Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Ch. 10: Turgenieff

I DO not mean to recount all the misunderstandings which existed between my father and Turgenieff, which ended in a complete breach between them in 1861. The actual external facts of that story are common property, and there is no need to repeat them.[17] According to general opinion, the quarrel between the two greatest writers of the day arose out of their literary rivalry.

It is my intention to show cause against this generally received opinion, and before I come to Turgenieff's visits to Yasnaya Polyana, I want to make as clear as I can the real reason of the perpetual discords between these two good-hearted people, who had a cordial affection for each other—discords which led in the end to an out-and-out quarrel and the exchange of mutual defiance.

As far as I know, my father never had any serious difference with any other human being during the whole course of his existence. And Turgenieff, in a letter to my father in 1865, wrote, "You are the only man with whom I have ever had misunderstandings."

Whenever my father related his quarrel with Ivan Sergeyevitch, he took all the blame on himself. Turgenieff, immediately after the quarrel, wrote a letter apologizing to my father, and never sought to justify his own part in it.

Why was it that, as Turgenieff himself put it, his "constellation" and my father's "moved in the ether with unquestioned enmity"?

This is what my sister Tatyana wrote on the subject in her article "Turgenieff," published in the supplement to the "Novoye Vremya," February 2, 1908:

All question of literary rivalry, it seems to me, is utterly beside the mark. Turgenieff, from the very outset of my father's literary career, acknowledged his enormous talents, and never thought of rivalry with him. From the moment when, as early as 1854, he wrote to Kolbasina, "If Heaven only grant Tolstoy life, I confidently hope that he will surprise us all," he never ceased to follow my father's work with interest, and always expressed his unbounded admiration of it.

"When this young wine has done fermenting," he wrote to Druzhenin in 1856, "the result will be a liquor worthy of the gods." In 1857 he wrote to Polonsky, "This man will go far, and leave deep traces behind him."

Nevertheless, somehow these two men never could "hit it off" together. When one reads Turgenieff's letters to my father, one sees that from the very beginning of their acquaintance misunderstandings were always arising, which they perpetually endeavored to smooth down or to forget, but which arose again after a time, sometimes in another form, necessitating new explanations and reconciliations.

In 1856 Turgenieff wrote to my father:

Your letter took some time reaching me, dear Lyoff Nikolaievich. Let me begin by saying that I am very grateful to you for sending it to me. I shall never cease to love you and to value your friendship, although, probably through my fault, each of us will long feel considerable awkwardness in the presence of the other.... I think that you yourself understand the reason of this awkwardness of which I speak. You are the only man with whom I have ever had misunderstandings.

This arises from the very fact that I have never been willing to confine myself to merely friendly relations with you. I have always wanted to go further and deeper than that; but I set about it clumsily. I irritated and upset you, and when I saw my mistake, I drew back too hastily, perhaps; and it was this which caused this "gulf" between us.

But this awkwardness is a mere physical impression, nothing more; and if when we meet again, you see the old "mischievous look in my eyes," believe me, the reason of it will not be that I am a bad man. I assure you that there is no need to look for any other explanation. Perhaps I may add, also, that I am much older than you, and I have traveled a different road.... Outside of our special, so-called "literary" interests, I am convinced, we have few points of contact. Your whole being stretches out hands toward the future; mine is built up in the past. For me to follow you is impossible. For you to follow me is equally out of the question. You are too far removed from me, and besides, you stand too firmly on your own legs to become any one's disciple. I can assure you that I never attributed any malice to you, never suspected you of any literary envy. I have often thought, if you will excuse the expression, that you were wanting in common sense, but never in goodness. You are too penetrating not to know that if either of us has cause to envy the other, it is certainly not you that has cause to envy me.

The following year he wrote a letter to my father which, it seems to me, is a key to the understanding of Turgenieff's attitude toward him:

You write that you are very glad you did not follow my advice and become a pure man of letters. I don't deny it; perhaps you are right. Still, batter my poor brains as I may, I cannot imagine what else you are if you are not a man of letters. A soldier? A squire? A philosopher? The founder of a new religious doctrine? A civil servant? A man of business?... Please resolve my difficulties, and tell me which of these suppositions is correct. I am joking, but I really do wish beyond all things to see you under way at last, with all sails set.

It seems to me that Turgenieff, as an artist, saw nothing in my father beyond his great literary talent, and was unwilling to allow him the right to be anything besides an artist and a writer. Any other line of activity on my father's part offended Turgenieff, as it were, and he was angry with my father because he did not follow his advice. He was much older than my father,[18] he did not hesitate to rank his own talent lower than my father's, and demanded only one thing of him, that he should devote all the energies of his life to his literary work. And, lo and behold! my father would have nothing to do with his magnanimity and humility, would not listen to his advice, but insisted on going the road which his own tastes and nature pointed out to him. Turgenieff's tastes and character were diametrically opposed to my father's. While opposition always inspired my father and lent him strength, it had just the opposite effect on Turgenieff.

Being wholly in agreement with my sister's views, I will merely supplement them with the words uttered by his brother, Nikolai Nikolayevitch, who said that "Turgenieff cannot reconcile himself to the idea that Lyovotchka is growing up and freeing himself from his tutelage."

As a matter of fact, when Turgenieff was already a famous writer, no one had ever heard of Tolstoy, and, as Fet expressed it, there was only "something said about his stories from 'Childhood.'"

I can imagine with what secret veneration a young writer, just beginning, must have regarded Turgenieff at that time, and all the more because Ivan Sergeyevitch was a great friend of my father's elder and beloved brother Nikolai.

I do not like to assert it positively, but it seems to me that just as Turgenieff was unwilling to confine himself to "merely friendly relations," so my father also felt too warmly toward Ivan Sergeyevitch, and that was the very reason why they could never meet without disagreeing and quarreling. In confirmation of what I say here is a passage from a letter written by V. Botkin, a close friend of my father's and of Ivan Sergeyevitch's, to A. A. Fet, written immediately after their quarrel:

I think that Tolstoy really has a passionately affectionate nature and he would like to love Turgenieff in the warmest way possible; but unfortunately his impulsive feeling encounters nothing but a kindly, good-natured indifference, and he can by no means reconcile himself to that.

Turgenieff himself said that when they first came to know each other my father dogged his heels "like a woman in love," and at one time he used to avoid him, because he was afraid of his spirit of opposition.

My father was perhaps irritated by the slightly patronizing tone which Turgenieff adopted from the very outset of their acquaintance; and Turgenieff was irritated by my father's "crankiness," which distracted him from "his proper metier, literature."

In 1870, before the date of the quarrel, Turgenieff wrote to Fet:

"Lyoff Tolstoy continues to play the crank. It was evidently written in his stars. When will he turn his last somersault and stand on his feet at last?"

Turgenieff was just the same about my father's "Confession," which he read not long before his death. Having promised to read it, "to try to understand it," and "not to lose my temper," he "started to write a long letter in answer to the 'Confession,' but never finished it... for fear of becoming disputatious."

In a letter to D. V. Grigorevitch he called the book, which was based, in his opinion, on false premises, "a denial of all live human life" and "a new sort of Nihilism."

It is evident that even then Turgenieff did not understand what a mastery my father's new philosophy of life had obtained over him, and he was inclined to attribute his enthusiasm along with the rest to the same perpetual "crankinesses" and "somersaults" to which he had formerly attributed his interest in school-teaching, agriculture, the publication of a paper, and so forth.

IVAN SERGEYEVITCH three times visited Yasnaya Polyana within my memory, in: August and September, 1878, and the third and last time at the beginning of May, 1880. I can remember all these visits, although it is quite possible that some details have escaped me.

I remember that when we expected Turgenieff on his first visit, it was a great occasion, and the most anxious and excited of all the household about it was my mother. She told us that my father had quarreled with Turgenieff and had once challenged him to a duel, and that he was now coming at my father's invitation to effect a reconciliation.

Turgenieff spent all the time sitting with my father, who during his visit put aside even his work, and once in the middle of the day my mother collected us all at a quite unusual hour in the drawing-room, where Ivan Sergeyevitch read us his story of "The Dog."

I can remember his tall, stalwart figure, his gray, silky, yellowish hair, his soft tread, rather waddling walk, and his piping voice, quite out of keeping with his majestic exterior. He had a chuckling kind of laugh, like a child's, and when he laughed his voice was more piping than ever.

In the evening, after dinner, we all gathered in the zala. At that time Uncle Seryozha, Prince Leonid Dmitryevitch Urusof, Vice-Governor of the Province of Tula; Uncle Sasha Behrs and his young wife, the handsome Georgian Patty; and the whole family of the Kuzminskys, were staying at Yasnaya.

Aunt Tanya was asked to sing. We listened with beating hearts, and waited to hear what Turgenieff, the famous connoisseur, would say about her singing. Of course he praised it, sincerely, I think. After the singing a quadrille was got up. All of a sudden, in the middle of the quadrille, Ivan Sergeyevitch, who was sitting at one side looking on, got up and took one of the ladies by the hand, and, putting his thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat, danced a cancan according to the latest rules of Parisian art. Everyone roared with laughter, Turgenieff more than anybody.

After tea the "grown-ups" started some conversation, and a warm dispute arose among them. It was Prince Urusof who disputed most warmly, and "went for" Turgenieff.

Of Turgenieff's third visit I remember the woodcock shooting. This was on the second or third of May, 1880.

We all went out together beyond the Voronka, my father, my mother and all the children. My father gave Turgenieff the best place and posted himself one hundred and fifty paces away at the other end of the same glade.

My mother stood by Turgenieff, and we children lighted a bonfire not far off.

My father fired several shots and brought down two birds; Ivan Sergeyevitch had no luck, and was envying my father's good fortune all the time. At last, when it was beginning to get dark, a woodcock flew over Turgenieff, and he shot it.

"Killed it?" called out my father.

"Fell like a stone; send your dog to pick him up," answered Ivan Sergeyevitch.

My father sent us with the dog, Turgenieff showed us where to look for the bird; but search as we might, and the dog, too, there was no woodcock to be found. At last Turgenieff came to help, and my father came; there was no woodcock there.

"Perhaps you only winged it; it may have got away along the ground," said my father, puzzled. "It is impossible that the dog shouldn't find it; he couldn't miss a bird that was killed."

"I tell you I saw it with my own eyes, Lyoff Nikolaievich; it fell like a stone. I didn't wound it; I killed it outright. I can tell the difference."

"Then why can't the dog find it? It's impossible; there's something wrong."

"I don't know anything about that," insisted Turgenieff. "You may take it from me I'm not lying; it fell like a stone where I tell you."

There was no finding the woodcock, and the incident left an unpleasant flavor, as if one or the other of them was in the wrong. Either Turgenieff was bragging when he said that he shot it dead, or my father, in maintaining that the dog could not fail to find a bird that had been killed.

And this must needs happen just when they were both so anxious to avoid every sort of misunderstanding! That was the very reason why they had carefully fought shy of all serious conversation, and spent all their time merely amusing themselves.

When my father said good night to us that night, he whispered to us that we were to get up early and go back to the place to have a good hunt for the bird.

And what was the result? The woodcock, in falling, had caught in the fork of a branch, right at the top of an aspen-tree, and it was all we could do to knock it out from there.

When we brought it home in triumph, it was something of an "occasion," and my father and Turgenieff were far more delighted than we were. It turned out that they were both in the right, and everything ended to their mutual satisfaction.

Ivan Sergeyevitch slept down-stairs in my father's study. When the party broke up for the night, I used to see him to his room, and while he was undressing I sat on his bed and talked sport with him.

He asked me if I could shoot. I said yes, but that I didn't care to go out shooting because I had nothing but a rotten old one-barreled gun.

"I'll give you a gun," he said. "I've got two in Paris, and I have no earthly need for both. It's not an expensive gun, but it's a good one. Next time I come to Russia I'll bring it with me."

I was quite taken aback and thanked him heartily. I was tremendously delighted at the idea that I was to have a real central-fire gun.

Unfortunately, Turgenieff never came to Russia again. I tried afterward to buy the gun he had spoken of from his legatees not in the quality of a central-fire gun, but as Turgenieff's gun; but I did not succeed.

That is all that I can remember about this delightful, naively cordial man, with the childlike eyes and the childlike laugh, and in the picture my mind preserves of him the memory of his grandeur melts into the charm of his good nature and simplicity.

In 1883 my father received from Ivan Sergeyevitch his last farewell letter, written in pencil on his death-bed, and I remember with what emotion he read it. And when the news of his death came, my father would talk of nothing else for several days, and inquired everywhere for details of his illness and last days.

Apropos of this letter of Turgenieff's, I should like to say that my father was sincerely annoyed, when he heard applied to himself the epithet "great writer of the land of Russia," which was taken from this letter.

He always hated cliches, and he regarded this one as quite absurd.

"Why not 'writer of the land'? I never heard before that a man could be the writer of a land. People get attached to some nonsensical expression, and go on repeating it in season and out of season."

I have given extracts above from Turgenieff's letters, which show the invariable consistency with which he lauded my father's literary talents. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same of my father's attitude toward Turgenieff.

In this, too, the want of dispassionateness in his nature revealed itself. Personal relations prevented him from being objective.

In 1867, apropos of Turgenieff's "Smoke," which had just appeared, he wrote to Fet:

There is hardly any love of anything in "Smoke" and hardly any poetry. The only thing it shows love for is light and playful adultery, and for that reason the poetry of the story is repulsive. ... I am timid in expressing this opinion, because I cannot form a sober judgment about an author whose personality I dislike.

In 1865, before the final breach with Turgenieff, he wrote, again to Fet: "I do not like 'Enough'!" A personal subjective treatment is never good unless it is full of life and passion; but the subjectivity in this case is full of lifeless suffering.

In the autumn of 1883, after Turgenieff's death, when the family had gone into Moscow for the winter, my father stayed at Yasnaya Polyana alone, with Agafya Mikhailovna, and set earnestly about reading through all Turgenieff's works.

This is what he wrote to my mother at the time:

I am always thinking about Turgenieff. I am intensely fond of him, and sorry for him, and do nothing but read him. I live entirely with him. I shall certainly give a lecture on him, or write it to be read; tell Yuryef.

"Enough"—read it; it is perfectly charming.

Unfortunately, my father's intended lecture on Turgenieff never came off. The Government forbade him to pay this last tribute to his dead friend, with whom he had quarreled all his life only because he could not be indifferent to him.

To be continued.


FOOTNOTES:

[17]: Fet, at whose house the quarrel took place, tells all about it in his memoirs. Tolstoy dogmatized about lady-like charity, apropos of Turgenieff's daughter. Turgenieff, in a fit of nerves, threatened to box his ears. Tolstoy challenged him to a duel, and Turgenieff apologized.

[18]: Turgenieff was ten years older than Tolstoy.

Leo Tolstoy