Page:Tolstoy - Tales from Tolstoi.djvu/19

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Biography

than himself, Maria Ivanovna Volkhonskaya. Nevertheless this mariage de convenance proved an extremely happy though not a very lasting union, Tolstoi losing his mother when he was only three years of age (she died in 1831) and his father six years later. If, as is commonly supposed, Tolstoi's mother was the original of the Princess Maria in "Peace and War," she must, young as he was at the time of her death, have made a deep impression upon him. He describes her as a tender, plaintive, mystical nature, of such finely woven texture as scarce to seem to belong to this world, one of those heroines of self-sacrifice who live not for themselves and "who do not so much die as fly to Heaven." One precious gift she possessed, moreover, which her son certainly inherited from her, the gift of inventing tales and stories which held her hearers spellbound. It is said that when she was in a ballroom she quickly gathered round her a bevy of curious damsels who forgot their partners and everything else as they listened spellbound to the stories of the Princess Volkhonskaya.

Shortly before the father's death, the whole family, consisting of four boys and one little girl, removed to Moscow in order that the eldest son, Nicholas, might prepare for the University, but the sudden death of Count Tolstoi, almost immediately afterwards, left the family in such straitened circumstances that they were obliged to return at once to Yasnaya Polyana, where the children were taught German by a German governess and Russian language and literature by a poor native seminarist. According to his Aunt Polina Yushkovaya, who was now responsible for

xi.