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V.G. Tchertkoff, 1854-1936


Vladimir Grigorievich Chertkov
(1854 – 1936)

Vladimir Grigorievich Chertkov was born in 1854 in St. Petersburg. Three sources of power – wealth, aristocratic origin and eminent rank – were at the disposal of V.G. Chertkov’s family.

Chertkov’s mother, with whom he felt especially close, Elizaveta Ivanovna was born Countess Chernysheva-Kruglikova, occupied an eminent place in Petersburg society singled out among her circle for her beauty, intellect, from childhood educated authoritativeness and at the same time tact – that ability to hold oneself with people which in high circles was valued not less, than intellect, and generally entirely replaced it.

Chertkov’s father, Grigorii Ivanovich, was aide-de-camp under Nikolai I, Adjutant-General under Alexander II and Alexander III. He was well-known in military circles as someone with special knowledge of front line service and military bearing, which officers acquired, beginning their career in the guard of Nikolai I and at the same time he had the rare reputation in court spheres of a person straight and trying to accomplish his task as he understood it. The Chertkov family with all its ties belonged to the most select circle of Petersburg aristocracy, occupied a place on the highest rung of that social ladder, on the summit of which was the tsar’s throne, and used the imperial favor so much so, that Alexander II and Alexander III visited their home.

Describing his parents in one of his diary entries, he wrote that although “they belonged to a number of the most respectable of “respectable people”, at the same time, the status which they occupied, must be negatively reflected on his development: “…That’s how I grew up, assured of my own innate advantage over other people, proud of the dignity of my parents, their relatives and friends, entourage of servants, rising from their seats in the ante-room when I passed from my rooms into my parents’ part of the house, swimming in all kinds of luxury and almost not knowing rejection in satisfaction of my desires.”

His childhood passed uneventfully. He quickly grew into a young man who could expect a lot from a life ahead. According to all accounts he was very handsome – slender, taller than most other people, with big gray eyes under beaked brows, and especially witty, having a unique ability to speak paradoxically. He had a gentle and at the same time canorous voice, and pleasant infectious laughter.

Nineteen-year-old Chertkov voluntarily joined the Life Guards of the Cavalry – one of the most brilliant Guard regiments, and that revelry which captivated him earlier, became for him in its own way a demand for good form: such that, whoever tried to live differently, in this environment would be looked at with bewilderment and mockery, sincerely considered to be a bad friend and a strange person.

Yet yielding to all the enjoyment that was offered by life in the circle of golden youth, unaware of either external or internal obstacles for the realization of his desires, Chertkov from time to time felt, that there was something in his life that should not be and strove to find some moral law that would subordinate his behavior. And at the same time discord grew in Chertkov’s life, which continued inconspicuously and, with each year it was felt more and more, but was not apparent to others. In order to understand these arising doubts, to look closer at other ways of life and remain alone with himself, he decided, for a time to abandon his accustomed life, take a vacation for several months and go to England.

At the end of December 1879 Chertkov wrote his mother a letter from England:
“I can tell you a few fragments of my last thoughts:

1. In order to be useful, a person must define his position in the world around him;

2. He must therefore look at himself not subjectively but objectively; and

3. He can only reach such a view when the strength of all his aspirations are concentrated not upon himself, but on some kind of high goal, located outside himself.” And he wrote further that concentrating all his thought on Christian study “can indeed be useful to fulfill the problems of his life”.

In 1880, he left the military service. Resigning from the service, disregarding such a career, was an action that would cause society salons to begin to speak with perplexity and disapproval, like about something incomprehensible, unusual, and, like everything unusual, almost unpleasant. Chertkov’s mother tried to investigate the motives of his decision, it was more difficult for his father to do this, but he had to come to terms with his son’s decision, knowing his obstinacy and swiftness in carrying out his wishes.

In the spring of 1880, Chertkov left Petersburg and settled in his family’s estate in Lizinovka. Chertkov indeed went to the village as a young rich esquire, planning to do a great favor for those peasants, at the expense on which he lived, having an unclear understanding of their needs.

But that love of independence that spoke in all of Chertkov’s life, interfered with his keeping in step with others in this situation as well.

Scrutinizing the work of the zemstvo, he notices it’s weak sides and conceives the idea of implementing on his parent’s estate those measures to which the zemstvo does not pay attention. In that way the project came about to organize a trade school, in which peasant children and others could learn.

In October 1883 his historic meeting with Tolstoy took place in Moscow which changed the entire course of his life. It was said of him that he was more Tolstoy than Lev Nikolayevich himself. He served in the Life Guard when he met the author of “War & Peace and this meeting decided his entire destiny.

Fulfilling the propagandist ideal of “moral self-improvement”, Chertkov gave all his heart and soul to educational activity. Under Tolstoy’s initiative, Chertkov organized and financed the well-known publishing house “Intermediary” which specialized in the release of art and moralizing literature for people in 1885. “Intermediary” was the first publishing house in Russia, setting education of the Russian people and passed the test, despite the pressure of the Imperial censorship and directly hostile attitude of the Orthodox Church. The new publishing house was supported by the most outstanding writers of the country: Tolstoy, Chekhov, Korolenko, Garshin, Ertel, and Leskov wrote for “Intermediary”. Books were sold unusually cheaply. Reasonable prices and good listing, in which Repin, Surikov, Kivshenko and other Russian artists were engaged, helped the book distribution. Chertkov’s closest employees were quite often engaged in editing and drawing up his plans on his farmstead in Rzhevsk, located in the Ostrogozhsk District. Rzhevsk had a manor house on top of a mountain, an extensive court yard and subsidiary buildings; at the base of this mountain – in succession were three ponds, and behind them – 20 desyatin of forest. Soon the small village of Rossosh turned into a large publishing center. From here Chertkov conducted extensive correspondence on affairs of “Intermediary” with outstanding Russian writers and artists. Tolstoy came to visit his friend here in the spring 1894. The Rzhevsk estate has already long ago disappeared from the face of the earth.

Since the autocracy considered “Tolstoyism”, as special dogma, a decisive enemy Chertkov left for England. He was an incurable Anglophile, just like his mother, Elizaveta Ivanovna who spent most of the year in foggy Albion. In Hents, Chertkov and his wife  Anna Konstantinovna, nee Dietrichs (1859-1927), created the publishing firm “Free Word”. It was here that they published brochures, then illegal in Russia, on the covers of which were printed, as if a magic spell, Tolstoy’s words: “Not in God’s strength, but in Truth”. The Chertkovs frequently reminisced about their lovely Voronezh farm while sitting on the bank of the Thames.

After Tolstoy’s death, Chertkov supervised and was editor-in-chief of the Complete Works of Lev Tolstoy.

Vladimir Grigorievich Chertkov passed away in Moscow and is buried in the Vedensky Cemetery.