The Tolstois, though not belonging to the ancient Muscovite Boyar families themselves, have always held their heads high among the modern Russian aristocracy, and it used to be the boast of the family that not a single member of it had ever contracted a mésalliance. Tolstoi's own mother was a Princess Volkhonskaya, his paternal grandmother was a Princess Gorchakova, his maternal grandmother was a Princess Trubetskoya, all three of them lineal descendants of Rurik, the archpatriarch of the Muscovite Tsars. Tolstoi himself had a strong outward resemblance to his grandfather. Prince Nicholas Volkhonsky (the prototype of Bolkonsky in "Peace and War"), though of a somewhat rougher build. Thus for two centuries the bluest of blood has coursed through the veins of the Tolstois, and though the present owner of Yasnaya Polyana goes about in peasant's garb, the portraits adorning the walls of the mansion represent, with scarcely an exception, counts, princes, and privy-counsellors, all bedizened with stars and ribbons.
Tolstoi's father, Count Nikolai Ilich, was described by those who knew him as a stately, fascinating personage. As Lieut.-colonel in the Pavlopadsky Regiment he had served with distinction throughout the epoch-making campaign of 1812-1813. Nikolai Tolstoi inherited from his father an almost bankrupt estate, and as after satisfying his father's creditors to the uttermost farthing, he found it impossible to subsist on his scanty pay, he resorted to the time-honoured family practice of marrying a heiress, a lady of few personal charms but great wealth, considerably older