Sevastopol, Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
5:19 h Novels Lvl 7.46
The Sevastopol Sketches, also published in English as Sevastopol, are three short stories written by Leo Tolstoy and published in 1855 to record his experiences during the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855). The name originates from Sevastopol, a city in Crimea. The book was translated from Russian by Isabel F. Hapgood in 1888. These brief "sketches" formed the basis of many of the episodes in Tolstoy's magnum opus, War and Peace. In Sevastopol in May, Tolstoy examines the senselessness and vanity of war. The story examines many aspects of the psychology of war, heroism, and the misleading presence of humanism in truces (misleading because countries continuously go to war with one another, despite past truces). Tolstoy concludes by declaring that the only hero of his story is truth.


Leo Tolstoy

Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood

Sevastopol in December, 1854

The flush of morning has but just begun to tinge the sky above Sapun Mountain; the dark blue surface of the sea has already cast aside the shades of night and awaits the first ray to begin a play of merry gleams; cold and mist are wafted from the bay; there is no snow — all is black, but the morning frost pinches the face and crackles underfoot, and the far-off, unceasing roar of the sea, broken now and then by the thunder of the firing in Sevastopol, alone disturbs the calm of the morning. It is dark on board the ships; it has just struck eight bells.

Toward the north the activity of the day begins gradually to replace the nocturnal quiet; here the relief guard has passed clanking their arms, there the doctor is already hastening to the hospital, further on the soldier has crept out of his earthhut and is washing his sunburnt face in ice-encrusted water, and, turning towards the crimsoning east, crosses himself quickly as he prays to God; here a tall and heavy camel-wagon has dragged creaking to the cemetery, to bury the bloody dead, with whom it is laden nearly to the top. You go to the wharf — a peculiar odor of coal, manure, dampness, and of beef strikes you; thousands of objects of all sorts — wood, meat, gabions, flour, iron, and so forth — lie in heaps about the wharf; soldiers of various regiments, with knapsacks and muskets, without knapsacks and without muskets, throng thither, smoke, quarrel, drag weights aboard the steamer which lies smoking beside the quay; unattached two-oared boats, filled with all sorts of people, — soldiers, sailors, merchants, women, — land at and leave the wharf.

“To the Grafsky, Your Excellency? be so good.” Two or three retired sailors rise in their boats and offer you their services.

You select the one who is nearest to you, you step over the half-decomposed carcass of a brown horse, which lies there in the mud beside the boat, and reach the stern. You quit the shore. Allabout you is the sea, already glittering in the morning sun, in front of you is an aged sailor, in a camel’s-hair coat, and a young, white-headed boy, who work zealously and in silence at the oars. You gaze at the motley vastness of the vessels, scattered far and near over the bay, and at the small black dots of boats moving about on the shining azure expanse, and at the bright and beautiful buildings of the city, tinted with the rosy rays of the morning sun, which are visible in one direction, and at the foaming white line of the quay, and the sunken ships from which black tips of masts rise sadly here and there, and at the distant fleet of the enemy faintly visible as they rock on the crystal horizon of the sea, and at the streaks of foam on which leap salt bubbles beaten up by the oars; you listen to the monotonous sound of voices which fly to you over the water, and the grand sounds of firing, which, as it seems to you, is increasing in Sevastopol.

It cannot be that, at the thought that you too are in Sevastopol, a certain feeling of manliness, of pride, has not penetrated your soul, and that the blood has not begun to flow more swiftly through your veins.

“Your Excellency! you are steering straight into the Kistentin,” says your old sailor to you as he turns round to make sure of the direction which you are imparting to the boat, with the rudder to the right.

“And all the cannon are still on it,” remarks the white-headed boy, casting a glance over the ship as we pass.

“Of course; it’s new. Korniloff lived on board of it,” said the old man, also glancing at the ship.

“See where it has burst!” says the boy, after a long silence, looking at a white cloud of spreading smoke which has suddenly appeared high over the South Bay, accompanied by the sharp report of an exploding bomb.

He is firing to-day with his new battery,” adds the old man, calmly spitting on his hands. “Now, give way, Mishka! we’ll overtake the barge.” And your boat moves forward more swiftly over the broad swells of the bay, and you actually do overtake the heavy barge, upon which some bags are piled, and which is rowed by awkward soldiers, and it touches the Grafsky wharf amid a multitude of boats of every sort which are landing.

Throngs of gray soldiers, black sailors, andwomen of various colors move noisily along the shore. The women are selling rolls, Russian peasants with samovárs are crying hot sbiten; and here upon the first steps are strewn rusted cannon-balls, bombs, grape-shot, and cast-iron cannon of various calibers; a little further on is a large square, upon which lie huge beams, gun-carriages, sleeping soldiers; there stand horses, wagons, green guns, ammunition-chests, and stacks of arms; soldiers, sailors, officers, women, children, and merchants are moving about; carts are arriving with hay, bags, and casks; here and there Cossacks make their way through, or officers on horseback, or a general in a drosky. To the right, the street is hemmed in by a barricade, in whose embrasures stand some small cannon, and beside these sits a sailor smoking his pipe. On the left a handsome house with Roman ciphers on the pediment, beneath which stand soldiers and blood-stained litters — everywhere you behold the unpleasant signs of a war encampment. Your first impression is inevitably of the most disagreeable sort. The strange mixture of camp and townlife, of a beautiful city and a dirty bivouac, is not only not beautiful, but seems repulsive disorder; it even seems to you that every one is thoroughly frightened, and is fussing about without knowing what he is doing. But look more closely at the faces of these people who are moving about you, and you will gain an entirely different idea. Look at this little soldier from the provinces, for example, who is leading a troïka of brown horses to water, and is purring something to himself so composedly that he evidently will not go astray in this motley crowd, which does not exist for him; but he is fulfilling his duty, whatever that may be, — watering the horses or carrying arms, — with just as much composure, self-confidence, and equanimity as though it were taking place in Tula or Saransk. You will read the same expression on the face of this officer who passes by in immaculate white gloves, and in the face of the sailor who is smoking as he sits on the barricade, and in the faces of the working soldiers, waiting with their litters on the steps of the former club, and in the face of yonder girl, who, fearing to wet her pink gown, skips across the street on the little stones.

Yes! disenchantment certainly awaits you, if you are entering Sevastopol for the first time. In vain will you seek, on even a single countenance, for traces of anxiety, discomposure, or even of enthusiasm, readiness for death, decision, — there is nothing of the sort. You will see the tradespeople quietly engaged in the duties of their callings, so that, possibly, you may reproach yourself for superfluous raptures, you may entertain some doubt as to the justice of the ideas regarding the heroism of the defenders of Sevastopol which you have formed from stories, descriptions, and the sights and sounds on the northern side. But, before you doubt, go upon the bastions, observe the defenders of Sevastopol on the very scene of the defence, or, better still, go straight across into that house, which was formerly the Sevastopol Assembly House, and upon whose roof stand soldiers with litters, — there you will behold the defenders of Sevastopol, there you will behold frightful and sad, great and laughable, but wonderful sights, which elevate the soul.

You enter the great Hall of Assembly. You have but just opened the door when the sight and smell of forty or fifty seriously wounded menand of those who have undergone amputation — some in hammocks, the majority upon the floor — suddenly strike you. Trust not to the feeling which detains you upon the threshold of the hall; be not ashamed of having come to look at the sufferers, be not ashamed to approach and address them: the unfortunates like to see a sympathizing human face, they like to tell of their sufferings and to hear words of love and interest. You walk along between the beds and seek a face less stern and suffering, which you decide to approach, with the object of conversing.

“Where are you wounded?” you inquire, timidly and with indecision, of an old, gaunt soldier, who, seated in his hammock, is watching you with a good-natured glance, and seems to invite you to approach him. I say “you ask timidly,” because these sufferings inspire you, over and above the feeling of profound sympathy, with a fear of offending and with a lofty reverence for the man who has undergone them.

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