I am publishing these articles in The Borzoi Encyclopedia to encourage better understanding of the function of the Borzoi and its development as a breed. They are for all to enjoy reading but no part of my contributions to The Borzoi Encyclopedia may be copied, downloaded, printed or used in any way without my prior express written consent.
A direct descendant of Genghis Khan, Leo Tolstoy, the celebrated author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina and other novels, was born Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, the ancestral estate in Tula Oblast, Russia on 28 August 1828. Orphaned as a child, he was brought up by an aunt and his elder brothers. At the age of thirty-four he married the eighteen year old Sofia Andreevna Bers by whom he had thirteen children of which nine survived
Maja Cosic kindly provided the 1911 Sport im Bild article on Tolstoy, the writer, author and philosopher, and I am grateful to Adam Walker for his translation from the original German:
Tolstoy as Hunter by Prince D Obolenski
Count Leo N Tolstoy was in his younger years a passionate, proper Russian hunter with all of the prejudices and characteristics of such. His preference was the exciting but potentially dangerous hunting of wolves, in which the quarry was cornered by dogs and then caught by the hunter. Tolstoy’s keenness to hunt sometimes caused conflict, and on several occasions there were nearly clashes over whose pack had first picked up the scent, and caught the prey.
Tolstoy loved showing his skills and dexterity hunting, and one episode remains vivid in my memory.
It was near Gurjeff [probably Atyrau, Kazakhstan, near the Caucasus, where the Circassians, i.e. Tscherkassky, came from?], at the property of Prince E. N. Tscherkassky. The dogs were searching for wolves in the woods. Tolstoy stood with his two borzois behind a bog next to the wood. Close to him was a smallholder from the neighbourhood, Kobylin, a headstrong gentleman; and then the Prince and the rest of the hunting party.
Suddenly, a big wolf appeared at the edge of the wood, ahead of the packhounds; Ruschalschik, renowned as a whipper-in at the time, had driven him out. Ruschalschik emerged behind his pack, which had driven the predator into the open and in the direction of Tolstoy and the others. The wolf ran directly towards the bog, with the whip (who was exactly like Danilo in War and Peace) in pursuit. But the bog was so marshy, that his horse got stuck. Frantically, Ruschalschik shouted “Hey, he’s coming through! Running right at you men!”
However improper the lively whip’s wording might have been, it turned out to be prophetic. On the other side of the bog Kobylin and Tolstoy’s packs welcomed the wolf and brought it to a standstill, which happens very rarely. Kobylin arrived first and got off his horse. But then Tolstoy arrived and shouted: “Mine! It was my dogs that got him. I’ll catch him.”
Perhaps Kobylin did not mind that much, because catching such an animal is not easy and not without danger. Tolstoy, wanting to show his skill, bent down from the saddle in the Circassian style, and tried to deal with the wolf from the saddle. But he failed; the horse reared up and took him away from the action. And while Tolstoy calmed his horse and Kobylin composed himself, the wolf shook off the dogs which had been on him and swept away from them, disappearing. The whip’s prophecy was fulfilled; the men had let the beast get through. Prince Tscherkasski, who was keen on thoroughbreds rather than dogs, searched the whole area in vain. Tolstoy went home miserable and sullen.
Tolstoy hunted especially often in the 1850s with Rajewski, with whose son he was close friends. The most successful wolf hunts were on the properties of Princes Egon and Vladimir Tscherkassky in the region of Venyov and Kashira. Many particularities of these hunts found their way into Tolstoy’s immortal War and Peace, and individual hunters can be identified from their depictions and characteristic speech. After an especially successful hunt on the property of a neighbour of Prince Tscherkassky, P. M. Gleboff, an excited Tolstoy wrote a humorous sketch Faustine and Pauline, which he then read out that evening, making us all laugh. What happened to the sketch, I don’t know; I have never come across it again. Faustine and Pauline were two governesses of Herr Gleboff, who had been present as spectators at the hunt, and provided material for Tolstoy to turn into a gentle piece of comedy.
Who would have recognised the passionate hunter Tolstoy in his ascetical later years, the man we saw racing through fields and woods with the ever-present Milcah. For many years on his hunts he took the grandmother, then the mother and finally the granddaughter Milcah. This latter, whom I remember, was a beautiful black-flecked borzoi with something angelic [NB. or English – could be either in German!] about her. She always ran without a belt and was very affectionate.
But Tolstoy was superstitious, like most hunters. Once, Milcah run suddenly away from him towards me over some open ground. No matter how energetically I tried to shoo her away, so stayed by my side. Tolstoy became seriously concerned and said: “That has never happened before; surely something is going to happen to me.”
Tolstoy once admitted that he was in the habit of praying if he went for a long period on a hunt without finding anything!
Externally, Tolstoy was also different from any other hunter. His equipment was very distinctive. His stirrups were made of wood, not metal; he had brought this custom back from Samara, from the hunters of the steppe. And his preferred clothing was a hunting blouse.
He often compared hunting to war. “In the same way that, on a hunt, everything depends on the skill and resourcefulness of the hunter, so does success in war depend critically on the resourcefulness of the general”, he would say. “Everything may be planned perfectly, but if unforeseen events intervene, then everything can fall out of place, and complete failure results.”
On one such occasion Tolstoy explained why the Russian troops’ storming of the citadel at Kars in the Crimean War in 1855 under Mouravieff. “Mouravieff had doubts about the positioning of his troops, and changed the plan a few hours before the assault, after listening to his chief of staff. Thus came defeat. If he had followed through on his original plan, then success would have been complete. But he did not believe in himself, and it all went wrong. That’s how it is both when you’re waging war and when you’re hunting.”
I spoke with Tolstoy often when he was writing his historical novel War and Peace. My forefathers had been on the 1812 campaign; my mother was a niece of Bibikoff, the adjutant of Kutusoff, who put down Pugacheff’s rebellion. So I heard lots of details of that time first hand, and retold much of what Tolstoy said to others, and was rewarded by being allowed to be present at the first reading of War and Peace.
I was also able to give him a few ideas for his novel Anna Karenina. As a horseman and a great supporter of horse-racing, I explained to Tolstoy, for example, the milieu and details of the race in Krasnoye Selo, which is depicted so brilliantly in Anna Karenina. Vronsky’s fall on Frou Frou is based on the accident which happened to Prince Galizyn, and Machotin in the novel strongly resembles A.D. Miljutin.
Tolstoy allowed me to introduce my friends to him without any formalities, which was a privilege I treated with care and used sparingly. One single time he declined, when it was someone I regard very highly, our famous General Skobeleff. At that time, Tolstoy spoke and wrote against the war, which he regarded as the greatest disaster. That was probably why he felt that Skobeleff, who at that time lived and breathed the military, would be unsuitable for friendship. So I had to give up on the idea of bringing the White General and the author of the Sebastopol stories together.
This event occurred to me again when I read about the famous painter Vereshchagin, whom Tolstoy had rudely called a boor, because he had declined his friendship. Vereshchagin had recently published his memoirs, which in places contained some fairly harsh anecdotes, such as depicting how he told General Strukoff in the Turkish War to leave two Turks hanging. Vereshchagin was convinced that these Turks were villains, but at the same time he needed subject matter for a painting. This seemed so appalling to the highly sensitive Tolstoy, that he gave up on the idea of friendship with Vereshchagin.
I brought the former Russian transport minister Count Brobinsky to Yasnaya Polyana. His interesting argument with Tolstoy is mirrored in Anna Karenina, where the husband, Karenin, renounced his high office. Bobrinsky found his visit to Yasnaya Polyana thoroughly unedifying.
Finally, I will never forget an evening at the beginning of the 1870s where Tolstoy came to us in a state of agitation, and explained that he could not tolerate the conditions in Russia any longer, and wanted to emigrate to England. The reason was that a shepherd in Yasnaya Polyana had been gored and killed by a wild bull, and Tolstoy was under investigation and threatened with house arrest. The same investigating judge was said to have imprisoned an innocent peasant, and to have carried out an autopsy on the body of another which was in a neighbouring lady’s property. We tried to calm Tolstoy and explain that a death inevitably caused the authorities to intervene and make a formal investigation. But it took a long time to appease Tolstoy. He then wrote a letter to his aunt, Countess A.K. Tolstoy, who was the lady-in-waiting and governess of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna. The lady-in-waiting read the letter to the Emperor Alexander II, who was angry about the way justice was being administered in Russia, and spoke about the matter in harsh terms.
In later years Tolstoy was to reject the hunting way of life and further details can be found from following this link:http://tolstoy.ru/
Tolstoy's youngest daughter, Countess Alexandra Lvovna Tolstoy, resided in the USA and this photograph was taken in 1978:
Above is Countess Tolstoy and Lena Tamboer's Ch Tigow of Tam-boer
Posted with the kind permission of Lena Tamboer.