This is Astroff’s monologue from UNCLE VANYA by Anton Chekhov. It tells us a lot about where we are now … and he wrote it near 120 years ago. Uncle Vanya was first published in 1897 and received its Moscow première in 1899 in a production by the Moscow Art Theatre, under the direction of Konstantin Stanislavski.
ASTROFF: You can burn peat in your stoves and build your barns of stone. Oh, I don’t object, of course, to cutting wood when you have to, but why destroy the forests? The woods of Russia are trembling under the blows of the ax. Millions of trees have perished. The homes of the wild animals and the birds have been laid desolate; the rivers are shrinking, and many beautiful landscapes are gone forever. And why? Because men are too lazy and short-sighted to stoop and pick their fuel from the ground. Am I not right? Who but a senseless barbarian could burn so much beauty in his stove and destroy what he cannot create himself? Man has reason and creative energy so that he may increase his possessions. Until now, though, he has not created but destroyed. The forests are disappearing, the rivers are drying up, the game is being exterminated, the climate is spoiled and the earth becomes poorer and uglier every day. I read irony in your eye; you do not take seriously what I am saying; and — and — perhaps I am talking nonsense. But when I cross peasant-forests which I have saved from the ax, or hear the rustling of the young trees which I have set out with my own hands, I feel as if I had had some small share in improving the climate, and that if mankind is happy a thousand years from now I shall have been partly responsible in my small way for their happiness. When I plant a young birch tree and see it budding and swaying in the wind, my heart swells with pride and I — however — I must be off. Probably it is all nonsense, anyhow. Goodbye.