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'.  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.
Note 1. Nothing so forms a young man as an intimacy with a
woman of good breeding.
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
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  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.
Note 2. He was in fact 27 at the time.
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
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.