In the letter below, a twenty-eight-year-old Tolstoy responds to his relative’s accusation that he behaves inconsistently. He confesses “remorse” for being unable to break ties with his current companions, before discussing the lukewarm reception of his fiction.
TO COUNT S. N. TOLSTOY
January 2nd, 1857, Petersburg
I’m writing you a few words because I’m leaving Petersburg in a few days for Moscow, where I’ll spend a couple of weeks, and so will be seeing you soon.
I detect in your letter a certain vexation, even spleen. This is not good at all, and is the result, it seems to me, of a solitary life. Won’t you come to Moscow? It wouldn’t be at all bad just now. My relations with the guests continue, but weigh down on me terribly, and I don’t know how to break them off because I feel not merely complete indifference, but vexation and remorse with myself for having gone so far. You say you expect all sorts of about turns from me and you say you know me. But if you expect all sorts of about turns it means you don’t know me, but have observed inconsistencies in me over certain things and appear to reproach me for them as if I found pleasure in doing incongruous things. I’ve spent 2 very good months here, and although I’ve hardly been anywhere, I’ve seen a lot of my literary friends, read a lot, listened to music, and I wrote for the first month. But I need a little of everything, and although I dearly love these literary friends—Botkin, Annenkov and Bruzhinin—still all clever conversations are already beginning to bore me although they have been genuinely useful to me. My two stories in Notes of the Fatherland and the Reader’s Library have, it seems, had little success, which was only to be expected as they were written in a hurry. Youth has already been printed, but the censors have mutilated it, for they’ve become stricter again since Nekrasov’s poems and the incident that followed them. My books are selling, but not too well. About 700 copies of Childhood have been sold, and about 500 of the Military Tales. I intend to go out and see the guests in Moscow. Goodbye, and don’t be angry with me for being the sort of person I am. I kiss Auntie’s hand and will send her my portrait which I think she wanted to have, by the next post. Notes of the Fatherland has been sent to Yasnaya, and I’ll send the Reader’s Library with my story in it as soon as I get it.
A Happy New Year!
Count L. Tolstoy