Page:Rolland Life of Tolstoy.djvu/172

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sudden disconcerting leaps, the mania for repeating any idea when he was once convinced, of repeating it unwearingly and indefinitely, and in the same words.[1]

But these were faults rather than qualities. It was many years before he became aware of the latent genius of the popular tongue; the raciness of its images, its poetic crudity, its wealth of legendary wisdom. Even at the time of writing War and Peace he was already subject to its influence. In March, 1872, he wrote to Strakov:

"I have altered the method of my diction and my writing. The language of the people has sounds to express all that the poet can say, and it is very dear to me. It is the best poetic regulator. If you try to say anything superfluous, too emphatic, or false, the language will not suffer it. Whereas our literary tongue has no skeleton, you may pull it about in every direction, and the result is always something resembling literature."

To the people he owed not only models of style; he owed them many of his inpirations. In 1877 a teller of bylines came to Yasnaya Polyana, and Tolstoy took notes of several of his stories. Of the number was the legend By what do Men live? and The Three Old Men, which became, as we know, two of the finest of the Popular Tales and Legends which Tolstoy published a few years later.[2]

  1. Vie et Œuvre.—During the summer of 1879 Tolstoy lived on terms of great intimacy with the peasants.
  2. In the notes of his readings, between 1860 and 1870, Tolstoy wrote: "The bylines—very greatly impressed."