Anna karenina, p.72
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       Anna Karenina, p.72

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 3

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

  "Well, I did try, you know," Levin said slowly and unwillingly. "Ican't! and so there's no help for it."

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

  "None of those things. I've tried, and I see I can do nothing," saidLevin.

  He had hardly grasped what his brother was saying. Looking towards theplough land across the river, he made out something black, but he couldnot distinguish whether it was a horse or the bailiff on horseback.

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

  "Self-respect!" said Levin, stung to the quick by his brother's words;"I don't understand. If they'd told me at college that other peopleunderstood the integral calculus, and I didn't, then pride would havecome in. But in this case one wants first to be convinced that one hascertain qualifications for this sort of business, and especially thatall this business is of great importance."

  "What! do you mean to say it's not of importance?" said SergeyIvanovitch, stung to the quick too at his brother's considering anythingof no importance that interested him, and still more at his obviouslypaying little attention to what he was saying.

  "I don't think it important; it does not take hold of me, I can't helpit," answered Levin, making out that what he saw was the bailiff, andthat the bailiff seemed to be letting the peasants go off the ploughedland. They were turning the plough over. "Can they have finishedploughing?" he wondered.

  "Come, really though," said the elder brother, with a frown on hishandsome, clever face, "there's a limit to everything. It's very well tobe original and genuine, and to dislike everything conventional--I knowall about that; but really, what you're saying either has no meaning, orit has a very wrong meaning. How can you think it a matter of noimportance whether the peasant, whom you love as you assert..."

  "I never did assert it," thought Konstantin Levin.

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

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

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

  "It's both," he said resolutely: "I don't see that it was possible..."

  "What! was it impossible, if the money were properly laid out, toprovide medical aid?"

  "Impossible, as it seems to me.... For the three thousand square milesof our district, what with our thaws, and the storms, and the work inthe fields, I don't see how it is possible to provide medical aid allover. And besides, I don't believe in medicine."

  "Oh, well, that's unfair ... I can quote to you thousands ofinstances.... But the schools, anyway."

  "Why have schools?"

  "What do you mean? Can there be two opinions of the advantage ofeducation? If it's a good thing for you, it's a good thing foreveryone."

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

  "Perhaps it may all be very good; but why should I worry myself aboutestablishing dispensaries which I shall never make use of, and schoolsto which I shall never send my children, to which even the peasantsdon't want to send their children, and to which I've no very firm faiththat they ought to send them?" said he.

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

  "Come, now.... In the first place, the dispensary is needed. Weourselves sent for the district doctor for Agafea Mihalovna."

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

  "That remains to be proved.... Next, the peasant who can read and writeis as a workman of more use and value to you."

  "No, you can ask anyone you like," Konstantin Levin answered withdecision, "the man that can read and write is much inferior as aworkman. And mending the highroads is an impossibility; and as soon asthey put up bridges they're stolen."

  "Still, that's not the point," said Sergey Ivanovitch, frowning. Hedisliked contradiction, and still more, arguments that were continuallyskipping from one thing to another, introducing new and disconnectedpoints, so that there was no knowing to which to reply. "Do you admitthat education is a benefit for the people?"

  "Yes, I admit it," said Levin without thinking, and he was consciousimmediately that he had said what he did not think. He felt that if headmitted that, it would be proved that he had been talking meaninglessrubbish. How it would be proved he could not tell, but he knew that thiswould inevitably be logically proved to him, and he awaited the proofs.

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

  "If you admit that it is a benefit," said Sergey Ivanovitch, "then, asan honest man, you cannot help caring about it and sympathizing with themovement, and so wishing to work for it."

  "But I still do not admit this movement to be just," said KonstantinLevin, reddening a little.

  "What! But you said just now..."

  "That's to say, I don't admit it's being either good or possible."

  "That you can't tell without making the trial."

  "Well, supposing that's so," said Levin, though he did not suppose so atall, "supposing that is so, still I don't see, all the same, what I'm toworry myself about it for."

  "How so?"

  "No; since we are talking, explain it to me from the philosophical pointof view," said Levin.

  "I can't see where philosophy comes in," said Sergey Ivanovitch, in atone, Levin fancied, as though he did not admit his brother's right totalk about philosophy. And that irritated Levin.

  "I'll tell you, then," he said with heat, "I imagine the mainspring ofall our actions is, after all, self-interest. Now in the localinstitutions I, as a nobleman, see nothing that could conduce to myprosperity, and the roads are not better and could not be better; myhorses carry me well enough over bad ones. Doctors and dispensaries areno use to me. An arbitrator of disputes is no use to me. I never appealto him, and never shall appeal to him. The schools are no good to me,but positively harmful, as I told you. For me the district institutionssimply mean the liability to pay fourpence halfpenny for every threeacres, to drive into the town, sleep with bugs, and listen to all sortsof idiocy and loathsomeness, and self-interest offers me no inducement."

  "Excuse me," Sergey Ivanovitch interposed with a smile, "self-interestdid not induce us to work for the emancipation of the serfs, but we didwork for it."

  "No!" Konstantin Levin broke in with still greater heat; "theemancipation of the serfs was a different matter. There self-interestdid come in. One longed to throw off that yoke that crushed us, alldecent people among us. But to be a town councilor and discuss how manydustmen are needed, and how chimneys shall be constructed in the town inwhich I don't live--to serve on a jury and try a peasant who's stolen aflitch of bacon, and listen for six hours a
t a stretch to all sorts ofjabber from the counsel for the defense and the prosecution, and thepresident cross-examining my old half-witted Alioshka, 'Do you admit,prisoner in the dock, the fact of the removal of the bacon?' 'Eh?'"

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

  But Sergey Ivanovitch shrugged his shoulders.

  "Well, what do you mean to say, then?"

  "I simply mean to say that those rights that touch me ... my interest, Ishall always defend to the best of my ability; that when they made raidson us students, and the police read our letters, I was ready to defendthose rights to the utmost, to defend my rights to education andfreedom. I can understand compulsory military service, which affects mychildren, my brothers, and myself, I am ready to deliberate on whatconcerns me; but deliberating on how to spend forty thousand roubles ofdistrict council money, or judging the half-witted Alioshka--I don'tunderstand, and I can't do it."

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

  "But tomorrow it'll be your turn to be tried; would it have suited yourtastes better to be tried in the old criminal tribunal?"

  "I'm not going to be tried. I shan't murder anybody, and I've no need ofit. Well, I tell you what," he went on, flying off again to a subjectquite beside the point, "our district self-government and all the restof it--it's just like the birch branches we stick in the ground onTrinity Day, for instance, to look like a copse which has grown up ofitself in Europe, and I can't gush over these birch branches and believein them."

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

  "Excuse me, but you know one really can't argue in that way," heobserved.

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

  "I imagine," he said, "that no sort of activity is likely to be lastingif it is not founded on self-interest, that's a universal principle, aphilosophical principle," he said, repeating the word "philosophical"with determination, as though wishing to show that he had as much rightas any one else to talk of philosophy.

  Sergey Ivanovitch smiled. "He too has a philosophy of his own at theservice of his natural tendencies," he thought.

  "Come, you'd better let philosophy alone," he said. "The chief problemof the philosophy of all ages consists just in finding the indispensableconnection which exists between individual and social interests. Butthat's not to the point; what is to the point is a correction I mustmake in your comparison. The birches are not simply stuck in, but someare sown and some are planted, and one must deal carefully with them.It's only those peoples that have an intuitive sense of what's ofimportance and significance in their institutions, and know how to valuethem, that have a future before them--it's only those peoples that onecan truly call historical."

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

  "As for your dislike of it, excuse my saying so, that's simply ourRussian sloth and old serf-owner's ways, and I'm convinced that in youit's a temporary error and will pass."

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

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

 

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