First we have Tales for Children, published about the year 1872, and reminding us of the time when Tolstoy was absorbed in efforts to educate the peasant children. This section of the book contains the two stories which of all that he has written Tolstoy likes best. In What is Art? he claims no place among examples of good art for any of his own productions 'except for the story God sees the Truth, but Waits, which seeks a place in the first class (religious art), and A Prisoner in the Caucasus, which belongs to the second (universal art).' In the first of these the subject (a favourite one with Tolstoy) is the forgiveness of injuries. The second deals with the simplest feelings common to all men: fear and courage, pity, endurance, &c.' expressed with that individuality, clearness, and sincerity, which Tolstoy says are the signs of true art.
Part II contains a series of stories written for the people; and among them What Men Live By, probably the most widely circulated of all Tolstoy's tales. It is founded on the oft-repeated legend of an angel sent by God to live for a while among men.
Part III consists of a Fairy Tale, Iván the Fool, which contains in popular form Tolstoy's indictment of militarism and commercialism.
Part IV contains three short stories written to help the sale of cheap reproductions of some good drawings; Tolstoy having for many years been anxious by all means in his power to further the circulation, at a cheap price, of good works of pictorial as well as literary art.
In Part V we have a series of Russian Folk-Tales. The gems of this collection are the temperance story, The Imp and the Crust, the anti-war story, The Empty Drum, and another story, How Much Land does a Man Need? which deals with a peasant's greed for land. A Grain as big as a Hen's Egg and The Godson are highly characteristic of the spirit of the Russian peasantry, and supply a glimpse of the sources from whence Tolstoy imbibed many of his own spiritual sympathies and antipathies.
Part VI gives two adaptations from the French which have appeared in no previous English edition of Tolstoy's works. They are not merely translations, for to some extent Tolstoy when translating them, modified them and made them his own.
Part VII consists of stories Tolstoy contributed in aid of the Jews left destitute after the massacres and outrages in Kishinéf and elsewhere in Russia in 1903, -- outrages which were forerunners of the yet more terrible Jewish massacres of 1905.
The importance Tolstoy attributes to literature of the kind contained in this volume, is shown by the following passage in What is Art? --
'The artist of the future will understand that to compose a fairy tale, a little song which will touch a lullaby or a riddle which will entertain, a jest which will amuse, or to draw a sketch such as will delight dozens of generations or millions of children and adults, is incomparably more important and more fruitful than to compose a novel, or a symphony, or paint a picture, of the kind which diverts some members of the wealthy classes for a short time and is then for ever forgotten. The region of this art of the simplest feelings accessible to all is enormous, and it is as yet almost untouched.'
The sections of the book have been arranged in chronological order. The date when each story was published is given. The translations are new ones, and for the footnotes I am responsible.
February 1, 1906.