Anna karenina, p.97
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       Anna Karenina, p.97

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 28

  Levin was insufferably bored that evening with the ladies; he wasstirred as he had never been before by the idea that the dissatisfactionhe was feeling with his system of managing his land was not anexceptional case, but the general condition of things in Russia; thatthe organization of some relation of the laborers to the soil in whichthey would work, as with the peasant he had met half-way to theSviazhskys', was not a dream, but a problem which must be solved. And itseemed to him that the problem could be solved, and that he ought to tryand solve it.

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

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

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

  "Oh, yes, there's a very interesting article here," said Sviazhsky ofthe review Levin was holding in his hand. "It appears," he went on, witheager interest, "that Friedrich was not, after all, the person chieflyresponsible for the partition of Poland. It is proved..."

  And with his characteristic clearness, he summed up those new, veryimportant, and interesting revelations. Although Levin was engrossed atthe moment by his ideas about the problem of the land, he wondered, ashe heard Sviazhsky: "What is there inside of him? And why, why is heinterested in the partition of Poland?" When Sviazhsky had finished,Levin could not help asking: "Well, and what then?" But there wasnothing to follow. It was simply interesting that it had been proved tobe so and so. But Sviazhsky did not explain, and saw no need to explainwhy it was interesting to him.

  "Yes, but I was very much interested by your irritable neighbor," saidLevin, sighing. "He's a clever fellow, and said a lot that was true."

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

  "Whose marshal you are."

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

  "I'll tell you what interests me very much," said Levin. "He's rightthat our system, that's to say of rational farming, doesn't answer, thatthe only thing that answers is the money-lender system, like thatmeek-looking gentleman's, or else the very simplest.... Whose fault isit?"

  "Our own, of course. Besides, it's not true that it doesn't answer. Itanswers with Vassiltchikov."

  "A factory..."

  "But I really don't know what it is you are surprised at. The people areat such a low stage of rational and moral development, that it's obviousthey're bound to oppose everything that's strange to them. In Europe, arational system answers because the people are educated; it follows thatwe must educate the people--that's all."

  "But how are we to educate the people?"

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

  "But you said yourself the people are at such a low stage of materialdevelopment: what help are schools for that?"

  "Do you know, you remind me of the story of the advice given to the sickman--You should try purgative medicine. Taken: worse. Try leeches. Triedthem: worse. Well, then, there's nothing left but to pray to God. Triedit: worse. That's just how it is with us. I say political economy; yousay--worse. I say socialism: worse. Education: worse."

  "But how do schools help matters?"

  "They give the peasant fresh wants."

  "Well, that's a thing I've never understood," Levin replied with heat."In what way are schools going to help the people to improve theirmaterial position? You say schools, education, will give them freshwants. So much the worse, since they won't be capable of satisfyingthem. And in what way a knowledge of addition and subtraction and thecatechism is going to improve their material condition, I never couldmake out. The day before yesterday, I met a peasant woman in the eveningwith a little baby, and asked her where she was going. She said she wasgoing to the wise woman; her boy had screaming fits, so she was takinghim to be doctored. I asked, 'Why, how does the wise woman curescreaming fits?' 'She puts the child on the hen-roost and repeats somecharm....'"

  "Well, you're saying it yourself! What's wanted to prevent her takingher child to the hen-roost to cure it of screaming fits is just..."Sviazhsky said, smiling good-humoredly.

  "Oh, no!" said Levin with annoyance; "that method of doctoring I merelymeant as a simile for doctoring the people with schools. The people arepoor and ignorant--that we see as surely as the peasant woman sees thebaby is ill because it screams. But in what way this trouble of povertyand ignorance is to be cured by schools is as incomprehensible as howthe hen-roost affects the screaming. What has to be cured is what makeshim poor."

  "Well, in that, at least, you're in agreement with Spencer, whom youdislike so much. He says, too, that education may be the consequence ofgreater prosperity and comfort, of more frequent washing, as he says,but not of being able to read and write..."

  "Well, then, I'm very glad--or the contrary, very sorry, that I'm inagreement with Spencer; only I've known it a long while. Schools can dono good; what will do good is an economic organization in which thepeople will become richer, will have more leisure--and then there willbe schools."

  "Still, all over Europe now schools are obligatory."

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

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

  "No; that screaming story is positively capital! Did you really hear ityourself?"

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

  All the impressions of the day, beginning with the impression made bythe old peasant, which served, as it were, as the fundamental basis ofall the conceptions and ideas of the day, threw Levin into violentexcitement. This dear good Sviazhsky, keeping a stock of ideas simplyfor social purposes, and obviously having some other principles hiddenfrom Levin, while with the crowd, whose name is legion, he guided publicopinion by ideas he did not share; that irascible country gentleman,perfectly correct in the conclusions that he had been worried into bylife, but wrong in his exasperation against a whole class, and that thebest class in Russia; his own dissatisfaction with the work he had beendoing, and the vague hope of finding a remedy for all this--all wasblended in a sense of inward turmoil, and anticipation of some solutionnear at hand.

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

  "Yes, I ought to have said to him: You say that our husbandry does notanswer because the peasant hates improvements, and that they must beforced on him by authority. If no system of husbandry answered at allwithout these improvements, you would be quite right. But the onlysystem that does answer is where laborer is working in accordance withhis habits, just as on the old peasant's land half-way here. Your andour general diss
atisfaction with the system shows that either we are toblame or the laborers. We have gone our way--the European way--a longwhile, without asking ourselves about the qualities of our labor force.Let us try to look upon the labor force not as an abstract force, but asthe _Russian peasant_ with his instincts, and we shall arrange oursystem of culture in accordance with that. Imagine, I ought to have saidto him, that you have the same system as the old peasant has, that youhave found means of making your laborers take an interest in the successof the work, and have found the happy mean in the way of improvementswhich they will admit, and you will, without exhausting the soil, gettwice or three times the yield you got before. Divide it in halves, givehalf as the share of labor, the surplus left you will be greater, andthe share of labor will be greater too. And to do this one must lowerthe standard of husbandry and interest the laborers in its success. Howto do this?--that's a matter of detail; but undoubtedly it can be done."

  This idea threw Levin into a great excitement. He did not sleep half thenight, thinking over in detail the putting of his idea into practice. Hehad not intended to go away next day, but he now determined to go homeearly in the morning. Besides, the sister-in-law with her low-neckedbodice aroused in him a feeling akin to shame and remorse for someutterly base action. Most important of all--he must get back withoutdelay: he would have to make haste to put his new project to thepeasants before the sowing of the winter wheat, so that the sowing mightbe undertaken on a new basis. He had made up his mind to revolutionizehis whole system.

 

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