Commettee of Youth Affairs
Peter Pan Club
Essay: Lev Tolstoy and England.
Performer: Mikhail Rostovtsev
1.Things in Yasnaya Polyana, which remind us about England.
Maria Nikolaevna Volkonskaya.
2.Lev Tolstoy studies English, goes abroad, visits London. Lev Tolstoy comes to Herzen in England.
3.English governesses and Tolstoys children. Hanna Tarsey.
4.Tolstoys descendants in Great Britain nowadays.
First when I came to Yasnaya Polyana I was 6 years old. I liked it very much. It was very quite there, everything all around was covered with snow: the garden, the alleys and the houses. There was a school,“Philipok,” organised in the estate-museum and we studied many things there, read Lev Tolstoys “Primer” for children, talked about his relatives and children. We had classes in Volkonskys House and I liked to climb the old staircase very much. We studied English there as well: we had puppet performances and played a lot learning knew English words and expressions. But most of all I liked the house where Lev Tolstoy lived. There were a lot of books there, many of which were written in English. The master read all of them in the original. There were a lot of pictures on the walls where we could see the writer and his children. They also read those books and knew many foreign languages. How had Lev Tolstoy and his children learnt English so well? It was interesting for me but I was a little boy then and was too shy to ask the teacher… Now in my report Ill try to find the answer myself.
1. Tolstoys house and things, which remind us about England.
The first thing we see in the hall as we cross the threshold of Yasnaya Polyana house are the birchwood cases packed with books in many different languages on all manner of subjects. Books not only greet guests but accompany them all over the house. Many of the books are English. Lev Tolstoy read them in the original. John Galsworthy, Bernard Show and H.Wells sent him their books with their own granting signatures.
On the upper landing of the staircase we can see the 18-th century grandfathers English clock that has a mahogany case with a turret on top. According to a family legend Tolstoys grandfather - Prince Nikolai Volconsky, bought it. The clock was made by the London firm of FArdley Norton and is still going. It has a very melodic chime and shows not only the hours, minutes and seconds, but the day of the month as well.
In the mornings Tolstoy liked to walk in the park Kliny that had been also planned according to his grandfather Prince Volconskys order and smoothly turned into English garden with a cascade of artificial ponds. There are ancient limes there planted very close to each other with narrow alleys between them. The crowns of the trees are interlaced so tight that even when the day is very hot there is always shade there and its rather cool in the park. It is called Kliny (“ Gores” in English) because the park consists of 8 gores. When Prince Volkonsky and his daughter took their morning walk, a serf orchestra played for them from the bandstand in the centre of the garden. Lev Tolstoy liked to work in the park as well: sometimes in summer he asked to bring his table and arm-chair in the park and wrote there. In the centre of the square formed by the gores, apple-trees were planted in Tolstoys lifetime, they had enough sunlight and bore fruit. Tolstoy often debated with Turgenev whose park is better and insisted that his own park was better of course.
One of the ponds in the English garden was used for swimming. Tolstoys son Sergey remembered how they caught tritons there being small boys. The same thing their grandchildren did since 50 years. Besides they caught grass-snakes in the garden, there were lots of them there. Tolstoys children played hide-and-seek in the low part of the park that was always quite and mysterious like a wild wood. According to a family legend that was the favourite spot of Tolstoys mother in the garden. There, sitting on the bench near the pond or in the summer-house, which rises in the very corner of the garden she often waited for arriving of her husband when he was away. She also liked to walk there with her children.
That was the reason why that part of the garden reminded Tolstoy about his mother. He lost his mother when he was less than 2 years old in 1830.
Lev Tolstoy mother Maria Nikolaevna Volkonskaya.
Lev Tolstoys parents knew many foreign languages. Besides French, German and Italian Maria Nicolaevna ( his mother) knew English very well. She read many books of her father and had about 160 books in her own library in Russian, French, German, English and Italian. She had many bilingual dictionaries as well. She not only read the books but made literary translations of some parts. Her best friends were two English sisters. She made good matches for them giving them unheard of dowries one she gave 50 thousand and the other 75 thousand roubles. She wanted to give an estate with serfs and all to her English friend for a dowry. Maria Nikolaevna was a kind mistress with a good temper and a mind of her own. The family would not allow her to give away that estate and so she made her English friend a gift of 75 thousand roubles instead. Maria Nikolaevna died when she was about 40, no picture of hers was left, but only some things could remind the children about their mother and those translations among them.
2. Lev Tolstoy studies English.
Lev Tolstoy knew English very well. Among the main tasks, which he set himself in his youth, were to study English. ”Learn French, Russian, German, English, Italian and Latin”. Much of the programme was carried out. He took up English seriously and then read all Dickenss novels in the original as well as many other English books.
In 1857 and 1860-61 Lev Tolstoy left for abroad to see how people lived there and what they taught the children in their schools. It was a long journey to the West. The schools were being reformed in Russia at the time. He dreamt of a different school, of the kind school that might be set up by the peasants themselves, a school that would not alienate the children from the patriarchal way of life. He taught a lot at schools himself.
Lev Tolstoy set out for the West convinced that the way of life of the Yasnaya Polyana peasants was the most correct in the world. He was to meet Alexander Herzen, a big man, who had lived for many years in the West. Tolstoy was going abroad to ask questions, draw comparisons and learn. What he wanted to learn was how to avert the grief of the morrow, how to keep Russia safe from imitating England with its machines, factories, child labour and colonies. Lev Tolstoy visited Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, England and Belgium.
Tolstoy visits London
Tolstoy attended one of the first lectures given by Charles Dickens. Dickens had a dark moustache, he brushed his hair back, wore varicoloured clothes. Tolstoy described Dickens as a powerful figure of a man: he saw him as such, and remembered him like that all his life. He also looked at London with Dickens eyes. Dickens had taught him to see the details and to single out the most important things: he showed what the chirping of a cricket and the sound of the kettle coming to the boil meant in an English home.
It is difficult to picture London as it was then. Ivan Goncharov thus described mid-nineteenth century London:
“I shall not forget the picture of this vast, gas-lit city as it appears to the traveller arriving there in the evening. The steam engine plunges into this ocean of brilliance and flies over the house roofs above the graceful chasms where, as in a kaleidoscope, an ant-hill moves along the sparkling, colourfully painted streets.”
To us, today, that “ocean of brilliance” would look like a dark abyss. The city was quite. Goncharove wrote:" One hears hardly any other noise save for the inevitable sounds made by horses and wheels. The city, a living creature, seems to be holding its breath and the beating of its pulse. There is no senseless shouting, no unnecessary movement, and as for singing, jumping or naughtiness theres little of it even among the children. Everything seems to have been calculated, weighted and evaluated, as though taxes were levied on voices and mime as they were on windows and cart wheels. The carriages race at great speed but the drivers do not shout and, actually, theres no need, as a pedestrian will never be caught off his guard. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone is running somewhere: there are no carefree or indolent figures except mine.”
Dickens lived in this city, illumined with yellow gas light, where even in the daytime the sun filtered through a film of smoke to shine down on the grass, on the smoke-shaded buildings, and the iridescent mud of the Thames, bristling with masts. This flashily dressed man who spoke loudly, described things vividly, pick