Count Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, often referred to as A. K. Tolstoy, was a Russian poet, novelist and playwright, considered to be the most important nineteenth-century Russian historical dramatist. He also gained fame for his satirical works, published under his own name (History of the Russian State from Gostomysl to Timashev, The Dream of Councillor Popov) and under the collaborational pen name of Kozma Prutkov.

Early life

A. K. Tolstoy was born in Saint Petersburg to the famed family of Tolstoy. His father, Count Konstantin Petrovich Tolstoy (1780–1870), a son of the army general, was a Russian state assignation bank councilor. His mother, Anna Alekseyevna Perovskaya (1796–1857), was an illegitimate daughter of Count Aleksey Kirillovich Razumovsky (1784–1822), an heir of the legendary Ukrainian hetman Aleksey Razumovsky. A. K. Tolstoy's uncle (on his father's side) was Fyodor Tolstoy (1783–1873). His uncle on his mother's side was Aleksey Perovsky (1787–1836), an author known under the pen name of Antony Pogorelsky. Aleksey Konstantinovich was a second cousin of Leo Tolstoy; Count Pyotr Andreyevich Tolstoy was their common great-grandfather.

Konstantin Tolstoy and Anna Perovskaya's marriage was short-lived; they divorced in October 1817. With her six weeks old son Anna moved first to her own Blistava estate in Chernigov Governorate, then to Krasny Rog, belonging to her brother Aleksey Perovsky, who became Aleksey Konstantinovich's tutor and a long-time companion. Common knowledge has it that Pogorelsky's famous fantasy fairytale The Black Chicken or The People of the Underground was premiered at home, his young nephew being the only member of Pogorelsky's audience. It was under the latter's influence that Aleksey started to write poetry, as early as 1823, inspired by some old books he found at home. Aleksey had good teachers and at the age of six he fluently spoke French, German and English. Later he learned Italian as well.

As for the Tolstoys, Anna Perovskaya stopped seeing them altogether, only sending them postcards on major dates and holidays.Remembering those happy years, Aleksey later wrote:

I was brought up by Aleksey Perovsky… I spent the first years of my life at his estate and that is why I regard Malorossia as my true homeland. My childhood, which was very happy, left me the most cloudless memories. My mother's only child, without any friends to play with but endowed with a lively imagination, from an early age I was a dreamer, a quality which soon transformed into distinct poetic inclinations. In many ways the local surroundings were conducive to that: the air itself, the huge forests I fell passionately in love with, all this impressed me so much as to completely form my present character.

In early 1826 Anna Perovskaya returned to Saint Petersburg with her brother and son. Here, due to his mother's closeness with the court of the Tsar, Aleksey was admitted to the future Tsar Alexander II's childhood entourage and in August became what was officially termed "a comrade in games" for the young Crown Prince. Aleksey's duties were not many: he had to visit the Crown Prince in Saint Petersburgh and Tsarskoye Selo, take walks with him on Yelagin Island and participate in games, many of which were, in effect, small scale military exercises. They became friends and this friendship lasted for several decades, ending in the mid-1860s. In autumn of 1826 Aleksey met Alexander Pushkin for the first time.

In summer 1827 the family visited Germany where in Weimar young Aleksey met Goethe. The great man greeted the boy very warmly and left him a fragment of a mammoth tusk with his own drawing (depicting a frigate) on it, for a present. Aleksey, having been awe-stricken, remembered little: "Only his magnificent features and the way he took me upon his lap," according to his autobiography. The family spent the next ten years in continuous travel, both in Russia and abroad. An 1831 trip to Italy especially impressed the 13-year old. "Back in Russia I fell into a deep nostalgic depression, longing for Italy which felt like a real motherland; desperately mourning the loss, I cried at night when my dreams carried me off to this Paradise lost," he wrote in his autobiography decades later. In Italy the family met Karl Bryullov. On May 10, 1831, Aleksey wrote in his diary: "Bryullov dined with us and left a sketch in my album". The painter promised Perovsky to make portraits of all three of them once he was back in Russia, but five years later he had finished only one- that of his nephew.

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