Chapter VI

Bazarov, returning, seated himself at the table, and fell to drinking tea. The brothers contemplated him in silence. Arkady glanced covertly from his father to his uncle, and back again.

"Have you walked far this morning?" at length Nikolai Petrovitch inquired.

"To a marsh beside an aspen coppice. By the way, Arkady, I flushed five head of woodcock. Perhaps you would like to go and shoot them?"

"Then you yourself are no sportsman?"


"That is to say, you prefer physics to anything else?" This from Paul Petrovitch.

"Yes, I prefer physics—in fact, the natural sciences in general—to anything else."

"Well, I am told that the Germanics have made great strides in that department?" (Paul Petrovitch used the term "Germanics" instead of "Germans" ironically, but no one noticed it.)

"True," was Bazarov's careless reply. "In fact, the Germans are, in the same respect, our masters."

"You think highly of the Germans?" Paul Petrovitch's tone was now studiously polite, for he was beginning to feel irritated with the man—his aristocratic nature could not altogether stomach Bazarov's absolute lack of ceremony, the fact that this doctor's son not only knew no diffidence, but actually returned snappish and reluctant answers, and infused a brusquerie akin to rudeness into his tone.

"At least the savants of that part of the world have some energy in them," retorted Bazarov.

"Quite so. And your opinion of our Russian savants is—well, perhaps less flattering?"

"It is, with your leave."

"That constitutes a piece of laudable modesty on your part," Paul Petrovitch observed with a slight hitch of his figure and a toss of his head. "But how comes it about that Arkady has just told us that you recognise no authorities whatsoever? Do you not trust authorities?"

"Why should I? Is anything in the world trustworthy? Certainly, should I be told a fact, I agree with it, but that is all."

"Oh! Then the Germans confine themselves solely to facts?" Paul Petrovitch's face had now assumed an expression of detachment, as though he had suddenly become withdrawn to the ultimate heights of the empyrean.

"No, not all Germans," replied Bazarov with a passing yawn. Clearly he had no mind to continue the controversy. Meanwhile Paul Petrovitch glanced at Arkady as much as to say: "Admit that your friend has beautiful manners!"

"For my own part," he continued, ostentatiously, and with an effort, "I, a fallible mortal, do not favour the Germans. Of course, I am not including in that category the Russo-Germans, who, as we know, are birds of passage. Rather, it is the Germans of Germany proper whom I cannot abide. Once upon a time they used to produce men like Schiller and like—what's his name?—Goethe: for both of which authors my brother has a marked predilection. But now the German nation has become a nation solely of chemists and materialists."

"A good chemist is worth a score of your poets," remarked Bazarov.

"Quite so." Paul Petrovitch hitched his eyebrows a little, as though he had come near to falling asleep. "Er—I take it then that you decline to recognise art, but believe only in science?"

"I have told you that I believe in nothing at all. What after all, is science—that is to say, science in the mass? A science may exist, even as a trade or a profession may exist; but with regard to science in the mass, there is no such thing."

"Very good. And, with regard to such other postulates as usually are granted in human affairs, the attitude which you adopt is negative in the same degree?"

"What is this?" suddenly countered Bazarov. "Is it an examination in tenets?"

Paul Petrovitch turned pale, and Nikolai Petrovitch thought it time to intervene in the dispute.

"Nay, we will debate the subject later," he said. "And then, while recognising your views, good Evgenii Vasilitch, we will state our own. Individually speaking, I am delighted that you should be interested in the natural sciences. For instance, I am told that recently Liebig has made some surprising discoveries in the matter of the improvement of soils. Consequently you might be able to help me in my agricultural labours, and to give me much useful advice."

"Always I shall be at your service, Nikolai Petrovitch," replied Bazarov. "But what has Liebig to do with us? First the alphabet should be learnt before we try to read books. We have not even reached the letter A."

"You are a Nihilist—that is plain enough," reflected Nikolai Petrovitch; while aloud he added: "Yet allow me to seek your occasional assistance. Brother Paul, I believe it is time that we interviewed our steward."

Paul Petrovitch rose from his chair.

"Yes," he said, without looking at any one in particular, "it is indeed a terrible thing to have lived five years in the country, and to have stood remote from superior intellects! If one is ab origine a fool, one becomes so more than ever, seeing that, however much one may try not to forget what one has learnt, there will dawn upon one, sooner or later, the revelation that one's knowledge is all rubbish, that sensible men have ceased to engage in such futilities, and that one has lagged far behind the times. But, in such a case, what is one to do? Evidently the younger generation know more than we do."

And, slowly turning on his heel, he moved away as slowly, with Nikolai Petrovitch following in his wake.

"Does Paul Petrovitch always reside here?" asked Bazarov when the door had closed upon the pair.

"Yes, he does. But look here, Evgenii. You adopted too sharp a tone with my uncle. You have offended him."

"What? Am I to fawn upon these rustic aristocrats, even though their attitude is one purely of conceit and subservience to custom? If such be Paul Petrovitch's bent, he had better have continued his career in St. Petersburg. Never mind him, however. Do you know, I have found a splendid specimen of the water beetle dytiscus marginatus. Are you acquainted with it? I will show it you."

"Did I not promise to tell you his history?" observed Arkady musingly.

"Whose history? The water beetle's?"

"No; my uncle's. At least you will see from it that he is not the man you take him for, but a man who deserves pity rather than ridicule."

"I am not prepared to dispute it. But how come you to be so devoted to him?"

"Always one ought to be fair."

"The connection I do not see."

"Then listen."

And Arkady related the story to be found in the following chapter.


  1. This sentence marks a peculiar moment in the narration. The narrative voice is aware of the novelistic structure in which it resides, and it mentions the existence of the “following chapter.” This level of self-awareness is a mark of modern fiction and art.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. Arkady’s remark reveals a difference in values between himself and Bazarov. Arkady places value in human kindness and empathy, and he believes in extending fairness to others. Bazarov, who believes in nothing but facts, does not openly value empathy. His response is, “The connection I do not see.” To Bazarov, basic human kindness needs to be logically justified.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. The Latin phrase “Ab origine” means “from the start.” Paul’s use of Latin should not surprise readers given his tendency to pepper his speech with French words and phrases.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In this demeaning comment, Bazarov compares a philosophical and scientific education to an alphabet, whose first letter Nikolai has yet to master. Bazarov seems to misunderstand the nature of Nikolai’s comment. Nikolai had not intended to further the conversation about the fundamentals of philosophical discourse. Rather, Nikolai had attempted to steer the conversation into more practical topics like agriculture.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. Nikolai understands that it is wise to turn the conversation from the intellectual to the practical, and so he brings up his farm. This move is particularly deft because Nikolai knows that Bazarov has a mind that is more utilitarian than abstract.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. Justus Freiherr von Liebig, who lived from 1803 to 1873, was a renowned German chemist. Liebig is best known as the founder of agricultural chemistry. Nikolai references Liebig out of a desire to find common ground between himself and Bazarov: Nikolai cares about agriculture; Bazarov cares about chemistry.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. In philosophy, a “postulate” is an underlying principle or presupposition on which an argument is built. Paul wishes to know if Bazarov believes in any widely accepted truths, and so he questions Bazarov as to which postulates he abides by. It is a fair question, since it is difficult for two people to hold a conversation if there is no shared underlying structure of truth and belief. Bazarov erupts, however, exclaiming “‘Is it an examination in tenets?’” It is not an examination in tenets, because tenets are opinions. On a basic level, Paul wishes to know whether he and Bazarov have any common ground at all in their respective understandings of the world.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Bazarov places no value in beauty, humanistic thought, or religious experience. As a result the work of poets—even geniuses such as Goethe—holds no interest for Bazarov. Bazarov cares only for rational approaches to the world, which he conceptualizes as a frog to dissect more and more.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German poet, novelist, philosopher, and scientist who lived during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Goethe is widely considered one of the most important figures in the history of German literature, akin to Shakespeare’s position in English letters. Paul mentions Goethe as a symbol for a bygone era in which Germany produced notable artists, and not only scientists.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Friedrich Schiller was a German poet, playwright, philosopher, and historian who lived during the late 18th century. Along with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Schiller founded the literary and cultural movement known as Weimar classicism. Paul cites Schiller as a past example of German achievement, particularly in the arts.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. Birds of passage are migratory birds that inhabit multiple geographic regions, travelling from one to another according to the seasons. Paul refers to “Russo-Germans,” those of German origin who live in Russia, insultingly as “birds of passage.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. In an usual act of narration, the narrator imagines what Paul might say aloud to Arkady were he to voice his thoughts. Paul wants Arkady to acknowledge Bazarov’s rudeness, if not his intellectual misguidance. This intimated thought is imagined as ironic.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. The adjective “empyrean” is synonymous with “celestial,” referring to the heavens. The word derives from the ancient Greek word “empyros,” meaning “fiery,” used by the Greeks to discuss the highest heaven, imagined as a sphere of pure fire. The heavens are often associated with lofty contemplation; in this passage, Paul’s thoughts drift up to the “empyrean.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. Bazarov’s reaction is a direct expression of his nihilistic and materialist worldview. Authorities, institutions, and traditions hold no sway over a nihilist. Bazarov rejects all authorities and values, trusting only his own rational faculties.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Bazarov’s use of the phrase “with your leave” is ironic and mocking. Bazarov clearly holds an unfavorable view of Russian thinkers but claims to require Paul’s “leave” in order to express that view. The phrase “with your leave” is itself a military phrase, and so Bazarov directs it to Paul, a former officer, with a mocking tone.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  16. The noun “brusquerie” refers to blunt or rude behaviour. As an aristocrat, Paul expects to be treated with elegant manners, particularly by those younger than he is. Bazarov has no respect for such conventions.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  17. Bazarov’s comment reveals both his personal opinion as well as the intellectual landscape of his time. As someone without allegiance for tradition or national pride, Bazarov has no inclination to praise Russia without reason. In the century preceding the publication of Fathers and Sons in 1862, Germany was the premier intellectual powerhouse of continental Europe, producing many of the era’s most significant works of philosophy and science.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  18. Paul intends to refer to the Germans in a teasing, derogatory tone. Thus he uses a formal and outdated word for Germans. This word is translated variously as “Germanics” or “Teutons.” The important point is that Paul is subtly mocking Germany, and since Bazarov values Western thought and German philosophy, Paul is also mocking Bazarov.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  19. Today the word “physics” refers to the study of non-living matter and energy. Classically, “physics” refers to all of the natural sciences, which is how the word is used in this case.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  20. The woodcock is a type of shorebird found commonly throughout Russia. To “flush five head” is to coax five birds from their hiding place in the underbrush, usually for hunting purposes.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor
  21. A coppice is a small stand of trees, usually planted with the intention of being cut down for lumber.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Editor