A photograph of Tolstoy and Gorky together taken in 1900 at Yasnaya Polyana, the estate which Tolstoy inherited and which he often referred to with the ruthless isolationism of a writer determined to avoid distraction as his “inaccessible literary stronghold.” It is here that Tolstoy was born. It is here that Tolstoy wrote his books. And it is here that Tolstoy now lies buried. Note the great Russian novelist’s peasant attire. Although the scion of an aristocratic family from which he received a fittingly aristocratic title, Tolstoy, transformed by his observations of the wretchedness of the poor, decided to don the costume in which he is pictured above, renounce some of the comforts afforded by privilege, and apply himself to practising the Christian virtue of caritas. At the break of dawn the Count could frequently be seen outside hoeing the fields beside his serfs.
(All of the remarks about Tolstoy that follow are Gorky’s; I have added only the descriptive summaries which precede each paragraph.)
HIS ESSENTIALLY STRANGE NATURE
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 gray, 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.
HIS SILENCE AND THE SINISTER DEPTHS IT CONCEALED
I am deeply convinced that beyond all 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 notebooks 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.
HIS FATAL CLAIRVOYANCE AND THE VITALITY AT ITS SOURCE
I remember his keen eyes—they saw everything through and through—and the movements of his fingers, as though they were perpetually modeling something out of the air, his talk, his jokes, his favorite 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.
HIS MARVELOUS MANNER OF COMMUNICATING
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 Nikolaevich possessed a thousand eyes.
HIS INTENSITY, HIS ACUITY
He walked the roads and paths with the business-like, 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.
HIS LONELY SUPERIORITY AND HIS OBSESSION WITH DEATH
I have 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 midgets 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.
THE ANNIHILATIVE POWER OF HIS MERE PRESENCE
One never tires of speculating about him, but it is trying to meet him often. Personally I should find it impossible to live in the same house with him, not to mention in the same room. His surroundings become like a desert where everything is scorched by the sun and the sun itself is smoldering away, threatening a black and eternal night.
—Personally selected from Gorky’s Recollections