Just look at this life: the insolence and idleness of the strong, the ignorance and brutishness of the weak, impossible poverty all around us, overcrowding, degeneracy, lies . . . Yet in all the houses and streets, it’s quiet, peaceful; of the fifty thousand people who live in town there is not one who would cry out or become loudly indignant. We see those who go to the market to buy food, eat during the day, sleep during the night, who talk their nonsense, get married, grow old, complacently drag their dead to the cemetery; but we don’t see or hear those who suffer and the horrors of life go on somewhere behind the scenes. Everything is quiet, peaceful and only mute statistics protest: so many gone mad, so many buckets (of vodka) drunk, so many children dead of malnutrition . . . And this order is obviously necessary; obviously the happy man feels good only because the unhappy bear their burden silently and without that silence happiness would be impossible. . .
At the door of every contented happy man someone should stand with a little hammer, constantly tapping, to remind him that unhappy people exist, that however happy he may be, sooner or later life will show him its claws, some calamity will befall him – illness, poverty, loss – and nobody will hear or see, just as he doesn’t hear or see others, now. But there is nobody with a little hammer, the happy man lives on, and the petty cares of life stir him only slightly as the wind stirs and aspen – and everything is fine. . .
Wait in the name of what, I ask you? In the name of what considerations? They tell me that it can’t be done all at once, that every idea is realized gradually, in due time. But who says that? Where are the proofs that it is so? You refer to the natural order of things, to the lawfulness of phenomena, but there is order and lawfulness in the fact that I, a living and thinking man, must stand in a ditch and wait until it gets over grown or silted up, when I could perhaps jump over it or build a bridge across it? And again, wait in the name of what? Wait, when you haven’t the strength to live and yet you must live and want to live! . . .
. . . don’t settle in, don’t let yourself fall asleep! As long as you’re young, strong, energetic, don’t weary of doing good! There is no happiness and there shouldn’t be, and if there is any meaning and purpose in life, then that meaning and purpose are not at all in our happiness, but in something intelligent and great. Do good!
Excerpts from Gooseberries 1898
Chekhov wrote these words less than two decades before the Revolution of 1917 that changed Russia - and the whole world - forever and only 7 years before the Revolution of 1905 which began a period of reform which was - as always - too little, too late...