LEO TOLSTOY, AGE 20 Nine years before watching a beheading in Paris.
Today in Paris in 1857, Leo Tolstoy sat down to write a letter to a friend. Tom Nissley tells the story in A Reader's Book of Days:
Idling in Paris, Tolstoy wrote to a friend in Russia on this say, "I can't foresee the time when the city will have lost its interest for me, or the life of its charm." But by the time he had finished the letter the next day, it had. What happened? On that morning, he was "stupid and callous enough" to attend an execution by guillotine: "If a man had been torn to pieces before my eyes it wouldn't have been so revolting as this ingenious and elegant machine by means of which a strong, hale, and hearty man was killed in an instant." Disgusted with Paris, he couldn't sleep for days and soon left the city, and his disgust transformed his outlook in a way that never left him. "The law of man—what nonsense!" he wrote that day. "The truth is that the state is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens."