Leo Tolstoy


Three questions

(short story)





It once occurred to a certain king, that if he always knew the right time to begin everything;

if he knew who were the right people to listen to, and whom to avoid;

and, above all, if he always knew what was the most important thing to do,

he would never fail in anything he might undertake.


And this thought having occurred to him, he had it proclaimed throughout his kingdom that he would give a great reward to any one who would teach him


what was the right time for every action,

and who were the most necessary people,

and how he might know what was the most important thing to do.


And learned men came to the King, but they all answered his questions differently.


In reply to the first question,

some said that to know the right time for every action,

one must draw up in advance, a table of days, months and years, and must live strictly according to it.

Only thus, said they, could everything be done at its proper time.

Others declared that it was impossible to decide beforehand the right time for every action;

but that, not letting oneself be absorbed in idle pastimes,

one should always attend to all that was going on, and then do what was most needful.

Others, again, said that however attentive the King might be to what was going on,

it was impossible for one man to decide correctly the right time for every action,

but that he should have a Council of wise men, who would help him to fix the proper time for everything.

But then again others said there were some things which could not wait to be laid before a Council, but about which one had at once to decide whether to undertake them or not. But in order to decide that, one must know beforehand what was going to happen. It is only magicians who know that; and, therefore, in order to know the right
time for every action, one must consult magicians.


Equally various were the answers to the second question.

Some said, the people the King most needed were his councillors;

others, the priests; others, the doctors;

while some said the warriors were the most necessary.


To the third question, as to what was the most important occupation:

some replied that the most important thing in the world was science.

Others said it was skill in warfare;

and others, again, that it was religious worship.


All the answers being different, the King agreed with none of them, and gave the reward to none. But still wishing to find the right answers to his questions, he decided to consult a hermit, widely renowned for his wisdom.

The hermit lived in a wood which he never quitted,

and he received none but common folk.

So the King put on simple clothes,

and before reaching the hermit’s cell dismounted from his horse, and, leaving his body-guard behind,

went on alone.


When the King approached, the hermit was digging the ground in front of his hut.

Seeing the King, he greeted him and went on digging.

The hermit was frail and weak, and each time he stuck his spade into the ground and turned a little earth, he breathed heavily.


The King went up to him and said:

“I have come to you, wise hermit, to ask you to answer three questions:


How can I learn to do the right thing at the right time?

Who are the people I most need, and to whom should I, therefore, pay more attention than to the rest?

And, what affairs are the most important, and need my first attention?”


The hermit listened to the King, but answered nothing. He just spat on his hand and recommenced digging.


“You are tired,” said the King, “let me take the spade and work awhile for you.”

“Thanks!” said the hermit, and, giving the spade to the King,

he sat down on the ground.



When he had dug two beds, the King stopped and repeated his questions.

The hermit again gave no answer, but rose, stretched out his hand for the spade, and said: “Now rest awhile-and let me work a bit.”

But the King did not give him the spade, and continued to dig.


One hour passed, and another. The sun began to sink behind the trees,

and the King at last stuck the spade into the ground, and said:

“I came to you, wise man, for an answer to my questions. If you can give me none, tell me so, and I will return home.”


“Here comes some one running,” said the hermit, “let us see who it is.”

The King turned round, and saw a bearded man come running out of the wood.

The man held his hands pressed against his stomach, and blood was flowing from under them.

When he reached the King, he fell fainting on the ground moaning feebly.


The King and the hermit unfastened the man’s clothing. There was a large wound in his stomach. The King washed it as best he could, and bandaged it with his handkerchief and with a towel the hermit had. But the blood
would not stop flowing, and the King again and again removed the bandage soaked with warm blood, and washed and rebandaged the wound. When at last the blood ceased flowing, the man revived and asked for something to drink.


The King brought fresh water and gave it to him.

Meanwhile the sun had set, and it had become cool.

So the King, with the hermit’s help, carried the wounded man into the hut and laid him on the bed.

Lying on the bed the man closed his eyes and was quiet;

but the King was so tired with his walk and with the work he had done, that he crouched down on the threshold, and also fell asleep so soundly that he slept all through the short summer night.


When he awoke in the morning,

it was long before he could remember where he was,

or who was the strange bearded man lying on the bed and gazing intently at him with shining eyes.


“Forgive me!” said the bearded man in a weak voice, when he saw that the King was awake and was looking at him.

“I do not know you, and have nothing to forgive you for,” said the King.

“You do not know me, but I know you.

I am that enemy of yours who swore to revenge himself on you, because you executed his brother and seized his property. I knew you had gone alone to see the hermit, and I resolved to kill you on your way back. But the day
passed and you did not return. So I came out from my ambush to find you, and I came upon your bodyguard, and they recognized me, and wounded me.

I escaped from them, but should have bled to death had you not dressed my wound.

I wished to kill you, and you have saved my life.

Now, if I live, and if you wish it, I will serve you as your most faithful slave, and will bid my sons do the same. Forgive me!”



The King was very glad to have made peace with his enemy so easily, and to have gained him for a friend, and he not only forgave him, but said he would send his servants and his own physician to attend him, and promised to restore his property.

Having taken leave of the wounded man, the King went out into the porch and looked around for the hermit.

Before going away he wished once more to beg an answer to the questions he had put.

The hermit was outside, on his knees, sowing seeds in the beds that had been dug the day before.


The King approached him, and said:

“For the last time, I pray you to answer my questions, wise man.”

“You have already been answered!”

said the hermit, still crouching on his thin legs, and looking up at the King, who stood before him.

“How answered? What do you mean?” asked the King.

“Do you not see,” replied the hermit.


“If you had not pitied my weakness yesterday, and had not dug those beds for me, but had gone your way, that man would have attacked you, and you would have repented of not having stayed with me.

So the most important time was when you were digging the beds;

and I was the most important man;

and to do me good was your most important business.


Afterwards when that man ran to us,

the most important time was when you were attending to him,

for if you had not bound up his wounds he would have died without having made peace with you.

So he was the most important man,

and what you did for him was your most important business.


Remember then: there is only one time that is important: Now!

It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.


The most necessary man is he with whom you are,

for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with any one else:

and the most important affair is, to do him good,

because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life!”



Leo Tolstoy – Three Questions




Leo Tolstoy



Count Lyov (also Lev) Nikolayevich Tolstoy (9 September 1828 – 20 November 1910), usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy,  was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.

Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, Leo Tolstoy is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction.
Leo Tolstoy first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–1856),
and Sevastopol Sketches (1855), based upon his experiences in the Crimean War.

Tolstoy’s fiction includes dozens of short stories and several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886),
Family Happiness (1859), and Hadji Murad (1912). He also wrote plays and numerous philosophical essays.

In the 1870s Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis, followed by what he regarded as an equally profound spiritual awakening, as outlined in his non-fiction work A Confession (1882).
His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist.

Tolstoy’s ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1894),
were to have a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leo Tolstoy also became a dedicated advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly Resurrection (1899). (from: wikipedia).







Childhood (Детство [Detstvo], 1852) – Volume 1 of ‘Autobiographical Trilogy’
Boyhood (Отрочество [Otrochestvo], 1854) – Volume 2 of ‘Autobiographical Trilogy’
Youth (Юность [Yunost’], 1856) – Volume 3 of ‘Autobiographical Trilogy’
The Cossacks (Казаки [Kazaki], 1863)
War and Peace (Война и мир [Voyna i mir], 1869)
Anna Karenina (Анна Каренина [Anna Karenina], 1877)
Resurrection (Воскресение [Voskresenie], 1899)





Family Happiness (Семейное счастье [Semeynoe schast’e], 1859)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Смерть Ивана Ильича [Smert’ Ivana Il’icha], 1886)
The Kreutzer Sonata (Крейцерова соната [Kreitserova Sonata], 1889)
The Devil (Дьявол [Dyavol] 1889, published in 1911)
The Forged Coupon (Фальшивый купон [Fal’shivyi kupon], 1911)
Hadji Murat (Хаджи-Мурат [Khadzhi-Murat], 1912)



Short stories


“The Raid” (“Набег” [“Nabeg”], 1852)
“The Wood-Felling” (“Рубка леса” [“Rubka lesa”], 1855)
“Sevastopol Sketches” (“Севастопольские рассказы” [“Sevastopolskie rasskazy”], 1855–1856)
“Sevastopol in December 1854” (1855)
“Sevastopol in May 1855” (1855)
“Sevastopol in August 1855” (1856)
“A Billiard-Marker’s Notes” (“Записки маркера” [“Zapiski markera”], 1855)
“The Snowstorm” (“Метель” [“Metel”], 1856)
“Two Hussars” (“Два гусара” [“Dva gusara”], 1856)
“A Landlord’s Morning” (“Утро помещика”, 1856)
“Meeting a Moscow Acquaintance in the Detachment” (“Разжалованный”, 1856)
“Lucerne” (“Люцерн” [“Lyutsern”], 1857)
“Albert” (“Альберт” [“Al’bert”], 1858)
“Three Deaths” (“Три смерти” [“Tri smerti”], 1859)
“The Porcelain Doll” (1863)
“Polikúshka” (“Поликушка” [“Polikushka”], 1863)
“God Sees the Truth, But Waits” (“Бог правду видит, да не скоро скажет” [“Bog pravdu vidit, da ne skoro skazhet”], 1872)
“The Prisoner in the Caucasus” (“Кавказский пленник” [“Kavkazskii plennik”], 1872)
“The Bear-Hunt” (1872)
“What Men Live By” (“Чем люди живы” [“Chem lyudi zhivy”], 1881)
“Memoirs of a Madman” (1884)
“Quench the Spark” (“Упустишь огонь, не потушишь” [“Upustish ogon’, ne potushish”], 1885)
“Two Old Men” (1885)
“Where Love Is, God Is” (“Где любовь, там и бог” [“Gde lyubov’, tam i bog], 1885)
“Ivan the Fool” (“Сказка об Иване—дураке” [“Skazka ob Ivane—durake”], 1885)
“Evil Allures, But Good Endures” (1885)
“Wisdom of Children” (1885)
“Ilyás” (1885)
“The Three Hermits” (1886)
“Promoting a Devil” (1886)
“How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (“Много ли человеку земли нужно” [“Mnogo li cheloveku zemli nuzhno”], 1886)
“The Grain” (1886)
“The Godson” (1886)
“Repentance” (1886)
“Croesus and Fate” (1886)
“Kholstomer” (“Холстомер”, 1888)
“A Lost Opportunity” (1889)
“The Empty Drum” (1891)
“Françoise” (1892)
“A Talk Among Leisured People” (1893)
“Walk in the Light While There is Light” (1893)
“The Coffee-House of Surrat” (1893)
“Master and Man” (“Хозяин и работник” [“Khozyain and rabotnik”], 1895)
“Too Dear!” (“Дорого стоит” [“Dorogo stoit”], 1897)
“Father Sergius” (“Отец Сергий” [“Otetz Sergij”], 1898)
“The Restoration of Hell” (1902)
“Esarhaddon, King of Assyria” (1903)
“Work, Death, and Sickness” (1903)
Three Questions” (“Три вопроса” [“Tri voprosa”]), 1903)
“After the Ball” (“После бала” [“Posle bala”]), (1903)
“The Posthumous Notes of the Starets Feodor Kuzmich” (“Посмертные записки старца Федора Кузьмича”) (Unfinished, 1905, published in 1912)
“Alyosha the Pot” (“Алёша Горшок” [“Alyosha Gorshok”], 1905)
“Divine and Human” (“Божеское и человеческое”, 1906)
“What For?” (“За что?”, 1906)
“Three Days in the Village” (“Три дня в деревне”, non-fictional sketch, 1910)



Philosophical works


A Confession (1879) – Volume 1 of an untitled four-part work
A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology (1880) – Volume 2 of an untitled four-part work
The Gospel in Brief, or A Short Exposition of the Gospel (1881)
The Four Gospel Unified and Translated (1881) – Volume 3 of an untitled four-part work
Church and State (1882)
What I Believe (also called My Religion) (1884) – Volume 4 of an untitled four-part work
What Is to Be Done? (also translated as What Then Must We Do?) (1886)
On Life (1887)
The Love of God and of One’s Neighbour (1889)
Supplementary essay for Timofei Bondarev’s The Triumph of the Farmer or Industry and Parasitism (1888)
Why Do Men Intoxicate Themselves? (1890)
The First Step: on vegetarianism (1892)
The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1893)
Non-Activity (1893)
The Meaning of Refusal of Military Service (1893)
Reason and Religion (1894)
Religion and Morality (1894)
Christianity and Patriotism (1894)
Non-Resistance: letter to Ernest H. Crospy (1896)
How to Read the Gospels (1896)
The Deception of the Church (1896)
Letter to the Liberals (1898)
Christian Teaching (1898)
On Suicide (1900)
The Slavery of Our Times (1900)
Thou Shalt Not Kill (1900)
Reply to the Holy Synod (1901)
The Only Way (1901)
On Religious Toleration (1901)
What Is Religion and What is its Essence? (1902)
To the Orthodox Clergy (1903)
Thoughts of Wise Men (compilation; 1904)
The Only Need (1905)
The Grate Sin (1905)
A Cycle of Reading (compilation; 1906)
Do Not Kill (1906)
Love Each Other (1906)
An Appeal to Youth (1907)
The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908)[4]
The Only Command (1909)
A Calendar of Wisdom (Путь Жизни [Put’ Zhizni]; compilation; 1909)



Works on art and literature


The Works of Guy de Maupassant (1894)
What Is Art? (1897)
Art and Not Art (1897)
Shakespeare and the Drama (1909)






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