`The point is, don't you see, that progress of every sort is only made by the use of authority,' he said, evidently wishing to show he was not without culture. `Take the reforms of Peter, of Catherine, of Alexander. Take European history. And progress in agriculture more than anything else - the potato, for instance, that was introduced among us by force. The wooden plow, too, wasn't always used. It was introduced in the days of appanaged princes, perhaps, but it was probably brought in by force. Now, in our own day, we landowners in the serf times used various improvements in our husbandry: drying machines and threshing machines, and carting manure, and all the modern implements - all these we brought into use by our authority, and the peasants opposed it at first, and ended by imitating us. Now, by the abolition of serfdom, we have been deprived of our authority; and so our husbandry, where it had been raised to a high level, is bound to sink to the most savage, primitive condition. That's how I see it.'
`But why so? If it's rational, you'll be able to keep up the same system with hired labor,' said Sviiazhsky.
`We've no power over them. With whom am I going to work the system, allow me to ask?'
`There it is - the labor force - the chief element in agriculture,' thought Levin.
`The laborers won't work well, and won't work with good implements. Our laborer can do nothing but get drunk, like a swine, and then ruin everything you give him. He spoils the horses by watering unseasonably, he cuts good harness, barters the tires of the wheels for drink, drops bits of iron into the threshing machine, so as to break it. He loathes the sight of anything that's not after his fashion. And that's how the whole level of husbandry has fallen. Lands gone out of cultivation, overgrown with weeds, or divided among the peasants, and where millions of chetverts were raised you get a hundred thousand; the wealth of the country has decreased. If the same thing had been done, but with consideration for...'
And he proceeded to unfold his own scheme of emancipation by means of which these drawbacks might have been avoided.
This did not interest Levin, but, when he had finished, Levin went back to his first position, and, addressing Sviiazhsky, and trying to draw him into expressing his serious opinion, said:
`It's perfectly true that the standard of culture is falling, and that with our present relations to the peasants there is no possibility of farming on a rational system to yield a profit,' said he.
`I don't believe it,' Sviiazhsky replied quite seriously; `all I see is that we don't know how to cultivate the land, and that our system of agriculture in the serf days was by no means too high, but too low. We have no machines, no good stock, no efficient supervision; we don't even know how to keep accounts. Ask any landowner; he won't be able to tell you which crop's profitable, and which isn't.'
`Italian bookkeeping,' said the landowner ironically. `You may keep your books as you like, but if they spoil everything for you, there won't be any profit.'
`Why do they spoil things? A poor threshing machine, or your Russian presser, they will break, but my steam press they don't break. A wretched Russian nag they'll ruin, but keep good percherons or the Russian wagon horses - they won't ruin them. And so it is all round. We must raise our farming to a higher level.'
`Oh, if one only had the means to do it, Nikolai Ivanovich! It's all very well for you; but for me, with a son to keep at the university, lads to be educated at the high school - how am I going to buy these percherons?'
`Well, that's what the banks are for.'
`To get whatever I have left sold by auction? No, thank you.'
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