Was the following quote by Tolstoy originally in French? Did he say it in French? In what language should this quote by Tolstoy be cited?

Il ne faut écrire qu'au moment où chaque fois que tu trempes ta plume dans l'encre un morceau de ta chair reste dans l'encrier.

  • English version here.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 18:36
  • @Randal'Thor: the English version may have been translated from the French, and not the Russian.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 18:37
  • @PeterShor My comment predates the answers; I was just fishing for other versions of the quote online in case it would aid searchability.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 18:40

2 Answers 2


The quote is known from the memoir of A.B.Goldenweiser, page 157, the last paragraph of a 1904 chapter. He refers to the private conversation.

The memoir was published in Russian.

Писать надо только тогда, когда каждый раз, что обмакиваешь перо, оставляешь в чернильнице кусок мяса...

  • 2
    I've taken the liberty of editing the exact Russian quote into your answer, for easier usage if the OP wants to quote/cite it. Hope you don't mind.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 15:04
  • @Randal'Thor Not at all. Thank you. Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 17:55
  • Thank you very much for your very interesting answer. Commented Nov 24, 2021 at 11:23

According to the book Retrouvailles, by Claudette Combes and ‎Patrick Marcadet, found in Google books, the quote comes from the book Mémoires d'Alexandre Golden Veiser.

Alexandre Golden Veiser is almost certainly Alexander Borisovich Goldenweiser, a Russian composer who, according to Wikipedia, was a good friend of Leo Tolstoy. According to Russian Wikipedia, as far as I can tell (I don't speak any Russian), he published two memoirs of his relationship with Tolstoy: Вблизи Толстого (Vblizi Tolstogo,) and Лев Толстой и музыка (Leo Tolstoy and Music), and I would assume that this quote is in one of them.

So given that Goldenweiser and Tolstoy were both Russian, and Goldenweiser's book is written in Russian, I would assume that the original of the quote is in Russian.

  • 3
    If you're writing for a nineteenth century educated Russian audience, it's safe to assume your readers are literate in French. Tolstoy was happy to include passages in French even when most of the rest of the work was in Russian - he could assume that the audience he was writing for was literate in both languages. Even if you don't read Russian, it's obvious on page 2 when he switches to French - here's an original edition: archive.org/details/voinaimir00tols/page/6/mode/… Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 15:16
  • @JamesMoore: The other answer has actually found a Google link to the quote, and it is indeed in Russian. (And it's not clear to me the French translation is completely accurate; does the Russian read you must not write, you should not write, or you need not write?)
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 16:03
  • 3
    Just pointing out that the assumption that "written in Russian == only contains Russian" isn't correct. And my Russian is rusty, but there's no negatives anywhere in the sentence: Писать надо == you have to write, you must write - you have to write only when every time you dip your pen you leave a pound of flesh in the inkwell. (I'll be the first to admit that both my Russian and my French are pretty bad, but that French translation doesn't seem very direct.) Commented Oct 31, 2021 at 18:04
  • 1
    @JamesMoore : The French translation seems adequate. Technically, there are no negatives in the Russian text, but there is the word только (only).
    – akhmeteli
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 7:47
  • 3
    @PeterShor : The French translation seems accurate to me. I would say the closest English equivalent of "Писать надо только..." is "One should only write...", but the French expression is closer to the Russian expression than the English one.
    – akhmeteli
    Commented Nov 1, 2021 at 7:58

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