Leo Tolstoy: His Life and Work/Chapter 4

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Childhood[edit]

"I was born and I spent my earliest childhood in the village Yasnaya Polyana."

With these words Tolstoy opens his Reminiscences, and before we begin the description of his childhood we think it well to say a few words about this little corner of the earth, destined to become of world-wide interest. What a variety of visitors have called at Yasnaya Polyana! Natives of the Malay Archipelago, Australians, Japanese and Americans, Siberian runaways, and representatives of all the European nations, have visited this village and spread abroad a description of it, as well as the words and thoughts of the aged prophet, its inhabitant.

Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate of the Princes Volkonsky, is situated in the Krapivensk district of the province of Tula, almost on the border line of the district of Tula, fifteen versts to the south of the town of the same name. Three high-roads of three different periods cross one another in its neighborhood; the old Kiev road, overgrown with grass, the new Kiev macadamized road, and the Moscow-Kursk Railway line, the nearest station of which, Kozlovka-Zasseka, is at three and a half versts distance from Tolstoy's home.

The beautiful hilly neighborhood surrounding Yasnaya Polyana is divided from east to west by a long belt of Crown forest, called the Abattis. This name points back to ancient times when in that place the Slavs had to repel the attacks of the Crimean Tartars and other Mongolian tribes, and were obliged to cut trees and make barriers which formed a natural and impenetrable defence against the enemies' hordes.

The house in which Tolstoy was born no longer stands in Yasnaya Polyana. The work of building it was started by his grandfather, Prince Volkonsky, and finished by his father; after which the house was sold to a neighboring landowner, Gorokhov, and was removed to the village Dolgoye, where it now stands. It was in the early 1850s, when Tolstoy was in great need of money, that he requested one of his relatives to sell this house. The large-sized residence with columns and balconies was sold for the comparatively insignificant price of about five thousand rubles in paper money. From Tolstoy's letters to his brother it is evident that he was very sorry to part with it, and only dire necessity induced him to do so. At present nobody lives in it. It stands neglected, with its window-shutters nailed up. The present two houses of Yasnaya Polyana consist of the two wings, formerly standing at the sides of the main body of the old house which was sole. The place occupied by the old house is partly planted with trees, partly cleared and turned into a croquet ground and a small square which is used as a dining-place when weather permits.

In front of the house there is at present a flower-bed, and beyond that spreads an old garden with ponds and aged lime-tree avenues. The garden is surrounded by a ditch and a rampart. At the entrance of this garden stand two brick towers, painted white. Old people say that in the time of the grandfather, Prince Volkonsky, sentries used to stand there. A birch avenue, the so-called "Prospect," begins at the towers and leads up to the house.

To the old garden are added new fruit gardens planted under Tolstoy's own supervision. The whole residence is situated on rising ground and surrounded by a luxurious growth of shrubs.

It is unfortunate that there exist no details of interest relating to Tolstoy's birth besides the following extract from the church register, quoted by Zagoskin in his reminiscences:

"In the year 1828, on August 28, in the village of Yasnaya Polyana, a son, Lev, was born to Count Nikolay Ilich Tolstoy and baptized on the 29th of August by the priest Vasiliy Mozhaiskiy, deacon Arkhip Ivanov, chanter Aleksandr Feodorov, and sexton Feodor Grigoriyev. The sponsors at the baptism were the landowner of the Belevsky district, Simon Ivanovich Yazikov, and Countess Pelageya Tolstova."[1]

The countess Pelageya Tolstova was in fact the grandmother of Lev Tolstoy on his father's side, Pelageya Nikolayevna Tolstaya.

It is seldom that a biographer has the good fortune to learn facts of such an early age. In his First Memories, Tolstoy relates his vague sensations on being swathed, sensations, that is, felt during the first year of his life.

We quote these reminiscences as they stand:

"Here are my first reminiscences, which I am unable to arrange in order, not knowing what came before and what after; of some of them I do not even know whether they happened in reality or in a dream. Here they are: I am bound; I wish to free my arms and I cannot do it and I scream and cry, and my cries are unpleasant to myself, but I cannot cease. Somebody bends down over me, I do not remember who. All is in a half light. But I remember that there are two people. My cries affect them; they are disturbed by my cries, but do not unbind me as I desire, and I cry yet louder. They think that this is necessary (i.e. that I should be bound), whereas I know it is not necessary and I wish to prove it to them, and am convulsed with cries distasteful to myself but unrestrainable. I feel the injustice and cruelty, not of human beings, for they pity me, but of fate, and I feel pity for myself. I do not and never shall know what it was, whether I was swathed when a babe at the breast and tried to get my arm free, or whether I was swathed when more than a year old, in order that I should not scratch myself; or whether, as it happens in dreams, I have collected into this one reminiscence many impressions; but certain it is that this was my first and most powerful impression in life. Nor is it my cries that are impressed upon my mind, nor my sufferings, but the complexity and contrast of the impression. I desire freedom, it interferes with no one else, and I, who require strength, am weak, whilst they are strong.

"Another impression is a joyful one. I am sitting in a wooden trough, and am enveloped by the new and not unpleasant smell of some kind of stuff with which my little body is being rubbed. It was probably bran, and most likely I was having a bath, but the novelty of the impression from the bran aroused me, and for the first time I remarked and liked my little body with the ribs showing on the breast, and the smooth, dark-colored trough, my nurse's rolled-up sleeves, and the warm steaming bran-water, and its sound, and especially the feeling of the smoothness of the trough's edges when I passed my little hands along them.

"It is strange and dreadful to think that from my birth until the age of three years, during the time when I was fed from the breast, when I was weaned, when I began to crawl, to walk, to speak, however much I may seek them in my memory, I can find no other impressions save these two: When did I originate? When did I begin to live? And why is it joyous to me to imagine myself as at that time, and yet has been dreadful to me, as it is still dreadful to many, to imagine myself again entering that state of death of which there will be no recollections that can be expressed in words? Was I not alive when I learned to look, to listen, to understand, and to speak, when I slept, took the breast, kissed it, and laughed and gladdened my mother? I lived, and lived blissfully! Did I not then acquire all that by which I now live, and acquire it to such an extent and so quickly, that in all the rest of my life I have not acquired a hundredth part of the amount? From a five-year-old child to my present self there is only one step. From a new-born infant to a five-year-old child there is an awesome distance. From the germ to the infant an unfathomable distance. But from non-existence to the germ the distance is not only unfathomable, but inconceivable. Not only are space and time and causation forms of thought, and not only is the essence of life outside these forms, but all our life is a greater and greater subjection of oneself to these forms, and then again liberation from them.

"The next reminiscences refer to the time when I was already four or five years old, but of these I have very few, and not one of them concerns life outside the walls of the house. Nature, up to five years old, did not exist for me. All that I remember takes place in my little bed in a room. Neither grass nor leaves nor sky nor sun exists for me. It cannot be that I was not given flowers or leaves to play with, that I did not see the grass, was not shaded from the sun; still, up to five or six years, I have no recollection of what we call nature. Probably one has to leave it in order to see it, and I was nature itself.

"After that of the trough, the next reminiscence is one about `Yeremeyevna.' `Yeremeyevna' was a word with which we children were threatened, but my recollection of it is this: I am in my little bed, happy and content as always, and I should not remember this were it not that my nurse, or some person who formed part of my childish world, says something in a voice new to me, and goes away, and, besides being merry, I become afraid. And I call to mind that I am not alone, but with some one else who is like myself; this probably was my sister Mashenka, a year younger than myself, whose bed stood in the same room as mine. I recall that my bed has a curtain, and my sister and I are happy, and afraid of something extraordinary which has happened among us, and I hide under my pillow, both hide and watch the door, from which I expect something new and amusing, and we laugh and hide and wait. And lo! there appears some one in a dress and cap quite unlike anything I have ever seen, but I recognize that it is the same person who is always with me (whether my nurse or my aunt I do not know), and in a gruff voice which I recognize, this some one says something dreadful about naughty children and "Yeremeyevna." I shriek with fear and joy, and am indeed horrified and yet delighted to be horrified, and I wish the one who is frightening me not to know I have recognized her. We quiet down, but then purposely begin whispering to each other to recall `Yeremeyevna.'

"I have another recollection of `Yeremeyevna,' probably of a later period, for it is more distinct, although it has forever remained incomprehensible to me. In this reminiscence the chief part is played by the German, Feodor Ivanovich, our tutor; but I know for certain that I am not yet under his supervision; therefore that this takes place before I am five. And this is my first impression of Feodor Ivanovich, and it happened so early that I do not as yet remember any one, neither my brothers nor my father. If I have an idea of any separate person, it is only my sister, and that simply because she is, like me, afraid of `Yeremeyevna.' With this reminiscence is connected my first recognition that our house has a second story. How I got up there, whether I mounted alone or was carried up, I don't at all remember, but I remember that there were many of us, and that we were all moving in a circle, holding each other's hands. Among us there were women, strangers to us (I somehow remember that they were washerwomen), and we all begin to circle round and jump, and Feodor Ivanovich jumps, lifting his legs too high, flinging about and making a great noise, and I feel at one and the same moment that this is not right, and that it is wicked, and I rebuke him, and I think I begin to cry, and everything ceases."

The account given by Marie, Tolstoy's sister, of their childish games belongs to this period.

"Three of us slept in the same room - I, Lyovochka, and Dunechka[2] - and we often played with one another, making a children's party apart from our elder brothers, who lived with the tutor downstairs.

"`Milashki' was one of our favorite games. One of us would pretend to be the `milashki,' i.e., a child who was specially petted by others, put to bed, fed, given medical treatment, and generally made much fuss about. This `milashki' (favorite), according to the rules of the game, had to submit without complaining to all the tricks that were played with him, and to act his part submissively.

"I remember how grieved and vexed we were during the game when our `milashki' (generally Lev Nikolayevich) really fell asleep after having been put to bed. According to the rules of the game, he had to cry, then to be doctored, given medicine, rubbed, etc. And thus his sleep put an end to our play, and called us back from illusions to reality.

"This is all I remember till I was five years old," continues Tolstoy. "As for my nurses, my aunts, brothers, sisters, father, the rooms, and the playthings--of all these I remember nothing. My definite reminiscences commence from the time when I was transferred downstairs to Feodor Ivanovich and my elder brothers.

"With Feodor Ivanovich and the boys I experienced for the first time, and therefore more powerfully than ever after, that feeling which is called the feeling of duty--the feeling of the Cross, which every man is called to bear. I was sorry to abandon what I was used to (used to from eternity), I was sorry, poetically sorry, to separate not so much from persons, from my sister, my nurse, and my aunt, as from my little bed, with its curtain and the pillow, and I was afraid of the new life into which I entered. I tried to find what was joyful in the new life which confronted me; I tried to believe the caressing words with which Feodor Ivanovich sought to attract me; I tried not to see the contempt with which the boys received me, the younger one; I tried to think that it was shameful for a big boy to live with girls, and that there was nothing good in the upstairs life with the nurse. But inwardly I felt dreadfully sad, I knew that I was irretrievably losing innocence and happiness, and only the feeling of self-respect, the consciousness that I was fulfilling my duty, supported me. Many times later on I had to live through such moments at the parting of the ways in life, when I entered on a new road. I experienced a quiet grief at the irretrievableness of what was being lost, I kept disbelieving that it was really happening. Although I had been told that I was to be transferred to the boys, yet I remember that the dressing-gown, with belt sewn to the back, which was put on me, cut me off as it were forever from upstairs, and then for the first time I was impressed, not by all those with whom I had lived upstairs, but by the principal person with whom I lived and whom I did not previously understand. This was my aunt, Tatyana Aleksandrovna. I remember a short, stout, black-haired, kind, affectionate, solicitous woman. She put the dressing-gown on to me, and tightened the belt while embracing and kissing me, and I saw that she felt as I did; that it was sad--dreadfully sad--but necessary. For the first time I felt that life was not a plaything, but a difficult task. Shall I not feel the same when I am dying? I shall understand that death or future life is not a plaything, but a difficult task."[3]

Of this aunt, Tatyana Aleksandrovna, Tolstoy gives the following interesting information in his Memoirs:

"The third person, after my father and mother, as regards influence upon my life, was my `Aunty,' as we called her, Tatyana Aleksandrovna Yergolskaya. She was a very distant relation of my grandmother through the Gorchakovs. She and her sister Lisa, who afterward married Count Peter Ivanovich Tolstoy, remained poor little orphan girls after the death of their parents. There were also several brothers whom my parents managed to get adopted. But it was decided that one of the girls should be taken to be educated by Tatyana Semyonovna Skuratov, powerful, important, famous in her time and circle of the Chern district, and the other by my grandmother. Scraps of paper were folded and put under the icons, and after prayer they were chosen, when Lizenka fell to the lot of Tatyana Semyonovna, and the little dark one (Tanichka) to my grandmother. Tanichka, as we called her, was of the same age as my father. She was born in 1795, was brought up exactly in equal lines with my aunts, and was tenderly loved by all; and indeed it was impossible not to love her for her firm, resolute, energetic, and at the same time self-sacrificing character, a character very well displayed in an incident with a ruler, about which she used to tell us, showing the scar of a burn on her arm, almost as big as the palm of the hand, between the elbow and the wrist. The children had been reading the story of Mucius Scaevola, and they disputed as to whether any of them could make up his mind to do the same. `I will do it,' she said. `You will not,' said Yazikov, my godfather, and also characteristically to himself he burned a ruler on a candle, so that it became charred and smoked all over. `There, place this on your arm,' he said. She stretched out her white arm (at that time girls were always dressed decollete) and Yazikov applied the charred ruler. She frowned, but did not withdraw her arm; she groaned only when the ruler with the skin was torn away. When the older people saw her wound and asked how it was caused, she said she had done it herself, wishing to experience what Mucius Scaevola had done.

"So resolute and self-sacrificing was she in everything.

"She must have been very attractive, with her crisp, black, curling hair in its enormous plait, her jet black eyes, and vivacious, energetic expression. V. Yushkov, the husband of my Aunt Pelageya Ilyinishna, a great flirt, even when an old man, used often, when recalling her, to say with the feeling with which those who have been in love speak about the object of their previous affections: `Toinette, oh! elle etait charmante!'[4]

"When I remember her she was more than forty, and I never thought about her being pretty or not pretty. I simply loved her--loved her eyes, her smile, and her dusky, broad little hand with its energetic little cross vein.

"She probably loved my father and my father loved her, but she did not marry him in youth, in order that he might marry my rich mother, and later she did not marry him because she did not wish to spoil her pure poetic relations with him and us. In her papers, in a little beaded portfolio, there lies the following note, written in 1836, six years after my mother's death:

"`16th August, 1836.--Nicolas m'a fait aujourd'hui une etrange proposition--celle de l'epouser, de serivr de mere a ses enfants et de ne jamais les quitter. J'ai refuse la premiere proposition, j'ai promis de remplir l'autre tant que je vivrai.'[5]

"Thus she recorded, but she never spoke of this either to us or to any one. After my father's death she fulfilled his second desire. We had two aunts and a grandmother; they all had more right to us than Tatyana Aleksandrovna--whom we called aunt only by habit, for our kinship was so distant that I could never remember it--but she, by right of love to us, like Buddha with the wounded swan, took the first place in our bringing up. And this we felt.

"I had fits of passionately tender love for her.

"I remember how once on the sofa in the drawing-room, when I was about five, I squeezed in behind her, and she caressingly touched me with her hand. I caught this hand and began to kiss it and to cry from tender love toward her.

"She had been educated like a young lady of a rich house; she spoke and wrote French better than Russian, and played the piano admirably, but for thirty years she did not touch it. She resumed playing only when I had grown up and learned to play, and sometimes in playing duets she astonished me by the correctness and refinement of her performance. Toward the servants she was kind; she never spoke to them angrily and could not bear the idea of blows or flogging, yet she regarded serfs as serfs and treated them as their superior. Notwithstanding this, all the servants distinguished her from others and loved her. When she died and was being borne through the village, peasants came out from all the houses and paid for Te Deums. Her principal characteristic was love, but how I could wish that this had not been all for one person--for my father. Still, starting from this center her love spread on all around. We felt that she loved us for his sake, that through him she loved every one, because all her life was love.

"She, owing to her love for us, had the greatest right to us, but our aunts, especially Pelageya Ilyinishna, when the latter took us away to Kazan, had the external rights and `Auntie' submitted to them, but her love did not thereby diminish. She lived with her sister, the Countess L.A. Tolstaya, but in her soul she lived with us, and, whenever possible, she would return to us. The fact that the last years of her life, about twenty years, were passed me at Yasnaya Polyana was a great joy to me. But how incapable we were of appreciating our happiness, the more so that true happiness is never loud nor manifest! I appreciated it, but far from sufficiently. `Auntie' liked to keep sweets in her room in various little dishes--dried figs, gingerbread, dates; she liked to buy them and to treat me first to them. I cannot forget, and cannot call to mind without a cruel twinge of conscience, how several times I refused her money for the sweets, and how she, sadly sighing, desisted. It is true I was then in straitened circumstances, but now I cannot recall without remorse how I refused her!

"When I was already married and she had begun to fail, she once, having waited for the opportunity when I was in her room, turning her face away, said to me (I saw she was ready to shed tears): `Look here, mes chers amis, my room is a very good one and you will require it. But if I die in it,' she went on with a trembling voice, `the memory of that will be unpleasant, so move me to another that I may not die here.' Such she was from the earliest time of my childhood, when as yet I could not understand....

"Her room was thus. In the left corner stood a worktable with innumerable little articles valuable only to her, in the right corner a glass cupbord with icons and one big one--that of the Saviour--in a silver setting; in the middle the couch on which she slept, in front of it a table. To the right a door for her maid.

"I have said that Aunty Tatyana Aleksandrovna had the greatest influence on my life. This influence consisted first, in that ever since childhood she taught me the spiritual delight of love. She taught me this, but not in words: by her whole being she filled me with love. I saw, I felt, how she enjoyed loving, and I understood the joy of love. This was the first thing.

"Secondly, she taught me the delights of an unhurried, lonely life.

"But about this we will speak later.

"Although this reminiscence is not of childhood but of adult life, I cannot refrain from recalling my bachelor life with her at Yasnaya Polyana."[6]

In the chapter dealing with Tolstoy's parents we have already mentioned that his novels, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, are not to be considered autobiographical; but this remark only applies to their external facts and scenery, created by the author to give greater completeness to his picture.

As to the description of the inner life of the child-hero, we can say with confidence that, in one way or another the author lived through all the experiences of his hero, and therefore we consider that we have a right to use them as furnishing hints for our biography.

Further, we know that certain of the characters which we meet with in this work are copies from life. We will mention them here as they will throw some further light on the group of persons among whom Tolstoy's childhood was spent.

Thus, the German, Karl Ivanovich Mauer, is certainly Feodor Ivanovich Kessel, the German tutor, who really lived in Tolstoy's home, and whom we have mentioned before. Tolstoy speaks of him in his Earliest Memories. He must undoubtedly have influenced the spiritual life of the child, and we may presume that the influence had been for good, since the author of Childhood speaks with great love of him, where he sketches his "honest, straightforward, and loving nature."

It is not without reason that Tolstoy begins the story of his childhood with a description of this character. Feodor Ivanovich died in Yasnaya Polyana, and was buried in the parish churchyard.

Another real character in Childhood is the half-crazy Grisha. Though he is not a real person, many traits of his character are true to life; he had evidently left a deep trace in the child's soul. To him Tolstoy dedicates the following pathetic words describing the evening prayer of the pilgrim, which he overheard:

"His words were incorrect, but touching. He prayed for all his benefactors (thus he called all who received him), among them for my mother, and for us; he prayed for himself and asked the Lord to forgive him his heavy sins, and repeated, `O Lord, forgive mine enemies.' He arose with groans, still repeating the same words, prostrated himself upon the ground, and again arose, in spite of the weight of the chains that emitted a grating, penetrating sound as they struck the ground....

   "Grisha was for a long time in this attitude of religious

ecstasy, and he improvised prayers. Now he repeated several times in succession, `The Lord have mercy upon me,' but every time with new strength and expression; now, again, he said, `Forgive me, O Lord, instruct me what to do, instruct me what to do, O Lord!' with an expression as if he expected an immediate answer to his prayer; now, again, were heard only pitiful sobs. He rose on his knees, crossed his arms on his breast, and grew silent.

"`Thy will be done!' he suddenly exclaimed with an inimitable expression, knocked his brow against the floor, and began to sob like an infant.

"Much water has flowed since then, many memories of the past have lost all meaning for me and have become dim recollections, and pilgrim Grisha has long ago ended his last pilgrimage; but the impression which he produced on me, and the feeling which he evoked, will never die in my memory.

"O great Christian Grisha! Your faith was so strong that you felt the nearness of God; your love was so great that words flowed of their own will from your lips, and you did not verify them by reason. And what high praise you gave to the majesty of God, when, not finding any words, you prostrated yourself on the ground."

Are we not entitled to regard this man as the first who taught Tolstoy that faith of the people, which, after his fruitless wanderings through the labyrinths of theology, philosophy, and positive science, satisfied his soul. A faith which he in his turn has lighted with his own light of reason, purified and intensified in the struggle and sufferings which unavoidably accompany the search for truth. He gives a few indications of this in his Reminiscences.

Of other secondary characters in the novel we will mention Mimi and her daughter Katenka, "something like the first love." Under the name Mimi is presented the governess of a neighboring house, and Katenka is Dunechka Temeshova, an adopted member of the tolstoy family. Tolstoy in his Reminiscences, speaks of her thus:

"Besides my brothers and my sister, a girl of my age, Dunechka Temeshov, grew up with us, and I must tell who she was and how she came to be in our house. The visitors whom I remember in childhood were my aunt's husband Yushkov, of an appearance strange to children, with black mustaches and whiskers and wearing spectacles (I shall yet have much to say about him); and my godfather, S. Yazikov, a remarkably ugly man, saturated with the smell of tobacco, his big face possessing a superfluity of skin which he kept twisting incessantly into the strangest grimaces, and our neighbors Ogarev and Islenev. Besides these we were also visited by a distant relative through the Gorchakovs, a wealthy bachelor Temeshov, who addressed my father as brother, and had a peculiarly enthusiastic love for him. He lived forty versts from Yasnaya Polyana, in the village Pirogovo, and once brought with him from there some sucking pigs, with tails twisted into rings, which were placed on a tray on the table in the servants' hall. Temeshov, Pirogovo, and sucking pigs are blended into one in my imagination.

"Besides this, Temeshov retained a place in the memory of us children by his playing on the piano in the hall some dancing tune--it was all he could play--and making us dance to this music, and when we used to ask him what dance we were to dance, he would say that all dances could be danced to that music. And we liked to take advantage of this.

"It was a winter evening. Tea was over, we were soon going to be taken to bed, and my eyes were already blinking, when from the servants' hall into the drawing-room, where we were all sitting, and where only two candles were burning, and it was half dark, there came suddenly and quickly through the big open door a man in soft boots who, having reached the middle of the room, fell down on his knees. The lighted pipe with its long stem, which he held in his hand, struck against the floor, and the sparks flew out lighting the face of the kneeling man--it was Temeshov. What Temeshov told my father, while kneeling before him, I do not remember nor indeed did I hear, but only afterward I learned that he had fallen on his knees before my father because he had brought with him his illegitimate daughter, Dunechka, concerning whom he had previously spoken, and arranged that my father should accept her and bring her up with his own children. Thenceforth a broadfaced girl appeared among us, of the same age as myself, Dunechka, with her nurse Eupraksiya, a tall, wrinkled old woman with a hanging chin, like a turkey in which there was a ball which she used to let us feel.

"The introduction of Dunechka into our house was connected with a complicated business agreement between my father and Temeshov. The agreement was of this sort:

"Temeshov was very wealthy. He had no legitimate children; he only had two little girls, Dunechka and Verochka, the latter a little hunchback, born of a former serf girl, Marfusha, who was subsequently set free. The heirs of Temeshov were his sisters. He made over to them all his estates except Pirogovo, in which he lived, and this he desired to transfer to my father, on the understanding that my father should remit to the two girls its value of 30,000 pounds sterling. It was always said of Pirogovo that it was as good as a gold mine, and was worth much more than that sum. In order to arrange this matter the following method was devised: Temeshov drew up a conveyance according to which he sold Pirogovo to my father for 30,000 pounds, while my father gave promissory notes to three unconcerned persons--Islenev, Yazikov, and Glebov--to the amount of 10,000 pounds each. On Temeshov's death my father was to take possession of the estate, and having previously explained to Glebov, Islenev, and Yazikov for what purpose the notes were given them, he was to pay them the 30,000 pounds which were to go to the two girls.

"Perhaps I may be mistaken in the description of the whole plan, but I positively know that the estate of Pirogovo passed over to us after my father's death, and that there were three promissory notes payable to Islenev, Glebov, and Yazikov, that our guardians redeemed these notes, and that the amount of the first two was paid to the girls, 10,000 to each; whereas Yazikov misappropriated the other 10,000; but about this later.

"Dunechka lived with us, and was a nice simple, quiet, but not clever girl, and much disposed to weep. I remember how, when I had already learned French, I was made to teach her the alphabet. At first it went well (we were each five years old), but later she probably became tired, and ceased to name correctly the letter I pointed out. I insisted. She began to cry. I also. And when the elders came we could not pronounce anything owing to our hopeless tears. I remember another incident about her. When a plum was found to be missing from a plate and the culprit could not be discovered, Feodor Ivanovich, with a serious face and not looking at us, said that its being eaten did not much matter, but that any one who swallowed the stone might die. Dunechka could not restrain her terror, and said that she had spat out the stone. I further remember her tears of despair when she and my brother Mitenka got up a game which consisted in spitting into each other's mouth a little copper chain, and she spat so strongly, while Mitenka opened his mouth wide, that he swallowed the chain. She cried inconsolably until the doctor arrived and reassured everyone...."

This brief but valuable information Tolstoy gives concerning the servants who surrounded him during his childhood. The information forms a supplement to what is described in his published story Childhood. We borrow this description also from his Reminiscences:

"I have described Praskovya Issayevna fairly correctly in Childhood. All I there wrote about her was actual truth. She was the housekeeper, a venerable personage. I remember one of the pleasantest impressions was that of sitting in her room after or during a lesson and talking with and listening to her. She probably liked to see us at these moments of specially happy and touching expansiveness: `Praskovya Issayevna, how did grandfather fight? On horseback?' one would ask her.

"`He fought in various ways, on horseback and on foot, and in consequence he was General-in-Chief,' she would answer, opening a cupboard and getting out a burning tablet which she called the `Ochakovskiy smoke.' According to her words, it appeared that this tablet grandfather brought from Ochakov. She would ignite a taper at the little lamp in front of the icons, and with it would light the tablet, which smouldered with a pleasant scent.

"Besides her devotion and honesty, I especially loved her because, with Anna Ivanovna, she was connected in my eyes with that mysterious side of my grandfather's life--with the `Ochakovskiy smoke'.

"Anna Ivanovna lived in retirement, but once or twice she visited the house, and I saw her. It was said that she was a hundred years old, and that she remembered Pogachev.[7] She had very black eyes and one tooth. She was in that stage of old age which inspires children with fear.

"Nurse Tatyana Filipovna, small, dusky, and with plump little hands, was the young assistant of our old nurse Annushka, whom I scarcely recall precisely, because at the time I was with Annushka I was conscious of myself only. And as I did not observe myself nor understand myself as I then was, so also I do not remember Annushka.

"And as I did not look at myself, and don't remember how I looked, so I cannot recall to mind Annushka, but Dunechka's nurse, Eupraksiya, with a little ball on her neck, is well preserved in my memory.

"Nurse Tatyana Filipovna I remember because she was afterward the nurse of my nieces and of my eldest son. She was one of those pathetic beings from among the people who so identify themselves with the families of their nurslings that they transfer all their interests to those families, and so that their own relatives see in them only an opportunity for extortion or await the inheritance of the money they earned. Such have always spendthrift brothers, husbands, or sons. Such were, so far as I can remember, Tatyana Filipovna's husband and son. I remember how he [sic?] painfully, quietly, and meekly died in the very place where I am now sitting writing these Reminiscences. Her brother, Nikolay Filipovich, was a coachman, whom we not only loved, but for whom, as gentlemen's children generally do, we felt a great reverence. He had peculiar thick boots; he always carried with him the pleasant smell of the stables, and his voice was tender and musical.[8]

"The butler, Vasiliy Trubetskoy, should be mentioned. He was a pleasant, kindly man, who evidently loved children, and therefore loved us, especially Seryozha, at whose house he afterward served, and where he died. I remember the kind, one-sided smile of his beaming face with its wrinkles, and his neck, which we saw close, and his peculiar smell when he took us in his arms and seated us on the tray (it was one of our great pleasures; `And me, now me!') and carried us about the pantry--a place mysterious in our eyes, with its strange underground passage. One poignant reminiscence connected with him was his departure to Shcherbachovka, an estate in the government of Kursk, inherited by my father from a relative.

This (Vasiliy's departure) happened during Yule-tide, at the time

when all the children and some of the household servants were playing at `Rublik' in the hall. I must say a word about those Yuletide amusements. They took place thus: all the household servants--and there were many of them, about thirty--used to dress up, come into the house, play various games, and dance to the accompaniment of the fiddle of old Gregoriy, who only appeared in the house on these occasions. It was very amusing. Those masquerading usually represented a bear with its leader, a goat, Turks and Turkish women, tyrolese, brigands, peasant men and women. I remember how beautiful some of the characters appeared to me, and especially so Masha, the Turkish woman. Sometimes Auntie dressed us up also. Especially desirable to us was a belt with stones and a muslin towel, embroidered with silver and gold; and I thought myself very grand with mustaches painted with burnt cork. I remember that looking in the mirror at my face, with black mustaches and eyebrows, I could not refrain from a smile of delight, though I had to assume the fierce expression of a Turk. All these characters walked about the rooms and were treated to various refreshments. During one of the Yule-tides of my earlier childhood, all the Islenevs came to us dressed up: the father, who was my wife's grandfather, with his three sons and three daughters. They all had on costumes, which appeared most extraordinary to us; there was a toilet, there was a boot, there was a cardboard belt, and something else besides. The Islenevs, having driven thirty miles, changed dress in the village, and on entering our hall Islenev sat down to the piano and sang some verses he had invented, to a tune which I can still remember. The verses were: `We have come here to congratulate you on the New Year; should we succeed in amusing you we shall be happy!' This was all very extraordinary, and probably entertaining to the elders, but for us children the most amusing were the household servants. Such entertainments took place during Christmas and at New Year, sometimes even later, up to the day of Baptism[9]; but after New Year few people came and the amusements slackened. So it was on the day when Vasiliy was leaving for Shcherbakova. I remember we were sitting in a circle in the corner of the dimly lighted hall on home-made chairs of imitation mahogany with leather cushions and playing at `Rublik'. One of us was walking about searching for the ruble, while we, passing it on from hand to hand, were singing, `Pass on Rublik, pass on Rublik.' I remember one of the servant-girls kept singing these words with an especially pleasant and true voice. Suddenly the door of the pantry opened, and Vasiliy, buttoned up in an unusual way, without his tray and china, passed along the end of the hall into the study. Then only did I learn that Vasiliy was going as overseer to Shcherbakova. I understood it was a promotion, and was glad for Vasiliy, and at the same time I was not only sorry to part from him, to know that he would no longer be in the pantry and would no longer carry us on his tray, but I did not even understand, did not believe, that such an alteration could take place. I became dreadfully and mysteriously sad, and the chant of `Pass on Rublik' grew pathetically touching. And when Vasiliy left my aunt, and with his dear one-sided smile approached us, and kissed us on the shoulder, I experienced for the first time horror and fear in the presence of the inconstancy of life, and pity and love toward dear Vasiliy. When I afterward used to meet Vasiliy I saw in him merely a good or a bad overseer of my brother's, a man whom I respected, but there was no longer any trace of the former sacred, brotherly, human feeling.

"In a mysterious way, incomprehensible to the human mind, the impressions of early childhood are preserved in one's memory, and not only are they preserved, but they grow in some unfathomed depth of the soul, like a seed thrown on good ground, and after many years all of a sudden thrust their vernal shoots into God's world."

Such a seed-time in Tolstoy's early childhood were the days of his eldest brother Nikolenka's games with the younger brothers. His great influence on Tolstoy's life is referred to in his Reminiscences more than once, for example, in the stories about the Fanfaronov Hill, Ant Brothers, and the Green Wand.

"Yes, the Fanfaronov Hill is one of the earliest, pleasantest, and most important memories. My eldest brother, Nikolenka, was six years older than I. He was consequently ten or eleven when I was four or five, namely, at the time when he led us on to the Fanfaronov Hill. In our earlier youth we used to address him (I don't know how it happened) as `you'.[10] He was a wonderful boy, and later a wonderful man. Turgenev used very truly to say about him that but for the lack of certain faults he would have been a great writer. For instance he was deficient in vanity; he was not in the least interested in what people thought of him. Whereas the qualities of a writer which he did possess were, first of all, a fine artistic sense, an extremely developed sense of proportion, a good-natured, gay human, an extraordinary, inexhaustible imagination, and a truthful and highly moral view of life--and all this without the slightest conceit. His imagination was such that he could during whole hours narrate ghost stories or humorous tales in the spirit of Mrs. Radcliffe without pause or hesitation, and with such vivid realization of what he was narrating that one forgot it was all invention. When he was not narrating or reading (he read a great deal) he used to draw. He almost invariably drew devils with horns and pointed mustaches, intertwined in the most varied attitudes and occupied in the most various ways. These drawings were also full of imagination and humor.

"Well, it was he who, when I and my brothers were, myself five years old, Mitenka six, Seryozha seven, announced to us that he possessed a secret by means of which, when it should be disclosed, all men would become happy: there would be no diseases, no troubles, no one would be angry with any one, all would love each other, all would become `Ant brothers.' He probably meant `Moravian brothers,' about whom he had heard and had been reading, but in our language they were `Ant brothers.'[11] And I remember that the word Ant especially pleased us, as reminding us of ants in an ant-hill. We even organized a game of ant brothers, which consisted in our sitting down under chairs, sheltering ourselves with boxes, screening ourselves with handkerchiefs, and, thus, crouching in the dark, pressing ourselves against each other. I remember experiencing a special feeling of love and pathos and liking this game very much. The ant brotherhood was revealed to us, but the chief secret as to the way for all men to cease suffering any misfortune, to leave off quarreling and being angry, and to become continuously happy, this secret, as he told us, was written by him on a green stick, which stick he had buried by the road on the edge of a certain ravine, at which spot, since my corpse must be buried somewhere, I have asked to be buried in memory of Nikolenka. Besides this little stick, there was also a certain Fanfaronov Hill up which he said he could lead us, if only we would fulfill all the appointed conditions. These conditions were: first, to stand in a corner and not think of the white bear. The second condition was to walk without wavering along a crack between the boards of the floor; and the third, for a whole year not to see a hare either alive or dead or cooked; and it was necessary to swear not to reveal these secrets to anyone. He who should fulfill these conditions and others more difficult which Nikolenka was going to communicate later, would have his desire fulfilled, whatever it might be. We had to express our desires. Seryozha desired to be able to model horses and hens out of wax. Mitenka desired to be able to draw all kinds of things like an artist on a large scale. I could not devise anything but to be able to draw small pictures. All this, as it happens with children, was very soon forgotten and no one ascended the Fanfaronov Hill, but I remember the profound importance with which Nikolenka initiated us into these mysteries, and our respect and awe in regard to the wonderful things which were revealed. But I have especially kept a strong impression of the `Ant Brotherhood' and the mysterious green stick connected with it destined to make all men happy.

"As I now conjecture, Nikolenka had probably read or heard of the Freemasons--about their aspiration toward the happiness of mankind, and about the mysterious initiatory rites on entering their order; he had probably also heard about the Moravian brothers, and linking all into one by his active imagination, his love to men, and his aptness to kindness, he invented all these tales, enjoyed them himself, and mystified us with them.

"The ideals of ant brothers lovingly cleaving to each other, though not beneath two arm-chairs curtained with handkerchiefs, but of all mankind under the wide dome of the sky, has remained the same for me. As then I believed that there existed a little green stick whereon was written that which could destroy all the evil in men and give them great welfare, so do I now also believe that such truth exists, and that it will be revealed to men and will give them all that it promises."[12]

Later on we shall refer to Tolstoy's memories of his brother Dmitriy. Here we will quote another extract from his Reminiscences concerning his brother Sergey, also relating to his early childhood: "Mitenka was for me a companion, Nikolenka I respected, but Seryozha I enthusiastically admired and imitated. I loved him and wished to be like him; I admired his handsome appearance, his singing--he was always singing--his drawing, his cheerful mirth, and especially, however strange it may be to say so, the spontaneity of his egotism. I always realized myself, was always conscious of my myself; I always felt whether others' thoughts and feelings about me were just or not, and this spoiled my joy of life. This probably is why I especially liked in others the opposite feature, spontaneity of egotism. And for this I especially loved Seryozha. The word loved is not correct. I loved Nikolenka, but for Seryozha I was filled with admiration as for something quite apart and incomprehensible to me. It was a human life, a very fine one, but completely incomprehensible to me, mysterious, and therefore specially attractive.

"A few days ago he died, and in his last illness and his death he was to me as unfathomable and as dear as in our bygone days of childhood. In more advanced age, his latter days, he loved me more, valued my attachment, was proud of me, wished to agree with me, but could not, and remained the same as he had been, entirely original, altogether himself, handsome, high-spirited, proud, and above all and to such an extent a truthful and sincere man that I have never seen his like. He was what he was; he concealed nothing, and did not desire to appear anything.

"With Nikolenka I wished to associate, to talk, to think; Seryozha I only wished to imitate. This imitation began in our first childhood. He took to keeping his own hens and chickens, and I did the same. This was perhaps my first insight into animal life. I remember chickens of various breeds--gray, spotted, or tufted, how they used to run to us at our call, how we fed them and hated the big Dutch cock which maltreated them. Seryozha had begged these chickens for himself; I did the same in imitation of him. Seryozha used to draw and paint on long strips of paper (and as it appeared to me wonderfully well) rows of hens and cocks of various colors, and I did the same but not so well. (In this I hoped to perfect myself by the means of the Fanfaronov Hill.) Seryozha, when the double doors were removed in spring, had the idea of feeding the hens through the keyhole in the door by means of long thin sausages of black and white bread, and I did the same."[13]

Let us add here a few more fragmentary reminiscences related by Tolstoy himself, which, like most of the stories of his early childhood, it is impossible to arrange in a chronological order, though it would be a pity to omit them, as they give some interesting traits descriptive of his childhood.

"One childish memory of an insignificant event left a strong impression on me," said Tolstoy. "It was, I see it now, in our nursery rooms upstairs. Temeshov was sitting talking to Feodor Ivanovich. I do not remember why the good-natured Temeshov, very quietly said: `My cook (or servant, I do not remember which) took it into his head to eat meat during fast time. I sent him to be a soldier.'[14] The reason why I now remember this is, that at the time it seemed to something strange and incomprehensible.

"Another event was the Perov inheritance. I remember a caravan, with horses and carts loaded high, which arrived from Nerucha[15] when the lawsuit concerning this estate had been won, thanks to Glya Mitrovich.

"He was a tall old man with long hair, addicted to fits of drinking, a former serf of the owner, and a great specialist, such as there used to be in olden times, in dealing with various cases that might lead to litigation. He directed the case, and in return he was kept until his death in Yasnaya Polyana.

"Other memorable impressions are: the arrival of Peter Tolstoy, the father of my sister's husband, Valerian; he used to come into the drawing-room in his dressing-gown; we did not understand why, but later we learned that it was because he was in the last stage of consumption. Another impression: the arrival of his brother, the famous traveller in America, Feodor Tolstoy. I remember how he drove up in a post-chaise, entered my father's study, and ordered his special dry French bread to be brought. He did not eat any other. At this time my brother Sergey was suffering from a very bad toothache. He asked what was the matter, and having ascertained, said that he could cure the pain by magnetism. He entered the study and locked the door after him. In a few minutes he came out with two cambrick pocket handkerchiefs--I remember they had a fancy violet edge--and he gave the handkerchiefs, saying: `When he puts on this one the pain will cease, and this one is for him to sleep with.' The handkerchiefs were taken, put on Seryozha, and we carried away and kept the impression that everything took place as he had said.

"I remember his fine, bronzed face, shaven, save for thick white whiskers down to the corners of the mouth and similarly white curly hair. I should like to relate much about this extraordinary, guilty, and attractive man!"

Here, unfortunately, these reminiscences stop short.

Let us conclude this chapter on the childhood of Tolstoy with the poetic memory in his published story.

"Happy, happy, irrevocable period of childhood! How can one help loving and cherishing its memories? These memories refresh and elevate my soul and serve me as a source of my best enjoyments....

"After the prayer I rolled myself into my coverlet, and my heart felt light and cheerful. One dream chased another, but what were they about? They were intangible, but filled with pure love and hope for the bright happiness. I thought of Karl Ivanovich and his bitter fate, of the only man whom I knew to be unhappy, and I felt so sorry for him, and so loved him, that the tears gushed from my eyes, and I thought: God grant him happiness, and me an opportunity of helping him, and alleviating his sorrow; I was ready to sacrifice everything for him. Then I stuck my favorite china toy--a hare or a dog--into the corner of the down pillow, and I was happy seeing how comfortable and snug the toy was there. I also prayed the Lord that He would give happiness to everybody, and that all should be satisfied, and that tomorrow should be good weather for the outing, and then I turned on my other side, my thoughts and dreams became mixed and disturbed, and I fell softly, quietly asleep, my face wet with tears.

"Will that freshness, carelessness, need of love, and strength of faith, which one possesses in childhood, ever return? What time can be better than that when all the best virtues--innocent merriment and limitless need of love--are the only incitements in life?

"Where are all those ardent prayers, where is the best gift--those tears of contrition? The consoling angel came on his pinions, with a smile wiped off those tears, and fanned sweet dreams to the uncorrupted imagination of the child.

"Is it possible life has left such heavy traces in my heart that these tears and that ecstasy have forever gone from me? Is it possible, nothing but memories are left?"

Footnotes[edit]

  1. N. P. Zagoskin, "Count L.N. Tolstoy and his Student Years." Historic Review, Jan. 1894, p. 87.
  2. The governess; see concerning her further on in the following chapter.
  3. First Reminiscences (from unpublished autobiographical sketches). Tolstoy's Complete Works, tenth Russian edition, vol. xiii, p. 515.
  4. "Toinette, oh! she was charming!"
  5. "16th August 1836.--Nicholas has today made me a strange proposal - that I should marry him, be a mother to his children, and never desert them. I refused the first proposal, I have promised to fulfill the other as long as I live."
  6. From Tolstoy's rough Memories and uncorrected notes intrusted to me.
  7. The leader of a widespread and bloody rebellion in the reign of Catherine II.
  8. From Tolstoy's draft Reminiscences.
  9. Sixth of January.
  10. Instead of the singular "thou," as is usual in Russian between near relatives or friends.
  11. The word for ant in Russian is "muravey," whence the similarity.
  12. From Tolstoy's draft Reminiscences.
  13. From Tolstoy's draft Reminiscences.
  14. In Russia, in the days of serfdom, the enlisting of a serf into the ranks for the fifteen years was regarded as the severest punishment short of flogging him to death.
  15. This estate of 900 acres which we received by inheritance was sold for the purpose of feeding the starving during the great famine of 1840.