Friday, January 27, 2006

Chekhov's Words to His Brother

Stolen from zayamsbury.net (a blog I recommend highly, and I thank Matt Freeman for pointing me to). A letter from Chekhov to his brother:

You are easy enough to understand…. Others are not to blame if you do not understand yourself….
If you want proof that I understand you, I can even enumerate… In my estimation you are good to a fault, generous, not an egoist; you will share your last kopek with others, you are sincere; you are free from envy and hatred, open-hearted… You have been gifted from above with something most others lack: talent…
You only have one failing. But in it lies the source of your false position, your misery… That failing is an utter lack of culture… Your talent has thrust you into [a] charmed circle, you belong to it, but…you are impelled away from it.
In my opinion people of culture must meet the following reqiusites:
1. They respect the human personality and are therefore always forbearing, gentle, courteous and compliant…
2. They sympathize not only with beggars and stray cats; they are also sick at heart with what is not visible to the naked eye…
3. They respect the property of others and therefore pay their debts…
4. They are sincere and fear untruth like the very devil…
5. They do not make fools of themselves in order to arouse sympahty…
6. They are not vain…
7. If they have talent, they regard it with respect. To it they will sacrifice their repose, women, wine and vanity…
8. They develop an aesthetic sense…
Such are cultured people. To educate yourself not to fall below the level of your own environment, it is not enough to have read Pickwick Papers or to have memorized the monlogue from Faust.
What you need is constant work, day and night, eternal reading, study, will power…. Every hour is precious.
You are no longer a child. Time to make change!
I’m expecting you — so are we all.

– Chekhov, in a letter to his brother, Nikolai, 1886

I draw your attention especially to #1 above, in the context of our discussion.

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