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Dostoevsky's Farewell Letter

Fyodor Dostoevsky had a close encounter with a firing squad before he became a famous writer.  At the last minute, Nicholas I (the Russian Tsar at the time), granted a reprieve for Dostoevsky and the other “condemned” prisoners.

Instead of a death sentence, Dostoevsky was ordered to spend time at a penal institution in Siberia.

Before leaving St. Petersburg, the Siberian-bound novelist wrote a farewell letter to his brother, Mikhail.  This image depicts a facsimile of that letter.

Later, Dostoevsky observed that all the misery he endured was exactly what he had needed to make him the writer he ultimately became.

The following is a transcription of the full letter to his brother.  Broken into pages, as Dostoevsky wrote it, the letter’s transcription is online, courtesy Archive.org:

The Peter and Paul Fortress,
December 22, 1849.

MlHAIL MlHAILOVICH DOSTOEVSKY,

Nevsky Prospect, opposite Gryazny Street,
in the house of Neslind.

Brother, my precious friend ! all is settled ! I
am sentenced to four years' hard labour in the
fortress (I believe, of Orenburg) and after that to
serve as a private. To-day, the 22nd of December,
we were taken to the Semionov Drill Ground.
There the sentence of death was read to all of us, we
were told to kiss the Cross, our swords were broken
over our heads, and our last toilet was made (white
shirts). Then three were tied to the pillar for
execution. I was the sixth. Three at a time were
called out ; consequently, I was in the second batch
and no more than a minute was left me to live.
I remembered you, brother, and all yours ; during
the last minute you, you alone, were in my mind,
only then I realised how I love you, dear brother
mine ! I also managed to embrace Plescheyev and
Durov who stood close to me and to say good-bye



to them. Finally the retreat was sounded, and
those tied to the pillar were led back, and it was
announced to us that His Imperial Majesty granted
us our lives. Then followed the present sentences.
Palm alone has been pardoned, and returns with
his old rank to the army.

I was just told, dear brother, that to-day or
to-morrow we are to be sent off. I asked to see you.
But I was told that this was impossible ; I may
only write you this letter : make haste and give
me a reply as soon as you can. I am afraid that
you may somehow have got to know of our death-
sentence. From the windows of the prison-van,
when we were taken to the Semionov Drill Ground,
I saw a multitude of people ; perhaps the news
reached you, and you suffered for me. Now you
will be easier on my account. Brother ! I have
not become downhearted or low-spirited. Life is
everywhere life, life in ourselves, not in what is
outside us. There will be people near me, and to
be a man among people and remain a man for ever,
not to be downhearted nor to fall in whatever
misfortunes may befall me — this is life ; this is
the task of life. I have realised this. This idea
has entered into my flesh and into my blood. Yes,
it 's true ! The head which was creating, living
with the highest life of art, which had realised and
grown used to the highest needs of the spirit, that



head has already been cut off from my shoulders.
There remain the memory and the images created
but not yet incarnated by me. They will lacerate
me, it is true ! But there remains in me my heart
and the same flesh and blood which can also love,
and suffer, and desire, and remember, and this,
after all, is life. On voit le soleil ! Now, good-bye,
brother ! Don't grieve for me !

Now about material things : my books (I have
the Bible still) and several sheets of my manu-
script, the rough plan of the play and the novel
(and the finished story A Child's Tale) have been
taken away from me, and in all probability will
be got by you. I also leave my overcoat and old
clothes, if you send to fetch them. Now, brother,
I may perhaps have to march a long distance.
Money is needed. My dear brother, when you
receive this letter, and if there is any possibility of
getting some money, send it me at once. Money I
need now more than air (for one particular purpose).
Send me also a few lines. Then if the money from
Moscow comes, — remember me and do not desert
me. Well, that is all ! I have debts, 1 but what
can I do ?

Kiss your wife and children. Remind them of
me continually ; see that they do not forget me.

1 Money owed by Dostoevsky to Krajevsky was paid by A
Child's Tale.



Perhaps, we shall yet meet some time ! Brother,
take care of yourself and of your family, live
quietly and carefully. Think of the future of yoi
children. . . . Live positively. There has nevei
yet been working in me such a healthy abundance
of spiritual life as now. But will my body endure ?
I do not know. I am going away sick, I suffer
from scrofula. But never mind ! Brother, I have
already gone through so much in life that now
hardly anything can frighten me. Let come what
may ! At the first opportunity I shall let you know
about myself. Give the Maikovs my farewell and
last greetings. Tell them that I thank them all
for their constant interest in my fate. Say a few
words for me, as warm as possible, as your heart
will prompt you, to Eugenia Petrovna. 1 I wish
her much happiness, and shall ever remember her
with grateful respect. Press the hands of Nikolay
Apollonovich 2 and Apollon Maikov, and also of all
the others. Find Yanovsky. Press his hand,
thank him. Finally, press the hands of all who
have not forgotten me. And those who have
forgotten me — remember me to them also. Kiss
our brother Kolya. Write a letter to our brother
Andrey and let him know about me. Write also


1 Eugenia Petrovna was the mother of the poet Apollon Maikov,
Dostoevsky'a friend.

2 N. A. Maikov, the father of A. N. Maikov.



to Uncle and Aunt. This I ask you in my own
name, and greet them for me. Write to our sisters :
I wish them happiness.

And maybe, we shall meet again some time,
brother ! Take care of yourself, go on living, for
the love of God, until we meet. Perhaps some
time we shall embrace each other and recall our
youth, our golden time that was, our youth
and our hopes, which at this very instant I am
tearing out from my heart with my blood, to bury
them.

Can it indeed be that I shall never take a pen
into my hands ? I think that after the four years
there may be a possibility. I shall send you every-
thing that I may write, if I write anything, my
God ! How many imaginations, lived through by
me, created by me anew, will perish, will be ex-
tinguished in my brain or will be spilt as poison in
my blood ! Yes, if I am not allowed to write, I
shall perish. Better fifteen years of prison with a
pen in my hands !

Write to me more often, write more details,
more, more facts. In every letter write about all
kinds of family details, of trifles, don't forget.
This will give me hope and life. If you knew
how your letters revived me here in the fortress.
These last two months and a half, when it was
forbidden to write or receive a letter, have been



very hard on me. I was ill. The fact that you
did not send me money now and then worried me
on your account ; it meant you yourself were in
great need ! Kiss the children once again ; their
lovely little faces do not leave my mind. Ah,
that they may be happy ! Be happy yourself too,
brother, be happy !

But do not grieve, for the love of God, do not
grieve for me ! Do believe that I am not down-
hearted, do remember that hope has not deserted
me. In four years there will be a mitigation of
my fate. I shall be a private soldier, — no longer
a prisoner, and remember that some time I shall
embrace you. I was to-day in the grip of death for
three-quarters of an hour ; I have lived it through
with that idea ; I was at the last instant and now
I live again !

If any one has bad memories of me, if I have
quarrelled with any one, if I have created in
any one an unpleasant impression — tell them they
should forget it, if you manage to meet them. There
is no gall or spite in my soul ; I should dearly love
to embrace any one of my former friends at this
moment. It is a comfort, I experienced it to-day
when saying good-bye to my dear ones before death.
I thought at that moment that the news of the
execution would kill you. But now be easy, I am
still alive and shall live in the future with the



thought that some time I shall embrace you. Only
this is now in my mind.

What are you doing ? What have you been
thinking to-day ? Do you know about us ? How
cold it was to-day !

Ah, if only my letter reaches you soon. Other-
wise I shall be for four months without news of
you. I saw the envelopes in which you sent money
during the last two months ; the address was
written in your hand, and I was glad that you were
well.

When I look back at the past and think how
much time has been wasted in vain, how much
time was lost in delusions, in errors, in idleness, in
ignorance of how to live, how I did not value time,
how often I sinned against my heart and spirit,
— my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness,
each minute might have been an age of happiness.
Si jeunesse savait ! Now, changing my life, I am
being reborn into a new form. Brother ! I swear
to you that I shall not lose hope, and shall preserve
my spirit and heart in purity. I shall be reborn
to a better thing. That is my whole hope, my whole
comfort !

The life in prison has already sufficiently killed
in me the demands of the flesh which were not
wholly pure ; I took little heed of myself before.
Now privations are nothing to me, and, therefore,



do not fear that any material hardship will kill me.
This cannot be ! Ah ! To have health !

Good-bye, good-bye, my brother ! When shall
I write you again ? You will receive from me as
detailed an account as possible of my journey.
If I can only preserve my health, then everything
will be right !

Well, good-bye, good-bye, brother ! I embrace
you closely, I kiss you closely. Remember me
without pain in your heart. Do not grieve, I pray
you, do not grieve for me ! In the next letter I
shall tell you how I go on. Remember then what
I have told you : plan out your life, do not
waste it, arrange your destiny, think of your
children. Oh, to see you, to see you ! Good-bye !
Now I tear myself away from everything that was
dear ; it is painful to leave it ! It is painful to
break oneself in two, to cut the heart in two.
Good-bye ! Good-bye ! But I shall see you, I
am convinced — I hope ; do not change, love me,
do not let your memory grow cold, and the thought
of your love will be the best part of my life. Good-
bye, good-bye, once more ! Good-bye to all !
— Your brother Fiodor Dostoevsky.

Dec. 22, 1849.

At my arrest several books were taken away
from me. Only two of them were prohibited books.



Won't you get the rest for yourself ? But there is
this request : one of the books was The Work of
Valerian Maikov : his critical essays — Eugenia
Petrovna's copy. It was her treasure, and she
lent it me. At my arrest I asked the police officer
to return that book to her, and gave him the
address. I do not know if he returned it to her.
Make enquiries ! I do not want to take this memory
away from her. Good-bye, good-bye, once more !

— Your F. Dostoevsky.

On the margins :

I do not know if I shall have to march or go on
horses. I believe I shall go on horses. Perhaps !

Once again press Emily Fiodorovna's hand, kiss
the little ones. Remember me to Krayevsky :
perhaps . . .

Write me more particularly about your arrest,
confinement, and liberation.


Media Credits

Image of a page of Dostoevsky's December 22, 1849 letter to his brother, online courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

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