A Letter to Leo Tolstoy

Henry George

[A letter written from Fort Hamilton, NY, 1 March 1896. Reprinted from GroundSwell, March-April 1993]

ED.NOTE: The following letter has a history. It was photographed by Stuart M. Gaffney, while the letter was on display at the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow in the fall (ca. September) of 1991, transcribed by Dr. Mason Gaffney February I8. 1992, and sent to Groundswell at that time. It has been held since in a file of materiel "for which space must eventually be found."

Gaffney says of the displayed letter "It is accompanied by a familiar profile of George seated, with glasses in right hand and papers in left, and a hand-addressed envelope postmarked Ft, Hamilton, N.Y. The envelope carries a five-cent stamp, and short ads for various books by George. The original address has been overwritten, apparently in Cyrillic."

The letter is one of many things which escaped my attention when the "task force" reported in this issue visited the Tolstoy Museum on Tuesday, Jan, 19: there is so much to be seen and absorbed in Tolstoy's former home. Dr. Gaffney, who was a member of the team, had returned to his home in California before the Moscow visit, so was not with us at the Tolstoy museum to check on whether it is still there.

His comments, though, continue: "The letter does not display George at his best. It is labored, apologetic, and defensive. lt alludes three times to impending death. lt suggests that George had been neglecting Tolstoy. The conspicuous exhibition of this substandard letter rather suggests that Tolstoy and/or his followers placed a high value on the George connection."

Readers who may have missed it in our Nov/Dec, 1992 issue, are reminded of a book review there of David Redfeam's recently published Tolstoy: Principles for a New World Order, copies of which were with us when we visited the museum.

March 1, 1996

My Dear Count Leo Tolstoy:

I have so well understood how closely you must be engaged and have so found every day too short for what seems to be my share of the work there is to do, that deeply as I would enjoy coming into close touch with you I have never yet written, even to thank you for the kind words you have said of me, most grateful as they have been. I have been expecting almost from month to month to go to Europe, and have promised myself if you should be willing to seek you out, and since you can speak English, though, unfortunately have never had time to acquire any other than my native tongue, so see and talk with you on some of the many things on which we have come to essentially the same conclusions from differing standpoints.

But as we know not how soon we may be called into another life I wish no longer to delay giving some expression to my high appreciation of what you have done and are doing and to the grateful pleasure with which I have heard of your kind words for me.

I am now engaged on a work, the most elaborate I have yet undertaken, a review of the whole science of political economy, which will explain more fully and systematically than I have yet been able to do my view of human life and its relations. Like all such things this has proved a longer and harder task than I had anticipated. but if it is permited to me to finish it, I shall send you an early copy, and after that hope to visit my friends in Europe, and with your permission will try to see you.

In the meantime one word to explain what I learned from Mr. Crosby you did not understand; and what he at that time was probably unable to explain to you. When I ran for Mayor of New York in 1886 it was not to get the office, but to bring in to discussion principles which I deem it of great importance should be discussed. Before I wrote "Progress and Poverty" I had realized that to do what I felt called on to do, I must put behind me all aspiration for position or wealth, and have never swerved from that. With more than respect and admiration, and in the confidence that if we do not meet in this life there is a life in which we will.

Yours sincerely, Henry George