Reminiscences of Tolstoy
Ilya Tolstoy [his son]
Part 1 out of 2
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 ILYA TOLSTOY
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE CALDERON
IN one of his letters to his great-aunt, Alexandra
Andreyevna Tolstoy, my father gives the following
description of his children:
The eldest [Sergei] 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.
Ilya, 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.
Tanya [Tatyana] 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 Yasnaya Polyana.
This is how we live. The chief personage in the house is my
mother. She settles everything. She interviews Nikolai,
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 Natalia Petrovna, who
lives on the floor below with great-aunt Tatyana
Alexandrovna, pours herself out a glass of kvass, he picks
it up and drinks it right off, then says, "Oh, I'm so sorry,
Natalia Petrovna; I made a mistake!" We all laugh
delightedly, and it seems odd that papa is not in the least
afraid of Natalia Petrovna. 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 Tatyana
Alexandrovna 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," 
where Alexey Stepanytch, the bailiff, lived, and sometimes
on the ground floor of the house we lived in.
 The name we gave to the stone annex.
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 Seryozha and
Tanya and Uncle Kostya 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." 
 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.
"Cut along, cut along! It's not for us to teach them, but
for them to teach
THE SERVANTS IN THE HOUSE
WHEN my father married and brought home his young and
inexperienced bride, Sofya Andreyevna, to
Yasnaya Polyana, Nikolai
Mikhailovitch Rumyantsef 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 Nikolayevitch, 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.
Agafya Mikhailovna 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 Pelageya Nikolayevna
Tolstoy, my father's grandmother, nee Princess
Gortchakova. 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
[Agafya], 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, Agafya
Mikhailovna 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 Agafya Mikhailovna'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
Agafya Mikhailovna 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, Styopa
(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 Agafya Mikhailovna loved him
Styopa's examination was in the spring.
Agafya Mikhailovna 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
Styopa 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
Andreyevitch.' 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 Agafya Mikhailovna was a
young man, Misha Stakhovitch, who often stayed with
"See what you have been and done to me, little Countess!"
she said reproachfully to my sister Tanya: "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, Agafya
Mikhailovna 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 Agafya
Mikhailovna 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 Andreyevna
Golokvastovy's arrival at Yasnaya.
Agafya Mikhailovna died at the beginning of
the nineties. There were no more hounds or sporting dogs at
Yasnaya 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 Yasnaya Polyana 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 Volkonsky, 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 rubles  by one of his relatives, who
had charge of his affairs by power of attorney when he was in the
 About $3000.
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 zala 
and study were built on the house.
 The 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
Yasnaya Polyana meals were taken in the
zala, but this is not the general Russian custom, houses
being provided also with a stolovaya, or dining-
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, Ilya
Andreyevitch Tolstoy, because I was told that I was like
Beside him hung the portrait of another great-grandfather,
Prince Nikolai Sergeyevitch Volkonsky, my
grandmother's father, with thick, black eyebrows, a gray wig, and
a red kaftan. 
; Kaftan, a long coat of various cuts, including
military and naval frock-coat, and the long gown worn by
This Volkonsky built all the buildings of
Yasnaya Polyana. 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 Nikolai 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
Fet  as a young man on the walls, too, and the well-known
group of writers of the Sovremennik  circle in 1856,
with Turgenieff, Ostrovsky, Gontcharof,
Grigorovitch, Druzhinin, and my father, quite young
still, without a beard, and in uniform.
 Afanasyi Shenshin, the poet, who adopted
his mother's name, Fet, for a time, owing to official
difficulties about his birth-certificate. An intimate friend of
 "Sovremennik," or "Contemporary Review,"
edited by the poet Mekrasof, was the rallying-place for the "men
of the forties," the new school of realists. Ostrovsky is
the dramatist; Gontcharof the novelist, author of
"Oblomof"; Grigorovitch wrote tales about peasant
life, and was the discoverer of Tchekhof's talent as a
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 dejeuner.
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
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 NATASHA ROSTOF was Aunt
Tanya. When my father was asked whether that was true,
and whether DMITRY ROSTOF 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 Yasnaya 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. Zakharyin, 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 Buzuluk, 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 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, Fyodor Fyodorovitch
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, Ilyusha, 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 Karenina" 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 Degatna or to
Malakhov. 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, Lyovotchka?" 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.
Agafya Mikhailovna 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,  beating all the
bushes with our hunting-crops, and gazing keenly at every spot or
mark on the earth.
 The balks are the banks dividing the fields of
different owners or crops. Hedges are not used for this purpose
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 Seryozha, 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 Seryozha 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
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,  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
 Pazanki, tracks of a hare, name given to the
last joint of the hind legs.
After the run we would all be in better spirits, and get to
better places near Yasenki and Retinka. 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
Karenina." 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 Karenina"
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 Karenina" began to come out in the "Russky
Vyestnik,"  long galley-proofs were posted to my
father, and he looked them through and corrected them.
 A Moscow monthly, founded by Katkof, who
somehow managed to edit both this and the daily
"Moskovskiya Vyedomosti," on which "Uncle
Kostya" worked at the same time.
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
"Lyovotchka" got up he could send the proof-sheets off by
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 Vyestnik" was
interrupted, and sometimes it did not come out for months
In the last part of "Anna Karenina" 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 Katkof.
I can remember how angry my father was when Katkof
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 Karenina."
In 1875 he wrote to N. N. Strakhof:
"I must confess that I was delighted by the success of the
last piece of 'Anna Karenina.' 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 KARENINA,' 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 Karenina" in
the "Russky Vyestnik"] 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 ILYA TOLSTOY
TRANSLATED BY GEORGE CALDERON
IN the summer, when both families were together at Yasnaya,
our own and the Kuzminsky'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 Yasnaya Polyana
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 Ushakof 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 Ustyusha, Masha, Alyona, 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 Tanya, 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, "Susoitchik," about it.
The devil, not the chief devil, but one of the rank and file,
the one charged with the management of social affairs,
Susoitchik 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 Tatyana Kuzminsky.
The first to arrive was Alexander Mikhailovitch
Kuzminsky; the second was Misha Islavin; the
third was Vyatcheslaf; the fourth was Seryozha Tolstoy, and
last of all came old Lyoff Tolstoy, senior, accompanied by Prince
Urusof. The first visitor, Alexander Mikhailovitch,
caused Susoitchik no surprise, as he often paid
Susoitchik 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 Mikhailovitch, departing from the exact
truth with some effort.
"Very good, very good; come whenever you like; she is one of
my best workers."
Before Susoitchik 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
Tanyitchka send you? That's right; no harm in coming. Give
my compliments to Tanya, and tell her that I am always at
her service. Come whenever you like. Old Susoitchik may be
of use to you."
No sooner had the young folk made their bow than old Lyoff
Tolstoy appeared with Prince Urusof.
"Aha! so it's the old boy! Many thanks to Tanyitchka.
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 Urusof, mindful of the etiquette of diplomatic
receptions, stepped forward and explained Tolstoy's appearance by
his wish to make acquaintance with Tatyana
Andreyevna's oldest and most faithful friend.
"Les amis des nos amis sont nos amis."
"Ha! ha! ha! quite so!" said Susoitchik. "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.
SERGEI NIKOLaYEVITCH TOLSTOY
I CAN remember my Uncle Seryozha (Sergei) from my
earliest childhood. He lived at Pirogovo, twenty miles from
Yasnaya, 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
Seryozha was considered, and really was, a very handsome
This is what my father says about Uncle Seryozha in his
"I and Nitenka  were chums, Nikolenka I
revered, but Seryozha I admired enthusiastically and
imitated; I loved him and wished to be he.
 Dmitry. My father's brother Dmitry died in 1856;
Nikolai died September 20, 1860.
"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. 
 That is to say, his eyes went always on the straightest
road to attain satisfaction for himself.
"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
probably the reason why I particularly delighted in the opposite of this in
other people; namely, directness of egoism. That is what I
especially loved in Seryozha, though the word 'loved' is
"I loved Nikolenka, but I admired Seryozha 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 Seryozha 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
"Lyovotchka" 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 Seryozha
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 Seryozha.
Uncle Seryozha went out coursing with us one day. A
number of gray hares were run down, not one, getting away; Uncle
Seryozha 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 Agafya
Mikhailovna to be thought of, and Uncle Seryozha 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
Seryozha 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 Seryozha and his daughter
had been, he came to take tea with us in Weavers' Row.
 Khamsvniki, a street in Moscow.
My father asked him how he had liked the concert.
"Do you remember Himbut, Lyovotchka? Lieutenant
Himbut, who was forester near Yasnaya? 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 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
Pirogovo, I drove in to Uncle Seryozha's to stop the
I do not remember apropos of what, but Uncle Seryozha
averred that Lyovotchka was proud. He said:
"He is always preaching humility and non-resistance, but he is
"Nashenka's  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.
 Maria Mikhailovna, his wife.
"Lyovotchka is just the same. When Dolgoruky
sent his chief secretary Istomin to ask him to come and have
a talk with him about Syntayef, 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, Lyovotchka 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 Sergei Nikolayevitch'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.
Nikolai quenched his ardor in skeptical derision, Lyoff
renounced his unrealized dreams with silent reproach, and
Sergei 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 Seryozha, who
felt himself getting weaker, could not bring himself to leave
Pirogovo, 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 Pirogovo, in order to tell Uncle
Seryozha 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,
helplessness, and, above all, the fear that you are a burden to others.
That's awful, awful."
Uncle Seryozha died in 1904 of cancer in the face.
This is what my aunt, Maria Nikolayevna,  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.
 Tolstoy's sister. She became a nun after her husband's
death and the marriage of her three daughters.
Besides his own family, the aged Maria
Mikhailovna and her daughters, his sister, Maria
Nikolayevna, 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 Yasnaya. They were all
troubled with the difficult question whether the dying man would
want to receive the holy communion before he died.
Knowing Sergei Nikolayevitch's disbelief in the
religion of the church, no one dared to mention the subject to him,
and the unhappy Maria Mikhailovna 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 Sergei Nikolayevitch would send for the
priest before his arrival.
"Imagine our surprise and delight," said Maria Tolstoy,
"when Lyovotchka came out of his room and told Maria
Mikhailovna that Seryozha wanted a priest sent for.
I do not know what they had been talking about, but when
Seryozha said that he wished to take the communion,
Lyovotchka answered that he was quite right, and at once
came and told us what he wanted."
My father stayed about a week at Pirogovo, 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 Yasnaya 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
Afanasyi Afanasyevitch Fet, of the footman one day
as he entered the hall of Ivan Sergeyevitch
Turgenieff's flat in St. Petersburg in the middle of the
"It is Count Tolstoy's saber; he is asleep in the
drawing-room. And Ivan Sergeyevitch is in his study
having breakfast," replied Zalchar.
"During the hour I spent with Turgenieff," 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 Turgenieff,
smiling; "ever since he got back from his battery at
Sebastopol, 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.
 Tolstoy was in the artillery, and commanded a battery in
"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
Turgenieff 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 Afanasyi Afanasyevitch's whole
philosophy of life, that they became estranged and met more rarely.
It was at Fet's, at Stepanovka, 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
Yasnaya Polyana to see my father, and these visits
became an established custom. Afterward, when the railway was made
and my father was already married, Afanasyi
Afanasyevitch still never passed our house without coming
in, and if he did, 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
Turgenieff'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 Afanasyi Afanasyevitch 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 Nikolai Nikolayevitch Strakhof's
visits. He was a remarkably quiet and modest man. He appeared at
Yasnaya Polyana 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
Nikolayevitch" 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
Karenina," 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 Karenina" 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,
Nikolai Nikolayevitch 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
the Gospel 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 Nikolai Nikolayevitch 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 Turgenieff, 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.  According to general opinion, the quarrel between the
two greatest writers of the day arose out of their literary
 Fet, at whose house the quarrel took place, tells all
about it in his memoirs. Tolstoy dogmatized about lady-like
charity, apropos of Turgenieff's daughter.
Turgenieff, in a fit of nerves, threatened to box his ears.
Tolstoy challenged him to a duel, and Turgenieff apologized.
It is my intention to show cause against this generally
received opinion, and before I come to Turgenieff's visits
to Yasnaya Polyana, 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 Turgenieff, 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 Ivan
Sergeyevitch, he took all the blame on himself.
Turgenieff, immediately after the quarrel, wrote a letter
apologizing to my father, and never sought to justify his own part
Why was it that, as Turgenieff himself put it, his
"constellation" and my father's "moved in the ether with
This is what my sister Tatyana wrote on the subject in
her article "Turgenieff," published in the supplement to
the "Novoye Vremya," February 2, 1908:
All question of literary rivalry, it seems to me, is utterly
beside the mark. Turgenieff, 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 Kolbasina, "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
Druzhenin in 1856, "the result will be a liquor worthy of
the gods." In 1857 he wrote to Polonsky, "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 Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff wrote to my father:
Your letter took some time reaching me, dear Lyoff
Nikolaievich. Let me begin by
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 Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff, 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 Turgenieff, as it were, and he was angry with my
father because he did not follow his advice. He was much older
than my father,  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. Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff.
 Turgenieff was ten years older than Tolstoy.
Being wholly in agreement with my sister's views, I will
merely supplement them with the words uttered by his brother,
Nikolai Nikolayevitch, who said that
"Turgenieff cannot reconcile himself to the idea that
Lyovotchka is growing up and freeing himself from his
As a matter of fact, when Turgenieff 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 Turgenieff at that time, and
all the more because Ivan Sergeyevitch was a great
friend of my father's elder and beloved brother Nikolai.
I do not like to assert it positively, but it seems to me that
just as Turgenieff was unwilling to confine himself to
"merely friendly relations," so my father also felt too warmly toward
Ivan Sergeyevitch, 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. Botkin, a close friend of my father's and of
Ivan Sergeyevitch'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 Turgenieff 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.
Turgenieff 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 Turgenieff adopted from the very outset of their
acquaintance; and Turgenieff was irritated by my father's
"crankiness," which distracted him from "his proper
In 1870, before the date of the quarrel, Turgenieff
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?"
Turgenieff 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. Grigorevitch 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 Turgenieff 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
IVaN SERGeYEVITCH three times visited Yasnaya
Polyana 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 Turgenieff 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 Turgenieff and had
once challenged him to a duel, and that he was now coming at my
father's invitation to effect a reconciliation.
Turgenieff 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 Ivan Sergeyevitch
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 Seryozha, Prince
Leonid Dmitryevitch Urusof, Vice-Governor of
the Province of Tula; Uncle Sasha Behrs and his young wife, the
handsome Georgian Patty; and the whole family of the
Kuzminskys, were staying at Yasnaya.
Aunt Tanya was asked to sing. We listened with
beating hearts, and waited to hear what Turgenieff, 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,
Ivan Sergeyevitch, 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. Everyone
roared with laughter, Turgenieff more than anybody.
After tea the "grown-ups" started some conversation, and a
warm dispute arose among them. It was Prince Uru;sof who
disputed most warmly, and "went for" Turgenieff.
Of Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff the
best place and posted himself one hundred and fifty paces away at
the other end of the same glade.
My mother stood by Turgenieff, and we children lighted
a bonfire not far off.
My father fired several shots and brought down two birds;
Ivan Sergeyevitch 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 Turgenieff, 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, Turgenieff 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 Turgenieff
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
Turgenieff. "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 Turgenieff 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 Turgenieff were far more
delighted than we were. It turned out that they were both in the
right, and everything ended to their mutual satisfaction.
Ivan Sergeyevitch 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, Turgenieff 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
Turgenieff's gun; but I did not succeed.
That is all that I can remember about this delightful,
naively 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 Ivan
Sergeyevitch 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 Turgenieff'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 cliches, 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 Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff.
In this, too, the want of dispassionateness in his nature
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