A Visit to Tolstoy, December 3, 1910

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Jane Addams gives in her new book a graphic account of her visit to Count [Tolstoy] at his home. She says:

"The gentleman who introduced me endeavored to make Hull House appear much more noble and unique than I should have ventured to do.

"[Tolstoy], standing by, clad in his peasant garb, listened gravely, but, glancing distrustfully at the sleeves of my traveling gown, which unfortunately at that season were monstrous in size, took hold of an edge and, pulling out one sleeve to an interminable breadth, said quite simply that 'there was enough stuff on one arm to make a frock for a little girl,' and asked me directly if I did not find 'such a dress' a 'barrier to the people.'

"I was too disconcerted to make a very clear explanation, although I tried to say that monstrous as my sleeves were they did not compare in size with those of the working girls in Chicago, and that nothing would more effectively separate me from 'the people' than a cotton blouse following the simple lines of the human form; even if I had wished to imitate him and 'dress as a peasant,' it would have been hard to choose which peasant among the thirty-six nationalities we had recently counted in our ward.

The Countess's Comment

"Fortunately the countess came to my rescue with a recital of her former attempts to clothe hypothetical little girls in yards of material cut from a train and other superfluous parts of her best gown, until she had been driven to a stand which she advised me to take at once. But neither Countess [Tolstoy] nor any other friend was on hand to help me out of my predicament later, when I was asked who 'fed me, and how did I obtain shelter?' Upon my reply that a farm a hundred miles from Chicago supplied me with the necessities of life, I fairly anticipated the next scathing question: 'So you are an absentee landlord? Do you think you will help the people more by adding yourself to the crowded city than you would by tilling your own soil?'

Daughters Works in the Fields

"This new sense of discomfort over a failure to till my own soil was increased when [Tolstoy's] second daughter appeared at the 5 o'clock tea table set under the trees, coming straight from the harvest fields, where she had been working with a group of peasants since 5 o'clock in the morning, not pretending to work, but really taking the place of a peasant woman who had hurt her foot.

"She was plainly much exhausted, but neither expected nor received sympathy from the members of a family who were quite accustomed to see each other carry out their convictions in spite of discomfort and fatigue. The martyrdom of discomfort, however, was obviously much easier to bear than that to which, even to the eyes of the casual visitor. Count [Tolstoy] daily subjected himself, for his study in the basement of the conventional dwelling, with its short shelf of battered books and its scythe and spade leaning against the wall, had many times lent itself to that ridicule which is the most difficult form of martyrdom.

At the Dinner Table

"At the long dinner table laid in the garden were the various traveling guests, the grown-up daughters, and the younger children with their governess. The countess presided over the usual European dinner served by men, but the count, and the daughter who had worked all day in the fields, ate only porridge and black bread and drank only kyas, the fare of the haymaking peasants. Of course we are all accustomed to the fact that those who perform the heaviest labor eat the coarsest and simplest fare at the end of the day, but it is not often that we sit at the same table with them while we ourselves eat the more elaborate food prepared by someone else's labor. [Tolstoy] ate his simple supper without remark or comment upon the food his family and guests preferred to eat, assuming that they as well as he had settled the matter with their own consciences."

In conversation with American women, years ago, [Tolstoy] expressed his surprise that the United States had not yet given women the ballot, and his belief that this was essential to a true democracy.