Reminiscences of Leo Nicolayevitch Tolstoi/Notes

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NOTES

 

I

THE thought which beyond others most often and conspicuously gnaws at him is the thought of God. At moments it seems, indeed, not to be a thought, but a violent resistance to something which he feels above him. He speaks of it less than he would like, but thinks of it always. It can scarcely be said to be a sign of old age, a presentiment of death—no, I think that it comes from his exquisite human pride, and—a bit—from a sense of humiliation: for, being Leo Tolstoi, it is humiliating to have to submit one's will to a streptococcus. If he were a scientist, he would certainly evolve the most ingenious hypotheses, make great discoveries.

 

II

HЕ has wonderful hands—not beautiful, but knotted with swollen veins, and yet full of a singular expressiveness and the power of creativeness. Probably Leonardo da Vinci had hands like that. With such hands one can do anything. Sometimes, when talking, he will move his fingers, gradually close them into a fist, and then, suddenly opening them, utter a good, full-weight word. He is like a god, not a Sabaoth or Olympian, but the kind of Russian god who "sits on a maple throne under a golden lime tree," not very majestic, but perhaps more cunning than all the other gods.
 

III

HE treats Sulerzhizky with the tenderness of a woman. For Tchekhov his love is paternal—in this love is the feeling of the pride of a creator—Suler rouses in him just tenderness, a perpetual interest and rapture which never seems to weary the sorcerer. Perhaps there is something a little ridiculous in this feeling, like the love of an old maid for a parrot, a pug dog, or a tom-cat. Suler is a fascinatingly wild bird from some strange unknown land. A hundred men like him could change the face, as well as the soul, of a provincial town. Its face they would smash and its soul they would fill with a passion for riotous, brilliant, headstrong wildness. One loves Suler easily and gaily, and when I see how carelessly women accept him, they surprise and anger me. Yet under this carelessness is hidden, perhaps, caution. Suler is not reliable. What will he do to-morrow? He may throw a bomb or he may join a troupe of public-house minstrels. He has energy enough for three life-times, and fire of life—so much that he seems to sweat sparks like over-heated iron.

 

IIIa

[But once he got thoroughly cross with Suler. Suler inclined to anarchism, and often argued with bitterness about the freedom of the individual. In such cases Leo Nicolayevitch always chaffed him.

I remember that Suler once got hold of a thin little pamphlet by Prince Kropotkin; he flamed up, and all day long explained to everyone the wisdom of anarchism, overwhelming them with his philosophizing.

"Oh, stop it, Liovushka," said Leo Nicolayevitch irritably, "you are annoying. You hammer away like a parrot at one word, freedom, freedom; but what is the sense of it? If you attained your freedom, what do you imagine would happen? In the philosophic sense, a bottomless void, and in actual life you would become an idler, a parasite. If you were free in your sense, what would bind you to life or to people? Now, birds are free, but still they build nests; you, however, wouldn't even build a nest, but would gratify your sexual feeling anywhere, like a dog. You think seriously, and you will come to see, you will come to feel, that this freedom is ultimately emptiness, boundlessness."

He frowned angrily, was silent for a while, and then added quietly, "Christ was free and so was Buddha, and both took on themselves the sins of the world and voluntarily entered the prison of earthly life. Further than that nobody has gone, nobody. And you—we—well, what's the good of talking—we are all looking for freedom from obligations towards our fellow men, whereas it is just that feeling of our obligations which has made us men, and, if those obligations were not there, we should live like the beasts."

He smiled. "And now here we are arguing how we ought to live. The result isn't very great, but it is something. For instance, you are arguing with me, and are getting so cross that you are going blue in the nose, yet you don't hit me, you don't even swear at me. But if you really felt free, you'd kill me on the spot, and there'd be an end of it."

After a silence, he added: "Freedom consists in all and everything agreeing with me, but in that case I don't exist, because we are only conscious of ourselves in conflicts and contradictions."]

 

IV

GOLDENWEISER played Chopin, which called forth these remarks from Leo Nicolayevitch: "A certain German princeling said: 'Where you want to have slaves, there you should have as much music as possible.' That's a true thought, a true observation—music dulls the mind. Especially do the Catholics realize that; our priests, of course, won't reconcile themselves to Mendelssohn in church. A Tula priest assured me that Christ was not a Jew, though the son of the Jewish God and his mother a Jewess—he did admit that, but says he: 'It's impossible.' I asked him: 'But how then? . . . . .' He shrugged his shoulders and said: 'That's just the mystery.' "

 

V

"AN intellectual is like the old Galician Prince Vladimirko, who, as far back as the twelfth century, 'boldly' declared: 'There are no miracles in our time.' Six hundred years have passed and all the intellectuals hammer away at each other: 'There are no miracles, there are no miracles.' And all the people believe in miracles, just as they did in the twelfth century."

 

VI

"THE minority feel the need of God because they have got everything else, the majority because they have nothing." I would put it differently: the majority believe in God from cowardice, only the few believe in him from fullness of soul.

 

VIa

["You like Andersen's Tales?" he asked thoughtfully. "I couldn't make them out when they first appeared in the translation of Marko-Vovtchok, but about ten years later I took up the book and read it, and suddenly realized with great clearness that Andersen was very lonely—very. I don't know about his life, but he seems to have lived loosely and to have travelled a great deal, but that only confirms my feeling that he was lonely. And because of that he addressed himself to the young, although it's a mistake to imagine that children pity a man more than grown-ups do. Children pity nothing; they do not know what pity is."]
 

VII

HE advised me to read Buddhistic scriptures. Of Buddhism and Christ he always speaks sentimentally. When he speaks about Christ, it is always peculiarly poor, no enthusiasm, no feeling in his words, and no spark of real fire. I think he regards Christ as simple and deserving of pity, and, although at times he admires Him, he hardly loves Him. It is as though he were uneasy: if Christ came to a Russian village, the girls might laugh at Him.

 

VIII

TO-DAY the Grand Duke Nicolay Michaelovitch was at Tolstoi's, evidently a very clever man. His behaviour is very modest; he talks little. He has sympathetic eyes and a fine figure, quiet gestures. Leo Nicolayevitch smiled caressingly at him, and spoke now French, now English. In Russian he said:—

"Karamzin wrote for the Tsar, Soloviov long and tediously, and Klutchevsky for his own amusement. Cunning fellow Klutchevsky: at first you get the impression that he is praising, but as you read on, you see that he is blaming."

Someone mentioned Zabielin.

"He's nice. An amateur collector, he collects everything, whether it is useful or not. He describes food as if he had never had a square meal; but he is very, very amusing."
 

IX

HE reminds me of those pilgrims who all their life long, stick in hand, walk the earth, travelling thousands of miles from one monastery to another, from one saint's relics to another, terribly homeless and alien to all men and things. The world is not for them, nor God either. They pray to Him from habit, and in their secret soul they hate Him—why does He drive them over the earth from one end to the other? What for? People are stumps, roots, stones on the path; one stumbles over them, and sometimes is hurt by them. One can do without them, but it is pleasant sometimes to surprise a man with one's own unlikeness to him, to show one's difference from him.

 

X

"FRIEDRICH of Prussia said very truly: 'Everyone must save himself in his own way.' He also said: 'Argue as much as you like, but obey.' But when dying he confessed: 'I have grown weary of ruling slaves.' So-called great men are always terribly contradictory: that is forgiven them with all their other follies. Though contradictoriness is not folly: a fool is stubborn, but does not know how to contradict himself. Yes, Friedrich was a strange man: among the Germans he won the reputation of being the best king, yet he could not bear them; he disliked even Goethe and Wieland."
 

XI

"ROMANTICISM comes from the fear of looking straight into the eyes of truth," he said yesterday with regard to Balmont's poems. Suler disagreed with him and, lisping with excitement, read very feelingly some more poems.

"These, Liovushka, are not poems; they are charlatanism, rubbish, as people said in the Middle Ages, a nonsensical stringing together of words. Poetry is art-less; when Fet wrote:

'I know not myself what I will sing,
But only my song is ripening,'

he expressed a genuine, real, people's sense of poetry. The peasant, too, doesn't know that he's a poet—oh, oi, ah, and aye—and there comes off a real song, straight from the soul, like a bird's. These new poets of yours are inventing. There are certain silly French things called articles de Paris—well, that's what your stringers of verses produce. Nekrassov's miserable verses, too, are invented from beginning to end."

"And Béranger?" Suler asked.

"Béranger—that's quite different. What's there in common between the French and us? They are sensualists; the life of the spirit is not as important to them as the flesh. To a Frenchman woman is everything. They are a worn-out, emasculated people. Doctors say that all consumptives are sensualists."

Suler began to argue with his peculiar directness, pouring out a random flood of words. Leo Nicolayevitch looked at him and said with a broad smile:

"You are peevish to-day, like a girl who has reached the age when she should marry but has no lover."

 

XII

THE illness dried him up still more, burnt something out of him. Inwardly he seemed to become lighter, more transparent, more resigned. His eyes are still keener, his glance piercing. He listens attentively as though recalling something which he has forgotten or as though waiting for something new and unknown. In Yassnaya Polyana he seemed to me a man who knew everything and had nothing more to learn—a man who had settled every question.

 

XIII

IF he were a fish, he would certainly swim only in the ocean, never coming to the narrow seas, and particularly not to the flat waters of earthly rivers. Around him here there rest or dart hither and thither the little fishes: what he says does not interest them, is not necessary to them, and his silence does not frighten or move them. Yet his silence is impressive like that of a real hermit driven out from this world. Though he speaks a great deal and as a duty upon certain subjects, his silence is felt to be still greater. Certain things one cannot tell to anyone. Surely he has some thoughts of which he is afraid.
 

XIV

SSOMEONE sent him an excellent version of the story of Christ's godson. He read it aloud with pleasure to Suler, Tchekhov—he read amazingly well. He was especially amused by the devils torturing the landowners. There was something which I did not like in that. He cannot be insincere, but, if this be sincere, then it makes it worse.

Then he said:

"How well the peasants compose stories. Everything is simple, the words few, and a great deal of feeling. Real wisdom uses few words; for instance, 'God have mercy on us.'"

Yet the story is a cruel one.

 

XV

HIS interest in me is ethnological. In his eyes I belong to a species not familiar to him—only that.

 

XVI

I READ my story " The Bull " to him. He laughed much, and praised my knowledge of "the tricks of the language."

"But your treatment of words is not skilful; all your peasants speak cleverly. In actual life what they say is silly and incoherent, and at first you cannot make out what a peasant wants to say. That is done deliberately; under the silliness of their words is always concealed a desire to allow the other person to show what is in his mind. A good peasant will never show at once what is in his own mind: it is not profitable. He knows that people approach a stupid man frankly and directly, and that's the very thing he wants. You stand revealed before him and he at once sees all your weak points. He is suspicious; he is afraid to tell his inmost thoughts even to his wife. But with your peasants in every story everything is revealed: it's a universal council of wisdom. And they all speak in aphorisms; that's not true to life, either; aphorisms are not natural to the Russian language."

"What about sayings and proverbs?"

"That's a different thing. They are not of to-day's manufacture."

"But you yourself often speak in aphorisms."

"Never. There again you touch everything up; people as well as nature—especially people. So did Lieskov, an affected, finicking writer whom nobody reads now. Don't let anyone influence you, fear no one, and then you'll be all right."

 

XVII

IN his diary which he gave me to read, I was struck by a strange aphorism: "God is my desire."

To-day, on returning him the book, I asked him what it meant.

"An unfinished thought," he said, glancing at the page and screwing up his eyes. "I must have wanted to say: 'God is my desire to know Him.' . . . No, not that. . . ." He began to laugh, and, rolling up the book into a tube, he put it into the big pocket of his blouse. With God he has very suspicious relations; they sometimes remind me of the relation of "two bears in one den."

 

XVIII

ON science:

"Science is a bar of gold made by a charlatan alchemist. You want to simplify it, to make it accessible to all: you find that you have coined a lot of false coins. When the people realize the real value of those coins, they won't thank you."

 

XIX

WE walked in the Yussopov Park. He spoke superbly about the customs of the Moscow aristocracy. A big Russian peasant woman was working on the flower-bed, bent at right angles, showing her ivory legs, shaking her ten-pound breasts. He looked at her attentively.

"It is those caryatids who have kept all that magnificence and extravagance going. Not only by the labour of peasant men and women, not only by the taxes they pay, but in the literal sense by their blood. If the aristocracy had not from time to time mated with such horse-women as she, they would have died out long ago. It is impossible with impunity to waste one's strength, as the young men of my time did. But after sowing their wild oats, many married serf-girls and produced a good breed. In that way, too, the peasant's strength saved them. That strength is everywhere in place. Half the aristocracy always has to spend its strength on itself, and the other half to dilute itself with peasant blood and thus diffuse the peasant blood a little. It's useful."

 

XX

OF women he talks readily and much, like a French novelist, but always with the coarseness of a Russian peasant. Formerly it used to affect me unpleasantly. To-day in the Almond Park he asked Anton Tchekhov:

"You whored a great deal when you were young?"

Anton Pavlovitch, with a confused smile, and pulling at his little beard, muttered something inaudible, and Leo Nicolayevitch, looking at the sea, confessed:

"I was an indefatigable. . . ."

He said this penitently, using at the end of the sentence a salty peasant word. And I noticed for the first time how simply he used the word, as though he knew no more fitting one to use. All those kinds of words, coming from his shaggy lips, sound simple and natural and lose their soldierly coarseness and filth. I remember my first meeting with him and his talk about "Varienka Oliessova" and "Twenty-six and One." From the ordinary point of view what he said was a string of indecent words. I was perplexed by it and even offended. I thought that he considered me incapable of understanding any other kind of language. I understand now: it was silly to have felt offended.

 

XXI

HE sat on the stone bench in the shade of the cypresses, looking very lean, small and grey, and yet resembling Sabaoth, who is a little tired and is amusing himself by trying to whistle in tune with a chaffinch. The bird sang in the darkness of the thick foliage: he peered up at it, screwing up his sharp little eyes, and, pursing his lips like a child, he whistled incompetently.

"What a furious little creature. It's in a rage. What bird is it?"

I told him about the chaffinch and its characteristic jealousy.

"All life long one song," he said, "and yet jealous. Man has a thousand songs in his heart and is yet blamed for jealousy; is it fair?" He spoke musingly, as though asking himself questions. "There are moments when a man says to a woman more than she ought to know about him. He speaks and forgets, but she remembers. Perhaps jealousy comes from the fear of degrading one's soul, of being humiliated and ridiculous? Not that a woman is dangerous who holds a man by his . . . but she who holds him by his soul. . . ."

When I pointed out the contradiction in this with his "Kreutzer Sonata," the radiance of a sudden smile beamed through his beard, and he said:

"I am not a chaffinch."

In the evening, while walking, he suddenly said: "Man survives earthquakes, epidemics, the horrors of disease, and all the agonies of the soul, but for all time his most tormenting tragedy has been, is, and will be—the tragedy of the bedroom."

Saying this, he smiled triumphantly: at times he has the broad, calm smile of a man who has overcome something extremely difficult or from whom some sharp, long-gnawing pain has lifted suddenly. Every thought burrows into his soul like a tick; he either tears it out at once or allows it to have its fill of his blood, and then, when full, it just drops off of itself.

****

He read to Suler and me a variant of the scene of the fall of "Father Sergius"—a merciless scene. Suler pouted and fidgeted uneasily.

"What's the matter? Don't you like it?" Leo Nicolayevitch asked.

"It's too brutal, as though from Dostoevsky. She is a filthy girl, and her breasts like pancakes, and all that. Why didn't he sin with a beautiful, healthy woman?"

"That would be sin without justification; as it is, there is justification in pity for the girl. Who could desire her as she is?"

"I cannot make it out. . . ."

"There's a great deal, Liovushka, which you can't make out: you're not shrewd. . . ."

There came in Andrey Lvovitch's wife, and the conversation was interrupted. As she and Suler went out, Leo Nicolayevitch said to me: "Leopold is the purest man I know. He is like that: if he did something bad, it would be out of pity for someone."

 

XXII

HE talks most of God, of peasants, and of woman; of literature rarely and little, as though literature were something alien to him. Woman, in my opinion, he regards with implacable hostility and loves to punish her, unless she be a Kittie or Natasha Rostov, i.e., a creature not too narrow. It is the hostility of the male who has not succeeded in getting all the pleasure he could, or it is the hostility of spirit against "the degrading impulses of the flesh." But it is hostility, and cold, as in Anna Karenin. Of "the degrading impulses of the flesh" he spoke well on Sunday in a conversation with Tchekhov and Yelpatievsky about Rousseau's Confession. Suler wrote down what he said, and later, while preparing coffee, burnt it in the spirit-lamp. Once before he burnt Leo Nicolayevitch's opinions on Ibsen, and he also lost the notes of the conversation in which Leo Nicolayevitch said very pagan things on the symbolism of the marriage ritual, agreeing to a certain extent with V. V. Rosanov.

 

XXIII

IN the morning some "stundists" came to Tolstoi from Feodosia, and to-day all day long he spoke about peasants with rapture.

At lunch: "They came both so strong and fleshy; says one: 'Well, we've come uninvited,' and the other says: 'With God's help we shall leave unbeaten,'" and he broke out into childlike laughter, shaking all over.

After lunch, on the terrace:

"We shall soon cease completely to understand the language of the people. Now we say: 'The theory of progress,' 'the rôle of the individual in history,' 'the evolution of science'; and a peasant says: 'You can't hide an awl in a sack,' and all theories, histories, evolutions become pitiable and ridiculous, because they are incomprehensible and unnecessary to the people.' But the peasant is stronger than we; he is more tenacious of life, and there may happen to us what happened to the tribe of Atzurs, of whom it was reported to a scholar: 'All the Atzurs have died out, but there is a parrot here who knows a few words of their language.'"

 

XXIV

WITH her body woman is more sincere than man, but with her mind she lies. And when she lies, she does not believe herself; but Rousseau lied and believed his lies."

 

XXV

"DOSTOEVSKY described one of his mad characters as living and taking vengeance on himself and others because he had served a cause in which he did not believe. He wrote that about himself; that is, he could have said the same of himself."

 

XXVI

"SОМЕ of the words used in church are amazingly obscure: what meaning is there, for instance, in the words: 'The earth is God's and the fulness thereof'? That is not Holy Scripture, but a kind of popular scientific materialism."

"But you explained the words somewhere," said Suler.

"Many things are explained. . . . 'An explanation does not go up to the hilt.'"

And he gave a cunning little smile.

 

XXVII

HE likes putting difficult and malicious questions:

What do you think of yourself?

Do you love your wife?

Do you think my son, Leo, has talent?

How do you like Sophie Andreyevna?[1]

Once he asked: "Are you fond of me, Alexey Maximovitch?"

This is the maliciousness of a "bogatyr"[2]: Vaska Buslayev played such pranks in his youth, mischievous fellow. He is experimenting, all the time testing something, as if he were going to fight. It is interesting, but not much to my liking. He is the devil, and I am still a babe, and he should leave me alone.

 

XXVIII

PERHAPS peasant to him means merely—bad smell. He always feels it, and involuntarily has to talk of it.

Last night I told him of my battle with General Kornet's wife; he laughed until he cried, and he got a pain in his side and groaned and kept on crying out in a thin scream:

"With the shovel! On the bottom with the shovel, eh? Right on the bottom! Was it a broad shovel?"

Then, after a pause, he said seriously: "It was generous in you to strike her like that; any other man would have struck her on the head for that. Very generous! You understood that she wanted you?"

"I don't remember. I hardly think that I can have understood."

"Well now! But it's obvious. Of course she wanted you."

"I did not live for that then."

"Whatever you may live for, it's all the same. You are evidently not much of a lady's man. Anyone else in your place would have made his fortune out of the situation, would have become a landed proprietor and have ended by making one of a pair of drunkards."

After a silence: "You are funny—don't be offended—very funny. And it's very strange that you should still be good-natured when you might well be spiteful. . . . Yes, you might well be spiteful. . . . You're strong . . . that's good. . . ."

And after another silence, he added thoughtfully: "Your mind I don't understand—it's a very tangled mind—but your heart is sensible . . . yes, a sensible heart."

Note.—When I lived in Kazan, I entered the service of General Kornet's wife as doorkeeper and gardener. She was a Frenchwoman, a general's widow, a young woman, fat, and with the tiny feet of a little girl. Her eyes were amazingly beautiful, restless and always greedily alert. Before her marriage she was, I think, a huckstress or a cook or, possibly, even a woman of the town. She would get drunk early in the morning and come out in the yard or garden dressed only in a chemise with an orange-coloured gown over it, in Tartar slippers made of red morocco, and on her head a mane of thick hair. Her hair, carelessly done, hung about her red cheeks and shoulders. A young witch! She used to walk about the garden, humming French songs and watching me work, and every now and then she would go to the kitchen window and call:

"Pauline, give me something."

"Something" always meant the same thing—a glass of wine with ice in it.

In the basement of her house there lived three young ladies, the Princesses D. G., whose mother was dead and whose father, a Commissariat-General, had gone off elsewhere. General Kornet's widow took a dislike to the girls and tried to get rid of them by doing every kind of offensive thing to them. She spoke Russian badly, but swore superbly, like an expert drayman. I very much disliked her attitude towards these harmless girls—they looked so sad, frightened, and defenceless. One afternoon, two of them were walking in the garden when suddenly the General's widow appeared, drunk as usual, and began to shout at them to drive them out of the garden. They began walking silently away, but the General's widow stood in the gateway, completely blocking it with her body like a cork, and started swearing at them and using Russian words like a regular drayman. I asked her to stop swearing and let the girls go out, but she shouted:

"You, I know you! You get through their window at night."

I was angry, and, taking her by the shoulders, pushed her away from the gate; but she broke away and, facing me, quickly undid her dress, lifted up her chemise, and shouted:—

"I'm nicer than those rats."

Then I lost my temper. I took her by the neck, turned her round, and struck her with my shovel below the back, so that she skipped out of the gate and ran across the yard, crying out three times in great surprise: "О! О! О!"

After that, I got my passport from her confidant, Pauline—also a drunken but very wily woman—took my bundle under my arm, and left the place; and the General's widow, standing at the window with a red shawl in her hand, shouted:—

"I won't call the police—it's all right—listen—come back—don't be afraid."

 

XXIX

I ASKED him: "Do you agree with Poznyshiev[3] when he says that doctors have destroyed and are destroying thousands and hundreds of thousands of people?"

"Are you very interested to know?"

"Very."

"Then I shan't tell you."

And he smiled, playing with his thumbs.

I remember in one of his stories he makes a comparison between a quack village vet. and a doctor of medicine:—

"The words 'giltchak,' 'potchetchny,' 'blood-letting,'[4] are they not precisely the same as nerves, rheumatism, organisms, etc.?"

And this was written after Jenner, Behring, Pasteur. It is perversity!

 

XXX

HOW strange that he is so fond of playing cards. He plays seriously, passionately. His hands become nervous when he takes the cards up, exactly as if he were holding live birds instead of inanimate pieces of cardboard.

 

XXXI

"DICKENS said a very clever thing: 'Life is given to us on the definite understanding that we boldly defend it to the last.' On the whole, he was a sentimental, loquacious, and not very clever writer, but he knew how to construct a novel as no one else could, certainly better than Balzac. Someone has said: 'Many are possessed by the passion for writing books, but few are ashamed of them afterwards.' Balzac was not ashamed, nor was Dickens, and both of them wrote quite a number of bad books. Still, Balzac is a genius. Or at any rate the thing which you can only call genius. . . ."

 

XXXIa

[Someone brought Leo Tikhomirov's book, Why I Ceased to be a Revolutionary: Leo Nicolayevitch took the book from the table, waved it in the air, and said: "What he says here about political murder is good, that there is no clear idea in that method. The idea, says a frenzied murderer, can only be anarchical sovereignty of the individual and contempt for society and for mankind. That is true, but 'anarchical sovereignty' is a slip of the pen, it should have been 'monarchical.' That is a good and true idea; all the terrorists will trip up over it—I mean the honest ones. The man who naturally loves killing won't trip up. There is nothing for him to trip up over. He's just a plain murderer, and has only accidentally become a terrorist."]

 

XXXII

SOMETIMES he seems to be conceited and intolerant, like a Volga preacher, and this is terrible in a man who is the sounding bell of this world. Yesterday he said to me:

"I am more of a mouzhik than you and I feel better in a mouzhik way."

God, he ought not to boast of it, he must not!

 

XXXIII

I READ him some scenes from my play, The Lower Depths; he listened attentively and then asked:

"Why do you write that?"

I explained as best I could.

"One always notices that you jump like a cock on to everything. And more—you always want to paint all the grooves and cracks over with your own paint. You remember that Andersen says: 'The gilt will come off and the pig-skin will remain'; just as our peasants say: 'Everything will pass away, the truth alone will remain.' You'd much better not put the plaster on, for you yourself will suffer for it later. Again, your language is very skilful, with all kinds of tricks—that's no good. You ought to write more simply; people speak simply, even incoherently, and that's good. A peasant doesn't ask: 'Why is a third more than a fourth, if four is always more than three,' as one learned young lady asked. No tricks, please."

He spoke irritably; clearly he disliked very much what I had read to him. And after a silence, looking over my head, he said gloomily:

"Your old man is not sympathetic, one does not believe in his goodness. The actor is all right, he's good. You know Fruits of Enlightenment? My cook there is rather like your actor. Writing plays is difficult. But your prostitute also came off well, they must be like that. Have you known many of them?"

"I used to."

"Yes, one can see that. Truth always shows itself. Most of what you say comes out of yourself, and therefore you have no characters, and all your people have the same face. I should think you don't understand women; they don't come off with you. One does not remember them . . . ."

At this moment A. L.'s wife came in and called us to come to tea, and he got up and went out very quickly, as if he were glad to end the conversation.

 

XXXIV

"WHAT is the most terrible dream you have ever had?" Tolstoi asked me.

I rarely have dreams and remember them badly, but two have remained in my memory and probably will for the rest of my life.

I dreamt once that I saw the sky scrofulous, putrescent, greenish-yellow, and the stars in it were round, flat, without rays, without lustre, like scabs on the skin of a diseased person. And there glided across this putrescent sky slowly reddish forked lightning, rather like a snake, and when it touched a star the star swelled up into a ball and burst noiselessly, leaving behind it a darkish spot, like a little smoke; and then the spot vanished quickly in the bleared and liquid sky. Thus all the stars one after another burst and perished, and the sky, growing darker and more horrible, at last whirled upwards, bubbled and bursting into fragments began to fall on my head in a kind of cold jelly, and in the spaces between the fragments there appeared a shiny blackness as though of iron. Leo Nicolayevitch said: "Now that comes from a learned book; you must have read something on astronomy; hence the nightmare. And the other dream?"

The other dream: a snowy plain, smooth like a sheet of paper; no hillock, no tree, no bush anywhere, only—barely visible—a few rods poked out from under the snow. And across the snow of this dead desert from horizon to horizon there stretched a yellow strip of a hardly distinguishable road, and over the road there marched slowly a pair of grey felt top boots—empty.

He raised his shaggy, were-wolf eyebrows, looked at me intently and thought for a while.

"That's terrible. Did you really dream that, you didn't invent it? But there's something bookish in it also."

And suddenly he got angry, and said, irritably, sternly, rapping his knee with his finger: "But you're not a drinking man? It's unlikely that you ever drank much. And yet there's something drunken in these dreams. There was a German writer, Hoffmann, who dreamt that card tables ran about the street, and all that sort of thing, but then he was a drunkard—a 'calaholic,' as our literate coachmen say. Empty boots marching—that's really terrible. Even if you did invent it, it's good. Terrible."

Suddenly he gave a broad smile, so that even his cheek bones beamed.

"And imagine this: suddenly, in the Tverskaya street, there runs a card table with its curved legs, its boards clap, clap, raising a chalky dust, and you can even still see the numbers on the green cloth—excise clerks playing whist on it for three days and nights on end—the table could not bear it any longer and ran away."

He laughed, and then, probably noticing that I was a little hurt by his distrust of me:

"Are you hurt because I thought your dreams bookish? Don't be annoyed; sometimes, I know, one invents something without being aware of it, something which one cannot believe, which can't possibly be believed, and then one imagines that one dreamt it and did not invent it at all. There was a story which an old landowner told. He dreamt that he was walking in a wood and came out of it on to a steppe. On the steppe he saw two hills, which suddenly turned into a woman's breasts, and between them rose up a black face which, instead of eyes, had two moons like white spots. The old man dreamt that he was standing between the woman's legs, in front of him a deep, dark ravine, which sucked him in. After the dream his hair began to grow grey and his hands to tremble, and he went abroad to Doctor Kneip to take a water cure. But, really, he must have seen something of the kind—he was a dissolute fellow."

He patted me on the shoulder.

"But you are neither a drunkard nor dissolute—how do you come to have such dreams?"

"I don't know."

"We know nothing about ourselves."

He sighed, screwed up his eyes, thought for a bit, and then added in a low voice: "We know nothing."

This evening, during our walk, he took my arm and said:

"The boots are marching—terrible, eh? Quite empty—tiop, tiop—and the snow scrunching. Yes, it's good; but you are very bookish, very. Don't be cross, but it's bad and will stand in your way."

I am scarcely more bookish than he, and at the time I thought him a cruel rationalist despite all his pleasant little phrases.

 

XXXV

AT times he gives one the impression of having just arrived from some distant country, where people think and feel differently and their relations and language are different. He sits in a corner tired and grey, as though the dust of another earth were on him, and he looks attentively at everything with the look of a foreigner or of a dumb man.

Yesterday, before dinner, he came into the drawing-room, just like that, his thoughts far away. He sat down on the sofa, and, after a moment's silence, suddenly said, swaying his body a little, rubbing the palm of his hand on his knee, and wrinkling up his face:

"Still that is not all—not all."

Someone, always stolidly stupid as a flat-iron, asked: "What do you say?"

He looked at him fixedly, and then, bending forward and looking on the terrace where I was sitting with Doctor Nikitin and Yelpatievsky, he said: "What are you talking about?"

"Plehve."

"Plehve . . . Plehve . . . ," he repeated musingly after a pause, as though he heard the name for the first time. Then he shook himself like a bird, and said, with a faint smile:

"To-day from early morning I have had a silly thing running in my head; someone once told me that he saw the following epitaph in a cemetery:

'Beneath this stone there rests Ivan Yegoriev;
A tanner by trade, he always wetted hides.
His work was honest, his heart good, but,
behold,
He passed away, leaving his business to his
wife.
He was not yet old and might still have done
a lot of work.
But God took him away to the life of paradise
on the night
Friday to Saturday in Passion week . . .'

and something like that. . . ." He was silent, and then, nodding his head and smiling faintly, added: "In human stupidity when it is not malicious, there is something very touching, even beautiful. . . . There always is."

They called us to come to dinner.

 

XXXVI

"I DO not like people when they are drunk, but I know some who become interesting when they are tipsy, who acquire what is not natural to them in their sober state—wit, beauty of thought, alertness, and richness of language. In such cases I am ready to bless wine."

Suler tells how he was once walking with Leo Nicolayevitch in Tverskaya Street when Tolstoi noticed in the distance two soldiers of the Guards. The metal of their accoutrements shone in the sun; their spurs jingled; they kept step like one man; their faces, too, shone with the self-assurance of strength and youth.

Tolstoi began to grumble at them: "What pompous stupidity! Like animals trained by the whip. . . ."

But when the guardsmen came abreast with him, he stopped, followed them caressingly with his eyes, and said enthusiastically: "How handsome! Old Romans, eh, Liovushka? Their strength and beauty! О Lord! How charming it is when man is handsome, how very charming!"


  1. Tolstoi's wife.
  2. A hero in Russian legend, brave, but wild and self-willed like a child.
  3. In Kreutzer Sonata.
  4. Words used by quack vets, for the diseases of horses.