One thing is a pity: he (Pissemsky) writes too fast. He writes much too fast, and much too much. A man should have more ambition, more respect for his talent and his craft, and more love for art. When one’s young, ideas come crowding incredibly into one’s head; but one should not capture each and all of them as it flies, and rush to give it forth. One should rather await the synthesis, and think more; wait till the many single details which make up an idea have gathered them-selves into a nucleus, into a large, imposing picture; then, and not till then, should one write them down. The colossal figures, created by the colossal writers, have often grown out of long, stubborn labour.
You said once, brother, that I had not read Schiller. You are mistaken. I have him by heart, I have spoken his speech and dreamed his dreams; and I believe that it was a peculiarly good stroke of luck that made me acquainted with the great poet in that special period of my life. I could never have learnt to know Schiller so well as precisely in those days.
But I have vowed to myself that, however hard it may go with me, I’ll pull myself together, and in no circumstances will I work to order. Work done to order would oppress and blight me. I want each of my efforts to be incontrovertibly good. Just look at Pushkin and Gogol. Both wrote very little, yet both have deserved national memorials. Gogol now gets a thousand roubles a printed page, while Pushkin had, as you know well, as much as a ducat a line of verse. Both but particularly Gogol bought their fame at. the price of years of dire poverty.
Perhaps it will interest you to know what I do when I’m not writing well, I read. I read a great deal, and it has a curious effect on me. When I re-read anything that I knew years ago, I feel fresh powers in myself. I can pierce to the heart of the book, grasp it entire, and from it draw new confidence in myself.
My novel, which I simply can’t break loose from, keeps me endlessly at work. If I had known beforehand how it would be, I should never have begun it at all. I decided to do it all over again, and, by God! that has improved it a lot. Now I’m ready with it once more, and this revision is really the last. I have given myself my word not to touch it again. After all, it’s the fate of all first books to be altered over and over again. I don’t know whether Chateaubriand’s `Atala’ was his first book, but I do know that he rewrote it seventeen times. Pushkin did just the same with quite short poems. Gogol used to polish away at his wonderful works for two years at a time, and if you have read the `Sentimental journey,’ that witty book by Sterne, you’ll very likely remember what Walter Scott, in his article on Sterne, says with reference to Sterne’s servant, La Fleur. La Fleur declared that his master had filled about two hundred quires of paper with the description of his journey through France. Now, the question is, What became of all that paper? The result was a little book, for writing which a parsimonious person (such as, for example, Plyushkin) would have used half a quire.
Everybody looks upon me as a wonder of the world. If I but open my mouth, the air resounds with what Dostoevsky said, what Dostoevsky means to do. Bielinski loves me unboundedly. The writer Turgeniev, who has just returned from Paris, has from the first been more than friendly; and Bielinski declares that Turgeniev has quite lost his heart to me. T. is a really splendid person! I’ve almost lost my own heart to him. A highly gifted writer, an aristocrat, handsome, rich, intelligent, cultured, and only twenty-five I really don’t know what more he could ask from fate. Besides all that, he has an unusually upright, fine, well-disciplined nature. Do read his story, `Audrey Kolossov,’ in the Otetchestvennia Zapiski. The hero is himself, though he did not intend to depict his own character.
As for myself, I was for some time utterly discouraged. I have one terrible vice: I am unpardonably ambitious and egotistic. The thought that I had disappointed all the hopes set on me, and spoilt what might have been a really significant piece of work, depressed me very heavily. The thought of `Goliadkin’ made me sick. I wrote a lot of it too quickly, and in moments of fatigue. The first half is better than the second. Alongside many brilliant passages are others so disgustingly bad that I can’t read them myself.