Reminiscences of Tolstoy
Ilya Tolstoy [his son]
Part 2 out of 2
revealed itself. Personal relations prevented him from being
In 1867, apropos of Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff, 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 Turgenieff's death, when
the family had gone into Moscow for the winter, my father stayed at
Yasnaya Polyana alone, with Agafya
Mikhailovna, and set earnestly about reading through all
This is what he wrote to my mother at the time:
I am always thinking about Turgenieff. 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 Yuryef.
"Enough"--read it; it is perfectly charming.
Unfortunately, my father's intended lecture on
Turgenieff 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 ILYa 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 Yasnaya Polyana, he wrote to his aunt,
After some years, I shall find myself, neither very young nor very
old, back at Yasnaya Polyana 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 Yasnaya. 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 Yasnaya, 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 roles.
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, Nikolenka, 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 Nikolenka, 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, Ilya?"
"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 Ilya, 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 Ilya:
There is always somebody or something that prevents me from
answering your two letters, which are important and dear to me,
especially the last. First it was Baturlin, then
bad health, insomnia, then the arrival of D----, the friend of
H---- that I wrote you about. He is sitting at tea talking to the
ladies, neither understanding the other; so I left them, and want
to write what little I can of all that I think about you.
Even supposing that S---- A---- demands too much of you, 
there is no harm in waiting; especially from the point of view of
fortifying your opinions, your faith. That is the one important
thing. If you don't, it is a fearful disaster to put off from one
shore and not reach the other.
 I had written to my father that my fiancee's
mother would not let me marry for two years.
The one shore is an honest and good life, for your own delight
and the profit of others. But there is a bad life, too--a life so
sugared, so common to all, that if you follow it, you do not notice
that it is a bad life, and suffer only in your conscience, if you
have one; but if you leave it, and do not reach the real shore, you
will be made miserable by solitude and by the reproach of having
deserted your fellows, and you will be ashamed. In short, I want
to say that it is out of the question to want to be rather good; it
is out of the question to jump into the water unless you know how
to swim. One must be truthful and wish to be good with all one's
might, too. Do you feel this in you? The drift of what I say is
that we all know what PRINCESS MARYA ALEXEVNA
 verdict about your marriage would be:
that if young people marry without a sufficient fortune, it means
children, poverty, getting tired of each other in a year or two; in
ten years, quarrels, want--hell. And in all this PRINCESS
MARYA ALEXEVNA is perfectly right and plays the
true prophet, unless these young people who are getting married
have another purpose, their one and only one, unknown to
PRINCESS MARYA ALEXEVNA, and that not a
brainish purpose, not one recognized by the intellect, but one
that gives life its color and the attainment of which is more
moving than any other. If you have this, good; marry at once, and
give the lie to PRINCESS MARYA ALEXEVNA. If
not, it is a hundred to one that your marriage will lead to nothing
but misery. I am speaking to you from the bottom of my heart.
Receive my words into the bottom of yours, and weigh them well.
Besides love for you as a son, I have love for you also as a man
standing at the cross-ways. I kiss you and Lyolya and
Noletchka and Seryozha, if he is back. We are all
alive and well.
 My father took Griboyehof's PRINCESS
MARYA ALEXEVNA as a type. The allusion here is
to the last words of Griboyehof's famous comedy, "The
Misfortune of Cleverness," "What will PRINCESS MARYA
The following letter belongs to the same period:
Your letter to Tanya has arrived, my dear friend
Ilya, 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
consider 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.,  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.
 Be loved by them.
So I advise you, Friend Ilya, 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 Ivanovitch Rayovsky called on him at
Yasnaya Polyana and proposed that he should drive
through to the Dankovski 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 Begitchovka.
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 Rayovsky, 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 Yasnaya 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 money  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.
 His wife's.
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
Spasskoye Lyutovinovo, which was only six miles from
me, and where he had not been since Turgenieff's death. On
the way there I remember he told me all about Turgenieff'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 Turgenieff's park, he
recalled in passing how of old he and Ivan Sergeyevitch had
disputed which park was best, Spasskoye or Yasnaya
Polyana. I asked him:
"And now which do you think?"
"Yasnaya Polyana 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 Turgenieff 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
Koreiz, 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, Turgenieff, Gay, Leskof, 
Zhemtchuzhnikof ; and others! He inquired after the
smallest matters; no detail, however trifling in appearance, was
without its interest and importance to him.
 A novelist, died 1895.
 One 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 Marya
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 Marya
Alexandrovna 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.
 The 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.
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 Yasnaya
some days after Gusef's arrest. I stayed two days with
my father, and heard of nothing but Gusef. As if there were
nobody in the world but Gusef! I must confess that, sorry
as I was for Gusef, 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
 Tolstoy's private secretary, arrested and banished in
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
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 Gusef and Bulgakof had for their memoirs, and
more especially Dushan Petrovitch 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 Obolenski; she lived on her own estate at
Pirogovo, twenty-one miles from us, and spent half the year
with her husband at Yasnaya. She was very delicate and had
When I arrived at Yasnaya 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 cortege.
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 Nikolai is
characteristic in this connection. In a letter to his other
brother, Sergei Nikolayevitch, 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 Andrei's children, who were staying
at Yasnaya, 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 Nitenka."
Nitenka had died fifty years before.
The day following all traces of the attack would disappear.
During one of these fainting fits my brother Sergei, 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 Yasnaya Polyana 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 Yasnaya, 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. Lyovotchka 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
Marya Nikolayevna 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 Gusef's memoirs how my father
once, in conversation with Gusoryof, 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 Yasnaya he called on
Marya Alexandrovna 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
Yasnaya, 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 Yasnaya Polyana. 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. Leskof'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,
 Five weeks after Leskof's death.
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 Sergei, 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
Sofya Andreyevna,  whose presence at
Yasnaya Polyana was highly inexpedient for the
business on which he was bound, being still in Moscow.
 The Countess Tolstoy.
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 Sofya Andreyevna "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 Yasnaya, 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 Sofya Andreyevna, 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
Yasnaya Polyana 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 Sergei 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 Yasnaya Polyana.
"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."
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