Leo Tolstoy Archive

Tolstoy Is Dead; Long Fight Over
by New York Times

Written: 1910
Source: Text from WikiSource.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: WikiSource.org

Leo Tolstoy

ASTAPOVA, Sunday, Nov. 20.--Count Tolstoy died at 6:05 this morning.

The Countess Tolstoy was admitted to the sickroom at 5:50. Tolstoy did not recognize her.

The family assembled in an adjoining room, awaiting the final event.

Tolstoy has suffered several severe attacks of heart failure during the night. During the early morning hours they followed each other in rapid succession, but were quickly relieved. Between the first and second attack the members of the family were admitted to the bedside.

The novelist's condition after each attack was what the attending physicians called "deceptively encouraging." The patient slept for a little, seeming to breathe more comfortably than usual. Drs. Thechurovsky and Usoff, nevertheless, in a statement to Tolstoy's son Michel, held out but slight hope, and did not hesitate to predict a quick end under ordinary mortal circumstances. Tolstoy, they said, was a splendid patient in mind and body, except for his heart.

When one of the heart attacks seized him Tolstoy was alone with his eldest daughter, Tatina. He suddenly clutched her hand and drew her to him. He seemed to be choking, but was able to whisper:

"Now the end has come; that is all."

Tatina was greatly frightened and tried to free herself so she might run for the doctor, but her father would not release his grasp. She called loudly from where she sat. The physicians came and injected camphor, which had an almost immediate effect in relieving the pressure. Tolstoy soon raised his head and drew himself up to a sitting position. When he had recovered his breath he said:

"There are millions of people and many sufferers in the world. Why are you so anxious about me?"

Several important communications, including that from Antonius, the Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, had not been shown to Tolstoy. The condition of the Count had been all along considered too grave to permit of his being agitated by written appeals to him to make his peace with the Church.

ST. PETERSBURG, Nov. 19.--The Cabinet last night discussed Tolstoy and his relations with the Greek Catholic Church. According to the newspapers, all of those present, including the Procurator of the Holy Synod, were in favor of removing the ban of excommunication as necessary and timely. The Synod, however, has rejected the proposal, as there is no indication of a change in Tolstoy's attitude, nor is it known that he desires to be restored to the faith.

Only two Clericals of the Holy Synod favored the proposal. The majority decided that every effort to influence the novelist to modify his position should be made. The presence at Astapova of Count Tchertkoff is believed to be a stumbling block in the way of the Count's return to the Church.

Premier Stolypin, personally, is decidedly in favor of raising the ban, and discussed the possibility of such action with a friend of Tolstoy a year ago.

Leo Tolstoy's Career - A Novelist Who Gradually Became a Mystic--Was Active to the Last[edit]

Leo Tolstoy had long been prepared for, had even looked forward to, his end. Two and a half years ago, when his admirers in St. Petersburg organized a committee to arrange a fit celebration of his eightieth birthday, he wrote to the secretary of the committee begging that the preparations be stopped. He spoke of his approaching death, and referred to the animosity that had been aroused in Russia on account of the proposed celebration. He could not bear, he said, to be the cause of still more hatred and rancor in the world. The committee could naturally do nothing but respect Tolstoy's desire and dissolve.

An anecdote told at about that time showed how the final physical change in this strange genius, who had been changing and developing all his life, had even then come to pass. A few years previously Tolstoy had written a play called "The Corpse"--a very powerful play, that has, owing to personal reasons, never been published. Some one mentioned it to him. He had absolutely forgotten it. Details of it were repeated to him. He shook his head; he recalled nothing of it.

Students of mysticism, students of the lives of the mystics will not find it hard to explain such a circumstance as this. The story of the life of Leo Tolstoy has yet to be written, if it ever can be written; but in its essentials it is the story of other great men who, through an inner awakening, have turned from the world to find their salvation in the life of the spirit.

With this difference: in Tolstoy's case the process, which with Loyola, St. Augustine, Mahomet, and many other prophets and saints was sudden and complete, was extended over many years, and in those years Tolstoy produced the works of genius which caused him, during the last two decades, to be regarded as the most famous writer of the Occidental world. He had begun to write, had written more than one masterpiece (books which he loathed afterwards) before the process began. He wrote one masterpiece after he had become quite a mystic, but by far the greater part of his literary work was accomplished in the course of the period of transition.

These books are already regarded as among the world's classics. The work done by Tolstoy during his last years is not quite so well known, but some of his admirers declare that in the end it will be these latter writings which will be regarded as his greatest productions. If this be the case there will be a curious similarity between his career and that of John Ruskin. During Ruskin's life his early books on art were admired, his later works on political economy laughed at. Now people are neglecting his art criticism and reading his philosophy.

Count Leo Nikolavitch Tolstoy was born on the ancestral estate of his family, Yasnaya Polyana, in the governmental district of Tula, Central Russia, 150 miles south of Moscow, on Aug. 28, 1828, according to the Russian calendar and Sept.10, according to the Gregorian calendar. His father was Count Nikolai Ilyvitch Tolstoy, who was the companion and friend of Czar Peter the Great. Tolstoy is said to have sketched his father's protrait in the character of Peter Rostoff in "War and Peace."

As a youth Tolstoy entered the University of Kazan, but before the close of his second year of study he left the university to take charge of his ancestral estates, to which he had succeeded by the death of his parents. In his retirement Tolstoy began a course in private reading. In 1851 he went with a brother on a visit to the Caucasus. The rugged wildness of the country impressed him profoundly, and the study of its influence on the life and character of the people had a great effect on his later philosophy.

Tolstoy had entered the Russian Army in the same year, and was appointed a subaltern of artillery. He was assigned to the fortress of Kovno, the capital city of the province of the same name, which lies to the south of the Baltic provinces. Here with merely perfunctory duties to perform in his military capacity, he began his long career as a novelist. He published in rapid succession his "Childhood and Youth," "An Attack," and "The Cossacks."

When the Crimean War began Tolstoy was anxious to see active service. He sought and obtained a transfer to the staff of his relative Prince Gortachakoff. When aid was being rushed to the garrison at Sevatopol, Tolstoy went forward at a head of a battery and took an active part in the seige, distinguishing himself by personal acts of bravery. He was wounded in one of the skirmishes. He had first-hand experience with war which was most valuable to him in his later work as a novelist.

At the close of the war Tolstoy resigned his commission and went to St. Petersburg. Here he had a most flattering reception as a nobleman, a returning hero, and a literateur. But he soon became utterly disgusted with his life there. He described himself afterwards in a passion of remorse as having been an adulterer, a liar, and a robber. He signalized his return to his estate, Yasnaya Polyana, by freeing his serfs, by dressing himself in peasant costume, and by preaching the gospel of waht is now known as the simple life. From time to time he left hie estate to make extensive tours in Germany and Italy.

While returning from one of these trips in 1862 Tolstoy met and wooed his wife Sophia Behrs, the daughter of his friend Dr. Behrs. At the time he met he she was a young girl. He was already by his own account, a jaded man of the world. His strange religious ideas were just beginning to find expression. He knew the women of the Russian aristocracy well and had decided he said, that there were no good women in the world and that he would never marry. So in his customary erratic way, he sold the lovely old mansion which had come to him through his grandfather, one of Catherine the Great's famous Generals. Then he met the woman with whom he fell in love, and she changed the whole world for him. They were married soon afterwards and the Countess began her life of constant self-sacrifice by going to a little hut on the Polyana estate--all that was left after the sale of the mansion. There she lived for many years in a lonely, deserted place, many miles from any town. Tolstoy spent his time going up and down the Russian Empire, studying social conditions, being absent from home a great deal of the time. The Countess attended to her housework. The couple were too poor to have any servants; she nursed each one of her thirteen children, she dispensed with governesses and taught the children English, French, and German, gave them music lessons, made their clothes and her own. Then, as soon as her husband commenced a book, she began revising it, translating it from Russian into French or German, copying it in here clear handwriting, so that the printers could read it, and attending to the publication of the book when it was completed.

With her help and constant inspiration Tolstoy wrote his great novels. He was appointed a magistrate of his district and devoted much time to the education of the peasantry and to the elaboration of plans for their material improvement. Although he had not yet come to the full acceptance of the theories in regard to socioligal subjects which he later advanced, he realized the necessity of living the life of the people if he hoped to benefit them, and accordingly, even with his increased means, the house, in which he wrote text books for the poor of the country and instructed classes of the peasantry of the neighborhood, was furnished with the rudest of chairs and tables, and the mode of life in his household was monastic in its simplicity. He professed himself a disciple of the political and economic doctrines of Henry George and declared that George and William Lloyd Garrison were the two greatest Americans. The salvation of Russia, he declared, depended on the peasant ownership of land,and the introduction of the single tax system of Henry George.

During this time Tolstoy wrote "Youth," "Two Hussars," "Albert," "Three Deaths," and "Family Happiness." His output then ceased for a time. His next work issued in 1867, "War and Peace" won him his great reputation as a novelist. The work deals with Russia's great struggle against Napolean Bonaparte.

Eight years later Tolstoy produced his even more celebrated "Anna Karenina," a study of one side of the marriage question, worked out in the novel to a conclusion of terrible tragedy. This work provoked discussion throughout the whole civilized world, and provoked Matthew Arnold to say : "This is less a work of art than a piece of life. But what it loses in art it gains in reality."

About the time of the publication of "[Anna Karenina]]," Tolstoy who had formerly been an infidel, accepted the doctrines of Jesus in a very literal way, although he declined to profess a belief in His divinity. He took as his text and precept the Sermon on the Mount, and added to his work as teacher and physician, friend and adviser, of his poor neighbors, that of a cobbler and farm laborer. He made over his property in its entirety to the members of his family, and refused to touch the royalties from his works. He permitted his children however, to follow their own modes of life, without respect to his own ideas.

Tolstoy's "The Kreutzer Sonata," a surprisingly frank short novel dealing with the marital relation was published in 1890. It caused much censure from the pulpits of various countries and was severely criticized in some of the papers in England and in the United States. In Germany the circulation of "The Kreutzer Sonata" was forbidden by Governmental authority.

In 1892, when a particularly severe famine prevailed in Russia, Tolstoy established a number of relief stations in Tula and Samara and published his volume "The Famine." In the course of the next two years he produced "The Kingdom of God Within Us," "Christ's Christianity," "My Religion," and "Patriotism and Christianity."

Early in 1900 Tolstoy published "Resurrection," a novel embodying the results of years of thought. The immediate object of its publication was to aid the Doukhobors, who were persecuted in Russia because of their religious beliefs and practices, with which Tolstoy sympathized. He devoted the funds he derived from the work to financing the emigration of the members of the sect to land which had been promised to them by the Dominion of Canada.

The publication of "Resurrection," led to Tolstoy's excommunication by the Holy Synod, which had previously manifested its dipleasure at his open disbelief in its dogmas. Tolstoy replied to his excommunication by addressing an open letter to the Czar, in which he denounced both the State Church and governmental despotism in Russia.

Despite his advanced years, Tolstoy kept busily at his work, writing and living a hard outdoor life. His home was a mecca for pilgrims from all over the world, including a large number of Americans.