Chernyshevsky is a vegetarian in Siberian exile

Russia has a long tradition of meatless eating during fasting periods. Nevertheless, modern vegetarianism, which arose in the West in the middle of the 1890th century. and now experiencing a remarkable renaissance, came to her only in the 1917s. Thanks to the influence of L.N. Tolstoy, as well as the activities of such scientists as A.N. Beketov and A.I. Voeikov, a powerful vegetarian movement was formed in Russia before the First World War. In the book for the first time in detail, on the basis of archival materials, his story is revealed. An echo of vegetarian ideas is shown in the works of Leskov, Chekhov, Artsybashev, V. Solovyov, Natalia Nordman, Nazhivin, Mayakovsky, as well as artists Paolo Trubetskoy, Repin, Ge and many others. The destinies of vegetarian societies, restaurants, magazines, the attitude of doctors towards vegetarianism are depicted; trends can be traced in the development of this movement until its suppression after XNUMX, when vegetarian concepts continued to exist only in “scientific utopia” and in “science fiction”.

N. G. Chernyshevsky

“The book presents a gallery of great vegetarians (L. Tolstoy, N. Chernyshevsky, I. Repin, etc.)” – this was the announcement of the book in 1992 Vegetarianism in Russia (NK-92-17/34, intended circulation – 15, volume – 000 printed sheets); the book, in all likelihood, never saw the light of day, at least not under that title. The assertion that N. G. Chernyshevsky (7 – 1828) was a vegetarian may surprise those who read his socio-utopian novel What to do? as part of the compulsory school curriculum. But in 1909 IN Indeed, one could read the following note:

“October 17th. The twentieth anniversary of the death of Nikolai Grigorievich [sic!] Chernyshevsky was celebrated.

Many like-minded people do not know that this great mind belonged to our camp.

In No. 18 of the magazine “Nedelya” for 1893 we find the following (an interesting fact for vegetarians from the life of the late N. G. Chernyshevsky in the far north in Siberia). Nedelya refers to the German organ Vegetarische Rundschau and writes: “In Siberia, in Kolymsk, near Yakutsk, the author of the novel What Is to Be Done has been living in exile for 15 years. The exile owns a small garden, which he cultivates himself; he pays much attention and carefully observes the growth of his plants; he drained the swampy soil in the garden. Chernyshevsky lives on food he himself produces, and eats only plant foods.. He lives so moderately that for the whole year he does not spend the 120 rubles that the government gives him.

In the first issue of the journal for 1910, under the heading “Letter to the Editor”, a letter was published by a certain Y. Chaga, indicating that errors crept into the note in No. 8-9:

“Firstly, Chernyshevsky was in exile in Siberia, not in Kolymsk, but in Vilyuisk, Yakutsk region. <...> Secondly, Chernyshevsky was in exile in Vilyuisk not 15, but 12 years.

But all this <...> is not so significant: much more significant is the fact that Chernyshevsky was at one time a conscious and rather strict vegetarian. And here I, in turn, in confirmation of the fact that during these years of exile Chernyshevsky was indeed a vegetarian, I cite the following quotation from the book of Vl. Berenshtam “Near the political”; the author conveys the story of the captain’s wife about Chernyshevsky, next door to whom she lived for about a year in Vilyuysk.

“He (i.e. Chernyshevsky) did not eat meat or white bread, but only black bread, ate cereals, fish and milk …

Most of all Chernyshevsky ate porridge, rye bread, tea, mushrooms (in summer) and milk, rarely fish. There was also a wild bird in Vilyuisk, but he did not eat it and butter. He didn’t eat anything at anyone’s house, as he used to ask. Once only on my name day I ate a little fish pie. He also hated wine; if, it happened, he sees, now he says: ‘take it away, take it away!’ » ».

Referring to the book of Vl. Berenshtam, it can be established that in 1904, J. Chaga, during a trip by steamboat along the Lena River, met Alexandra Larionovna Mogilova, the wife of the said captain. In her first marriage, she was married to non-commissioned officer Gerasim Stepanovich Shchepkin. This first husband of hers was the last warden of the prison in Vilyuysk, the place where Chernyshevsky spent 12 years in exile. The conversation with her was recorded verbatim (a short version from the lips of Shchepkin himself was published by S. F. Mikhalevich already in 1905 in Russian Wealth). In 1883, A. L. Mogilova (then Shchepkina) lived in Vilyuisk. According to her story, Chernyshevsky, who was allowed to leave the prison from dawn until nightfall, was picking mushrooms in the forest. Escape from the roadless wilds was out of the question. In winter there is more and more night, and the frosts are stronger than in Irkutsk. There were no vegetables, potatoes were brought from afar by eunuchs for 3 rubles a pood, but Chernyshevsky did not buy them at all because of the high cost. He had five large chests of books. In summer, the torment from mosquitoes was terrible: “In the room,” recalls A. L. Mogilova, “there was a , a pot with all kinds of smoldering rubbish. If you take white bread, then immediately the midge will settle down so thickly that you think that it is smeared with caviar.

Make sure in the story of Vl. Berenshtam is possible today on the basis of the data that we find in Chernyshevsky’s correspondence. In 1864, for participation in student and peasant unrest of 1861-1862, as well as for contacts with emigrants A.I. Herzen and N.P. seven years of forced labor in the Irkutsk silver mines, followed by life exile. From December 1871 to October 1883 he was kept in the settlement of Vilyuisk, located 450 kilometers northwest of Irkutsk. Chernyshevsky’s letters from the exile there, relating to 1872-1883, can be found in the XIV and XV volumes of the complete works of the writer; in part, these letters are quite long, since mail to Irkutsk was sent once every two months. You have to put up with some repetition in order to paint the full picture.

Chernyshevsky never ceases to assure his wife Olga, sons Alexander and Mikhail, as well as Professor A. N. Pypin, a well-known cultural historian who supports the family of the exile with money, that everything is fine with him: neither in a doctor, nor in medicines, nor in acquaintances with people, nor in comfort, I can live here without harm to my health, and without boredom, and without any hardships that are palpable to my indiscriminate sense of taste. So he wrote to his wife Olga Sokratovna at the beginning of June 1872, convincingly asking her to give up the idea of ​​visiting him. In almost every letter – and there are more than three hundred of them – we find assurances that he is healthy and lacks nothing, asks that no money be sent to him. Especially often the writer speaks about the circumstances of his diet and everyday life in exile: “I write everything about food; for, I suppose, that is the only thing about which one can still doubt whether I am comfortable enough here. More convenient than I need according to my tastes and needs <...> I live here, as they lived in the old days, probably still live, middle-class landowners in their villages.

Contrary to the assumptions that the stories cited at the beginning may evoke, Chernyshevsky’s letters from Vilyuisk repeatedly speak not only of fish, but also of meat.

On June 1, 1872, he writes to his wife that he is grateful to the kind family that is trying about his food: “Firstly, it is difficult to find meat or fish.” In fact, neither meat nor fish was on sale from April until October or November. “But thanks to their [that family’s] diligence, I have every day enough, even abundantly, meat or fish of good quality.” An important concern, he writes, for all Russians living there, is lunch. There are no cellars where provisions would be well preserved in summer: “And meat cannot be eaten in summer. You have to eat fish. Those who cannot eat fish sometimes sit hungry. It doesn’t apply to me. I eat fish with pleasure and am happy with this physiological dignity. But if there is no meat, people who do not like fish can eat milk. Yes, they are trying. But since my arrival here, it has become more difficult than before: my rivalry in buying milk has made this product impoverished on the local exchange. Looking for, looking for milk – no milk; everything is bought and drunk by me. Jokes aside, yes.” Chernyshevsky buys two bottles of milk a day (“here they measure milk by bottles”) – this is the result of milking three cows. The quality of milk, he notes, is not bad. But since milk is difficult to get, he drinks tea from morning to evening. Chernyshevsky is joking, but, nevertheless, between the lines it is felt that even a very modest person had an unenviable position with food. True, there was grain. He writes that every year the Yakuts (under Russian influence) sow more and more bread – it will be born there well. For his taste, bread and food are cooked quite well.

In a letter dated March 17, 1876, we read: “For the first summer here I endured for a month, like everyone here, a lack of fresh meat. But even then I had fish. And having learned from experience, the following summer I took care of the meat myself, and since then it has been fresh every summer. – The same goes for vegetables: now I have no shortage of them. There is an abundance of wild birds, of course. Fish – in the summer, as it happens: sometimes for several days there is none; but in general I have it even in the summer – as much as I like; and in winter it is always good: sterlet and other fish of the same good taste as sterlet. And on January 23, 1877, he announces: “Regarding food, I have long observed those prescriptions of medicine that can be performed in the local semi-wild and completely impoverished area. These people don’t even know how to roast meat. <...> My main food, for a long time, is milk. I drink it three bottles of champagne a day <…> Three bottles of champagne is 5? pounds of milk. <...> You can judge that, in addition to milk and tea with sugar, it is far from every day that I need a pound of bread and a quarter of a pound of meat. My bread is tolerable. Even the local savages know how to cook meat.”

Chernyshevsky had a hard time with some of the local eating habits. In a letter dated July 9, 1875, he shares the following impressions: “Regarding the table, my affairs have long since become completely satisfactory. The local Russians borrowed something in their gastronomic concepts from the Yakuts. They especially like eating cow butter in incredible quantities. I could not cope with this for quite a long time: the cook considered it necessary to put oil in all sorts of dishes for me. I changed these old women <...> the changes did not help, each next one turned out to be unshakable in the Yakut kitchen orthodoxy in feeding me butter. <...> Finally, an old woman was found who once lived in the Irkutsk province and has an ordinary Russian look at cow butter.

In the same letter there is also a noteworthy remark about vegetables: “In past years, due to my carelessness, I remained not rich in vegetables. Here they are considered more a luxury, a delicacy, than a necessary part of food. This summer, I happened to remember to take measures so that I would have as many vegetables as I needed according to my taste: I said that I was buying all the cabbages, all the cucumbers, etc., as much as the local gardeners would have for sale. <...> And I will be supplied with vegetables in an amount, no doubt, exceeding my needs. <...> I also have another occupation of the same nature: picking mushrooms. It goes without saying that to give some Yakut boy two kopecks, and he would pick up more mushrooms in one day than I can manage in a whole week. But in order for time to pass in the open air, I wander along the edge of the forest thirty paces from my house and pick mushrooms: there are a lot of them here. In a letter dated November 1, 1881, Chernyshevsky gives detailed information on the collection and drying of various varieties of mushrooms.

On March 18, 1875, he recalls the situation with vegetables in Russia in this way: “I am “Russian” here for people who are no less Russian than I am; but “Russians” begin for them with Irkutsk; in “Russia” – imagine: cucumbers are cheap! And potatoes! And carrots! And here the vegetables are not bad, really; but in order for them to grow, they are looked after, as in Moscow or St. Petersburg for pineapples. “Bread will be born well, even wheat.”

And another quote from a long letter dated March 17, 1876: “You doubt, my friend, whether I really live well here. You really doubt it. <...> My food is not French cuisine, really; but you remember, I can not stand any dishes, except for simple Russian cooking; you yourself were forced to take care that the cook would prepare some Russian food for me, and besides this dish I almost never ate at the table, almost nothing. Do you remember when I went to feasts with gastronomic dishes, I remained at the table without eating anything at all. And now my aversion to elegant dishes has reached the point where I positively cannot stand either cinnamon or cloves. <…>

I love milk. Yes, it works well for me. There is little milk here: there are many cows; but they are poorly fed, and the local cow gives almost less milk than a goat in Russia. <...> And in the city they have so few cows that they themselves lack milk. Therefore, after my arrival here, for four months or more, I lived without milk: no one has it for sale; everyone lacks for themselves. (I’m talking about fresh milk. Milk is frozen in Siberia. But it no longer tastes good. There is plenty of ice-cream milk here. But I can’t drink it.)

In a letter dated April 3, 1876, the exile says: “For example: there are sardines here, there are a lot of different canned food. I said: “many” – no, their number is not large: there are no rich people here; and whoever has good goods issued from Yakutsk in his home stock spends them sparingly. But there is never a shortage of them. <...> For example, once I liked some Moscow pretzels at a party, it turned out that they were in demand, cookies. Can you have them? – “Excuse me!” – “How?” – It turned out that 12 or 15 pounds are gaining, which can be given to me. <…> In the meantime, I will eat 12 pounds of cookies with my tea. <...> A completely different question: did [I] eat these pounds of cookies and wrote myself a continuation of the same pleasantness? Of course no. Can I really be interested in such trifles?

In matters of nutrition, Chernyshevsky, in fact, sometimes manages rather casually. An illustration of this is the “story with a lemon”, which, as the narrator himself assures, is “famous in Vilyuisk”. They gave him two fresh lemons – an extreme rarity in these places – he, putting the “gifts” on the windowsill, forgot about them completely, as a result, the lemons withered and moldy; another time they send him cookies with almonds and the like for some holiday. “It was a few pounds.” Chernyshevsky put most of it in a box where sugar and tea were stored. When he looked into that box two weeks later, he found that the cookies were soft, tender, and moldy all over. “Laugh”.

Chernyshevsky tries to compensate for the lack of vegetables by picking forest fruits. On August 14, 1877, he writes to his son Alexander: “There are very few vegetables here. But what can I get, I will eat. However, their lack is unimportant due to the fact that lingonberries grow here. In a month it will ripen, and I will constantly use it. And on February 25, 1878, he informs A.N. Pypin: “I knew that I was grieving. I ate lingonberries when I could get them. I ate it by the pound.”

The following message refers to May 29, 1878: “Yesterday I made a gastronomic discovery. There are a lot of currants here. I walk between her bushes and see: she blooms. <...> And from another process, another bunch of flowers, bordered by young leaves, climbs right into my lips. I tried to see if it would all be delicious together, flowers with young leaves. And ate; it seemed to me: it tastes like a salad; only much softer and better. I don’t like salad. But I liked it. And I gnawed a bush of three currants. “A discovery that gastronomes will hardly believe: currants are the best variety of lettuce.” October 27, 1879 – a similar entry: “How many currants I collected this summer exceeds all measure and probability. And – imagine: clusters of red currants are still hanging on the bushes; one day frozen, another day thawed again. The frozen ones are very tasty; not at all the same taste as summer ones; and I think it’s better. If I had not been extremely careful in my food, I would have gorged myself on them.

It seems difficult to reconcile Chernyshevsky’s letters addressed to his relatives with evidence from Vl. Berenshtam and with Mogilova’s report on the writer’s vegetarian lifestyle dating back to the last year of exile. But perhaps it is still possible? In a letter dated June 15, 1877, we find the following confession: “… I readily admit the immeasurable superiority of any cook over me in all matters of kitchen art: – I do not know him and cannot know him, because it is hard for me to see not only raw red meat, but also the meat of fish that retains its natural appearance. I’m sorry, almost ashamed. You remember, I always ate very little at dinner. You remember, I always ate my fill not at dinner, but before or after – I ate bread. I don’t like eating meat. And this has been with me since childhood. I’m not saying that my feeling is good. But that’s how it is by nature.”

In a very long letter dated January 30, 1878, Chernyshevsky translates for Olga, partially shortening the text, “an article by one of the very famous and most scientists, and, even better, one of the most intelligent physicians in Germany, from which almost the entire mass of medical knowledge by our good physicians.” The author of the article is Paul Niemeyer, who lived in Magdeburg. “The article is titled: ‘Popular Medicine and Personal Health Care.’ Cultural and historical study of Paul Niemeyer “”.

This article, in particular, appeals to the personal responsibility of a person for himself; Chernyshevsky quotes: “Everyone himself must take care of his recovery, <...> the doctor only leads him by the hand.” And he continues: “But, says Paul Niemeyer, there were at least a small number of people who decided to live according to the rules of hygiene. These are vegetarians (opponents of meat food).

Paul Niemeyer finds in them a lot of eccentricity, completely unnecessary for intelligent people. He says that he himself does not dare to positively say: “meat is a harmful food.” But what he is disposed to think is the truth. “I didn’t expect that.

I’m not talking about your health, my dear Lyalechka, but for my own pleasure.

I have long believed that physicians and physiologists were mistaken in classifying man as a carnivorous creature by nature. The teeth and stomach, which are designed to solve problems of this kind, are not the same in man as in carnivorous mammals. Eating meat is a bad habit for a person. When I began to think this way, I did not find anything in the books of specialists except a decisive contradiction to this opinion: “meat is better than bread,” everyone said. Little by little, some timid hints began to come across that perhaps we (physicians and physiologists) were too humiliating bread, too exalting meat. Now they say it more often, more boldly. And another specialist, like this Paul Niemeyer, is completely disposed to assume that meat is food for humans, perhaps harmful. However, I notice that I exaggerated his opinion, conveying in my own words. He only says:

“I cannot admit that perfect abstinence from meat can be made a rule. It’s a matter of taste”.

And after that he praises that vegetarians abhor gluttony; and gluttony of meat is more common than any other.

I never had the inclination to be eccentric. Everyone eats meat; therefore it is all the same to me: I eat what others eat. But—but, all this is in the least irrelevant. As a scientist, I am pleased to see that the correct, in my opinion, scientific way of understanding the relationship between bread and meat is no longer unconditionally rejected by specialists. So I blabbed about my learned pleasure.

In a letter dated October 1, 1881, Chernyshevsky assures his wife: “Another time I will write you details about my food and everything like that, so that you can more clearly see the validity of my other constant assurance:“ I live well, having everything necessary in abundance for me“, not special, you know, a lover of luxury.” But the promised “details” are given in the same letter:

“I can’t see raw meat; and it all develops in me. Previously, he could not see only the meat of mammals and birds; looked at the fish indifferently. Now it’s hard for me to look at fish meat. Here it is impossible to eat only vegetable food; and if it were possible, he would probably gradually come to an aversion to all meat food.

The question seems clear. Chernyshevsky, from infancy, like many children – as Rousseau pointed out – experienced a natural aversion to meat. Due to his own inclination towards the sound scientific, he tried to find an explanation for this reluctance, but faced with the opposite theses of the luminaries of science, presented as an undeniable truth. And only in an article by Niemeyer in 1876 did he find an explanation for his feelings. Chernyshevsky’s letter dated January 30, 1878 (see above: c. yy pp. 54 – 55) was written earlier than A. N. Beketov’s article “Human nutrition in his present and future” that appeared in August of the same year. Thus, Chernyshevsky is probably the first representative of the Russian intelligentsia who, on principle, declares himself a supporter of a vegetarian lifestyle.

The fact that in Vilyuisk Chernyshevsky ate meat and mostly fish is beyond doubt, but it must be borne in mind that he tried to protect his neighbors from anxiety, and especially his wife Olga, because, according to the then prevailing views, meat was considered the most important food product. Suffice it to recall the constant fears of S. A. Tolstoy, whether the vegetarian regime would shorten her husband’s life.

Chernyshevsky, on the contrary, is sure that his good health can be explained by the fact that he leads an “extremely correct lifestyle” and regularly observes “rules of hygiene”: “For example: I don’t eat anything that is hard on the stomach. There are many wild birds here, from duck breeds and breeds of black grouse. I love these birds. But they are less easy for me than beef. And I don’t eat them. There is a lot of dried fish here, like salmon. I love her. But it is heavy on the stomach. And I have never taken it in my mouth in all these years.”

Obviously, Chernyshevsky’s desire for vegetarianism is not due to ethical motives and concern for animals, but rather is a phenomenon of an aesthetic and, as Niemeyer propagated, “hygienic” kind. By the way, Chernyshevsky had a low opinion about alcohol. His son Alexander passed on to his father the advice of Russian doctors to drink alcohol – vodka, for example, if not grape wine. But he doesn’t need alcohol or gentian or orange peel: “I keep my stomach very well. <...> And this is very easy for me to observe: I have not the slightest inclination either to gastronomy or to any such nonsense. And I have always liked to be very moderate in my food. <...> The lightest wine has a hard effect on me; not on the nerves – no – but on the stomach. In a letter to his wife dated May 29, 1878, he tells the story of how one day, sitting at a magnificent dinner, he agreed to drink a glass of wine for decency, after which he said to the owner: “You see, I drink; Yes, Madeira, and not just some weak wine. Everyone burst out laughing. It turned out that it was beer, “simple, ordinary Russian beer.”

It is highly significant that Chernyshevsky justifies his sporadic meat-eating by the unwillingness (cf. above, p. 55 yy) to stand out from the crowd – a problem that vegetarians also face in modern society; Let us recall the words of Tomasz Mazarik quoted by Makowicki, who explains why, despite his “vegetarian” inclinations, he continues to eat meat (cf. below, p. 105 yy).

Admiration for fruits is also palpable in a letter from Chernyshevsky dated November 3, 1882. He learns that his wife bought a house in Saratov and is going to plant a garden: “If we talk about gardens, which are called“ gardens ”in Saratov, that is, about gardens of fruit trees, then I have always been disposed to regard the cherry as the most beautiful of our fruit trees. Good and pear tree. <...> When I was a child, part of our yard was occupied by a garden, thick and beautiful. My father loved taking care of trees. <...> Have you learned now in Saratov how to achieve a decent growth of grapes?

In the years of Chernyshevsky’s youth in Saratov there were “soil gardens” in which, – he continues, – tender fruit trees grew well, – it seems, even apricots and peaches. – Bergamots grew well in simple gardens that were not protected from winter. Have Saratov gardeners learned how to take care of noble varieties of apple trees? – In my childhood, there was no “reinette” in Saratov yet. Now, perhaps, they are also acclimatized? And if you haven’t yet, then try to deal with them and grapes and succeed. ”

Let us also recall that longing for the south, which is felt in the fourth dream of Vera Pavlovna from the novel What to do? – about some kind of “New Russia”, apparently near the Persian Gulf, where the Russians covered “bare mountains with a thick layer of earth, and groves of the tallest trees grow on them among the gardens: below in the moist hollows of the plantation of the coffee tree; above date palms, fig trees; vineyards interspersed with sugarcane plantations; there is also wheat on the fields, but more rice…”.

Returning from exile, Chernyshevsky settled in Astrakhan and there he again met with Olga Sokratovna, in their subsequent correspondence they no longer talk about nutrition, but about the fear of existence, about literary problems and translation work, about the plan to publish the Russian version of the Brockhaus encyclopedia and about his two cats. Only once does Chernyshevsky mention “that Persian selling fruit from whom you always tell me to take” the second mention of food is found in a scrupulous account of expenses, even the smallest ones: “fish (dried)” was bought for him for 13 kopecks.

Thus, information about Chernyshevsky’s “vegetarian thoughts” and habits came down to us only as a result of the oppressive measures of the tsarist regime: if he had not been exiled, then we probably would not have known anything about it.

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