Maxim Gorky: Reminiscences of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

These fragmentary notes were written by me during the period when I lived in Lieise and Lev Nikolayevich at Gaspra, in the Crimea. They cover the period of Tolstoy'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....I include here an unfinished letter written by me under the influence of the 'going away' of Lev Nikolayevich from Yasnaya 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.


I
The thought which beyond others most often and conspicuously gnaws at him is the thought of God. At moments it seems, indeed, not to be a thought of God. 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 Lev Tolstoy, it is humiliating to have to submit one's will to a Streptococcus. If he were a scientist, he would certainly evolve the most ingenious hypotheses, make great discoveries.

II

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.

III

He treats Sulerzhizky with the tenderness of a woman. For Chekhov 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 of, 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. Whet will he do tomorrow? 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 so that he seems to sweat sparks like over-heated iron.

IV

Goldenweiser played Chopin, which called forth these remarks from Lev Nikolayevich: '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, will not reconcile themselves to Mendelssohn in church. A Tula priest assured me that Christ was not a Jew, though the son of the Jewish God and his mother a Jewess--he did admit that, but says he: `It's impossible.' I asked him: `But how then....!' He shrugged his shoulders ;and said: `That's just the mystery!''

V

I remember his saying to me: 'An intellectual is like the old Galician prince Vladimirko who, as far back as the twelfth century boldly declared: `There are no miracles in our time.' Six hundred years have passed and all the intellectuals hammer away at each other: `There are no miracles, there are no miracles.' And all the people believe in miracles just as they did in the twelfth century.'

VI

'The minority feel the need of God because they have got everything else, the majority because they have nothing.' That was how Tolstoy put it; I would put it differently: The majority believe in God from cowardice, only the few believe in him from fullness of soul.

VII

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

VIII

Today the Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich was at Tolstoy's, evidently a very clever man. His behavior is very modest, he talks little. He has sympathetic eyes and a fine figure, quiet gestures. Lev Nikolayevich 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.' Some one mentioned Zabielin. Tolstoy's comment was: 'He's nice. An amateur collector; he collects everything whether it is useful or not. He describes food as if hehad never had a square meal; but he is very, very amusing.' ...

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