From Leo Tolstoy to his son Ilya, when the latter was preparing to marry, c. 1882:
Dear Friend Ilya:
There is always somebody or something that prevents me from answering your two letters, which are important and dear to me, especially the last. First it was Baturlin, then bad health, insomnia, then the arrival of D—-, the friend of H—- that I wrote you about. He is sitting at tea talking to the ladies, neither understanding the other; so I left them, and want to write what little I can of all that I think about you.
Even supposing that S—- A—- demands too much of you, there is no harm in waiting; especially from the point of view of fortifying your opinions, your faith. That is the one important thing. If you don’t, it is a fearful disaster to put off from one shore and not reach the other.
The one shore is an honest and good life, for your own delight and the profit of others. But there is a bad life, too — a life so sugared, so common to all, that if you follow it, you do not notice that it is a bad life, and suffer only in your conscience, if you have one; but if you leave it, and do not reach the real shore, you will be made miserable by solitude and by the reproach of having deserted your fellows, and you will be ashamed.
In short, I want to say that it is out of the question to want to be rather good; it is out of the question to jump into the water unless you know how to swim. One must be truthful and wish to be good with all one’s might, too. Do you feel this in you? The drift of what I say is that we all know what Princess Marya Alexevna’s verdict about your marriage would be: that if young people marry without a sufficient fortune, it means children, poverty, getting tired of each other in a year or two; in ten years, quarrels, want — hell. And in all this Princess Marya Alexevna is perfectly right and plays the true prophet, unless these young people who are getting married have another purpose, their one and only one, unknown to Princess Marya Alexevna, and that not a brainish purpose, not one recognized by the intellect, but one that gives life its color and the attainment of which is more moving than any other. If you have this, good; marry at once, and give the lie to Princess Marya Alexevna. If not, it is a hundred to one that your marriage will lead to nothing but misery.
I am speaking to you from the bottom of my heart. Receive my words into the bottom of yours, and weigh them well.
Besides love for you as a son, I have love for you also as a man standing at the cross-ways.
I kiss you and Lyolya and Noletchka and Seryozha, if he is back. We are all alive and well.