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A Confession

Part 2

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Some day I will narrate the touching and instructive history
of my life during those ten years of my youth.  I think very many
people have had a like experience.  With all my soul I wished to be
good, but I was young, passionate and alone, completely alone when
I sought goodness.  Every time I tried to express my most sincere
desire, which was to be morally good, I met with contempt and
ridicule, but as soon as I yielded to low passions I was praised
and encouraged.

Ambition, love of power, covetousness, lasciviousness, pride,
anger, and revenge -- were all respected.

Yielding to those passions I became like the grown-up folk and
felt that they approved of me.  The kind aunt with whom I lived,
herself the purest of beings, always told me that there was nothing
she so desired for me as that I should have relations with a
married woman:  'Rien ne forme un juene homme, comme une liaison
avec une femme comme il faut'.  [Footnote:  Nothing so forms a
young man as an intimacy with a woman of good breeding.]  Another
happiness she desired for me was that I should become an aide-de-
camp, and if possible aide-de-camp to the Emperor.  But the
greatest happiness of all would be that I should marry a very rich
girl and so become possessed of as many serfs as possible.

I cannot think of those years without horror, loathing and
heartache.  I killed men in war and challenged men to duels in
order to kill them.  I lost at cards, consumed the labor of the
peasants, sentenced them to punishments, lived loosely, and
deceived people.  Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds,
drunkenness, violence, murder -- there was no crime I did not
commit, and in spite of that people praised my conduct and my
contemporaries considered and consider me to be a comparatively
moral man.

So I lived for ten years.

During that time I began to write from vanity, covetousness,
and pride.  In my writings I did the same as in my life.  to get
fame and money, for the sake of which I wrote, it was necessary to
hide the good and to display the evil.  and I did so.  How often in
my writings I contrived to hide under the guise of indifference, or
even of banter, those strivings of mine towards goodness which gave
meaning to my life!  And I succeeded in this and was praised.

At twenty-six years of age [Footnote: He was in fact 27 at the
time.] I returned to Petersburg after the war, and met the writers. 
They received me as one of themselves and flattered me.  And before
I had time to look round I had adopted the views on life of the set
of authors I had come among, and these views completely obliterated
all my former strivings to improve -- they furnished a theory which
justified the dissoluteness of my life.

The view of life of these people, my comrades in authorship,
consisted in this: that life in general goes on developing, and in
this development we -- men of thought -- have the chief part; and
among men of thought it is we -- artists and poets -- who have the
greatest influence. Our vocation is to teach mankind.  And lest
the simple question should suggest itself: What do I know, and what
can I teach? it was explained in this theory that this need not be
known, and that the artist and poet teach unconsciously.  I was
considered an admirable artist and poet, and therefore it was very
natural for me to adopt this theory.  I, artist and poet, wrote and
taught without myself knowing what.  For this I was paid money; I
had excellent food, lodging, women, and society; and I had fame,
which showed that what I taught was very good.

This faith in the meaning of poetry and in the development of
life was a religion, and I was one of its priests.  To be its
priest was very pleasant and profitable.  And I lived a
considerable time in this faith without doubting its validity.  But
in the second and still more in the third year of this life I began
to doubt the infallibility of this religion and to examine it.  My
first cause of doubt was that I began to notice that the priests of
this religion were not all in accord among themselves.  Some said:
We are the best and most useful teachers; we teach what is needed,
but the others teach wrongly.  Others said: No! we are the real
teachers, and you teach wrongly.  and they disputed, quarrelled,
abused, cheated, and tricked one another.  There were also many
among us who did not care who was right and who was wrong, but were
simply bent on attaining their covetous aims by means of this
activity of ours.  All this obliged me to doubt the validity of our
creed.

Moreover, having begun to doubt the truth of the authors'
creed itself, I also began to observe its priests more attentively,
and I became convinced that almost all the priests of that
religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of
bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in
my former dissipated and military life; but they were self-
confident and self-satisfied as only those can be who are quite
holy or who do not know what holiness is.  These people revolted
me, I became revolting to myself, and I realized that that faith
was a fraud.

But strange to say, though I understood this fraud and
renounced it, yet I did not renounce the rank these people gave me:
the rank of artist, poet, and teacher.  I naively imagined that I
was a poet and artist and could teach everybody without myself
knowing what I was teaching, and I acted accordingly.

From my intimacy with these men I acquired a new vice:
abnormally developed pride and an insane assurance that it was my
vocation to teach men, without knowing what.

To remember that time, and my own state of mind and that of
those men (though there are thousands like them today), is sad and
terrible and ludicrous, and arouses exactly the feeling one
experiences in a lunatic asylum.

We were all then convinced that it was necessary for us to
speak, write, and print as quickly as possible and as much as
possible, and that it was all wanted for the good of humanity.  And
thousands of us, contradicting and abusing one another, all printed
and wrote -- teaching others.  And without noticing that we knew
nothing, and that to the simplest of life's questions: What is good
and what is evil? we did not know how to reply, we all talked at
the same time, not listening to one another, sometimes seconding
and praising one another in order to be seconded and praised in
turn, sometimes getting angry with one another -- just as in a
lunatic asylum.

Thousands of workmen laboured to the extreme limit of their
strength day and night, setting the type and printing millions of
words which the post carried all over Russia, and we still went on
teaching and could in no way find time to teach enough, and were
always angry that sufficient attention was not paid us.

It was terribly strange, but is now quite comprehensible.  Our
real innermost concern was to get as much money and praise as
possible.  To gain that end we could do nothing except write books
and papers.  So we did that.  But in order to do such useless work
and to feel assured that we were very important people we required
a theory justifying our activity.  And so among us this theory was
devised:  'All that exists is reasonable.  All that exists
develops.  And it all develops by means of Culture.  And Culture is
measured by the circulation of books and newspapers.  And we are
paid money and are respected because we write books and newspapers,
and therefore we are the most useful and the best of men.'  This
theory would have been all very well if we had been unanimous, but
as every thought expressed by one of us was always met by a
diametrically opposite thought expressed by another, we ought to
have been driven to reflection.  But we ignored this; people paid
us money and those on our side praised us, so each of us considered
himself justified.

It is now clear to me that this was just as in a lunatic
asylum; but then I only dimly suspected this, and like all
lunatics, simply called all men lunatics except myself.