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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 11: The Break with Tolstoi


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The Break with Tolstoi

The summer of 1898 saw the beginning of the break-up of the Tolstoyan colony at Purleigh with the move of some English members to the new venture at Whiteway. Disagreement among the Russians also contributed to its demise. Particularly distressing for Tolstoi himself was the breakdown in relations between his two closest friends and collaborators, Vladimir Chertkov and Pavel Biriukov. It was further evidence of the inability of the Tolstoyans to work together for all their ‘talk of love and serving God’.1 Arguments developed in particular between Chertkov, Biriukov, and Pavel Boulanger over the editorship of a new journal, which was to be dedicated to the propagation of Tolstoi’s teaching. Each of them wished to take the lead in editing the new venture. There were disagreements also over its title. Originally it was to be Zhizn’ [Life], but on Khilkov’s suggestion, during his brief stay at Purleigh, it was changed to Sovest’ [Conscience], since it would be dedicated to questions of ‘the free conscience and peaceful life founded on reason and love’.2 The first issue appeared in June 1898 with a completely different title, Svobodnoe slovo [Free Word], and under Biriukov’s editorship. In frustration Boulanger published his own journal Bratskii listok [Fraternal Leaflet], which both Chertkov and Biriukov found ← 165 | 166 → too sectarian and evangelistic.3 Boulanger subsequently left Purleigh and moved to London.

Biriukov and his wife, however, felt that they could no longer bear...

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