Levin was insufferably bored that evening with the ladies; he was
stirred as he had never been before by the idea that the
dissatisfaction he was feeling with his system of managing his
land was not an exceptional case, but the general condition of
things in Russia; that the organization of some relation of the
laborers to the soil in which they would work, as with the
peasant he had met half-way to the Sviazhskys', was not a dream,
but a problem which must be solved. And it seemed to him that
the problem could be solved, and that he ought to try and solve
After saying good-night to the ladies, and promising to stay the
whole of the next day, so as to make an expedition on horseback
with them to see an interesting ruin in the crown forest, Levin
went, before going to bed, into his host's study to get the books
on the labor question that Sviazhsky had offered him.
Sviazhsky's study was a huge room, surrounded by 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, covered with
recent numbers of reviews and journals in different languages,
ranged like the rays of a star round the lamp. On the writing
table was a stand of drawers marked with gold lettering, and full
of papers of various 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 at the round table looking through the reviews.
"Oh, yes, there's a very interesting article here," said
Sviazhsky of the review Levin was holding in his hand. "It
appears," he went on, with eager interest, "that Friedrich was
not, after all, the person chiefly responsible for the partition
of Poland. It is proved..."
And with his characteristic clearness, he summed up those new,
very important, and interesting revelations. Although Levin was
engrossed at the moment by his ideas about the problem of the
land, he wondered, as he heard Sviazhsky: "What is there inside
of him? And why, why is he interested in the partition of
Poland?" When Sviazhsky had finished, Levin could not help
asking: "Well, and what then?" But there was nothing to follow.
It was simply interesting that it had been proved to be so and
so. But Sviazhsky did not explain, and saw no need to explain
why it was interesting to him.
"Yes, but I was very much interested by your irritable neighbor,"
said Levin, sighing. "He's a clever fellow, and said a lot that
"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
"I'll tell you what interests me very much," said Levin. "He's
right that our system, that's to say of rational farming, doesn't
answer, that the only thing that answers is the money-lender
system, like that meek-looking gentleman's, or else the very
simplest.... Whose fault is it?"
"Our own, of course. Besides, it's not true that it doesn't
answer. It answers with Vassiltchikov."
"But I really don't know what it is you are surprised at. The
people are at such a low stage of rational and moral development,
that it's obvious they're bound to oppose everything that's
strange to them. In Europe, a rational system answers because
the people are educated; it follows that we must educate the
"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
material development: what help are schools for that?"
"Do you know, you remind me of the story of the advice given to
the sick man--You should try purgative medicine. Taken: worse.
Try leeches. Tried them: worse. Well, then, there's nothing
left but to pray to God. Tried it: worse. That's just how it is
with us. I say political economy; you say--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 their material position? You say schools, education,
will give them fresh wants. So much the worse, since they won't
be capable of satisfying them. And in what way a knowledge of
addition and subtraction and the catechism is going to improve
their material condition, I never could make out. The day
before yesterday, I met a peasant woman in the evening with a
little baby, and asked her where she was going. She said she was
going to the wise woman; her boy had screaming fits, so she was
taking him to be doctored. I asked, 'Why, how does the wise
woman cure screaming fits?' 'She puts the child on the hen-roost
and repeats some charm....' "
"Well, you're saying it yourself! What's wanted to prevent her
taking her 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
merely meant as a simile for doctoring the people with schools.
The people are poor and ignorant--that we see as surely as the
peasant woman sees the baby is ill because it screams. But in
what way this trouble of poverty and ignorance is to be cured by
schools is as incomprehensible as how the hen-roost affects the
screaming. What has to be cured is what makes him poor."
"Well, in that, at least, you're in agreement with Spencer, whom
you dislike so much. He says, too, that education may be the
consequence of greater 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 in agreement with Spencer; only I've known it a long while.
Schools can do no good; what will do good is an economic
organization in which the people will become richer, will have
more leisure--and then there will be schools."
"Still, all over Europe now schools are obligatory."
"And how far do you agree with Spencer yourself about it?" asked
But there was a gleam of alarm in Sviazhsky's eyes, and he said
"No; that screaming story is positively capital! Did you really
hear it yourself?"
Levin saw that he was not to discover the connection between this
man's life and his thoughts. Obviously he did not care in the
least what his reasoning led him to; all he wanted was the
process of reasoning. And he did not like it when the process of
reasoning brought him into a blind alley. That was the only
thing he disliked, and avoided by changing the conversation to
something agreeable and amusing.
All the impressions of the day, beginning with the impression
made by the old peasant, which served, as it were, as the
fundamental basis of all the conceptions and ideas of the day,
threw Levin into violent excitement. This dear good Sviazhsky,
keeping a stock of ideas simply for social purposes, and
obviously having some other principles hidden from Levin, while
with the crowd, whose name is legion, he guided public opinion by
ideas he did not share; that irascible country gentleman,
perfectly correct in the conclusions that he had been worried
into by life, but wrong in his exasperation against a whole
class, and that the best class in Russia; his own dissatisfaction
with the work he had been doing, and the vague hope of finding a
remedy for all this--all was blended in a sense of inward
turmoil, and anticipation of some solution near at hand.
Left alone in the room assigned him, lying on a spring mattress
that yielded unexpectedly at every movement of his arm or his
leg, Levin did not 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 in imagination amending his
"Yes, I ought to have said to him: You say that our husbandry
does not answer because the peasant hates improvements, and that
they must be forced on him by authority. If no system of
husbandry answered at all without these improvements, you would
be quite right. But the only system that does answer is where
laborer is working in accordance with his habits, just as on the
old peasant's land half-way here. Your and our general
dissatisfaction with the system shows that either we are to blame
or the laborers. We have gone our way--the European way--a
long while, 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 as the Russian peasant with his instincts,
and we shall arrange our system of culture in accordance with
that. Imagine, I ought to have said to him, that you have the
same system as the old peasant has, that you have found means of
making your laborers take an interest in the success of the work,
and have found the happy mean in the way of improvements which
they will admit, and you will, without exhausting the soil, get
twice or three times the yield you got before. Divide it in
halves, give half as the share of labor, the surplus left you
will be greater, and the share of labor will be greater too. And
to do this one must lower the standard of husbandry and interest
the laborers in its success. How to 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 the night, thinking over in detail the putting of his idea
into practice. He had not intended to go away next day, but he
now determined to go home early in the morning. Besides, the
sister-in-law with her low-necked bodice aroused in him a feeling
akin to shame and remorse for some utterly base action. Most
important of all--he must get back without delay: he would have
to make haste to put his new project to the peasants before the
sowing of the winter wheat, so that the sowing might be
undertaken on a new basis. He had made up his mind to
revolutionize his whole system.