"Our leader is like no one else in our Russian land / I needn't give his name, you will understand. / A night-time robber and a duel fan, / He was in exile in Kamchatka, no surprise, / From there he returned an Aleutian man. / He's a rogue: with clever men it can't be otherwise, / But when he, filled with frenzied inspiration, / Starts holding forth on honesty / He reddens ridden with obsession / And bursts out crying. So do we." (Alexander Griboyedov' “Woe from Wit”)
17 February 1782: On this day, 231 years ago, Count Fyodor Ivanovich Tolstoy was born, probably on the family's ancestral estate near Kologriv in Central Russia. No, not Count Tolstoy of War and Peace-fame, but one of his uncles, adventurer, duelist, soldier and bon vivant.
Being a real pain-where-the-sun-doesn't-shine prankster on the first Russian circumnavigation in 1803 with Krusenstern aboard Nadezhda, he seduced the ship's mascot, an orangutan, to scribble in and finally destroy Krusenstern's log (remember Stephen Maturin: "You debauched my sloth!"). Tolstoi was obviously such a pest that Krusenstern finally abandoned him in Kamtchatka, together with his primate friend. "The afore-mentioned orangutan, which was left on land with Tolstoy and whose later fate is unknown, gave rise to a great deal of gossip in aristocratic circles. According to one of the rumors, during his stay in Kamchatka, Tolstoy lived together with the ape; according to others, he ate it.".
Tolstoy lived a short but colourful life, and served as inspiration for many Russian 19th century poets and writers.