Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Papa Panov

Papa Panov should be Father Martin

Le Père Martin, a Christmas story about an old shoemaker who wanted to see Jesus, appeared over 130 years ago. It was the work of Ruben Saillens, writer, musician and Baptist pastor of Marseilles. Unbeknownst to him, the tale was soon translated into English and circulated without the name of the author.

The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy read the English translation of the tale, and, thinking it was an old English folk tale, made an adaptation in Russian. Tolstoy’s version quickly spread around the world, no doubt aided by the renown of his name.

When Ruben Saillens learned that his tale was circulating under the name of another, he wrote to Tolstloy, who apologized to him in 1888. Ten years later, seeing that the tale attributed to Tolstoy was still in circulation, Ruben Saillens again sent him a courteous complaint. Tolstoy replied with the following letter (written in French):

Sir,
As I have written to you, in all the Russian editions of my writings, it is said that the story Where love is, there is God, has been borrowed from a translation made from French. (1) With regard to the translations that are made of this story in America or elsewhere, it is completely impossible for me to control them, especially since more than 15 years ago I surrendered all of the copyrights for all my works published after 1881 in Russia as well as abroad.
Receive, Sir, the assurance of my distinguished feelings.
Leo Tolstoy
March 20, 1899
(1) and which is none other than your story: Father Martin

Tolstoy’s story, apart from being located in Russia, seems to give less importance to the Bible. In the tale by Ruben Saillens, the old shoemaker, Father Martin has had misfortunes in his life and it seems that he has recently obtained a large Bible that he is often seen reading. In Tolstoy’s story, Papa Panov searches for the old family Bible, which he has not read for a long time. From this point, the stories are almost identical.

If anyone wants to have the story written by Ruben Saillens, the copyright is now expired and I can send it by email (text only, without illustrations). Also, because I have been unable to find this tale in English I have translated it. Send me an email at the address found under Contact Me at the top to request this story in French or English, or both.

Ruben Saillens vs Leon Tolstoy

Ruben Saillens (1855-1942) was a well-known French Baptist pastor, writer and musician. My next few posts will consist of my translation of a story written by him that was first published in France about 130 years ago. Unknown to the writer, someone translated it into English. The English version, with no name attached, then found its way to Russia where it was discovered by Leon Tolstoy. Tolstoy then proceeded to render the story into Russian, with a few minor changes including changing the setting from Marseilles to some place in Russia. When a French translation of Tolstoy’s version appeared, Ruben Saillens wrote to Tolstoy, who replied with an apology in 1888.

Ten years later, seeing that the story was being published everywhere and attributed to Tolstoy, Saillens wrote again and received the following reply:

Sir,
As I wrote to you, in all the Russian editions of my writings it is said that the tale: Where there is love, God is there, is borrowed from a translation made from French (and is none other than your tale: Le Père Martin). As for the translations which are made of your tale in America and elsewhere, it is completely impossible for me to control them, inasmuch as more than fifteen years ago I surrendered all my copyrights for all my works that have appeared since 1881 in Russia as well as other countries.
With kindest regards
Leon Tolstoy
March 20, 1899

Was Tolstoy a plagiarist? He was definitely negligent if he made no attempt to discover who wrote the original tale that he then modified and sent out under his own name. However one can’t say that he deliberately plagiarized Saillens’ story; since it came to him in English, perhaps he took it to be an old English folk tale.

Most readers will be familiar with some version of the story of Papa Panov, the old Russian cobbler. I have tried to convey Saillens’ original French story as faithfully as possible. I would be interested in hearing your opinion: do you prefer Saillens’ story or Tolstoy’s?

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