TOLSTOY, Count Leo (Lyev) Nikolayevich (1828-1910), Russian novelist and moral philosopher, was born on Aug. 28, (Sept. 9,) 1828, at his parents' country-place of Yasnaya Polyana, in the province of Tula. The Tolstoys are a family of Russian gentry dating back to the 16th century (not of German origin as is often affirmed, and as Tolstoy himself believed). Peter Andreyevich Tolstoy (q.v.) was created a count by Peter the Great. His descendant, count Nicholas Ilyich, the novelist's father, after serving as an officer in the army, married Princess Marie Volkonsky, who brought him a substantial fortune. They had five sons of whom Leo was the youngest but one. The sur roundings in which he grew up were those of a family of the upper middle gentry of the last of the period of serfdom. This environ ment produced in him the "peer-and-peasant" view of life.
The next years were mainly passed in Moscow, where he gave himself over to the dissipated and irregular life so frequently led by the young men of his class and time. But the work of self
study and self-criticism, of which his diary, started in 1847, is such a remarkable record, went on, and the idle life could not satisfy him. In 1851 he turned a new page: he went to the Cau casus and there enlisted as a junker (gentleman-volunteer) in an artillery unit. His time was spent in quiet garrison life in Cossack villages, diversified by hunting and occasional expeditions against the mountaineers. In 1852 he completed his first story, Childhood, and sent it to Nekrasov, the editor of the leading liter ary review, who accepted it enthusiastically and had it published at once. In 1854 Tolstoy received his commission, and was trans ferred (on his application) to the army that was operating against the Turks on the Danube, and a few months later to Sevastopol, where he remained till the end of the siege. After the fall of the fortress he was sent with dispatches to St. Petersburg, where he remained, frequenting society and literary circles, and much pre ferring the former to the latter. With the litterateurs he failed to get on. Their plebeian arrogance shocked him, and he had no respect for their ideal of European progress. His resounding quarrel with Turgeniev may be taken as typical of these relations. In 1857 he retired from the army.
In the same year (and again in 186o) he travelled abroad, and (like Dostoyevsky a few years later) brought back nothing but disgust with the materialistic and plutocratic civilization of the west. After his second journey abroad he settled at Yasnaya Polyana, and accepted an appointment to a magistracy introduced by the Emancipation act of 1861 for the settling of land disputes between the squires and their former serfs. He also started a school for peasant children on new and original lines, based on his belief in the superior value of their natural lights to the arti ficial standards of civilization, and published a journal (Yasnaya Polyana) devoted to the advancement of his pedagogical ideas. But before long he gave up both magistracy and school. He was on the brink of an inner crisis.