9 October 2004

Gambling Supplement

A Week in Hamburg

Prepared and translated by Ilya Bernstein and Keith Gessen.

After his engagement to Anna Grigorievna Snitkin, his young stenographer, Dostoevsky traveled to Moscow to ask Mikhail Katkov, the editor whose magazine had put out Crime and Punishment the year before, for a large sum of money.

To: Anna Grigorievna Snitkin

Moscow, January 2, 1867

Katkov was awfully busy; I sat waiting 10 minutes. He greeted me wonderfully. Finally after 10 minutes I got up, and seeing that he was awfully busy, said that I had something to discuss with him, but seeing as he was busy, I would like for him to appoint me a time when we could discuss it. He suddenly began insisting that I tell him there and then. I explained it all in three minutes. I began by saying that we were getting married. He congratulated me sincerely and with friendship. “In that case,” I said, “I’ll tell you straight that all my happiness depends on you. If you need me to continue working with you (he said, “Come now, as if we didn’t!”), then let me have 2000 rubles in advance, and so on. And I explained everything to him.” Litterateurs always take advances, I concluded, but since this is quite a sum and no one gives this much, it all depends on your good will. He said to me: “I’ll talk this over with Leontiev. It all depends on whether we have this much money free.” Two days later he gave me his final answer: 1000 rubles now, and another thousand in two months.

Two months after our wedding, we went abroad and stayed a month in Dresden. From here F. M. traveled to Hamburg, where they had roulette. I stayed in Dresden in care of the landlord’s wife. —A. G. Dostoevskaya

To: Anna Grigorievna Dostoevsky

Hamburg, May 18, 1867

Yesterday was cold and even rainy: I felt weak all day, and my nerves were so bad I could barely stand up. It’s a good thing I was somehow able to sleep for two hours on the train. I wanted to sleep all day yesterday. But the game is here, and I couldn’t tear myself away; you can imagine how excited I was. Imagine it: I began playing in the morning and by lunchtime I had lost 16 imperials. I had 12 left and some thalers. I came back after lunch intent on being as reasonable as humanly possible and, thank God, I won back the 16 I lost and won another 100 guilders on top of that. I could have won 300, because I had them in my hands, but I risked them and lost.

And meanwhile, earning money like this, paying nothing (not entirely nothing: you pay in suffering), has something aggravating and stupefying about it, and then if you think what this money is for, if you think of the debts and about the people who need it aside from myself, then you feel that you can’t leave. But I also imagine my suffering if I lose everything and accomplish nothing: to take on all this and leave here poorer even than I came. Anya, give me your word that you’ll never show these letters to anyone.

May 19, 1867

Hello my dear, my priceless angel. I’m writing you these daily lines. First, business.

Yesterday was an especially lousy day. I lost too much (relatively speaking). What to do—you can’t play here with my nerves, my angel. I played for ten hours, and ended up losing. Over the course of the day things were very bad at times, and at other times I was up, and then my luck changed. I’ll tell you all about it when we meet. For now, I’ll give it one more shot today, with what remains (very little, a drop).

P.S. I’m not writing the details of how much I’ve won, how much I’ve lost. I’ll tell you all about it when we meet. But in a word, so far it’s bad.

May 20, 1867

Yesterday was a decidedly awful and low day. The main thing is, this is all useless, stupid, and low. And yet I can’t tear myself away from my idea—. What will tomorrow bring? If you can believe it, yesterday I lost everything, everything down to the last guilder, and I decided to write you right away so that you’d send me money for my return trip. But then I remembered the watch and I went to pawn it. These places are very common here, that is, in a gambling town. There are entire stores with gold and silver merchandise that trade exclusively in things like this. Can you believe how low the Germans are? He bought the watch from me, with the chain (they cost me 125 rubles, at least) and gave me 65 guilders for them, that’s 43 thalers, that’s almost 2 1/2 times less than I paid.

May 21, 1867

My sweet angel, yesterday I underwent terrible agony: after I finished my letter to you I went to the post office, and suddenly they tell me there’s no letter from you. My legs buckled, I couldn’t believe it. God knows what came into my head, and I swear to you I’ve never suffered and worried so in my life. I thought of everything, that you’re sick, that you’re dying. I walked around in the garden for an hour, shaking; finally I went to the roulette wheel and lost everything. My hands were shaking, my thoughts were getting lost and even as I was losing I was almost somehow glad, saying: fine, fine. Finally, having lost everything (and this didn’t even shock me, then), I walked around the park for two hours, wandering God knows where: I understood all my helplessness, I decided that if there’s no letter from you tomorrow (that is, today), I would get on the train to you immediately. But with what money? Here I turned around, went to put the watch on commission again (I’d managed to it out on the way to the post office), and I pawned it to the same place as I had on the third day, and then I suddenly remembered: you couldn’t have sent me a letter that would have reached me by Monday.

If in fact you’re not sick, and everything is fine, then, my friend, could you upon receipt of this letter immediately begin to work on my affairs? Listen: the game is finished, I want to come back as soon as possible. Send me, right away, the minute you receive this letter, 20 imperials. Immediately, the very day, the very minute, if possible. Don’t lose a single drop of time. First of all, I need to buy back the watch (we can’t after all sell it for 65 guilders), and then I need to pay at the hotel, then pay for the trip, and what’s left I’ll bring back, don’t worry, I won’t play anymore. Above all, hurry. Tomorrow or the next day they will present me the bill at the hotel, and if I don’t yet have money from you, I’ll have to go to the landlord to apologize, and he’ll probably go to the police. . .

My dear friend, we won’t have much money left, but don’t worry, and don’t despair, and don’t blame me. As far as I’m concerned, I am almost completely calm about our money situation: we’ll have 20 imperials left, and they’ll send us another 20. After that, when I get back to Dresden, I’ll write Katkov right away and ask him to send me another 500 rubles to Dresden. He’ll grimace, of course, but—he’ll send it. Having already given so much (3000 rubles), he won’t deny me this.

May 22, 1867

Hello, my sweet angel!

Now consider, my dear, what happened to me yesterday. Just after sending you the letter, asking you to send money, I went to the gaming hall. I had 20 guilders in my pocket, for everything, and I decided to risk 10 guilders. I exerted almost supernatural efforts to be calm and calculating for an entire hour, with the result that I won 300 guilders. I was so happy, and I so wanted, unto madness, to finish with everything that very day, and win twice as much and leave here immediately, that without allowing myself time to rest and to come to my senses, I threw myself on the roulette table and began putting down gold and lost everything, everything, down to the last kopek. I have two guilders left for tobacco.

May 23, 1867

It’s not me who has a holy spirit but you, my angel, you have a holy spirit.

I’ll just write these few lines, quickly. I’m hurrying to the post office: perhaps you’ve already had a chance to send the money, and I’ll receive it today.

May 24, 1867

Anya, my sweet, forgive me, don’t call me a scoundrel! I’ve committed a crime, I lost everything, everything that you sent me, everything, everything to the last kreitzer, I received it yesterday and lost it all right away.

Now nothing is left but work and labor, work and labor, and I will still prove that I can do it! How things will turn out in the future, I don’t know, but now Katkov won’t refuse us. And everything to follow will depend on the quality of my work. If it’s good, then the money will come.

Immediately upon receipt of this letter send 10 imperials—that is, 90 guilders, so that I can pay my bills and go.

May 25, 1867

[D., lacking funds, has not been gambling.]

May 26, 1867

I’m writing this on some scraps; I’m out of paper, I borrowed some from the landlord. If I receive the money today I’ll try with all my strength to leave today. The train leaves at 3:20, but whether I’ll catch it in Frankfurt, I don’t know—. The bill at the inn will come to 70 guilders. That will leave 20, and 20 minimum is how much the train will be. I can’t ride without a kopek, but as I wish to leave immediately I’ll manage it somehow. The thing I’m most worried about is the cold. If I catch cold, that will make things worse. According to the papers, there’s cholera in Berlin, and in Paris there was overnight frost on May 24, the apples and cherries were lost—everything was covered in frost, and on the day of May 24 there was snow and hail. During the day here yesterday one’s breath froze. I’ll try to wear two layers, and then we’ll leave it up to God. In any case, my eternal angel, don’t worry. I want to leave immediately with all my being. If I don’t come tomorrow and you receive this letter instead, then know that something didn’t work out, some minor thing, some circumstance, but that I’m still on my way. I hug you, my treasure, I kiss you many times, love me, be my wife, forgive me, forget the bad things, we still have our whole lives together.

Your eternal and true Fed. Dostoevsky

Today is Sunday, the exchange offices will probably be closed. So here’s what: if I don’t receive it in the morning, but at five in the afternoon. Oh, but I wouldn’t want that.

My angel, my friend, forgive me.

[On May 26, 1867, Dostoevsky boarded the train out of Hamburg. Katkov’s Russkiy Vestnik published The Idiot in 1868, to great acclaim.]

—Prepared and translated by Ilya Bernstein and Keith Gessen

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