A Little Delicate

leo tolstoy

In August of 1890, Capt. McLaughlin of the First Precinct and three detectives “staggered” into the Tombs Police Court with 240 copies of Leo Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata. They were joined by four pushcart peddlers they had arrested and by Anthony Comstock, who had volunteered his services.

“Let me see the book,” said Justice White. After Comstock handed him a marked copy, the judge said, “Pshaw! I don’t see anything here to affect the morals of any person, young or old. Have you read the book through, Captain?”

“Well, not exactly,” the officer replied. “You see I feel a little delicate about reading a book of that kind.”

“How about you, Mr. Comstock?”

“Oh, I have not had time to read it yet,” replied Comstock. “I have only read the marked passages, and I must say they are perfectly shocking.”

Justice White gave Comstock a day to strengthen his case, and he could not. The prisoners were discharged and the books returned to their care.

Kreutzer René-Xavier Prinet

While the book marked a failure for Comstock, it did inspire René-Xavier Prinet to paint “The Kreutzer Sonata.”

* * *

Thanks to the (N.Y.) Evening Post, August 7 & 8, 1890.

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