a duel with a civilian like me an utterly unseemly procedure in any
case--and they looked upon the duel altogether as something impossible,
something free-thinking and French. But they were quite ready to
bully, especially when they were over six foot.

I did not slink away through cowardice, but through an unbounded
vanity. I was afraid not of his six foot, not of getting a sound thrashing and
being thrown out of the window; I should have had physical courage
enough, I assure you; but I had not the moral courage. What I was afraid of
was that everyone present, from the insolent marker down to the lowest
little stinking, pimply clerk in a greasy collar, would jeer at me and fail to
understand when I began to protest and to address them in literary language.
For of the point of honour--not of honour, but of the point of
honour (POINT D'HONNEUR)--one cannot speak among us except in literary
language. You can't allude to the "point of honour" in ordinary language.
I was fully convinced (the sense of reality, in spite of all my romanticism!)
that they would all simply split their sides with laughter, and that the
officer would not simply beat me, that is, without insulting me, but would
certainly prod me in the back with his knee, kick me round the billiard-
table, and only then perhaps have pity and drop me out of the window.

Of course, this trivial incident could not with me end in that. I often
met that officer afterwards in the street and noticed him very carefully. I
am not quite sure whether he recognised me, I imagine not; I judge from
certain signs. But I--I stared at him with spite and hatred and so it went
on ... for several years! My resentment grew even deeper with years. At
first I began making stealthy inquiries about this officer. It was difficult
for me to do so, for I knew no one. But one day I heard someone shout his
surname in the street as I was following him at a distance, as though I
were tied to him--and so I learnt his surname. Another time I followed
him to his flat, and for ten kopecks learned from the porter where he
lived, on which storey, whether he lived alone or with others, and so
on--in fact, everything one could learn from a porter. One morning,
though I had never tried my hand with the pen, it suddenly occurred to
me to write a satire on this officer in the form of a novel which would unmask
his villainy. I wrote the novel with relish. I did unmask his villainy,
I even exaggerated it; at first I so altered his surname that it could easily be
recognised, but on second thoughts I changed it, and sent the story to the
OTETCHESTVENNIYA ZAPISKI. But at that time such attacks were not the
fashion and my story was not printed. That was a great vexation to me.

Sometimes I was positively choked with resentment. At last I determined
to challenge my enemy to a duel. I composed a splendid, charming
letter to him, imploring him to apologise to me, and hinting rather
plainly at a duel in case of refusal. The letter was so composed that if the
officer had had the least understanding of the sublime and the beautiful
he would certainly have flung himself on my neck and have offered me
his friendship. And how fine that would have been! How we should have
got on together! "He could have shielded me with his higher rank, while I
could have improved his mind with my culture, and, well ... my ideas,
and all sorts of things might have happened." Only fancy, this was two
years after his insult to me, and my challenge would have been a
ridiculous anachronism, in spite of all the ingenuity of my letter in
disguising and explaining away the anachronism. But, thank God (to this
day I thank the Almighty with tears in my eyes) I did not send the letter to
him. Cold shivers run down my back when I think of what might have
happened if I had sent it.

And all at once I revenged myself in the simplest way, by a stroke of
genius! A brilliant thought suddenly dawned upon me. Sometimes on
holidays I used to stroll along the sunny side of the Nevsky about four
o'clock in the afternoon. Though it was hardly a stroll so much as a series of
innumerable miseries, humiliations and resentments; but no doubt that
was just what I wanted. I used to wriggle along in a most unseemly fashion,
like an eel, continually moving aside to make way for generals, for officers
of the guards and the hussars, or for ladies. At such minutes there used to be
a convulsive twinge at my heart, and I used to feel hot all down my back at
the mere thought of the wretchedness of my attire, of the wretchedness and
abjectness of my little scurrying figure. This was a regular martyrdom, a
continual, intolerable humiliation at the thought, which passed into an
incessant and direct sensation, that I was a mere fly in the eyes of all this
world, a nasty, disgusting fly--more intelligent, more highly developed,
more refined in feeling than any of them, of course--but a fly that was
continually making way for everyone, insulted and injured by everyone.
Why I inflicted this torture upon myself, why I went to the Nevsky, I don't
know. I felt simply drawn there at every possible opportunity.

Already then I began to experience a rush of the enjoyment of which I
spoke in the first chapter. After my affair with the officer I felt even more
drawn there than before: it was on the Nevsky that I met him most frequently,
there I could admire him. He, too, went there chiefly on holidays,
He, too, turned out of his path for generals and persons of high rank, and
he too, wriggled between them like an eel; but people, like me, or even
better dressed than me, he simply walked over; he made straight for them
as though there was nothing but empty space before him, and never, under
any circumstances, turned aside. I gloated over my resentment watching
him and ... always resentfully made way for him. It exasperated me that
even in the street I could not be on an even footing with him.

"Why must you invariably be the first to move aside?" I kept asking
myself in hysterical rage, waking up sometimes at three o'clock in the
morning. "Why is it you and not he? There's no regulation about it;
there's no written law. Let the making way be equal as it usually is when
refined people meet; he moves half-way and you move half-way; you pass
with mutual respect."

But that never happened, and I always moved aside, while he did not
even notice my making way for him. And lo and behold a bright idea
dawned upon me! "What," I thought, "if I meet him and don't move on
one side? What if I don't move aside on purpose, even if I knock up
against him? How would that be?" This audacious idea took such a hold
on me that it gave me no peace. I was dreaming of it continually, horribly,
and I purposely went more frequently to the Nevsky in order to picture
more vividly how I should do it when I did do it. I was delighted. This
intention seemed to me more and more practical and possible.

"Of course I shall not really push him," I thought, already more good-
natured in my joy. "I will simply not turn aside, will run up against him,
not very violently, but just shouldering each other--just as much as
decency permits. I will push against him just as much as he pushes
against me." At last I made up my mind completely. But my preparations
took a great deal of time. To begin with, when I carried out my plan I
should need to be looking rather more decent, and so I had to think of my
get-up. "In case of emergency, if, for instance, there were any sort of
public scandal (and the public there is of the most RECHERCHE: the Countess
walks there; Prince D. walks there; all the literary world is there), I must
be well dressed; that inspires respect and of itself puts us on an equal
footing in the eyes of the society."

With this object I asked for some of my salary in advance, and bought at
Tchurkin's a pair of black gloves and a decent hat. Black gloves seemed to
me both more dignified and BON TON than the lemon-coloured ones which
I had contemplated at first. "The colour is too gaudy, it looks as though one
were trying to be conspicuous," and I did not take the lemon-coloured
ones. I had got ready long beforehand a good shirt, with white bone studs;
my overcoat was the only thing that held me back. The coat in itself was a
very good one, it kept me warm; but it was wadded and it had a raccoon
collar which was the height of vulgarity. I had to change the collar at any
sacrifice, and to have a beaver one like an officer's. For this purpose I
began visiting the Gostiny Dvor and after several attempts I pitched upon a
piece of cheap German beaver. Though these German beavers soon grow
shabby and look wretched, yet at first they look exceedingly well, and I
only needed it for the occasion. I asked the price; even so, it was too
expensive. After thinking it over thoroughly I decided to sell my raccoon
collar. The rest of the money--a considerable sum for me, I decided to
borrow from Anton Antonitch Syetotchkin, my immediate superior, an
unassuming person, though grave and judicious. He never lent money to
anyone, but I had, on entering the service, been specially recommended
to him by an important personage who had got me my berth. I was
horribly worried. To borrow from Anton Antonitch seemed to me monstrous
and shameful. I did not sleep for two or three nights. Indeed, I did
not sleep well at that time, I was in a fever; I had a vague sinking at my heart
or else a sudden throbbing, throbbing, throbbing! Anton Antonitch was
surprised at first, then he frowned, then he reflected, and did after all lend
me the money, receiving from me a written authorisation to take from my
salary a fortnight later the sum that he had lent me.

In this way everything was at last ready. The handsome beaver replaced
the mean-looking raccoon, and I began by degrees to get to work. It
would never have done to act offhand, at random; the plan had to be
carried out skilfully, by degrees. But I must confess that after many efforts
I began to despair: we simply could not run into each other. I made every
preparation, I was quite determined--it seemed as though we should run
into one another directly--and before I knew what I was doing I had
stepped aside for him again and he had passed without noticing me. I
even prayed as I approached him that God would grant me determination.
One time I had made up my mind thoroughly, but it ended in my
stumbling and falling at his feet because at the very last instant when I
was six inches from him my courage failed me. He very calmly stepped
over me, while I flew on one side like a ball. That night I was ill again,
feverish and delirious.

And suddenly it ended most happily. The night before I had made up
my mind not to carry out my fatal plan and to abandon it all, and with
that object I went to the Nevsky for the last time, just to see how I would
abandon it all. Suddenly, three paces from my enemy, I unexpectedly
made up my mind--I closed my eyes, and we ran full tilt, shoulder to
shoulder, against one another! I did not budge an inch and passed him on
a perfectly equal footing! He did not even look round and pretended not
to notice it; but he was only pretending, I am convinced of that. I am
convinced of that to this day! Of course, I got the worst of it--he was
stronger, but that was not the point. The point was that I had attained my
object, I had kept up my dignity, I had not yielded a step, and had put
myself publicly on an equal social footing with him. I returned home
feeling that I was fully avenged for everything. I was delighted. I was
triumphant and sang Italian arias. Of course, I will not describe to you
what happened to me three days later; if you have read my first chapter
you can guess for yourself. The officer was afterwards transferred; I have
not seen him now for fourteen years. What is the dear fellow doing now?
Whom is he walking over?


But the period of my dissipation would end and I always felt very sick
afterwards. It was followed by remorse--I tried to drive it away; I felt too
sick. By degrees, however, I grew used to that too. I grew used to
everything, or rather I voluntarily resigned myself to enduring it. But I
had a means of escape that reconciled everything--that was to find
refuge in "the sublime and the beautiful," in dreams, of course. I was a
terrible dreamer, I would dream for three months on end, tucked away in
my corner, and you may believe me that at those moments I had no
resemblance to the gentleman who, in the perturbation of his chicken
heart, put a collar of German beaver on his great-coat. I suddenly
became a hero. I would not have admitted my six-foot lieutenant even if
he had called on me. I could not even picture him before me then. What
were my dreams and how I could satisfy myself with them--it is hard to
say now, but at the time I was satisfied with them. Though, indeed, even
now, I am to some extent satisfied with them. Dreams were particularly
sweet and vivid after a spell of dissipation; they came with remorse and
with tears, with curses and transports. There were moments of such
positive intoxication, of such happiness, that there was not the faintest
trace of irony within me, on my honour. I had faith, hope, love. I
believed blindly at such times that by some miracle, by some external
circumstance, all this would suddenly open out, expand; that suddenly a
vista of suitable activity--beneficent, good, and, above all, READY MADE
(what sort of activity I had no idea, but the great thing was that it should
be all ready for me)--would rise up before me--and I should come out
into the light of day, almost riding a white horse and crowned with laurel.
Anything but the foremost place I could not conceive for myself, and for
that very reason I quite contentedly occupied the lowest in reality. Either
to be a hero or to grovel in the mud--there was nothing between. That
was my ruin, for when I was in the mud I comforted myself with the
thought that at other times I was a hero, and the hero was a cloak for the
mud: for an ordinary man it was shameful to defile himself, but a hero
was too lofty to be utterly defiled, and so he might defile himself. It is
worth noting that these attacks of the "sublime and the beautiful" visited
me even during the period of dissipation and just at the times when I was
touching the bottom. They came in separate spurts, as though reminding
me of themselves, but did not banish the dissipation by their appearance.
On the contrary, they seemed to add a zest to it by contrast, and were only
sufficiently present to serve as an appetising sauce. That sauce was made
up of contradictions and sufferings, of agonising inward analysis, and all
these pangs and pin-pricks gave a certain piquancy, even a significance to
my dissipation--in fact, completely answered the purpose of an appetising
sauce. There was a certain depth of meaning in it. And I could hardly
have resigned myself to the simple, vulgar, direct debauchery of a clerk
and have endured all the filthiness of it. What could have allured me
about it then and have drawn me at night into the street? No, I had a lofty
way of getting out of it all.

And what loving-kindness, oh Lord, what loving-kindness I felt at
times in those dreams of mine! in those "flights into the sublime and the
beautiful"; though it was fantastic love, though it was never applied to
anything human in reality, yet there was so much of this love that one did
not feel afterwards even the impulse to apply it in reality; that would have
been superfluous. Everything, however, passed satisfactorily by a lazy
and fascinating transition into the sphere of art, that is, into the beautiful
forms of life, lying ready, largely stolen from the poets and novelists and
adapted to all sorts of needs and uses. I, for instance, was triumphant over
everyone; everyone, of course, was in dust and ashes, and was forced
spontaneously to recognise my superiority, and I forgave them all. I was a
poet and a grand gentleman, I fell in love; I came in for countless
millions and immediately devoted them to humanity, and at the same
time I confessed before all the people my shameful deeds, which, of
course, were not merely shameful, but had in them much that was
"sublime and beautiful" something in the Manfred style. Everyone
would kiss me and weep (what idiots they would be if they did not), while
I should go barefoot and hungry preaching new ideas and fighting a
victorious Austerlitz against the obscurantists. Then the band would play
a march, an amnesty would be declared, the Pope would agree to retire
from Rome to Brazil; then there would be a ball for the whole of Italy at
the Villa Borghese on the shores of Lake Como, Lake Como being for
that purpose transferred to the neighbourhood of Rome; then would
come a scene in the bushes, and so on, and so on--as though you did not
know all about it? You will say that it is vulgar and contemptible to drag
all this into public after all the tears and transports which I have myself
confessed. But why is it contemptible? Can you imagine that I am
ashamed of it all, and that it was stupider than anything in your life,
gentlemen? And I can assure you that some of these fancies were by no
means badly composed .... It did not all happen on the shores of Lake
Como. And yet you are right--it really is vulgar and contemptible. And
most contemptible of all it is that now I am attempting to justify myself to
you. And even more contemptible than that is my making this remark
now. But that's enough, or there will be no end to it; each step will be
more contemptible than the last ....

I could never stand more than three months of dreaming at a time
without feeling an irresistible desire to plunge into society. To plunge
into society meant to visit my superior at the office, Anton Antonitch
Syetotchkin. He was the only permanent acquaintance I have had in my
life, and I wonder at the fact myself now. But I only went to see him when
that phase came over me, and when my dreams had reached such a point
of bliss that it became essential at once to embrace my fellows and all
mankind; and for that purpose I needed, at least, one human being,
actually existing. I had to call on Anton Antonitch, however, on
Tuesday--his at-home day; so I had always to time my passionate desire
to embrace humanity so that it might fall on a Tuesday.

This Anton Antonitch lived on the fourth storey in a house in Five
Corners, in four low-pitched rooms, one smaller than the other, of a
particularly frugal and sallow appearance. He had two daughters and
their aunt, who used to pour out the tea. Of the daughters one was
thirteen and another fourteen, they both had snub noses, and I was
awfully shy of them because they were always whispering and giggling
together. The master of the house usually sat in his study on a leather
couch in front of the table with some grey-headed gentleman, usually a
colleague from our office or some other department. I never saw more
than two or three visitors there, always the same. They talked about the
excise duty; about business in the senate, about salaries, about promotions,
about His Excellency, and the best means of pleasing him, and so
on. I had the patience to sit like a fool beside these people for four hours at
a stretch, listening to them without knowing what to say to them or
venturing to say a word. I became stupefied, several times I felt myself
perspiring, I was overcome by a sort of paralysis; but this was pleasant and
good for me. On returning home I deferred for a time my desire to
embrace all mankind.

I had however one other acquaintance of a sort, Simonov, who was an
old schoolfellow. I had a number of schoolfellows, indeed, in Petersburg,
but I did not associate with them and had even given up nodding to them
in the street. I believe I had transferred into the department I was in
simply to avoid their company and to cut off all connection with my
hateful childhood. Curses on that school and all those terrible years of
penal servitude! In short, I parted from my schoolfellows as soon as I got
out into the world. There were two or three left to whom I nodded in the
street. One of them was Simonov, who had in no way been distinguished
at school, was of a quiet and equable disposition; but I discovered in him
a certain independence of character and even honesty I don't even
suppose that he was particularly stupid. I had at one time spent some
rather soulful moments with him, but these had not lasted long and had
somehow been suddenly clouded over. He was evidently uncomfortable
at these reminiscences, and was, I fancy, always afraid that I might take
up the same tone again. I suspected that he had an aversion for me, but
still I went on going to see him, not being quite certain of it.

And so on one occasion, unable to endure my solitude and knowing
that as it was Thursday Anton Antonitch's door would be closed, I
thought of Simonov. Climbing up to his fourth storey I was thinking that
the man disliked me and that it was a mistake to go and see him. But as it
always happened that such reflections impelled me, as though purposely,
to put myself into a false position, I went in. It was almost a year since I
had last seen Simonov.


I found two of my old schoolfellows with him. They seemed to be
discussing an important matter. All of them took scarcely any notice of
my entrance, which was strange, for I had not met them for years.
Evidently they looked upon me as something on the level of a common
fly. I had not been treated like that even at school, though they all hated
me. I knew, of course, that they must despise me now for my lack of
success in the service, and for my having let myself sink so low, going
about badly dressed and so on--which seemed to them a sign of my
incapacity and insignificance. But I had not expected such contempt.
Simonov was positively surprised at my turning up. Even in old days he
had always seemed surprised at my coming. All this disconcerted me: I
sat down, feeling rather miserable, and began listening to what they were

They were engaged in warm and earnest conversation about a farewell
dinner which they wanted to arrange for the next day to a comrade of
theirs called Zverkov, an officer in the army, who was going away to a
distant province. This Zverkov had been all the time at school with me
too. I had begun to hate him particularly in the upper forms. In the lower
forms he had simply been a pretty, playful boy whom everybody liked. I
had hated him, however, even in the lower forms, just because he was a
pretty and playful boy. He was always bad at his lessons and got worse and
worse as he went on; however, he left with a good certificate, as he had
powerful interests. During his last year at school he came in for an estate
of two hundred serfs, and as almost all of us were poor he took up a
swaggering tone among us. He was vulgar in the extreme, but at the same
time he was a good-natured fellow, even in his swaggering. In spite of
superficial, fantastic and sham notions of honour and dignity, all but very
few of us positively grovelled before Zverkov, and the more so the more he
swaggered. And it was not from any interested motive that they grovelled,
but simply because he had been favoured by the gifts of nature. Moreover,
it was, as it were, an accepted idea among us that Zverkov was a
specialist in regard to tact and the social graces. This last fact particularly
infuriated me. I hated the abrupt self-confident tone of his voice, his
admiration of his own witticisms, which were often frightfully stupid,
though he was bold in his language; I hated his handsome, but stupid
face (for which I would, however, have gladly exchanged my intelligent
one), and the free-and-easy military manners in fashion in the "'forties."
I hated the way in which he used to talk of his future conquests of women
(he did not venture to begin his attack upon women until he had the
epaulettes of an officer, and was looking forward to them with impatience),
and boasted of the duels he would constantly be fighting. I remember
how I, invariably so taciturn, suddenly fastened upon Zverkov,
when one day talking at a leisure moment with his schoolfellows of his
future relations with the fair sex, and growing as sportive as a puppy in
the sun, he all at once declared that he would not leave a single village
girl on his estate unnoticed, that that was his DROIT DE SEIGNEUR, and that if
the peasants dared to protest he would have them all flogged and double
the tax on them, the bearded rascals. Our servile rabble applauded, but I
attacked him, not from compassion for the girls and their fathers, but
simply because they were applauding such an insect. I got the better of
him on that occasion, but though Zverkov was stupid he was lively and
impudent, and so laughed it off, and in such a way that my victory was
not really complete; the laugh was on his side. He got the better of me on
several occasions afterwards, but without malice, jestingly, casually. I
remained angrily and contemptuously silent and would not answer him.
When we left school he made advances to me; I did not rebuff them, for I
was flattered, but we soon parted and quite naturally. Afterwards I heard
of his barrack-room success as a lieutenant, and of the fast life he was
leading. Then there came other rumours--of his successes in the service.
By then he had taken to cutting me in the street, and I suspected
that he was afraid of compromising himself by greeting a personage as
insignificant as me. I saw him once in the theatre, in the third tier of
boxes. By then he was wearing shoulder-straps. He was twisting and
twirling about, ingratiating himself with the daughters of an ancient
General. In three years he had gone off considerably, though he was still
rather handsome and adroit. One could see that by the time he was thirty
he would be corpulent. So it was to this Zverkov that my schoolfellows
were going to give a dinner on his departure. They had kept up with him
for those three years, though privately they did not consider themselves
on an equal footing with him, I am convinced of that.

Of Simonov's two visitors, one was Ferfitchkin, a Russianised German
--a little fellow with the face of a monkey, a blockhead who was always
deriding everyone, a very bitter enemy of mine from our days in the lower
forms--a vulgar, impudent, swaggering fellow, who affected a most sensitive
feeling of personal honour, though, of course, he was a wretched
little coward at heart. He was one of those worshippers of Zverkov who
made up to the latter from interested motives, and often borrowed money
from him. Simonov's other visitor, Trudolyubov, was a person in no way
remarkable--a tall young fellow, in the army, with a cold face, fairly
honest, though he worshipped success of every sort, and was only capable
of thinking of promotion. He was some sort of distant relation of
Zverkov's, and this, foolish as it seems, gave him a certain importance
among us. He always thought me of no consequence whatever; his
behaviour to me, though not quite courteous, was tolerable.

"Well, with seven roubles each," said Trudolyubov, "twenty-one
roubles between the three of us, we ought to be able to get a good dinner.
Zverkov, of course, won't pay."

"Of course not, since we are inviting him," Simonov decided.

"Can you imagine," Ferfitchkin interrupted hotly and conceitedly, like
some insolent flunkey boasting of his master the General's decorations,
"can you imagine that Zverkov will let us pay alone? He will accept from
delicacy, but he will order half a dozen bottles of champagne."

"Do we want half a dozen for the four of us?" observed Trudolyubov,
taking notice only of the half dozen.

"So the three of us, with Zverkov for the fourth, twenty-one roubles, at
the Hotel de Paris at five o'clock tomorrow," Simonov, who had been
asked to make the arrangements, concluded finally.

"How twenty-one roubles?" I asked in some agitation, with a show of
being offended; "if you count me it will not be twenty-one, but
twenty-eight roubles."

It seemed to me that to invite myself so suddenly and unexpectedly
would be positively graceful, and that they would all be conquered at
once and would look at me with respect.

"Do you want to join, too?" Simonov observed, with no appearance of
pleasure, seeming to avoid looking at me. He knew me through and through.

It infuriated me that he knew me so thoroughly.

"Why not? I am an old schoolfellow of his, too, I believe, and I
must own I feel hurt that you have left me out," I said, boiling over again.

"And where were we to find you?" Ferfitchkin put in roughly.

"You never were on good terms with Zverkov," Trudolyubov added, frowning.

But I had already clutched at the idea and would not give it up.

"It seems to me that no one has a right to form an opinion upon that," I
retorted in a shaking voice, as though something tremendous had happened.
"Perhaps that is just my reason for wishing it now, that I have not
always been on good terms with him."

"Oh, there's no making you out ... with these refinements,"
Trudolyubov jeered.

"We'll put your name down," Simonov decided, addressing me.
"Tomorrow at five-o'clock at the Hotel de Paris."

"What about the money?" Ferfitchkin began in an undertone, indicating
me to Simonov, but he broke off, for even Simonov was embarrassed.

"That will do," said Trudolyubov, getting up. "If he wants to come so
much, let him."

"But it's a private thing, between us friends," Ferfitchkin said crossly,
as he, too, picked up his hat. "It's not an official gathering."

"We do not want at all, perhaps ..."

They went away. Ferfitchkin did not greet me in any way as he went
out, Trudolyubov barely nodded. Simonov, with whom I was left TETE-A-TETE,
was in a state of vexation and perplexity, and looked at me queerly.
He did not sit down and did not ask me to.

"H'm ... yes ... tomorrow, then. Will you pay your subscription
now? I just ask so as to know," he muttered in embarrassment.

I flushed crimson, as I did so I remembered that I had owed Simonov
fifteen roubles for ages--which I had, indeed, never forgotten, though I
had not paid it.

"You will understand, Simonov, that I could have no idea when I came
here .... I am very much vexed that I have forgotten ...."

"All right, all right, that doesn't matter. You can pay tomorrow after the
dinner. I simply wanted to know .... Please don't ..."

He broke off and began pacing the room still more vexed. As he walked
he began to stamp with his heels.

"Am I keeping you?" I asked, after two minutes of silence.

"Oh!" he said, starting, "that is--to be truthful--yes. I have to go and
see someone ... not far from here," he added in an apologetic voice,
somewhat abashed.

"My goodness, why didn't you say so?" I cried, seizing my cap, with an
astonishingly free-and-easy air, which was the last thing I should have
expected of myself.

"It's close by ... not two paces away," Simonov repeated, accompanying
me to the front door with a fussy air which did not suit him at all. "So
five o'clock, punctually, tomorrow," he called down the stairs after me.
He was very glad to get rid of me. I was in a fury.

"What possessed me, what possessed me to force myself upon them?" I
wondered, grinding my teeth as I strode along the street, "for a scoundrel,
a pig like that Zverkov! Of course I had better not go; of course, I must
just snap my fingers at them. I am not bound in any way. I'll send
Simonov a note by tomorrow's post ...."

But what made me furious was that I knew for certain that I should go,
that I should make a point of going; and the more tactless, the more
unseemly my going would be, the more certainly I would go.

And there was a positive obstacle to my going: I had no money. All I
had was nine roubles, I had to give seven of that to my servant, Apollon,
for his monthly wages. That was all I paid him--he had to keep himself.

Not to pay him was impossible, considering his character. But I will
talk about that fellow, about that plague of mine, another time.

However, I knew I should go and should not pay him his wages.

That night I had the most hideous dreams. No wonder; all the evening
I had been oppressed by memories of my miserable days at school, and I
could not shake them off. I was sent to the school by distant relations,
upon whom I was dependent and of whom I have heard nothing since--
they sent me there a forlorn, silent boy, already crushed by their reproaches,
already troubled by doubt, and looking with savage distrust at
everyone. My schoolfellows met me with spiteful and merciless jibes
because I was not like any of them. But I could not endure their taunts; I
could not give in to them with the ignoble readiness with which they gave
in to one another. I hated them from the first, and shut myself away from
everyone in timid, wounded and disproportionate pride. Their coarseness
revolted me. They laughed cynically at my face, at my clumsy
figure; and yet what stupid faces they had themselves. In our school the
boys' faces seemed in a special way to degenerate and grow stupider. How
many fine-looking boys came to us! In a few years they became repulsive.
Even at sixteen I wondered at them morosely; even then I was struck by
the pettiness of their thoughts, the stupidity of their pursuits, their games,
their conversations. They had no understanding of such essential things,
they took no interest in such striking, impressive subjects, that I could
not help considering them inferior to myself. It was not wounded vanity
that drove me to it, and for God's sake do not thrust upon me your
hackneyed remarks, repeated to nausea, that "I was only a dreamer,"
while they even then had an understanding of life. They understood
nothing, they had no idea of real life, and I swear that that was what
made me most indignant with them. On the contrary, the most obvious,
striking reality they accepted with fantastic stupidity and even at that time
were accustomed to respect success. Everything that was just, but oppressed
and looked down upon, they laughed at heartlessly and shamefully.
They took rank for intelligence; even at sixteen they were already
talking about a snug berth. Of course, a great deal of it was due to their
stupidity, to the bad examples with which they had always been surrounded
in their childhood and boyhood. They were monstrously depraved.
Of course a great deal of that, too, was superficial and an
assumption of cynicism; of course there were glimpses of youth and
freshness even in their depravity; but even that freshness was not attractive,

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