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Among Russian Sects and Revolutionists

The Extraordinary Life of Prince D. A. Khilkov

Graham Camfield

In his lifetime Prince Dmitrii Aleksandrovich Khilkov (1857–1914) became known in a number of seemingly contradictory roles and contexts: courageous officer, Tolstoyan, defender of the oppressed, leader of the Dukhobor exodus, revolutionary terrorist and returning Orthodox prodigal. Born into one of Russia’s ancient aristocratic families, with close links to the court, he chose an unexpected path that led him deep into the Russian countryside and brought him to the very edge of the Empire. Renouncing a brilliant military career, he gave up almost all his land to the peasants and settled on a small farm at Pavlovki, Khar’kov province. There, his support for peasants at variance with local landowners and the Church brought him into conflict with authority, both civil and ecclesiastical, and led to his exile, firstly among religious dissidents in Transcaucasia and later among political émigrés in Switzerland.
Using a wide range of often obscure published sources, this book explores Khilkov’s extraordinary life through his autobiographical notes and the accounts of many who knew him, among them Lev Tolstoi and his disciples, the Marxist Vladimir Bonch-Bruevich, fellow members of the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the Orthodox clergy who guided him back to the Church.
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CHAPTER 4: Discovering Tolstoi


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Discovering Tolstoi

Tolstoi’s first letter to Khilkov was written in December 1887, following a visit by Nikolai Dzhunkovskii and his wife, Elizaveta Viner. At their meeting Dzhunkovskii read two letters he had received from Dmitrii Aleksandrovich, which, on Tolstoi’s request, he left there. In reading them he felt immensely warmed towards Khilkov, finding in him a kindred spirit. He writes:

I have read your letters over again and once more experienced the same feeling as at the first reading, only with a greater strength: I have known you already for some time, admiring, rejoicing over you, with a selfish joy, sensing a comrade in the work, lightening, hastening my life’s work, but now for the first time I have come to love you truly, simply, i.e. for the first time I am moved towards to you, to your soul and have understood that, in addition to the outward expression of your life, there is still your inner life with all the sufferings (sufferings not in the sense of torments, but in the sense of things endured), which I have endured and which you are enduring. I felt sorry for you, loved you, and I had a desire to be useful, to help you, to make your life easier. Do not think that I wanted to teach you – we have only one teacher – truth, but I wanted to do for you, what I have often wanted and even now and...

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