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It is difficult to refrain from the relief of irony, from the luxury of contempt, when surveying the mess that meek hands, obedient tentacles guided by the bloated octopus of the state, have managed to make out of that fiery, fanciful free thing—literature. Even more: I have learned to treasure my disgust, because I know that by feeling so strongly about it I am saving what I can of the spirit of Russian literature. Next to the right to create, the right to criticize is the richest gift that liberty of thought and speech can offer. Living as you do in freedom, in that spiritual open where you were born and bred, you may be apt to regard stories of prison life coming from remote lands as exaggerated accounts spread by panting fugitives. That a country exists where for almost a quarter of a century literature has been limited to illustrating the advertisements of a firm of slave-traders is hardly credible to people for whom writing and reading books is synonymous with having and voicing individual opinions. But if you do not believe in the existence of such conditions, you may at least imagine them, and once you have imagined them you will realize with new purity and pride the value of real books written by free men for free men to read.