|Leo Tolstoy's 80th Birthday. August 28, 1908|
In 1908, in anticipation of Leo Tolstoy’s 80th birthday, on the initiative of the close friend of the Tolstoy family M.A. Stakhovich, the author’s admirers began to organize committees for celebrating his 80th birthday, at first in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but later also abroad (in France, Germany, and England). The organizers planned to “erect a monument to Tolstoy in his lifetime, raise the question of amnesty and of the abolition of capital punishment, to draft a bill about declaring the celebration a national holiday, about the government paying for all the expenses, and about establishing at Yasnaya Polyana a people’s university named after Tolstoy.”
The Russian committees in St. Petersburg and Moscow wanted to have a celebration honoring Tolstoy in Moscow, in the presence of Sophia Tolstaya, and a small delegation was supposed to visit Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana. The upcoming celebration was actively discussed in the media. Sophia said that “every day, in every issue of the newspapers, there are articles about the expected jubilee,” which she carefully cut and saved.
Leo Tolstoy’s attitude to the celebration was negative. He even wrote to Stakhovich a letter – his rejection of jubilee celebrations, which was fully published in the “Ogonyok” magazine (1908, No. 14, April 6) and also partly reproduced in many newspapers. “Here is my great request to you,” Tolstoy wrote in that letter, “do whatever you can to abolish this jubilee and set me free. I will be very, very grateful to you forever.” After the publication of the letter the official celebration was canceled.
Despite Tolstoy’s public requests to make no reckoning of his jubilee, his family seriously feared a big inflow of visitors on the days around Tolstoy’s birthday (August 28 / September 9). His daughter Alexandra even offered to hide him away and “take him to Pirogovo on that day,” and Sophia “wanted to block the entrance and have gate wards not to let anyone in on the 28th.”
However there were not so many people at Yasnaya Polyana on August 28, only a few reporters and photographers. There were only family members and friends in the house. The writer, who was recovering from an illness, did not leave the house and spent all the time in a wheelchair. He worked as usual. On that day he received six hundred telegrams and about one hundred letters. One of the letters, which was received on September 1, was specially mentioned by doctor Makovitsky in his “Yasnaya Polyana Notes”: “a moving letter was received from six telegraph operators in Tula…” They wrote that they had had “a sleepless night continuously receiving the telegraph correspondence” which expressed “all the love of the people for the great writer.” By September 5, several hundred letters and two thousand telegrams signed by fifty thousand people were received. Numerous periodicals prepared special congratulatory issues; many of them are now kept in Leo Tolstoy’s personal library. Writers sent their works to Tolstoy. 25 Russian artists from the Moscow Society of Lovers of Art presented a “large elegant album with their original works.”
There were presents for which Tolstoy was especially thankful. For example, waiters of the St. Petersburg theater and garden “Farce” sent a samovar with engraved inscriptions and 66 signatures (it is kept in the State Tolstoy Museum in Moscow). In their salutation the waiters wrote that Tolstoy helped them to become individuals instead of just human beings. A “baker sent 21 pounds of bread,” and the owner of an iron workshop from Pruzhany (Belarus), L.Z. Fishman, sent to Yasnaya Polyana one hundred scythes, which were given to local peasants. Tolstoy mentioned it, saying: “It was a pleasure to give them to peasants.” Tolstoy kept one of those scythes for himself, and it is still kept in his study. And peasant children in the village each received on the morning of August 28 a box of chocolates picturing views of Yasnaya Polyana that came from St. Petersburg, from George Borman, especially for that day.
Having no opportunity to answer each of those people personally, Tolstoy addressed the people who wished him happy birthday through the media: “… I ask you to accept this statement of mine as the expression of my sincere gratitude to all the people who expressed their kind feelings to me, for the joy they gave me.”