A.B. Goldenweizer Spends A Day With Tolstoi

from the diaries of the musician Goldenweizer, published in Russian as Near Tolstoy (1922)

June 20th. 
Some time ago, in May, Tolstoi said:

“Religions are usually based on one of these three principles: on sentiment, reason, or illusion.  Stoicism is an example of the religion of reason; Mormonism of illusion; Muhammadanism of sentiment. I have lately received many letters from Muhammadans. I had a letter from Cairo from a representative of the Baptist sect, it is an example of the religion of sentiment. I also had a letter from India, written by a wonderful and very religious man. He writes that true Muhammadanism is a perfectly different thing from what people usually think it to be. Indeed, I know some very religious Moslems. And how movingly simple and lofty is their worship!”



To-day at sunset we walked in the garden. We talked of Gorky and his feeble “Man.” Tolstoi was saying that to-day on his walk he met on the road (he likes to go out on to the road, and sit down on a little stone, a milestone, and to observe or to speak to the passers-by) a man who turned out to be a rather well-educated working-man.

Tolstoi said:

“His outlook on the world agrees perfectly with Gorky’s so-called Nietzcheism and the cult of the personality. It is evidently the spirit of the time. Nietzche did not say anything new—his is now a very popular world-conception.”

Then Tolstoi said:

“When I was a Justice of the Peace, there lived in Krapivna a merchant called Gurev, who used to say about young people of education: ‘Well, I look at your students—they are all scholars, they know everything, only they have no invention.’ Turgenev, I remember, liked this expression very much.’”



Recently a party of gypsies camped on the road near Yasnaya Polyana.  Gypsies often roam about Yasnaya Polyana.  The party usually stay for two or three days, and in the evenings the Yasnaya Polyana household comes out to hear the gypsy songs and enjoy their dances.

Tolstoi, looking at the gypsies, became a changed man, and involuntarily began to dance to their tunes, and to cry out again and again approvingly.

“What a wonderful people!”

The old gypsies all know Tolstoi and always enter into conversation with him.  Tolstoi from his youngest days loved and knew the gypsies and their peculiar life.

When we left the house, it was drizzling. Soon the rain got worse, and we returned.

Andrey Lvovich said:

“Now we have come to the house, the rain will stop.”

And, indeed, on our way home the rain stopped, and we went back to the gypsies.

Tolstoi said:

“Yes, it is always like that: as soon as you turn to go home the rain stops. Something like this happens in Moscow too. When you have to find some one in a large building and ring for the porter, he is never there.  But no sooner do you go into the yard to make water than the porter is sure to catch you. So I advise you that if you have to find someone, don’t ring for the porter, but do the second thing first.”



When Andrey Lvovich was made an aide-de-camp, Tolstoi said to him:

“My only comfort is that you are sure not to kill a single Japanese. An aide-de-camp is always exposed to great danger, put seldom takes part in the fighting. I spent a great deal of time on the fourth bastion at Sevastapol when I was in the army on the Danube. I was aide-de-camp, and I believe I had not to fire even once. I remember once on the Danube, near Silistria, we were on our side of the river, but there was also a battery on the other side, and I was sent across with some order.  The commander of the battery, Schube, on seeing me, thought: ‘Well, there’s that little Count, I’ll give him a lesson!’ And he took me across the while line under fire, and with deadly slowness on purpose. I passed that test well outwardly, but my feelings were not pleasant. I also remember how one of the highest officers—Kotsebu—visited the bastion in Sevastapol, and someone, I think it was Navosilzev, wanted to put him to the test, and began saying perpetually: ‘Look, Your Excellency, just there at their line,’ forcing him to put his head out from behind the fortifications. He put his head out once or twice, and then, realizing what was up, he, as the superior officer, began in his turn to order the other man to look at the firing, and, after teasing him for some time, he said: ‘Next time I advise you not to doubt the courage of your superiors.’”

Tolstoi recalled Lichtenberg’s aphorism to the effect that mankind will finally perish when not a single savage is left.

Tolstoi added:

“I first turned to the Japanese, but they have already successfully adopted all the bad sides of our culture. The Kaffirs are the only hope remaining.”

Tolstoi said:

“I do not remember during any previous war such depression and anxiety as are now in Russia.  I think it is a good sign, a proof that a realization of the evil and uselessness and absurdity of war is permeating deeper and deeper the social consciousness; so that perhaps the time is coming when wars will be impossible—nobody will want to go to war. Now Lisanka, who always sees the good in things, was telling me about a peasant—a porter, I think—who was called up and, before going to the front, took off his cross. That is a truly Christian spirit! Although he is not able to resist the general will and has to yield to it, yet he clearly realizes that it is not God’s doing.”

Tolstoi described with horror how a priest marched with his cross in his hand in front of the soldiers.

Translated by S.S. Koteliansky and Virginia Woolf




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