After 1.5 years of searchin’ for a good deal (the Indian way, baby), I finally found one book off my top 10 for a great deal through some used bookstore online (actual store based in Pennsylvania). I picked up Tolstoy’s Letters for 20 bucks! It’s seriously a deal considering it’s a 2-volume set w/ a total of 700+ pages!
Haven’t really gotten past the 10th letter in the first volume, but I found a winner for one of two of you to sample. This is a letter from Tolstoy to one of his favorite aunts, Tatyana Yergolskaya. He greatly loved & respected this woman through his lifetime, but what caught my eye in this letter was not the love he expressed for his Aunty, but the friendship he shared with a guy from Chechenia named, Sado. The selflessness displayed by Sado is truly amazing, to say the least! You’ll soon see…
[Original letter in French]
I just received your letter of 24 November am replying to you straight away (as I have made a habit of doing). Recently I wrote to you that your letter made me cry, and I blamed this weakness on my illness. I was wrong. For some time now all your letters have had the same effect on me. I’ve always been (crybaby Lyova). Formerly this weakness made me ashamed; but the tears I weep when I think of you and your love for us are so sweet that I let them flow without any false shame. Your letter is too full of sadness for it not to produce the same effect on me. It’s you who have always given me counsel, and although unfortunately I have always followed it, I would like to act all my life on your advice only. But for the moment let me tell you the effect your letter has had on me, and the ideas that came to me while reading it. If I speak to frankly to you I know you’ll forgive me on account of my love for you. When you say that it’s your turn to leave us to go and join those who are no more and whom you loved so much; when you say that you ask God to put an end to your existence which seems to you so unbearable and isolated; forgive me, dear Aunt, but it seems to me when you these things that you offend God and me and all of us who love you so much. You ask God for your death, i.e. the greatest misfortune that could happen to me—(this isn’t just talk: God is my witness that the two greatest misfortunes that could happen to me would be your death and that of Nikolay—the two people I love more than myself). What would be left for me if God were to hear your prayer? For whose pleasure should I then wish to become better, to have good qualities, to have a good reputation in the world? When I make plans for happiness for myself, the idea that you will share and enjoy my happiness is always in my mind. When I do something good, I’m satisfied with myself because I know that you’ll be satisfied with me. When I behave badly, what I fear most is to cause you sorrow. Your love is everything to me, and you ask God to separate us! I can’t tell you the feeling that I have for you—words can’t suffice to express it to you and I’m afraid you might think that I’m exaggerating, and yet I weep hot tears as I write to you. It’s to this painful separation that I’m indebted for the knowledge of what a friend I have in you and How much I love you.
And am I the only one to have these feelings for you? And yet you ask God for death! You say that you’re isolated. I may be separated from you, but if you believe in my love, the thought of it should have been enough to counterbalance your sorrow; for myself, wherever I am, I won’t feel isolated as long as I know that I’m loved by you—as I am.
I feel, however that the sentiment which prompts my words is a bad one—that I’m jealous of your grief. Today one of those things happened to me which would have made be believe in God if I hadn’t already believed in Him firmly for sometime.
During the summer in (stary Yurt), all the officers who were there did nothing but gamble, and for quite high stakes. Since it’s impossible not to see each other often when living in camp, I was very often present during the play, but despite all the entreaties I refrained from joining in for a month. Then one fine day I jokingly placed a small stake—I lost; I did it again and lost again; I had bad luck; my passion for gambling for aroused, and in two days I lost all the money I had as well what Nikolay gave me (about 250 silver roubles) and on top of that 500 silver roubles for which I gave ea note of hand payable in the month of January 1852. I should tell you that near the camp there is an (aul) [Caucasian village] where the (Chechens) live. A young boy (a (Chechen)) named (Sado) used to come to the camp and play; but as he couldn’t count or write things down, there were some scoundrels among the officers who cheated him. For this reason I never wanted to play against Sado, and even told him that he oughtn’t to play because he was being cheated, and I offered to play on his behalf. He was very grateful to me for this and made me a present of a purse. As it’s the custom of this people to exchange presents, I gave him a miserable gun that I’d bought for 8 roubles. I should tell you that to be a (kunak), that’s to say a friend, it’s the custom first of all to exchange presents and then to eat in the house of the (kunak). After that, according to ancient custom of this people (which hardly survives now except in tradition), you become friends for life and death: i.e. if I ask him for all his money, or his wife, or his arms, or his most precious belongings, he must give them to me, and I must fuse him nothing either. Sado made me promise to come to his home and be his (kunak). I went. After having regaled me in their own manner, he invited me to choose anything in his house that I wanted: his arms, his horse, anything. I wanted to choose what was of least value, and took a horse bridle mounted in silver: but he told me I was offending him and made me take a (saber) which is worth at least 100 silver roubles. His father is quite a rich man, but he keeps his money buried and doesn’t give his son a farthing. To obtain money the son goes and robs the enemy of horses and cows and sometimes he risks his life 20 times over to steal something that isn’t worth 10 roubles; be he does it, not from greed, but because it’s the thing to do. The greatest robber is highly esteemed and is called (a dzhigit, a brave). Sometimes Sado gas 1,000 silver roubles, and sometimes he hasn’t a farthing. After my visit to him I presented him Nikolay’s silver watch and we’ve become the greatest friends in the world. Several times he proved his devotion to me by exposing me himself to danger on my behalf; but that’s nothing to them—it’s become a habit and a pleasure. When I left (stary Yurt) Nikolay stayed on there, and Sado used to go to see him every day and say that he didn’t know what would become of him without me and that he was terribly bored. I let Nikolay know by letter that my horse was sick, and I asked him to find me one at (stary Yurt). When Sado learned of this he lost no time in coming to see me and giving me his horse, despite all I could do to refuse. After the folly I committed of gambling at (Stary Yurt), I haven’t touched a card again, and I’ve continually lectured Sado, who has a passion for gambling and although he doesn’t know the game, always has astonishing luck. Yesterday evening I busied myself thinking about my financial affairs and my debts and I was thinking how I should go about paying them.
Having thought about these things for a long time, I saw that if I didn’t spend too much money, all my debts wouldn’t embarrass me and could be paid off little by little in two or there years; but the 500 roubles that I had to pay this month were driving me to despair. It was impossible for me to pay them and at that moment they embarrassed me far more than Ogaryov’s 4,000 had done previously. My stupidity in having contracted debts in Russia, and then in coming and contracting new ones here was driving me to despair. In the evening when saying my prayers, I prayed to God—and very fervently—to get me out of this unpleasant position. ‘But how can I get myself out of this business?’ I thought when going to bed. I already pictured to myself all the unpleasantness I would have to endure because of it, (how he take proceedings against me, how the authorities would demand an explanation from me as to why I wasn’t paying, etc. ‘Help me Lord’, I sad and fell asleep.) This morning I received a letter from Nikolay, enclosing yours and several others. He writes: ( ‘The other day Sado came to see me: he won your note of hand from Knorring and brought it to me. He was so pleased with hi s winnings, so happy, and he asked me so many times ‘What do you think, will your brother be glad that I’ve done this’—that I’ve grown very fond of him as a result. This man really is attached to you.’)
Isn’t it astonishing to see one’s wish granted like this the very next day? Or rather the only astonishing thing is the divine goodness toward a being who has merited it as little as I. Don’t you think that Sado’s sort of devotion is wonderful? He knows that I’ve a brother Sergey who loves horses, and as I’ve promised to take him to Russia when I go, he told me that I it should cost him his life 100 times over, he’ll steal the best horse there is in the mountains and bring it to him.
Please get someone to buy a (six -barreled pistol) in Tula and send it to me, also a (musical -box) if it’s not too expensive—these are things which will give him great pleasure.
(i ‘m still in Tiflis, sitting by the seaside, waiting for good weather, i.e. money.)
Goodbye, dear Aunt.
Lev kisses your hand a thousand times.
Tiflis, 6 January, 1852