This etext was created by Judith Boss, Omaha, Nebraska.
Reminiscences of Tolstoy
by His Son, Count Ilya Tolstoy
REMINISCENCES OF TOLSTOY
BY HIS SON, COUNT ILYÁ TOLSTOY
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE CALDERON
IN one of his letters to his great-aunt, Alexándra
Andréyevna Tolstoy, my father gives the following
description of his children:
The eldest [Sergéi] is fair-haired and good-looking;
there is something weak and patient in his expression, and very
gentle. His laugh is not infectious; but when he cries, I can
hardly refrain from crying, too. Every one says he is like my
I am afraid to believe it. It is too good to be true. My
brother's chief characteristic was neither egotism nor self-
renunciation, but a strict mean between the two. He never
sacrificed himself for any one else; but not only always avoided
injuring others, but also interfering with them. He kept his
happiness and his sufferings entirely to himself.
Ilyá, the third, has never been ill in his life;
broad-boned, white and pink, radiant, bad at lessons. Is always
thinking about what he is told not to think about. Invents his
own games. Hot-tempered and violent, wants to fight at once; but
is also tender-hearted and very sensitive. Sensuous; fond of
eating and lying still doing nothing.
Tánya [Tatyána] is eight years old. Every one
says that she is like Sonya, and I believe them, although I am
pleased about that, too; I believe it only because it is obvious.
If she had been Adam's eldest daughter and he had had no other
children afterward, she would have passed a wretched childhood.
The greatest pleasure that she has is to look after children.
The fourth is Lyoff. Handsome, dexterous, good memory,
graceful. Any clothes fit him as if they had been made for him.
Everything that others do, he does very skilfully and well. Does
not understand much yet.
The fifth, Masha [Mary] is two years old, the one whose
birth nearly cost Sonya her life. A weak and sickly child. Body
white as milk, curly white hair; big, queer blue eyes, queer by
reason of their deep, serious expression. Very intelligent and
ugly. She will be one of the riddles; she will suffer, she will
seek and find nothing, will always be seeking what is least
The sixth, Peter, is a giant, a huge, delightful baby in a
mob-cap, turns out his elbows, strives eagerly after something.
My wife falls into an ecstasy of agitation and emotion when she
holds him in her arms; but I am completely at a loss to
understand. I know that he has a great store of physical energy,
but whether there is any purpose for which the store is wanted I
do not know. That is why I do not care for children under two or
three; I don't understand.
This letter was written in 1872, when I was six years old.
My recollections date from about that time. I can remember a few
FAMILY LIFE IN THE COUNTRY
FROM my earliest childhood until the family moved into Moscow--
that was in
1881--all my life was spent, almost without a
break, at Yásnaya Polyána.
This is how we live. The chief personage in the house is my
mother. She settles everything. She interviews Nikolái,
the cook, and orders dinner; she sends us out for walks, makes
our shirts, is always nursing some baby at the breast; all day
long she is bustling about the house with hurried steps. One can
be naughty with her, though she is sometimes angry and punishes
She knows more about everything than anybody else. She
knows that one must wash every day, that one must eat soup at
dinner, that one must talk French, learn not to crawl about on
all fours, not to put one's elbows on the table; and if she says
that one is not to go out walking because it is just going to
rain, she is sure to be right, and one must do as she says.
Papa is the cleverest man in the world. He always knows
everything. There is no being naughty with him. When he
is up in his study "working," one is not allowed to make a noise,
and nobody may go into his room. What he does when he is at
"work," none of us know. Later on, when I had learned to read, I
was told that papa was a "writer."
This was how I learned. I was very pleased with some lines
of poetry one day, and asked my mother who wrote them. She told
me they were written by Pushkin, and Pushkin was a great writer.
I was vexed at my father not being one, too. Then my mother said
that my father was also a well-known writer, and I was very glad
At the dinner-table papa sits opposite mama and has his own
round silver spoon. When old Natália Petróvna, who
lives on the floor below with great-aunt Tatyána
Alexándrovna, pours herself out a glass of kvass, he picks
it up and drinks it right off, then says, "Oh, I'm so sorry,
Natália Petróvna; I made a mistake!" We all laugh
delightedly, and it seems odd that papa is not in the least
afraid of Natália Petróvna. When there is jelly
for pudding, papa says it is good for gluing paper boxes; we run
off to get some paper, and papa makes it into boxes. Mama is
angry, but he is not afraid of her either. We have the gayest
times imaginable with him now and then. He can ride a horse
better and run faster than anybody else, and there is no one in
the world so strong as he is.
He hardly ever punishes us, but when he looks me in the eyes
he knows everything that I think, and I am frightened. You can
tell stories to mama, but not to papa, because he will see
through you at once. So nobody ever tries.
Besides papa and mama, there was also Aunt Tatyána
Alexándrovna Yergolsky. In her room she had a big eikon
with a silver mount. We were very much afraid of this eikon,
because it was very old and black.
When I was six, I remember my father teaching the village
children. They had their lessons in "the other house,"¹
where Alexey Stepánytch, the bailiff, lived, and sometimes
on the ground floor of the house we lived in.
There were a great number of village children who used to
come. When they came, the front hall smelled of sheepskin
jackets; they were taught by papa and Seryózha and
Tánya and Uncle Kóstya all at once. Lesson-time
was very gay and lively.
The children did exactly as they pleased, sat where they
liked, ran about from place to place, and answered questions not
one by one, but all together, interrupting one another, and
helping one another to recall what they had read. If one left
out a bit, up jumped another and then another, and the story or
sum was reconstructed by the united efforts of the whole class.
What pleased my father most about his pupils was the
picturesqueness and originality of their language. He never
wanted a literal repetition of bookish expressions, and
particularly encouraged every one to speak "out of his own head."
I remember how once he stopped a boy who was running into the
"Where are you off to?" he asked.
"To uncle, to bite off a piece of chalk."²
"Cut along, cut along! It's not for us to teach them, but
for them to teach
¹ The name we gave to the stone annex.
² The instinct for lime, necessary to feed their bones,
drives Russian children to nibble pieces of chalk or the
whitewash off the wall. In this case the boy was running to one
of the grown-ups in the house, and whom he called uncle, as
Russian children call everybody uncle or aunt, to get a piece of
the chalk that he had for writing on the blackboard.
us," he said to some one when the boy was gone. Which of us
would have expressed himself like that? You see, he did not say
to "get" or to "break off," but to "bite off," which was right,
because they did literally "bite" off the chalk from the lump
with their teeth, and not break it off.
THE SERVANTS IN THE HOUSE
WHEN my father married and brought home his young and
inexperienced bride, Sófya Andréyevna, to
Yásnaya Polyána, Nikolái
Mikháilovitch Rumyántsef was already established as
cook. Before my father's marriage he had a salary of five rubles
a month; but when my mother arrived, she raised him to six, at
which rate he continued the rest of his days; that is, till
somewhere about the end of the eighties. He was succeeded in the
kitchen by his son, Semyon Nikoláyevitch, my mother's
godson, and this worthy and beloved man, companion of my childish
games, still lives with us to this day. Under my mother's
supervision he prepared my father's vegetarian diet with
affectionate zeal, and without him my father would very likely
never have lived to the ripe old age he did.
Agáfya Mikháilovna was an old woman who lived
at first in the kitchen of "the other house" and afterward on the
home farm. Tall and thin, with big, thoroughbred eyes, and long,
straight hair, like a witch, turning gray, she was rather
terrifying, but more than anything else she was queer.
Once upon a time long ago she had been housemaid to my
great-grandmother, Countess Pelagéya Nikoláyevna
Tolstoy, my father's grandmother, née Princess
Gortchakóva. She was fond of telling about her young
days. She would say:
I was very handsome. When there were gentlefolks visiting
at the big house, the countess would call me, 'Gachette
[Agáfya], femme de chambre, apportez-moi un mouchoir!'
Then I would say, 'Toute suite, Madame la Comtesse!' And
every one would be staring at me, and couldn't take their eyes
off. When I crossed over to the annex, there they were watching
to catch me on the way. Many a time have I tricked them--ran
round the other way and jumped over the ditch. I never liked
that sort of thing any time. A maid I was, a maid I am.
After my grandmother's death, Agáfya
Mikháilovna was sent on to the home farm for some reason
or other, and minded the sheep. She got so fond of sheep that
all her days after she never would touch mutton.
After the sheep, she had an affection for dogs, and that is
the only period of her life that I remember her in.
There was nothing in the world she cared about but dogs.
She lived with them in horrible dirt and smells, and gave up her
whole mind and soul to them. We always had setters, harriers,
and borzois, and the whole kennel, often very numerous,
was under Agáfya Mikháilovna's management, with
some boy or other to help her, usually one as clumsy and stupid
as could be found.
There are many interesting recollections bound up with the
memory of this intelligent and original woman. Most of them are
associated in my mind with my father's stories about her. He
could always catch and unravel any interesting psychological
trait, and these traits, which he would mention incidentally,
stuck firmly in my mind. He used to tell, for instance, how
Agáfya Mikháilovna complained to him of
"Ever since I can remember her, she has suffered from 'a
birch-tree growing inside me from my belly up; it presses against
my chest, and prevents my breathing.'
"She complains of her sleeplessness and the birch-tree and
says: 'There I lay all alone and all quiet, only the clock
ticking on the wall: "Who are you? What are you? Who are you?
What are you?" And I began to think: "Who am I? What am I?" and
so I spent the whole night thinking about it.'
"Why, imagine this is Socrates! 'Know thyself,'" said my
father, telling the story with great enthusiasm.
In the summer-time my mother's brother, Styópa
(Stephen Behrs), who was studying at the time in the school of
jurisprudence, used to come and stay with us. In the autumn he
used to go wolf-hunting with my father and us, with the
borzois, and Agáfya Mikháilovna loved him
Styópa's examination was in the spring.
Agáfya Mikháilovna knew about it and anxiously
waited for the news of whether he had got through.
Once she put up a candle before the eikon and prayed that
Styópa might pass. But at that moment she remembered that
her borzois had got out and had not come back to the
"Saints in heaven! they'll get into some place and worry the
cattle and do a mischief!" she cried. "'Lord, let my candle burn
for the dogs to come back quick, and I'll buy another for Stepan
Andréyevitch.' No sooner had I said this to myself than I
heard the dogs in the porch rattling their collars. Thank God!
they were back. That's what prayer can do."
Another favorite of Agáfya Mikháilovna was a
young man, Mísha Stakhóvitch, who often stayed with
"See what you have been and done to me, little Countess!"
she said reproachfully to my sister Tánya: "you've
introduced me to Mikhail Alexandrovitch, and I've fallen in love
with him in my old age, like a wicked woman!"
On the fifth of February, her name-day, Agáfya
Mikháilovna received a telegram of congratulation from
When my father heard of it, he said jokingly to
"Aren't you ashamed that a man had to trudge two miles
through the frost at night all for the sake of your telegram?"
"Trudge, trudge? Angels bore him on their wings. Trudge,
indeed! You get three telegrams from an outlandish Jew woman,"
she growled, "and telegrams every day about your Golokhvotika.
Never a trudge then; but I get name-day greetings, and it's
And one could not but acknowledge that she was right. This
telegram, the only one in the whole year that was addressed to
the kennels, by the pleasure it gave Agáfya
Mikháilovna was far more important of course than this
news or the about a ball given in Moscow in honor of a Jewish
banker's daughter, or about Olga Andréyevna
Golokvástovy's arrival at Yásnaya.
Agáfya Mikháilovna died at the beginning of
the nineties. There were no more hounds or sporting dogs at
Yásnaya then, but till the end of her days she gave
shelter to a motley collection of mongrels, and tended and fed
THE HOME OF THE TOLSTOYS
I CAN remember the house at Yásnaya Polyána in the
condition it was in the first years after my father's marriage.
It was one of the two-storied wings of the old mansion-house
of the Princes Volkónsky, which my father had sold for
pulling down when he was still a bachelor.
From what my father has told me, I know that the house in
which he was born and spent his youth was a three-storied
building with thirty-six rooms. On the spot where it stood,
between the two wings, the remains of the old stone foundation
are still visible in the form of trenches filled with rubble, and
the site is covered with big sixty-year-old trees that my father
When any one asked my father where he was born, he used to
point to a tall larch which grew on the site of the old
"Up there where the top of that larch waves," he used to
say; "that's where my mother's room was, where I was born on a
My father seldom spoke of his mother, but when he did, it
was delightful to hear him, because the mention of her awoke an
unusual strain of gentleness and tenderness in him. There was
such a ring of respectful affection, so much reverence for her
memory, in his words, that we all looked on her as a sort of
My father remembered his father well, because he was already
nine years old when he died. He loved him, too, and always spoke
of him reverently; but one always felt that his mother's memory,
although he had never known her, was dearer to him, and his love
for her far greater than for his father.
Even to this day I do not exactly know the story of the sale
of the old house. My father never liked talking about it, and
for that reason I could never make up my mind to ask him the
details of the transaction. I only know that the house was sold
for five thousand paper rubles¹ by one of his relatives, who
had charge of his affairs by power of attorney when he was in the
It was said to have been done in order to pay off my father's
gambling debts. That was quite true.
My father himself told me that at one time he was a great
card-player, that he lost large sums of money, and that his
financial affairs were considerably embarrassed.
The only thing about which I am in doubt is whether it was
with my father's knowledge or by his directions that the house
was sold, or whether the relative in question did not exceed his
instructions and decide on the sale of his own initiative.
My father cherished his parents' memory to such an extent,
and had such a warm affection for everything relating to his own
childhood, that it is hard to believe that he would have raised
his hand against the house in which he had been born and brought
up and in which his mother had spent her whole life.
Knowing my father as I do, I think it is highly possible
that he wrote to his relative from the Caucasus, "Sell
something," not in the least expecting that he would sell the
house, and that he afterward took the blame for it on himself.
Is that not the reason why he was always so unwilling to talk
In 1871, when I was five years old, the zala¹
and study were built on the house.
The walls of the zala were hung with old portraits of
ancestors. They were rather alarming, and I was afraid of them
at first; but we got used to them after a time, and I grew fond
of one of them, of my great-grandfather, Ilyá
Andréyevitch Tolstoy, because I was told that I was like
Beside him hung the portrait of another great-grandfather,
Prince Nikolái Sergéyevitch Volkónsky, my
grandmother's father, with thick, black eyebrows, a gray wig, and
a red kaftan.²
This Volkónsky built all the buildings of
Yásnaya Polyána. He was a model squire,
intelligent and proud, and enjoyed the great respect of all the
On the ground floor, under the drawing-room, next to the
entrance-hall, my father built his study. He had a semi-circular
niche made in the wall, and stood a marble bust of his favorite
dead brother Nikolái in it. This bust was made abroad
from a death-mask, and my father told us that it was very like,
because it was done by a good sculptor, according to his own
He had a kind and rather plaintive face. The hair was
brushed smooth like a child's, with the parting on one side. He
had no beard or mustache, and his head was white and very, very
clean. My father's study was divided in two by a partition of
big bookshelves, containing a multitude of all sorts of books.
In order to support them, the shelves were connected by big
wooden beams, and between them was a thin birch-wood door, behind
which stood my father's writing-table and his old-fashioned
There are portraits of Dickens and Schopenhauer and
Fet³ as a young man on the walls, too, and the well-known
group of writers of the Sovreménnik&sup4; circle in 1856,
with Turgénieff, Ostróvsky, Gontcharóf,
Grigoróvitch, Druzhínin, and my father, quite young
still, without a beard, and in uniform.
My father used to come out of his bedroom of a morning--it
was in a corner on the top floor--in his dressing-gown, with his
beard uncombed and tumbled together, and go down to dress.
Soon after he would issue from his study fresh and vigorous,
in a gray smock-frock, and would go up into the zala for
breakfast. That was our déjeuner.
When there was nobody staying in the house, he would not
stop long in the drawing-room, but would take his tumbler of tea
and carry it off to his study with him.
But if there were friends and guests
¹The zala is the chief room of a house,
corresponding to the English drawing-room, but on a grand scale.
The gostinaya--literally guest-room, usually translated as
drawing-room--is a place for more intimate receptions. At
Yásnaya Polyána meals were taken in the
zala, but this is not the general Russian custom, houses
being provided also with a stolóvaya, or dining-
²Kaftan, a long coat of various cuts, including
military and naval frock-coat, and the long gown worn by
³Afanásyi Shénshin, the poet, who adopted
his mother's name, Fet, for a time, owing to official
difficulties about his birth-certificate. An intimate friend of
&sup4;The "Sovreménnik," or "Contemporary Review,"
edited by the poet Mekrasof, was the rallying-place for the "men
of the forties," the new school of realists. Ostróvsky is
the dramatist; Gontcharóf the novelist, author of
"Oblómof"; Grigoróvitch wrote tales about peasant
life, and was the discoverer of Tchékhof's talent as a
with us, he would get into conversation, become interested, and
could not tear himself away.
At last he would go off to his work, and we would disperse,
in winter to the different school-rooms, in summer to the
croquet-lawn or somewhere about the garden. My mother would
settle down in the drawing-room to make some garment for the
babies, or to copy out something she had not finished overnight;
and till three or four in the afternoon silence would reign in
Then my father would come out of his study and go off for
his afternoon's exercise. Sometimes he would take a dog and a
gun, sometimes ride, and sometimes merely go for a walk to the
At five the big bell that hung on the broken bough of an old
elm-tree in front of the house would ring and we would all run to
wash our hands and collect for dinner.
He was very hungry, and ate voraciously of whatever turned
up. My mother would try to stop him, would tell him not to waste
all his appetite on kasha, because there were chops and
vegetables to follow. "You'll have a bad liver again," she would
say; but he would pay no attention to her, and would ask for more
and more, until his hunger was completely satisfied. Then he
would tell us all about his walk, where he put up a covey of
black game, what new paths he discovered in the imperial wood
beyond Kudeyarof Well, or, if he rode, how the young horse he was
breaking in began to understand the reins and the pressure of the
leg. All this he would relate in the most vivid and entertaining
way, so that the time passed gaily and animatedly.
After dinner he would go back to his room to read, and at
eight we had tea, and the best hours of the day began--the
evening hours, when everybody gathered in the zala. The
grown-ups talked or read aloud or played the piano, and we either
listened to them or had some jolly game of our own, and in
anxious fear awaited the moment when the English
grandfather-clock on the landing would give a click and a buzz,
and slowly and clearly ring out ten.
Perhaps mama would not notice? She was in the sitting-room,
making a copy.
"Come, children, bedtime! Say good night," she would call.
"In a minute, Mama; just five minutes."
"Run along; it's high time; or there will be no getting you
up in the morning to do your lessons."
We would say a lingering good night, on the lookout for any
chance for delay, and at last would go down-stairs through the
arches, annoyed at the thought that we were children still and
had to go to bed while the grown-ups could stay up as long as
ever they liked.
A JOURNEY TO THE STEPPES
WHEN I was still a child and had not yet read "War and Peace," I
was told that Natásha Rostóf was Aunt
Tánya. When my father was asked whether that was true,
and whether Dmitry Rostóf was such and such a
person and Levin such and such another, he never gave a
definite answer, and one could not but feel that he disliked such
questions and was rather offended by them.
In those remote days about which I am talking, my father was
very keen about the management of his estate, and devoted a lot
of energy to it. I can remember his planting the huge apple
orchard at Yásnaya and several hundred acres of birch and
pine forest, and at the beginning of the seventies, for a number
of years, he was interested in buying up land cheap in the
province of Samara, and breeding droves of steppe horses and
flocks of sheep.
I still have pretty clear, though rather fragmentary and
inconsequent, recollections of our three summer excursions to the
steppes of Samara.
My father had already been there before his marriage in
1862, and afterward by the advice of Dr. Zakháryin, who
attended him. He took the kumiss-cure in 1871 and 1872, and at
last, in 1873, the whole family went there.
At that time my father had bought several hundred acres of
cheap Bashkir lands in the district of Buzulúk, and we
went to stay on our new property at a khutor, or farm.
In Samara we lived on the farm in a tumble-down wooden
house, and beside us, in the steppe, were erected two felt
kibitkas, or Tatar frame tents, in which [illustration
omitted] [page intentionally blank]
our Bashkir, Muhammed
Shah Romanytch, lived with his wives.
Morning and evening they used to tie the mares up outside
the kibitkas, where they were milked by veiled women, who
then hid themselves from the sight of the men behind a brilliant
chintz curtain, and made the kumiss.
The kumiss was bitter and very nasty, but my father and my
uncle Stephen Behrs were very fond of it, and drank it in large
When we boys began to get big, we had at first a German
tutor for two or three years, Fyódor Fyódorovitch
I cannot say that we were particularly fond of him. He was
rather rough, and even we children were struck by his German
stupidity. His redeeming feature was that he was a devoted
sportsman. Every morning he used to jerk the blankets off us and
shout, "Auf, Kinder! auf!" and during the daytime plagued us with
THE chief passion of my childhood was riding. I well remember
the time when my father used to put me in the saddle in front of
him and we would ride out to bathe in the Voronka. I have
several interesting recollections connected with these rides.
One day as we were going to bathe, papa turned round and
said to me:
"Do you know, Ilyúsha, I am very pleased with myself
to-day. I have been bothered with her for three whole days, and
could not manage to make her go into the house; try as I would,
it was impossible. It never would come right. But to-day I
remembered that there is a mirror in every hall, and that every
lady wears a bonnet.
"As soon as I remembered that, she went where I wanted her
to, and did everything she had to. You would think a bonnet is a
small affair, but everything depended on that bonnet."
As I recall this conversation, I feel sure that my father
was talking about that scene in "Anna Karénina" where
Anna went to see her son.
Although in the final form of the novel nothing is said in
this scene either about a bonnet or a mirror,--nothing is
mentioned but a thick black veil,--still, I imagine that in its
original form, when he was working on the passage, my father may
have brought Anna up to the mirror, and made her straighten her
bonnet or take it off.
I can remember the interest with which he told me this, and
it now seems strange that he should have talked about such subtle
artistic experiences to a boy of seven who was hardly capable of
understanding him at the time. However, that was often the case
I once heard from him a very interesting description of what
a writer needs for his work:
"You cannot imagine how important one's mood is," he said.
"Sometimes you get up in the morning, fresh and vigorous, with
your head clear, and you begin to write. Everything is sensible
and consistent. You read it over next day, and have to throw the
whole thing away, because, good as it is, it misses the main
thing. There is no imagination in it, no subtlety, none of the
necessary something, none of that only just without which all
your cleverness is worth nothing. Another day you get up after a
bad night, with your nerves all on edge, and you think, 'To-day I
shall write well, at any rate.' And as a matter of fact, what
you write is beautiful, picturesque, with any amount of
imagination. You look it through again; it is no good, because it
is written stupidly. There is plenty of color, but not enough
"One's writing is good only when the intelligence and the
imagination are in equilibrium. As soon as one of them
overbalances the other, it's all up; you may as well throw it
away and begin afresh."
As a matter of fact, there was no end to the rewriting in my
father's works. His industry in this particular was truly
We were always devoted to sport from our earliest childhood.
I can remember as well as I remember myself my father's favorite
dog in those days, an Irish setter called Dora. They would bring
round the cart, with a very quiet horse between the shafts, and
we would drive out to the marsh, to Degatná or to
Malákhov. My father and sometimes my mother or a coachman
sat on the seat, while I and Dora lay on the floor.
When we got to the marsh, my father used to get out, stand
his gun on the ground, and, holding it with his left hand, load
Dora meanwhile fidgeted about, whining impatiently and
wagging her thick tail.
While my father splashed through the marsh, we drove round
the bank somewhat behind him, and eagerly followed the ranging of
the dog, the getting up of the snipe, and the shooting. My
father sometimes shot fairly well, though he often lost his head,
and missed frantically.
But our favorite sport was coursing with greyhounds. What a
pleasure it was when the footman Sergei Petrovitch came in and
woke us up before dawn, with a candle in his hand!
We jumped up full of energy and happiness, trembling all
over in the morning cold; threw on our clothes as quickly as we
could, and ran out into the zala, where the samovar was
boiling and papa was waiting for us.
Sometimes mama came in in her dressing-gown, and made us put
on all sorts of extra woolen stockings, and sweaters and gloves.
"What are you going to wear, Lyovótchka?" she would
say to papa. "It's very cold to-day, and there is a wind. Only
the Kuzminsky overcoat again today? You must put on something
underneath, if only for my sake."
Papa would make a face, but give in at last, and buckle on
his short gray overcoat under the other and sally forth. It
would then be growing light. Our horses were brought round, we
got on, and rode first to "the other house," or to the kennels to
get the dogs.
Agáfya Mikháilovna would be anxiously waiting
us on the steps. Despite the coldness of the morning, she would
be bareheaded and lightly clad, with her black jacket open,
showing her withered, old bosom. She carried the dog-collars in
her lean, knotted hands.
"Have you gone and fed them again?" asks my father,
severely, looking at the dogs' bulging stomachs.
"Fed them? Not a bit; only just a crust of bread apiece."
"Then what are they licking their chops for?"
"There was a bit of yesterday's oatmeal left over."
"I thought as much! All the hares will get away again. It
really is too bad! Do you do it to spite me?"
"You can't have the dogs running all day on empty stomachs,
Lyoff Nikolaievich," she grunted, going angrily to put on the
At last the dogs were got together, some of them on leashes,
others running free; and we would ride out at a brisk trot past
Bitter Wells and the grove into the open country.
My father would give the word of command, "Line out!" and
point out the direction in which we were to go, and we spread out
over the stubble fields and meadows, whistling and winding about
along the lee side of the steep balks,¹ beating all the
bushes with our hunting-crops, and gazing keenly at every spot or
mark on the earth.
Something white would appear ahead. We stared hard at it,
gathered up the reins, examined the leash, scarcely believing the
good luck of having come on a hare at last. Then riding up
closer and closer, with our eyes on the white thing, it would
turn out to be not a hare at all, but a horse's skull. How
We would look at papa and Seryózha, thinking, "I
wonder if they saw that I took that skull for a hare." But papa
would be sitting keen and alert on his English saddle, with the
wooden stirrups, smoking a cigarette, while Seryózha would
perhaps have got his leash entangled and could not get it
"Thank heaven!" we would exclaim, "nobody saw me! What a
fool I should have felt!" So we would ride on.
The horse's even pace would begin to rock us to sleep,
feeling rather bored at nothing getting up; when all of a sudden,
just at the moment we least expected it, right in front of us,
twenty paces away, would jump up a gray hare as if from the
bowels of the earth.
The dogs had seen it before we had, and had started forward
already in full pursuit. We began to bawl, "Tally-ho! tally-ho!"
like madmen, flogging our horses with all our might, and flying
¹The balks are the banks dividing the fields of
different owners or crops. Hedges are not used for this purpose
The dogs would come up with the hare, turn it, then turn it
again, the young and fiery Sultan and Darling running over it,
catching up again, and running over again; and at last the old
and experienced Winger, who had been galloping on one side all
the time, would seize her opportunity, and spring in. The hare
would give a helpless cry like a baby, and the dogs, burying
their fangs in it, in a star-shaped group, would begin to tug in
"Let go! Let go!"
We would come galloping up, finish off the hare, and give
the dogs the tracks,¹ tearing them off toe by toe, and
throwing them to our favorites, who would catch them in the air.
Then papa would teach us how to strap the hare on the back of the
After the run we would all be in better spirits, and get to
better places near Yásenki and Rétinka. Gray hares
would get up oftener. Each of us would have his spoils in the
saddle-straps now, and we would begin to hope for a fox.
Not many foxes would turn up. If they did, it was generally
Tumashka, who was old and staid, who distinguished himself. He
was sick of hares, and made no great effort to run after them;
but with a fox he would gallop at full speed, and it was almost
always he who killed.
It would be late, often dark, when we got back home.
I REMEMBER my father writing his alphabet and reading-book in
1871 and 1872, but I cannot at all remember his beginning "Anna
Karénina." I probably knew nothing about it at the time.
What did it matter to a boy of seven what his father was writing?
It was only later, when one kept hearing the name again and
again, and bundles of proofs kept arriving, and were sent off
almost every day, that I understood that "Anna Karénina"
was the name of the novel on which my father and mother were both
My mother's work seemed much harder than my father's,
because we actually saw her at it, and she worked much longer
hours than he did. She used to sit in the sitting-room off the
zala, at her little writing-table, and spend all her free
Leaning over the manuscript and trying to decipher my
father's scrawl with her short-sighted eyes, she used to spend
whole evenings over it, and often sat up late at night after
everybody else had gone to bed. Sometimes, when anything was
written quite illegibly, she would go to my father's study and
ask him what it meant. But this was very rare, because my mother
did not like to disturb him.
When it happened, my father used to take the manuscript in
his hand, and ask with some annoyance, "What on earth is the
difficulty?" and would begin to read it out aloud. When he came
to the difficult place he would mumble and hesitate, and
sometimes had the greatest difficulty in making out, or, rather,
in guessing, what he had written. He had a very bad handwriting,
and a terrible habit of writing in whole sentences between the
lines, or in the corners of the page, or sometimes right across
My mother often discovered gross grammatical errors, and
pointed them out to my father, and corrected them.
When "Anna Karénina" began to come out in the "Russky
Vyéstnik,"² long galley-proofs were posted to my
father, and he looked them through and corrected them.
At first the margins would be marked with the ordinary
typographical signs, letters omitted, marks of punctuation, etc.;
then individual words would be changed, and then whole sentences,
till in the end the proof-sheet would be reduced to a mass of
patches quite black in places, and it was quite impossible to
send it back as it stood, because no one but my mother could make
head or tail of the tangle of conventional signs, transpositions,
My mother would sit up all night copying the whole thing out
In the morning there would lie the pages on her table,
neatly piled together, covered all over with her fine, clear
handwriting, and everything ready so that when
"Lyovótchka" got up he could send the proof-sheets off by
¹Pazanki, tracks of a hare, name given to the
last joint of the hind legs.
²A Moscow monthly, founded by Katkóf, who
somehow managed to edit both this and the daily
"Moskóvskiya Vyédomosti," on which "Uncle
Kóstya" worked at the same time.
My father carried them off to his study to have "just one
last look," and by the evening it would be just as bad again, the
whole thing having been rewritten and messed up.
"Sonya my dear, I am very sorry, but I've spoiled all your
work again; I promise I won't do it any more," he would say,
showing her the passages he had inked over with a guilty air.
"We'll send them off to-morrow without fail." But this to-morrow
was often put off day by day for weeks or months together.
"There's just one bit I want to look through again," my
father would say; but he would get carried away and recast the
whole thing afresh.
There were even occasions when, after posting the proofs, he
would remember some particular words next day, and correct them
by telegraph. Several times, in consequence of these rewritings,
the printing of the novel in the "Russky Vyéstnik" was
interrupted, and sometimes it did not come out for months
In the last part of "Anna Karénina" my father, in
describing the end of Vronsky's career, showed his
disapproval of the volunteer movement and the Panslavonic
committees, and this led to a quarrel with Katkóf.
I can remember how angry my father was when Katkóf
refused to print those chapters as they stood, and asked him
either to leave out part of them or to soften them down, and
finally returned the manuscript, and printed a short note in his
paper to say that after the death of the heroine the novel was
strictly speaking at an end; but that the author had added an
epilogue of two printed sheets, in which he related such and such
facts, and he would very likely "develop these chapters for the
separate edition of his novel."
In concluding, I wish to say a few words about my father's
own opinion of "Anna Karénina."
In 1875 he wrote to N. N. Strákhof:
"I must confess that I was delighted by the success of the
last piece of 'Anna Karénina.' I had by no means expected
it, and to tell you the truth, I am surprised that people are so
pleased with such ordinary and empty stuff."
The same year he wrote to Fet:
"It is two months since I have defiled my hands with ink or
my heart with thoughts. But now I am setting to work again on my
tedious, vulgar 'Anna Karénina,' with only one
wish, to clear it out of the way as soon as possible and give
myself leisure for other occupations, but not schoolmastering,
which I am fond of, but wish to give up; it takes up too much
In 1878, when the novel was nearing its end, he wrote again
"I am frightened by the feeling that I am getting into my
summer mood again. I loathe what I have written. The
proof-sheets for the April number [of "Anna Karénina" in
the "Russky Vyéstnik"] now lie on my table, and I am
afraid that I have not the heart to correct them.
Everything in them is beastly, and the whole thing
ought to be rewritten,--all that has been printed, too,--scrapped
and melted down, thrown away, renounced. I ought to say, 'I am
sorry; I will not do it any more,' and try to write something
fresh instead of all this incoherent, neither-fish-nor-flesh-
That was how my father felt toward his novel while he was
writing it. Afterward I often heard him say much harsher things
"What difficulty is there in writing about how an officer
fell in love with a married woman?" he used to say. "There's no
difficulty in it, and above all no good in it."
I am quite convinced that if my father could have done so,
he long ago would have destroyed this novel, which he never liked
and always wanted to disown.
(To be continued)
REMINISCENCES OF TOLSTOY
BY HIS SON, COUNT ILYÁ TOLSTOY
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE CALDERON
IN the summer, when both families were together at Yásnaya,
our own and the Kuzmínsky's, when both the house and the
annex were full of the family and their guests, we used our
It originated long before, when I was still small and had only
just learned to write, and it continued with intervals till the
middle of the eighties.
It hung on the landing at the top of the stairs beside the
grandfather's clock; and every one dropped his compositions into
it, the verses, articles, or stories that he had written on topical
subjects in the course of the week.
On Sundays we would all collect at the round table in the
zala, the box would be solemnly opened, and one of the
grown-ups, often my father himself, would read the contents aloud.
All the papers were unsigned, and it was a point of honor not
to peep at the handwriting; but, despite this, we almost always
guessed the author, either by the style, by his self-consciousness,
or else by the strained indifference of his expression.
When I was a boy, and for the first time wrote a set of French
verses for the letter-box, I was so shy when they were read that I
hid under the table, and sat there the whole evening until I was
pulled out by force.
For a long time after, I wrote no more, and was always fonder
of hearing other people's compositions read than my own.
All the events of our life at Yásnaya Polyána
found their echo in one way or another in the letter-box, and no
one was spared, not even the grown-ups.
All our secrets, all our love-affairs, all the incidents of
our complicated life were revealed in the letter-box, and both
household and visitors were good-humoredly made fun of.
Unfortunately, much of the correspondence has been lost, but
bits of it have been preserved by some of us in copies or in
memory. I cannot recall everything interesting that there was in
it, but here are a few of the more interesting things from the
period of the eighties.
THE old fogy continues his questions. Why, when women or old men
enter the room, does every well-bred person not only offer them a
seat, but give them up his own?
Why do they make Ushakóf or some Servian officer who
comes to pay a visit necessarily stay to tea or dinner?
Why is it considered wrong to let an older person or a woman
help you on with your overcoat?
And why are all these charming rules considered obligatory
toward others, when every day ordinary people come, and we not only
do not ask them to sit down or to stop to dinner or spend the night
or render them any service, but would look on it as the height of
Where do those people end to whom we are under these
obligations? By what characteristics are the one sort
distinguished from the others? And are not all these rules of
politeness bad, if they do not extend to all sorts of people? And
is not what we call politeness an illusion, and a very ugly
Question: Which is the most "beastly plague," a cattle-plague
case for a farmer, or the ablative case for a school-boy?
Answers are requested to the following questions:
Why do Ustyúsha, Masha, Alyóna, Peter, etc.,
have to bake, boil, sweep, empty slops, wait at table, while the
gentry have only to eat, gobble, quarrel, make slops, and eat
My Aunt Tánya, when she was in a bad temper because the
coffee-pot had been spilt or because she had been beaten at
croquet, was in the habit of sending every one to the devil. My
father wrote the following story, "Susóitchik," about it.
The devil, not the chief devil, but one of the rank and file,
the one charged with the management of social affairs,
Susóitchik by name, was greatly perturbed on the 6th of
August, 1884. From the early morning onward, people kept arriving
who had been sent him by Tatyána Kuzmínsky.
The first to arrive was Alexander Mikháilovitch
Kuzmínsky; the second was Mísha Islávin; the
third was Vyatcheslaf; the fourth was Seryózha Tolstoy, and
last of all came old Lyoff Tolstoy, senior, accompanied by Prince
Urúsof. The first visitor, Alexander Mikháilovitch,
caused Susóitchik no surprise, as he often paid
Susóitchik visits in obedience to the behests of his wife.
"What, has your wife sent you again?"
"Yes," replied the presiding judge of the district-court,
shyly, not knowing what explanation he could give of the cause of
"You come here very often. What do you want?"
"Oh, nothing in particular; she just sent her compliments,"
murmured Alexander Mikháilovitch, departing from the exact
truth with some effort.
"Very good, very good; come whenever you like; she is one of
my best workers."
Before Susóitchik had time to show the judge out, in
came all the children, laughing and jostling, and hiding one behind
"What brought you here, youngsters? Did my little
Tanyítchka send you? That's right; no harm in coming. Give
my compliments to Tánya, and tell her that I am always at
her service. Come whenever you like. Old Susóitchik may be
of use to you."
No sooner had the young folk made their bow than old Lyoff
Tolstoy appeared with Prince Urúsof.
"Aha! so it's the old boy! Many thanks to Tanyítchka.
It's a long time since I have seen you, old chap. Well and hearty?
And what can I do for you?"
Lyoff Tolstoy shuffled about, rather abashed.
Prince Urúsof, mindful of the etiquette of diplomatic
receptions, stepped forward and explained Tolstoy's appearance by
his wish to make acquaintance with Tatyána
Andréyevna's oldest and most faithful friend.
"Les amis des nos amis sont nos amis."
"Ha! ha! ha! quite so!" said Susóitchik. "I must
reward her for to-day's work. Be so kind, Prince, as to hand her
the marks of my good-will."
And he handed over the insignia of an order in a morocco case.
The insignia consisted of a necklace of imp's tails to be worn
about the throat, and two toads, one to be worn on the bosom and
the other on the bustle.
LYOFF TOLSTOY, SENIOR.
SERGÉI NIKOLÁYEVITCH TOLSTOY
I CAN remember my Uncle Seryózha (Sergéi) from my
earliest childhood. He lived at Pirogóvo, twenty miles from
Yásnaya, and visited us often.
As a young man he was very handsome. He had the same features
as my father, but he was slenderer and more aristocratic-looking.
He had the same oval face, the same nose, the same intelligent gray
eyes, and the same thick, overhanging eyebrows. The only
difference between his face and my father's was defined by the fact
that in those distant days, when my father cared for his personal
appearance, he was always worrying about his ugliness, while Uncle
Seryózha was considered, and really was, a very handsome
This is what my father says about Uncle Seryózha in his
"I and Nítenka¹ were chums, Nikólenka I
revered, but Seryózha I admired enthusiastically and
imitated; I loved him and wished to be he.
"I admired his handsome exterior, his singing,--he was always
a singer,--his drawing, his gaiety, and above all, however strange
a thing it may seem to say, the directness of his egoism.²
"I always remembered myself, was aware of myself, always
divined rightly or wrongly what others thought about me and felt
toward me; and this spoiled the joy of life for me. This was
¹Dmitry. My father's brother Dmitry died in 1856;
Nikolái died September 20, 1860.
² That is to say, his eyes went always on the straightest
road to attain satisfaction for himself.
reason why I particularly delighted in the opposite of this in
other people; namely, directness of egoism. That is what I
especially loved in Seryózha, though the word 'loved' is
"I loved Nikólenka, but I admired Seryózha as
something alien and incomprehensible to me. It was a human life
very beautiful, but completely incomprehensible to me, mysterious,
and therefore especially attractive.
"He died only a few days ago, and while he was ill and while
he was dying he was just as inscrutable and just as dear to me as
he had been in the distant days of our childhood.
"In these latter days, in our old age, he was fonder of me,
valued my attachment more, was prouder of me, wanted to agree with
me, but could not, and remained just the same as he had always
been; namely, something quite apart, only himself, handsome,
aristocratic, proud, and, above all, truthful and sincere to a
degree that I never met in any other man.
"He was what he was; he concealed nothing, and did not wish to
appear anything different."
Uncle Seryózha never treated children affectionately;
on the contrary, he seemed to put up with us rather than to like
us. But we always treated him with particular reverence. The
result, as I can see now, partly of his aristocratic appearance,
but chiefly because of the fact that he called my father
"Lyovótchka" and treated him just as my father treated us.
He was not only not in the least afraid of him, but was always
teasing him, and argued with him like an elder person with a
younger. We were quite alive to this.
Of course every one knew that there were no faster dogs in the
world than our black-and-white Darling and her daughter Wizard.
Not a hare could get away from them. But Uncle Seryózha
said that the gray hares about us were sluggish creatures, not at
all the same thing as steppe hares, and neither Darling nor Wizard
would get near a steppe hare.
We listened with open mouths, and did not know which to
believe, papa or Uncle Seryózha.
Uncle Seryózha went out coursing with us one day. A
number of gray hares were run down, not one, getting away; Uncle
Seryózha expressed no surprise, but still maintained that
the only reason was because they were a poor lot of hares. We
could not tell whether he was right or wrong.
Perhaps, after all, he was right, for he was more of a
sportsman than papa and had run down ever so many wolves, while we
had never known papa run any wolves down.
Afterward papa kept dogs only because there was Agáfya
Mikháilovna to be thought of, and Uncle Seryózha gave
up sport because it was impossible to keep dogs.
"Since the emancipation of the peasants," he said, "sport is
out of the question; there are no huntsmen to be had, and the
peasants turn out with sticks and drive the sportsmen off the
fields. What is there left to do nowadays? Country life has
With all his good breeding and sincerity, Uncle
Seryózha never concealed any characteristic but one; with
the utmost shyness he concealed the tenderness of his affections,
and if it ever forced itself into the light, it was only in
exceptional circumstances and that against his will.
He displayed with peculiar clearness a family characteristic
which was partly shared by my father, namely, an extraordinary
restraint in the expression of affection, which was often concealed
under the mask of indifference and sometimes even of unexpected
harshness. In the matter of wit and sarcasm, on the other hand, he
was strikingly original.
At one period he spent several winters in succession with his
family in Moscow. One time, after a historic concert given by
Anton Rubinstein, at which Uncle Seryózha and his daughter
had been, he came to take tea with us in Weavers' Row.¹
My father asked him how he had liked the concert.
"Do you remember Himbut, Lyovótchka? Lieutenant
Himbut, who was forester near Yásnaya? I once asked him
what was the happiest moment of his life. Do you know what he
"'When I was in the cadet corps,' he said, 'they used to take
down my breeches now and again and lay me across a bench and flog
me. They flogged and they
¹Khamsvniki, a street in Moscow.
flogged; when they stopped, that was the happiest moment of my
life.' Well, it was only during the entr'actes, when
Rubinstein stopped playing, that I really enjoyed myself."
He did not always spare my father.
Once when I was out shooting with a setter near
Pirogóvo, I drove in to Uncle Seryózha's to stop the
I do not remember apropos of what, but Uncle Seryózha
averred that Lyovótchka was proud. He said:
"He is always preaching humility and non-resistance, but he is
"Náshenka's¹ sister had a footman called Forna.
When he got drunk, he used to get under the staircase, tuck in his
legs, and lie down. One day they came and told him that the
countess was calling him. 'She can come and find me if she wants
me,' he answered.
"Lyovótchka is just the same. When Dolgóruky
sent his chief secretary Istómin to ask him to come and have
a talk with him about Syntáyef, the sectarian, do you know
what he answered?
"'Let him come here, if he wants me.' Isn't that just the
same as Forna?
"No, Lyovótchka is very proud. Nothing would induce
him to go, and he was quite right; but it's no good talking of
During the last years of Sergéi Nikoláyevitch's
life my father was particularly friendly and affectionate with him,
and delighted in sharing his thoughts with him.
A. A. Fet in his reminiscences describes the character of all
the three Tolstoy brothers with extraordinary perspicacity:
I am convinced that the fundamental type of all the three
Tolstoy brothers was identical, just as the type of all
maple-leaves is identical, despite the variety of their
configurations. And if I set myself to develop the idea, I could
show to what a degree all three brothers shared in that passionate
enthusiasm without which it would have been impossible for one of
them to turn into the poet Lyoff Tolstoy. The difference of their
attitude to life was determined by the difference of the ways in
which they turned their backs on their unfulfilled dreams.
Nikolái quenched his ardor in skeptical derision, Lyoff
renounced his unrealized dreams with silent reproach, and
Sergéi with morbid misanthropy. The greater the original
store of love in such characters, the stronger, if only for a time,
is their resemblance to Timon of Athens.
In the winter of 1901-02 my father was ill in the Crimea, and for
a long time lay between life and death. Uncle Seryózha, who
felt himself getting weaker, could not bring himself to leave
Pirogóvo, and in his own home followed anxiously the course
of my father's illness by the letters which several members of our
family wrote him, and by the bulletins in the newspapers.
When my father began to improve, I went back home, and on the
way from the Crimea went to Pirogóvo, in order to tell Uncle
Seryózha personally about the course of the illness and
about the present condition of my father's health. I remember how
joyfully and gratefully he welcomed me.
"How glad I am that you came! Now tell me all about it. Who
is with him? All of them? And who nurses him most? Do you go on
duty in turn? And at night, too? He can't get out of bed. Ah,
that's the worst thing of all!
"It will be my turn to die soon; a year sooner or later, what
does it matter? But to lie helpless, a burden to every one, to
have others doing everything for you, lifting you and helping you
to sit up, that's what's so awful.
"And how does he endure it? Got used to it, you say? No; I
cannot imagine having Vera to change my linen and wash me. Of
course she would say that it's nothing to her, but for me it would
"And tell me, is he afraid to die? Does he say not? Very
likely; he's a strong man, he may be able to conquer the fear of
it. Yes, yes, perhaps he's not afraid; but still--
"You say he struggles with the feeling? Why, of course; what
else can one do?
"I wanted to go and be with him; but I thought, how can I? I
shall crack up myself, and then there will be two invalids instead
"Yes, you have told me a great deal; every detail is
interesting. It is not death that's so terrible, it's illness,
¹Maria Mikháilovna, his wife.
ness, and, above all, the fear that you are a burden to others.
That's awful, awful."
Uncle Seryózha died in 1904 of cancer in the face.
This is what my aunt, María Nikoláyevna,¹ the
nun, told me about his death. Almost to the last day he was on his
legs, and would not let any one nurse him. He was in full
possession of his faculties and consciously prepared for death.
Besides his own family, the aged María
Mikháilovna and her daughters, his sister, María
Nikoláyevna, who told me the story, was with him, too, and
from hour to hour they expected the arrival of my father, for whom
they had sent a messenger to Yásnaya. They were all
troubled with the difficult question whether the dying man would
want to receive the holy communion before he died.
Knowing Sergéi Nikoláyevitch's disbelief in the
religion of the church, no one dared to mention the subject to him,
and the unhappy María Mikháilovna hovered round his
room, wringing her hands and praying.
They awaited my father's arrival impatiently, but were
secretly afraid of his influence on his brother, and hoped against
hope that Sergéi Nikoláyevitch would send for the
priest before his arrival.
"Imagine our surprise and delight," said María Tolstoy,
"when Lyovótchka came out of his room and told María
Mikháilovna that Seryózha wanted a priest sent for.
I do not know what they had been talking about, but when
Seryózha said that he wished to take the communion,
Lyovótchka answered that he was quite right, and at once
came and told us what he wanted."
My father stayed about a week at Pirogóvo, and left two
days before my uncle died.
When he received a telegram to say he was worse, he drove over
again, but arrived too late; he was no longer living. He carried
his body out from the house with his own hands, and himself bore it
to the churchyard.
When he got back to Yásnaya he spoke with touching
affection of his parting with this "inscrutable and beloved"
brother, who was so strange and remote from him, but at the same
time so near and so akin.
FET, STRAKHOF, GAY
"WHAT'S this saber doing here?" asked a young guardsman, Lieutenant
Afanásyi Afanásyevitch Fet, of the footman one day
as he entered the hall of Iván Sergéyevitch
Turgénieff's flat in St. Petersburg in the middle of the
"It is Count Tolstoy's saber; he is asleep in the
drawing-room. And Iván Sergéyevitch is in his study
having breakfast," replied Zalchar.
"During the hour I spent with Turgénieff," says Fet, in
his reminiscences, "we talked in low voices, for fear of waking the
count, who was asleep on the other side of the door."
"He's like that all the time," said Turgénieff,
smiling; "ever since he got back from his battery at
Sebastopol,² and came to stay here, he has been going the
pace. Orgies, Gipsies, and gambling all night long, and then
sleeps like a dead man till two o'clock in the afternoon. I did my
best to stop him, but have given it up as a bad job.
"It was in this visit to St. Petersburg that I and Tolstoy
became acquainted, but the acquaintance was of a purely formal
character, as I had not yet seen a line of his writings, and had
never heard of his name in literature, except that
Turgénieff mentioned his 'Stories of Childhood.'"
Soon after this my father came to know Fet intimately, and
they struck up a firm and lasting friendship, and established a
correspondence which lasted almost till Fet's death.
It was only during the last years of Fet's life, when my
father was entirely absorbed in his new ideas, which were so at
variance with Afanásyi Afanásyevitch's whole
philosophy of life, that they became estranged and met more rarely.
It was at Fet's, at Stepánovka, that my father and
Before the railway was made, when people still had to drive,
Fet, on his way into Moscow, always used to turn in at
Yásnaya Polyána to see my father, and these visits
became an established custom. Afterward, when the railway was made
and my father was already married, Afanásyi
Afanásyevitch still never passed our house without coming
in, and if he did,
¹Tolstoy's sister. She became a nun after her husband's
death and the marriage of her three daughters.
²Tolstoy was in the artillery, and commanded a battery in
my father used to write him a letter of earnest reproaches, and he
used to apologize as if he had been guilty of some fault. In those
distant times of which I am speaking my father was bound to Fet by
a common interest in agriculture as well as literature.
Some of my father's letters of the sixties are curious in this
For instance, in 1860, he wrote a long dissertation on
Turgénieff's novel "On the Eve," which had just come out,
and at the end added a postscript: "What is the price of a set of
the best quality of veterinary instruments? And what is the price
of a set of lancets and bleeding-cups for human use?"
In another letter there is a postscript:
"When you are next in Oryol, buy me six-hundred weight of
various ropes, reins, and traces," and on the same page: "'Tender
art thou,' and the whole thing is charming. You have never done
anything better; it is all charming." The quotation is from Fet's
The lingering clouds' last throng flies over us.
But it was not only community of interests that brought my
father and Afanásyi Afanásyevitch together. The
reason of their intimacy lay in the fact that, as my father
expressed it, they "thought alike with their heart's mind."
I also remember Nikolái Nikoláyevitch Strakhof's
visits. He was a remarkably quiet and modest man. He appeared at
Yásnaya Polyána in the beginning of the seventies,
and from that time on came and stayed with us almost every summer
till he died.
He had big, gray eyes, wide open, as if in astonishment; a
long beard with a touch of gray in it; and when he spoke, at the
end of every sentence he gave a shy laugh.
When he addressed my father, he always said "Lef
Nikoláyevitch" instead of Lyoff Nikolaievich, like other
He always stayed down-stairs in my father's study, and spent
his whole day there reading or writing, with a thick cigarette,
which he rolled himself, in his mouth.
Strakhof and my father came together originally on a purely
business footing. When the first part of my father's "Alphabet and
Reading-Book" was printed, Strakhof had charge of the
proof-reading. This led to a correspondence between him and my
father, of a business character at first, later developing into
a philosophical and friendly one. While he was writing "Anna
Karénina," my father set great store by his opinion and
valued his critical instinct very highly.
"It is enough for me that that is your opinion," he writes
in a letter of 1872, probably apropos of the "Alphabet."
In 1876, apropos of "Anna Karénina" this time, my
"You ask me whether you have understood my novel aright, and
what I think of your opinion. Of course you understood it aright.
Of course I am overjoyed at your understanding of it; but it does
not follow that everybody will understand it as you do."
But it was not only his critical work that drew my father to
Strakhof. He disliked critics on the whole and used to say that
the only people who took to criticism were those who had no
creative faculty of their own. "The stupid ones judge the clever
ones," he said of professional critics. What he valued most in
Strakhof was the profound and penetrating thinker. He was a "real
friend" of my father's,--my father himself so described him,--and
I recall his memory with deep affection and respect.
At last I have come to the memory of the man who was nearer in
spirit to my father than any other human being, namely,
Nikolái Nikoláyevitch Gay. Grandfather Gay, as we
called him, made my father's acquaintance in 1882. While living
on his farm in the Province of Tchernigoff, he chanced to read my
father's pamphlet "On the Census," and finding a solution in it of
the very questions which were troubling him at the time, without
delay he started out and hurried into Moscow. I remember his first
arrival, and I have always retained the impression that from the
first words they exchanged he and my father understood each other,
and found themselves speaking the same language.
Just like my father, Gay was at this time passing through a
great spiritual crisis; and traveling almost the same road as my
father in his search after truth, he had arrived at the study of
and a new understanding of it. My sister
For the personality of Christ he entertained a passionate and
tender affection, as if for a near and familiar friend whom he
loved with all the strength of his soul. Often during heated
arguments Nikolái Nikoláyevitch would take the
Gospel, which he always carried about with him, from his pocket,
and read out some passage from it appropriate to the subject in
hand. "This book contains everything that a man needs," he used to
say on these occasions.
While reading the Gospel, he often looked up at the person he
was talking to and went on reading without looking at the book.
His face glowed at such moments with such inward joy that one could
see how near and dear the words he was reading were to his heart.
He knew the whole Gospel almost by heart, but he said that
every time he read it he enjoyed a new and genuine spiritual
delight. He said that not only was everything intelligible to him
in the Gospel, but that when he read it he seemed to be reading in
his own soul, and felt himself capable of rising higher and higher
toward God and merging himself in Him.
I DO not mean to recount all the misunderstandings which existed
between my father and Turgénieff, which ended in a complete
breach between them in 1861. The actual external facts of that
story are common property, and there is no need to repeat
them.¹ According to general opinion, the quarrel between the
two greatest writers of the day arose out of their literary
It is my intention to show cause against this generally
received opinion, and before I come to Turgénieff's visits
to Yásnaya Polyána, I want to make as clear as I can
the real reason of the perpetual discords between these two
good-hearted people, who had a cordial affection for each other--
discords which led in the end to an out-and-out quarrel and the
exchange of mutual defiance.
As far as I know, my father never had any serious difference
with any other human being during the whole course of his
existence. And Turgénieff, in a letter to my father in
1865, wrote, "You are the only man with whom I have ever had
Whenever my father related his quarrel with Iván
Sergéyevitch, he took all the blame on himself.
Turgénieff, immediately after the quarrel, wrote a letter
apologizing to my father, and never sought to justify his own part
Why was it that, as Turgénieff himself put it, his
"constellation" and my father's "moved in the ether with
This is what my sister Tatyána wrote on the subject in
her article "Turgénieff," published in the supplement to
the "Novoye Vrémya," February 2, 1908:
All question of literary rivalry, it seems to me, is utterly
beside the mark. Turgénieff, from the very outset of my
father's literary career, acknowledged his enormous talents, and
never thought of rivalry with him. From the moment when, as early
as 1854, he wrote to Kolbásina, "If Heaven only grant
Tolstoy life, I confidently hope that he will surprise us all," he
never ceased to follow my father's work with interest, and always
expressed his unbounded admiration of it.
"When this young wine has done fermenting," he wrote to
Druzhénin in 1856, "the result will be a liquor worthy of
the gods." In 1857 he wrote to Polónsky, "This man will go
far, and leave deep traces behind him."
Nevertheless, somehow these two men never could "hit it off"
together. When one reads Turgénieff's letters to my father,
one sees that from the very beginning of their acquaintance
misunderstandings were always arising, which they perpetually
endeavored to smooth down or to forget, but which arose again after
a time, sometimes in another form, necessitating new explanations
In 1856 Turgénieff wrote to my father:
Your letter took some time reaching me, dear Lyoff
Nikolaievich. Let me begin by
¹Fet, at whose house the quarrel took place, tells all
about it in his memoirs. Tolstoy dogmatized about lady-like
charity, apropos of Turgénieff's daughter.
Turgénieff, in a fit of nerves, threatened to box his ears.
Tolstoy challenged him to a duel, and Turgénieff apologized.
saying that I am very grateful to you for sending it to me. I
shall never cease to love you and to value your friendship,
although, probably through my fault, each of us will long feel
considerable awkwardness in the presence of the other. . . . I
think that you yourself understand the reason of this awkwardness
of which I speak. You are the only man with whom I have ever had
This arises from the very fact that I have never been willing
to confine myself to merely friendly relations with you. I have
always wanted to go further and deeper than that; but I set about
it clumsily. I irritated and upset you, and when I saw my mistake,
I drew back too hastily, perhaps; and it was this which caused this
"gulf" between us.
But this awkwardness is a mere physical impression, nothing
more; and if when we meet again, you see the old "mischievous look
in my eyes," believe me, the reason of it will not be that I am a
bad man. I assure you that there is no need to look for any other
explanation. Perhaps I may add, also, that I am much older than
you, and I have traveled a different road. . . . Outside of our
special, so-called "literary" interests, I am convinced, we have
few points of contact. Your whole being stretches out hands toward
the future; mine is built up in the past. For me to follow you is
impossible. For you to follow me is equally out of the question.
You are too far removed from me, and besides, you stand too firmly
on your own legs to become any one's disciple. I can assure you
that I never attributed any malice to you, never suspected you of
any literary envy. I have often thought, if you will excuse the
expression, that you were wanting in common sense, but never in
goodness. You are too penetrating not to know that if either of us
has cause to envy the other, it is certainly not you that has cause
to envy me.
The following year he wrote a letter to my father which, it
seems to me, is a key to the understanding of Turgénieff's
attitude toward him:
You write that you are very glad you did not follow my advice
and become a pure man of letters. I don't deny it; perhaps you are
right. Still, batter my poor brains as I may, I cannot imagine
what else you are if you are not a man of letters. A soldier? A
squire? A philosopher? The founder of a new religious doctrine?
A civil servant? A man of business? . . . Please resolve my
difficulties, and tell me which of these suppositions is correct.
I am joking, but I really do wish beyond all things to see you
under way at last, with all sails set.
It seems to me that Turgénieff, as an artist, saw
nothing in my father beyond his great literary talent, and was
unwilling to allow him the right to be anything besides an artist
and a writer. Any other line of activity on my father's part
offended Turgénieff, as it were, and he was angry with my
father because he did not follow his advice. He was much older
than my father,¹ he did not hesitate to rank his own talent
lower than my father's, and demanded only one thing of him, that he
should devote all the energies of his life to his literary work.
And, lo and behold! my father would have nothing to do with his
magnanimity and humility, would not listen to his advice, but
insisted on going the road which his own tastes and nature pointed
out to him. Turgénieff's tastes and character were
diametrically opposed to my father's. While opposition always
inspired my father and lent him strength, it had just the opposite
effect on Turgénieff.
Being wholly in agreement with my sister's views, I will
merely supplement them with the words uttered by his brother,
Nikolái Nikoláyevitch, who said that
"Turgénieff cannot reconcile himself to the idea that
Lyovótchka is growing up and freeing himself from his
As a matter of fact, when Turgénieff was already a
famous writer, no one had ever heard of Tolstoy, and, as Fet
expressed it, there was only "something said about his stories from
I can imagine with what secret veneration a young writer, just
beginning, must have regarded Turgénieff at that time, and
all the more because Iván Sergéyevitch was a great
friend of my father's elder and beloved brother Nikolái.
I do not like to assert it positively, but it seems to me that
just as Turgénieff was unwilling to confine himself to
¹Turgénieff was ten years older than Tolstoy.
friendly relations," so my father also felt too warmly toward
Iván Sergéyevitch, and that was the very reason why
they could never meet without disagreeing and quarreling. In
confirmation of what I say here is a passage from a letter written
by V. Bótkin, a close friend of my father's and of
Iván Sergéyevitch's, to A. A. Fet, written
immediately after their quarrel:
I think that Tolstoy really has a passionately affectionate
nature and he would like to love Turgénieff in the warmest
way possible; but unfortunately his impulsive feeling encounters
nothing but a kindly, good-natured indifference, and he can by no
means reconcile himself to that.
Turgénieff himself said that when they first came to
know each other my father dogged his heels "like a woman in love,"
and at one time he used to avoid him, because he was afraid of his
spirit of opposition.
My father was perhaps irritated by the slightly patronizing
tone which Turgénieff adopted from the very outset of their
acquaintance; and Turgénieff was irritated by my father's
"crankiness," which distracted him from "his proper
In 1870, before the date of the quarrel, Turgénieff
wrote to Fet:
"Lyoff Tolstoy continues to play the crank. It was evidently
written in his stars. When will he turn his last somersault and
stand on his feet at last?"
Turgénieff was just the same about my father's
"Confession," which he read not long before his death. Having
promised to read it, "to try to understand it," and "not to lose my
temper," he "started to write a long letter in answer to the
'Confession,' but never finished it . . . for fear of becoming
In a letter to D. V. Grigórevitch he called the book,
which was based, in his opinion, on false premises, "a denial of
all live human life" and "a new sort of Nihilism."
It is evident that even then Turgénieff did not
understand what a mastery my father's new philosophy of life had
obtained over him, and he was inclined to attribute his enthusiasm
along with the rest to the same perpetual "crankinesses" and
"somersaults" to which he had formerly attributed his interest in
school-teaching, agriculture, the publication of a paper, and so
IVÁN SERGÉYEVITCH three times visited Yásnaya
Polyána within my memory, in: August and September, 1878,
and the third and last time at the beginning of May, 1880. I can
remember all these visits, although it is quite possible that
some details have escaped me.
I remember that when we expected Turgénieff on his
first visit, it was a great occasion, and the most anxious and
excited of all the household about it was my mother. She told us
that my father had quarreled with Turgénieff and had
once challenged him to a duel, and that he was now coming at my
father's invitation to effect a reconciliation.
Turgénieff spent all the time sitting with my father,
who during his visit put aside even his work, and once in the
middle of the day my mother collected us all at a quite unusual
hour in the drawing-room, where Iván Sergéyevitch
read us his story of "The Dog."
I can remember his tall, stalwart figure, his gray, silky,
yellowish hair, his soft tread, rather waddling walk, and his
piping voice, quite out of keeping with his majestic exterior. He
had a chuckling kind of laugh, like a child's, and when he laughed
his voice was more piping than ever.
In the evening, after dinner, we all gathered in the
zala. At that time Uncle Seryózha, Prince
Leoníd Dmítryevitch Urúsof, Vice-Governor of
the Province of Tula; Uncle Sasha Behrs and his young wife, the
handsome Georgian Patty; and the whole family of the
Kuzmínskys, were staying at Yásnaya.
Aunt Tánya was asked to sing. We listened with
beating hearts, and waited to hear what Turgénieff, the
famous connoisseur, would say about her singing. Of course he
praised it, sincerely, I think. After the singing a quadrille was
got up. All of a sudden, in the middle of the quadrille,
Iván Sergéyevitch, who was sitting at one side
looking on, got up and took one of the ladies by the hand, and,
putting his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, danced a
cancan according to the latest rules of Parisian art. Every
427> one roared with laughter, Turgénieff more than anybody.
After tea the "grown-ups" started some conversation, and a
warm dispute arose among them. It was Prince Urúsof who
disputed most warmly, and "went for" Turgénieff.
Of Turgénieff's third visit I remember the woodcock
shooting. This was on the second or third of May, 1880.
We all went out together beyond the Voronka, my father, my
mother and all the children. My father gave Turgénieff the
best place and posted himself one hundred and fifty paces away at
the other end of the same glade.
My mother stood by Turgénieff, and we children lighted
a bonfire not far off.
My father fired several shots and brought down two birds;
Iván Sergéyevitch had no luck, and was envying my
father's good fortune all the time. At last, when it was beginning
to get dark, a woodcock flew over Turgénieff, and he shot
"Killed it?" called out my father.
"Fell like a stone; send your dog to pick him up," answered
My father sent us with the dog, Turgénieff showed us
where to look for the bird; but search as we might, and the dog,
too, there was no woodcock to be found. At last Turgénieff
came to help, and my father came; there was no woodcock there.
"Perhaps you only winged it; it may have got away along the
ground," said my father, puzzled. "It is impossible that the dog
shouldn't find it; he couldn't miss a bird that was killed."
"I tell you I saw it with my own eyes, Lyoff Nikolaievich; it
fell like a stone. I didn't wound it; I killed it outright. I can
tell the difference."
"Then why can't the dog find it? It's impossible; there's
"I don't know anything about that," insisted
Turgénieff. "You may take it from me I'm not lying; it fell
like a stone where I tell you."
There was no finding the woodcock, and the incident left an
unpleasant flavor, as if one or the other of them was in the wrong.
Either Turgénieff was bragging when he said that he shot it
dead, or my father, in maintaining that the dog could not fail to
find a bird that had been killed.
And this must needs happen just when they were both so anxious
to avoid every sort of misunderstanding! That was the very reason
why they had carefully fought shy of all serious conversation, and
spent all their time merely amusing themselves.
When my father said good night to us that night, he whispered
to us that we were to get up early and go back to the place to have
a good hunt for the bird.
And what was the result? The woodcock, in falling, had caught
in the fork of a branch, right at the top of an aspen-tree, and it
was all we could do to knock it out from there.
When we brought it home in triumph, it was something of an
"occasion," and my father and Turgénieff were far more
delighted than we were. It turned out that they were both in the
right, and everything ended to their mutual satisfaction.
Iván Sergéyevitch slept down-stairs in my
father's study. When the party broke up for the night, I used to
see him to his room, and while he was undressing I sat on his bed
and talked sport with him.
He asked me if I could shoot. I said yes, but that I didn't
care to go out shooting because I had nothing but a rotten old
"I'll give you a gun," he said. "I've got two in Paris, and
I have no earthly need for both. It's not an expensive gun, but
it's a good one. Next time I come to Russia I'll bring it with
I was quite taken aback and thanked him heartily. I was
tremendously delighted at the idea that I was to have a real
Unfortunately, Turgénieff never came to Russia again.
I tried afterward to buy the gun he had spoken of from his legatees
not in the quality of a central-fire gun, but as
Turgénieff's gun; but I did not succeed.
That is all that I can remember about this delightful,
naïvely cordial man, with the childlike eyes and the childlike
laugh, and in the picture my mind preserves of him the memory of
his grandeur melts into the charm of his good nature and
In 1883 my father received from Iván
Sergéyevitch his last farewell letter, written in pencil on
his death-bed, and I remember with what emotion he read it.
And when the news of his death came, my father would talk of
nothing else for several days, and inquired everywhere for details
of his illness and last days.
Apropos of this letter of Turgénieff's, I should like
to say that my father was sincerely annoyed, when he heard applied
to himself the epithet "great writer of the land of Russia," which
was taken from this letter.
He always hated clichés, and he regarded this
one as quite absurd.
"Why not 'writer of the land'? I never heard before that a
man could be the writer of a land. People get attached to some
nonsensical expression, and go on repeating it in season and out of
I have given extracts above from Turgénieff's letters,
which show the invariable consistency with which he lauded my
father's literary talents. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same of
my father's attitude toward Turgénieff.
In this, too, the want of dispassionateness in his nature
revealed itself. Personal relations prevented him from being
In 1867, apropos of Turgénieff's "Smoke," which had
just appeared, he wrote to Fet:
There is hardly any love of anything in "Smoke" and hardly any
poetry. The only thing it shows love for is light and playful
adultery, and for that reason the poetry of the story is repulsive.
. . . I am timid in expressing this opinion, because I cannot form
a sober judgment about an author whose personality I dislike.
In 1865, before the final breach with Turgénieff, he wrote,
again to Fet: "I do not like 'Enough'! A personal subjective
treatment is never good unless it is full of life and passion; but
the subjectivity in this case is full of lifeless suffering.
In the autumn of 1883, after Turgénieff's death, when
the family had gone into Moscow for the winter, my father stayed at
Yásnaya Polyána alone, with Agáfya
Mikháilovna, and set earnestly about reading through all
This is what he wrote to my mother at the time:
I am always thinking about Turgénieff. I am intensely
fond of him, and sorry for him, and do nothing but read him. I
live entirely with him. I shall certainly give a lecture on him,
or write it to be read; tell Yúryef.
"Enough"--read it; it is perfectly charming.
Unfortunately, my father's intended lecture on
Turgénieff never came off. The Government forbade him to
pay this last tribute to his dead friend, with whom he had
quarreled all his life only because he could not be indifferent to
(To be continued)
REMINISCENCES OF TOLSTOY
BY HIS SON, COUNT ILYÁ TOLSTOY
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE CALDERON
AT this point I shall turn back and try to trace the influence
which my father had on my upbringing, and I shall recall as well as
I can the impressions that he left on my mind in my childhood, and
later in the melancholy days of my early manhood, which happened to
coincide with the radical change in his whole philosophy of life.
In 1852, tired of life in the Caucasus and remembering his old
home at Yásnaya Polyána, he wrote to his aunt,
After some years, I shall find myself, neither very young nor very
old, back at Yásnaya Polyána again: my affairs will
all be in order; I shall have no anxieties for the future and
no troubles in the present.
You also will be living at Yásnaya. You will be
getting a little old, but you will be healthy and vigorous. We
shall lead the life we led in the old days; I shall work in the
mornings, but we shall meet and see each other almost all day.
We shall dine together in the evening. I shall read you
something that interests you. Then we shall talk: I shall tell you
about my life in the Caucasus; you will give me reminiscences of my
father and mother; you will tell me some of those "terrible
stories" to which we used to listen in the old days with frightened
eyes and open mouths.
We shall talk about the people that we loved and who are no
You will cry, and I, too; but our tears will be refreshing,
tranquilizing tears. We shall talk about my brothers, who will
visit us from time to time, and about dear Masha, who will also
spend several months every year at Yásnaya, which she loves,
with all her children.
We shall have no acquaintances; no one will come in to bore us
It is a wonderful dream; but that is not all that I let myself
I shall be married. My wife will be gentle, kind, and
affectionate; she will love you as I do; we shall have children who
will call you granny; you will live in the big house, in the same
room on the top floor where my grandmother lived before.
The whole house will be run on the same lines as it was in my
father's time, and we shall begin the same life over again, but
with a change of rôles.
You will take my grandmother's place, but you will be better
still than she was; I shall take my father's place, though I can
never hope to be worthy of the honor.
My wife will take my mother's place, and the children ours.
Masha will fill the part of both my aunts, except for their
sorrow; and there will even be Gasha there to take the place of
The only thing lacking will be some one to take the part you
played in the life of our family. We shall never find such a noble
and loving heart as yours. There is no one to succeed you.
There will be three new faces that will appear among us from
time to time: my brothers, especially one who will often be with
us, Nikólenka, who will be an old bachelor, bald, retired,
always the same kindly, noble fellow.
Just ten years after this letter, my father married, and
almost all his dreams were realized, just as he had wished. Only
the big house, with his grandmother's room, was missing, and his
brother Nikólenka, with the dirty hands, for he died two
years before, in 1860. In his family life my father witnessed a
repetition of the life of his parents, and in us children he sought
to find a repetition of himself and his brothers. We were brought
up as regular gentlefolk, proud of our social position and holding
aloof from all the outer world. Everything that was not us was
below us, and therefore unworthy of imitation. I knew that my
father felt very earnestly about the
chastity of young
people; I knew how much strength he laid on purity. An early
marriage seemed to me the best solution of the difficult question
that must harass every thoughtful boy when he attains to man's
Two or three years later, when I was eighteen and we were
living in Moscow, I fell in love with a young lady I knew, my
present wife, and went almost every Saturday to her father's house.
My father knew, but said nothing. One day when he was going
out for a walk I asked if I might go with him. As I very seldom
went for walks with him in Moscow, he guessed that I wanted to have
a serious talk with him about something, and after walking some
distance in silence, evidently feeling that I was shy about it and
did not like to break the ice, he suddenly began:
"You seem to go pretty often to the F----s'."
I said that I was very fond of the eldest daughter.
"Oh, do you want to marry her?"
"Is she a good girl? Well, mind you don't make a mistake, and
don't be false to her," he said with a curious gentleness and
I left him at once and ran back home, delighted, along the
Arbat. I was glad that I had told him the truth, and his
affectionate and cautious way of taking it strengthened my
affection both for him, to whom I was boundlessly grateful for his
cordiality, and for her, whom I loved still more warmly from that
moment, and to whom I resolved still more fervently never to be
My father's tactfulness toward us amounted almost to timidity.
There were certain questions which he could never bring himself to
touch on for fear of causing us pain. I shall never forget how
once in Moscow I found him sitting writing at the table in my room
when I dashed in suddenly to change my clothes.
My bed stood behind a screen, which hid him from me.
When he heard my footsteps he said, without looking round:
"Is that you, Ilyá?"
"Yes, it's I."
"Are you alone? Shut the door. There's no one to hear us,
and we can't see each other, so we shall not feel ashamed. Tell
me, did you ever have anything to do with women?"
When I said no, I suddenly heard him break out sobbing, like
a little child.
I sobbed and cried, too, and for a long time we stayed weeping
tears of joy, with the screen between us, and we were neither of us
ashamed, but both so joyful that I look on that moment as one of
the happiest in my whole life.
No arguments or homilies could ever have effected what the
emotion I experienced at that moment did. Such tears as those shed
by a father of sixty can never be forgotten even in moments of the
My father observed my inward life most attentively between the
ages of sixteen and twenty, noted all my doubts and hesitations,
encouraged me in my good impulses, and often found fault with me
I still have some of his letters written at that time. Here
I had just written you, my dear friend Ilyá, a letter
that was true to my own feelings, but, I am afraid, unjust, and I
am not sending it. I said unpleasant things in it, but I have no
right to do so. I do not know you as I should like to and as I
ought to know you. That is my fault. And I wish to remedy it. I
know much in you that I do not like, but I do not know everything.
As for your proposed journey home, I think that in your position
of student, not only student of a gymnase, but at the age of study,
it is better to gad about as little as possible; moreover, all
useless expenditure of money that you can easily refrain from is
immoral, in my opinion, and in yours, too, if you only consider it.
If you come, I shall be glad for my own sake, so long as you are
not inseparable from G----.
Do as you think best. But you must work, both with your head,
thinking and reading, and with your heart; that is, find out for
yourself what is really good and what is bad, although it seems to
be good. I kiss you.
Dear Friend Ilyá:
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 Baturlín,
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,¹
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 Márya
Alexévna's² 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
Márya Alexévna 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 Márya Alexévna, 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 Márya Alexévna. 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 Lyólya and
Nolétchka and Seryózha, if he is back. We are all
alive and well.
The following letter belongs to the same period:
Your letter to Tánya has arrived, my dear friend
Ilyá, and I see that you are still advancing toward that
purpose which you set up for yourself; and I want to write to you
and to her--for no doubt you tell her everything--what I think
about it. Well, I think about it a great deal, with joy and with
fear mixed. This is what I think. If one marries in order to
enjoy oneself more, no good will ever come of it. To set up as
one's main object, ousting everything else, marriage, union with
the being you love, is a great mistake. And an obvious one, if you
think about it. Object, marriage. Well, you marry; and what then?
If you had no other object in life before your marriage, it will be
twice as hard to find one.
As a rule, people who are getting married completely forget
So many joyful events await them in the future, in wedlock and
the arrival of children, that those events seem to constitute life
itself. But this is indeed a dangerous illusion.
If parents merely live from day to day, begetting children,
and have no purpose in life, they are only putting off the question
of the purpose of life and that punishment which is allotted to
people who live without knowing why; they are only putting it off
and not escaping it, because they will have to bring up their
children and guide their steps, but they will have nothing to guide
them by. And then the parents lose their human qualities and the
happiness which depends on the possession of them, and turn into
mere breeding cattle.
That is why I say that people who are proposing to marry
because their life seems to them to be full must more than
ever set themselves to think and make clear to their own minds for
the sake of what each of them lives.
And in order to make this clear, you must consider the
circumstances in which you live, your past. Reckon up what you
¹I had written to my father that my fiancée's
mother would not let me marry for two years.
²My father took Griboyéhof's Princess
Márya Alexévna as a type. The allusion here is
to the last words of Griboyéhof's famous comedy, "The
Misfortune of Cleverness," "What will Princess Márya
important and what unimportant in life. Find out what you believe
in; that is, what you look on as eternal and immutable truth, and
what you will take for your guide in life. And not only find out,
but make clear to your own mind, and try to practise or to learn to
practise in your daily life; because until you practise what you
believe you cannot tell whether you believe it or not.
I know your faith, and that faith, or those sides of it which
can be expressed in deeds, you must now more than ever make clear
to your own mind, by putting them into practice.
Your faith is that your welfare consists in loving people and
being loved by them. For the attainment of this end I know of
three lines of action in which I perpetually exercise myself, in
which one can never exercise oneself enough and which are specially
necessary to you now.
First, in order to be able to love people and to be loved by
them, one must accustom oneself to expect as little as possible
from them, and that is very hard work; for if I expect much, and
am often disappointed, I am inclined rather to reproach them than
to love them.
Second, in order to love people not in words, but in deed, one
must train oneself to do what benefits them. That needs still
harder work, especially at your age, when it is one's natural
business to be studying.
Third, in order to love people and to b. l. b. t.,¹ one
must train oneself to gentleness, humility, the art of bearing with
disagreeable people and things, the art of behaving to them so as
not to offend any one, of being able to choose the least offense.
And this is the hardest work of all--work that never ceases from
the time you wake till the time you go to sleep, and the most
joyful work of all, because day after day you rejoice in your
growing success in it, and receive a further reward, unperceived
at first, but very joyful after, in being loved by others.
So I advise you, Friend Ilyá, and both of you, to live
and to think as sincerely as you can, because it is the only way
you can discover if you are really going along the same road, and
whether it is wise to join hands or not; and at the same time, if
you are sincere, you must be making your future ready.
Your purpose in life must not be the joy of wedlock, but, by
your life to bring more love and truth into the world. The object
of marriage is to help one another in the attainment of that
The vilest and most selfish life is the life of the people who
have joined together only in order to enjoy life; and the highest
vocation in the world is that of those who live in order to serve
God by bringing good into the world, and who have joined together
for that very purpose. Don't mistake half-measures for the real
thing. Why should a man not choose the highest? Only when you
have chosen the highest, you must set your whole heart on it, and
not just a little. Just a little leads to nothing. There, I am
tired of writing, and still have much left that I wanted to say.
I kiss you.
HELP FOR THE FAMINE-STRICKEN
AFTER my father had come to the conclusion that it was not only
useless to help people with money, but immoral, the part he took in
distributing food among the peasants during the famines of 1890,
1891, and 1898 may seem to have shown inconsistency and
contradiction of thought.
"If a horseman sees that his horse is tired out, he must not
remain seated on its back and hold up its head, but simply get
off," he used to say, condemning all the charities of the well-fed
people who sit on the back of the working classes, continue to
enjoy all the benefits of their privileged position, and merely
give from their superfluity.
He did not believe in the good of such charity and considered
it a form of self-hallucination, all the more harmful because
people thereby acquire a sort of moral right to continue that idle,
aristocratic life and get to go on increasing the poverty of the
In the autumn of 1890 my father thought of writing an article
on the famine, which had then spread over nearly all Russia.
Although from the newspapers and from the accounts brought by
those who came from the famine-stricken parts he already knew about
the extent of the peasantry's disaster, nevertheless, when his old
friend Ivánovitch Rayóvsky called on him at
Yásnaya Polyána and proposed that he should drive
through to the Dankóvski
¹Be loved by them.
District with him in order to see the state of things in the
villages for himself, he readily agreed, and went with him to his
property at Begitchóvka.
He went there with the intention of staying only for a day or
two; but when he saw what a call there was for immediate measures,
he at once set to work to help Rayóvsky, who had already
instituted several kitchens in the villages, in relieving the
distress of the peasantry, at first on a small scale, and then,
when big subscriptions began to pour in from every side, on a
continually increasing one. The upshot of it was that he devoted
two whole years of his life to the work.
It is wrong to think that my father showed any inconsistency
in this matter. He did not delude himself for a moment into
thinking he was engaged on a virtuous and momentous task, but when
he saw the sufferings of the people, he simply could not bear to go
on living comfortably at Yásnaya or in Moscow any longer,
but had to go out and help in order to relieve his own feelings.
Once he wrote:
There is much about it that is not what it ought to be; there
is S. A.'s money¹ and the subscriptions; there is the relation
of those who feed and those who are fed. There is sin without
end, but I cannot stay at home and write. I feel the necessity
of taking part in it, of doing something.
Six years later I worked again at the same job with my father
in Tchornski and Mtsenski districts.
After the bad crops of the two preceding years it became clear
by the beginning of the winter of 1898 that a new famine was
approaching in our neighborhood, and that charitable assistance to
the peasantry would be needed. I turned to my father for help. By
the spring he had managed to collect some money, and at the
beginning of April he came himself to see me.
I must say that my father, who was very economical by nature,
was extraordinarily cautious and, I may say, even parsimonious in
charitable matters. It is of course easy to understand, if one
considers the unlimited confidence which he enjoyed among the
subscribers and the great moral responsibility which he could not
but feel toward them. So that before undertaking anything he had
himself to be fully convinced of the necessity of giving aid.
The day after his arrival, we saddled a couple of horses and
rode out. We rode as we had ridden together twenty years before,
when we went out coursing with our greyhounds; that is, across
country, over the fields.
It was all the same to me which way we rode, as I believed
that all the neighboring villages were equally distressed, and
my father, for the sake of old memories, wanted to revisit
Spásskoye Lyutovinóvo, which was only six miles from
me, and where he had not been since Turgénieff's death. On
the way there I remember he told me all about Turgénieff's
mother, who was famous through all the neighborhood for her
remarkable intelligence, energy, and craziness. I do not know that
he ever saw her himself, or whether he was telling me only the
reports that he had heard.
As we rode across the Turgénieff's [sic] park, he
recalled in passing how of old he and Ivan Sergéyevitch had
disputed which park was best, Spásskoye or Yásnaya
Polyána. I asked him:
"And now which do you think?"
"Yásnaya Polyána is the best, though this
is very fine, very fine indeed."
In the village we visited the head-man's and two or three
other cottages, and came away disappointed. There was no famine.
The peasants, who had been endowed at the emancipation with a
full share of good land, and had enriched themselves since by
wage-earnings, were hardly in want at all. It is true that some of
the yards were badly stocked; but there was none of that acute
degree of want which amounts to famine and which strikes the eye at
I even remember my father reproaching me a little for having
sounded the alarm when there was no sufficient cause for it, and
for a little while I felt rather ashamed and awkward before him.
Of course when he talked to the peasants he asked each of them
if he remembered Turgénieff and eagerly picked up anything
they had to say about him. Some of the old men remembered him and
spoke of him with great affection.
MY FATHER'S ILLNESS IN THE CRIMEA
IN the autumn of 1901 my father was attacked by persistent
feverishness, and the doctors advised him to spend the winter in
the Crimea. Countess Panina kindly lent him her Villa Gaspra, near
Koréiz, and he spent the winter there.
Soon after his arrival, he caught cold and had two illnesses
one after the other, enteric fever and inflammation of the lungs.
At one time his condition was so bad that the doctors had hardly
any hope that he would ever rise from his bed again. Despite the
fact that his temperature went up very high, he was conscious all
the time; he dictated some reflections every day, and deliberately
prepared for death.
The whole family was with him, and we all took turns in
helping to nurse him. I look back with pleasure on the nights when
it fell to me to be on duty by him, and I sat in the balcony by
the open window, listening to his breathing and every sound in his
room. My chief duty, as the strongest of the family, was to lift
him up while the sheets were being changed. When they were making
the bed, I had to hold him in my arms like a child.
I remember how my muscles quivered one day with the exertion.
He looked at me with astonishment and said:
"You surely don't find me heavy? What nonsense!"
I thought of the day when he had given me a bad time at riding
in the woods as a boy, and kept asking, "You're not tired?"
Another time during the same illness he wanted me to carry him
down-stairs in my arms by the winding stone staircase.
"Pick me up as they do a baby and carry me."
He had not a grain of fear that I might stumble and kill him.
It was all I could do to insist on his being carried down in an
arm-chair by three of us.
Was my father afraid of death?
It is impossible to answer the question in one word. With his
tough constitution and physical strength, he always instinctively
fought not only against death, but against old age. Till the last
year of his life he never gave in, but always did everything for
himself and even rode on horseback.
To suppose, therefore, that he had no instinctive fear of
death is out of the question. He had that fear, and in a very
high degree, but he was constantly fighting to overcome it.
Did he succeed?
I can answer definitely yes. During his illness he talked a
great deal of death and prepared himself for it firmly and
deliberately. When he felt that he was getting weaker, he wished
to say good-by to everybody, and he called us all separately to his
bedside, one after the other, and gave his last words of advice to
each. He was so weak that he spoke in a half-whisper, and when he
had said good-by to one, he had to rest for a while and collect his
strength for the rest.
When my turn came, he said as nearly as I can remember:
"You are still young and strong and tossed by storms of
passion. You have not therefore yet been able to think over the
chief questions of life. But this stage will pass. I am sure of
it. When the time comes, believe me, you will find the truth in
the teachings of the Gospel. I am dying peacefully simply because
I have come to know that teaching and believe in it. May God grant
you this knowledge soon! Good-by."
I kissed his hand and left the room quietly. When I got to
the front door, I rushed to a lonely stone tower, and there sobbed
my heart out in the darkness like a child. Looking round at last,
I saw that some one else was sitting on the staircase near me, also
So I said farewell to my father years before his death, and
the memory of it is dear to me, for I know that if I had seen him
before his death at Astapova he would have said just the same to
To return to the question of death, I will say that so far
from being afraid of it, in his last days he often desired it; he
was more interested in it than afraid of it. This "greatest of
mysteries" interested him to such a degree that his interest came
near to love. How eagerly he listened to accounts of the death of
his friends, Turgénieff, Gay, Leskóf,¹
Zhemtchúzhnikof² and others! He inquired after the
smallest matters; no detail, however trifling in appearance, was
without its interest and importance to him.
¹A novelist, died 1895.
²One of the authors of "Junker Schmidt."
His "Circle of Reading," November 7, the day he died, is
devoted entirely to thoughts on death.
"Life is a dream, death is an awakening," he wrote, while in
expectation of that awakening.
Apropos of the "Circle of Reading," I cannot refrain from
relating a characteristic incident which I was told by one of my
When my father had made up his mind to compile that collection
of the sayings of the wise, to which he gave the name of "Circle
of Reading," he told one of his friends about it.
A few days afterward this friend came to see him again, and at
once told him that he and his wife had been thinking over his
scheme for the new book and had come to the conclusion that he
ought to call it "For Every Day," instead of "Circle of Reading."
To this my father replied that he preferred the title "Circle
of Reading" because the word "circle" suggested the idea of
continuous reading, which was what he meant to express by the
Half an hour later the friend came across the room to him and
repeated exactly the same remark again. This time my father made
no reply. In the evening, when the friend was preparing to go
home, as he was saying good-by to my father, he held his hand in
his and began once more:
"Still, I must tell you, Lyoff Nikolaievich, that I and my
wife have been thinking it over, and we have come to the
conclusion," and so on, word for word the same.
"No, no, I want to die--to die as soon as possible," groaned
my father when he had seen the friend off.
"Isn't it all the same whether it's 'Circle of Reading' or
'For Every Day'? No, it's time for me to die: I cannot live like
this any longer."
And, after all, in the end, one of the editions of the sayings
of the wise was called "For Every Day" instead of "Circle of
"Ah, my dear, ever since this Mr. ---- turned up, I really
don't know which of Lyoff Nikolaievich's writings are by Lyoff
Nikolaievich and which are by Mr. ----!" murmured our old friend,
the pure-hearted and far from malicious Márya
This sort of intrusion into my father's work as an author
bore, in the "friend's" language, the modest title of "corrections
beforehand," and there is no doubt that Márya
Alexandróvna was right, for no one will ever know where what
my father wrote ends and where his concessions to Mr. ----'s
persistent "corrections beforehand" begin, all the more as this
careful adviser had the forethought to arrange that when my father
answered his letters he was always to return him the letters they
were answers to.¹
Besides the desire for death that my father displayed, in the
last years of his life he cherished another dream, which he made no
secret of his hope of realizing, and that was the desire to suffer
for his convictions. The first impulse in this direction was given
him by the persecution on the part of the authorities to which,
during his lifetime, many of his friends and fellow-thinkers were
When he heard of any one being put in jail or deported for
disseminating his writings, he was so disturbed about it that one
was really sorry for him. I remember my arrival at Yásnaya
some days after Gúsef's arrest.² I stayed two days with
my father, and heard of nothing but Gúsef. As if there were
nobody in the world but Gúsef! I must confess that, sorry
as I was for Gúsef, who was shut up at the time in the local
prison at Krapivna, I harbored a most wicked feeling of resentment
at my father's paying so little attention to me and the rest of
those about him and being so absorbed in the thought of
I willingly acknowledge that I was wrong in entertaining this
narrow-minded feeling. If I had entered fully into what my father
was feeling, I should have seen this at the time.
As far back as 1896, in consequence of the arrest of a doctor,
Miss N----, in Tula, my father wrote a long letter to Muravyof, the
Minister of Justice, in which he spoke of the "unreasonableness,
uselessness, and cruelty of the measures
¹The curious may be disposed to trace to some such
"corrections beforehand" the remarkable discrepancy of style and
matter which distinguishes some of Tolstoy's later works, published
after his death by Mr. Tchertkof and his literary executors.
²Tolstoy's private secretary, arrested and banished in
taken by the Government against those who disseminate these
forbidden writings," and begged him to "direct the measures taken
to punish or intimidate the perpetrators of the evil, or to put an
end to it, against the man whom you regard as the real instigator
of it . . . all the more, as I assure you beforehand, that I shall
continue without ceasing till my death to do what the Government
considers evil and what I consider my sacred duty before God."
As every one knows, neither this challenge nor the others that
followed it led to any result, and the arrests and deportations of
those associated with him still went on.
My father felt himself morally responsible toward all those
who suffered on his account, and every year new burdens were laid
on his conscience.
As I reach the description of the last days of my father's life, I
must once more make it clear that what I write is based only on the
personal impressions I received in my periodical visits to
Unfortunately, I have no rich shorthand material to rely on,
such as Gúsef and Bulgákof had for their memoirs, and
more especially Dushán Petróvitch Makowicki, who is
preparing, I am told, a big and conscientious work, full of truth
In November, 1906, my sister Masha died of inflammation of the
lungs. It is a curious thing that she vanished out of life with
just as little commotion as she had passed through it. Evidently
this is the lot of all the pure in heart.
No one was particularly astonished by her death. I remember
that when I received the telegram, I felt no surprise. It seemed
perfectly natural to me. Masha had married a kinsman of ours,
Prince Obolénski; she lived on her own estate at
Pirogóvo, twenty-one miles from us, and spent half the year
with her husband at Yásnaya. She was very delicate and had
When I arrived at Yásnaya the day after her death, I
was aware of an atmosphere of exaltation and prayerful emotion
about the whole family, and it was then I think for the first time
that I realized the full grandeur and beauty of death.
I definitely felt that by her death Masha, so far from having
gone away from us, had come nearer to us, and had been, as it were,
welded to us forever in a way that she never could have been during
I observed the same frame of mind in my father. He went about
silent and woebegone, summoning all his strength to battle with his
own sorrow; but I never heard him utter a murmur of a complaint,
only words of tender emotion. When the coffin was carried to the
church he changed his clothes and went with the cortège.
When he reached the stone pillars he stopped us, said farewell to
the departed, and walked home along the avenue. I looked after him
and watched him walk away across the wet, thawing snow with his
short, quick old man's steps, turning his toes out at a sharp
angle, as he always did, and never once looking round.
My sister Masha had held a position of great importance in my
father's life and in the life of the whole family. Many a time in
the last few years have we had occasion to think of her and to
murmur sadly: "If only Masha had been with us! If only Masha had
In order to explain the relations between Masha and my father
I must turn back a considerable way. There was one distinguishing
and, at first sight, peculiar trait in my father's character, due
perhaps to the fact that he grew up without a mother, and that was
that all exhibitions of tenderness were entirely foreign to him.
I say "tenderness" in contradistinction to heartiness.
Heartiness he had and in a very high degree.
His description of the death of my Uncle Nikolái is
characteristic in this connection. In a letter to his other
brother, Sergéi Nikoláyevitch, in which he described
the last day of his brother's life, my father tells how he helped
him to undress.
"He submitted, and became a different man. . . . He had a
word of praise for everybody, and said to me, 'Thanks, my friend.'
You understand the significance of the words as between us two."
It is evident that in the language of the Tolstoy brothers the
phrase "my friend" was an expression of tenderness beyond which
imagination could not go. The words astonished my father even on
the lips of his dying brother.
During all his lifetime I never received any mark of
tenderness from him whatever.
He was not fond of kissing children, and when he did so in
saying good morning or good night, he did it merely as a duty.
It is therefore easy to understand that he did not provoke any
display of tenderness toward himself, and that nearness and
dearness with him were never accompanied by any outward
It would never have come into my head, for instance, to walk
up to my father and kiss him or to stroke his hand. I was partly
prevented also from that by the fact that I always looked up to him
with awe, and his spiritual power, his greatness, prevented me from
seeing in him the mere man--the man who was so plaintive and weary
at times, the feeble old man who so much needed warmth and rest.
The only person who could give him that warmth was Masha.
She would go up to him, stroke his hand, caress him, and say
something affectionate, and you could see that he liked it, was
happy, and even responded in kind. It was as if he became a
different man with her. Why was it that Masha was able to do this,
while no one else even dared to try? If any other of us had done
it, it would have seemed unnatural, but Masha could do it with
perfect simplicity and sincerity.
I do not mean to say that others about my father loved him
less than Masha; not at all; but the display of love for him was
never so warm and at the same time so natural with any one else as
So that with Masha's death my father was deprived of this
natural source of warmth, which, with advancing years, had become
more and more of a necessity for him.
Another and still greater power that she possessed was her
remarkably delicate and sensitive conscience. This trait in her
was still dearer to my father than her caresses.
How good she was at smoothing away all misunderstandings! How
she always stood up for those who were found any fault with, justly
or unjustly! It was all the same to her. Masha could reconcile
everybody and everything.
During the last years of his life my father's health
perceptibly grew worse. Several times he had the most sudden and
inexplicable sort of fainting fits, from which he used to recover
the next day, but completely lost his memory for a time.
Seeing my brother Andréi's children, who were staying
at Yásnaya, in the zala one day, he asked with some
surprise, "Whose children are these?" Meeting my wife, he said,
"Don't be offended, my dear; I know that I am very fond of you, but
I have quite forgotten who you are"; and when he went up to the
zala after one of these fainting fits, he looked round with
an astonished air and said, "Where's my brother Nítenka."
Nítenka had died fifty years before.
The day following all traces of the attack would disappear.
During one of these fainting fits my brother Sergéi, in
undressing my father, found a little note-book on him. He put it
in his own pocket, and next day, when he came to see my father, he
handed it back to him, telling him that he had not read it.
"There would have been no harm in your seeing it," said
my father, as he took it back.
This little diary in which he wrote down his most secret
thoughts and prayers was kept "for himself alone," and he never
showed it to any one. I saw it after my father's death. It is
impossible to read it without tears.
It is curious that the sudden decay of my father's memory
displayed itself only in the matter of real facts and people. He
was entirely unaffected in his literary work, and everything that
he wrote down to the last days of his life is marked by his
characteristic logicalness and force. It may be that the reason he
forgot the details of real life was because he was too deeply
absorbed in his abstract work.
My wife was at Yásnaya Polyána in October, and
when she came home she told me that there was something wrong
there. "Your mother is nervous and hysterical; your father is in
a silent and gloomy frame of mind."
I was very busy with my office work, but made up my mind to
devote my first free day to going and seeing my father and mother.
When I got to Yásnaya, my father had already left it.
I paid Aunt Masha a visit some little time after my father's
funeral. We sat together in her comfortable little cell, and she
repeated to me once more in detail the oft-repeated story of my
father's last visit to her.
"He sat in that very arm-chair where you are sitting now, and
how he cried!" she said.
"When Sasha arrived with her girl friend, they set to work
studying this map of Russia and planning out a route to the
Caucasus. Lyovótchka sat there thoughtful and melancholy.
"'Never mind, Papa; it'll be all right,' said Sasha, trying to
"'Ah, you women, you women!' answered her father, bitterly.
'How can it ever be all right?'
"I so much hoped that he would settle down here; it would just
have suited him. And it was his own idea, too; he had even taken
a cottage in the village," Aunt Masha sadly recalled.
"When he left me to go back to the hotel where he was staying,
it seemed to me that he was rather calmer.
"When he said good-by, he even made some joke about his having
come to the wrong door.
"I certainly would never have imagined that he would go away
again that same night."
It was a grievous trial for Aunt Masha when the old confessor
Iosif, who was her spiritual director, forbade her to pray for her
dead brother because he had been excommunicated. She was too
broad-minded to be able to reconcile herself to the harsh
intolerance of the church, and for a time she was honestly
indignant. Another priest to whom she applied also refused her
Márya Nikoláyevna could not bring herself to
disobey her spiritual fathers, but at the same time she felt that
she was not really obeying their injunction, for she prayed for him
all the same, in thought, if not in words.
There is no knowing how her internal discord would have ended
if her father confessor, evidently understanding the moral torment
she was suffering, had not given her permission to pray for her
brother, but only in her cell and in solitude, so as not to lead
MY FATHER'S WILL. CONCLUSION
ALTHOUGH my father had long since renounced the copyright in all
his works written after 1883, and although, after having made all
his real estate over to his children, he had, as a matter of fact,
no property left, still he could not but be aware that his life was
far from corresponding to his principles, and this consciousness
perpetually preyed upon his mind. One has only to read some of his
posthumous works attentively to see that the idea of leaving home
and radically altering his whole way of life had presented itself
to him long since and was a continual temptation to him.
This was the cherished dream that always allured him, but
which he did not think himself justified in putting into practice.
The life of the Christian must be a "reasonable and happy life
in all possible circumstances," he used to say as he
struggled with the temptation to go away, and gave up his own soul
I remember reading in Gúsef's memoirs how my father
once, in conversation with Gusoryóf, the peasant, who had
made up his mind to leave his home for religious reasons, said, "My
life is a hundred thousand times more loathsome than yours, but yet
I cannot leave it."
I shall not enumerate all the letters of abuse and amazement
which my father received from all sides, upbraiding him with
luxury, with inconsistency, and even with torturing his peasants.
It is easy to imagine what an impression they made on him.
He said there was good reason to revile him; he called their
abuse "a bath for the soul," but internally he suffered from the
"bath," and saw no way out of his difficulties. He bore his cross,
and it was in this self-renunciation that his power consisted,
though many either could not or would not understand it. He alone,
despite all those about him, knew that this cross was laid on him
not of man, but of God; and while he was strong, he loved his
burden and shared it with none.
Just as thirty years before he had been haunted by the
temptation to suicide, so now he struggled with a new and more
powerful temptation, that of flight.
A few days before he left Yásnaya he
Márya Alexandróvna Schmidt at Ovsyanniki and
confessed to her that he wanted to go away.
The old lady held up her hands in horror and said:
"Gracious Heavens, Lyoff Nikolaievich, have you come to such
a pitch of weakness?"
When I learned, on October 28, 1910, that my father had left
Yásnaya, the same idea occurred to me, and I even put it
into words in a letter I sent to him at Shamerdino by my sister
I did not know at the time about certain circumstances which
have since made a great deal clear to me that was obscure before.
From the moment of my father's death till now I have been
racking my brains to discover what could have given him the impulse
to take that last step. What power could compel him to yield in
the struggle in which he had held firmly and tenaciously for many
years? What was the last drop, the last grain of sand that turned
the scales, and sent him forth to search for a new life on the very
edge of the grave?
Could he really have fled from home because the wife that he
had lived with for forty-eight years had developed neurasthenia and
at one time showed certain abnormalities characteristic of that
malady? Was that like the man who so loved his fellows and so well
knew the human heart? Or did he suddenly desire, when he was
eighty-three, and weak and helpless, to realize the idea of a
If so, why did he take my sister Sasha and Dr. Makowicki with
him? He could not but know that in their company he would be just
as well provided with all the necessaries of life as he would have
been at Yásnaya Polyána. It would have been the most
Knowing my father as I did, I felt that the question of his
flight was not so simple as it seemed to others, and the problem
lay long unsolved before me until it was suddenly made clear by the
will that he left behind him.
I remember how, after N. S. Leskóf's death, my father
read me his posthumous instructions with regard to a pauper
funeral, with no speeches at the grave, and so on, and how the
idea of writing his own will then came into his head for the
His first will was written in his diary, on March 27,
The fourth paragraph, to which I wish to call particular
attention, contains a request to his next of kin to transfer the
right of publishing his writings to society at large, or, in other
words, to renounce the copyright of them.
"But I only request it, and do not direct it. It is a good
thing to do. And it will be good for you to do it; but if you do
not do it, that is your affair. It means that you are not yet
ready to do it. The fact that my writings have been bought and
sold during these last ten years has been the most painful thing in
my whole life to me."
Three copies were made of this will, and they were kept by my
sister Masha, my brother Sergéi, and Tchertkof.
I knew of its existence, but I never saw it till after my
father's death, and I never inquired of anybody about the details.
I knew my father's views about copyright, and no will of his
could have added anything to what I knew. I knew, moreover, that
this will was not properly executed according to the forms of law,
and personally I was glad of that, for I saw in it another proof of
my father's confidence in his family. I need hardly add that I
never doubted that my father's wishes would be carried out.
My sister Masha, with whom I once had a conversation on the
subject, was of the same opinion.
In 1909 my father stayed with Mr. Tchertkof at Krekshin, and
there for the first time he wrote a formal will, attested by the
signature of witnesses. How this will came to be written I do not
know, and I do not intend to discuss it. It afterward appeared
that it also was imperfect from a legal point of view, and in
October, 1909, it had all to be done again.
As to the writing of the third we are fully informed by Mr. F.
Strakhof in an article which he published in the St. Petersburg
"Gazette" on November 6, 1911.
Mr. Strakhof left Moscow at night. He had calculated on
Sófya Andréyevna,¹ whose presence at
Yásnaya Polyána was highly inexpedient for the
¹Five weeks after Leskóf's death.
²The Countess Tolstoy.
which he was bound, being still in Moscow.
The business in question, as was made clear in the preliminary
consultation which V. G. Tchertkof held with N. K. Muravyof, the
solicitor, consisted in getting fresh signatures from Lyoff
Nikolaievich, whose great age made it desirable to make sure,
without delay, of his wishes being carried out by means of a more
unassailable legal document. Strakhof brought the draft of the
will with him, and laid it before Lyoff Nikolaievich. After
reading the paper through, he at once wrote under it that he agreed
with its purport, and then added, after a pause:
"All this business is very disagreeable to me, and it is
unnecessary. To insure the propagation of my ideas by taking all
sorts of measures--why, no word can perish without leaving its
trace, if it expresses a truth, and if the man who utters it
believes profoundly in its truth. But all these outward means for
insuring it only come of our disbelief in what we utter."
And with these words Lyoff Nikolaievich left the study.
Thereupon Mr. Strakhof began to consider what he must do next,
whether he should go back with empty hands, or whether he should
argue it out.
He decided to argue it out, and endeavored to explain to my
father how painful it would be for his friends after his death to
hear people blaming him for not having taken any steps, despite his
strong opinion on the subject, to see that his wishes were carried
out, and for having thereby helped to transfer his copyrights to
the members of his family.
Tolstoy promised to think it over, and left the room again.
At dinner Sófya Andréyevna "was evidently far
from having any suspicions." When Tolstoy was not by, however, she
asked Mr. Strakhof what he had come down about. Inasmuch as Mr.
Strakhof had other affairs in hand besides the will, he told her
about one thing and another with an easy conscience.
Mr. Strakhof described a second visit to Yásnaya, when
he came to attest the same will as a witness.
When he arrived, he said: "The countess had not yet come down.
I breathed again."
Of his departure, he said:
As I said good-by to Sófya Andréyevna, I
examined her countenance attentively. Such complete tranquillity
and cordiality toward her departing guests were written on it that
I had not the smallest doubt of her complete ignorance of what was
going on. . . . I left the house with the pleasing consciousness
of a work well done--a work that was destined to have a
considerable historic consequence. I only felt some little twinge
within, certain qualms of conscience about the conspiratorial
character of the transaction.
But even this text of the will did not quite satisfy my
father's "friends and advisers"; it was redrafted for the fourth
and last time in July, 1910.
This last draft was written by my father himself in the
Limonovski Forest, two miles from the house, not far from Mr.
Such is the melancholy history of this document, which was
destined to have historic consequences. "All this business is very
disagreeable to me, and it is unnecessary," my father said when he
signed the paper that was thrust before him. That was his real
opinion about his will, and it never altered to the end of his
Is there any need of proof for that? I think one need know
very little of his convictions to have no doubt about it.
Was Lyoff Nikolaievich Tolstoy likely of his own accord to
have recourse to the protection of the law? And, if he did, was
he likely to conceal it from his wife and children?
He had been put into a position from which there was
absolutely no way out. To tell his wife was out of the question;
it would have grievously offended his friends. To have destroyed
the will would have been worse still; for his friends had suffered
for his principles morally, and some of them materially, and had
been exiled from Russia. He felt himself bound to them.
And on the top of all this were his fainting fits, his
increasing loss of memory, the clear consciousness of the approach
of death, and the continually growing nervousness of his wife, who
felt in her heart of hearts the unnatural estrangement of her
husband, and could not understand it. If she asked him what it was
that he was concealing from her, he would
either have to
say nothing or to tell her the truth. But that was impossible.
So it came about that the long-cherished dream of leaving
Yásnaya Polyána presented itself as the only means of
escape. It was certainly not in order to enjoy the full
realization of his dream that he left his home; he went away only
as a choice of evils.
"I am too feeble and too old to begin a new life," he had said
to my brother Sergéi only a few days before his departure.
Harassed, ill in body and in mind, he started forth without
any object in view, without any thought-out plan, merely in order
to hide himself somewhere, wherever it might be, and get some rest
from the moral tortures which had become insupportable to him.
"To fly, to fly!" he said in his deathbed delirium as he lay
"Has papa considered that mama may not survive the separation
from him?" I asked my sister Sasha on October 29, when she was on
the point of going to join him at Shamerdino.
"Yes, he has considered all that, and still made up his mind
to go, because he thinks that nothing could be worse than the state
that things have come to here," she answered.
I confess that my explanation of my father's flight by no
means exhausts the question. Life is complex and every explanation
of a man's conduct is bound to suffer from one-sidedness. Besides,
there are circumstances of which I do not care to speak at the
present moment, in order not to cause unnecessary pain to people
still living. It may be that if those who were about my father
during the last years of his life had known what they were doing,
things would have turned out differently.
The years will pass. The accumulated incrustations which hide
the truth will pass away. Much will be wiped out and forgotten.
Among other things my father's will will be forgotten--that will
which he himself looked upon as an "unnecessary outward means."
And men will see more clearly that legacy of love and truth in
which he believed deeply, and which, according to his own words,
"cannot perish without a trace."
In conclusion I cannot refrain from quoting the opinion of one
of my kinsmen, who, after my father's death, read the diaries kept
both by my father and my mother during the autumn before Lyoff
Nikolaievich left Yásnaya Polyána.
"What a terrible misunderstanding!" he said. "Each loved the
other with such poignant affection, each was suffering all the time
on the other's behalf, and then this terrible ending! . . . I see
the hand of fate in this."