A letter by Fyodor Dostoyevsky to future Emperor of Russia Alexander III
Your Imperial Highness, Most Gracious Sire,
Allow me the honour and happiness of bringing to your notice my work. It is almost a historical study, whereby I wished to explain how it is that such monstrous phenomena, as the Nechayev movement, are possible in our strange society. My view is that the phenomenon is not accidental, not singular. It is a direct consequence of the great divorcement of the whole Russian education from the native and peculiar mainsprings of Russian life. Even the most talented representatives of our pseudo-European progress had long ago become convinced that it was perfectly criminal for us, Russians, to dream of our distinctiveness. The most terrible thing about it is this, that they are quite right; for, once having proudly called ourselves Europeans, we have thereby denied our being Russians. Confused and frightened by the idea that we lag so far behind Europe in our intellectual and scientific progress, we have forgotten that we, in the inmost problems of the Russian spirit, contain in ourselves, as Russians, the capacity perhaps of bringing a new light to the world, on condition of our development being distinctive. In the ecstasy of our humiliation, we have forgotten the most immutable historical law, namely, that without the presumption of our own world importance as a nation, we can never be a great nation and leave after us anything distinctive for the good of mankind.
We have forgotten that all great nations have manifested themselves and their great powers just because they were so “presumptuous” in their conceit. Just because of that they have benefited the world, and have, each nation, brought into it something if only a single ray of light, just because they have remained themselves, proudly and undauntedly, always and presumptuously independent.
To think like this at the present time in Russia and to express such ideas means to doom oneself to the role of a pariah. And yet the principal preachers of our national undistinctiveness would be the first to turn away with horror from the Nechayev creed. Our Belinskies and Granovskies would not believe, if they were told, that they are the direct fathers of the Nechayevists. This kinship and continuity of idea, descending from the fathers to the sons, is what I wished to express in my work. I am far from having succeeded but I have worked conscientiously.
I am flattered and elated by the hope that you, Sire, the heir of one of the greatest thrones in the world, the future leader and ruler of the Russian land, have perhaps paid even the least attention to my weak but conscientious attempt to expose in an imaginative work one of the most dangerous sores of our present day civilization, a civilization strangely unnatural and undistinctive, and yet dominating Russian life.
Permit me, Most Gracious Sire, to remain with feeling of boundless respect and gratitude your most true and most devoted servant,