№6 by Anton Chekhov
Ivan Dmitritch was lying in the same position as on the previous
day, with his head clutched in both hands and his legs drawn up.
His face was not visible.
"Good-day, my friend," said Andrey Yefimitch. "You are not
asleep, are you?"
"In the first place, I am not your friend," Ivan Dmitritch
articulated into the pillow; "and in the second, your efforts
are useless; you will not get one word out of me."
"Strange," muttered Andrey Yefimitch in confusion. "Yesterday we
talked peacefully, but suddenly for some reason you took offence
and broke off all at once. . . . Probably I expressed myself
awkwardly, or perhaps gave utterance to some idea which did not
fit in with your convictions. . . ."
"Yes, a likely idea!" said Ivan Dmitritch, sitting up and
looking at the doctor with irony and uneasiness. His eyes were
red. "You can go and spy and probe somewhere else, it's no use
your doing it here. I knew yesterday what you had come for."
"A strange fancy," laughed the doctor. "So you suppose me to be
"Yes, I do. . . . A spy or a doctor who has been charged to test
me -- it's all the same ---"
"Oh excuse me, what a queer fellow you are really!"
The doctor sat down on the stool near the bed and shook his head
"But let us suppose you are right," he said, "let us suppose
that I am treacherously trying to trap you into saying something
so as to betray you to the police. You would be arrested and
then tried. But would you be any worse off being tried and in
prison than you are here? If you are banished to a settlement,
or even sent to penal servitude, would it be worse than being
shut up in this ward? I imagine it would be no worse. . . .
What, then, are you afraid of?"
These words evidently had an effect on Ivan Dmitritch. He sat
It was between four and five in the afternoon -- the time when
Andrey Yefimitch usually walked up and down his rooms, and
Daryushka asked whether it was not time for his beer. It was a
still, bright day.
"I came out for a walk after dinner, and here I have come, as
you see," said the doctor. "It is quite spring."
"What month is it? March?" asked Ivan Dmitritch.
"Yes, the end of March."
"Is it very muddy?"
"No, not very. There are already paths in the garden."
"It would be nice now to drive in an open carriage somewhere
into the country," said Ivan Dmitritch, rubbing his red eyes as
though he were just awake, "then to come home to a warm, snug
study, and . . . and to have a decent doctor to cure one's
headache. . . . It's so long since I have lived like a human
being. It's disgusting here! Insufferably disgusting!"
After his excitement of the previous day he was exhausted and
listless, and spoke unwillingly. His fingers twitched, and from
his face it could be seen that he had a splitting headache.
"There is no real difference between a warm, snug study and this
ward," said Andrey Yefimitch. "A man's peace and contentment do
not lie outside a man, but in himself."
"What do you mean?"
"The ordinary man looks for good and evil in external things --
that is, in carriages, in studies -- but a thinking man looks
for it in himself."
"You should go and preach that philosophy in Greece, where it's
warm and fragrant with the scent of pomegranates, but here it is
not suited to the climate. With whom was it I was talking of
Diogenes? Was it with you?"
"Yes, with me yesterday."
"Diogenes did not need a study or a warm habitation; it's hot
there without. You can lie in your tub and eat oranges and
olives. But bring him to Russia to live: he'd be begging to be
let indoors in May, let alone December. He'd be doubled up with
"No. One can be insensible to cold as to every other pain.
Marcus Aurelius says: 'A pain is a vivid idea of pain; make an
effort of will to change that idea, dismiss it, cease to
complain, and the pain will disappear.' That is true. The wise
man, or simply the reflecting, thoughtful man, is distinguished
precisely by his contempt for suffering; he is always contented
and surprised at nothing."
"Then I am an idiot, since I suffer and am discontented and
surprised at the baseness of mankind."
"You are wrong in that; if you will reflect more on the subject
you will understand how insignificant is all that external world
that agitates us. One must strive for the comprehension of life,
and in that is true happiness."
"Comprehension . . ." repeated Ivan Dmitritch frowning.
"External, internal. . . . Excuse me, but I don t understand it.
I only know," he said, getting up and looking angrily at the
doctor -- "I only know that God has created me of warm blood and
nerves, yes, indeed! If organic tissue is capable of life it
must react to every stimulus. And I do! To pain I respond with
tears and outcries, to baseness with indignation, to filth with
loathing. To my mind, that is just what is called life. The
lower the organism, the less sensitive it is, and the more
feebly it reacts to stimulus; and the higher it is, the more
responsively and vigorously it reacts to reality. How is it you
don't know that? A doctor, and not know such trifles! To despise
suffering, to be always contented, and to be surprised at
nothing, one must reach this condition" -- and Ivan Dmitritch
pointed to the peasant who was a mass of fat -- "or to harden
oneself by suffering to such a point that one loses all
sensibility to it -- that is, in other words, to cease to live.
You must excuse me, I am not a sage or a philosopher," Ivan
Dmitritch continued with irritation, "and I don't understand
anything about it. I am not capable of reasoning."
"On the contrary, your reasoning is excellent."
"The Stoics, whom you are parodying, were remarkable people, but
their doctrine crystallized two thousand years ago and has not
advanced, and will not advance, an inch forward, since it is not
practical or living. It had a success only with the minority
which spends its life in savouring all sorts of theories and
ruminating over them; the majority did not understand it. A
doctrine which advocates indifference to wealth and to the
comforts of life, and a contempt for suffering and death, is
quite unintelligible to the vast majority of men, since that
majority has never known wealth or the comforts of life; and to
despise suffering would mean to it despising life itself, since
the whole existence of man is made up of the sensations of
hunger, cold, injury, and a Hamlet-like dread of death. The
whole of life lies in these sensations; one may be oppressed by
it, one may hate it, but one cannot despise it. Yes, so, I
repeat, the doctrine of the Stoics can never have a future; from
the beginning of time up to to-day you see continually
increasing the struggle, the sensibility to pain, the capacity
of responding to stimulus."
Ivan Dmitritch suddenly lost the thread of his thoughts,
stopped, and rubbed his forehead with vexation.
"I meant to say something important, but I have lost it," he
said. "What was I saying? Oh, yes! This is what I mean: one of
the Stoics sold himself into slavery to redeem his neighbour,
so, you see, even a Stoic did react to stimulus, since, for such
a generous act as the destruction of oneself for the sake of
one's neighbour, he must have had a soul capable of pity and
indignation. Here in prison I have forgotten everything I have
learned, or else I could have recalled something else. Take
Christ, for instance: Christ responded to reality by weeping,
smiling, being sorrowful and moved to wrath, even overcome by
misery. He did not go to meet His sufferings with a smile, He
did not despise death, but prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane
that this cup might pass Him by."
Ivan Dmitritch laughed and sat down.
"Granted that a man's peace and contentment lie not outside but
in himself," he said, "granted that one must despise suffering
and not be surprised at anything, yet on what ground do you
preach the theory? Are you a sage? A philosopher?"
"No, I am not a philosopher, but everyone ought to preach it
because it is reasonable."
"No, I want to know how it is that you consider yourself
competent to judge of 'comprehension,' contempt for suffering,
and so on. Have you ever suffered? Have you any idea of
suffering? Allow me to ask you, were you ever thrashed in your
"No, my parents had an aversion for corporal punishment."
"My father used to flog me cruelly; my father was a harsh,
sickly Government clerk with a long nose and a yellow neck. But
let us talk of you. No one has laid a finger on you all your
life, no one has scared you nor beaten you; you are as strong as
a bull. You grew up under your father's wing and studied at his
expense, and then you dropped at once into a sinecure. For more
than twenty years you have lived rent free with heating,
lighting, and service all provided, and had the right to work
how you pleased and as much as you pleased, even to do nothing.
You were naturally a flabby, lazy man, and so you have tried to
arrange your life so that nothing should disturb you or make you
move. You have handed over your work to the assistant and the
rest of the rabble while you sit in peace and warmth, save
money, read, amuse yourself with reflections, with all sorts of
lofty nonsense, and" (Ivan Dmitritch looked at the doctor's red
nose) "with boozing; in fact, you have seen nothing of life, you
know absolutely nothing of it, and are only theoretically
acquainted with reality; you despise suffering and are surprised
at nothing for a very simple reason: vanity of vanities, the
external and the internal, contempt for life, for suffering and
for death, comprehension, true happiness -- that's the
philosophy that suits the Russian sluggard best. You see a
peasant beating his wife, for instance. Why interfere? Let him
beat her, they will both die sooner or later, anyway; and,
besides, he who beats injures by his blows, not the person he is
beating, but himself. To get drunk is stupid and unseemly, but
if you drink you die, and if you don't drink you die. A peasant
woman comes with toothache . . . well, what of it? Pain is the
idea of pain, and besides 'there is no living in this world
without illness; we shall all die, and so, go away, woman, don't
hinder me from thinking and drinking vodka.' A young man asks
advice, what he is to do, how he is to live; anyone else would
think before answering, but you have got the answer ready:
strive for 'comprehension' or for true happiness. And what is
that fantastic 'true happiness'? There's no answer, of course.
We are kept here behind barred windows, tortured, left to rot;
but that is very good and reasonable, because there is no
difference at all between this ward and a warm, snug study. A
convenient philosophy. You can do nothing, and your conscience
is clear, and you feel you are wise. . . . No, sir, it is not
philosophy, it's not thinking, it's not breadth of vision, but
laziness, fakirism, drowsy stupefaction. Yes," cried Ivan
Dmitritch, getting angry again, "you despise suffering, but I'll
be bound if you pinch your finger in the door you will howl at
the top of your voice."
"And perhaps I shouldn't howl," said Andrey Yefimitch, with a
"Oh, I dare say! Well, if you had a stroke of paralysis, or
supposing some fool or bully took advantage of his position and
rank to insult you in public, and if you knew he could do it
with impunity, then you would understand what it means to put
people off with comprehension and true happiness."
"That's original," said Andrey Yefimitch, laughing with pleasure
and rubbing his hands. "I am agreeably struck by your
inclination for drawing generalizations, and the sketch of my
character you have just drawn is simply brilliant. I must
confess that talking to you gives me great pleasure. Well, I've
listened to you, and now you must graciously listen to me."