In the summer of 1908, Edison requested the author of War and Peace to make some recordings for him in English and French. “…Short messages conveying to the people of the world some thought that would tend to their moral and social advancement. My phonographs have now been distributed throughout all of the civilised countries, and in the United States alone upwards of one million are in use,” the American wrote. “Your fame is worldwide, and I am sure that a message from you would be eagerly received by millions of people who could not help from being impressed with the intimate personality of your own words, which through this medium would be preserved for all time…”
The Russian consented. In December 1908, Tolstoy’s personal physician Dushan Makovitsky made a diary entry about the “arrival of two Englishmen with a good phonograph,” who recorded and then played back Tolstoy’s voice.
We learn from the doctor’s personal notes that Tolstoy “practised before speaking into the phonograph, especially the English text.” He prepared for it thoroughly, was nervous and thought a great deal about what exactly to tell the millions of listeners “in all the civilised countries of the world.”
Tolstoy’s friend and assistant, Vladimir Chertkov, advised him to read out in English an extract from the treatise ‘On Life,’ written in 1887. As Tolstoy’s physician attests, the writer delivered the Russian and French texts on the first try. When it came to reading in English, he stumbled on a couple of words and decided to record afresh the following day.
The recording turned out to be very good. It survived the journey across the ocean and reached Edison, who confirmed its high quality.
Take a look!