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EXTRACTS FROM CHEKHOV’S NOTEBOOK

Solomon made a great mistake when he asked for wisdom.

[Editor’s note: Among Chekhov’s papers the following monologue was found, written in his own hand]:

Solomon: (alone): Oh! how dark is life! No night, when I was a child, so terrified me by its darkness as does my invisible existence. Lord, to David my father thou gavest only the gift of harmonizing words and sounds, to sing and praise thee on strings, to lament sweetly, to make people weep or admire beauty; but why hast thou given me a meditative, sleepless, hungry mind? Like an insect born of the dust, I hide in darkness; and in fear and despair, all shaking and shivering, I see and hear in everything an invisible mystery. Why this morning? Why does the sun come out from behind the temple and gild the palm tree? Why this beauty of women? Where does the bird hrry, what is the meaning of its flight, if it and its young and the place to which it hastens will, like myself, turn to dust? It were better I had never been born or were a stone, to which God has given neither eyes nor thoughts. In order to tire out my body by nightfall, all day yesterday, like a mere workman I carried marble to the temple; but now the night has come and I cannot sleep. . .I’ll go and lie down. Phorses told me that if one imagines a flock of sheep running and fixes one’s attention upon it, the mind gets confused and one falls asleep. I’ll do it. . .(exit).

Why did Hamlet trouble about ghosts after death, when life itself is haunted by ghosts so much more terrible?

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A bedroom. The light of the moon shines so brightly through the window that even the buttons on his night shirt are visible.

A scholar, without talent, a blockhead, worked for 24 years and produced nothing good, gave the world only scholars as untalented and as narrow-minded as himself. At night he secretly bound books--that was his true vocation: in that he was an artist and felt the joy of it. There came to him a bookbinder, who loved learning and studied secretly at night.

But perhaps the universe is suspended on the tooth of some monster.

How pleasant it is to respect people! When I see books, I am not concerned with how the authors loved or played cards; I see only their marvelous works.

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I observed that after marriage people cease to be curious.

There has been an increase not in the number of nervous diseases and nervous patients, but in the number of doctors able to study those diseases.

People love talking of their diseases, although they are the most uninteresting things in their lives.

A professor’s opinion: not Shakespeare, but the commentaries on him are the thing.

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Let the coming generation attain happiness; but they surely ought to ask themselves, for what did their ancestors live and for what did they suffer.

Love, friendship, respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.

Viciousness is a bag with which man is born.

A man and woman marry because both of them don’t know what to do with themselves.

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A man who cannot win a woman by a kiss will not win her by a blow.

One cannot resist evil, but one can resist good.

At 20 she loved Z., at 24 she married N. not because she loved him, but because she thought him a good, wise, ideal man. The couple lived happily; every one envies them, and indeed their life passes smoothly and placidly; she is satisfied, and, when people discuss love, she says that for family life not love nor passion is wanted, but affection. But once the music played suddenly, and, inside her heart, everything broke up like ice in spring: she remembered Z. and her love for him, and she thought with despair that her life was ruined, spoilt for ever, and that she was unhappy. Then it happened to her with the New Year greetings; when people wished her “New Happiness,” she indeed longed for new happiness.

A woman is fascinated not by art, but by the noise made by those who have to do with art.

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The public really loves in art that which is banal and long familiar, that to which they have grown accustomed.

If you wish to become an optimist and understand life, stop believing what people say and write, observe and discover for yourself.

Love. Either it is a remnant of something degenerating, something which once has been immense, or it is a particle of what will in the future develop into something immense; but in the present it is unsatisfying, it gives much less than one expects.

Alas, what is terrible is not the skeletons, but the fact that I am no longer terrified by them.

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Lord, don’t allow me to condemn or to speak of what I do not know or do not understand.

The character keeps a library, but he is always away visiting; there are no readers.

A journalist wrote lies in the newspaper, but he thought he was writing the truth.

Everyone has something to hide.

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We fret ourselves to reform life, in order that posterity may be happy, and posterity will say as usual: “In the past it used to be better, the present is worse than the past.”

My motto: I don’t want anything.

From the “Notebook of Anton Chekhov,” translated from the Russian by S.S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf. It is the concluding volume of the 15-volume “The Tales of Chekhov,” published by The Ecco Press.


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