Poor Folk/June 12
MY DEAREST BARBARA ALEXIEVNA--I had supposed that you meant to describe our doings of the other day in verse; yet from you there has arrived only a single sheet of writing. Nevertheless, I must say that, little though you have put into your letter, that little is not expressed with rare beauty and grace. Nature, your descriptions of rural scenes, your analysis of your own feelings- -the whole is beautifully written. Alas, I have no such talent! Though I may fill a score of pages, nothing comes of it-- I might as well never have put pen to paper. Yes, this I know from experience.
You say, my darling, that I am kind and good, that I could not harm my fellow-men, that I have power to comprehend the goodness of God (as expressed in nature's handiwork), and so on. It may all be so, my dearest one--it may all be exactly as you say. Indeed, I think that you are right. But if so, the reason is that when one reads such a letter as you have just sent me, one's heart involuntarily softens, and affords entrance to thoughts of a graver and weightier order. Listen, my darling; I have something to tell you, my beloved one.
I will begin from the time when I was seventeen years old and first entered the service--though I shall soon have completed my thirtieth year of official activity. I may say that at first I was much pleased with my new uniform; and, as I grew older, I grew in mind, and fell to studying my fellow-men. Likewise I may say that I lived an upright life--so much so that at last I incurred persecution. This you may not believe, but it is true. To think that men so cruel should exist! For though, dearest one, I am dull and of no account, I have feelings like everyone else. Consequently, would you believe it, Barbara, when I tell you what these cruel fellows did to me? I feel ashamed to tell it you--and all because I was of a quiet, peaceful, good-natured disposition!
Things began with "this or that, Makar Alexievitch, is your fault." Then it went on to "I need hardly say that the fault is wholly Makar Alexievitch's." Finally it became "OF COURSE Makar Alexievitch is to blame." Do you see the sequence of things, my darling? Every mistake was attributed to me, until "Makar Alexievitch" became a byword in our department. Also, while making of me a proverb, these fellows could not give me a smile or a civil word. They found fault with my boots, with my uniform, with my hair, with my figure. None of these things were to their taste: everything had to be changed. And so it has been from that day to this. True, I have now grown used to it, for I can grow accustomed to anything (being, as you know, a man of peaceable disposition, like all men of small stature)-- yet why should these things be? Whom have I harmed? Whom have I ever supplanted? Whom have I ever traduced to his superiors? No, the fault is that more than once I have asked for an increase of salary. But have I ever CABALLED for it? No, you would be wrong in thinking so, my dearest one. HOW could I ever have done so? You yourself have had many opportunities of seeing how incapable I am of deceit or chicanery.
Why then, should this have fallen to my lot? . . . However, since you think me worthy of respect, my darling, I do not care, for you are far and away the best person in the world. . . . What do you consider to be the greatest social virtue? In private conversation Evstafi Ivanovitch once told me that the greatest social virtue might be considered to be an ability to get money to spend. Also, my comrades used jestingly (yes, I know only jestingly) to propound the ethical maxim that a man ought never to let himself become a burden upon anyone. Well, I am a burden upon no one. It is my own crust of bread that I eat; and though that crust is but a poor one, and sometimes actually a maggoty one, it has at least been EARNED, and therefore, is being put to a right and lawful use. What therefore, ought I to do? I know that I can earn but little by my labours as a copyist; yet even of that little I am proud, for it has entailed WORK, and has wrung sweat from my brow. What harm is there in being a copyist? "He is only an amanuensis," people say of me. But what is there so disgraceful in that? My writing is at least legible, neat, and pleasant to look upon--and his Excellency is satisfied with it. Indeed, I transcribe many important documents. At the same time, I know that my writing lacks STYLE, which is why I have never risen in the service. Even to you, my dear one, I write simply and without tricks, but just as a thought may happen to enter my head. Yes, I know all this; but if everyone were to become a fine writer, who would there be left to act as copyists? . . . Whatsoever questions I may put to you in my letters, dearest, I pray you to answer them. I am sure that you need me, that I can be of use to you; and, since that is so, I must not allow myself to be distracted by any trifle. Even if I be likened to a rat, I do not care, provided that that particular rat be wanted by you, and be of use in the world, and be retained in its position, and receive its reward. But what a rat it is!
Enough of this, dearest one. I ought not to have spoken of it, but I lost my temper. Still, it is pleasant to speak the truth sometimes. Goodbye, my own, my darling, my sweet little comforter! I will come to you soon--yes, I will certainly come to you. Until I do so, do not fret yourself. With me I shall be bringing a book. Once more goodbye.--Your heartfelt well-wisher,