TOLSTOY SPEAKS!

Ben Zimmer sent me this YouTube clip of Tolstoy (recorded October 31st, 1909) reading from his book For Every Day in four languages, English, German, French, and Russian! Each language gets a segment of different length, and unfortunately the Russian is so scratchy I can’t make out enough to google and find the original text, but it’s absolutely amazing to hear his voice. Here’s the English text:

That the object of life is self-perfection, the perfection of all immortal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be correct by the fact alone that every other object is essentially a new object. Therefore, the question whether thou hast done what thou shouldst have done is of immense importance, for the only meaning of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?

If anyone can find the Russian, I’ll be grateful.

Comments

  1. Говорят, человек не свободен, потому что все, что он делает, имеет свою предшествующую во времени причину. Но человек действует всегда только в настоящем, а настоящее вне времени; оно только соприкосновение прошедшего и будущего, и потому в момент настоящего человек всегда свободен.
    Не беспокойся о завтрашнем, потому что нет завтра. Есть только нынче; живи для него, и если твое нынче хорошо, то оно добро всегда.
    Растут люди только испытаниями. Хорошо знать это и так принимать выпадающие на нашу долю горести, облегчать свой крест тем, чтобы охотно подставлять под него спину.
    Если признаешь жизнь не в теле, а в духе, то нет смерти, есть только освобождение от тела.
    Мы сознаем в душе нечто такое, что не подлежит смерти. Отдели только в своей мысли то, что не телесно, и ты поймешь, что в тебе не умирает.
    Мы не имеем никакого права быть недовольными этой жизнью. Если нам кажется, что мы недовольны ею, то это значит только то, что мы имеем основание быть недовольными собою.
    http://tolstoy.lipetsk.ru/givoy-tolstoy/

  2. Большое спасибо!

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Very interesting.
    He had a very strong accent in English, but I thought his French was pretty good. In English I even wondered if it had been mislabelled and wasn’t English at all, and I had to concentrate to understand it, but in French I had no difficulty understanding what he was saying. He sounded like modern Russians who are fluent in French. All this seems to be consistent with the idea that Russian aristocrats of his generation were expected to be fluent French speakers. I can’t really comment on his German, but it was recognizably German.

  4. dearieme says:

    I’d have been even more impressed by the headline Tolstoy Sings.

  5. marie-lucie says:

    the idea that Russian aristocrats of his generation were expected to be fluent French speakers
    Indeed they were for several generations. Aristocratic families engaged French governesses when their children were still very young, so that those children would learn French in a natural way. English and German governesses were also in demand. Being a governess was one of the few ways that educated but not wealthy single women could earn a living.
    It is strange to see “thou” in the English text. This must be a misunderstanding of the use of the 2nd person singular pronoun in Russian where French would use “on” and German “man” (and some English would use “one”). English “you” would have been more idiomatic.

  6. It is strange to see “thou” in the English text. This must be a misunderstanding of the use of the 2nd person singular pronoun in Russian where French would use “on” and German “man” (and some English would use “one”). English “you” would have been more idiomatic.
    I’m pretty sure he’s being consciously biblical in his language. “One” would not have conveyed his tone at all.

  7. marie-lucie says:

    But in English religious tradition, it seems to me that only God is addressed as Thou/Thee, not ordinary people.

  8. For the most part that’s true, and I wasn’t saying Tolstoy used it precisely as most English speakers would use it, only what I took to be his intention in using it. He was certainly well read enough in English to be aware of “thou” in its poetic and religious usages.
    Of course in his time English-speaking Quakers still used it on principle (or more precisely “thee” in all cases, without the old verb inflections). He might well have been aware of that.

  9. And just to add that the King James bible certainly uses “thou” not only to address God, so until very recently anyone wanting to sound “biblical” in English would be inclined to copy that.

  10. marie-lucie says:

    Do we know for sure whether Tolstoy composed those paragraphs directly in the various languages, or wrote them in Russian and translated them?

  11. According to this link, he translated the English passage himself for the recording, though it also says that the book from which the passage is taken was translated into English by someone else.

  12. But not till 1997, it appears.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    The “traditional” register of liturgical English which remains in use among some Anglophones even in the 21st century (probably even in Halifax if you look for it) uses thou/thee/thy etc. for human as well as divine second-person-singular addressees. Bridegrooms still say “with this ring I thee wed,” priests putting ashes on foreheads at the beginning of Lent still say “Remember, O Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return,” congregations respond with “And with thy spirit” to the priest’s (second-person plural) “The Lord be with you,” etc. etc.
    Of course, when Tolstoy was around it was more common to use the old pronouns for a certain sort of sonorous or poetic effect even in non-religious contexts, such as in the rather infamous Nietzsche line traditionally Englished as something like “When thou goest to woman, take thy whip.” This is not the result of a translator who cluelessly thinks German “du” = English “thou” for all purposes, but of a translator striving for a certain effect, and that’s presumably what Tolstoy was after.

  14. Yes, the English Tolstoy knew was Victorian, and largely from books, and it was a rare book of Victorian poetry that didn’t have thee’s and thou’s on every page. Nor did that era have, or care to have, any translations of the Bible into “today’s English.”

  15. his voice sounds young for his being one year before his death, wonderful as if like relic

  16. Alexei K. says:

    marie-lucie: No death penalty discussion goes without someone quoting “thou shalt not kill.” The ten commandments, obviously meant for mortals, are typically quoted from the King James “thou” version.
    In contrast, it seems to me that Jesus is rendered as using “you” (“ye”) because he addressed a group of disciples. Not always, though: “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet…”

  17. It’s nice to hear a real specimen of older French, though, supposing that Tolstoy was a native or almost native speaker by his governess. The nasal vowels are much more archaic, or “Southern”, or “québécois”, than what I have learnt as Standard French today (around 2007).

  18. marie-lucie says:

    minus273:
    I don’t feel like an old lady, so it is a bit of a jolt to hear my own pronunciation defined as “archaic”! Tolstoy’s nasal vowels are much as I pronounce them, along with most members of my family except some of the youngest ones, and they are definitely not “Southern”, nor are they “québécois” (I think Etienne would agree). If you want a Canadian comparison, they sound “Acadian” (a set of varieties in which the nasal vowels sound quite familiar to me).
    I don’t think my pronunciation has changed much from when I was young: it used to correspond to the “Standard French” as defined in older pronunciation manuals, but in the form of speech currently described under this name there are many differences with the speech of my youth, and for many people (especially young Parisians) the nasal vowels have changed in a general direction opposite to the changes in “québécois”, sometimes leading to misunderstandings.
    Listening to Tolstoy speak his three foreign languages, I think that his intonation is much less recognizably Russian in French than in English and German, and that would certainly reflect the influence of a native speaker, likely a French governess or tutor. Where he differs most from French is in his pronunciation of the sequences -or (in which his “o” is too high) and -aine (which is too short and where the “n” is barely audible). The trilled “r” was still used by many French people in France in his lifetime (and by many older people in my youth).

  19. (Sorry for the “archaic”…) So French intonation basically stayed quite unchanged for like 150 years! I always picture people then talk in something recognizably different at the first glance and it’s much less so than I had imagined. Hallucinating.

  20. or this, Mayakovsky, Esenin, Pasternak, Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, Erenburg, among others
    http://monoskop.org/Symphony_of_Sirens_Part_2
    too bad, no MT

  21. part1 has Daniil Kharms’ and Kandinsky’s recordings, cant listen for some reason though

  22. no, part 1 is reconstructions, someone else reads, not them, i opened the files to listen

  23. David Marjanović says:

    You’ve convinced me, I need to listen to the recordings :-)

    the rather infamous Nietzsche line traditionally Englished as something like “When thou goest to woman, take thy whip.” This is not the result of a translator who cluelessly thinks German “du” = English “thou” for all purposes, but of a translator striving for a certain effect

    …which, I think, comes across well this way. Even in Nietzsche’s own time it wasn’t exactly colloquial to use the word Weib or to add the dative ending -e to it. Wenn du zum Weibe gehst, vergiss die Peitsche nicht in modern spelling.

    it used to correspond to the “Standard French” as defined in older pronunciation manuals

    Or indeed in modern dictionaries that copy from older ones.

    for many people (especially young Parisians) the nasal vowels have changed in a general direction opposite to the changes in “québécois”

    The in sound is transcribed as [ɛ̃] in dictionaries. In northern France it’s [æ̃] (still commonly [ɛŋ] in the south). In Québec it’s [ẽ].
    Now, [ẽ] is so far away from the un sound, [œ̃], that they’ve stayed distinct in Québec. In France, the distinction seems to be gone everywhere*: the rarer un has merged into in, though possibly only within the last few decades.
    * My experience is limited, of course.

    So French intonation basically stayed quite unchanged for like 150 years!

    Sure. Intonation usually changes very slowly.

    listen_as_albert_einstein_reads_the_common_language_of_science

    Heh. There’s an anecdote of how he once wandered into a shop and asked for [ˈsand̥als]. The owner first showed him [ˈsə̆nːdæːlz], sun dials, before figuring out that Einstein actually wanted [ˈsẽɪ̯̃ə̯̃ndl̩z], sandals.

  24. John Cowan says:

    I never learned French formally, but the bits and bobs I picked up here and there now and again involved pronouncing in as [æ̃]. I wonder why; certainly it was not a matter of contact with native hexagonal francophones.

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