I was armed at that time with many of these visiting-cards of introduction, and after this instance I filed them with great care in the waste-basket. I then examined my other letters. It is idle to describe to those who have never depended upon such documents in foreign countries the inadequacy of half of them. In spite of the kindest intentions, they were really worthless.
It was only after I got to Poland and Russia, where the hospitality springs from the heart, that my introductions began to bear fruit satisfactory to a sensitive mind. It is, therefore, with feelings of the liveliest appreciation that I look back on the letter given me by Ambassador White in Berlin to Count Leo Tolstoy. A lifetime of diplomacy, added to the sincerest and most generous appreciation of what an ideal hospitality should be, have served to make this representative of the American people perfect in details of kindness, which can only be fully appreciated when one is far from home. Nothing short of the completeness and yet brevity of this letter would have served to obtain an audience with that great author, who must needs protect himself from the idle and curious, and the only drawback to my first interview with Tolstoy was the fact that I had to part company with this precious letter. It was so kind, so generous, so appreciative, that up to the time I relinquished it, I cured the worst attacks of homesickness simply by reading it over, and from the lowest depths of despair it not only brought me back my self-respect, but so exquisitely tickled my vanity that I was proud of my own acquaintance with myself.
My introduction to Princess Sophy Golitzin, in Moscow, was of such a sort that we at once received an invitation from her to meet her choicest friends, at her house the next day. When we arrived, we found some thirty or forty charming Russians in a long, handsomely furnished salon, all speaking their own language. But upon our approach, every one began speaking English, and so continued during our stay. Twice, however, little groups fell into French and German at the advent of one or two persons who spoke no English.
Russians do not show off at their best in foreign environments. I have met them in Germany, France, England, Italy, and America, and while their culture is always complete, their distinguishing trait is their hospitality, generous and free beyond any I have ever known, which, of course, is best exploited in their own country and among their own people.
At the Princess Golitzin’s, I was told that the Countess Tolstoy and her daughter had been there earlier in the afternoon, but, owing to the distance at which they lived, they had been obliged to leave early. They, however, left their compliments for all of us, and asked the princess to say that they had remained as long as they had dared, hoping for the pleasure of meeting us.
Being only a modest American, I confess that I opened my eyes with wonder that a personage of such renown as the Countess Tolstoy, the wife of the greatest living man of letters, should take the trouble to leave so kind a message for me.