"Do you know I've been thinking about you," said Sergey
Ivanovitch. "It's beyond everything what's being done in the
district, according to what this doctor tells me. He's a very
intelligent fellow. And as I've told you before, I tell you
again: it's not right for you not to go to the meetings, and
altogether to keep out of the district business. If decent
people won't go into it, of course it's bound to go all wrong.
We pay the money, and it all goes in salaries, and there are no
schools, nor district nurses, nor midwives, nor drugstores--
"Well, I did try, you know," Levin said slowly and unwillingly.
"I can't! and so there's no help for it."
"But why can't you? I must own I can't make it out.
Idifference, incapacity--I won't admit; surely it's not simply
"None of those things. I've tried, and I see I can do nothing,"
He had hardly grasped what his brother was saying. Looking
towards the plough land across the river, he made out something
black, but he could not 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
"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 people understood the integral calculus, and I didn't,
then pride would have come in. But in this case one wants first
to be convinced that one has certain qualifications for this sort
of business, and especially that all this business is of great
"What! do you mean to say it's not of importance?" said Sergey
Ivanovitch, stung to the quick too at his brother's considering
anything of no importance that interested him, and still more at
his obviously paying little attention to what he was saying.
"I don't think it important; it does not take hold of me, I
can't help it," answered Levin, making out that what he saw was
the bailiff, and that the bailiff seemed to be letting the
peasants go off the ploughed land. They were turning the plough
over. "Can they have finished ploughing?" he wondered.
"Come, really though," said the elder brother, with a frown on
his handsome, clever face, "there's a limit to everything. It's
very well to be original and genuine, and to dislike everything
conventional--I know all about that; but really, what you're
saying either has no meaning, or it has a very wrong meaning.
How can you think it a matter of no importance 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 of every village clerk, while you have at your
disposal a means of helping them, 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 so undeveloped that you can't see all that you can do, or you
won't sacrifice your ease, your vanity, or whatever it is, to do
Konstantin Levin felt that there was no course open to him but to
submit, or to confess to a lack of zeal for the public good. And
this mortified him and hurt his feelings.
"It's both," he said resolutely: "I don't see that it was
"What! was it impossible, if the money were properly laid out, to
provide medical aid?"
"Impossible, as it seems to me.... For the three thousand square
miles of our district, what with our thaws, and the storms, and
the work in the fields, I don't see how it is possible to
provide medical aid all over. And besides, I don't believe in
"Oh, well, that's unfair...I can quote to you thousands of
instances.... But the schools, anyway."
"Why have schools?"
"What do you mean? Can there be two opinions of the advantage of
education? If it's a good thing for you, it's a good thing for
Konstantin Levin felt himself morally pinned against a wall, and
so he got hot, and unconsciously blurted out the chief cause of
his indifference to public business.
"Perhaps it may all be very good; but why should I worry myself
about establishing dispensaries which I shall never make use of,
and schools to which I shall never send my children, to which
even the peasants don't want to send their children, and to which
I've no very firm faith that they ought to send them?" said he.
Sergey Ivanovitch was for a minute surprised at this unexpected
view of the subject; but he promptly made a new plan of attack.
He was silent for a little, drew out a hook, threw it in again,
and turned to his brother smiling.
"Come, now.... In the first place, the dispensary is needed. We
ourselves 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 write is as a workman of more use and value to you."
"No, you can ask anyone you like," Konstantin Levin answered
with decision, "the man that can read and write is much inferior
as a workman. And mending the highroads is an impossibility; and
as soon as they put up bridges they're stolen."
"Still, that's not the point," said Sergey Ivanovitch, frowning.
He disliked contradiction, and still more, arguments that were
continually skipping from one thing to another, introducing new
and disconnected points, so that there was no knowing to which to
reply. "Do you admit that education is a benefit for the
"Yes, I admit it," said Levin without thinking, and he was
conscious immediately that he had said what he did not think. He
felt that if he admitted that, it would be proved that he had
been talking meaningless rubbish. How it would be proved he
could not tell, but he knew that this would 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, as an honest man, you cannot help caring about it and
sympathizing with the movement, and so wishing to work for it."
"But I still do not admit this movement to be just," said
Konstantin Levin, reddening a little.
"What! But you said just now..."
"That's to say, I don't admit it's being either good or
"That you can't tell without making the trial."
"Well, supposing that's so," said Levin, though he did not
suppose so at all, "supposing that is so, still I don't see, all
the same, what I'm to worry myself about it for."
"No; since we are talking, explain it to me from the
philosophical point of view," said Levin.
"I can't see where philosophy comes in," said Sergey Ivanovitch,
in a tone, Levin fancied, as though he did not admit his
brother's right to talk about philosophy. And that irritated
"I'll tell you, then," he said with heat, "I imagine the
mainspring of all our actions is, after all, self-interest. Now
in the local institutions I, as a nobleman, see nothing that
could conduce to my prosperity, and the roads are not better and
could not be better; my horses carry me well enough over bad
ones. Doctors and dispensaries are no use to me. An arbitrator
of disputes is no use to me. I never appeal to 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
institutions simply mean the liability to pay fourpence halfpenny
for every three acres, to drive into the town, sleep with bugs,
and listen to all sorts of idiocy and loathsomeness, and
self-interest offers me no inducement."
"Excuse me," Sergey Ivanovitch interposed with a smile,
"self-interest did not induce us to work for the emancipation of
the serfs, but we did work for it."
"No!" Konstantin Levin broke in with still greater heat; "the
emancipation of the serfs was a different matter. There
self-interest did come in. One longed to throw off that yoke
that crushed us, all decent people among us. But to be a
town councilor and discuss how many dustmen are needed, and how
chimneys shall be constructed in the town in which I don't
live--to serve on a jury and try a peasant who's stolen a flitch
of bacon, and listen for six hours at a stretch to all sorts of
jabber from the counsel for the defense and the prosecution, and
the president cross-examining my old half-witted Alioshka, 'Do
you admit, prisoner in the dock, the fact of the removal of the
Konstantin Levin had warmed to his subject, and began mimicking
the president and the half-witted Alioshka: it seemed to him that
it was all to 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, I shall always defend to the best of my ability; that
when they made raids on us students, and the police read our
letters, I was ready to defend those rights to the utmost, to
defend my rights to education and freedom. I can understand
compulsory military service, which affects my children, my
brothers, and myself, I am ready to deliberate on what concerns
me; but deliberating on how to spend forty thousand roubles of
district council money, or judging the half-witted Alioshka--I
don't understand, and I can't do it."
Konstantin Levin spoke as though the floodgates of his speech had
burst open. Sergey Ivanovitch smiled.
"But tomorrow it'll be your turn to be tried; would it have
suited your tastes better to be tried in the old criminal
"I'm not going to be tried. I shan't murder anybody, and I've
no need of it. Well, I tell you what," he went on, flying off
again to a subject quite beside the point, "our district
self-government and all the rest of it--it's just like the
birch branches we stick in the ground on Trinity Day, for
instance, to look like a copse which has grown up of itself in
Europe, and I can't gush over these birch branches and believe
Sergey Ivanovitch merely shrugged his shoulders, as though to
express his wonder how the birch branches had come into their
argument at that point, though he did really understand at once
what his brother meant.
"Excuse me, but you know one really can't argue in that way," he
But Konstantin Levin wanted to justify himself for the failing,
of which he was conscious, of lack of zeal for the public
welfare, and he went on.
"I imagine," he said, "that no sort of activity is likely to be
lasting if it is not founded on self-interest, that's a universal
principle, a philosophical principle," he said, repeating the
word "philosophical" with determination, as though wishing to
show that he had as much right as any one else to talk of
Sergey Ivanovitch smiled. "He too has a philosophy of his own at
the service of his natural tendencies," he thought.
"Come, you'd better let philosophy alone," he said. "The chief
problem of the philosophy of all ages consists just in finding
the indispensable connection which exists between individual and
social interests. But that's not to the point; what is to the
point is a correction I must make in your comparison. The
birches are not simply stuck in, but some are 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 of importance and
significance in their institutions, and know how to value them,
that have a future before them--it's only those peoples that one
can truly call historical."
And Sergey Ivanovitch carried the subject into the regions of
philosophical history where Konstantin Levin could not follow
him, and showed him all the incorrectness of his view.
"As for your dislike of it, excuse my saying so, that's simply
our Russian sloth and old serf-owner's ways, and I'm convinced
that in you it's a temporary error and will pass."
Konstantin was silent. He felt himself vanquished on all sides,
but he felt at the same time that what he wanted to say was
unintelligible to his brother. Only he could not make up his
mind whether it was unintelligible because he was not capable of
expressing his meaning clearly, or because his brother would not
or could not understand him. But he did not pursue the
speculation, and without replying, he fell to musing on a quite
different and personal matter.
Sergey Ivanovitch wound up the last line, untied the horse, and
they drove off.