The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Part III: Chapters 5-7


"I HAD a small pocket pistol. I had procured it while still a boy, at that droll age when the stories of duels and highwaymen begin to delight one, and when one imagines oneself nobly standing fire at some future day, in a duel.

"There were a couple of old bullets in the bag which contained the pistol, and powder enough in an old flask for two or three charges.

"The pistol was a wretched thing, very crooked and wouldn't carry farther than fifteen paces at the most. However, it would send your skull flying well enough if you pressed the muzzle of it against your temple.

"I determined to die at Pavlofsk at sunrise, in the park — so as to make no commotion in the house.

"This 'explanation' will make the matter clear enough to the police. Students of psychology, and anyone else who likes, may make what they please of it. I should not like this paper, however, to be made public. I request the prince to keep a copy himself, and to give a copy to Aglaya Ivanovna Epanchin. This is my last will and testament. As for my skeleton, I bequeath it to the Medical Academy for the benefit of science.

"I recognize no jurisdiction over myself, and I know that I am now beyond the power of laws and judges.

"A little while ago a very amusing idea struck me. What if I were now to commit some terrible crime — murder ten fellow-creatures, for instance, or anything else that is thought most shocking and dreadful in this world — what a dilemma my judges would be in, with a criminal who only has a fortnight to live in any case, now that the rack and other forms of torture are abolished! Why, I should die comfortably in their own hospital — in a warm, clean room, with an attentive doctor — probably much more comfortably than I should at home.

"I don't understand why people in my position do not oftener indulge in such ideas — if only for a joke! Perhaps they do! Who knows! There are plenty of merry souls among us!

"But though I do not recognize any jurisdiction over myself, still I know that I shall be judged, when I am nothing but a voiceless lump of clay; therefore I do not wish to go before I have left a word of reply — the reply of a free man — not one forced to justify himself — oh no! I have no need to ask forgiveness of anyone. I wish to say a word merely because I happen to desire it of my own free will.

"Here, in the first place, comes a strange thought!

"Who, in the name of what Law, would think of disputing my full personal right over the fortnight of life left to me? What jurisdiction can be brought to bear upon the case? Who would wish me, not only to be sentenced, but to endure the sentence to the end? Surely there exists no man who would wish such a thing — why should anyone desire it? For the sake of morality? Well, I can understand that if I were to make an attempt upon my own life while in the enjoyment of full health and vigour — my life which might have been 'useful,' etc., etc. — morality might reproach me, according to the old routine, for disposing of my life without permission — or whatever its tenet may be. But now, NOW, when my sentence is out and my days numbered! How can morality have need of my last breaths, and why should I die listening to the consolations offered by the prince, who, without doubt, would not omit to demonstrate that death is actually a benefactor to me? (Christians like him always end up with that — it is their pet theory.) And what do they want with their ridiculous 'Pavlofsk trees'? To sweeten my last hours? Cannot they understand that the more I forget myself, the more I let myself become attached to these last illusions of life and love, by means of which they try to hide from me Meyer's wall, and all that is so plainly written on it — the more unhappy they make me? What is the use of all your nature to me — all your parks and trees, your sunsets and sunrises, your blue skies and your self-satisfied faces — when all this wealth of beauty and happiness begins with the fact that it accounts me — only me — one too many! What is the good of all this beauty and glory to me, when every second, every moment, I cannot but be aware that this little fly which buzzes around my head in the sun's rays — even this little fly is a sharer and participator in all the glory of the universe, and knows its place and is happy in it; — while I — only I, am an outcast, and have been blind to the fact hitherto, thanks to my simplicity! Oh! I know well how the prince and others would like me, instead of indulging in all these wicked words of my own, to sing, to the glory and triumph of morality, that well-known verse of Gilbert's:

"'O, puissent voir longtemps votre beaute sacree Tant d'amis, sourds a mes adieux! Qu'ils meurent pleins de jours, que leur mort soit pleuree, Qu'un ami leur ferme les yeux!'

"But believe me, believe me, my simple-hearted friends, that in this highly moral verse, in this academical blessing to the world in general in the French language, is hidden the intensest gall and bitterness; but so well concealed is the venom, that I dare say the poet actually persuaded himself that his words were full of the tears of pardon and peace, instead of the bitterness of disappointment and malice, and so died in the delusion.

"Do you know there is a limit of ignominy, beyond which man's consciousness of shame cannot go, and after which begins satisfaction in shame? Well, of course humility is a great force in that sense, I admit that — though not in the sense in which religion accounts humility to be strength!

"Religion! — I admit eternal life — and perhaps I always did admit it.

"Admitted that consciousness is called into existence by the will of a Higher Power; admitted that this consciousness looks out upon the world and says 'I am;' and admitted that the Higher Power wills that the consciousness so called into existence, be suddenly extinguished (for so — for some unexplained reason — it is and must be) — still there comes the eternal question — why must I be humble through all this? Is it not enough that I am devoured, without my being expected to bless the power that devours me? Surely — surely I need not suppose that Somebody — there — will be offended because I do not wish to live out the fortnight allowed me? I don't believe it.

"It is much simpler, and far more likely, to believe that my death is needed — the death of an insignificant atom — in order to fulfil the general harmony of the universe — in order to make even some plus or minus in the sum of existence. Just as every day the death of numbers of beings is necessary because without their annihilation the rest cannot live on — (although we must admit that the idea is not a particularly grand one in itself!)

"However — admit the fact! Admit that without such perpetual devouring of one another the world cannot continue to exist, or could never have been organized — I am ever ready to confess that I cannot understand why this is so — but I'll tell you what I DO know, for certain. If I have once been given to understand and realize that I AM — what does it matter to me that the world is organized on a system full of errors and that otherwise it cannot be organized at all? Who will or can judge me after this? Say what you like — the thing is impossible and unjust!

"And meanwhile I have never been able, in spite of my great desire to do so, to persuade myself that there is no future existence, and no Providence.

"The fact of the matter is that all this DOES exist, but that we know absolutely nothing about the future life and its laws!

"But it is so difficult, and even impossible to understand, that surely I am not to be blamed because I could not fathom the incomprehensible?

"Of course I know they say that one must be obedient, and of course, too, the prince is one of those who say so: that one must be obedient without questions, out of pure goodness of heart, and that for my worthy conduct in this matter I shall meet with reward in another world. We degrade God when we attribute our own ideas to Him, out of annoyance that we cannot fathom His ways.

"Again, I repeat, I cannot be blamed because I am unable to understand that which it is not given to mankind to fathom. Why am I to be judged because I could not comprehend the Will and Laws of Providence? No, we had better drop religion.

"And enough of this. By the time I have got so far in the reading of my document the sun will be up and the huge force of his rays will be acting upon the living world. So be it. I shall die gazing straight at the great Fountain of life and power; I do not want this life!

"If I had had the power to prevent my own birth I should certainly never have consented to accept existence under such ridiculous conditions. However, I have the power to end my existence, although I do but give back days that are already numbered. It is an insignificant gift, and my revolt is equally insignificant.

"Final explanation: I die, not in the least because I am unable to support these next three weeks. Oh no, I should find strength enough, and if I wished it I could obtain consolation from the thought of the injury that is done me. But I am not a French poet, and I do not desire such consolation. And finally, nature has so limited my capacity for work or activity of any kind, in allotting me but three weeks of time, that suicide is about the only thing left that I can begin and end in the time of my own free will.

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