Chekhov on the 8 Qualities of Cultured People

Anton-Chekhov

It was 127 years ago.  Chekhov was 26 years old when he wrote a letter to his 28-year old brother outlining the eight qualities that must be satisfied for people to be cultured.

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov  (1860-1904) was a Russian physician and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history.  He practiced as a doctor throughout most of his literary career stating: ‘Medicine is my lawful wife.  And, literature is my mistress.'”

A excellent post by Brain Pickings shares excerpts from Chekhov’s letter to his brother.  The post is worth reading in its entirety.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:

1) They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others…

2) They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone…They sit up at night in order to help to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.

3) They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.

4) They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.

6) They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken…The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement…. Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.

7) If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity…. They are proud of their talent…. Besides, they are fastidious…”


Source: Brainpickings. Wiki.

Comments

  1. He had me until he got to ‘fastidious’…sigh. Seriously, self-respect, humility, generosity of spirit and deed, integrity, the absence of guile and pretense..those are lofty and outstanding places to start.

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  2. Mmmmm!

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  3. David: This should be the entry criteria for our politicians. That would weed out quite a few and upgrade the entire bunch. Maybe we could get some good legislation through Congress then! Great post.

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  4. Let us all strive to be cultured people.Chekhov’s letter is terrific!

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  5. Interesting letter. Thank you for calling it to our attention by excerpting it and reblogging it.

    And it doesn’t surprise me that a 26-year old could write such a letter. I think of the letters and poems that Rilke was writing in his late twenties (especially the letters in “Letters to a Young Poet,” and especially letters no. 7 & 8) and of Camus and his books “The Myth of Sisyphus” and “The Stranger” both when he was 28. I think much of it has to do with what they read–they read better books. We have so many books to chose from, and so many of those are really of questionable to little real value other than being cleverly written or entertaining. The older books, or even the classics (most of which I have not read, except perhaps some of those in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and spirituality, and maybe poetry; but forget about the classics of literature, haven’t really touched those), usually have much more to offer us in terms of depth and staying power (I guess that’s what’s makes them classics).

    And I liked the parts you excerpted, but I also very much liked no. 8 as well (though that seems to be really no. 8 and no. 9 and no. 10), and the rest of the letter (a nice swift kick in the tush, the kind that Gordon Ramsey gives the cooks and restaurant owners on his shows)–

    8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct…. What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow … They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood…. They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion…. For they want mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body].

    And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” …

    What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will…. Every hour is precious for it…. Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read…. Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read.

    You must drop your vanity, you are not a child … you will soon be thirty.
    It is time!

    I expect you…. We all expect you.

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    • John, thank you. I’ve saved your comment to follow-up on the readings this weekend. Your comments are inspiring. Dave

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      • You are welcome! “Letters to a Young Poet” is one of my favorite books–wise and inspiring and so beautifully written. And so many quotable phrases and sections. Camus books are definitely tougher and darker. And of the two, I much prefer “The Myth of Sisyphus” to “The Stranger,” but in general I almost always prefer straightforward and nonfiction to not so straightforward and fiction.

        Happy reading this weekend! Kindest regards,

        John

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  6. A wise young man indeed .. particularly like his phrase “they behave in the street as they do at home”. To me that says “act with honor and integrity even when no one can see you”. If someone has that down, then the rest will follow.

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  7. lucewriter says:

    I like that very pointed one about helping a brother at university, considering who he was writing to ;).

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  8. A wise man indeed, these are the values taught to him in his youth….he saw them and has lived them. We need to teach our children well. Thank you for posting this, quite inspiring!

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  9. LaDona's Music Studio says:

    ouch. i am clearly not as cultured as i would like to believe i am…

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  10. Good goals to strive for.

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  11. petit4chocolatier says:

    So true.

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  12. Terri Belnap says:

    I’m glad that his characters lacked many of these qualities. I doubt I could get through a page of chekov, who Ive been reading over and over since I was 13 (I’m 50), describing these attributes in a body.

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