Page:Tolstoy - Tales from Tolstoi.djvu/22

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Biography

family in those days need never keep his own table. Twenty or thirty houses were open to him daily without special invitation, he had only to pick and choose. A student, when once in the full swing of the thing, could rarely get to bed till five o'clock in the morning, and rarely rose till after twelve o'clock at noon. Tolstoi, in the character of "Nikolinka Irtenev," has given us a vivid piece of self-portraiture as he was at Kazan. A morbid sensitiveness, a pitiful lack of moral and mental equilibrium, a consuming pride, and a disgust at his own privileged position which points to a latent reserve of nobility, is legible in every line of this description. His plainness was evidently one of his sorest troubles. "I was bashful by nature," he tells us through the mouth of his hero, "but my bashfulness grew with the growing consciousness of my ugliness . . . and like the fox who made believe that the grapes were sour, I affected to despise all the gratifications attainable by an agreeable exterior and tried with all the strength of my mind and imagination to find delight in a haughty isolation," The unsatisfying futility of the butterfly-life he led filled him with a savage impatience. He could quite understand, he tells us, the commission of the greatest crimes, not from any desire to injure but from sheer curiosity to see what would happen, from the sheer necessity of doing something. "There are moments," he says, "when the future presents itself to our mind's eye in such dark colours that we fear to face it with the eye of reason, and try to persuade ourselves that there will be no Future and that there has been no Past. At

xiv.