How Much Land Does a Man Need – A Story By Leo Tolstoy


Leo_Tolstoy_by_Nesterov

As I read about this story about one man’s lust for land I began to recount my own ventures for more, the more that never quite fills my pockets. I began to reflect on what is truly important and my quest to fulfill this in my life. See Russia begins to change you if you allow it to.  I’ve never found fulfillment in possessions, I’ve actually believe they are more of a burden and require much energy to maintain. I went and read the synopsis about this story from Wikipedia and realized that the accumulation of wealth invites an unwanted guest into our lives. Like Job in the bible Pahom get’s a visit from the devil himself and snatches everything from him.  It doesn’t seem to really be the wealth or the land that’s the true hindrance but the act of being  possessive of what we have accumulated. While contemplating the events of this story it also reminded of another tale, a bit different yet in the end the same results occurred. Who recalls the story of “Little Black Sambo”, do you see any correlation? Unlike others I don’t see racial slurs in this story but great insight into human nature. If we look at the four tigers we can see greed, envy, strife, and anger. When the tigers took everything from Little Black Sambo they then turned on each other and started chasing each other around a palm tree, kind of reminds me of modern society, everybody wants what everybody else has until……………well I think everyone knows, but if you don’t read the rest of the story here.

It’s the end of this story that’s the clincher.  It’s bit long but be patient……..it’s worth it.

how much land does a man need

Chapter I

An elder sister came to visit her younger sister in the country.
The elder was married to a tradesman in town, the younger to a
peasant in the village. As the sisters sat over their tea talking,
the elder began to boast of the advantages of town life: saying how
comfortably they lived there, how well they dressed, what fine
clothes her children wore, what good things they ate and drank, and
how she went to the theater, promenades, and entertainments.
The younger sister was piqued, and in turn disparaged the life of a
tradesman, and stood up for that of a peasant.
“I would not change my way of life for yours,” said she. “We may
live roughly, but at least we are free from anxiety. You live in
better style than we do, but though you often earn more than you
need, you are very likely to lose all you have. You know the proverb,
‘Loss and gain are brothers twain.’ It often happens that people who
are wealthy one day are begging their bread the next. Our way is
safer. Though a peasant’s life is not a fat one, it is a long one.
We shall never grow rich, but we shall always have enough to eat.”
The elder sister said sneeringly:
“Enough? Yes, if you like to share with the pigs and the calves!
What do you know of elegance or manners! However much your good man
may slave, you will die as you are living-on a dung heap-and your
children the same.”
“Well, what of that?” replied the younger. “Of course our work is
rough and coarse. But, on the other hand, it is sure; and we need
not bow to any one. But you, in your towns, are surrounded by
temptations; today all may be right, but tomorrow the Evil One may
tempt your husband with cards, wine, or women, and all will go to
ruin. Don’t such things happen often enough?”
Pahom, the master of the house, was lying on the top of the oven,
and he listened to the women’s chatter.
“It is perfectly true,” thought he. “Busy as we are from childhood
tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense
settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven’t land
enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn’t fear the Devil himself!”
The women finished their tea, chatted a while about dress, and then
cleared away the tea-things and lay down to sleep.
But the Devil had been sitting behind the oven, and had heard all
that was said. He was pleased that the peasant’s wife had led her
husband into boasting, and that he had said that if he had plenty of
land he would not fear the Devil himself.
“All right,” thought the Devil. “We will have a tussle. I’ll give you
land enough; and by means of that land I will get you into my power.”

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Chapter II

Close to the village there lived a lady, a small landowner, who had
an estate of about three hundred acres. She had always lived on
good terms with the peasants, until she engaged as her steward an
old soldier, who took to burdening the people with fines. However
careful Pahom tried to be, it happened again and again that now a
horse of his got among the lady’s oats, now a cow strayed into her
garden, now his calves found their way into her meadows-and he
always had to pay a fine.
Pahom paid, but grumbled, and, going home in a temper, was rough
with his family. All through that summer Pahom had much trouble
because of this steward; and he was even glad when winter came and
the cattle had to be stabled. Though he grudged the fodder when
they could no longer graze on the pasture-land, at least he was free
from anxiety about them.
In the winter the news got about that the lady was going to sell her
land, and that the keeper of the inn on the high road was bargaining
for it. When the peasants heard this they were very much alarmed.
“Well,” thought they, “if the innkeeper gets the land he will worry us
with fines worse than the lady’s steward. We all depend on that estate.”
So the peasants went on behalf of their Commune, and asked the lady
not to sell the land to the innkeeper; offering her a better price
for it themselves. The lady agreed to let them have it. Then the
peasants tried to arrange for the Commune to buy the whole estate,
so that it might be held by all in common. They met twice to
discuss it, but could not settle the matter; the Evil One sowed
discord among them, and they could not agree. So they decided to
buy the land individually, each according to his means; and the lady
agreed to this plan as she had to the other.
Presently Pahom heard that a neighbor of his was buying fifty acres,
and that the lady had consented to accept one half in cash and to
wait a year for the other half. Pahom felt envious.
“Look at that,” thought he, “the land is all being sold, and I shall
get none of it.” So he spoke to his wife.
“Other people are buying,” said he, “and we must also buy twenty
acres or so. Life is becoming impossible. That steward is simply
crushing us with his fines.”
So they put their heads together and considered how they could
manage to buy it. They had one hundred roubles laid by. They sold
a colt, and one half of their bees; hired out one of their sons as a
laborer, and took his wages in advance; borrowed the rest from a
brother-in-law, and so scraped together half the purchase money.
Having done this, Pahom chose out a farm of forty acres, some of it
wooded, and went to the lady to bargain for it. They came to an
agreement, and he shook hands with her upon it, and paid her a
deposit in advance. Then they went to town and signed the deeds; he
paying half the price down, and undertaking to pay the remainder
within two years.
So now Pahom had land of his own. He borrowed seed, and sowed it on
the land he had bought. The harvest was a good one, and within a
year he had managed to pay off his debts both to the lady and to his
brother-in-law. So he became a landowner, ploughing and sowing his
own land, making hay on his own land, cutting his own trees, and
feeding his cattle on his own pasture. When he went out to plough
his fields, or to look at his growing corn, or at his grass meadows,
his heart would fill with joy. The grass that grew and the flowers
that bloomed there, seemed to him unlike any that grew elsewhere.
Formerly, when he had passed by that land, it had appeared the same
as any other land, but now it seemed quite different.

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Chapter III

So Pahom was well contented, and everything would have been right if
the neighboring peasants would only not have trespassed on his corn-
fields and meadows. He appealed to them most civilly, but they
still went on: now the Communal herdsmen would let the village cows
stray into his meadows; then horses from the night pasture would get
among his corn. Pahom turned them out again and again, and forgave
their owners, and for a long time he forbore from prosecuting any
one. But at last he lost patience and complained to the District
Court. He knew it was the peasants’ want of land, and no evil
intent on their part, that caused the trouble; but he thought:
“I cannot go on overlooking it, or they will destroy all I have.
They must be taught a lesson.”
So he had them up, gave them one lesson, and then another, and two
or three of the peasants were fined. After a time Pahom’s
neighbours began to bear him a grudge for this, and would now and
then let their cattle on his land on purpose. One peasant even got
into Pahom’s wood at night and cut down five young lime trees for
their bark. Pahom passing through the wood one day noticed
something white. He came nearer, and saw the stripped trunks lying
on the ground, and close by stood the stumps, where the tree had
been. Pahom was furious.
“If he had only cut one here and there it would have been bad enough,”
thought Pahom, “but the rascal has actually cut down a whole clump.
If I could only find out who did this, I would pay him out.”
He racked his brains as to who it could be. Finally he decided: “It
must be Simon-no one else could have done it.” Se he went to
Simon’s homestead to have a look around, but he found nothing, and
only had an angry scene. However’ he now felt more certain than
ever that Simon had done it, and he lodged a complaint. Simon was
summoned. The case was tried, and re-tried, and at the end of it
all Simon was acquitted, there being no evidence against him. Pahom
felt still more aggrieved, and let his anger loose upon the Elder
and the Judges.
“You let thieves grease your palms,” said he. “If you were honest
folk yourselves, you would not let a thief go free.”
So Pahom quarrelled with the Judges and with his neighbors. Threats
to burn his building began to be uttered. So though Pahom had more
land, his place in the Commune was much worse than before.
About this time a rumor got about that many people were moving to
new parts.
“There’s no need for me to leave my land,” thought Pahom. “But some
of the others might leave our village, and then there would be more
room for us. I would take over their land myself, and make my
estate a bit bigger. I could then live more at ease. As it is, I
am still too cramped to be comfortable.”
One day Pahom was sitting at home, when a peasant passing through
the village, happened to call in. He was allowed to stay the night,
and supper was given him. Pahom had a talk with this peasant and
asked him where he came from. The stranger answered that he came
from beyond the Volga, where he had been working. One word led to
another, and the man went on to say that many people were settling
in those parts. He told how some people from his village had
settled there. They had joined the Commune, and had had twenty-five
acres per man granted them. The land was so good, he said, that the
rye sown on it grew as high as a horse, and so thick that five cuts
of a sickle made a sheaf. One peasant, he said, had brought nothing
with him but his bare hands, and now he had six horses and two cows
of his own.
Pahom’s heart kindled with desire. He thought:
“Why should I suffer in this narrow hole, if one can live so well
elsewhere? I will sell my land and my homestead here, and with the
money I will start afresh over there and get everything new. In
this crowded place one is always having trouble. But I must first
go and find out all about it myself.”
Towards summer he got ready and started. He went down the Volga on
a steamer to Samara, then walked another three hundred miles on
foot, and at last reached the place. It was just as the stranger
had said. The peasants had plenty of land: every man had twenty-
five acres of Communal land given him for his use, and any one who
had money could buy, besides, at fifty-cents an acre as much good
freehold land as he wanted.
Having found out all he wished to know, Pahom returned home as
autumn came on, and began selling off his belongings. He sold his
land at a profit, sold his homestead and all his cattle, and
withdrew from membership of the Commune. He only waited till the
spring, and then started with his family for the new settlement.

asainthefield - 2

Chapter IV

As soon as Pahom and his family arrived at their new abode, he
applied for admission into the Commune of a large village. He stood
treat to the Elders, and obtained the necessary documents. Five
shares of Communal land were given him for his own and his sons’
use: that is to say–125 acres (not altogether, but in different
fields) besides the use of the Communal pasture. Pahom put up the
buildings he needed, and bought cattle. Of the Communal land alone
he had three times as much as at his former home, and the land was
good corn-land. He was ten times better off than he had been. He
had plenty of arable land and pasturage, and could keep as many head
of cattle as he liked.
At first, in the bustle of building and settling down, Pahom was
pleased with it all, but when he got used to it he began to think
that even here he had not enough land. The first year, he sowed
wheat on his share of the Communal land, and had a good crop. He
wanted to go on sowing wheat, but had not enough Communal land for
the purpose, and what he had already used was not available; for in
those parts wheat is only sown on virgin soil or on fallow land. It
is sown for one or two years, and then the land lies fallow till it
is again overgrown with prairie grass. There were many who wanted
such land, and there was not enough for all; so that people
quarrelled about it. Those who were better off, wanted it for
growing wheat, and those who were poor, wanted it to let to dealers,
so that they might raise money to pay their taxes. Pahom wanted to
sow more wheat; so he rented land from a dealer for a year. He
sowed much wheat and had a fine crop, but the land was too far from
the village–the wheat had to be carted more than ten miles. After
a time Pahom noticed that some peasant-dealers were living on
separate farms, and were growing wealthy; and he thought:
“If I were to buy some freehold land, and have a homestead on it, it
would be a different thing, altogether. Then it would all be nice
and compact.”
The question of buying freehold land recurred to him again and again.
He went on in the same way for three years; renting land and sowing
wheat. The seasons turned out well and the crops were good, so that
he began to lay money by. He might have gone on living contentedly,
but he grew tired of having to rent other people’s land every year,
and having to scramble for it. Wherever there was good land to be
had, the peasants would rush for it and it was taken up at once, so
that unless you were sharp about it you got none. It happened in
the third year that he and a dealer together rented a piece of
pasture land from some peasants; and they had already ploughed it
up, when there was some dispute, and the peasants went to law about
it, and things fell out so that the labor was all lost.
“If it were my own land,” thought Pahom, “I should be independent,
and there would not be all this unpleasantness.”
So Pahom began looking out for land which he could buy; and he came
across a peasant who had bought thirteen hundred acres, but having
got into difficulties was willing to sell again cheap. Pahom
bargained and haggled with him, and at last they settled the price
at 1,500 roubles, part in cash and part to be paid later. They had
all but clinched the matter, when a passing dealer happened to stop
at Pahom’s one day to get a feed for his horse. He drank tea with
Pahom, and they had a talk. The dealer said that he was just
returning from the land of the Bashkirs, far away, where he had
bought thirteen thousand acres of land all for 1,000 roubles. Pahom
questioned him further, and the tradesman said:
“All one need do is to make friends with the chiefs. I gave away
about one hundred roubles’ worth of dressing-gowns and carpets,
besides a case of tea, and I gave wine to those who would drink it;
and I got the land for less than two cents an acre. And he showed
Pahom the title-deeds, saying:
“The land lies near a river, and the whole prairie is virgin soil.”
Pahom plied him with questions, and the tradesman said:
“There is more land there than you could cover if you walked a year,
and it all belongs to the Bashkirs. They are as simple as sheep,
and land can be got almost for nothing.”
“There now,” thought Pahom, “with my one thousand roubles, why
should I get only thirteen hundred acres, and saddle myself with a
debt besides. If I take it out there, I can get more than ten times
as much for the money.”

flat,550x550,075,f.u2

Chapter V

Pahom inquired how to get to the place, and as soon as the tradesman
had left him, he prepared to go there himself. He left his wife to
look after the homestead, and started on his journey taking his man
with him. They stopped at a town on their way, and bought a case of
tea, some wine, and other presents, as the tradesman had advised.
On and on they went until they had gone more than three hundred
miles, and on the seventh day they came to a place where the
Bashkirs had pitched their tents. It was all just as the tradesman
had said. The people lived on the steppes, by a river, in felt-
covered tents. They neither tilled the ground, nor ate bread.
Their cattle and horses grazed in herds on the steppe. The colts
were tethered behind the tents, and the mares were driven to them
twice a day. The mares were milked, and from the milk kumiss was
made. It was the women who prepared kumiss, and they also made
cheese. As far as the men were concerned, drinking kumiss and tea,
eating mutton, and playing on their pipes, was all they cared about.
They were all stout and merry, and all the summer long they never
thought of doing any work. They were quite ignorant, and knew no
Russian, but were good-natured enough.

To be continued…………..

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