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Title: Reminiscences of Leo Nicolayevitch Tolstoi
Author: Gorky, Maksim
Language: English
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Authorized Translation from the Russian









_Reminiscences of Leo Nicolayevitch Tolstoi_, by Maxim Gorky, was
originally published in Russian in Petrograd in 1919. The first half of
the book, consisting of notes, had been written between 1900 and 1901,
when Tolstoi, Gorky, and Tchekhov were living in the Crimea. The second
half consists of a letter written by Gorky in 1910.

A second edition of the book will shortly be published in Russia, and
will contain a few additional notes not included in the first edition.
We have included this additional matter in the present edition,
enclosing it in square brackets.


This little book is composed of fragmentary notes written by me during
the period when I lived in Oleise and Leo Nicolayevitch at Gaspra in
the Crimea. They cover the period of Tolstoi's serious illness and
of his subsequent recovery. The notes were carelessly jotted down on
scraps of paper, and I thought I had lost them, but recently I have
found some of them. Then I have also included here an unfinished
letter written by me under the influence of the "going away" of Leo
Nicolayevitch from Yassnaya Polyana, and of his death. I publish the
letter just as it was written at the time, and without correcting a
single word. And I do not finish it, for somehow or other this is not
possible. M. GORKY.



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.


He 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.


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.


[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,"]


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


"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."


"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.


"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."


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.


To-day the Grand Duke Nicolay Mikhailovitch 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."


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.


"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."


"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

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


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.


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


Someone 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

"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.


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


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."


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."


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."


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."


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.


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

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."


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" lie 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.


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 child-like 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 role 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

'All the Atzurs have died out, but there is a parrot here who knows a
few words of their language.'"


"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."


"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."


"Some 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

And he gave a cunning little smile.


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.

[Footnote 1: Tolstoi's wife.]

[Footnote 1: A hero in Russian legend, brave, but wild and self-willed
like a child.]


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

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: "O! O! O!"

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


I asked him: "Do you agree with Poznyshiev[1] when he says that doctors
have destroyed and are destroying thousands and hundreds of thousands
of people?"

"Are you very interested to know?"


"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,' bloodletting,'[2] are they not
precisely the same as nerves, rheumatism, organisms, etc.?"

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

[Footnote 1: In _Kreutzer Sonata._]

[Footnote 2: Words used by quack vets, for the diseases of horses.]


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


"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...."


[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."]


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!


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


"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.


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

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 ...," 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

    '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.


"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! O Lord! How
charming it is when man is handsome, how very charming!"


I have just posted a letter to you--telegrams have arrived telling of
"Tolstoi's flight," and now once more one with you in thought I write

Probably all I want to say about the news will seem to you confused,
perhaps even harsh and ill-tempered, but you will forgive me--I am
feeling as though I had been gripped by the throat and was being

I had many long conversations with him; when he was living at Gaspra
in the Crimea, I often went to him and he liked coming to me; I have
studied his books lovingly; it seems to me that I have the right to
say what I think of him, even if it be bold and differ widely from the
general opinion. I know as well as others that no man is more worthy
than he of the name of genius; more complicated, contradictory, and
great in everything--yes, yes, in everything. Great--in some curious
sense wide, indefinable by words--there is something in him which made
me desire to cry aloud to everyone: "Look what a wonderful man is
living on the earth." For he is, so to say, universally and above all a
man, a man of mankind.

But what always repelled me in him was that stubborn despotic
inclination to turn the life of Count Leo Nicolayevitch Tolstoi into
"the saintly life of our blessed father, boyard Leo." As you know,
he has for long intended to suffer; he expressed his regret to E.
Soloviov, to Suler, that he had not succeeded, but he wanted to
suffer simply, not out of a natural desire to test the resistance of
his will, but with the obvious and, I repeat, the despotic intention
of increasing the influence of his religious ideas, the weight of
his teaching, in order to make his preaching irresistible, to make
it holy in the eyes of man through his suffering, to force them to
accept it; you understand, to force them. For he realizes that that
preaching is not sufficiently convincing; in his diary you will, some
day, read good instances of scepticism applied by him to his own
preaching and personality. He knows that "martyrs and sufferers, with
rare exceptions, are despots and tyrants"--he knows everything! And yet
he says to himself, "Were I to suffer for my ideas they would have a
greater influence." This in him always repelled me, for I cannot help
feeling that it is an attempt to use violence to me--a desire to get
hold of my conscience, to dazzle it with the glory of righteous blood,
to put on my neck the yoke of a dogma.

He always greatly exalted immortality on the other side of life, but
he preferred it on this side. A writer, national in the truest and
most complete sense, he embodied in his great soul all the defects
of his nation, all the mutilations caused us by the ordeals of our
history; his misty preaching of "non-activity," of "non-resistance to
evil"--the doctrine of passivism--this is all the unhealthy ferment
of the old Russian blood, envenomed by Mongolian fatalism and almost
chemically hostile to the West with its untiring creative labour,
with its active and indomitable resistance to the evil of life.
What is called Tolstoi's "anarchism," essentially and fundamentally,
expresses our Slav anti-stateism, which, again, is really a national
characteristic and desire, ingrained in our flesh from old times,
to scatter nomadically. Up to now we have indulged that desire
passionately, as you and everyone else know. We Russians know it,
too, but we break away, always along the line of least resistance; we
see that this is pernicious, but still we crawl further and further
away from one another--and these mournful cockroach journeyings are
called "the history of Russia," of a State which has been established
almost incidentally, mechanically, to the surprise of the majority of
its honest-minded citizens, by the forces of the Variags, Tartars,
Baltic Germans, and petty constables. To their surprise, because all
the time "scattering," and only when we reached places beyond which
we could find nothing worse--for we could go no further--well, then
we stopped and settled down. This is the lot, the destiny to which we
are doomed--to settle in the snows and marshes by the side of the wild
Erza, Tchood, Merey, Vess, and Muroma. Yet men arose who realized that
light must come to us not from the East but from the West; and now he,
the crown of our ancient history, wishes, consciously or unconsciously,
to stretch himself like a vast mountain across our nation's path to
Europe, to the active life which sternly demands of man the supreme
effort of his spiritual forces. His attitude towards science is, too,
certainly national: one sees magnificently reflected in him the old
Russian village scepticism which comes from ignorance. Everything is
national in him, and all his preaching is a reaction from the past, an
atavism which we had already begun to shake off and overcome.

Think of his letter "The Intelligenzia, the State, the People," written
in 1905--what a pernicious, malignant thing it is! You can hear in it
the sectarian's "I told you so." At the time I wrote an answer to him,
based on his own words to me that he had long since forfeited the right
to speak of and on behalf of the Russian people, for I am a witness of
his lack of desire to listen to and understand the people who came to
talk to him soul to soul. My letter was bitter, and in the end I did
not send it to him.

Well, now he is probably making his last assault in order to give to
his ideas the highest possible significance. Like Vassily Buslayev, he
usually loved these assaults, but always so that he might assert his
holiness and obtain a halo. That is dictatorial, although his teaching
is justified by the ancient history of Russia and by his own sufferings
of genius. Holiness is attained by flirting with sin, by subduing the
will to live. People do desire to live, but he tries to persuade them:
"That's all nonsense, our earthly life." It is very easy to persuade a
Russian of this; he is a lazy creature who loves beyond anything else
to find an excuse for his own inactivity. On the whole, of course, a
Russian is not a Platon Karatayev, nor an Akim, nor a Bezonkhy, nor
a Neklyudov; all these men were created by history and nature, not
exactly on Tolstoi's pattern, he only improved on them in order more
thoroughly to support his teaching. But, undeniably, Russia as a whole
is--Tiulin above and Oblomov below. For the Tiulin above look at the
year 1905, and for the Oblomov below look at Count A. N. Tolstoi, I.
Bunin, look at everything round about you. Beasts and swindlers--we
can leave them out of consideration, though our beast is exceedingly
national--what a filthy coward he is for all his cruelty. Swindlers, of
course, are international.

In Leo Nicolayevitch there is much which at times roused in me a
feeling very like hatred, and this hatred fell upon my soul with
crushing weight. His disproportionately overgrown individuality is
a monstrous phenomenon, almost ugly, and there is in him something
of Sviatogor, the bogatir, whom the earth can't hold. Yes, he _is_
great. I am deeply convinced that, beyond all that he speaks of, there
is much which he is silent about, even in his diary--he is silent,
and, probably, will never tell it to anyone. That "something" only
occasionally and in hints slipped through into his conversation, and
hints of it are also to be found in the two note-books of his diary
which he gave me and L. A. Sulerzhizky to read; it seems to me a kind
of "negation of all affirmations," the deepest and most evil nihilism
which has sprung from the soil of an infinite and unrelieved despair,
from a loneliness which, probably, no one but he has experienced with
such terrifying clearness. I often thought him to be a man who in the
depths of his soul is stubbornly indifferent to people: he is so much
above and beyond them that they seem to him like midges and their
activities ridiculous and miserable. He has gone too far away from them
into some desert, and there solitary, with the highest effort of all
the force of his spirit, he closely examines into "the most essential,"
into death.

All his life he feared and hated death, all his life there throbbed in
his soul the "Arsamaxian terror" --must he die? The whole world, all
the earth looks toward him; from China, India, America, from everywhere
living, throbbing threads stretch out to him; his soul is for all and
for ever. Why should not Nature make an exception to her law, give to
one man physical immortality--why not? He is certainly too rational
and sensible to believe in miracles, but, on the other hand, he is a
bogatir, an explorer, and, like a young recruit, wild and headstrong
from fear and despair in face of the unknown barrack. I remember in
Gaspra he read Leo Shestov's book _Good and Evil in the Teaching of
Nietzsche and Tolstoi_, and, when Anton Tchekhov remarked that he did
not like the book, Tolstoi said: "I thought it amusing. It's written
swaggeringly, but it's all right and interesting. I'm sure I like
cynics when they are sincere. Now he says: 'Truth is not wanted'; quite
true, what should he want truth for? For he will die all the same."

And, evidently seeing that his words had not been understood, he added
with a quick smile:--

"If a man has learned to think, no matter what he may think about;, he
is always thinking of his own death. All philosophers were like that.
And what truths can there be, if there is death?"

He went on to say that truth is the same for all --love of God; but
on this subject he spoke coldly and wearily. After lunch on the
terrace, he took up the book again, and, finding the passage, "Tolstoi,
Dostoevsky, Nietzsche could not live without an answer to their
questions, and for them any answer was better than none," he laughed
and said:

"What a daring coiffeur; he says straight that I deceived myself,
and that means that I deceived others too. That is the obvious

"Why coiffeur?" asked Suler.

"Well," he answered thoughtfully, "it just came into my mind--he is
fashionable, chic, and I remembered the coiffeur from Moscow at a
wedding of his peasant uncle in the village. He has the finest manners
and he dances fashionably, and so he despises everyone."

I repeat this conversation, I think, almost literally; it is most
memorable for me, and I even wrote it down, as I did many other things
which struck me. Sulerzhizky and I wrote down many things which
Tolstoi said, but Suler lost his notes when he came to me at Arsamas:
he was habitually careless, and although he loved Leo Nicolayevitch
like a woman, he behaved towards him rather strangely, almost like
a superior. I have also mislaid my notes somewhere, and cannot find
them; someone in Russia must have got them. I watched Tolstoi very
attentively, because I was looking for--I am still looking for, and
will until my death--a man with an active and a living faith. And
also because once Anton Tchekhov, speaking of our lack of culture,

"Goethe's words were all recorded, but Tolstoi's thoughts are being
lost in the air. That, my dear fellow, is intolerably Russian.
After his death they will bestir themselves, will begin to write
reminiscences, and will lie."

But to return to Shestov. "'It is impossible,' he says, 'to live
looking at horrible ghosts,' but how does _he_ know whether it's
horrible or not? If he knew, if he saw ghosts, he would not write this
nonsense, but would do something serious, what Buddha did all his life."

Someone remarked that Shestov was a Jew.

"Hardly," said Leo Nicolayevitch doubtfully.

"No, he is not like a Jew; there are no disbelieving Jews, you can't
name one.... no."

It seemed sometimes as though this old sorcerer were playing with
Death, coquetting with her, trying somehow to deceive her, saying: "I
am not afraid of thee, I love thee, I long for thee."

And at the same time peering at Death with his keen little eyes: "What
art thou like? What follows thee hereafter? Wilt thou destroy me
altogether, or will something in me go on living?"

A strange impression used to be produced by his words: "I am happy, I
am awfully happy, I am too happy." And then immediately afterwards:
"To suffer." To suffer--that, too, was true in him; I don't doubt for
a second that he, only half convalescent, would have been really glad
to be put into prison, to be banished--in a word, to embrace a martyr's
crown. Would not martyrdom probably in some measure justify death,
make her more understandable, acceptable from the external, from the
formal point of view? But he was never happy, never and nowhere; I am
certain of that: neither "in the books of wisdom," nor "on the back
of a horse," nor "in the arms of a woman" did he experience the full
delights of "earthly paradise." He is too rational for that and knows
life and people too well. Here are some more of his words:

"The Kaliph Abdurahman had during his life fourteen happy days, but
I am sure I have not had so many. And this is because I have never
lived--I cannot live--for myself, for my own self; I live for show, for

When we left, Anton Tchekhov said to me: "I don't believe that he was
not happy." But I believe it. He was not. Though it is not true that he
lived for show. Yes, what he himself did not need, he gave to people
as though they were beggars; he liked to compel them, to compel them
to read, walk, be vegetarians, love the peasants, and believe in the
infallibility of the rational-religious reflections of Leo Tolstoi.
People must be given something which will either satisfy or amuse
them, and then let them be off. Let them leave a man in peace, to his
habitual, tormenting, and sometimes cosy loneliness in face of the
bottomless pit of the problem of "the essential."

All Russian preachers, with the exception of Avvakum and, perhaps,
Tikhon Zadonsky, are cold men, for they did not possess an active and
living faith. When I was writing Luka in _The Lower Depths_, I wanted
to describe an old man like that: he is interested in "every solution,"
but not in people; coming inevitably in contact with them, he consoles
them, but only in order that they may leave him in peace. And all
the philosophy, all the preaching of such men, is alms bestowed by
them with a veiled aversion, and there sounds behind their preaching
words which are beggarly and melancholy: "Get out! Love God or your
neighbour, but get out! Curse God, love the stranger, but leave me
alone! Leave me alone, for I am a man and I am doomed to death."

Alas, so it is and so it will be. It could not and cannot be otherwise,
for men have become worn out, exhausted, terribly separated, and
they are all chained to a loneliness which dries up the soul. If Leo
Nicolayevitch had had a reconciliation with the Church, it would not
have at all surprised me. The thing would have had a logic of its own;
all men are equally insignificant, even Archbishops. In fact, it would
not have been a reconciliation, strictly speaking; for him personally
the act would have been only logical: "I forgive those who hate me." It
would have been a Christian act, and behind it there would have hidden
a quick, ironical, little smile, which would be understood as the way
in which a wise man retaliates on the fools.

What I write is not what I want to say; I cannot express it properly.
There is a dog howling in my soul and I have a foreboding of some
misfortune. Yes, newspapers have just arrived and it is already
clear: you at home are beginning to "create a legend": idlers and
good-for-nothings have gone on living and have now produced a saint.
Only think how pernicious it is for the country just at this moment,
when the heads of disillusioned men are bowed down, the souls of the
majority empty, and the souls of the best full of sorrow. Lacerated and
starving, they long for a legend. They long so much for alleviation
of pain, for the soothing of torment. And they will create just what
he desires, but what is not wanted--the life of a holy man and saint;
but surely he is great and holy because he is a man, a madly and
tormentingly beautiful man; a man of the whole of mankind. I am somehow
contradicting myself in this, but it does not matter. He is a man
seeking God, not for himself, but for men, so that God may leave him,
the man, alone in the peace of the desert chosen by him. He gave us the
Gospels in order that we might forget the contradictions in Christ; he
simplified Christ's image, smoothing away the militant elements and
bringing into the foreground the humble "will of Him that sent Him."
No doubt Tolstoi's Gospel is the more easily accepted because it is
"soothing to the malady" of the Russian people. He had to give them
something, for they complain and trouble the earth with their groaning
and distract him from "the essential." But _War and Peace_ and all the
other things of the same kind will not soothe the sorrow and despair
of the grey Russian land. Of _War and Peace_ he himself said: "Without
false modesty, it is like the Iliad." M. Y. Tchaikovsky heard from his
lips exactly the same appreciation of _Childhood_, _Youth._

Journalists have just arrived from Naples; one even hurried from Rome.
They ask me to say what I think of Tolstoi's "flight"--"flight" is the
word they use. I would not talk to them. You, of course, understand
that inwardly I am terribly disturbed; I do not want to see Tolstoi a
saint; let him remain a sinner close to the heart of the all-sinful
world, even close to the heart of each one of us. Poushkin and
he--there is nothing more sublime or dearer to us.

Leo Tolstoi is dead.

A telegram came containing the commonest of words--is dead.

It struck me to the heart; I cried with pain and anger, and now, half
crazy, I imagine him as I know and saw him--I am tormented by a desire
to speak with him. I imagine him in his coffin--he lies like a smooth
stone at the bottom of a stream, and in his grey beard, I am sure, is
quietly hidden that aloof, mysterious, little smile. And at last his
hands are folded peacefully--they have finished their hard task.

I remember his keen eyes--they saw everything through and through--and
the movements of his fingers, as though they were perpetually modelling
something out of the air, his talk, his jokes, his favourite peasant
words, his elusive voice. And I see what a vast amount of life was
embodied in the man, how inhumanly clever he was, how terrifying.

I once saw him as, perhaps, no one has ever seen him. I was walking
over to him at Gaspra along the coast, and behind Yussupov's estate,
on the shore among the stones I saw his smallish, angular figure in a
grey, crumpled, ragged suit and crumpled hat. He was sitting with his
head on his hands, the wind blowing the silvery hairs of his beard
through his fingers: he was looking into the distance out to sea, and
the little greenish waves rolled up obediently to his feet and fondled
them as though they were telling something about themselves to the old
magician. It was a day of sun and cloud, and the shadows of the clouds
glided over the stones, and with the stones the old man grew now bright
and now dark. The boulders were large, riven by cracks, and covered
with smelling sea-weed: there had been a high tide. He, too, seemed to
me like an old stone come to life, who knows all the beginnings and
the ends of things, who considers when and what will be the end of
the stones, the grasses of the earth, of the waters of the sea, and of
the whole universe from the pebble to the sun. And the sea is part of
his soul, and everything around him comes from him, out of him. In the
musing motionlessness of the old man I felt something fateful, magical,
something which went down into the darkness beneath him and stretched
up, like a searchlight, into the blue emptiness above the earth -as
though it were he, his concentrated will, which was drawing the waves
to him and repelling them, which was ruling the movements of cloud and
shadow, which was stirring the stones to life. Suddenly, in a moment
of madness, I felt it is possible, he will get up, wave his hand, and
the sea will become solid and glassy, the stones will begin to move and
cry out, everything around him will come to life, acquire a voice, and
speak in their different voices of themselves, of him, against him. I
cannot express in words what I felt rather than thought at that moment;
in my soul there was joy and fear, and then everything blended in one
happy thought: "I am not an orphan on the earth so long as this man
lives on it."

Then I walked on tip-toe away in order that the pebbles might not
scrunch under my feet, not wishing to distract his thoughts. And now
I feel I am an orphan, I cry as I write--never before have I cried so
unconsolably and in such bitter despair. I do not know whether I loved
him; but does it matter, love of him or hatred? He always roused in
me sensations and agitations which were enormous, fantastic; even the
unpleasant and hostile feelings which he aroused were of a kind not to
oppress, but rather to explode the soul: they made it more sensitive
and capacious. He was grand when, with his boots scraping over the
ground, as though he were imperiously smoothing its unevenness, he
suddenly appeared from somewhere, from behind a door or out of some
corner, and came towards you with the short, light, quick step of a
man accustomed to walk a great deal on the earth. With his thumbs in
his belt he would stop for a second, looking round quickly with a
comprehensive glance, a glance which at once took in anything new and
instantly absorbed the meaning of everything.

"How do you do?"

I always translated these words into: "How do you do? There's pleasure
for me, and for you there's not much sense in it--but still, how do you

He would come out looking rather small, and immediately everyone
round him would become smaller than he. A peasant's beard, rough but
extraordinary hands, simple clothes, all this external, comfortable
democratism deceived many people, and I often saw how Russians who
judge people by their clothes--an old slavish habit--began to pour out
a stream of their odious "frankness," which is more properly called
"the familiarity of the pig-sty."

"Ah, you are one of us! That's what you are. At last, by God's grace,
I am face to face with the greatest son of our native land. Hail for
ever. I bow low to you."

That is a sample of Muscovite Russian, simple and hearty, and here is
another, but "free-thinkerish":

"Leo Nicolayevitch, though I disagree with your religious-philosophical
views, I deeply respect in your person the greatest of artists."

And suddenly, under his peasant's beard, under his democratic crumpled
blouse, there would rise the old Russian _bariny_ the grand aristocrat:
then the noses of the simple-hearted visitor, educated and all the
rest, instantly became blue with intolerable cold. It was pleasant to
see this creature of the purest blood, to watch the noble grace of
his gestures, the proud reserve of his speech, to hear the exquisite
pointedness of his murderous words. He showed just as much of the
_barin_ as was needed for these serfs, and when they called out the
_barin_ in Tolstoi it appeared naturally and easily and crushed them so
that they shrivelled up and whined.

One day I was returning from Yasnaya Polyana to Moscow with one of
these "simple-hearted" Russians, a Moscow man, and for a long time
he could not recover his breath, but kept on smiling woefully and
repeating in astonishment: "Well, well, that was a cold bath. He's
severe ... pooh!"

And in the middle of it all he exclaimed, apparently with regret:
"And I thought he was really an anarchist. Everyone keeps on saying:
Anarchist, anarchist,' and I believe it...."

The man was a large, rich manufacturer, with a great belly, and a face
the colour of raw meat--why did he want Tolstoi to be an anarchist? One
of the "profound mysteries" of the Russian soul!

When Leo Nicolayevitch wished to please, he could do so more easily
than a clever and beautiful woman. Imagine a company of people of
all kinds sitting in his room: the Grand Duke Nicolay Mikhailovitch,
the house-painter Ilya, a social-democrat from Yalta, the stundist
Patzuk, a musician, a German, the manager of the estates of Countess
Kleinmichel, the poet Bulgakov, and all look at him with the same
enamoured eyes. He explains to them the teaching of Lao-Tse, and he
seems to me an extraordinary man-orchestra, possessing the faculty of
playing several instruments at the same time, a brass trumpet, a drum,
harmonium, and flute. I used to look at him just as the others did. And
now I long to see him once more--and I shall never see him again.

Journalists have come asserting that a telegram has been received
in Rome "denying the rumour of Tolstoi's death." They bustled and
chattered, redundantly expressing their sympathy with Russia. The
Russian newspapers leave no room for doubt.

To lie to him, even out of pity, was impossible; even when he was
seriously ill, one could not pity him. It would be banal to pity a man
like him. They ought to be taken care of, cherished, not loaded with
the wordy dust of worn-out, soulless words.

He used to ask: "You don't like me?" and one had to answer: "No, I

"You don't love me?"--"No, to-day I don't love you."

In his questions he was merciless, in his answers reserved, as becomes
a wise man.

He used to speak with amazing beauty of the past, and particularly of
Turgeniev; of Fet always with a good-natured smile and always something
amusing, of Nekrassov coldly and sceptically; but of all writers
exactly as if they were his children and he, the father, knew all their
faults, and--there you are!

He would point out their faults before their merits, and every time he
blamed someone it seemed to me that he was giving alms to his listeners
because of their poverty; to listen to him then made one feel awkward,
one's eyes fell before his sharp little smile and--nothing remained in
one's memory.

Once he argued fiercely that G. Y. Uspensky wrote in the Tula language,
and had no talent at all. And later I heard him say to Anton Pavlovitch
Tchekhov: "He (Uspensky) is a writer! In the power of his sincerity he
recalls Dostoevsky, only Dostoevsky went in for politics and coquetted,
while Uspensky is more simple and sincere. If he had believed in God,
he would have been a sectarian."

"But you said he was a Tula writer and had no talent."

He drew his shaggy brows down over his eyes and said: "He wrote badly.
What kind of language does he use? There are more punctuation marks
than words. Talent is love. One who loves is talented. Look at lovers,
they are all talented."

Of Dostoevsky he spoke reluctantly, constrainedly, evading or
repressing something: "He ought to have made himself acquainted with
the teaching of Confucius or the Buddhists; that would have calmed
him down. That is the chief thing which everyone should know. He was
a man of rebellious flesh; when angry, bumps would suddenly rise on
his bald head; and his ears would move. He felt a great deal, but he
thought poorly; it is from the Fourierists, from Butashevitch and the
others, that he learnt to think. And afterwards all his life long he
hated them. There was something Jewish in his blood. He was suspicious
without reason, ambitious, heavy and unfortunate. It is curious that he
is so much read. I can't understand why. It is all painful and useless,
because all those Idiots, Adolescents, Raskolnikovs, and the rest of
them, they are not real; it is all much simpler, more understandable.
It's a pity people don't read Lieskov, he's a real writer--have you
read him?"

"Yes, I like him very much, especially his language."

"He knew the language marvellously, even the tricks. Strange that you
should like him; somehow you are not Russian, your thoughts are not
Russian -is it all right, you're not hurt at my saying that r I am an
old man, and, perhaps, I can no longer understand modern literature,
but it seems to me that it is all not Russian. They begin to write a
curious kind of verse; I don't know what these poems are or what they
mean. One has to learn to write poetry from Poushkin, Tiutchev, Fet.
Now you"--he turned to Tchekhov--"you are Russian. Yes, very, very

And smiling affectionately, he put his hand on Tchekhov's shoulder;
and the latter became uncomfortable and began in a low voice to mutter
something about his bungalow and the Tartars.

He loved Tchekhov, and, when he looked at him, his eyes were tender
and seemed almost to stroke Anton Pavlovitch's face. Once, when Anton
Pavlovitch was walking on the lawn with Alexandra Lvovna, Tolstoi, who
at the time was still ill and was sitting in a chair on the terrace,
seemed to stretch towards them, saying in a whisper: "Ah, what a
beautiful, magnificent man: modest and quiet like a girl! And he walks
like a girl. He's simply wonderful."

One evening, in the twilight, half closing his eyes and moving his
brows, he read a variant of the scene in _Father Sergius_, where the
woman goes to seduce the hermit: he read it through to the end, and
then, raising his head and shutting his eyes, he said distinctly: "The
old man wrote it well, well."

It came out with such amazing simplicity, his pleasure in its beauty
was so sincere, that I shall never forget the delight which it gave me
at the time, a delight which I could not--did not know how to express,
but which I could only suppress by a tremendous effort. My heart
stopped beating for a moment, and then everything around me seemed to
become fresh and revivified.

One must have heard him speak in order to understand the extraordinary,
indefinable beauty of his speech; it was, in a sense, incorrect,
abounding in repetitions of the same word, saturated with village
simplicity. The effect of his words did not come only from the
intonation and the expression of his face, but from the play and light
in his eyes, the most eloquent eyes I have ever seen. In his two eyes
Leo Nicolayevitch possessed a thousand eyes.

Once Suler, Sergey Lvovitch, Tchekhov, and someone else, were sitting
in the park and talking about women; he listened in silence for a long
time, and then suddenly said:

"And I will tell the truth about women, when I have one foot in the
grave--I shall tell it, jump into my coffin, pull the lid over me, and
say, 'Do what you like now.'" The look he gave us was so wild, so
terrifying that we all fell silent for a while.

He had in him, I think, the inquisitive, mischievous wildness of a
Vaska Buslayev, and also something of the stubbornness of soul of the
Protopop Avvakum, while above or at his side lay hidden the scepticism
of a Tchaadayev. The Avvakumian element harried and tormented with its
preachings the artist in him; the Novgorod wildness upset Shakespeare
and Dante, while the Tchaadayevian element scoffed at his soul's
amusements and, by the way, at its agonies. And the old Russian man in
him dealt a blow at science and the State, the Russian driven to the
passivity of anarchism by the barrenness of all his efforts to build up
a more human life.

Strange! This Buslayev characteristic in Tolstoi was perceived through
some mysterious intuition by Olaf Gulbranson, the caricaturist
of Simplicissimus: look closely at his drawing and you will see
how startlingly he has got the likeness of the real Tolstoi, what
intellectual daring there is in that face with its veiled and hidden
eyes, for which nothing is sacred and which believe "neither in a
sneeze, nor a dream, nor the cawing of a bird."

The old magician stands before me, alien to all, a solitary traveller
through all the deserts of thought in search of an all-embracing truth
which he has not found--I look at him and, although I feel sorrow
for the loss, I feel pride at having seen the man, and that pride
alleviates my pain and grief.

It was curious to see Leo Nicolayevitch among "Tolstoyans"; there
stands a noble belfry and its bell sounds untiringly over the whole
world, while round about run tiny, timorous dogs whining at the bell
and distrustfully looking askance at one another as though to say, "Who
howled best?" I always thought that these people infected the Yassnaya
Polyana house, as well as the great house of Countess Panin, with a
spirit of hypocrisy, cowardice, mercenary and self-seeking pettiness
and legacy-hunting. The "Tolstoyans" have something in common with
those friars who wander in all the dark corners of Russia, carrying
with them dogs' bones and passing them off as relics, selling "Egyptian
darkness" and the "little tears of Our Lady." One of these apostles, I
remember, at Yassnaya Polyana refused to eat eggs so as not to wrong
the hens, but at Tula railway-station he greedily devoured meat,
saying: "The old fellow does exaggerate."

Nearly all of them like to moan and kiss one another; they all have
boneless perspiring hands and lying eyes. At the same time they are
practical fellows and manage their earthly affairs cleverly.

Leo Nicolayevitch, of course, well understood the value of the
"Tolstoyans," and so did Sulerzhizky, whom Tolstoi loved tenderly and
whom he always spoke of with a kind of youthful ardour and fervour.
Once one of those "Tolstoyans" at Yassnaya Polyana explained eloquently
how happy his life had become and how pure his soul after he accepted
Tolstoy's teaching. Leo Nicolayevitch leant over and said to me in
a low voice: "He's lying all the time, the rogue, but he does it to
please me...."

Many tried to please him, but I did not observe that they did it
well or with any skill. He rarely spoke to me on his usual subjects
of universal forgiveness, loving one's neighbour, the Gospels, and
Buddhism, evidently because he realized at once that all that would not
"go down" with me. I greatly appreciated this.

When he liked he could be extraordinarily charming, sensitive, and
tactful; his talk was fascinatingly simple and elegant, but sometimes
it was painfully unpleasant to listen to him. I always disliked what
he said about women--it was unspeakably "vulgar," and there was in
his words something artificial, insincere, and at the same time very
personal. It seemed as if he had once been hurt, and could neither
forget nor forgive. The evening when I first got to know him, he
took me into his study--it was at Khamovniki in Moscow--and, making
me sit opposite to him, began to talk about _Varienka Oliessova_ and
of _Twenty-Six and One_. I was overwhelmed by his tone and lost my
head, he spoke so plainly and brutally, arguing that in a healthy
girl chastity is not natural. "If a girl who has turned fifteen is
healthy, she desires to be touched and embraced. Her mind is still
afraid of the unknown and of what she does not understand -that is what
they call chastity and purity. But her flesh is already aware that
the incomprehensible is right, lawful, and, in spite of the mind, it
demands fulfilment of the law. Now you describe Varienka Oliessova as
healthy, but her feelings are anaemic--that is not true to life."

Then he began to speak about the girl in _Twenty-six and One_, using a
stream of indecent words with a simplicity which seemed to me cynical
and even offended me. Later I came to see that he used unmentionable
words only because he found them more precise and pointed, but at the
time it was unpleasant to me to listen to him. I made no reply, and
suddenly he became attentive and kindly and began asking me about my
life, what I was studying, and what I read.

"I am told that you are very well read; is that true? Is Korolenko a

"I believe not; but I'm not sure."

"You don't know? Do you like his stories?"

"I do very much."

"It is the contrast. He is lyrical and you haven't got that. Have you
read Weltmann?"


"Isn't he a good writer, clever, exact, and with no exaggeration? He
is sometimes better than Gogol. He knew Balzac. And Gogol imitated

When I said that Gogol was probably influenced by Hoffmann, Stern,
and perhaps Dickens, he glanced at me and asked: "Have you read that
somewhere? No? It isn't true. Gogol hardly knew Dickens. But you must
clearly have read a great deal: now look here, it's dangerous. Kolzov
ruined himself by it."

When he accompanied me to the door, he embraced and kissed me and said:
"You are a real mouzhik. You will find it difficult to live among
writers, but never mind, don't be afraid, always say what you feel even
if it be rude--it doesn't matter. Sensible people will understand."

I had two impressions from this first meeting: I was glad and proud
to have seen Tolstoi, but his conversation reminded me a little of
an examination, and in a sense I did not see in him the author of
_Cossacks, Kholstomier, War and Peace_, but a _barin_ who, making
allowances for me, considered it necessary to speak to me in the common
language, the language of the street and market-place. That upset my
idea of him, an idea which was deeply rooted and had become dear to me.

It was at Yassnaya Polyana that I saw him again. It was an overcast,
autumn day with a drizzle of rain, and he put on a heavy overcoat
and high leather boots and took me for a walk in the birch wood. He
jumped the ditches and pools like a boy, shook the rain-drops off
the branches, and gave me a superb account of how Fet had explained
Schopenhauer to him in this wood. He stroked the damp, satin trunks of
the birches lovingly with his hand and said: "Lately I read a poem--

    The mushrooms are gone, but in the hollows
    Is the heavy smell of mushroom dampness....

Very good, very true."

Suddenly a hare got up under our feet. Leo Nicolayevitch started up
excited, his face lit up, and he whooped like a real old sportsman.
Then, looking at me with a curious little smile, he broke into a
sensible, human laugh. He was wonderfully charming at that moment.

Another time he was looking at a hawk in the park: it was hovering over
the cattle-shed, making wide circles suspended in the air, moving its
wings very slightly as if undecided whether or not the moment to strike
had come. Leo Nicolayevitch stood up shading his eyes with his hand and
murmured with excitement: "The rogue is going for our chickens. Now,
now ... it's coming ... O, he's afraid. The groom is there, isn't he?
I'll call the groom...."

And he shouted to the groom. When he shouted, the hawk was scared,
swept upwards, swung away, and disappeared. Leo Nicolayevitch sighed,
apparently reproaching himself, and said: "I should not have shouted;
he would have struck all the same...."

Once in telling him about Tiflis, I mentioned the name of V. V.
Flerovsky-Bervi. "Did you know him?" Leo Nicolayevitch asked with
interest: "Tell me, what is he like?"

I told him about Flerovsky: tall, long-bearded, thin, with very large
eyes; how he used to wear a long, sail-cloth blouse, and how, armed
with a bundle of rice, cooked in red wine, tied in his belt, and an
enormous linen umbrella, he wandered with me on the mountain paths
of Trans-Caucasia; how once on a narrow path we met a buffalo and
prudently retreated, threatening the brute with the open umbrella, and,
every time we stepped back, in danger of falling over the precipice.
Suddenly I noticed that there were tears in Tolstoi's eyes, and this
confused me and I stopped.

"Never mind," he said, "go on, go on. It's pleasure at hearing about a
good man. I imagined him just like that, unique. Of all the radicals he
is the most mature and clever; in his _Alphabet_ he proves conclusively
that all our civilization is barbarian, that culture is the work of the
peaceful and weak, not the strong, nations, and that the struggle for
existence is a lying invention by which it is sought to justify evil.
You, of course, don't agree with this? But Daudet agrees, you know, you
remember his Paul Astier?"

"But how would you reconcile Flerovsky's theory, say, with the part
played by the Normans in the history of Europe?"

"The Normans? That's another thing."

If he did not want to answer, he would always say "That's another

It always seemed to me--and I do not think I was mistaken--that Leo
Nicolayevitch was not very fond of talking about literature, but was
vitally interested in the personality of an author. The questions: "Do
you know him? What is he like? Where was he born?" I often heard in his
mouth. And nearly all his opinions would throw some curious light upon
a man.

Of V.K. he said thoughtfully: "He is not a Great Russian, and so he
must see our life better and more truly than we do." Of Anton Tchekhov,
whom he loved dearly: "His medicine gets in his way; if he were not
a doctor, he would be a still better writer." Of one of the younger
writers: "He pretends to be an Englishman, and in that character a
Moscow man has the least success." To me he once said: "You are an
inventor: all these Kuvaldas of yours are inventions." When I answered
that Kuvalda had been drawn from life, he said: "Tell me, where did you
see him?"

He laughed heartily at the scene in the court of the Kazan magistrate,
Konovalov, where I had first seen the man whom I described under the
name of Kuvalda. "Blue blood," he said, wiping the tears from his eyes,
"that's it--blue blood. But how splendid, how amusing. You tell it
better than you write it. Yes, you are an inventor, a romantic, you
must confess."

I said that probably all writers are to some extent inventors,
describing people as they would like to see them in life; I also said
that I liked active people who desire to resist the evil of life by
every means, even violence.

"And violence is the chief evil," he exclaimed, taking me by the arm.
"How will you get out of that contradiction, inventor? Now your _My
Travelling Companion_ isn't invented--it's good just because it isn't
invented. But when you think, you beget knights, all Amadises and

I remarked that as long as we live in the narrow sphere of our
anthropomorphous and unavoidable "travelling companions," we build
everything on quicksands and in a hostile medium.

He smiled and nudged me slightly with his elbow: "From that very, very
dangerous conclusions can be drawn. You are a questionable Socialist.
You are a romantic, and romantics must be monarchists--they always have

"And Hugo?"

"Hugo? That's another thing. I don't like him, a noisy man."

He often asked me what I was reading, and always reproached me if I had
chosen, in his opinion, a bad book.

"Gibbon is worse than Kostomarov; one ought to read Mommsen, he's very
tedious, but it's all so solid."

When he heard that the first book I ever read was _The Brothers
Semganno_, he even got angry:

"Now, you see--a stupid novel. That's what has spoilt you. The French
have three writers, Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert; and, well, perhaps
Maupassant, though Tchekhov is better than he. The Goncourts are mere
clowns, they only pretended to be serious. They had studied life from
books written by inventors like themselves, and they thought it a
serious business; but it was of no use to a soul."

I disagreed with this opinion, and it irritated Leo Nicolayevitch a
little; he could barely stand contradiction, and sometimes his opinions
were strange and capricious.

"There is no such thing as degeneration," he said once. "The Italian
Lombroso invented it, and after him comes the Jew Nordau, screaming
like a parrot. Italy is the land of charlatans and adventurers: only
Arentinos, Casanovas, Cagliostros, and the like are born there."

"And Garibaldi?"

"That's politics; that's another thing."

To a whole series of facts, taken from the life of the merchant-class
families in Russia, he answered: "But it's untrue; it's only written in
clever books."

I told him the actual history of three generations of a merchant family
which I had known, a history in which the law of degeneration had acted
with particular mercilessness. Then he began excitedly tugging at my
arm and encouraging me to write about it: "Now that's true. I know it;
there are two families like that in Tula. It ought to be written. A
long novel, written concisely, do you see? You must do it." His eyes

"But then there will be knights, Leo Nicolayevitch."

"Don't. This is really serious. The one who is going to be a monk and
pray for the whole family --it's wonderful. That's real: you sin and
I will go and expiate your sin by prayer. And the other, the weary
one, the money-loving founder of the family--that's true too. And he's
a drunken, profligate beast, and loves everyone, and suddenly commits
murder--ah, it's good. It should be written, among thieves and beggars
you must not look for heroes, you really mustn't. Heroes--that's a lie
and invention; there are simply people, people, and nothing else."

He often pointed out exaggerations in my stories, but once, speaking of
_Dead Souls_, he said, smiling good-naturedly:

"We are all of us terrible inventors. I myself, when I write, suddenly
feel pity for some character, and then I give him some good quality or
take a good quality away from someone else, so that in comparison with
the others he may not appear too black." And then in the stern tones of
an inexorable judge: "That's why I say that art is a lie, an arbitrary
sham, harmful for people. One writes not what real life is, but simply
what one thinks of life oneself. What good is that to anyone, how I see
that tower or sea or Tartar--what interest or use is there in it?"

[At times his thoughts and feelings seemed to me capriciously, even
deliberately, perverse, but what particularly struck and upset men
was just the stern directness of his thought, like Job, the fearless
questioner of the cruel God. He said:

"I was walking one day on the road to Kiev, about the end of May; the
earth was a paradise; everything rejoiced; the birds sang; the bees
hummed; the sunshine and everything seemed so happy, humane, splendid.
I was moved to tears; I felt myself a bee to whom are given the best
flowers, and I felt God close to my soul. And suddenly I saw by the
roadside a man and woman, pilgrims; they were lying together, both
grey, dirty, and old --they writhed like worms, made noises, murmured,
and the sun pitilessly lighted up their naked blue legs and wizened
bodies. It struck such a blow to my soul. Lord, thou creator of beauty,
how art thou not ashamed? I felt utterly wretched----

"Yes, you see what things happen. Nature--the devout considered her the
work of the devil--cruelly and mockingly torments man; she takes away
the power and leaves the desire. All men with a living soul experience
that. Only man is made to experience the whole shame and horror of that
torment, given to him in his flesh. We carry it in ourselves as an
inevitable punishment--a punishment for what sin?"

While he said this the look in his eyes changed strangely, now
childishly plaintive, now hard and stern and bright. His lips trembled,
his moustache bristled. When he had finished, he took a handkerchief
from the pocket of his blouse and wiped his face hard, though it was
dry. Then he smoothed his beard with the knotted fingers of his strong
peasant's hand, and repeated gently: "Yes, for what sin?"]

Once I was walking with him on the lower road from Dyulbev to Ai-Todor
On; he was walking with the light step of a young man, when he said to
me more nervously than was usual with him: "The flesh should be the
obedient dog of the spirit, running to do its bidding; but we--how do
we live? The flesh rages and riots, and the spirit follows it helpless
and miserable."

He rubbed his chest hard over the heart, raised his eyebrows, and then,
remembering something, went on: "One autumn in Moscow in an alley near
the Sukhariov Gate I once saw a drunken woman lying in the gutter. A
stream of filthy water flowed from the yard of a house right under
her neck and back. She lay in that cold liquid, muttering, shivering,
wriggling her body in the wet, but she could not get up."

He shuddered, half closed his eyes, shook his head, and went on gently:
"Let's sit down here.... It's the most horrible and disgusting thing, a
drunken woman. I wanted to help her get up, but I couldn't; I felt such
a loathing; she was so slippery and slimy--I felt that if I'd touched
her, I could not have washed my hand clean for a month --horrible. And
on the curb sat a bright, grey-eyed boy, the tears running down his
cheeks: he was sobbing and repeating wearily and helplessly: 'Mu-um ...
mu-um-my ... do get up.' She would move her arms, grunt, lift her head,
and again--bang went her neck into the filth."

He was silent, and then looking round, he repeated almost in a
whisper: "Yes, yes, horrible. You've seen many drunken women? Many--my
God! You, you must not write about that, you mustn't."


He looked straight into my eyes and smiling repeated: "Why?" Then
thoughtfully and slowly he said: "I don't know. It just slipped out ...
it's a shame to write about filth. But yet why not write about it? Yes,
it's necessary to write all about everything, everything."

Tears came into his eyes. He wiped them away, and, smiling, he looked
at his handkerchief, while the tears again ran down his wrinkles. "I
am crying," he said. "I am an old man. It cuts me to the heart when I
remember something horrible."

And very gently touching me with his elbow, he said: "You, too--you
will have lived your life, and everything will remain exactly as it
was, and then you, too, will cry worse than I, more streamingly,'
as the peasant women say. And everything must be written about,
everything; otherwise that bright little boy might be hurt, he might
reproach us--'it's untrue, it's not the whole truth,' he will say. He's
strict for the truth."

Suddenly he gave himself a shake and said in a kind voice: "Now, tell
me a story; you tell them well. Something about a child, about your
childhood. It's not easy to believe that you were once a child. You are
a strange creature, exactly as if you were born grown-up. In your ideas
there is a good deal of the child-like and the immature, but you know
more than enough of life--and one cannot ask for more. Well, tell me a

He lay down comfortably upon the bare roots of a pine tree and watched
the ants moving busily among the grey spines.

In the South, which, with its self-asserting luxuriance and flaunting,
unbridled vegetation, seems so strangely incongruous to a man from the
North, he, Leo Tolstoi--even his name speaks of his inner power--seemed
a small man, but knitted and knotted out of very strong roots deep in
the earth --in the flaunting scenery of the Crimea, I say, he was at
once both out of place and in his place. He seemed a very ancient man,
master of all his surroundings--a master-builder who, after centuries
of absence, has arrived in the mansion built by him. He has forgotten a
great deal which it contains; much is new to him; everything is as it
should be, and yet not entirely so, and he has at once to find out what
is amiss and why it is amiss.

He walked the roads and paths with a businesslike, quick step of the
skilled explorer of the earth, and with sharp eyes, from which neither
a single pebble nor a single thought could hide itself, he looked,
measured, tested, compared. And he scattered about him the living seeds
of indomitable thoughts. He said to Suler once: "You, Liovushka, read
nothing which is not good out of self-conceit, while Gorky reads a lot
which is not good, because he distrusts himself. I write much which is
not good, because of an old man's ambition, a desire that all should
think as I do. Of course, I think it is good, and Gorky thinks it is
not good, and you think nothing at all; you simply blink and watch what
you may clutch. One day you will clutch something which does not belong
to you--it has happened to you before. You will put your claws into
it, hold on for a bit, and when it begins to get loose, you won't try
to stop it. Tchekhov has a superb story, _The Darling_--you are rather
like her."

"In what?" asked Suler, laughing.

"You can love well, but to choose--no, you can't, and you will waste
yourself on trifles."

"Is everyone like that?"

"Everyone?" Leo Nicolayevitch repeated.

"No, not everyone."

And suddenly he asked me, exactly as if he were dealing me a blow: "Why
don't you believe in God?"

"I have no faith, Leo Nicolayevitch."

"It is not true. By nature you are a believer, and you cannot get on
without God. You will realize it one day. Your disbelief comes from
obstinacy, because you have been hurt: the world is not what you would
like it to be. There are also some people who do not believe out of
shyness; it happens with young people; they adore some woman, but don't
want to show it from fear that she won't understand, and also from lack
of courage. Faith, like love, requires courage and daring. One has to
say to oneself 'I believe,' and everything will come right, everything
will appear as you want it, it will explain itself to you and attract
you. Now, you love much, and faith is only a greater love: you must
love still more, and then your love will turn to faith. When one loves
a woman, she is, unfailingly, the best woman on earth, and each loves
the best woman, and that is faith. A nonbeliever cannot love: to-day he
falls in love with one woman, and next year with another. The souls of
such men are tramps living barren lives--that is not good. But you were
born a believer, and it is no use thwarting yourself. Well, you may say
beauty? And what is beauty? The highest and most perfect is God."

He hardly ever spoke to me on this subject, and its seriousness and the
suddenness of it rather overwhelmed me. I was silent.

He was sitting on the couch with his legs drawn up under him, and
breaking into a triumphant little smile and shaking his finger at me,
he said: "You won't get out of this by silence, no."

And I, who do not believe in God, looked at him for some reason very
cautiously and a little timidly, I looked and thought: "The man is

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