Conscious of my inability, it is with diffidence and hesitation that I approach this work, sacred in my eyes--the life-story of my teacher, the aged prophet, Leo Tolstoy.
Only a few years ago I was so far from dreaming of this undertaking that, while living much of my time in close proximity to Tolstoy, and often staying in his house for hours or even whole days, it never entered into my mind to make any note or record of what I heard from Tolstoy himself or from those about him. Now, an exile [See P.S. to this Introduction] for my religious opinions, living far from my country and far from Tolstoy, I have set myself to accomplish this important task.
I was first encouraged to do it by the French publisher Stock, who, when taking in hand a complete publication of Tolstoy's works in French, asked me if I would revise the Russian texts and write a biography of the author.
I knew very well that it was impossible to write the biography of a man still living without the consent of himself and his family, so, before accepting Stock's offer, I wrote to Countess Tolstoy, asking if she had any objection to my undertaking the biography of her husband. I received from her a kind and encouraging reply, from which I will quote a few lines:
"...Of course you ought to write the biography, and Lev Nikolayevich could answer many of your questions, only you must not delay. The life so precious to us all was on the point of passing away. But now Lev Nikolayevich is progressing favorably and is again at work."
This letter bears the date July 19, 1901, and was written directly after Tolstoy's severe illness.
On receipt of this letter I did not trouble Tolstoy himself, being convinced beforehand that he would not stand in my way; I accepted Stock's offer and set to work.
When I began to look into my materials and to consider the nature and the plan of the work I was undertaking, I grew alarmed on the one hand at its magnitude, while on the other I felt more and more fascinated by it, and, carried away as I was with the subject, I became so much engrossed with it that at the present moment I look upon it as my life's work, and heed no considerations which are offered from a publisher's point of view.
Some preliminary labor had to be spent in the collection of materials. These I divide into four categories, according to their importance and value.
In the first category I place Tolstoy's own autobiographical notes, as well as his letters and diaries. Such notes can be turned to much better account in the lifetime of the author, for the reason that any discrepancies between them and information derived from other sources can be explained by the author himself.
In the second category I place reminiscences and notices generally of Tolstoy by those who knew him personally, such as relations, friends, and acquaintances who had immediate intercourse with him. It may also include various kinds of official documents, such as certificates of birth, documents of the educational authorities, official records of State service, copies from judicial and administrative documents, and so on.
The third category includes notices of Tolstoy from outside sources, as well as works of his own in which real facts are intermingled with fiction by the play of the artistic imagination. But these, when looked at from a biographer's point of view, must be treated with great caution.
Lastly, the fourth category consists of sundry short articles, not to speak of whole books, which, though badly or clumsily written, or coming from authors who are not wholly trustworthy, yet have a certain comparative value where there is a gap left by other works. These I do not consider it necessary to enumerate.
Foreign literature gives us very few facts, especially in relation to the first period of Tolstoy's life. For this reason I do not make a separate list of foreign works, but include them in the general catalogue.
At the end of this Introduction is appended a list of all the written materials I have used.
After my first few steps in the examination of the collected materials, I found it necessary to seek personal intercourse with Tolstoy, as he alone could explain a number of obscure points by which I was puzzled. For a long while I hesitated, wondering whether it was right to trouble him, but at last I made up my mind to write to him and say that I had resolved to approach him with a few questions. Being aware that he permitted artists to take his portrait or make busts of him and amateur photographers to take his likeness, though all this gave him no pleasure, I requested him to sit for me too, as I wished to make a picture of him in words. To this he returned his kind consent in the following terms in a letter of December 2, 1901:
"...I shall be very glad to give you a sitting and will categorically answer your questions."
My friend V. Chertkov rendered me an important service by consenting to lay open for my work his rich archive of Tolstoy's private correspondence and of extracts from his diaries.
One great drawback to my labor was the fact that through a senseless administrative order [See P.S. to this Introduction], I was exiled from Russia, and have thus been deprived of an opportunity of consulting the man whose life I was writing, as well as prevented from working in Russian public libraries and archives, a circumstance which greatly hindered my work so far as dependent on the use of extracts from old periodicals, although, owing to the kindness of some owners of private Russian libraries and to the literary wealth of the Russian Department of the British Museum, this obstacle has been to some extent overcome. I have done my best in accordance with conscience and reason to meet these difficulties; I even petitioned the Minister of Interior to be allowed to visit Russia for two months, but I received a distinct refusal. I therefore cannot look upon my task as complete.
As to the first volume, which I am now publishing, I may state that the readers will find there something perfectly new--I mean Tolstoy's memories of his childhood, and of his relations, as well as a great many of his private letters.
In order to illustrate for the reader the difficulty which Tolstoy had in writing his Reminiscences, as well as the way in which to treat them, I will quote a few extracts from our correspondence upon the subject.
I had written several times to Tolstoy and also to his intimate friends begging the latter to write down anything that, during quiet evening conversations, they might hear from him about his childhood.
At last I received the following communication from Tolstoy:
"...At first I thought that I should not be able to help you with my biography, notwithstanding all my desire to do so. I was afraid of the insincerity incidental to every autobiography, but now I seem to have found a form in which I can meet your wish by pointing out the distinguishing features of the consecutive periods of my life, in childhood, youth, and manhood. As soon as I find it possible, I will devote some hours to this work, and will endeavor to carry it out."
In one of his subsequent letters he writes:
"...I am afraid that it was in vain I gave you hopes by my promise to write my Reminiscences. I have tried to think about it, and I saw what a dreadful difficulty it is to avoid the Charybdis of self-praise (by keeping silence about all that is bad) and the Scylla of cynical frankness about all the abomination of one's life. Were a man to describe all his odiousness, stupidity, viciousness, vileness--quite truthfully, even more truthfully than Rousseau--it would be a seductive book or article. People would say: `Here is a man whom many place high, but look what a scoundrel he was; if so, then for us ordinary folk it is all the more admissible.'
"Seriously, when I began to recall vividly to my mind all my life and saw all its stupidity (sheer stupidity) and abomination, I thought, `What then are other men if I, praised by many, am such a stupid worm?' And yet this could be explained by the fact that I am more cunning than others. I tell you all this not for the sake of verbal display, but quite sincerely. I have personally experienced it."
Seeing his hesitation and being alive to the great importance of the subject, I still insisted, and I sent him the outlines of the intended biography by way of canvas for him to embroider.
In my scheme I set forth the plan of dividing human life into periods of seven years' duration. I heard once from Tolstoy that he believed that, as physiologists divide human life into periods of seven years, so psychological life has the same periods of growth, and that each period of seven years' duration has its own moral physiognomy.
In arranging thus briefly the facts of Tolstoy's life we arrive at the following scheme:
(1) 1828-35: From birth to 7 years. Childhood.
(2) 1835-42: From 7 to 14 years. Boyhood.
(3) 1842-49: From 14 to 21 years. Youth, studies university, country life, and farming.
(4) 1849-56: From 21 to 28 years. The beginning of a literary career; the Caucasus, Sevastopol, St. Petersburg.
(5) 1856-63: From 28 to 35 years. Retirement from service. Travels, death of a brother, educational activity, services as a "Mediator," marriage.
(6) 1863-70: From 35 to 42 years. Married life. War and Peace. Farming.
(7) 1870-77: From 42 to 49 years. The famine in Samara. Anna Karenina. The summit of literary fame, family happiness, and wealth.
(8) 1877-84: From 49 to 56 years. Crisis, How I Came to Believe (My Confession). New Testament. What I Believe.
(9) 1884-91: From 56 to 63 years. Moscow. What shall we do? Literature for the people. Posrednik. Spread of ideas in the classes and the masses. The Critics.
(10) 1891-98: From 63 to 70 years. Famine. The Kingdom of God is Within You. the Doukhobors. The persecutions of the supporters of these views.
(11) 1898-1905: From 70 to 77 years. Resurrection. Excommunication. The latest period. Appeal to the military, the
people, the clergy, and social reformers. The war.
On even a cursory glance at this scheme the reader must notice the spiritual tendency of each period. And this scheme or plan has not remained without results. Before long I received a letter from Tolstoy in which, among other things, he writes:
"...With regard to my biography, I may tell you that I very much desire to help you and to write at least what is most essential. I decided that I might write it, because I can understand that it may be interesting and possibly useful to men were I to show all the abomination of the life I led before my awakening, and--speaking without false modesty--what was good in it (were it only in intentions, which, owing to my weakness, were not always realized) after the awakening. It is in this spirit that I should like to write it for you. Your programme of seven-year periods is useful to me and does indeed suggest thoughts. I will endeavor to occupy myself with this as soon as I complete the work I am now engaged in."
Finally, in a few more months, I received a rough draft of the first part of his reminiscences written by Tolstoy. I hastened to make use of them, putting his own vivid descriptions in the place of colorless passages of the biography I had begun. At the first opportunity which I had I forwarded to Tolstoy the early chapters of my work, asking him to give his opinion of it. In his answer he says:
"...My general impression is that you make very good use of my notes, but I avoid entering into details, as this might draw me into the work of correcting, which I wish to avoid. So I leave it all to you, merely requesting that in your biography, when citing extracts from my notes, you should add that they are taken from uncorrected draft notes sent to you and put at your disposal by me."
I relate all this here in order to free Tolstoy from all literary responsibility, and, in accordance with his wish, I quote the italicized sentence both in the Introduction and with all the extracts from his notes.
With this encouragement I continued my labors.
The first volume, now published, contains the story of his origin and the earlier periods of his life--childhood, youth, and manhood, and ends with his marriage.
This limit is, I think, very appropriate, the more so as Tolstoy himself looks upon his marriage as the beginning of a new life. It happens also to have one practical convenience--its contents make up an ordinary-sized volume.
In the second volume will be described the period of Tolstoy's greatest literary success, family happiness, and material welfare, followed by an important crisis which led to his birth into a new spiritual life. The period is that of the years 1863-84, corresponding to his age, 35-56.
In the third and last volume will be presented the life which he lives now, and which I hope will continue to our joy for many years.
It is well remarked by one of Tolstoy's biographers that his life may be compared to a pyramid with its top downward and the base upward, growing higher and wider. The biographical material is distributed in a corresponding proportion: there is very little of it during his childhood, but, as we approach the present time, its growth becomes enormous.
Tolstoy's name is so well known that I am relieved of the difficult and responsible task of giving his general characteristics in order to introduce him to the public. It is my sole aim and endeavor to adhere to the simple facts.
October 15, 1905
Onex, near Geneva, Villa Russe, Switzerland
P.S. I had already reached the end of my first volume, when, in consequence of a temporary relaxation of repressive measures in Russia, I received permission to revisit my country. I went to Russia, accordingly, and have there been able adequately to enlarge the biographical material of the first volume, thanks to my personal intercourse with Tolstoy himself, and also by reading his diaries and correspondence, for which privilege I am deeply grateful to Countess S. Tolstoy. She gave me access to the valuable collections of biographical materials collected by her and placed in the Historical Museum of Moscow, in the room called after Tolstoy's name.
Had my work been begun under more favorable circumstances, it would probably appear in a different and less imperfect shape. But it is impossible to go back and begin again from the beginning; I therefore leave it in its original form, introducing only such changes as are rendered necessary by the additional material newly collected in Russia. I also leave unchanged the Introduction to the work, as it truly represents the conditions under which I have done it.
Two more words. I hope the reader will understand under what peculiar conditions I had to labor and still am laboring. I am writing the biography not only of a living man, but also of one who leads a strenuous and energetic life, and hence, as a biographer, I am unable to say the last word or give my judgment on the stream of life which is still flowing so forcibly.
I must therefore be content simply to call my work, as I most sincerely do, a Collection of those materials for the biography of Leo Tolstoy which are accessible to me. I desired not to delay the publication of this volume, which is more or less complete in itself, as I thought that its publication might indicate to everyone a center to which information and reminiscences, as well as any documents concerning Tolstoy, could be forwarded, and for all help and advice I shall be very grateful.
August 23, 1905
List of materials used for the writing of Volume I.
(1) A Short Biography, written by Tolstoy at the request of N. Strakhov for the Stasulevich publication, Russian Library, Issue IX. Count L. Tolstoy, St. Petersburg, 1879.
(2) How I Came to Believe, L. Tolstoy. Complete Edition of Tolstoy's Works, vol. i. Published by The Free Age Press, Christchurch, Hants.
(3) First Reminiscences. A Fragment. Complete Edition of Leo Tolstoy's Works, vol. xiii, tenth edition. Moscow, 1897.
(4) A rough draft of uncorrected notes intrusted to me by Tolstoy.
(5) Private letters of Tolstoy to his friends and relations.
(6) The Diary of Leo Tolstoy.
(7) The Memoirs of Countess S.A. Tolstoy.
(8) Autobiographical Tales, printed in vol. iv. Complete Edition of Tolstoy's Works (Articles on Education).
(9) My Reminiscences, 1848-1889, by A. Fet. Moscow, 1890. (Many letters by Tolstoy).
(10) "A Few Words in Connection with the Book, War and Peace." An article by Tolstoy. The Russian Archive, 1868, vol. iii.
(11) S.A. Bers, Reminiscences of Count L.N. Tolstoy. Smolensk, 1894.
(12) Paul Boyer, Chez Tolstoy: Trois jours a Yasnaya Polyana. Le Temps, August 27-29, 1901.
(13) A. E. Golovachev Panayev, Russian Writers and Artists: Reminiscences, 1824-1870. St. Petersburg, 1890. Published by Gubinsky.
(14) D.V. Grigorovich, Literary Reminiscences. Complete Works, vol. xii, p. 326.
(15) G.P. Danilevsky, A Journey to Yasnaya Polyana. Historical Messenger, March, 1886.
(16) From the Papers of A.V. Druzhinin: Twenty-Five Years. Magazine published by the Friendly Society of Needy Writers and Scholars. St. Petersburg, 1884.
(17) N.P. Zagoskin, Count Leo Tolstoy and his Life as a Student. Historical Messenger, January, 1894.
(18) Zakharyin (Yakunin), Dr., Countess A.A. Tolstaya: Personal Impressions and Reminiscences. Messenger of Europe, June, 1904.
(19) R. Loewenfeld, Count Leo Tolstoy; His Life and Works. Translated from the German by A.V. Pereligin (with notes by the Countess S.A. Tolstaya). Moscow, 1897.
(20) R. Lowenfeld, Gespraeche mit und ueber Tolstoy. Leipzig.
(21) Eugene Markov, The Living Soul in School. Thoughts and Reminiscences of an old Educationist. Messenger of Europe, February, 1900.
(22) M.O. Menshikov, The First Work of Tolstoy. Booklets of "Nedelya." October, 1892.
(23) N.K. Mikhailovsky, Literary Reminiscences and the Contemporary Muddle, vol. i. Published by the Russian Wealth. St. Petersburg, 1900.
(24) "Opinion of One Hundred and Five Noblemen of the Tula Province upon the Question of Allotting Land to Peasants." The Contemporary, 1858, vol. lxxii.
(25) N.A. Nekrasov, Four Letters to Count Leo Tolstoy. "Niva." N. 2, 1898.
(26) L.P. Nikiforov, Biographical Sketch. The Courier, September 1902.
(27) Prince D.D. Obolensky, Reminiscences and Characteristics. The Russian Archive, 1894.
(28) I.I. Panayev, Literary Reminiscences, including Letters. St. Petersburg, 1888. Published by Martinov.
(29) S. Plaksin, Count Leo Tolstoy among Children, 1903.
(30) V.A. Poltoratsky, Reminiscences. Historical Messenger, June, 1893.
(31) A. Rumyantsev, Letter to D.D. Titov. The Polar Star, iv. Published by Herzen, London, 1857.
(32) The Sevastopol Song. Related by one of the authors of the song. Russian Olden Times, February, 1884.
(33) P.A. Sergeyenko, How Leo Tolstoy Lives and Works. Moscow, 1898.
(34) Eugene Schuyler, Reminiscences of Count Leo Tolstoy. Russian Olden Times, October, 1890. Translated from the English (Scribner's Magazine, 1889).
(35) I.S. Turgenev, First Collection of Letters, 1840-1883. Published by the Literary Fund, St. Petersburg, 1885.
(36) D. Oospensky. Archive Materials for Tolstoy's Biography. Russian Thought, September, 1903.
(37) Private letters of Tolstoy's friends and relations about him.
(38) N.K. Schilder, Episode of the Battle of Austerlitz. Russian Olden Times, vol. lxviii, 1890.
(39) Eugene Gogoslavsky, Turgenev on Lyof Tolstoy, Seventy-five Opinions. Tiflis, 1894.
(40) Wilh. Bode, Tolstoy in Weimar. Der Saemann, Monatschrift, Leipzig. September, 1905.
(41) M.I. Venukov, Sevastopol Song. Russian Olden Times, February, 1875.
(42) Princess E.G. Volkonskaya, The Family of the Princes' Volkonsky. Materials collected and edited by Princess E.G. Volkonskaya. St. Petersburg, 1900.
(43) Prince. S.G. Volkonsky (decembrist). Memoirs. Published by M.S. Volkonsky.
(44) Eugene Garshin, Reminiscences of I.S. Turgenev. Historical Messenger, November, 1883.
(45) P.D. Draganov, Count L.N. Tolstoy; as a writer of world-wide fame, and the circulation of his works in Russia and abroad.
(46) A.F. Kony, A Biographical Sketch: "I.F. Gorbunov" (preface to the edition of his works).
(47) V.N. Lyaskovsky, A.S. Khomyakov, His Biography and Teaching. The Russian Archive, No. 11, 1896.
(48) V.N. Nazaryev, Life and Men of the Past Time. Historical Messenger, November, 1900.
(49) Eugene Solovyov, L.N. Tolstoy; His Life and Literary Activity. Published by Pavlenkov.
(50) M.A. Yanzhul, To Tolstoy's Biography. Russian Olden Times, February, 1900.
Books of Reference, Articles in Newspapers, Notes.
(51) Brockhaus and Effron. Encyclopaedic Dictionary.
(52) Yuriy Bitoft. Count Tolstoy in Literature and Art. Bibliographical Indicator. Published by Sytin. Moscow, 1903.
(53) Russian Literature, Eleventh to Nineteenth Century Inclusive, by A.V. Mezyer.
(54) V. Zelinsky, Criticism in Russian Literature of Tolstoy's Works. Moscow, 1896.
by Leo Tolstoy
My friend, Paul Biryukov, having undertaken to write my biography (for the complete edition of my works), has asked me to furnish him with some particulars of my life.
I very much wished to fulfill his desire, and in my imagination I began to compose my autobiography. At first, I involuntarily began in the most natural way with only that which was good in my life, merely adding to this good side, like shade on a picture, its dark, repulsive features. But upon examining the events of my life more seriously I saw that such an autobiography, though it might not be a direct lie, would yet be a lie, owing to the biased exposure and lighting up of the good and the hushing up or smoothing down of the evil. Yet when I thought of writing the whole truth without concealing anything that was bad in my life, I was shocked at the impression which such an autobiography was bound to produce. At that time I fell ill, and during the unavoidable idleness of an invalid, my thoughts kept continually turning to my reminiscences, and dreadful these reminiscences were.
I experienced with the utmost force what Pushkin says in his verses, "Memory":
"When, for mankind, the weary day grows still,
And on the City's silent heart there fall
The half transparent shadows of the night
With sleep, the sweet reward of daily work--
Then is the time when in the hush I wear
Through dragging hours of heavy watchfulness:
When, idle in the dark, most keen I feel
The stinging serpent of my heart's remorse:
Reflection seethes--and on my o'erwhelmed mind
Rushes a multitude of woeful thoughts,
While memory, her unending roll unfolds
In silence, and with sick recoil I read
The story of my life, and curse myself,
And bitterly bewail with bitter tears--
But not one woeful line can I wash out!"
In the last line I would only make this alteration: instead of "woeful line" I would say "shameful line can I wash out."
Under this impression I wrote the following in my diary:
6th January, 1903:--I am now suffering the torments of hell: I am calling to mind all the infamies of my former life--these reminiscences do not pass away and they poison my existence. Generally people regret that the individuality does not retain memory after death. What a happiness that it does not! What an anguish it would be if I remembered in this life all the evil, all that is painful to the conscience, committed by me in a previous life. And, if one remembers the good, one has to remember the evil too. What a happiness that reminiscences disappear with death and that there only remains consciousness, a consciousness which, as it were, represents the general outcome of the good and the evil, like a complex equation reduced to its simplest expression: x = a positive or a negative, a great or a small quantity.
Yes, the extinction of memory is a great happiness; with memory one could not live a joyful life. As it is, with the extinction of memory we enter into life with a clean white page upon which we can write afresh good and evil.
It is true that not all my life was so fearfully bad. That character prevailed only for a period of twenty years. It is also true that even during that period my life was not the uninterrupted evil that it appeared to me during my illness; for even during that period there used to awake in me impulses toward good, although they did not last long and were soon stifled by unrestrained passions.
Still these reflections, especially during my illness, clearly showed me that my autobiography--as autobiographies are generally written--if it passed over in silence all the abomination and criminality of my life, would be a lie, and that, when a man writes his life, he should write the whole and exact truth. Only such an autobiography, however humiliating it may be for me to write it, can have a true and fruitful interest for the readers.
Thus recalling my life to mind, i.e., examining it from the point of view of the good and evil which I had done, I saw that all my long life breaks up into four periods: that splendid--especially in comparison with what comes after--that innocent, joyful, poetic period of childhood up to fourteen; then the second, those dreadful twenty years, the period of coarse dissoluteness, of service of ambition and vanity, and, above all, of sensuousness; then the third period of eighteen years, from my marriage until my spiritual birth, a period which, from the worldly point of view, one might call moral; I mean that during these eighteen years I lived a regular, honest family life, without addicting myself to any vices condemned by public opinion, but a period all the interests of which were limited to egotistical family cares, to concern for the increase of wealth, the attainment of literary success, and the enjoyment of every kind of pleasure; and lastly, there is the fourth period of twenty years in which I am now living and in which I hope to die, and from the standpoint of which I see all the significance of my past life, and which I do not desire to alter in anything except in those habits of evil which were acquired by me in the previous periods.
Such a history of my life during all these four periods, I should like to write quite, quite truthfully, if God will give me the power and the time. I think that such an autobiography, even though very defective, would be more profitable to men than all that artistic prattle with which the twelve volumes of my works are filled, and to which men of our time attribute an undeserved significance.
And I should now like to do this. I will begin by describing the first joyful period of my childhood, which attracts me with special force; then, however ashamed I may be to do so, I will also describe, without hiding anything, those dreadful twenty years of the following period; then the third period, which may be of the least interest of all; and, finally, the last period of my awakening to the truth which has given me the highest well-being in life and joyous peace in view of approaching death.
In order not to repeat myself in the description of my childhood, I have read over again my work under that title, and felt sorry that I had written it--so badly, in such an insincere literary style is it written. It could not have been otherwise, first, because my aim was to describe, not my own history, but that of the companions of my childhood; and, secondly, because when writing it I was far from independent in the form of expression, being under the influence of two writers who at that time strongly impressed me: Sterne (Sentimental Journey) and Topfer (Bibliotheque de mon oncle).
I am at this day especially displeased with the last two parts, Boyhood and Youth, in which, besides the clumsy confusion of truth with fiction, there is also insincerity, the desire to put forward as good and important that which, at the time of writing, I did not regard as good and important--my democratic tendency.
I hope that what I shall now write will be better and, above all, more profitable to others.1 1.
From uncorrected draft notes communicated to me and put at my disposal by Tolstoy.