Frequent commenter Paul sent me Gary Saul Morson’s overview of Chekhov’s approach to life and literature, from which I excerpt the following list from a letter to his brother Nikolai:
In my opinion people of culture must fulfill the following conditions:
1. They respect the human personality and are therefore forbearing, gentle, courteous, and compliant.
2. They are sympathetic not only to beggars and cats. Their heart aches for things they don’t see with the naked eye.
3. They respect the property of others, and therefore pay their debts.
4. They are pure of heart and therefore fear lying like fire. They do not lie even in small matters.
5. . . . They don’t play upon the heartstrings in order to excite pity . . . because all this is striving after cheap effect, and is false.
6. They don’t occupy themselves with such imitation diamonds as acquaintances with celebrities.
7. If they have talent, they respect it.
8. They develop an aesthetic taste. They cannot bring themselves to look with unconcern at a crack in the wall with bedbugs in it, breathe foul air, walk across a floor that has been spat on. . . . They try as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct. . . . They don’t swill vodka . . . For they need to have mens sana in corpore sano.
It is not enough to have memorized a monologue from Faust. . . .
What you need is constant work, and will power.
I’m just glad he didn’t say anything about overeating, or I’d have to apologize to his shade for my excessive consumption of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy this afternoon. Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers; happy St. Cecilia’s Day to everyone else!