Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/The Egoist

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1962337The Novels of Ivan Turgenev
Volume X: Dream Tales and Prose Poems
Poems in Prose — The Egoist
Constance GarnettIvan Turgenev


He had every qualification for becoming the scourge of his family.

He was born healthy, was born wealthy, and throughout the whole of his long life, continuing to be wealthy and healthy, he never committed a single sin, never fell into a single error, never once made a slip or a blunder.

He was irreproachably conscientious! . . . And complacent in the sense of his own conscientiousness, he crushed every one with it, his family, his friends and his acquaintances.

His conscientiousness was his capital . . . and he exacted an exorbitant interest for it.

His conscientiousness gave him the right to be merciless, and to do no good deeds beyond what it dictated to him; and he was merciless, and did no good . . . for good that is dictated is no good at all.

He took no interest in any one except his own exemplary self, and was genuinely indignant if others did not take as studious an interest in it!

At the same time he did not consider himself an egoist, and was particularly severe in censuring, and keen in detecting egoists and egoism. To be sure he was. The egoism of another was a check on his own.

Not recognising the smallest weakness in himself he did not understand, did not tolerate any weakness in any one. He did not, in fact, understand any one or any thing, since he was all, on all sides, above and below, before and behind, encircled by himself.

He did not even understand the meaning of forgiveness. He had never had to forgive himself. . . . What inducement could he have to forgive others?

Before the tribunal of his own conscience, before the face of his own God, he, this marvel, this monster of virtue, raised his eyes heavenwards, and with clear unfaltering voice declared, 'Yes, I am an exemplary, a truly moral man!'

He will repeat these words on his deathbed, and there will be no throb even then in his heart of stone—in that heart without stain or blemish!

Oh, hideousness of self-complacent, unbending, cheaply bought virtue; thou art almost more revolting than the frank hideousness of vice!

Dec. 1876.