Leo Tolstoy

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Sara A. Hubbard (essay date 1887)

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SOURCE: "The Confession of Count Tolstoi," in The Dial, Vol. 8, No. 90, October, 1887, pp. 125-27.

[In the following review of Confession, Hubbard praises Tolstoy's genuine religious faith and honesty, but laments that his religious epiphany may have cut short his career as a fiction writer.]

The inner history of any strong personal experience is instructive; more deeply so when it is that of a man of ardent feeling, of earnest aspiration, and fine intellect. The life of Count Tolstoi, as it has been revealed in his writings, has excited universal interest. His genius was first made known through his earlier works of fiction; and immediately upon the enthusiasm which this created there came intimations of curiously eccentric conduct induced largely by intense and peculiar religious convictions. The novelist's own account of the singular tenets which have become the rule of his life, cutting short, as it is judged, a brilliant literary career, is given in the volume entitled My Religion. A supplement to this work—or, more properly speaking, the prelude to it—now appears under the title of My Confession. It was written in 1879, and in the right order of sequence should precede the book which it follows as an appendix. It is the simple avowal of a heart utterly intent on the service of truth and unmindful of the praise or censure of men.

Count Tolstoï was christened and educated, like the mass of the Russian nation, in the Orthodox Greek Church. Nothing disturbed the passive character of his faith until his twelfth year (in 1838), when a boyish comrade brought him word of the discovery, rife among the pupils of a gymnasium, that there was no God, and all that had been taught concerning him was merely the product of human invention. The young Lyof was captured by the novel idea, and thereupon began reading Voltaire. In his precocious wisdom he perceived the necessity of learning the catechism and continuing attendance at church; but his faith in the creed of his fathers gradually died out, until, at the age of sixteen, he ceased to pray or pay heed to any of the observances it prescribed. Nevertheless the instincts of a religious nature were not to be suppressed; and to satisfy these he strove after perfection in mental and bodily attainments, pushing his studies in every direction and inuring himself to severe physical exercises and the endurance of voluntary trials and privations.

The pathetic tenor of this period in the history of the motherless boy is little more than hinted at in the narrative, but between lines like the following its entire significance may easily be read:

I honestly desired to make myself a good and virtuous man; but I was young, 1 had passions, and I stood alone, altogether alone, in my search after virtue. Every time I tried to express the longings of my heart for a truly virtuous life, I was met with contempt and derisive laughter; but directly I gave way to the lowest of my passions, I was praised and encouraged. . . . I gave way to these passions, and becoming like unto my elders, I felt that the place which I filled in the world satisfied those around me. My kind-hearted aunt, a really good woman, used to say to me, that there was one thing above all others which she wished for me—an intrigue with a married woman: 'Rien ne forme un jeune homme, comme une liaison avec une femme comme il faut.' Another of her wishes for my happiness was that I should become an adjutant,...

(This entire section contains 1937 words.)

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and if possible, to the Emperor; the greatest happiness of all for me, she thought, would be that I should find a wealthy bride who would bring me as her dowry an enormous number of slaves.

The Count arraigns the sins of his youth in unsparing terms.

I put men to death in war, I fought duels to slay others, I lost at cards, wasted my substance wrung from the sweat of peasants, punished the latter cruelly, rioted with loose women, and deceived men. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder, all committed by me, not one crime omitted, and yet I was not the less considered by my equals a comparatively moral man. Such was my life during ten years. During that time I began to write, out of vanity, love of gain, and pride. I followed as a writer the same path which I had chosen as a man.

Notwithstanding the career of dissipation thus unreservedly avowed, the better self dominated at intervals, for it was while he was in the army that Tolstoi laid the firm foundation of his literary career. At twenty-six, when the war closed and he repaired to St. Petersburg, he was welcomed by the guild of authors there as one of the most gifted and promising of their fraternity. It was the conviction of this circle of thinkers and poets that they were ordained by the endowment of genius to be the instructors of mankind; and, without any definite preparation or purpose, they spoke and wrote and printed unceasingly. Count Lyof adopted the flattering theory with eagerness, and wrote and taught he "knew not what," with similar impetuosity.

For doing this," he says, "I received large sums of money; I kept a splendid table, had an excellent lodging, associated with loose women, and received my friends handsomely; moreover, I had fame.

The natural integrity of the man again prevailed, however, and he sickened of the false pretenses of men whose immoralities even exceeded those to which he had been accustomed in his military career. He travelled abroad, everywhere mingling with eminent foreigners and searching among them for higher motives to sanctify the aims of life. He returned unsatisfied; and, turning his back upon the excitements and pursuits of the city and of a literary teacher, he settled in the country and busied himself with the organization of schools for the peasantry. A year was spent in this employment, and again he went abroad, looking for more light on the great social problems he was struggling to work out. His return this time was coincident with the emancipation of the serfs; and, accepting the office of a country magistrate, he resumed the work of education, teaching simultaneously in the schools and in the columns of a newspaper which he published. At the end of a twelvemonth his health gave way and he was forced to seek restoration in new scenes and occupations. He was soon after married, and for a term of fifteen years was happily absorbed in the interests of his family and estate. Then arose anew in his mind the restless inquiry into the true meaning of life; and, tormented by the baffling query, he was brought to the verge of suicide. He was obliged to hide a cord to avoid hanging himself by it, and to cease carrying a gun because it offered too easy a way of getting rid of the misery of existence.

Such was the condition 1 had come to," he says, "at a time when all the circumstances of my life were preëminently happy ones, and when I had not reached my fiftieth year. I had a good, a loving, and a well-beloved wife, good children, a fine estate, which, without much trouble on my part, continually increased my income; I was more than ever respected by my friends and acquaintances; I was praised by strangers, and could lay claim to having made my name famous without much self-deception. Moreover, my mind was neither deranged nor weakened; on the contrary, I enjoyed a mental and physical strength which I have seldom found in men of my class and pursuits: I could keep up with a peasant in mowing, and could continue mental labor for ten hours at a stretch, without any evil consequences.

He turned for an explanation of the questions which destroyed his peace, to all the sources of knowledge open to him, to books and to personal intercourse with learned men. "I sought it," he says, "as a perishing man seeks safety, and I found nothing." At last he directed his study to the life of the common people, the simple, the unlearned, and the poor, and here he discovered a peace and content founded upon genuine faith, which did not exist elsewhere. He contrasted this life of sincerity and serenity with that of the rich and the learned and the distinguished with whom he had dwelt, and the latter

not only became repulsive, but lost all meaning whatever. All our actions, our reasoning, our science and art, all appeared to me in a new light. I understood that it was all child's play, that it was useless to seek a meaning in it. The life of the working classes, of the whole of mankind, of those that create life, appeared to me in its true significance. I understood that this was life itself, and that the meaning given to this life was the true one, and I accepted it.

As Count Tolstoï interprets it, the meaning of life is that man shall gain his living by labor, and that he shall not only work for himself but for all. And this creed of industry and humanity he proceeded to carry out faithfully in his daily conduct.

I renounced the life of my own class, for I had come to confess that it was not a real life, only the semblance of one; that its superfluous luxury prevented the possibility of understanding life; and that in order to do so I must know, not an exceptional parasitic life, but the simple life of the working classes, the life which fashions that of the world, and gives it the meaning which the working classes accept.

The faith of the people was that taught by the orthodox church, and to this Count Tolstoï went back after an absence of many years. But in the very heat of his enthusiasm he was chilled by the assertion of dogmas his reason repelled. At his first communion, he says, "when I drew near the altar, and the priest called upon me to repeat that I believed that what I was about to swallow was the real body and blood, I felt a sharp pain at the heart." The bitterness of doubt and perplexity was renewed, and no peace remained until he gave up the attempt to reconcile the false and the true which were entangled inextricably in the tenets of the church. He abandoned all communion with it, and taking the Scriptures alone for his guide he found in them at last a full and perfect answer to the questions which had so long and painfully agitated him.

Appended to this confession of Count Tolstoï is a short exposition of the gospel, an extract from a large manuscript work by him, the publication of which is prohibited in Russia for obvious reasons. The commentary presents "The Spirit of Christ's Teaching" as the author understands it. He does not believe in the literal inspiration of the Scriptures, but regards them as the work of many human minds which has undergone endless alterations during the passage of centuries. He sees in them "not an exclusively divine revelation, not a mere historical phenomenon, but a teaching which gives the meaning of life." His ideas, as frankly stated in the preface to the work on the Gospels, commend themselves by their liberality and moderation. They are those of a man of original mind, of great learning, of honest purpose, of endless courage, and of intense earnestness.


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Tolstoy, Leo

Religious and Philosophical Writings

(Full name Count Leo [Lev Nikolaevich] Tolstoy. Also transliterated as Lyof; also Nikolayevich; also Tolstoi, Tolstoj, Tolstoï). Russian novelist, short story and novella writer, essayist, dramatist, and critic. See also Smert Ivana Ilyicha Criticism, The Kreutzer Sonata Criticism, and Khozyain I rabotnik Criticism.

Tolstoy is regarded as one of the greatest novelists in the history of world literature. His Voina i mir (War and Peace) and Anna Karenina are almost universally acknowledged as all-encompassing documents of human existence and supreme examples of the realistic novel. Tolstoy is also considered a major religious and philosophic thinker, germs of which can be seen in his earlier fiction, but which ultimately came to fruition after the spiritual crisis he underwent beginning with deep depression in 1875. Characterized chiefly by his devotion to a close and literal reading of the Gospels of Christ, Tolstoy's religious convictions led him to a life of personal asceticism and social action that influenced Christian thinking around the world, and had a major impact on the thought and works of such social activists as Mohandas K. Gandhi in India and Jane Addams in the United States.

Biographical Information

Tolstoy was born in 1828 to a wealthy family who resided just outside of Moscow. After his mother died in 1830 and his father in 1837, Tolstoy's upbringing and education fell into the hands of relatives, who hired private tutors for him. In 1844 he entered Kazan University, but failed to earn a degree. He returned to the family estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in 1847 to manage the affairs there. Dissatisfied, Tolstoy joined the army in 1851, seeing active service in the Caucasus and in the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, which he later wrote about in his Sevastopolskiye rasskazy (Sevastopol Sketches). While in the army, Tolstoy began to write and publish fiction, which met with much success. He left the army in 1856 and traveled through Europe before returning to Yasnaya Polyana, where he lived for the rest of his life. At this point, he became interested in social reform, focusing his efforts on educational and philanthropic work with the peasants around his estate. In 1862 he married Sonya Andreyevna Behrs, and began working on his two greatest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Beginning around 1875, Tolstoy was plagued by depression and an obsession with death that lasted until his final spiritual crisis-a "conversion" to the orthodoxy of his youth-in 1878. Concentrating for the next several years on intensive study of theology and the Christian scriptures, Tolstoy developed his own interpretation of Christianity based on an ethical foundation of universal love and brotherhood, which eventually led to his renunciation of the aristocratic lifestyle. Rather than enter the secluded monastic life he admired, Tolstoy chose to remain at his estate and devote himself to public service, wearing peasants' clothing, doing manual labor, and practicing a strict regimen of pacifism, vegetarianism, and sexual abstinence. He turned away from writing the kind of novels that had won him worldwide fame and concentrated instead on writing philosophical and religious works, many designed to educate the masses. While several of Tolstoy's thirteen children sympathized with him, his spiritual rigor created tension in the family, especially with his wife. Government harassment and excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901 increased tensions in the family, and Tolstoy found that by 1905 his stance of pacifism and nonresistance were running counter to the realities of poverty and government-sanctioned slaughter of early Russian revolutionaries, many of them strongly influenced by Tolstoy's own banned writings. Beset by family problems, and overwhelmed by the responsibility of upholding his teachings in the face of massive social upheaval, Tolstoy fled from his home in 1910, dying in a railway station in Astapovo.

Major Works

In Ispoved (A Confession), Tolstoy outlined the spiritual upheaval that caused him to question the basis of his existence. The piece is considered among the great literary works of personal conversion that include St. Augustine's Confession and Rousseau's Confessions. Tolstoy's attempt at a solution to this crisis took the form of a radical Christianity whose doctrines ultimately included pacifism, vegetarianism, and sexual abstinence. At this point in his career, Tolstoy was concerned with producing two types of fiction: simple tales written in a folk tradition for uneducated readers and more literary works focusing on his moral preoccupations of this period. The folktales, such as "Brazhe iepko, a bozhe krepko" ("Evil Allures but Good Endures"), were designed as examples of "universal art" and have often been praised for delivering their didactic point in an artful manner. Much the same estimation has been accorded Tolstoy's literary fiction of this time, including Smert Ivana Ilyicha (The Death of Ivan Ilitch) and Kreitserova sonata (The Kreutzer Sonata). If the moral stance of these fictional tracts on death and sex has been criticized as simplistic or severe, the two works have also been considered among the best examples of Tolstoy's art of storytelling. However, Tolstoy's longest work of his post-conversion period and his last major novel, Voskresenie (Resurrection), is considered far less successful than his early masterpieces. Although Tolstoy's genius for description and characterization are still evident in this work, the intrusion of social and moral issues is regarded as detrimental to the novel's artistic value. Among the later novels, Khadzhi Murat (Hadji Murad) is more often viewed as the work that shows the extent and endurance of Tolstoy's narrative power. During his later period Tolstoy also produced a number of dramatic works in an attempt to express his post-conversion ideas in a genre outside fiction. Like many of his other works, these dramas are often highly regarded for their vivid and compelling sense of realism, and for the sincere and sometimes overwhelming urgency of the author's concerns. The chief work among these plays is Vlast tmy (The Power of Darkness). The somber action of the drama-including adultery, murder, and religious torment-culminates in the redeeming vision of Christian faith that was a spiritual focus of the older Tolstoy. In the social comedy Plody prosvesh cheniya (The Fruits of Enlightenment), the object of Tolstoy's criticism is aristocratic society, and in the unfinished drama I svet vo tme svetit (The Light That Shines in Darkness), it is the author's own life. The latter play is of particular interest for Tolstoy's view of his sprirtual conversion and its effect on the people around him. The artistic repercussions of his conversion are spelled out in Chto takoe iskusstvo (What Is Art?). The major concern of this essay is to distinguish bogus art, which he called an elitist celebration of aesthetics, from universal art, which successfully "infects" its recipient with the highest sentiment an artist can transmit-that of religious feeling. This conception of art led Tolstoy to dismiss most of history's greatest artists, including William Shakespeare and Richard Wagner, and to repudiate all of his own previous work save for two short stories. During this period Tolstoy also wrote his many moral and theological tracts, for which he was eventually excommunicated. His pamphleteering on social, political, and economic subjects also resulted in the censorship of his work by the government.

Critical Reception

As a religious and ethical thinker Tolstoy has been criticized for the extremism, and sometimes the absurdity, of his ideas. Many critics have also found it difficult to reconcile Tolstoy's lifestyle with his profession of such an extreme ethical code. Tolstoy himself was acutely aware of the contradiction between his aristocratic upbringing and his later renunciation of elitism, and some critics have speculated that this is the reason for his doctrine of often excessive asceticism. However, he has also been admired for the gigantism of his ambition to discover absolute laws governing humanity's ethical and spiritual obligations amid the psychological and social complexities of the world. Whatever form Tolstoy's doctrines took, they were always founded on his expansive humanitarianism and based on one of the most intensive quests for wisdom in human history. Although Tolstoy ultimately believed that art should serve a religious and ethical code, he himself serves primarily as a model of the consummate artist, and his greatest works are exemplary of the nature and traditions of modern literature.

F. W. Farrar (essay date 1888)

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SOURCE: "Count Leo Tolstoi," in The Forum, Vol. VI, No. 2, October, 1888, pp. 109-24.

[In the following essay, Farrar assesses Tolstoy's religious convictions as sincere and worthy of consideration, but believes Tolstoy exaggerated the degree to which the Christian world has misinterpreted its own fundamental tenets.]

There are men who make a deeper impression upon their contemporaries by the force or charm of their personality than by their genius or other gifts; and such a man is Count Leo Tolstoi, though his genius and his gifts are undeniable. He has written much and well; yet his extraordinary popularity, not only in Russia but in France, England, and other countries, cannot be accounted for only by the excellence of his writings. It is especially during the last few years that he has attracted an unusual amount of interest and attention, and this has been due in large measure to that revolution in his views, aims, and character to which the religious world gives the name of "conversion." Of this inward revolution he has, in various forms, published an account, and he has proved the depth of his sincerity by a total change in his manner of life. The realistic novelist has become a religious reformer. He now makes it his one aim to prove to the Christian world that, partly through ignorance, but more from insincerity, it has entirely mistaken the character and travestied the institutions of the faith which it professes to maintain.

To explain and justify the position which he now occupies, Count Tolstoi has published what may be called his Confessions; and a man who publishes a sincere autobiography is sure of the world's attention. Nothing is so interesting as the heart of man. When in the midst of a very commonplace scene Terence introduced the famous line,

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto,

the Roman people at once responded to the sentiment, and rose from their seats with a thunder of applause. The line of Pope,

The proper study of mankind is man,

at once became proverbial, because it gave epigrammatic form to a general conviction. One of the greatest of living poets, Mr. Robert Browning, has told us that he has taken for his lifelong subject "man's thoughts, fears, hates," and that he regards nothing as so supremely worth delineation as "the development of a soul's history." But to study mankind in the abstract is one thing, and to study human nature by self-introspection is quite another. Mr. Browning, while he takes the anatomy, and even at times the morbid anatomy, of the soul as the theme for his interpretation, contemptuously repudiates the notion that he is ever portraying himself. He shows us his shop-front, not the secrets of his house.

Rousseau begins his Confessions by saying: "Je forme une entreprise qui n'eut jamais d'exemple et dont l'exécution n'aura point d'imitateur. Je veux montrer à mes semblables un homme dans toute la vérité de la nature; et cet homme, ce sera moi." He was mistaken in saying that his task was unexampled. Profound as is the gulf of difference which separates St. Augustine from Rousseau, yet the Carthaginian saint has laid bare his heart to the world as completely as the French sage. Those two confessions stand practically alone in literature. But it is certainly not good as a rule to wear one's heart upon one's sleeve for daws to peck at. Few would think it right to lay open the inmost secrets of their being. They do not think that the multitude can be edified by laying bare to the coarse general gaze the

Abysmal depths of personality—

the secrets of the microcosm, the inner chambers of that hallowed individuality where the soul is alone with God. The most distinctive parts of the confessions alike of St. Augustine and of Rousseau have probably done more harm than good, and he who breaks down the holy barriers of dignity and reticence is violating a law which nature herself has beneficently imposed.

Yet the impulse which led to the publication of those books is far from rare. The individual man, if we can but see him as he really is, will ever be an object of intense curiosity to all his fellows. A sincere representation of human life can hardly fail to secure notice. If Count Tolstoi's books have appeared in edition after edition and translation after translation, the reason is because the world learns from him to see life as it is. He has studied mankind. He has photographed the society into which his circumstances have thrown him. He has revealed himself and the inmost workings of his own mind, alike in his novels and in his autobiographic revelations. And now, on the glaring stage of publicity, he has flung convention to the winds, has adopted that form of life which he regards as alone true to "Christ's Christianity," and laying aside the prerogatives of his rank, wealth, and fame, labors (we are told) among his own laborers, and lives as a poor man among the poor. He therefore makes an interesting and unusual figure in the literary and social history of the nineteenth century. So many-sided are the aspects of his activity that he might be called a Russian La Rochefoucauld, a Russian Rousseau, a Russian Zinzendorf, a Russian Flaubert; not that he in reality resembles any one of these characters, but that he presents certain affinities to them all.

Count Leo Nikolaiëvitch Tolstoi was born at his maternal estate of Jasnaja Poljana, near Toula, in 1829, and is therefore fifty-nine years old. After a home education he went to the University of Kazan, and in 1843 entered the faculty of Eastern languages. He left the university after two years, but continued his studies at home until 1851, when he entered the army, went to the Caucasus with his brother, and began to write his earliest novels, The Cossacks and Childhood and Youth. In 1853 he served under Prince Gortschakoff on the Danube, and subsequently took part in the defense of Sebastopol, which he has described in his "Sebastopol in December, in May, and in August." When the war was over he resigned his commission, and devoted himself to literary work, living on his estate in summer, and at Moscow and St. Petersburg in winter, until 1861. He then became a magistrate, and retired into the country, devoting himself mainly to the education and improvement of the peasantry. In 1860 he wrote his War and Peace, and in 1875-77 his Anna Karenina. Since that time he has abandoned fiction, adopted a sort of communism, and occupied himself mainly with religious works.

In this paper I propose to speak first of his novels; then of his inner life; and lastly of his religious opinions.

I. His works may be broadly ranged under four classes: fiction, education, autobiography, and religion.

In fiction he occupies the remarkable position of being the founder of the realist school. That "naturalist" or "impressionist" literature which has dragged down such men as Zola and others into the very nadir of degradation, owes its impulse to the Russian count. The Vicomte de Vogüé admits that before the appearance of this school in France Tolstoi had been led by his own geniusto photograph life in its most cruel realities, in its most fugitive nuances.1 It would, however, be grossly unjust to leave any reader under the impression that Tolstoi has sinned as the French writers have done against all morals and all taste, or has prostituted the name of art to the service of lubricity. He dwells on details which are often painful, but he is never impure, and with him the details are the accident not the end. They are due, in him, to an "implacable psychological observation." His "micrographie acharnée " is only an attempt to set forth life as it is, in all its natural surroundings, with exactitude and simplicity. He is not a stylist like Turgeneff. Style would add nothing to the pictures of life and society which he so faithfully portrays. "L'idéal a cessé, le lyrique a tari," says Ste. Beuve.2 The aim of Tolstoi, and of the modern school in general, is to hold up the mirror to human nature, and to depict it with subtle observation alike in its outward features and its most hidden motives. For this reason his best novels are not easy reading. They become fatiguing alike from the crowd of characters with which they are thronged, the episodical and inconsequential character of many of the scenes, and the manner in which the characters act independently, with no bearing upon each other except that loose external contact leading to nothing which we find also in life. Mr. Arnold instances the chapter in Anna Karenina in which Levine is hopelessly late for his wedding because his careless servant has omitted to bring his portmanteau. His clean linen is all packed up, and he cannot possibly be married before the élite of Moscow society in a dirty shirt. We naturally expect to find that the scene will lead to something. But it leads to nothing. It is simply a photograph of something which probably occurred in the experience of the novelist himself. There is an exactly analogous triviality in War and Peace, where a young lady is dressing for a ball, and where, absolutely à propos de rien, Tolstoi stops to give us the grave piece of information that at the last moment a tuck has to be run into the young lady's dress. To write thus is truly to paint life in the style of Teniers or of Quentin Matsys.

Tolstoi's best work is undoubtedly the novel just mentioned, Anna Karenina. It is a picture of Russian life, terrible in the merciless fidelity of its realistic coloring, and interesting in its study of various characters. The story mainly turns upon the married life of Dolly and Stiva; the courtship and married life of Kitty and Levine; and the married life of Anna and Alexis, broken by her illicit union with Wronsky. Never was married life, in its petty details, trials, and tragedies subject to a more microscopic gaze. Stiva is a sort of Tito Melema; he is a Russian prince, handsome, healthy, smiling, impecunious, intensely sensuous and egotistical, fond of good wine and good dinners, and never rising above the impulses of a genial selfishness. At the opening of the story we see the tranquil happiness of his wedded life in peril of total shipwreck from the discovery of his intrigue with the governess of his children. From this disaster he is saved by the fine tact of his lovely sister Anna Karenina, who, with inimitable grace and skill, brings about a reconciliation between him and his injured wife. His wife is the perfect type of a tried and toiling woman; the simple, honest, and loving Dolly. Kitty, who is Dolly's sister, is on the eve of being engaged to the handsome guardsman, Count Wronsky, but Anna meets him first at a railway station and then at a ball, and the two fall hopelessly in love with each other. Anna's husband, Alexis, is a worthy but disagreeable and pedantic official, much older than herself, whose habits are tiresome, and whose formal, unemotional temperament entirely fails to satisfy the warm heart and richly endowed nature of Anna. Hardly trying to resist her passion for Wronsky, who is entirely devoted to her, she is swept away by the stream, until at last she ends in guilt, which it becomes impossible to conceal. Her husband, ostensibly from high Christian motives, inflicts on her no punishment beyond absolute separation from her lover. She is brought by illness to the verge of the grave, and as she lies on what she believes to be her deathbed, she brings about a reconciliation between Alexis and her lover, who in shame and remorse returns home, and makes an attempt at suicide. But Anna recovers from her illness, and Wronsky from his wound. Her affection for her husband, renewed for a time by his noble and forgiving conduct at one supreme moment, yields to slow and growing repugnance. He is formal and exasperating, and possesses as little as herself the secret of duty which may smooth down the agony which must otherwise result from the incompatibility of temperaments in an ill-assorted marriage. In the despair of a nature which cannot exist without love and sympathy, she leaves him to live with Wronsky. Then we see the long, slow agony of this unhallowed union; not only the loss of position, the shame of necessary isolation, the coldness of society, and the separation from her beloved little son, but much more the tortures of jealousy and irritability, the impossibility that the man should sacrifice so completely as the woman does the ordinary pursuits and interests of life, the blight which falls over both careers, the certain and terrible Nemesis of violated laws. The long misery and misunderstanding of Anna end in her committing suicide by flinging herself before a passing train. In this picture, which is painted with consummate fidelity, lies the chief moral of the story: and rarely has there been a more powerful illustration of the thesis of the book of wisdom, "Wherewithal a man sinneth, therewith also shall he be punished."

I have already warned the reader against the supposition that this tale of

a crime
Of sense, avenged by sense that wore with time,

resembles in any respect the immoral romances with which France has become so fatally familiar. The story in one of its main currents deals with adultery and its consequences, but it deals with them in no unholy spirit. The tale is told not because the author loves to dwell on what is impure and painful, but because he desires to give an awful and lurid warning, and to show that this warning is founded on the inevitable certainty of natural laws. "Much in Anna Karenina is painful," says Mr. Arnold, "much is unpleasant, but nothing is of a nature to trouble the senses, or to please those who wish their senses troubled. This taint is wholly absent."

Side by side with this story we have that of Kitty and Levine. Kitty at first refuses the unconventional and somewhat vacillating young man, but after she has recovered from the illness caused by Wronsky's desertion of her, she learns to love him and feel his worth. They marry, and though Levine is crotchetty, unsettled, and in many respects a trying husband, and though they have serious quarrels and misunderstandings, they are yet very happy. Of Levine I will say no more, because the autobiographic sketches of Tolstoi show us that Levine is practically a picture of himself.

Some may prefer War and Peace to Anna Karenina. It is undeniably a very great work, though there can be no readers who do not suffer from the intolerable tedium of its crowded confusion and otiose minuteness. They must not, however, complain of this "tangle of emotions and hurried transcript of incidents," in which there is no concentration; for the very desultoriness and irrelevant detail of the book belong to the inmost idea of the writer. His apparent purposelessness is part of his purpose. We find in his pages what we find in the living world, and he leaves us with ineffaceable impressions of the horror, haphazard, and futility of war, and of the thrice-redoubled vanity of a life which is not illuminated from within by the light of the unseen. The book was written at a stage of the author's experience in which human existence seemed little better than a tomb in which no lamp was lit.

Before we proceed to the later works, we may see in two of his smaller romances a specimen of his methods.

One of these is the Death of Ivan Ilütch. Tolstoi is apparently fond of studying the grim phenomena of the deathbed, and so of going to the very verge of that awful abyss which no man knows. In Anna Karenina he has given us in elaborate detail the death of Nicolas Levine, and in War and Peace the death of Prince André. Ilütch is a very different personage. He is a bourgeois, without moral and without ideal, caring only for the money and vulgar comforts which life can bring. In this elaborately detailed sketch we see the hypocritic egotism of his three bosom friends, who cannot be induced even by the near presence of death to give up their game at cards, and the vulgar self-absorption of his commonplace widow. The faithful attentions of his peasant nurse, Guérassim, are the only redeeming feature in this very realistic journey to the edge of the Unknown.

Another instantaneous photograph (if I may use the expression) of life, not this time among the wealthy Russian princes of the capitals, or the bourgeois of the humbler towns, is the little story entitled "A Poor Devil." The hero is a drunken country peasant named Polikei. He so far conquers his temptations to drink and to dishonesty as to bring back to his mistress, from the bank in the neighboring town, a sum of four hundred and sixty-two rubles. But unhappily the rough cap in which he puts the money for safety has a hole in it; the money drops out upon the road, and when he returns he is so horror-stricken at the mishap, and at the suspicions which it affixes to his character, that he at once goes into the garret and hangs himself. Incidentally the little tale is remarkable for the manner in which it illustrates the misery caused by peasant conscription, and for its vivid description of the mode of life among the lowest serfs of a Russian estate.

We cannot leave these novels without noting the predominantly gray and dismal coloring of all Russian romance. Tolstoi's later convictions have led him to abandon the pride of nationality, but he has been unable to resist the influences of the Zeitgeist, and is inevitably, in both the great phases of his life, a child of his nation and his age. "Pessimism," says another Russian writer, N. Tsakin, "is a characteristic feature of all those epochs of history in which the mass of human suffering is at a maximum, and moral aspirations are entirely out of harmony with social conditions. Involved in an unequal conflict with their surroundings, men come to regard life as a terrible burden, and seek refuge in suicide, or in strange, mystical, and extravagant theories of society." Russia is now passing through such a period, and it is the resultant pessimism and poetic melancholy which have attracted so much interest in Europe during the past few years. Turgeneff has been described as a man with "a great grey face, sad and weary alike of the world's folly and wisdom. A man in whose face you read "Russian" at the first glance, enfin, l'homme de ses æuvres. " If Tolstoi in his novels shows the impress of the intolerable weariness which weighs upon the upper classes in Russia, in his later developments he shows the result of the same influences which have led to the existence of such sects as the "Christs," the "Skopsty," the "Negators," the Prigoony, the followers of Khodkine, of Colonel Doobowitz, and of Michael Popof. His views may differ from theirs as the views of a good and able man differ from those of monstrous fanatics, but they illustrate the unhealthy ferment of society, and are founded no less on strange misinterpretations and one-sided appeals.

II. Tolstoi has long been interested in education. When, in 1861, he became a country magistrate, he founded peasant schools at Jasnaja Poljana. His "Alphabet" and his "Reading Primers," drawn up for these schools, have become widely popular in Russia. He also founded aneducational magazine, to which he contributed articles based on personal observation of the little moujiks (peasants). We have the description of Jasnaja Poljana from the pen of its founder, and it must be confessed that it is based on very doctrinaire principles. Tolstoi thinks that a school has no right to interfere in education, which is a purely family affair; that it has no right either to punish or to reward; that its best police and administration consist in leaving to the pupils absolute liberty to learn and arrange among themselves as they think best! The result of acting upon these impossible theories seems to be, in many instances, to create a perfect bear-garden. The information which has been given to the world about the workings of the school may be insufficient, but it is not likely to encourage practical teachers to imitate the model set before them.

III. But it is time to turn to Tolstoi's autobiographic works, which have been widely circulated in manuscript, but were not allowed to be published in Russian. They have been translated into French under the titles Ma Confession, Ma Religion, and Que Faire? and the substance of them has been published in English under the title of Christ's Christianity.

In the first of these works he tells us how he came to believe. He was left an orphan at an early age, and was brought up mainly by an aunt. Up to the age of twelve he had given a traditional assent to the faith of the Orthodox Greek Church; but one day a boy from school, coming to spend the Sunday with him and his elder brothers, announced it as the latest discovery of his gymnasium that there was no God, and that everything taught them on the subject of religion was an imposture. Demetry, his eldest brother, then at the university, lived the life of a strict Pietist, but the other brothers adopted the unbelief which, under external conformity, is all but universal among youths of the upper classes in France and Russia. The young Tolstoi read Voltaire, and began to regard religion as a mere form, especially because he observed no difference of essential character between believers and unbelievers, and was never practically reminded of the fact that he was a member of the Orthodox Church. A faith accepted on trust, and upheld by authority, but unsupported by the cogent evidence of living example, gradually faded out of his mind. It was a house of cards, which collapsed at a touch, and the only difference between him and others was that his skepticism was more conscious, though he still supposed himself to believe in a God, and to accept (or not to deny) an undefinable something which he called the teaching of Christ. But even his belief in a possibility of perfection soon gave way before a desire for earthly success. He yielded to his passions because all efforts after virtue were derided, whereas even his aunt taught him, as Lord Chesterfield had the infamy to teach his son, "Rien ne forme un jeune homme comme une liaison avec une femme comme il faut." Her one desire was to see him marry a rich bride, and become an adjutant to the emperor. He says:

I cannot now recall those years without painful feelings of horror and loathing. I put men to death in war, I fought duels, I lost at cards, wasted my substance wrung from the sweat of peasants, punished the latter cruelly, rioted with loose women, and deceived men. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, and murder all committed by me, not one crime omitted, and yet I was not the less considered by my equals as a comparatively moral man!

It is perhaps necessary to warn the reader that he must not take this confession quite au pied de la lettre. St. Augustine, Bunyan, Whitfield, and others have after their conversion used, respecting their past selves, a violence of language which must not be understood from the point of view adopted by the ordinary man of the world.

He became an author (I follow his own narrative) out of pride and love of gain; succeeded, andwas flattered; and finding that his fellow writers, while proposing to be teachers of mankind, contented themselves with a life of dissipation and worldliness, he did the same. But before three years were over he was completely disillusioned by the hollowness of the pretensions which had at first attracted him. He continued, however, to live the blind life of vanity and egotism for six years longer. He still believed vaguely in progress, but the belief was shaken partly by the sight of an execution in Paris, partly by the early death of his brother; and although he found some satisfaction in his schools and his newspaper, they involved him in difficulties, and he was forced into the conviction that he was trying to teach without knowing how or what. After an illness from which he recovered by a visit to the steppes, he married, and for fifteen years was absorbed by the cares and duties of family life, which led him away from the search as to what life meant as a whole. He only aimed at personal and family happiness, and taught the same in his novels, obtaining, he says, "an enormous pecuniary reward and great applause for valueless work."

But gradually a sort of torpor grew on him, a perplexity and stoppage of life, which perpetually menaced him with the two questions, "Why?" and "What after?" He tried in vain to get rid of those questions by treating them as childish; but more and more he felt that his life was no life. Though he was strong, healthy, rich, famous, increasingly prosperous, and blessed with good children and a loving wife, the thought of death forced itself upon him with terrible persistence; art lost all charm for him; learning had no solution to offer for the problems by which he was tormented; the thought of suicide constantly haunted him as the only escape from the ennui and purposelessness of even so prosperous a lot as his. The theories of development and materialism became senseless to him. He went through the same experiences as Solomon and Sakya Muni and Schopenhauer, and was as much disgusted as those mighty predecessors with the ignorance, the self-indulgence, and the stolid indifference which inevitably and on every side confront the sensuous life which is not founded on a sense of the Unseen.

Levine, in Anna Karenina, is first delivered from a similar agony and disquietude by the answer of a peasant to the question, "Why is one farmer more humane than another?" "Men are not all alike," said the peasant; "one man lives for his belly, like Mitiovuck, another for his soul, for God, like old Plato."3 "What do you call living for his soul, for God?" asks Levine. "It's quite simple," answered the peasant; "living by the rule of God, of the truth." Levine made no reply, but the phrase rang in his heart, and impressed him with the conviction that the one thing worth living for is to be good.

It was even so that Tolstoi's deliverance came. He found no real faith, and often an avowed unbelief, among the learned, the wealthy, and the noble, and therewith a concomitant misery. He found pure conventionalism among the religious classes, and with all their unnecessary and unreasonable doctrines, he saw no difference between his own life and theirs. But he found true faith in all its simplicity as a force of life among the unlearned and the poor. Experience had taught him that the intellectual and scientific life of the cultivated classes was not real life, but only an epicurean consolation. Among the people, on the other hand, he found that faith, even though mixed with superstitions, gave them resignation and peace. In the huts where poor men lie, there was none of the morbid egotism which he detested in himself and in the society with which he was familiar. "The moujik acts instinctively, as if he were alone in the universe, and has no introspection." He began to see that if life had seemed to him like a shameful injury, death an evil joke, and suicide a haunting temptation, it was not because he had thought incorrectly, but because he had lived ill. He learnt that "to know God and to live are one. God is life."

He renounced the life of his own class as being only a semblance and a shadow, and he adopted the simple life of the working classes. But the creeds, the liturgies, and the ritual of the Orthodox Church failed to satisfy him, and specially because they involved the spirit of self-satisfaction and intolerance. He ceased to conform to the church. Confirmed by a dream which once more brought home to him the awfulness of life and death, he endeavored to disentangle the false from the true.

IV. The history of that search is contained in the book, What I Believe. For fifteen years he had been a child, for thirty-five a man, without religious belief. In the book just published, which was written in 1884, he says:

Five years ago I began to believe in the teaching of Christ, and my life was suddenly changed. I ceased to care for that which I had previously desired, and began to long for that which I had not cared for. What had formerly seemed to me good seemed bad, and what had seemed bad seemed good. It happened to me as it might happen to a man who, having left his home on business, should suddenly find the business to be unnecessary, and go home again. All this came from my understanding the teaching of Christ otherwise than I had formerly understood it. . . . Christ has spoken to all the millions of the simple. I believed and was saved.

The full history of the grounds of this change is reserved for two works on which Count Tolstoi has long been occupied: a criticism of dogmatic theology, and a new harmony of the four gospels. Love, humility, self-abasement, self-sacrifice, the return of good for evil, and not the dogmatic statements or outward ceremonies of the church, had always seemed to him the things essentially vital in Christianity. The church, he thought, while nominally accepting these principles, has weakened and undermined them. She has substituted the obscurest dogmas for Christ's most categorical rules, which rules she has entirely explained away. After repeated search, the central principle of all Christ's teaching seemed to him to be, "Resist not evil," or "him that is evil." He came to the conclusion that a coarse deceit had been palmed upon the world when these words were held by civil society to be compatible with war, courts of justice, capital punishment, divorce, oaths, national prejudice, and indeed with most of the institutions of civil and social life. He now believes that the kingdom of God would come if all men kept these five commandments, which he holds to be the pith of all Christ's teaching, viz: 1. Live in peace with all men. 2. Be pure. 3. Take no oaths. 4. Never resist evil. 5. Renounce national distinctions. He believes that the faith which overcomes the world is faith in the teaching of Christ; that on this teaching, literally carried out, depends the sole complete happiness of mankind; that its fulfillment is neglected; that the life of all who neglect it is miserable; but that its fulfillment is possible, easy, and joyful, and will save each individual man as well as all mankind from inevitable ruin. And believing this, he has shown the sincerity of his belief by acting up to it. He has renounced all feelings of anger and enmity. The descendant of Count Tolstoi the friend of Peter the Great, he refuses, for himself and others, all titles, rank, or any name but that of man. He repudiates the fame, praise, or learning which tend to separate him from others; he strives to get free of the evidences of wealth in his food, dress, outward appearance, and mode of life. He lives in a simple and laborious routine, earning his own bread. He refuses all oaths, lives in purity, and regards all men as brothers. He accepts all this teaching immediately and directly from Christ, attaching to his words an importance infinitely greater than to anything in the rest of the Bible. Most of the Bible does not seem to him to reflect the spirit of Christ at all, though it has been brought into artificial and unwarrantable connection with it. Hence he rejects the chief doctrines of the church: that of the Atonement by blood, that ofthe Trinity, that of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles and his transmission to the priesthood by laying on of hands, that of the need of the seven sacraments for salvation. He sets aside the authority of Paul, of councils, of fathers, popes, or patriarchs, and believes himself to be the immediate disciple of Christ alone. A recent visitor describes him as he lives now in his country home, on terms of homeliest friendship with his peasants, amid the silence only broken by the songs of birds, the voices of children, and the murmur of the bees in the acacias.

In the room which is next to his little study lies his shoemaker's outfit, his awl, his knife, and his leather. On the wooden partition wall hangs the scythe, with which a little later he will renew the pleasures of mowing, which he has eulogized in Anna Karenina. In an hour or two the great novelist, perhaps the greatest living novelist, will appear in his moujik's garb, with the dark loose coat and leather girdle, and we shall sally forth together over field and forest, drinking in the glad sunshine, and exulting in the beauty and glory and melody of spring.

Now any man is to be venerated who, even if his belief be partial and erroneous, makes immense sacrifices in proof of his professed convictions. Self-sacrifice is always fruitful, and even if Christ's teaching be practically misunderstood, yet the honest attempt to carry into practice its essential principles can hardly fail to bring down a blessing. But we are compelled to ask, Is this interpretation of Christ a true one? Are all men bound, or is any man bound, to act as this great writer has done?

I will here only express my belief that, though actuated by the noblest sincerity, Count Tolstoi has been misled by partial and one-sided interpretations of the meaning of the Gospel and the mind and will of Christ. To enter into the proof of this is impossible in this article, for I have already exceeded the space at my command. Meanwhile the reader who feels troubled lest it should be his duty also to forsake all the conditions of his life, and to take up the position and work of a common laborer, may rest for the present on the principle, Securus judicat orbis terrarum. With few and rare exceptions the whole of Christendom, from the days of the apostles down to our own, has come to the firm conclusion that it was the object of Christ to lay down great eternal principles, but not to disturb the bases and revolutionize the institutions of all human society, which themselves rest on divine sanctions as well as on inevitable conditions. Were it my object to prove how untenable is the doctrine of communism, based by Count Tolstoi upon the divine paradoxes, which can be interpreted on only historical principles in accordance with the whole method of the teaching of Jesus, it would require an ampler canvas than I have here at my disposal. Tolstoi says:

Everything confirmed the truth of the meaning which I found in the teaching of Christ. But for a long time I knew not what to make of the strange idea that after eighteen centuries, during which the Christian faith has been confessed by millions of men, and thousands of men have consecrated their lives to the study of this faith, it was granted to me to discover the law of Christ as a new thing. Yet strange as this might be, so it was!

The assertion is made with an unconscious and magnificent egotism. It breathes "the superb confidence of a reformer," but it sufficiently condemns the conclusion of this great man. He is not the first who has understood the real meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, nor will he be the last. The church in general has not been mistaken as to the inmost essence of Christ's revelation. Many thousands of men are living in accordance with his precepts though they accept the ordinary laws and institutions of national life. To show the points wherein Tolstoi labors under a mistake, as many a sublime enthusiast has done in former times, would require manypages; but we may be sure of this, that all Christians have not been laboring under a delusion so complete as he imagines.

"One accent of the Holy Ghost
The listening world has never lost."

1Revue des deux Mondes, Aug., 1882. Dostoiëvsky shows the same characteristics.

2 Quoted by Matthew Arnold in his paper on Tolstoi in the Fortnightly Review for Dec, 1887, one of the last contributions to literature of that distinguished and beautiful spirit.

3 Plato is a common name, it is said, among Russian peasants.

Principal Works

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Detstvo [Childhood] (novel) 1852

Otrochestvo [Boyhood] (novel) 1854

Sevastopolskiye rasskazy [Sevastopol Sketches]. 2 vols. (sketches) 1855-56

Yunost [Youth] (novel) 1857

Semeinoe schaste [Family Happiness] (novel) 1859

Kazaki [The Cossacks] (novel) 1863

Polikushka (novel) 1863

Voina i mir [War and Peace] (novel) 1869

Anna Karenina (novel) 1877

Ispoved [A Confession] (essay) 1882

V chiom moya vera [What I Believe] (essay) 1884

Smert Ivana Ilyicha [The Death of Ivan Ilitch] (novella) 1886

Vlast tmy [The Power of Darkness] (drama) 1888

Plody prosvesh cheniya [The Fruits of Enlightment] (drama) 1889

Kreitserova sonata [The Kreutzer Sonata] (novella) 1890

Khozyain i rabotnik [Master and Man] (novella) 1895

Chto takoe iskusstvo [What Is Art?] (essay) 1898

Otetz sergii [Father Sergius] (novella) 1898

The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi. 22 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, dramas, essays, and sketches) 1899-1902

Voskresenie [Resurrection] (novel) 1899

I svet vo tme svetit [The Light That Shines in Darkness] (unfinished drama) 1911

Khadzhi Murat (novel) 1911

Zhivoy trup [The Living Corpse] (drama) 1911

L. N. Tolstoi: polnoe sobrante proizvedenie. 90 vols. (novels, novellas, short stories, dramas, essays, and sketches) 1928-58

Tolstoy's Letters. 2 vols. (letters) 1978

F. W. Farrar (essay date 1891)

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SOURCE: "Count Leo Tolstoi," in Social and Present Day Questions, Bradley & Woodruff, 1891, pp. 343-54.

[In the following essay, Farrar examines the events leading up to Tolstoy's religious conversion.]

But few men have ventured to publish to the world the full confession of their inmost lives, to lay bare to the gaze of millions the naked heart as it lies open before the eyes of God. It is right that there should have been this reluctance. Reserve and the dignity of reticence are bulwarks which God Himself has reared in our being, and no one with impunity can break them down. The sacredness of our individuality is the awful solitude into which no human foot should intrude, and in that holy solitude we are alone with God. Whatever good may have been done by the confessions of the few who have torn away the veils woven by nature, it is doubtful whether there may not have been a deeper harm. There have been partial confessions, like Bunyan's "Grace Abounding" and Goethe's "Truth and Poetry." But two names stand out conspicuous, and almost alone, as those of men who have told to the world the utter truth about themselves: they are the names of St. Augustine and Rousseau.

St. Augustine has told us of his stormy and unhallowed youth; of the dreary period of his Manichean heresy; of the dishonourable bonds in which he was long fettered; of the turbulent passions with which he did not struggle, or struggled only in vain. He has depicted himself as he was,—a boy who lied and stole; a youth who plunged deep into folly and impurity. He has told it all in the spirit of utter penitence. He was not afraid to look on what then he was, because he had become wholly changed. His confessions are the 51st Psalm of a spirit which cried to God out of the deeps. And, then, he has told us how the influence of his holy mother, how a lofty book of Pagan philosophy, how the story of the self-sacrifice of the hermits, thrilled his heart; and how at last, when the grace of God had stirred him to the inmost depths, he opened the Epistle to the Romans at the words, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof." From that time forward Augustine became a devoted and holy man.

At the very opposite pole of feeling are the confessions of Rousseau. He begins by saying, "I wishto shew to my fellow-men a man, in all the verity of his nature; and that man will be myself." He tells us his character, his morals, his inclinations, his pleasures, his habits. Very shameful are some of his disclosures; yet he declares, with immense audacity, that, let the trumpet of the last judgment sound when it will, he will come with that book in hand to present himself before the sovereign Judge. "I will say aloud," he says, "See what I have done, what I have thought, what I was. I have spoken good and evil of myself with equal frankness. I have added nothing good. I have concealed in silence nothing that was evil. I have shewn myself despicable and vile when I have been so: good, generous, sublime, when I have been so. I have unveiled my inmost being even as Thou, O Eternal Being, Thyself hast seen it. Assemble round me the innumerable crowd of my fellow-men. Let them listen to my confessions; let them groan over my unworthinesses; let them blush at my wretchedness. Let each one of them, in his turn, discover his heart with the same sincerity at the foot of Thy throne, and let a single one among them say, if he dares, I was better than that man." We need say no more of Rousseau than this,—that no man could have written such a book, no man could have expressed such sentiments, except a man devoid of every element of Christian truth and life,—no man save one who had become vain in his imaginations, and his foolish heart was darkened. It is never thus that the holy have written. The cry even of God's saints has ever been: "My soul cleaveth to the dust: quicken Thou me, according to Thy word."

In our own days, and indeed within the last few years, another great writer has published his confessions,—the great Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoï. He has done so but partially, and not in detail, and with the sole intention of setting forth that view of religious truth at which he has now arrived. But there is in his story so much that is full of instruction that, I think we may draw some valuable lessons from Count Tolstoi's life, from his conversion from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.

Count Tolstoï is now about fifty-nine years old. As a Russian noble, he was trained a member of the Greek Church,—of the Church which boasts itself to be the Holy and Orthodox Church of Russia. Trained among worldlings, he never held a very serious belief. His early religion was nominal: it was only taken on trust; and it neither dominated his reason nor swayed his life. Such a faith is no better than a pack of cards. It topples over at a touch. When he was but twelve, a boy came to spend the Sunday with him at his home, who announced it as the last discovery of his school-fellows that there was no God, and that all their religious teaching was a mere invention. Even this—taken in connection with the sceptical books which he read—was sufficient to make belief fade away from the boy's mind. He tells us of a friend of his, whom he calls S., who was out on a hunting party, and slept in the same room with a brother. Before he lay down to rest, according to a habit which he had kept up from childhood, he knelt down to pray. When he had finished his prayer and was preparing to lie down, his brother lightly said to him, "Ah! you still keep that up?" Nothing more passed between them, but from that day his friend ceased to pray or to go to church.

For thirty years S. has not said a prayer, has not taken the Holy Communion, has not been in a church,—not because he shared the convictions of his brother, but because his brother's words were like the push of a finger against a wall ready to tumble over with its own weight. They proved to him that there was no depth, no sincerity, in his own religion; that what he had taken for belief was an empty form; and that every word he uttered, every sign of the cross he made, every time he bowed his head in prayer, the act was to him purely formal, and therefore unmeaning. Ah! my friends, beware of light words! You can never measure the awful harm which they may effect. I have heard of a young officer who was deeply impressed by a sermonwhich he had heard. It may have been that from that sermon the grace of God might have taken effective hold of his heart, and wrought in him from that day forward a new and blessed life; but, as he left the church, a brother officer made some idle, jeering, frivolous remark about the sermon. That base jest was a fowl of the air,—one of those dark birds which Satan takes care to have ready in flocks at the door of every church: it took away the good seed from the young man's heart, and the opportunity was gone. Ah! my friends, I say once more, Be on your guard against those fowls of the air yourselves: be even more on your guard lest any light, base word of yours should be a bird of Satan to snatch God's grace from the heart of another. "By thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned."

But a second and more fatal influence which undermined the youthful faith of Count Tolstoï was the insincerity which he saw on every side around him. When a religion has dwindled into a hollow and thin-voiced ghost, no wonder that it has lost its vital spell. The youth saw on all sides of him men and women who professed the most tremendous beliefs, and shewed an outer conformity in all forms and ceremonies, in all their own words and actions. They fasted, they used religious phrases, they perpetually signed themselves with the sign of the cross; but, alas! what could this avail, when he saw that they were not good, that they were in no sense beter than others? He often saw in these religionists (he says) men of dull intellects, of stern pretensions, of self-important bearing. Not only did he live among them for years without being once practically and effectually reminded of the fact that he was living among Christians, and called himself a member of the Orthodox Church, but he found that intelligence, honesty, frankness, a good heart, even moral conduct, were oftener met with among avowed disbelievers than among insincere and nominal Christians. Ah! my friends, if we indeed profess and call ourselves Christians, how infinitely important is it (not only for ourselves,—remembering that hypocrisy, though it may stand the gaze of men, cannot evade the glance of God,—but also for all our brethren who are in the world) that we should walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, in all lowliness and meekness, in long suffering, forbearing and forgiving one another in love!

But there was a third peril, worse than careless words, worse than merely formal religionism: it was downright wickedness and worldliness. In spite of all the orthodoxy, in spite of all the fasts and sacraments and splendid ceremonials of the Russian Church, Count Tolstoï found that among the upper and cultivated classes of his countrymen men and women openly lived in direct violation of the laws of God and of His Christ,—earthly, sensual, devilish, having no hope, and without God in the world. "I honestly desired," he says, "to make myself a good and virtuous man; but I was young, I had passions, and I stood alone in my search after virtue. Every time I expressed the longings of my heart for a truly virtuous life I was met with contempt and derisive laughter; but directly I gave way to my lowest passions I was encouraged. I found ambition, love of power, love of gain, uncleanness, pride, anger, vengeance, held in high esteem. I gave way to these passions; and, becoming like most of those around me, I found that my friends were not dissatisfied. That I should marry a wealthy bride, that I should become an adjutant to the Czar,—these were their chief wishes respecting me. Work for God, life for the future, treasure in heaven, did not enter into the view bounded by the narrow and impure horizon of their worldly hopes."

Accordingly, Count Tolstoï fell wholly into the godless life of the world, the flesh, and the devil. "I put men to death in war," he says; "I fought duels; I lost at cards; I wasted my substance wrung from the sweat of labourers; I treated those labourers cruelly; I deceived men; I lived uncleanly. Lying, robbery, adultery, drunkenness, violence, murder,—of all these I was guilty ;yet I was considered by my equals as a comparatively moral man. Such was my life during ten years, and I cannot now recall those years without a painful feeling of horror and loathing."

Not that they went wrong with him externally. He became a distinguished soldier; he became a most eminent writer. With fame he gained large wealth. He was received everywhere with warmth and flattery. Was he happy in this career of worldliness and dissipation, when holiness had become to him an empty name? My friends, what he was, what he felt, has been felt by millions from Solomon down to Schopenhauer, who have all gone through the same bitter experience described by divine lips two thousand years ago,—they have felt, and all who walk in their steps must ever feel,—"When he came to himself, he was an hungered, and he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine do eat." He tells us that he did but grow disgusted with mankind and with himself. He felt himself like a man who was being carried away in a boat by winds and waves, and who to the question, "Where are we to steer?" received no answer except, "We are being carried somewhere." He felt that all was vanity; that it was a misfortune to be born; and that death was better than life. Pleasure and worldliness were to him what they always are,—the dust and bitterness of Dead Sea apples which crumble in the taste, the bite of the serpent whose fang is death, the taste of the cup whose draught is poison.

A change came over his life, and a change for the better. He married, and became the father of a family. Living on his own ancestral estate, he devoted himself to the teaching of the children of his peasantry and an amelioration of their condition. So he lived for fifteen years. He had a good, loving, and well-beloved wife, good children, a fine estate, increasing wealth, and European fame. He was praised and respected by all. His mind was vigorous, his health perfect. He could study without fatigue for ten hours at a stretch, and keep up with the strongest of his peasants in mowing a field. In one sense, he was happy; yet all the while the apparent futility of it all pressed so heavily upon him, he felt himself so totally unable to answer his own constant questions, "Why am I living?" and "What comes after?" that more and more a sense of perplexity and stagnation—a stoppage, as it were, of life—grew upon him. "I hid away a cord," he says, "to avoid being tempted to suicide, and ceased to carry a gun, because it offered too easy a way of getting rid of life. I knew not what I wanted. I was afraid of life. I shrank from it; and yet there was something that I hoped for from it, I knew not what." My friends, was not this like that deep impression produced in the story of the minister who, to a young man's hopeful projects and ever mounting schemes of ambition, kept replying, And then? And then? And then? till he had brought him to the thought of old age and death, and shewed him how valueless was all in comparison with fitness to meet our God? Was it not like the state of mind produced in the young and noble Francis Xavier by the repeated question of Ignatius Loyola, reiterated every day and at every turn, "But what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" And does not this weariness even amid outward prosperity illustrate the great thought of St. Augustine, "Thou, O God, hast made us for Thyself; and our heart is restless until it find rest in Thee"?

Two things seem to have brought back Count Tolstoï to faith and peace. If he had been first shaken by a little word, so it was a little word which helped powerfully and materially to bring him back. He had long been struck with the fact that among the poor and the peasantry he saw the signs of a truer and deeper faith than among the noble and the rich. One day he asked a peasant how it was that some of the farmers were so kind and fair to their serfs, and others so cruel and unjust to them. "Men are not all alike," answered the peasant. "One man lives for his belly; another for his soul, for God." "What do you call living for his soul, for God?" he asked. "It's quite simple," answered the peasant,—"living by the rule of God, of the truth." He gave noanswer, but turned away with the words "living by the rule of God, of the truth," sounding in his ears. So you see that as on a word may depend the overthrow of a man's faith, so on a word may depend the salvation of his soul. If the words of a fool are as a madman who scatters firebrands, arrows, and death, so, on the other hand, "a word spoken in due season, how good is it!"

But another deep and permanent influence on Tolstoi's mind was the thought of death. There was an Eastern apologue which deeply impressed him. A traveller in the desert is attacked by a furious wild beast, and, to save himself, gets into a dry well; but at the bottom of the well he sees a huge serpent, with jaws wide open to devour him. He dares not get out for fear of the wild beast. He dares not descend for fear of the serpent. So he catches hold of a branch growing out of the crevice of the well. His arms grow tired, but still he holds on; and then he sees two mice, one white, one black, gnawing through the branch inch by inch. He knows that it must soon give way, and he must perish; yet, seeing a few drops of honey on the leaves, he stretches out and takes them, though he finds them no longer sweet. The interpretation is not difficult. The desert is the world; the wild beast is passion; the serpent is death; the branch is the life to which we cling; the black and white mice which gnaw through the branch are the nights and the days; the honey on the leaves are the few poor, transient pleasures at which men vainly clutch, as they hang over the abyss. And what are they worth?

But finding that learning and science gave but a dreary and unsatisfying answer to all his perplexities, and that the Church, with her theologies and formalities, gave no satisfaction to his soul, he was yet led to the everstrengthening conviction that in God only is life; that to know God only is to live. And then he was led to the revelation of God in Christ and the deeper study of all His teachings. And thereby he was converted; his life was changed; he received the new heart and the right spirit; he found possible—yea, easy, and, above all, most blessed—that conquest over himself and his own bad passions which once seemed so impossible to St. Cyprian, and to St. Augustine, but which millions of the saved have found to be not only possible, but freely offered in Jesus Christ. He renounced wealth, rank, fame, literature, all things, for Christ. He became an utterly changed man. "I ceased to care," he says, "for that which I had previously desired, and began to long for that for which I had once not cared. What had formerly seemed to me good seemed evil, and what had once seemed evil now seemed good. It happened to me as it might happen to a man who, having left his home on business, should suddenly find the business to be unnecessary, and go home again." All that stood to his right now stands to his left: all that was to the left is now to the right. His former wish to be as far from home as possible has changed into the wish to be near it. "All my desires changed places; and all this came from understanding the teaching of Christ. For, indeed, I came to Christ as the dying thief came. I, like the thief, knew that I had lived and was living ill, and that most men round me lived the same life, and were unhappy; and I saw no issue, but death alone. I felt, like the thief, as if I was nailed to the cross of an evil life, and the terrible darkness of death awaited me after the countless agonies of life. The thief could believe that there was salvation for him beyond the grave; but I desired salvation in this life also. Then suddenly I heard the words of Christ; I understood them; and life, once so wearisome, and death, once so terrible, ceased to appear evil to me. Instead of despair I felt the joy and happiness of life,—a joy and happiness never to be destroyed by death."

It is needless to pursue further this story of a soul's conversion. The essence has been told. My friends, your soul and mine are in the same condition as that of this man for whom, as for us, Christ died. When a man is converted, when he has realized the unseen, and tasted that the Lord is gracious, he has at last found out the meaning of death, life, and the vast forever. For him thework of life is done. Henceforth he

Commands all light, all influence, all fate,
Nothing to him falls early or too late.

The rain may fall, the floods rush, the winds of misfortune may rise and blow upon him from every quarter under heaven; but they cannot injure, they cannot shake him, for he is founded upon a rock. One part of Count Tolstoi's experience, I know well, must have been yours: you all have sinned; and another part of his experience, I know well, has been yours: you have found that neither the world, nor wealth, nor success, nor the life of the family, nor anything whatever, can give you happiness: nor man nor nature satisfy whom God alone created. Ah! will you not strive, will you not pray, that yours, too, may be the other, the blessed part of his experience,—that you may find Christ, that you may be at peace with God, that yours may be the blessedness of him whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered? To find that blessedness is to be ready for death and God and heaven; and it is no farther from you than the sacrifice of a broken heart, the cry of the penitent, the prayer of faith. The Son of Man hath power even on earth to forgive sins. My friends, this Spirit of God is ever pleading with every one of us. Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

William Dean Howells (essay date 1895)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy," in My Literary Passions, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1895, pp. 250-58.

[Howells was an American novelist and essayist. In the following essay, he discusses the influence of Tolstoy's religious and philosophical writings on his own works and thought.]

I come now, though not quite in the order of time, to the noblest of all these enthusiasms, namely, my devotion for the writings of Lyof Tolstoy. I should wish to speak of him with his own incomparable truth, yet I do not know how to give a notion of his influence without the effect of exaggeration. As much as one merely human being can help another I believe that he has helped me; he has not influenced me in aesthetics only, but in ethics, too, so that I can never again see life in the way I saw it before I knew him. Tolstoy awakens in his reader the will to be a man; not effectively, not spectacularly, but simply, really. He leads you back to the only true ideal, away from that false standard of the gentleman, to the Man who sought not to be distinguished from other men, but identified with them, to that Presence in which the finest gentleman shows his alloy of vanity, and the greatest genius shrinks to the measure of his miserable egotism. I learned from Tolstoy to try character and motive by no other test, and though I am perpetually false to that sublime ideal myself, still the ideal remains with me, to make me ashamed that I am not true to it. Tolstoy gave me heart to hope that the world may yet be made over in the image of Him who died for it, when all Caesar's things shall be finally rendered unto Caesar, and men shall come into their own, into the right to labor and the right to enjoy the fruits of their labor, each one master of himself and servant to every other. He taught me to see life not as a chase of a forever impossible personal happiness, but as a field for endeavor toward the happiness of the whole human family; and I can never lose this vision, however I close my eyes, and strive to see my own interest as the highest good. He gave me new criterions, new principles, which, after all, were those that are taught us in our earliest childhood, before we have come to the evil wisdom of the world. As I read his different ethical books, What to Do, My Confession, and My Religion, I recognized their truth with a rapture such as I have known in no otherreading, and I rendered them my allegiance, heart and soul, with whatever sickness of the one and despair of the other. They have it yet, and I believe they will have it while I live. It is with inexpressible astonishment that I hear them attainted of pessimism, as if the teaching of a man whose ideal was simple goodness must mean the prevalence of evil. The way he showed me seemed indeed impossible to my will, but to my conscience it was and is the only possible way. If there is any point on which he has not convinced my reason it is that of our ability to walk this narrow way alone. Even there he is logical, but as Zola subtly distinguishes in speaking of Tolstoy's essay on "Money," he is not reasonable. Solitude enfeebles and palsies, and it is as comrades and brothers that men must save the world from itself, rather than themselves from the world. It was so the earliest Christians, who had all things common, understood the life of Christ, and I believe that the latest will understand it so.

I have spoken first of the ethical works of Tolstoy, because they are of the first importance to me, but I think that his aesthetical works are as perfect. To my thinking they transcend in truth, which is the highest beauty, all other works of fiction that have been written, and I believe that they do this because they obey the law of the author's own life. His conscience is one ethically and one aesthetically; with his will to be true to himself he cannot be false to his knowledge of others. I thought the last word in literary art had been said to me by the novels of Tourguenief, but it seemed like the first, merely, when I began to acquaint myself with the simpler method of Tolstoy. I came to it by accident, and without any manner of preoccupation in The Cossacks, one of his early books, which had been on my shelves unread for five or six years. I did not know even Tolstoy's name when I opened it, and it was with a kind of amaze that I read it, and felt word by word, and line by line, the truth of a new art in it.

I do not know how it is that the great Russians have the secret of simplicity. Some say it is because they have not a long literary past and are not conventionalized by the usage of many generations of other writers, but this will hardly account for the brotherly directness of their dealing with human nature; the absence of experience elsewhere characterizes the artist with crudeness, and simplicity is the last effect of knowledge. Tolstoy is, of course, the first of them in this supreme grace. He has not only Tourguenief's transparency of style, unclouded by any mist of the personality which we mistakenly value in style, and which ought no more to be there than the artist's personality should be in a portrait; but he has a method which not only seems without artifice, but is so. I can get at the manner of most writers, and tell what it is, but I should be baffled to tell what Tolstoy's manner is; perhaps he has no manner. This appears to me true of his novels, which, with their vast variety of character and incident, are alike in their single endeavor to get the persons living before you, both in their action and in the peculiarly dramatic interpretation of their emotion and cogitation. There are plenty of novelists to tell you that their characters felt and thought so and so, but you have to take it on trust; Tolstoy alone makes you know how and why it was so with them and not otherwise. If there is anything in him which can be copied or burlesqued it is this ability of his to show men inwardly as well as outwardly; it is the only trait of his which I can put my hand on.

After the Cossacks I read Anna Karenina with a deepening sense of the author's unrivaled greatness. I thought that I saw through his eyes a human affair of that most sorrowful sort as it must appear to the Infinite Compassion; the book is a sort of revelation of human nature in circumstances that have been so perpetually lied about that we have almost lost the faculty of perceiving the truth concerning an illicit love. When you have once read Anna Karenina you know how fatally miserable and essentially unhappy such a love must be. But the character of Karenin himself is quite as important as the intrigue of Anna and Vronsky. It is wonderful howsuch a man, cold, Philistine and even mean in certain ways, towers into a sublimity unknown (to me, at least,) in fiction when he forgives, and yet knows that he cannot forgive with dignity. There is something crucial, and something triumphant, not beyond the power, but hitherto beyond the imagination of men in this effect, which is not solicited, not forced, not in the least romantic, but comes naturally, almost inevitably from the make of man.

The vast prospects, the far-reaching perspectives of War and Peace made it as great a surprise for me in the historical novel as Anna Karenina had been in the study of contemporary life; and its people and interests did not seem more remote, since they are of a civilization always as strange and of a humanity always as known.

I read some shorter stories of Tolstoy's before I came to this greatest work of his: I read Scenes of the Siege of Sebastopol, which is so much of the same quality as War and Peace; and I read "Policoushka" and most of his short stories with a sense of my unity with their people such as I had never felt with the people of other fiction.

His didactic stories, like all stories of the sort, dwindle into allegories; perhaps they do their work the better for this, with the simple intelligences they address; but I think that where Tolstoy becomes impatient of his office of artist, and prefers to be directly a teacher, he robs himself of more than half his strength with those he can move only through the realization of themselves in others. The simple pathos, and the apparent indirectness of such a tale as that of "Policoushka," the peasant conscript, is of vastly more value to the world at large than all his parables; and The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, the Philistine worlding, will turn the hearts of many more from the love of the world than such pale fables of the early Christian life as Work while ye have the Light. A man's gifts are not given him for nothing, and the man who has the great gift of dramatic fiction has no right to cast it away or to let it rust out in disuse.

Terrible as the Kreutzer Sonata was, it had a moral effect dramatically which it lost altogether when the author descended to exegesis, and applied to marriage the lesson of one evil marriage. In fine, Tolstoy is certainly not to be held up as infallible. He is very distinctly fallible, but I think his life is not less instructive because in certain things it seems a failure. There was but one life ever lived upon the earth which was without failure, and that was Christ's, whose erring and stumbling follower Tolstoy is. There is no other example, no other ideal, and the chief use of Tolstoy is to enforce this fact in our age, after nineteen centuries of hopeless endeavor to substitute ceremony for character, and the creed for the life. I recognize the truth of this without pretending to have been changed in anything but my point of view of it. What I feel sure is that I can never look at life in the mean and sordid way that I did before I read Tolstoy.

Artistically, he has shown me a greatness that he can never teach me. I am long past the age when I could wish to form myself upon another writer, and I do not think I could now insensibly take on the likeness of another; but his work has been a revelation and a delight to me, such as I am sure I can never know again. I do not believe that in the whole course of my reading, and not even in the early moment of my literary enthusiasms, I have known such utter satisfaction in any writer, and this supreme joy has come to me at a time of life when new friendships, not to say new passions, are rare and reluctant. It is as if the best wine at this high feast where I have sat so long had been kept for the last, and I need not deny a miracle in it in order to attest my skill in judging vintages. In fact, I prefer to believe that my life has been full of miracles, and that the good has always come to me at the right time, so that I could profit most by it. I believeif I had not turned the corner of my fiftieth year, when I first knew Tolstoy, I should not have been able to know him as fully as I did. He has been to me that final consciousness, which he speaks of so wisely in his essay on "Life." I came in it to the knowledge of myself in ways I had not dreamt of before, and began at least to discern my relations to the race, without which we are each nothing. The supreme art in literature had its highest effect in making me set art forever below humanity, and it is with the wish to offer the greatest homage to his heart and mind, which any man can pay another, that I close this record with the name of Lyof Tolstoy.

Further Reading

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Egan, David R., and Melinda A. Egan. Leo Tolstoy: An Annotated Bibliography of English-Language Sources to 1978. Metuchen, N.J. and London: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1979, 267 p.

Contains a section devoted to secondary sources on Tolstoy's religious and philosophical writings.


Christian, R. F. "'Confession' and 'Resurrection'," in Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction, pp. 212-29. Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1969.

Contends that Tolstoy's religious conversion occurred gradually over many years and is evident in works as early as his Childhood.

Clive, Geoffrey. "Tolstoy and the Varieties of the Inauthentic," in The Broken Icon: Intuitive Existentialism in Classical Russian Fiction, pp. 86-127. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972.

Examines Tolstoy's existential leanings.

Edie, James M.; James P. Scanlan; and Mary-Barbara Zeldin, eds. "Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy," in Russian Philosophy, Vol. II: The Nihilists, The Populists, Critics of Religion and Culture, pp. 208-212. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965.

Provides a brief overview of Tolstoy's religious conversion, as well as an introduction to Tolstoy's The Law of Violence and the Law of Love.

Greenwood, E. B. Tolstoy: The Comprehensive Vision. London: J. M. Dent and Sons Ltd., 1975, 184 p.

Analysis of Tolstoy's philosophy as evidenced in his work.

Kentish, Jane. An Introduction to A Confession and Other Religious Writings, pp. 7-15. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1987.

Provides a biographical overview of Tolstoy's conversion.

Kvitko, David. A Philosophic Study of Tolstoy. New York: David Kvitko, 1927, 119 p.

Contends that Tolstoy did not suffer a spiritual crisis, but rather that the basic tenetsof his beliefs were present even in his earliest writings.

Maude, Aylmer. An Introduction to A Confession, The Gospel in Brief, and What I Believe, by Leo Tolstoy, pp. vii-xvi. London: Oxford University Press, 1940.

Briefly expounds on Tolstoy's major religious principles and discusses the wider influence of his work in Christian cultures.

Redfearn, David. Tolstoy: Principles for a New World Order. London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1992, 196 p.

Examines the ongoing influence of Tolstoy's religious thought and its practical applications, such as his vegetarianism, pacifism, and social philosophy.

Rexroth, Kenneth. An Introduction to The Kingdom of God Is within You, by Leo Tolstoy, pp. v-x. New York: The Noonday Press, 1961.

Debates popular speculation about Tolstoy's character as a religious visionary, concluding that his philosophy was in the end that of the commoner.

Spence, G. W. Tolstoy the Ascetic. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1967, 154 p.

Analyzes the principles of Tolstoy's asceticism as he presented them in his writings and in his life.

Additional coverage of Tolstoy's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 123; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British; Discovering Authors: Canadian; Discovering Authors Modules: Most-Studied and Novelists; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 9; Something About the Author, Vol. 26; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 4, 11, 17, 28, 44; and World Literature Criticism.

Aylmer Maude (essay date 1902)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy's Teaching," in Tolstoy and His Problems, Grant Richards, 1902, pp. 25-36.

[In the following essay, Maude provides an overview of Tolstoy's religious and philosophical works.]

From his boyhood upwards, both when he listened to the still, small voice within, and when he observed things outside himself, Tolstoy felt, though not always with equal clearness, that life has a meaning and that man has power to progress towards what is good. The intervals of doubt and hesitation through which he passed, served to clarify and shape his certainty that morality is in the nature of things. Beginning with his earliest stories, and through all his writings, the reader may notice how Tolstoy's strenuous observation of things around him, and especially of what went on in his own consciousness, led him towards an understanding of life different from that of people whose creed is a matter of geography, and who have not worked at it themselves. He could not be content with a second-hand belief prepared and expressed for him by professional expounders.

In trying to give a brief outline of his present views, it will be convenient to confine the survey to works written since Anna Karénina was finished—say since 1878. And no more will here be attempted than to mention the chief subjects he has written about during the last twenty-five years, and to give a rough sketch of certain main conclusions he has reached, as well as of his reasons for adopting them.

In My Confession (1879)1 Tolstoy tells how he tried to grasp the meaning of his life, and how unsatisfactory he found the conventional answers. A law of his being obliged him to approve and disapprove of things: to discriminate between good and evil, and to follow after that which is good. But what is Goodness? Where can help or guidance for our lives be found? The results reached in My Confession were not final, but led on to what followed. Tolstoy could not brush away the claims of the Church without consideration; still less could he, as a truth-respecting man, profess to believe what he saw no sufficient grounds for believing. So, taking an authoritative text-book of the Eastern Church, he sought the bases of doctrines and dogmas such as those of the Trinity, the Sacraments, the scheme of Redemption, the miraculous Conception and Resurrection, and the claim of the Churches to authority over man's reason. His conclusion is expressed in A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology (1880-81), which says that not only are such doctrines false and harmful, but that they are fraudulent, and that the original purpose of the fraud can be detected. The dogmas bolster up the Church; and 'the Church,' when we come to practical business, means "power in the hands of certain people." By inducing people to surrender their reason, and to believe what is untrue, the rulers and officials of the Churchesobtained for themselves advantages and authority. When the Church, in the time of Constantine, allied itself with the State (which uses violence and causes men to be killed), it abandoned the religion Christ believed in, and substituted Churchianity for Christianity.

He next proceeded to a strenuous examination of the Gospels. If the claims of the Church needed consideration before they could be honestly accepted or rejected, equally was this the case with the collection of Hebrew and Greek literature called the Bible.

The best of the books of the Old Testament appear to Tolstoy to rank with the greatest works of Chinese, Indian, or Greek philosophy or religion. The Epistles of St. Paul do not rank so high in his esteem, but the four little booklets called the Gospels he has found more helpful and convincing than anything else in literature. The understanding of life they have helped him to reach is explained in The Four Gospels Harmonised and Translated (1880-82); The Gospel in Brief (1883); My Religion (or What I Believe) (1883-4); and The Christian Teaching (written later, put on one side, and published in 1898 without final revision).

Briefly (and by no means completely) summarised, the conclusions arrived at in these books were these:—

We have reason and conscience ("the light which lighteth every man") to guide us forward. We did not originate these for ourselves, but owe them to some Source outside ourselves. The clue to the perplexities of life is, that life is not our own to do as we like with, but we owe allegiance to what has been called "Our Father in Heaven," from whom (or from whence) proceeds the guidance we possess. Try to define God as He, She, or It; as three persons, or as thirty-three persons; as being the creator of the material universe (and therefore responsible for all that is amiss in it)—and we land ourselves in hopeless perplexities. But if we keep closely to what we know and have ourselves experienced, we may be as sure as Socrates was that we are in touch with the Eternal Goodness. We know not how to speak of this power within us and outside us, except to say that it is Love: God is Love.

The practical application of Christ's teaching to life, Tolstoy found given with special clearness in the Sermon on the Mount, from which he extracted five precepts already referred to in the preceding essay:—

  1. Do not be angry.
  2. Do not lust.
  3. Do not bind yourself by oaths.
  4. "Resist not him that is evil."
  5. Be good to the just and the unjust.

In a leaflet, How to read the Gospels (1896), Tolstoy tells us:—

A great teacher is great just because he is able to express the truth so that it can neither be hidden nor obscured, but is as plain as daylight.

And, indeed, the truth is there for all who will, with a sincere wish to know the truth, read the Gospels without prejudice, and, above all, without supposing that the Gospels contain some special sort of wisdom beyond human reason.

The Gospels, as is known to all who have studied their origin, far from being infallible expressions of Divine truth, are the work of innumerable minds and hands, and contain many errors. Therefore the Gospels can, in no case, be taken as a production of the Holy Ghost, as Churchmen assert. Were that so, God would have revealed the Gospels as he is said to have revealed the Commandments on Mount Sinai; or he would have transmitted the complete book to man as the Mormons declare was the case with their Holy Scriptures. But we know how these works were written and collected, and how they were corrected and translated; and therefore not only can we not accept them as infallible revelations, but we must, if we respect truth, correct the errors we find in them. Read them, putting aside all foregone conclusions; read them with the sole desire to understand what is said there. But, just because the Gospels are holy books, read them considerately, reasonably, and with discernment, and not haphazard or mechanically, as though all the words were of equal weight.

To understand any book one must first choose out the parts that are quite clear, dividing them from what is obscure or confused. And from what is clear we must form our idea of the drift and spirit of the whole work. Then, on the basis of what we have understood, we may proceed to make out what is confused or not quite intelligible. This is how we read all kinds of books. And it is particularly necessary thus to read the Gospels, which have passed through a multiplicity of compilations, translations and transcriptions, and were composed eighteen centuries ago by men who were not highly educated and were superstitious.

Very likely, in selecting what is fully comprehensible from what is not, people will not all choose the same passages. What is comprehensible to one may seem obscure to another. But all will certainly agree in what is most important, and these are things which will be found quite intelligible to every one. It is just this—just what is fully comprehensible to all men—that constitutes the essence of Christ's teaching.

In reading the Bible, or listening to the claims of the Churches, one must discriminate between faith and credulity. We must not accept as a virtue, faith of the kind defined by the schoolboy who said: "Faith is believing what you know to be untrue." Credulity is believing things you have no sufficient reason to suppose true, and is not a virtue but a fault. Faith is holding faithfully to what our reason and conscience enable us to perceive of the reality of things. We must not fear to trust our own judgment. The justification for thinking with our own heads is that we have no one else's to think with.

Tolstoy's acceptance of the advice: "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," is explained in the works above mentioned, and yet more fully in The Kingdom of God is Within You (1893). It means that we should injure no one, but should influence one another, not by physical force (nor even by unkindly compulsion stopping short of violence), but by appeals to man's higher nature: his sympathy, affection, reason, and respect for truth. It has been said in reply to this, that even if the text bears such a meaning, and even if the advice accords with the main drift of Christ's teaching and example, yet the advice is nevertheless unsound, for experience has shown that the use ofviolence to destroy or injure bad men is beneficial. And Tolstoy would admit that if the arrangements of society—Governments based on violence, wars, executions, protection of property by force, etc.—are satisfactory to man's highest aspirations, then the precept quoted is a foolish one. His position may be elucidated by taking a parallel case:—

We are advised to shun lies and to be truthful. This, he would say, is a valid precept, and needful because it is sometimes difficult to know how to speak, and we all need guidance for our conduct. Yet cases arise in which a man may not see his way to speak the truth. A feeble old man asks me about his daughter's conduct. If I tell him how she has behaved it may bring his grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Am I not justified in telling a lie? And does not it follow that truth is not better than falsehood? And that we can have no principle to guide us in choosing between veracity and mendacity? In regard to all such sophistries Tolstoy replies that our reason and conscience, faithfully used, are sufficient to enable us to discern principles for the guidance of our conduct; though we, and the society in which we live, may be far from living up to the principles so discerned. Truth, for instance, is better than falsehood. And the two being opposites, you cannot cultivate your character towards both sincerity and duplicity at the same time. Circumstances may arise in which it seems to you better to lie. But we never really foreknow the ultimate consequences of any action, and in such a case it is not wise to say "I did right to lie," but rather, "Owing to my limitations I did not see my way to escape lying." Truth remains desirable though men may be mendacious.

To Tolstoy the case of violent coercion versus gentle persuasion is similar. Violence is employed in our society, and we may, in this or that case, not have the wisdom or faithfulness to abstain from using it. Yet violence and gentleness are opposites—and we can neither progress in two directions at once nor remain safely without guidance. If it is wrong to believe that the use of violence among men is an evil causing incalculable suffering, then it is time some one told us how much violence to use. We need a general principle which will serve us when we are perplexed.

With the economic problem Tolstoy deals in What then must we do? (1885), a trenchant sequel to which, The Slavery of our Times, appeared in 1900. He quite rejects 'charity organisation,' money-collecting activities, and the belief that expenditure (including charitable expenditure: entertainments, bazaars, balls, etc.) can supply the need of the poor. People are fed, clothed, and sheltered by the results of labour. Economically speaking, what a man produces, or what service he renders to others, goes to his credit; what he consumes (were it but a crust of dry bread) goes to his debit. The more a man takes for himself, and the less he produces for others, the more of a burden he is to society. And the fact that what he consumes was left him by his father or given him by a friend does not alter the case.

Examining the fact that now, as in former ages, some people are able to consume much while they produce little, and others, while producing much, can hardly keep for themselves the necessaries of life, Tolstoy came to investigate the use of money, and arrived at the conclusion that the organisation and justification of violence in the hands of certain people called 'Government'—who by the use of force maintain taxation, the private ownership of land and property, and the monetary system—have reproduced in the modern world the essential evil of ancient slavery. In both cases the many labour, not under natural, healthy, and free conditions but under conditions imposed by those who own the slaves, control the Government, or have the money, the land, or the property.

On Life (1887) reminds us that besides what we perceive objectively (i.e. all that can be known by the senses) we have also a subjective consciousness of the moral law within us. We must distinguish between our lower nature as animals, and that higher nature which leads a Socrates to sacrifice physical existence for the sake of goodness. This is the root of religion. Within our animal personality the spirit matures, as the chicken grows within the shell. To transfer our interest from the lower to the higher nature is to be born again, to lay hold of eternal life. The things which, at first, seem to us most real are evidently perishable; they disappoint and deceive us. But death and physical destruction are no disaster to a Socrates, nor do they threaten that which to him is important. We should shift our centre of gravity from that in us which is temporary to that which is permanent. "He that would save his life shall lose it." Tolstoy makes no assertion of a personal future life, nor even of the transmigration of souls (which seems so plausible). For we should be very careful to discriminate between conjectures and knowledge. We should in this matter, as in mathematics, confine ourselves strictly to what is 'necessary and sufficient'; and the 'necessary and sufficient' is the recognition that though we live, as animals, in a temporary and elusive world in which no permanent success is possible, yet we have also a spiritual nature dealing with goodness, and there is no reason to suppose that goodness disappoints, or that the Divine spark within us, which responds to it, is less eternal than goodness itself. Life is always in the present; here and now we must find out whether it is the material or the spiritual that to our perception is the more permanent and real.

The year 1889 saw the publication of the much-misunderstood Kreutzer Sonata. What then must we do? had ended with an appeal to mothers to fulfil their duty of bearing and rearing children, and by setting an example of unselfish devotion to duty to be the saviours of society. Reconsidering the relations of the sexes subsequently, Tolstoy—without abandoning his opinion that married people who have conjugal relations should, as the natural result of physical intimacy, have children—came to the further conclusion that chastity, like gentleness and truthfulness, is a virtue of universal application. And by chastity he means complete purity in thought, word, and deed, and the absence of all carnal desire.

The Kreutzer Sonata should be read with the "Afterword," which explains its intention. By putting his views into the mouth of a man who had murdered his wife out of jealousy and had been acquitted on the ground of insanity, Tolstoy was enabled to express them with extreme force and trenchancy. The side he wished to express being the one usually burked, he preferred to put it in this aggressive fashion. Though, of course, he had not ceased to know that sexual relations (like war and commerce) have played, and are playing, their part in the education of mankind, he felt no need to re-state the side which has been put forward in the literature of all ages and countries, and even in some of his own previous writings. On the contrary, he felt that a desire which is already far too strong is being continually strengthened by works of art, and he set himself strenuously, and even fiercely, to evoke those deep instincts of our nature which, whether in Buddhist monk, in Catholic nun, or in Puritan censure of worldly art, have never ceased to protest against the belief that sexual pleasure is morally good.

The fundamental thought of the Kreutzer Sonata is this: Mankind needs guidance in its sexual relations as on all other matters of human conduct. The definite regulations of the Mosaic, Mahommedan, or Church-Christian law, like the regulations of monkish celibacy, etc., can at best apply only to certain times and places. The authority behind such regulations gradually breaks down, and if we trust only to them we are finally left face to face with the problems of life without guidance for our conduct. But guidance exists. Chastity is a virtue. Aim towards it. At every stage of progress, from the time reason awakes and you feel a need to choose yourpath—whether you are boy or girl, man or woman, married or single—choose the thoughts, feelings, and acts which bring you nearest to chastity. You need not be afraid of progressing too rapidly, or of defeating the ends of God by becoming perfect too soon! If you are entirely satisfied with the life you are living you will ask for no guidance. Philosophy and religion are required only for people whose lives are not already perfect! The fundamental feeling the book seeks to convey is that sexual relations (however inevitable and natural they may be to man's animal self), from the moment a reasonable being deliberately seeks them as a means of pleasure, become revolting to our higher nature. They are instinctively carried on in secret, nor can we even imagine to ourselves the love affairs of a Christ.

The Kingdom of God is Within You (1893) has already been referred to as dealing specially with 'non-resistance' and war. The most resolute upholder of himself as an example of non-resistant principles you have ever met, may ultimately have punched another man's head in anger. But the truth of a principle is not invalidated by human limitations. A straight line may be desirable and conceivable though no man ever drew one. It is well to know whether the line you have to draw is meant to be straight, whether your utterance should be truthful, and whether your conduct to your neighbour near at hand, or to the nation beyond the seas, ought to be loving, gentle, and kindly.

All this time, while the urgent need of elucidating, for himself and others, the great problems of religion, economics, and philosophy, had kept Tolstoy from making any prolonged excursions into the realms of art, the questions: "What is Art? Is it important? Wherein does its importance lie?" had pursued him, and the answer had been slowly shaping itself in his mind. What is Art? being specially treated of in the next essays, we need not here do more than pause to notice the intimate connection between Tolstoy's theory of art, and the principle of nonresistance which figures so largely in his interpretation of the Gospels and in his social and economic studies.

So great is the influence men can, without any violence, exert on one another by means of art, that: "Through the influence of real art, aided by science, guided by religion, that peaceful co-operation of man which is now obtained by external means—by our law courts, police, charitable institutions, factory inspection, etc.—should be obtained by man's free and joyous activity. Art should cause violence to be set aside. "

Following this came Resurrection (1899), the only long work of fiction written by Tolstoy during the last twenty years, and one faithfully reflecting his mature opinions on all the great problems of life. That this book—conveying, as it does, feelings (on such subjects as army service, legal proceedings, church services, marriage, etc.) which run counter to those that have grown up and become general in connection with our established order of society—should, nevertheless, have had a great success in many lands, is an instance of the power which literary art exerts among us to-day. And when we remember how small a part a single book on its first appearance can exercise of that cumulative influence which has sometimes been wielded by art: for instance, by Homer's art among the Greeks, or that of their scriptures (a large part of which are artistic) among the Jews; when, moreover, we bear in mind Tolstoy's assurance that art has never yet done nearly all it is capable of accomplishing for the benefit of humanity—we begin to see how great a part art may play in shaping the future of mankind.

Without, here, mentioning in detail Tolstoy's numerous articles and essays dealing with the use of stimulants, with vegetarianism, patriotism, manual labour, the famine, the Doukhobórs, andmany other subjects, one may say, in general, that they all show his profound conviction that the primary guidance for our life lies not in what is outside us and reaches us through our senses (as is generally implicitly or explicitly affirmed among materialists, church people, worldly people, and spiritualists), but that the essential thing is to "know thyself," or, as George Fox said, to hearken to the 'inward voice.'

Those who wish to get at the spirit of Tolstoy's teaching should read his works in the way he says all books should be read. "One must first choose out the parts that are quite clear, dividing them from what is obscure or confused. And from what is clear we must form our idea of the drift and spirit of the whole work." And the clearness to be looked for is, he would add, the clearness which comes from correspondence with the best the reader is himself able to feel and to perceive.

Tolstoy does not claim to set an example of right living. Man's reason can always reach beyond his present attainment. The Pharisee may be satisfied with himself, but the sincere and thoughtful man is ever conscious of his own shortcomings. Neither does Tolstoy claim any authority for his teaching except what it derives from its appeal to man's reason and conscience. There is no tenet of his he would wish accepted without examination. In this sense his teaching is truly catholic. Its appeal lies to all who possess a reason and a conscience, and he would wish it to be verified, and where necessary corrected, by the thought and experience of all who follow after truth and seek for goodness.

1 The dates given are not those of publication, but show when the book (or the main part of the book) was written.

William James (essay date 1902)

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SOURCE: "The Sick Soul," in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Longmans, Green and Co., 1902, pp. 149-57.

[James was an American philosopher best known for his philosophy of pragmatism. In the following essay, he examines the emotional crisis that led to Tolstoy's revelations as recounted in his Confession.]

Tolstoy has left us, in his book called My Confession, a wonderful account of the attack of melancholy which led him to his own religious conclusions. The latter in some respects are peculiar; but the melancholy presents two characters which make it a typical document for our present purpose. First it is a well-marked case of anhedonia, of passive loss of appetite for all life's values; and second, it shows how the altered and estranged aspect which the world assumed in consequence of this stimulated Tolstoy's intellect to a gnawing, carking questioning and effort for philosophic relief. I mean to quote Tolstoy at some length; but before doing so, I will make a general remark on each of these two points.

First on our spiritual judgments and the sense of value in general.

It is notorious that facts are compatible with opposite emotional comments, since the same fact will inspire entirely different feelings in different persons, and at different times in the same person; and there is no rationally deducible connection between any outer fact and the sentiments it may happen to provoke. These have their source in another sphere of existence altogether, in the animal and spiritual region of the subject's being. Conceive yourself, if possible, suddenly stripped of all the emotion with which your world now inspires you, and try to imagine it as it exists, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive comment. It will be almost impossible for you to realize such a condition of negativity and deadness. No one portion of the universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole collection of its things and series of its events would be without significance, character, expression, or perspective. Whatever of value, interest, or meaning our respective worlds may appear endued with are thus pure gifts of the spectator's mind. The passion of love is the most familiar and extreme example of this fact. If it comes, it comes; if it does not come, no process of reasoning can force it. Yet it transforms the value of the creature loved as utterly as the sunrise transforms Mont Blanc from a corpse-like gray to a rosy enchantment; and it sets the whole world to a new tune for the lover and gives a new issue to his life. So with fear, with indignation, jealousy, ambition, worship. If they are there, life changes. And whether they shall be there or not depends almost always upon non-logical, often on organic conditions. And as the excited interest which these passions put into the world is our gift to the world, just so are the passions themselves gifts,—gifts to us, from sources sometimes low and sometimes high; but almost always non-logical and beyond our control. How can the moribund old man reason back to himself the romance, the mystery, the imminence of great things with which our old earth tingled for him in the days when he was young and well? Gifts, either of the flesh or of the spirit; and the spirit bloweth where it listeth; and the world's materials lend their surface passively to all the gifts alike, as the stage-setting receives indifferently whatever alternating colored lights may be shed upon it from the optical apparatus in the gallery.

Meanwhile the practically real world for each one of us, the effective world of the individual, is the compound world, the physical facts and emotional values in indistinguishable combination. Withdraw or pervert either factor of this complex resultant, and the kind of experience we call pathological ensues.

In Tolstoy's case the sense that life had any meaning whatever was for a time wholly withdrawn. The result was a transformation in the whole expression of reality. When we come to study the phenomenon of conversion or religious regeneration, we shall see that a not infrequent consequence of the change operated in the subject is a transfiguration of the face of nature in his eyes. A new heaven seems to shine upon a new earth. In melancholiacs there is usually a similar change, only it is in the reverse direction. The world now looks remote, strange, sinister, uncanny. Its color is gone, its breath is cold, there is no speculation in the eyes it glares with. "It is as if I lived in another century," says one asylum patient.—"I see everything through a cloud," says another, "things are not as they were, and I am changed."—"I see," says a third, "I touch, but the things do not come near me, a thick veil alters the hue and look of everything."—"Persons move like shadows, and sounds seem to come from a distant world."—"There is no longer any past for me; people appear so strange; it is as if I could not see any reality, as if I were in a theatre; as if people were actors, and everything were scenery; I can no longer find myself; I walk, but why? Everything floats before my eyes, but leaves no impression."—"I weep false tears, I have unreal hands: the things I see are not real things."—Such are expressions that naturally rise to the lips of melancholy subjects describing their changed state.1

Now there are some subjects whom all this leaves a prey to the profoundest astonishment. The strangeness is wrong. The unreality cannot be. A mystery is concealed, and a metaphysical solution must exist. If the natural world is so double-faced and unhomelike, what world, what thing is real? An urgent wondering and questioning is set up, a poring theoretic activity, and in the desperate effort to get into right relations with the matter, the sufferer is often led to what becomes for him a satisfying religious solution.

At about the age of fifty, Tolstoy relates that he began to have moments of perplexity, of what he calls arrest, as if he knew not 'how to live,' or what to do. It is obvious that these were moments in which the excitement and interest which our functions naturally bring had ceased. Life had been enchanting, it was now flat sober, more than sober, dead. Things were meaningless whose meaning had always been self-evident. The questions 'Why?' and 'What next?' began to beset him more and more frequently. At first it seemed as if such questions must be answerable, and as if he could easily find the answers if he would take the time; but as they ever became more urgent, he perceived that it was like those first discomforts of a sick man, to which he pays but little attention till they run into one continuous suffering, and then he realizes that what he took for a passing disorder means the most momentous thing in the world for him, means his death.

These questions 'Why?' 'Wherefore?' 'What for?' found no response.

I felt, says Tolstoy, that something had broken within me on which my life had always rested, that I had nothing left to hold on to, and that morally my life had stopped. An invincible force impelled me to get rid of my existence, in one way or another. It cannot be said exactly that I wished to kill myself, for the force which drew me away from life was fuller, more powerful, more general than any mere desire. It was a force like my old aspiration to live, only it impelled me in the opposite direction. It was an aspiration of my whole being to get out of life.

Behold me then, a man happy and in good health, hiding the rope in order not to hang myself to the rafters of the room where every night I went to sleep alone; behold me no longer going shooting, lest I should yield to the too easy temptation of putting an end to myself with my gun.

I did not know what I wanted. I was afraid of life; I was driven to leave it; and in spite of that I still hoped something from it.

All this took place at a time when so far as all my outer circumstances went, I ought to have been completely happy. I had a good wife who loved me and whom I loved; good children and a large property which was increasing with no pains taken on my part. I was more respected by my kinsfolk and acquaintance than I had ever been; I was loaded with praise by strangers; and without exaggeration I could believe my name already famous. Moreover I was neither insane nor ill. On the contrary, I possessed a physical and mental strength which I have rarely met in persons of my age. I could mow as well as the peasants, I could work with my brain eight hours uninterruptedly and feel no bad effects.

And yet I could give no reasonable meaning to any actions of my life. And I was surprised that I had not understood this from the very beginning. My state of mind was as if some wicked and stupid jest was being played upon me by some one. One can live only so long as one is intoxicated, drunk with life; but when one grows sober one cannot fail to see that it is all a stupid cheat. What is truest about it is that there is nothing even funny or silly in it; it is cruel and stupid, purely and simply.

The oriental fable of the traveler surprised in the desert by a wild beast is very old.

Seeking to save himself from the fierce animal, the traveler jumps into a well with no water in it; but at the bottom of this well he sees a dragon waiting with open mouth to devour him. And the unhappy man, not daring to go out lest he should be the prey of the beast, not daring to jump to the bottom lest he should be devoured by the dragon, clings to the branches of a wild bush which grows out of one of the cracks of the well. His hands weaken, and he feels that he must soon give way to certain fate; but still he clings, and sees two mice, one white, the other black, evenly moving round the bush to which he hangs, and gnawing off its roots.

The traveler sees this and knows that he must inevitably perish; but while thus hanging he looks about him and finds on the leaves of the bush some drops of honey. These he reaches with his tongue and licks them off with rapture.

Thus I hang upon the boughs of life, knowing that the inevitable dragon of death is waiting ready to tear me, and I cannot comprehend why I am thus made a martyr. I try to suck the honey which formerly consoled me; but the honey pleases me no longer, and day and night the white mouse and the black mouse gnaw the branch to which I cling. I can see but one thing: the inevitable dragon and the mice—I cannot turn my gaze away from them.

This is no fable, but the literal incontestable truth which every one may understand. What will be the outcome of what I do to-day? Of what I shall do to-morrow? What will be the outcome of all my life? Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose which the inevitable death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?

These questions are the simplest in the world. From the stupid child to the wisest old man, they are in the soul of every human being. Without an answer to them, it is impossible, as I experienced, for life to go on.

"But perhaps," I often said to myself, "there may be something I have failed to notice or to comprehend. It is not possible that this condition of despair should be natural to mankind." And I sought for an explanation in all the branches of knowledge acquired by men. I questioned painfully and protractedly and with no idle curiosity. I sought, not with indolence, but laboriously and obstinately for days and nights together. I sought like a man who is lost and seeks to save himself,—and I found nothing. I became convinced, moreover, that all those who before me had sought for an answer in the sciences have also found nothing. And not only this, but that they have recognized that the very thing which was leading me to despair—the meaningless absurdity of life—is the only incontestable knowledge accessible to man.

To prove this point, Tolstoy quotes the Buddha, Solomon, and Schopenhauer. And he finds only four ways in which men of his own class and society are accustomed to meet the situation. Either mere animal blindness, sucking the honey without seeing the dragon or the mice,—"and from such a way," he says, "I can learn nothing, after what I now know;" or reflective epicureanism, snatching what it can while the day lasts,—which is only a more deliberate sort of stupefaction than the first; or manly suicide; or seeing the mice and dragon and yet weakly and plaintively clinging to the bush of life.

Suicide was naturally the consistent course dictated by the logical intellect.

Yet, says Tolstoy, whilst my intellect was working, something else in me was workingtoo, and kept me from the deed—a consciousness of life, as I may call it, which was like a force that obliged my mind to fix itself in another direction and draw me out of my situation of despair. . . . During the whole course of this year, when I almost unceasingly kept asking myself how to end the business, whether by the rope or by the bullet, during all that time, alongside of all those movements of my ideas and observations, my heart kept languishing with another pining emotion. 1 can call this by no other name than that of a thirst for God. This craving for God had nothing to do with the movement of my ideas,—in fact, it was the direct contrary of that movement,—but it came from my heart. It was like a feeling of dread that made me seem like an orphan and isolated in the midst of all these things that were so foreign. And this feeling of dread was mitigated by the hope of finding the assistance of some one.2

Of the process, intellectual as well as emotional, which, starting from this idea of God, led to Tolstoy's recovery, I will say nothing in this lecture, reserving it for a later hour. The only thing that need interest us now is the phenomenon of his absolute disenchantment with ordinary life, and the fact that the whole range of habitual values may, to a man as powerful and full of faculty as he was, come to appear so ghastly a mockery.

When disillusionment has gone as far as this, there is seldom a restitutio ad integrum. One has tasted of the fruit of the tree, and the happiness of Eden never comes again. The happiness that comes, when any does come,—and often enough it fails to return in an acute form, though its form is sometimes very acute,—is not the simple ignorance of ill, but something vastly more complex, including natural evil as one of its elements, but finding natural evil no such stumbling-block and terror because it now sees it swallowed up in supernatural good. The process is one of redemption, not of mere reversion to natural health, and the sufferer, when saved, is saved by what seems to him a second birth, a deeper kind of conscious being than he could enjoy before.

1 I cull these examples from the work of G. DUMAS: La Tristesse et la Joie, 1900.

2 My extracts are from the French translation by 'ZONIA.' In abridging I have taken the liberty of transposing one passage.

Vernon Lee (essay date 1908)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoi as Prophet," in Gospels of Anarchy and Other Contemporary Studies, T. Fisher Unwin, 1908, pp. 105-31.

[In the following essay, Lee examines the major tenets of Tolstoy's philosophy and the ways in which it exemplifies his asceticism.]

In his religious and philosophical writings, Count Tolstoi would seem to represent the prophetic temperament in such incarnation as is likely to become the commonest, indeed perhaps the only possible, one in the near future. For, in the gradual disruption of dogmatic creeds, the man born to the prophetic quality and function tends more and more to be a heretic and an anarchist; to practise an exegesis backed by no authority; and to benefit or harass mankind, to exhibit to mankind the spectacle of prophecy, more and more obviously without any inspiration save the unquestioned one of his own individual constitution. The Prophet, being a type of humanity, represents certain impulses for good and evil existing in numbers of his fellow-creatures, is infact a specimen of a human force of the universe; and he not only displays in crudest isolation special tendencies making for life's greater fruitfulness or sterility, but also directs the scathing light of almost monomaniacal perception on matters which the average routine of existence neglects to our disadvantage. The Prophet is useful as a teacher; but still more useful as a lesson. It is in this double capacity that the following marginal notes may help to put to use the prophet, not the artist, Tolstoi.


"To the man perverted by the false doctrines of the century, it seems," &c., &c.

This form of words, perpetually recurring throughout Tolstoi's didactic writings, acquaints us with one of the chief drawbacks of the prophetic mind: an incapacity so utter of conceiving any views different from his own, that they appear monstrous not merely in their results but also in their origin. "Perverse," "False," a kind of devil's spawn in vacuo. Now, the wonderful tenacity of false doctrines and perverse attitudes would suggest, to such as are not prophets, that there may be something to be said in their favour; that such falseness and perverseness may be an inevitable—nay, a necessary—stage of something else; that it is, in some fashion, in league with the ways of things. The theologians of the past could postulate Original Sin or the Fundamental Abominableness of Matter; but one might expect that the prophets of our own day, Stirner and Nietzsche, quite as much as Tolstoi, would have forfeited this logical advantage and desisted from judging all things as if they had been intended to please just them. Not a bit; the prophetic temperament has remained unchanged; and all prophets—prophets of cynicism, quite as much as prophets of asceticism—display the same alacrity in seating themselves down ad dexterom Domini, or, indeed, on the throne off which the Lord has been hustled as some sort of idol. What unhesitating rapidity they display, those great nostrum-mongers, not merely in defining the world's contents and making plans for its complete overhauling, but in packing off everything which does not suit them to the bottomless pit! Mankind, in the mean while, like some half-hearted follower of Savonarola, shoves the false and perverse doctrines not into the destroying flames, but merely into the dust-heap, whence they are incontinently extracted, for exclusive use, by another Prophet or another School of Prophecy. Let no one take these remarks for the raillery of scepticism: the thorough-paced sceptic of modern days (my ingenious friend H. B. Brewster, for instance) is just as much carried away by the spirit of prophecy as the dogmatists whom he scoffs at. I am speaking as a mere looker-on, vaguely conscious that, since they all exist, these various excessive views must each answer to some aspect of reality; vaguely regretting, also, that we, less specially gifted creatures, should waste so much of the scant time given us for the application of truth in sorting the litter of exaggerations and the rubbish of anathema with which the great One-sided Ones encumber the earth.

The heap of valuable and worthless things constituted by Tolstoi's philosophical and moral writings is the better worth our sorting that, in trying to understand this latest addition to the literature of prophetic asceticism, we shall be learning to understand, perhaps to select and profit by, some other ascetic doctrines, of so ancient an origin and such habitual repetition that we have almost ceased to look either for their psychological reason or for their practical application.


"Like the penitent thief, I knew that I was unhappy, that I suffered, and that all the humanbeings around me were suffering and feeling themselves unhappy . . . and, even as the penitent thief (nailed to his cross) saw coming towards him the horrid darkness of death . . . so I saw the same prospect open before me."

The words I have italicised contain the main postulate of all pessimism, and of nearly all asceticism, religious as well as philosophical, Buddhist and Stoical, of Schopenhauer as much as of the Imitation. The pessimist is unhappy: therefore every one else is; he sees no meaning in life save that of his ascetic formula: therefore there is none; he is afraid of death: therefore fear of death is in every breast. And this gratuitous classification of all mankind under one's own headings is justified by the additional generalisation, that those who imagine themselves to feel or think differently are perverted by false doctrine or sunk in beastlike indifference.


After this follows logically the second postulate of such as think, or rather of such as are constituted, like Tolstoi:

Why had I not earlier put in practice this doctrine which gives me happiness? The answer is very simple: Because I did not know the truth.

At first sight, it seems strange that the creator of such marvellously living beings as Natacha, Peter Besukoff, Princess Mary, Anna Karenine, Oblonsky or Levine should not have been able to think, what he so clearly felt and showed in them, that human beings do not seek happiness but obey instincts, and that the greatest mass of probable happiness in front has little attractive power save when it coincides with the vis a tergo, the forward push of cravings, tendencies and habits. One might imagine that in Tolstoi the novelist's conception was so concrete and individual, the novelist's genius so automatic and unreasoning, as to reduce the powers of analysis and generalisation to almost childish insignificance. Be this as it may, this greatest painter of human character, able to copy with faultless precision the soul's actual workings, seems not to know the rudiments of the soul's physiology or mechanics, on which those workings depend. It never seems to enter his head that, if this "knowledge," this paramount doctrine of such direct application and infallible virtue, has remained hidden, obscured, for near nineteen hundred years, there must have been, in mankind, but a very faint need for a remedy so near at hand; nor that this inefficacy in so long a past argues but small immediate result in the present; those self-same interests which hid or distorted this doctrine of salvation showing, by their tenacity, that it is absurd to expect them to yield and disappear of a sudden and as by miracle. But the fact is that Tolstoi, much as he would disclaim it, not only admits of miracle, but bases all his hope upon it. His own experience is of a miraculous kind, simply because, to his own powers of observation, the thing which really happened, the way it happened, is necessarily hidden. Tolstoi's conversion is one of those of which all religious autobiography is full, and of which Professor William James has put together so fine a volume of specimens. At a given moment in a man's life, either after a period of religious stress or with apparent total suddenness, something takes place in the soul: the doubts, scruples, fears, despair, vanish; and in their place is a new set of hopes, a new vital certainty, or (as the doctor in Ibsen's play would call it) a new "Vital Lie." What is it that actually happened? The souls liable to such complete change and renovation, sudden or gradual, are those least likely to be able to tell us. For the concentration of one kind of feeling, the unfamiliarity of the elements formerly latent and now dominant, the very completeness of former despair and present joy, make him who experiences such a conversion incapable of observing, and perhaps of conceiving, its real nature.

The conversion of Tolstoi is not a sudden one; but it is characterised by the mono-ideism of such phenomena. The intensity and exclusiveness of his long and suicidal broodings did not leave in his soul that lucid, disinterested half which can understand and intelligently record: there was but one self at work, one self floundering in nightmare and suddenly lifted to beatific relief. Tolstoi fails to notice what strikes every spectator from the first—namely, that in his least regenerate days, his most carnal and perversely thinking days, he dealt preferably with characters unknown to previous novelists, Peter, André, Levine, men haunted already by the very thought which was to overshadow his own mind, the eternal query: "Why live, since one must die?" That such should have been his heroes shows that he knew more of asceticism than other novelists perhaps capable of creating his other characters—say, Wronsky or Nicholas Rostoff. This, evidently, never strikes Tolstoi himself. Still less, of course, does it occur to him that the importance taken in his mind by that recurring "Why?" let alone the fact of its having, in the midst of prosperity, driven him to the verge of suicide, shows that he was constitutionally destined to concentrate on this problem; or, briefly, that the value of his conversion depended on his passionate need of it: the remedy was commensurate with the evil, and both were in himself, inborn.

This Tolstoi could not see. And, failing to guess that his was a very special and rare case, he attributed his own spiritual drama to the rest of mankind. A large number of his neighbours were visibly discontented and unhappy; a larger still he chose to consider as being so: well, then, their discontent and their unhappiness were due to the same causes as his own. They might, indeed, explain it by poverty, illness, cramped activities, thwarted passions, by anything or everything they chose; that, Tolstoi assured them, was but delusion, and the real matter with them was what had been the matter with himself.

For in all prophetic persons there is a sadly comic side, reminding one of those valetudinarians who press the pills or waters which have relieved their liver or their spleen on all the people of their neighbourhood with damaged heart, brain or marrow—nay, with poor bruised or broken limbs. Moreover, in the spiritual example, the recalcitrance of supposed fellow-sufferers, their clinging to their own diagnosis, especially their making light of their own ills, is instantly set down as a sure sign that all sensation and all judgment have been perverted by the very malady they refuse to own up to. But, worst off of any, those who, in the face of the universal, infallible and painless panacea, actually maintain that, for the present at least, they have no ailments of any kind, that they are (shameless or deluded wretches!) sound in mind and limb! As to those, well, all Tolstoi can say is that, just in proportion to their contentment with life, they are already dead and done for; galvanised corpses, set on end to gibber and to poison others with their putrescence.


Let us continue our analysis of Tolstoi's postulates; which, at the same time, is an examination of the modes of thought characteristic of the ascetic attitude and the prophetic temperament.

Every human being lives in the name of some particular principle; and this principle, in whose name he lives in that given fashion, is no other thing than his religion.

The identification holds good only when the principle in question happens to be of the sort we all mean by "religious." If we accepted Tolstoi's statement without this rider, which makes ittautological, we should be obliged, like H. B. Brewster in his "Ame Païenne," to identify a man's religion, his God, with his dominant inpulse or combination of impulses; and the most profane and wicked lives might thus be led, as Hoffmann imagines the operatic Don Juan's, in the name of the principle, let us say, of Leporello's catalogues. The vital principle of most men's lives has been given its right name only by Nietzsche; it is "My Inclination." But it is not of such principles as these that Tolstoi is speaking; and any other principle of life, any principle conscious, formulated and dominating all other impulses and habits, any principle which can be called a religion, exists only in a minority of cases, at least in the sense of constant intellectual reference and constant moral incentive.


"Life is an aspiration after happiness; the aspiration after happiness is life."

This is psychologically false. In reality life is—that is, exclusively consists of—no more this than any other very frequent item of consciousness; life being, to a large extent, absorption in various concerns or interests to the positive exclusion of all "aspiration after happiness." Nor is there any reason why such "aspiration after happiness" should be more frequent; for, in the majority of cases, happiness itself is secured, and best secured, without any conscious straining after it. Happiness is secured, and with it life's furtherance for the individual and race, in that manner which Tolstoi, unable to deny its existence, condemns beforehand with the absurd epithet of "animal"; secured by the play of clashing or coordinated impulses, which, so far from being more particularly animal, may happen to be impulses of the highest moral or aesthetic or constructive or intellectual sort.

All pessimism, all asceticism, is founded upon the supposition of what Tolstoi calls the "illusory thirst for enjoyment." Now, however numerous the cases where enjoyment proves impossible or mischievous, the continued existence of the human race shows that, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, neither the enjoyment nor the thirst for it is illusory, but, on the contrary, a genuine advantage, making subsequent enjoyment not less, but more, possible by perfecting the sensibilities. The healthy activity of the whole individual, with its inevitable hierarchy of impulses, both secures pleasure and forestalls cloying, and, by its inclusion of intellectual and sympathetic interests, its subordination of others to these, it diminishes conflict with fellow-beings quite as effectually as does Tolstoi's Renunciation. And here let me say that there is surely something mean in this reciprocal renunciation, resulting in the cessation of struggle and disappointment. Such renunciation is often needful in our imperfect individual case: our eye gives us offence, and we cast it from us. But such rough-and-ready, such wasteful, destructive methods are surely not admissible in a philosophy of life, in a counsel of perfection! The universal, as distinguished from the individual, rule for greater happiness is not self-diminution but assimilation, expansion, the nonego becoming, in imagination and feelings, an integral part of the ego. Asceticism preaches voluntary impoverishment: my neighbours cease to steal because I possess nothing; I cease to covet, because they possess nothing; 'tis Epictetus's safety after the thieves had carried away his brass lamp. But the law of human life is barter: asking freely and giving fully; mutual enriching through each other's superfluity. Asceticism refuses to admit this law; for all asceticism moves in the logical circle of pain as cause and effect.


"Men, like all other living creatures, are forced by the conditions of life to live forever at oneanother's expense, devouring one another literally or metaphorically. And man, in so far as gifted with reason, cannot blink the fact that every material advantage is obtained by one creature only at the expense of some other creature."

A series of quite gratuitous biological and economical assumptions, which are made more intelligible by a statement in another place that "the workman who wears out his body and hastens his death is giving that body as food to others."

Now, in all these premises, Tolstoi omits one half of the fact—namely, that, in the majority of cases, a human being, while giving himself, gets, or has got, something from others. Taking by no means implies stealing, nor is benefiting by one's fellows the same things as preying on them. The workman is not breaking down his health and hastening his death any faster while working for others than while working for himself, except from occasional reasons quite independent of whom the work is to benefit most. He is not breaking down his health or hastening his own death more than if he were committing excesses of other kinds for his own sole satisfaction; and, except through the accidental or incidental misarrangement of the world, he is not breaking down his health or hastening on death at all, but rather the reverse. The detriment to the individual is due to excess as regards himself, not in the least to profitableness to others. The increase of the world's material and spiritual wealth depends upon activity; but activity, when not excessive, is an integration, not a disintegration, of individual life. The world is carried on upon the principle of barter and compensation; and, even in such low forms of life as those where animals or savages actually prey upon each other, the one who feeds upon his victim to-day is bound to be fed upon, as an individual or a class, to-morrow: the lion ends off as the sustenance of vultures, jackals and insects. But Tolstoi, for reasons we shall presently grasp and can already guess at, chooses to consider that all profiting by the existence of others represents an unwilling or a voluntary sacrifice. When it is voluntary, he calls it love; and here again comes a gratuitous assumption. Let us look at this question of Love and of Sacrifice, for it is important and one upon which ordinary thought (though luckily not every-day practice!) is in considerable confusion. Alongside of the sentence about the workman destroying himself for the benefit of others, is another example of what Tolstoi chooses to consider as self-sacrifice: the mother suckling her baby. He could not have come by a better refutation of his own theory; for it is plain that the mother is giving life to her child, but it is also plain that her bodily health and her happiness gain by this supposed sacrifice, which is, in reality, an organic advantage. From such an example, however, Tolstoi concludes that "love is really worthy of that name only when it is the sacrifice of self." In one sense, this is quite undeniable; but that sense is not Tolstoi's. For love is preference; and love leads to self-sacrifice, that is to say, to sacrifice of greater or smaller advantages—nay, even of health, power or life—simply because all preference of one particular thing or group of things leads to sacrifice of other things or groups of things, whether that preference be socially beneficial (which we call "unselfish") or socially detrimental (which we call "selfish"), whether it happen to be duty, ambition, hatred, vanity, lust; whether it be the love of Cordelia or the love of Francesca; though, of course, the measure of every preference (since preference implies alternative) is not the measure more especially of love, and still less is it love's chief characteristic. The characteristic, the typical, fact of love must be sought for in that from which the highest love has, by analogy, borrowed its name, and perhaps, very literally, taken its origin: the union of two creatures who take joy in producing a third. The analogous process takes place in the spiritual domain: we give our thought, our fancy, our will, in union with the external world or with the will, the thought or fancy of others; and in so doing create new forms, new ideas, new modes of feeling, nay, new selves.

But at the bottom of the Tolstoian conception of love (which is only the usual ascetic one) is the old, savage notion of sacrifice: of a universe so evil that all happiness must be discounted in misery—"I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die!" The implacable gods, the atrocious Cosmos, the Ogre Fee-Faw-Fum at the top of every Bean Stalk, insist on increasing suffering through every apparent alleviation or apparent enjoyment. It is worth while, especially in the face of a thinker like Tolstoi, to disentangle the notion of giving from the notion of giving up; to separate the notion of renunciation, as a choice between two positive or negative desiderata, from the notion of renunciation, as mere refusal of good and acceptance of evil. The really fruitful act of giving oneself, one's strength, attention, thought or feeling, is not a loss, but the fulfilling of an organic need as essential as that of material or spiritual assimilation; it is, in fact, the inevitable sequel of real assimilation. If the sacrifice of something is often implied in this, it is merely the sacrifice by alternative, the preference of one need or desire or pleasure over another. Such preference as this is a principle of order in the moral realm: the fulness of life means, ipso facto, the constant checking of the less important by the more important; it means moderation because it means alternative, selection, subordination and hierarchy of the impulses in which life consists. The vanity of the pursuit of pleasure, of which Tolstoi, like every moralist, makes (and rightly, perhaps) so much capital, results from the absence of such a complex hierarchy of impulse: the larger part of the pleasure-seeker is sacrificed to a momentary desire, and that omitted bulk of his nature either upsets the satisfaction aimed at, or leaves the unruly desire to languish in isolation.

But Tolstoi, like all ascetics, seeks his remedy not in moderation, not in the development of other impulses, not in fact in the enriching of the individual life, but in its impoverishment. Moral Good is, according to him, that condition where man pursues nothing for its own sake or his own ends, and nothing for the interest and pleasure of the pursuit; but only for the sake of another human being, or of a vague sense of duty personified as God. Tolstoi's ideal of life is, like his notion of love, an ideal of diminution, of sacrifice; and it seems likely that, even as in the ritual of primeval man, the ascetic conception of sacrifice as such, of sacrifice as loss, impoverishment, mutilation, is very closely connected with the fear of death; sacrifice being, however inexplicitly, a commutation, a partial, symbolical or vicarious death, instead of a total and positive one.


In the case of Tolstoi, there is the repeated and unqualified expression of the constant thought, the constant fear, of Death. Already, in his pseudo-autobiography, we find the following funeral oration on the old housekeeper Natalia Savichna:

She accomplished the best and greatest act of the life of this world: dying without regret and without fear.

Now, this fear, whose absence thus seems a rare form of holiness, is, in a sense, a misconception, a misconception revealing the fundamental complexion of all asceticism. Let us examine it. Life and Death form together one of those false antitheses which have been pointed out by that subtle analyst, Gabriel Tarde. Life and Death are opposed in position; but not, so to speak, in the ground which they cover or the facts they respectively include. Because what is alive cannot also be dead, and what is dead cannot also be alive, we have, in our slovenly fashion, grown accustomed to think of the fact of being alive and the fact of being dead as of equalimportance, intensity and extension. We overlook the real antithesis, which is between death and birth, the two points without magnitude between which extends life. Moreover, we have confused death with the process of dying, often accompanied by illness or preceded by decay, which is a portion, sometimes a considerable portion, of the processes of life. Nor is this all. The immense part played in our life by the death of others gives the notion of dying a frightful duration in our consciousness, and makes us think, by analogy, that our own death also is a wide blot or oil spot in our life. Hence death, which, being the limit of life, exists in reality outside it, becomes, so far as it is thought about and feared, a most important and terrible part of life.

Life is consciousness; and, except in consciousness, death is nothing; it becomes, in consciousness, grief or terror. But grief and terror are realities. Of course; since it is thanks to them that death, or rather the notion of death, has come to poison so much of life. Heaven forbid I should argue that either philosophy or religion can ever abolish grief or fear, abolish the agony of departing, the agony of being left behind. Loss is loss, and parting is parting, a fact, a horror, which nothing can efface. But let us not add to these the dread either of life or of death, deeply, indissolubly entangled as they become. And if philosophy represent any higher truth, and religion any higher utility, let them strive to diminish this hideous tangle, to hold our thoughts and feelings asunder; make us see things as they are, and make them, so far as our attitude toward them goes, a little more what they should be. Life, our own and that of our beloved, is good in proportion as it is safe and complete, as it is untouched by the chance, the fact, but worst of all, the fear, of death. And all healthy life tends to cast forth from itself the vain and paralysing thought of its own end.


We have seen that the prophetic temper is characterised by a tendency to mono-ideism, and that monoideism invariably tends to jealousy of all that it excludes. One of Tolstoi's most characteristic pieces of such mono-ideistic jealousy, is his elaborate catalogue of sinful indulgences; of what, especially, he puts under the rubric "intoxication," including therein, as venial or mortal sin, the intoxication not merely by wine, tobacco or fleshly love, but by art, literature, "gestures and sounds," and even bicycling. The exaggeration is so gross that one fails at first to conceive how it could come about in a mind as originally excellent, and a life as many-sided, as Tolstoi's. But the explanation, furnished by comparison with the raptures of earlier mystics, appears to be that the ascetic has his own form of intoxication. Here is Tolstoi's account of his state of beatitude after his conversion has been consummated:

All that seems evil to me does so merely because I believe in myself and not in God; and as, from this life where it is so easy to do His will, since His will is mine, I can fall nowhere except into Him, what I possess is complete joy and good. And all I could write would fail to express what I feel.

Let us consider these seemingly simple statements. It is so easy for Tolstoi to do God's will! God's will is, after all, only Tolstoi's; Tolstoi can fall only into God! Is this presumptuous certainty of righteousness, this identification of the individual impulse and the moral law, this unmixed and ineffable joy, anything save an intoxication of a more insidious, but scarcely less unwholesome, kind? Taking in the full meaning of such words as these, one wonders whether there will ever arise a new habit of spiritual cleanness, of intellectual chastity, making men question and reject emotional self-indulgence like this, which sullies the reason and sterilises the will. One doubts it. For, from century to century, mankind may be watched yielding, even asto lower kinds of self-indulgence, to the subtle and high-flown temptation of mysticism. This temptation consists in attributing to an emotional state of our own (the state of Nietzsche's Zarathustra, as much as the state of Kipling's poor old Lama) the name and the importance of a generalised objective fact; nay, of the greatest and most solemn of facts which man has thus generalised: the Will of God, the Nature of Things.

The very recurrence of such a process of spiritual intoxication implies, it may be said, a recurrent need of it. Yes; but a need which results from other needs being neglected. Between the cravings which produce science, art, laws—nay, food and progeny—and the mystical craving such as this of Tolstoi there is a fundamental difference: they are fruitful, and it is barren.

And this word "barren" suggests another of the drawbacks of asceticism. In its exclusiveness, its monoideism, its readiness to condemn all save itself, asceticism tends to waste much of the moral resources (so cruelly needed!) of ordinary mortals, and, on the other hand, to get its moral gifts rejected by those who require them most; its teaching is shelved as dead letter, or, at best, counsel of perfection.

Renounce the world, preaches Tolstoi; despise, cease to relish, such of the world's work, of the body's functions, as cannot be relinquished; let nothing touch you for its own sake or your own; eradicate self from your thoughts and feelings, and replace it by your neighbour, by mankind, by that impersonal personification of ideals which is Tolstoi's notion of God.

"If such be saintliness, chivalrousness, sentiment," answers the rest of mankind silently to itself, "by all means keep it on a shelf out of the way of ordinary life. Truthfulness, justice, chastity, mercy, are clearly quite unsuitable to the increase of wealth and the rearing of families; and is it not the saints and prophets, Tolstoi for instance, who tell us so?"

Now, as a matter of fact, to what save daily life can ideals, sentiment, saintliness, be profitably applied? Truthfulness, honesty, justice, chastity, mercy, are nothing but correctives of this world's ways; and it is only as such correctives that, save for the aesthetic pleasure of a divinity, they can ever be wanted. Unworldliness must be cultivated because our interests are legitimately worldly.

But holiness and heroism, precious because they are useful, have been considered as precious apart from use. Saints and heroes have been cultivated like rare and wonderful flowers, incapable of ever turning into fruit for food and seed. And, as a result of such isolation and sterility, mankind has come to be divided—as we see it in Buddhism, in Christian monasticism and less crassly elsewhere—into the church and the world: those who accept life and sin, and those who kill the body, or all the body stands for, in order to perfect the soul. Like every other ascetic, Tolstoi, in preaching his doctrine of renunciation, is unconsciously giving in to the vicious automatism which sunders the natural man from the saint, and which discourages all application of higher feelings to ordinary existence on the score that ordinary existence can never be composed of higher feelings only. And in so far Tolstoi merely increases the modern tendency to question the efficacy of all moral teaching, to doubt the wholesomeness of sentiment and to consider ideals of conduct either as a mere symptom, an epiphenomenon, a fly on the axletree of progress, or (and human illogicalness reconciles both indictments) as a mischievous interference with the automatic ways of natural selection. It would instead be more philosophical to consider the continued recurrence of such ascetic or idealising tendencies as a proof of their utility, despite all drawbacks, in helping on the practical existence of mankind. But ascetics have treated their especial soul-medicine or soul-food as the one panacea; and mankind (as prone to exaggeration as the prophets themselves) has developed a tendency to consider the dealers in panaceas as quacks or the victims of quacks.


The foregoing notes have attempted to set forth some of the chief peculiarities of the ascetic view of life, and of the prophetic temperament, as we may study them united in the person of Tolstoi. We have taken stock of the pessimistic basis of asceticism, its rejection of moderation, equilibrium of function, and such moral improvements as rest upon them, in opposition to wholesale renunciation; its passion for sacrifice and its preoccupation with death; finally, its tendency to a divorce between spirituality and life. In a similar manner, we have had occasion to verify the isolated and one-sided attitude of the born prophet; his attribution of his own moods and needs to the rest of the world, and his jealousy of, nay, hostility towards, every other mode of being; his incapacity for assimilating the ideas of others, for meeting them half-way and, of course, for feeling any correction or check to his own notions; briefly, his mono-ideism, and his mixture (odd, but so explicable) of complete self-belief and utter scepticism of received opinion.

And, having set these studies so far before the reader, I can forestall his question, and shall endeavour to answer it: as I have had to answer it for myself in the course of my reading of Tolstoi, to account for our instinctive sympathy with the seemingly useless teachings of asceticism.

This usefulness, these uses, result from the same peculiarities as the faults and the drawbacks. Isolation and mono-ideism give the ascetic and the prophet an extraordinary freedom of view, wherever his own definite attitude and limited idea are not concerned. Unconscious of those sympathising and imitative impulses which compact other individuals with their fellows; untouched by any of the temptations which make others blink and compromise; inattentive to any other man's views and, therefore, perfectly sceptical towards them; and harassed, moreover, through and through, by organic dissatisfaction and unrest, this thinker, alone with his own thoughts and feelings (his Eagle and his Serpent, like Nietzsche's Zarathustra) is the most ruthless of critics and destroyers. Every ascetic is, in essence, an anarchist and a nihilist, a "sayer of 'No'" to the accepted life of the world—in the words (more significant than he, perhaps, knew) of James Hinton, a "Law Breaker"; since the only law he believes in is the law of his own exceptional and isolated way of being. Hence he sees, as no laughing sceptic ever can, through every exaggeration, every "vital lie" save his own. The dominant and recurrent thought of all ascetics, from Buddhism and Ecclesiastes, through Stoicism and Christian Mysticism to the smallest modern revivalist, is vanity—the emptiness, non-existence, of everything save their own narrow wishes, needs and habits. Now, this attitude of mind corresponds to a great deal that really exists: in the happy-go-lucky, lazy, yet hurried, processes of life, there is quite an enormous amount which is dead letter, perfunctory, wasteful and mischievous; results of imperfect evolution, like those useless organs, those imperfect adaptations, which, according to the ingenious paradox of Dr. Metchnikoff, account for all disease, all vice and suffering, but which an instinct of social safety or individual laziness goes on admiring, as the Bridgewater writers admired the "harmonious designs of Nature." On to all such perfunctory, dead letter, all such lying things, all such imperfect adaptations and mischievous survivals, the ascetic, the prophet, the marvellous anarchist, Tolstoi, directs his ruthless clear-sightedness. We all know his chapters on luxury, on the pseudo-work of the so-called intellectual classes, on thepseudo-morality of official religion, on so many of the idle activities which give us our daily bread or our daily ration of self-satisfaction. His immense and wearisome volume on art remains as a most useful memento vivere or memento mori to all of us who talk glibly of the holiness of beauty and its social mission. "The Kreutzer Sonata" probably aroused universal hostility less by its morbid and unchaste (monkish!) kind of chastity, than by its terribly true criticism of so much corruption and enervation hidden secure in the sacred mysteries of marriage and family life. And the writings on War are but the more moving and more explicit development of the remark of Tarde's, that, if the Past had not left us engines and institutions for warfare, the reciprocal destruction of national life and wealth would certainly never have originated in times as comparatively rational as ours. These and similar attacks on various forms of our smug moral callousness or vain-glorious moral barbarism, are summed up in a thought which recurs throughout Tolstoi's works, beginning with his great novels:

All this comes about, thanks solely to that social and administrative machinery whose business it is to subdivide the responsibility for evil done, in such fashion that no one should feel to what extent these acts are contrary to his nature. . . . It is sufficient if a man free himself for an instant from this tangled net, in order to see the things which are contrary to his nature.

That is exactly what Tolstoi does for us. His unsociable and sceptical temper, his constitutional fault-finding, allow him to see, and to show us, one of the chief drawbacks (for every moral machinery, every human or cosmic arrangement has its drawback) of that normal automatic living from impulse to impulse, or, if you choose, from hand to mouth, which secures the continuance and improvement of the race, and, on the whole, the tolerable happiness of the individual. The question "Why?" "To what purpose?" which becomes, in the case of some of Tolstoi's heroes and in his own, misery and paralysis when applied to the totality of existence itself, is salutary when we apply it every now and then to the detail of life. For it is then no longer: "What is the use of my being alive?" but the wholly different query: "Why, being alive, being what I am and wishing in a given way, am I nevertheless acting in this other way, which is inconsistent with my general life, personality and wishes?"

Yes; there is need of such occasional scattering of our best-established habits and most necessary shams and shibboleths. Nietzsche is right in asking for a constant "revaluing of all standards of value." Only—what Nietzsche did not guess, and the world does not recognise—such has been the mission not of Epicureans and Cynics (falling in, as they do, with everyday habits), but of the far more ruthless, because more mono-ideistic and more unpractical, destructiveness of the prophets of asceticism.

Moreover, apart from its constant criticism of moral routine and its indefatigable exposure of perfunctoriness and hypocrisy, apart from its negative merit in demolishing so many cherished vital lies, and making the individual soul stand without shelter from the lightnings and the whirlwinds of the spiritual heavens; apart from its great functions of destruction (bringing, in Christ's words, "not peace, but a sword"), all progress owes a deep debt to asceticism of every denomination. For asceticism has given success to unworldliness, and made modesty and scrupulousness illustrious. The adoration of the saint, the triumphant enshrining of his poor bones, has been a salutary practice; since, even if that saint's virtues were mistaken, it was the desire for virtue, for acceptableness in God's eyes, which made him glorious in the eyes of men. It has been a help to progress that sanctity could compensate for poverty and weakness—nay, that poverty and weakness should have their disgrace removed; and more particularly in timeswhen poverty was as often the result of one's neighbour's unscrupulousness as of one's own lack of initiative; and weakness was better for others than being a ruffian.

The school which has arisen in violent antagonism to ascetic self-denial, that of Nietzsche and the "Will to Power," bred, as it is, in times of comparative liberty and safety for the individual, has overlooked the fact that, in the past, a handful of stupid roughs, or the caprice of a delirious crowned degenerate, could in ten minutes destroy the results of years and years of industry, ingenuity, self-command, in fact, of every combination of intellectual, moral and physical efficiency. In such a past,—and it is still at our door (I write within a week of the suppression of the St. Petersburg rising)—the saint is the necessary corrective, in mankind's judgment, for the atrocious success of the violent man or the intriguer. And, so long as we continue abetting success which is obtained to the detriment of others, so long shall we require the worship of the saint as such. Asceticism is the inevitable outcome, because it is the natural corrective, of moral callousness. And, so long as the market and the home are no better than they are, we shall require to retire now and again into a church—built, if not of stone, then of reverent thoughts—in commemoration of some just, and gentle and austere man. Nay, we shall require to feel at times the impulse to self-chastisement, self-abasement and self-mutilation, so long as our daily life remains as thoughtless, mean, grasping and bestial as it often is.

And herein lies the secret of Tolstoi, as of all ascetics and prophets: of his exaggerations, his absurdities, his—let us call them by their rightful name—ravings; and of our listening, and feeling that we are right in listening, to them.

The destructiveness of asceticism is blind and excessive; it behoves our spiritual activity and discipline to make use of this dangerous moral force, as of any of the other forces of nature, bidding it work for our benefit and not to our hurt. But, even while we remain unable to direct it to our purposes, this disruptive energy of asceticism and prophecy is one of the necessary purifiers of our stagnating souls. It is good to be asked, "To what purpose?" by a Tolstoi, although our answer may differ so widely from the one he preaches.

Gaius Glenn Atkins (essay date 1913)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy's Confessions," in Pilgrims of the Lonely Road, Books for Libraries Press, Inc., 1913, pp. 281-334.

[In the following essay, Atkins provides a biographical and critical analysis of Tolstoy's Confession.]

The choice of some one representative figure in whom these studies may terminate is a wholly debatable matter. We are far, far past the time when any one man is great enough to speak for his entire age. We are in the midst of a smothering spiritual confusion and may indeed doubt whether any one will ever be able to speak for long periods and vast movements as Dante spoke for the mediaeval mind, Bunyan for the Puritan, or the Imitation of Christ for monastic gentleness and devotion. If we were considering solely the literature of lonely confession without reference to the fructifying and transforming influence of such confession we might well end with Amiel, for without doubt the Journal Intime of Amiel is, in the range, delicacy and haunting wonder of it, one of the very greatest of confessions. In its literary charm it stands quite apart and it is, moreover, a true revelation of a temper wholly distinctive of our own time. It voicesour own new sense of the wonder and mystery of life.

We have shifted our sense of emphasis: life is no longer secondary; it is supreme. We do not subordinate it to theologies, we are unwilling to postpone its consummations and rewards, we make it rather the test of all our formularies. Our very vocabulary witnesses our changed conceptions; a new employment of the word Life—we spell it with a capital letter—characterizes all our literature, saturates our poetry, has modified our preaching and given new titles to our books. Without any doubt the lack of a positive note in so much of our modern teaching has its roots just here. The contemporaneous voices which speak most clearly and representatively voice the restlessness of life rather than its peace, its sense of insistent change rather than great permanencies, their mystic wonder at their own inheritances, their strange interminglings of hopes and foreboding.

In such regions as these no one is more representative than Amiel. He also witnesses, not only to the wonder of life, but to the paralysis which this sense of wonder may produce. There are always those who, keenly sensitive to the deeper implications of life, lose the roads of action as they dream and so wander to the edge of abysses which deepen, not only with the passing of their own years, but with the passing of humanity's years. Their very consciousness of the significance of life paralyzes their powers of choice and action. So life becomes for them an unspeakable burden and yet, by a strange contradiction, an unspeakable experience. They dwell, like Matthew Arnold, between two worlds, one dead—the old world of simple faith and resolute action, the other—the new world of faith and deed equal to their vision—powerless to be born, and above both worlds the haunting sense of the Infinite and Eternal. The very sensitiveness of Amiel's soul, the reach of his intuitions, the scope of his knowledge, the purity of his aspirations made him tremulously responsive to all which plays upon the more feeling children of our own time. The music of his meditations, now vague and tremulous, now storm swept, now nobly massive, grave and majestic as a great organ brought into full action, shows us what perfect spiritual instruments are capable of when played upon by manifold experiences and strangely open to all the winds that blow, and witnesses, at the same time, how pathetically unsatisfactory all this is if no conquering purpose keeps step to such music, no matter how various or grandiose the music itself may be. Life is now, as it always has been, a great adventure; its full meanings are never known by those who dream along the shores of time. The full meanings of life are known only to those who take to the open sea and are so much occupied with meeting wind and wave and keeping their course through the fog and bringing their cargo to the appointed haven that only for a little, in the intervals of eager duties, have they any time to scan with mystic vision the ever receding horizons or wonder beneath the stars. Only when we search the skies for changeless light by which to test and correct the pilgrimages of earth is their infinity kind; only when we look up to vast horizons between our tasks is their very wideness the wideness of the mercy of God. It is because Amiel failed just here that his confessions, meditations, introspections, wonderful as they are, are no true expression of all that is best and bravest about us.

It is to Tolstoy, therefore, that we must turn. Tolstoy has Amiel's feeling for the immense significance, the penetrating difficulties of life itself, but with a really profound difference. It is, to begin with, a difference in courage and effectuality. Whether Tolstoy's road is the right road or not may be open to debate, but that he went clean to the end of it is beyond debate. He put his faith to the test and sought to readjust, not only his own life, but the life of the world as far as he could reach or move it to his own changing conceptions. A note of self-reliant action is never wanting in Tolstoy's music and though our own time needs sadly enough to be purged of itsown more superficial self-reliances and to be taught the deeper meaning of action no man is a satisfactory guide for this or any other age who loses himself in his dreams. Whatever Tolstoy wrongly does of wrongly leaves undone he does at least incarnate those qualities of faith in action and action in faith without which every pilgrimage ends either in the Slough of Despond or Doubting Castle. Amiel's haunting music will lead us, if we do not take care, down the byways of By-path Meadow; Tolstoy takes the Hill of Difficulty breast forward.

Tolstoy is also distinctive (and here indeed he differs from all those whom we have been considering) in that he is the son of a race but recently constituted and as yet hardly clearly conscious of itself. Saul of Tarsus and Augustine were the children of races rooted deep in history; the mystics of the Imitation and Theologia Germanica had behind them a national consciousness already mature, but even in the day of Bunyan Russia was hardly born. We must allow for something of this fermenting racial consciousness in all Russian literature and in the work of Tolstoy himself. The world in which he lived was nearer primitive and elemental backgrounds than he would himself have been willing to confess.

Tolstoy speaks, moreover, for the Slav. He was not only the son of a new-born people, but of a race bringing distinct contributions to our common human world. The Slav is not wanting in mysticism, yet he marries Mysticism to a terrible Realism: he is a dreamer, yet capable of a materialism which becomes, upon occasion, sheerly brutal. He is hard and susceptible at the same time, idealist and realist in the same breath. And deeper than all this is a racial note never wanting, never commonplace, difficult of analysis, and so different from all that we have been considering as simply to rest in its separateness. Tolstoy incarnates all this; he is always two men. It is the strife between these two men which gives spiritual significance to his life.

The lower man against whom he battles so long, whose lawless doings he so often and so bitterly repudiates, has a sheer elemental quality which is wanting in the lower selves against which St. Paul and Augustine and John Bunyan were called to do battle. Tolstoy has also—though this is to anticipate—a quality of self-sufficiency greatly wanting even in great spiritual adventures. (Possibly we feel all this so strongly because we know Tolstoy so well. If we had the same quantity of contemporaneous gossip about St. Paul or St. Augustine we might see them in a very different light.) Like Augustine he too is restless till he rests in God; like St. Paul he cries out "Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?" But with all this we do not discern in him that sense of spiritual weakness which threw Augustine and St. Paul back in faith upon the redemptive compassions of the Eternal, or bowed them, in awestruck humility, at the foot of the throne of God. The sense of need he surely had—the sense of weakness—no. Where Newman takes to the shelter Tolstoy takes to the open sea, and where Amiel is paralyzed by the difficulties of life and its choices Tolstoy shakes himself clear of its complexities and triumphs by his own spiritual force. For the Theologia Germanica the imitation of Christ is to be sought in mystical surrenders and fellowships; Tolstoy's imitation of Christ is the utter simplification of life and the literal acceptance of the gospel teaching. Thomas à Kempis' imitation of Christ is possible only within the shelter of monastic walls; the great Russian's Imitation is at a shoemaker's bench without vows or disciplines. Besides, the road which every one of these men followed led them to systems and governments; Tolstoy solves his own problems in an excess of individualism and reads a philosophic anarchy into the lines of the Sermon on the Mount.

Tolstoy was born in 1828. He was descended on both sides from aristocratic families; it is likely that his mother's was the better stock. Certain Russian traditions trace back aconsiderable body of the Russian nobility—the Tolstoys among them—to German immigrants. The Tolstoys themselves indignantly repudiated any such suggestion and indeed there is little in Tolstoy's personality or message to indicate a Teutonic ancestry. He was Russian through and through. His ancestors, beginning with one Peter Tolstoy—born in 1645—had various fortunes; they were sometimes intimately associated with the Russian court and sometimes in disfavour and exile. Their estates were confiscated upon one occasion, but their family fortunes were mended by a felicitous marriage. In fact the waning fortunes of the family were more than once rehabilitated in the same way. Tolstoy's forebears "were more or less in passive opposition to the government, and shared the humanitarian sympathies current in the early years of the reign of Alexander I." He was early left motherless and was cared for by an aunt for whom he had, from the beginning, the greatest affection. The affection was always returned and her concern for the boy was shown in numberless ways. "Auntie Tatiána had the greatest influence on my life. From early childhood she taught me the spiritual delight of love. She taught me this joy not by words; but by her whole being she filled me with love. I saw, I felt, how she enjoyed loving, and I understood the joy of love. Secondly, she taught me the delights of an unhurried, quiet life." Tolstoy was much influenced by his eldest brother, Nicholas, who seems to have possessed to the full the idealism by which Tolstoy himself was so much moved. It was Nicholas who told Tolstoy and his brothers how he had discovered a secret by which all men might become happy. The boys had a strange name for this felicitous fellowship; they were to be called "Ant-Brothers." "We even organized a game of Ant-Brothers, which consisted in sitting under chairs, sheltering ourselves with boxes, screening ourselves with handkerchiefs, and cuddling against one another while thus crouching in the dark." The real secret of happiness, however, Nicholas told his brothers, he had written upon a green stick and buried in a certain place. Other conditions which Nicholas imposed upon his brothers were equally fantastic and capricious, but the memory of the Ant-Brotherhood remained with Tolstoy to the end. Almost seventy years later he writes: "The ideal of Ant-Brothers lovingly clinging to one another, though not under two armchairs curtained by handkerchiefs, but of all mankind under the wide dome of heaven, has remained the same for me. As I then believed that there existed a little green stick whereon was written the message which could destroy all evil in men and give them universal welfare, so I now believe that such truth exists and will be revealed to men, and will give them all it promises."1

Tolstoy's reminiscences have something of the character of Marcus Aurelius' memories of his own boyhood, something of the same suggestion of a keen and observant boy, sheltered and happy, about whom larger movements ebbed and flowed. He lived from the first a vigorous outdoor life, was always a keen sportsman and trained athlete. (His uncommon bodily power stood him in good stead to the end.) The boy had always the instinct of adventure. (He tried to fly once and threw himself out of a window with the expectation that if he only held tight enough to his knees he would defy the law of gravitation. He got a slight concussion of the brain out of this adventure, but no lasting injury.) He was better at riding than his lessons. The family tutor said: "Sergéy both wishes and can, Dimítry wishes but can't, and Leo neither wishes nor can." It is only fair to say that Tolstoy's French tutor took a very much more hopeful view of him. He had a deal of intellectual power when he was minded to put it into action. Later in life he performed great feats of acquisition. Evidently the tutor who said that he neither would nor could was no just judge.

The undisciplined intensities of Tolstoy's nature came directly into action and the years following his unsatisfactory university course were restless and tumultuous enough. He is always dealing with himself introspectively and always setting up for himself high andsearching ideals. He resolves for instance: "To fulfill what I set myself, despite all obstacles. To fulfill well what I do undertake. Never to refer to a book for what I have forgotten, but always to try to recall it to mind myself. Always to make my mind work with its utmost power." He outlines for himself a course of study fairly appalling in its scope: he will study law, medicine, all the modern languages, agriculture, mathematics, music, painting and the natural sciences, and write essays on all the subjects he studies.2 No need to say that such a program remained unfulfilled.

The ferment of his soul was even more intense than the ferment of his mind. The very first pages of the Confession testify to the stages of his deflection from faith. "The religious teaching which was imparted to me in my childhood disappeared in me just as in others, with this difference only, that, since I began to read philosophical works at fifteen years of age, my apostasy very early became conscious. With my sixteenth year I quit praying and through my own initiative stopped attending church and preparing myself for communion. I did not believe in what I had been told in my childhood, but I believed in something. I should never have been able to say what it was I believed in. I believed in God, or, more correctly, I did not deny God, but what kind of a God I should have been at a loss to say. Nor did I deny Christ and His teaching, but what His teaching consisted in, I should also have been at a loss to say."3 Tolstoy's diary shows however that even in this period of storm and stress he was never wholly unconscious of the necessites of his soul; his altar fires were sadly smothered, but never in his most troubled times wholly extinguished.

The world in which Tolstoy lived is not easily reconstructed. It was a world, now of the vast open spaces of the Russian countrysides, now of Moscow with its walls and its domes, of occasional famine, of dependent serfs, of religious intensities and moral laxities. He took in his early manhood full advantage of these laxities and the practical conduct of his life left much to seek, but we must remember in judging him the moral standards to which he was expected to conform. He never seeks to conceal or minimize all this part of his life. His confessions portray a struggle even more intense than the struggle which still kindles the pages of the Confessions of St. Augustine with its passion. There is always this difference: Augustine was a rhetorician and with all our sure persuasion of the man's entire sincerity we feel, even in those pages in which Augustine strips his soul bare, the rhetorician's touch.

Tolstoy is, in his nobler passages, the master of a most telling style, but he is never a rhetorician and he always writes under restraint. Each stroke of the pen tells. It is this restrained intensity of narration, this paucity of emotion, with a pitiless veracity of fact and detail, which gives the Confessions of Tolstoy their power and significance. He is realistic in confession as in all his literary art. In this, at least, there is not his like in the whole literature of confession. The periods of self-indulgence were always succeeded by times of bitter repentance and spiritual depression. "Oh, wretched man that I am" is again and again upon his lips and at the point of his pen.

The division of the family estates gave Tolstoy a modest patrimony. He was never good at business detail and although that patrimony grew beneath his hand it was rather owing to his great creative force than to the excellency of his business administration. He was, from time to time, a reckless gambler and he more than once put so heavy a strain upon his resources as seriously to endanger his financial integrity. It is not a wholly happy story, the story of these years of storm and stress, but its grosser aspects were always redeemed by the deep and unquenched spiritual passion of the man.

For the sake possibly of his health and certainly for the sake of his fortune—he was deep in gambling debts—as well as to escape from surroundings all too full of moral temptation, Tolstoy went, in the year 1851, into the Caucasus. The names of the places he visited are unpronounceable, but the whole experience is extraordinarily picturesque. He entered the army and distinguished himself in the endless border warfare which was then being carried on with the Tatars. He was not yet a commissioned officer, but he bore himself bravely and was three times in the way of receiving the St. George's cross. He missed it in each instance for reasons which do him no discredit.

He now began his long career as an author. He wrote from first to last largely out of his own experiences. The outstanding masculine characters in all his novels are compelling incarnations of his many-sided personality. His first work is a study in childhood so definitely autobiographical that his sister Mary who knew nothing of her brother's venture was surprised to find recognizable incident after incident in the story as she read it in a Russian magazine. He was recognized directly by those to whom he submitted his earlier writings as an author of unusual promise. They knew that a new force had begun to display itself in Russian literature; they could hardly then have known that a new force was beginning in the world's literature. This is no place for any full estimate of Tolstoy as a writer; such estimates have been made by the greatest critics of our times and may easily be found. It is enough to say that Tolstoy has exercised the profoundest of influences upon modern literature. He has not been alone in this, I mean, that is, that his Russian contemporaries have been co-contributors with him, and it would be truer perhaps to say that the group in which Tolstoy is easily the most commanding figure became, after the middle of the nineteenth century, a new point of departure for modern literature. Realism really came into action with these men.

Tolstoy writes always with the utmost simplicity, with great reserve and with an almost brutal fidelity to every kind of fact. He never softens or obscures. He knows the literary value of the disagreeable and always calls a spade a spade. He so secures an unfailing vividness, sometimes charming, sometimes searching, sometimes disagreeable, sordid, brutal, but the power is never wanting. Take for example this fragment of conversation. He is speaking of death and how when one really stands face to face with it it loses its terror. He speaks out of his own experience. He had, at one time, been shooting in the snow and, with a wholly characteristic indifference to another man's advice, he neglected to trample down the snow about him so as to secure space for free movement. Half buried he was attacked by a bear which came near ending his distinguished career then and there and left for long the marks of its teeth upon his face. He was saved almost by a miracle. Now these are the conditions under which men are supposedly not carefully observant of detail, yet such was the quality of Tolstoy's mind that he saw it all with a vast deal more than the fidelity of the best camera and he was able, many years after, to paint this picture of the whole incident. "I remember once, when a bear attacked me and pressed me down under him, driving the claws of his enormous paw into my shoulder, I felt no pain. I lay under him and looked into his warm, large mouth, with its wet, white teeth. He breathed above me, and I saw how he turned his head to get into position to bite into both my temples at once; and in his hurry, or from excited appetite, he made a trial snap in the air just above my head, and again opened his mouth—that red, wet, hungry mouth, dripping with saliva. I felt I was about to die, and looked into the depths of that mouth as one condemned to execution looks into the grave dug for him. I looked, and I remember that I felt no fear or dread. I saw with one eye, beyond the outline of that mouth, a patch of blue sky gleaming between purple clouds roughly piled on one another, and I thought how lovely it was up there."4 Nothing is wanting here: he sees the wet, white teeth of the beast and the serene splendour of piled up clouds with the same searching and retentive vision. Now these are the very qualities which give a lonely and unapproachable character to his great descriptions.

His sense of the earth and earthy is always much in evidence. It would be possible to separate out of all his writing a mass of hard and repulsive delineations, dealing remorselessly with elemental things and saved from the atmosphere of the dissecting room only by his great literary art and his unrivalled powers of portrayal, but above and beyond this is always something better. He sought, even in his most pitiless realism, the regions of the ideal. He sees, at the same time, the tooth of the beast, the patch of blue sky and the purple clouds. His art was from the first but the instrument of his humanity and his humanity deepened with the years, though towards the end it grew very stern and sad.

We have followed, in the course of these studies, the quest for peace into many unexpected regions and strange. In Tolstoy we trace it through modern realism, the dissecting room and sometimes almost the sewer. But because the passion for the quest never fails and the humanity of the man rests like light upon all the vast movement of his life, his realism is always redeemed and the suggestions of an ultimate dawn are always breaking through his shadows. Mr. William Dean Howells, who has been mightily influenced by Tolstoy and more than any one else has sought to justify his art to America, tests him by just this test. "It is Tolstoy's humanity which is the grace beyond the reach of art in his imaginative work. It does not reach merely the poor and the suffering; it extends to the prosperous and the proud, and does not deny itself to the guilty. . . . Tolstoy has said of the fiction of Maupassant that the whole truth can never be immoral; and in his own work I have felt that it could never be anything but moral."5

Such qualities as these save Tolstoy and his readers from consequences which are always implicit in realism, for the whole test of such literature is its redemptive power. We may follow men in all their faults and failures down into the depths if only we are not left in the depths, nay if we are led there simply to discover the first far off and unexpected beginnings of a redemptive process, but if there is no redemption and we are left in the mire, nothing has been accomplished and we have deserted the clean light-filled upper reaches of life in vain. Indeed we are fortunate if we have not so weighed down all the powers by which we rise as to be unable to reach the heights again. Tolstoy's tools have always been apt to turn in hands less strong and sure than his. Realism has, for a generation now, been widening into unexpected quarters and has given an unhappy quality to much contemporaneous literature. Men, and women too, have learned from the great Russian to describe the unlovely, discuss the disagreeable, deal with the stained and set their little stage with figures moved by false and unholy desires whom, having created, they have not been able to redeem. More unhappily, still others seem to love the dissecting room and the sewer; they dwell upon the morbid and the unrighteous with perverted imaginations which exalt that which ought to be debased and debase that which ought to be exalted. I wonder, said Lowell in substance speaking of just these aspects of our literature, why men go down into the cellar to live when they might dwell in those fair upper chambers whose windows look towards the sunrise of the resurrection. Tolstoy was saved all this by the persistent refusal of his soul to dwell in the cellar, by the passion for the upper chamber and its windows of vision which held him steadily to the end.

In fighting, writing and hunting Tolstoy's three years in the Caucasus spent themselves. He came back home at the beginning of the Russo-Turkish war and since he had not become a commissioned officer he was ordered immediately to the army of the Danube. In the campaignwhich followed he shared first-hand the manifold experiences of a great European war. We owe a vast deal to these experiences. Tolstoy made war upon war unceasingly, without pity, and without qualification; he neither gave nor accepted quarter. His own military experiences put powerful weapons into his hands; he had seen the thing about which he wrote. He stripped war bare of all the garmenture of glamour with which the imaginations of men have, since the beginning of time, clothed it and showed it naked in its besieged trenches or upon the death-strewn fields of victory or defeat. It is something more than a coincidence that we owe to a Russian writer as we owe to a great Russian painter—Verestchàgin—pictures of battle-fields terrible in their searching veracity. Very likely Tolstoy has left out something here as in so many other regions; a battle-field is not all death and grizzly terror. Battle-fields have also been the home of great devotions, radiant revelations of courage and a passion and willingness to submit loyalties and convictions to the last supreme arbitrament which have lifted men above their clay and made deathless the places where they have dared to die. Tolstoy does not greatly dwell upon all this: his hatred of the whole unreasonable and unveracious way of deciding questions which might otherwise be decided blinded him to everything except the cost, the tragedy and the unreasonableness of it all. You have only to put side by side Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Five Hundred" and Tolstoy's merciless descriptions of the siege of Sebastopol to see at once the elemental difference in their points of view. The poet was never nearer a battle-field than to dream in English meadows, ripe with an immemorial peace, though truly he saw some things to which the smoke of the batteries of the Fourth Bastion blinded Tolstoy. We need to stand far back from the play of life's elemental forces to discern their meaning as we need to be very close to them to appreciate their cost.

The first of his war sketches commended itself to the whole Russian people and one of the unexpected results of it was an order from the Czar, Alexander II, "to take care of the life of that young man." He was removed from Sebastopol and assigned to a less dangerous service. When the full consequences of his portrayal of war began to be made evident in later articles the pen of the Russian censor bore heavily upon them and Tolstoy's hope of military promotion was effectually ended. The suspicion that he had a good deal to do with certain slangy topical songs much thought of in the army, in which the whole Russian conduct of the campaign was dealt with most irreverently, deepened the disfavour in which he was held in high military quarters.

At the end of the war he visited Europe for the first time. The isolation of Russia even so late as the middle of the last century is indicated in such a statement; when a Russian travelled towards the west he went from Russia to Europe. He sums up his Parisian experiences almost in a sentence. The memory of Paris which dwelt with him longest was the memory of an execution which he saw, the vision of which came up years after to reënforce his moral judgments and lend graphic power to his indictment of modern society. He was, nevertheless, influenced in a multitude of ways by the freer culture of France and Germany. His experiences made him more completely a citizen of the world.

After the death of his brother, Nicholas, he returned to Russia and to his country estate. He was for a little while "arbitrator of the peace," umpire, that is, between the landlords and the serfs in all the endless adjustments which the new policy of emancipation demanded. Tolstoy's mind was really judicial in its higher regions, but his dealing with details was never satisfactory and one is not surprised to learn that he presently resigned to his own satisfaction certainly, and to the satisfaction of the landlords without much doubt. He now began certain interesting experiences in education with the peasant children. He really anticipated the Montessori methods and secured unexpected results by allowing free play to the boys and girls whom he led. He was always impatient of discipline, always trusted everything to the individual, and his educational experiences, we must confess, justified this faith. His lack of discipline would have driven a trained schoolmaster wild, but the response of the children was such as any schoolmaster would be happy to secure. There are no more delightful pages in Tolstoy's life than the chapters which picture his free and stimulating comradeship with the children of the Russian peasants, and which, incidentally, give us also a vivid portrayal of many of the conditions of peasant life.

Here, as in other dealings with the Russian peasantry, Tolstoy discovered the unsuspected powers of narration which the peasant often possesses. More than once he found them retelling the stories which he had told them with a vivid effectiveness beyond his own compass, and more than once he gave these same stories to the world in the form which the peasants themselves had suggested. All this throws an unexpected light upon the processes by which folk stories are fashioned and helps us to understand how such tales, handed on from generation to generation, shaped by the accretions of numberless retellings, finally attain a perfection of form combined with a directness of statement which puts them in a class apart. Tolstoy found Russian literature sadly wanting in proper material for children's readers and he began a series of primary text-books in literature which have become part of the permanent possession of the Russian people and which are, even now, being issued in cheap editions and by the hundred thousand. He also wrote articles on education, revolutionary as is most of his work, grudgingly received in Russia as most of his work has been, but anticipating, at the same time, much which has become the commonplace of modern educational methods.

On the twenty-third of September, 1862, Tolstoy was married to Sophia Behrs. True to his revolutionary soul, which never permitted him to follow the more travelled paths, Tolstoy proposed to the woman who was to become his wife by writing the initial letters of certain sentences upon cards, so challenging the young woman to read his thoughts rather than his words. She did just that with an insight which bears more than a negligible testimony to mutual intimacies of feeling. Before their marriage Tolstoy gave to Miss Behrs his diary, in which the moral derelictions of years, searching and unhappy selfjudgments and the record of unassuaged discontents, were woven into such a body of self-confession and self-estimate as few young women have been asked to read upon the eve of their marriage. It cost her a sleepless night and she stained its pages with her tears, but she gave it back to him and forgave the past. Tolstoy made confession, received the eucharist and was married according to the rites of the Greek Church.

One may anticipate here much which should be considered later by saying that Tolstoy could have chosen no worthier woman. Having chosen her he called upon her to bear heavy burdens. She became the mother of many children and as the travail of Tolstoy's soul grew more intense her life was often lonely and she found herself sadly perplexed. At the time of his greatest spiritual stress Tolstoy ignored every interest in life except the concern of his own soul and there are few more moving passages in modern biography than the story of the day in which Tolstoy, in his intensity of spiritual labour, turned his back upon his wife then in labour with one of their daughters and went out of the house uncertain whether he should ever return. But there are always reconciliations and one feels that although the Countess was called upon to drink such bitter waters as the wives of geniuses have almost always been called upon to taste, their marriage, none the less, was truly happy and where it failed in happiness was fruitful in blessedness. In all likelihood she brought more to Tolstoy than he brought to her and we have no right to forget the woman who, with a brave, fine spirit, endured and reënforced and served himthrough many troubled years.

She became, in the end, his publisher, looked after his copyrights and secured for the Tolstoy children some of the fruits of their father's literary toil. For years Tolstoy's copyrights and translations were in a welter of confusion. A very great deal which he wrote—substantially the whole body of his later writing—was never allowed to be published in Russia. His books were published as might be in Western Europe, but he took no pains to secure competent translators or to assign the rights of translation to dependable publishing houses. As a result his works were badly translated, badly published and it is only very recently that we have begun to get dependable translations of his writings. He received, at the best, only a fraction of the financial returns to which, under ordinary circumstances, he would have been entitled, though that fraction was so large as probably to have saved his family from really sore need, secured the education of his children and maintained the expensive establishments which the Countess kept up at Yásnaya Polyána and Moscow, and all this was more largely due to the Countess than any one else.

About the time of his marriage, a little before or after, Tolstoy secured large holdings of land in western Russia; these holdings increased greatly in value although they were always administered in a hit or miss kind of fashion. When Tolstoy was minded to give attention to earthly affairs he had really a large, sound business sense, but he was hopeless and helpless in the matter of detail and administration. This practical helplessness coloured his social judgments and makes him an ill guide to follow in all his more positive proposals for social regeneration. Very likely the roots of it all are temperamental; Tolstoy was temperamentally an anarchist, in the philosophical sense, that is. He trusted everything to the individual, constantly underestimated the necessity and value of common action, hated government, though there is reason enough for that (all Russia would hate government, one would think), and trusted to individual initiative for results which individual initiative is totally unable to secure. Tolstoy's anarchy broke down in the administration of his own affairs; they were saved again and again by the practical sense of his wife. They would have broken down so much the more certainly and tragically in a larger administration of the affairs of the world. All this is to anticipate, for much which is here dismissed did not develop until later.

Between his marriage and his rebirth Tolstoy published his greatest novels: Anna Karénina and War and Peace. These stories effectually established his place in literature; had he done nothing else he would still remain one of the greatest novelists, not only of the nineteenth century, but of all time. His novels are something more than novels; they are sections of human life, slow in movement, vast in their inclusiveness. War and Peace is really a picture of Russian society from Austerlitz to the overthrow of Napoleon. So many characters move across its pages that they are difficult to follow and one loses again and again the movement of the story in its amplification. He writes as a hater of war, the revealer of the deep forces which make and remake the nations. His Napoleon is a blind puppet, an almost pitiful figure who has invoked powers which he cannot control, riding helplessly upon the wings of the storm which he has raised until those wings fail him and he is dashed to the ground. The Russian peasant fighting for his fatherland is, in Tolstoy's conception, mightier than the emperor. Napoleon is an accident; the forces which defeat him are elemental.

During all these years Tolstoy's life was eager, manifold in its activities and successful. Child after child is born to him, his station is assured, his literary creativity apparently inexhaustible, but beneath the surface strange forces were at work, signs of which had neverbeen wanting. His higher or deeper self, as one will, had always sat in judgment upon the self of pleasure and activity. He found no peace in activities and relationships which most men would have judged most fruitful and satisfying, and while he wore himself out in manifold activities his soul still followed the gleam. Everything conspired to drive him on. The Russia of the seventies and eighties was stirred to its depths. All the past of Russian history had conspired to give to the Russian government its arbitrary and autocratic form. The people had no voice in the control of their affairs; the state was ridden by a bureaucracy while beneath all the show of imperial magnificence was the welter of a people sunk deep in economic misery and the spiritual stir of a race which has always married to its sterner and more brutal qualities vast devotions, great tendernesses and an endless capacity for dreaming dreams and seeing visions. Such a condition could not forever endure. Almost everything in contemporaneous Russian life challenged every earnest and clear thinking man and burdened him with a sense of the utter inadequacy of the order of which he was a part. Tolstoy was not only the citizen of a state even then beginning to be tortured by the consciousness of dual tendencies, but he himself was a dual nature. "Already in 1875 Mihaylóvsky had published a remarkable series of articles on 'The Right and Left Hand of Count Tolstoy,' in which he pointed out that that author's works reveal the clash of contrary ideals and tendencies in the writer's soul, and that especially his educational articles contain ideals quite in conflict with certain tendencies noticeable in War and Peace. With remarkable prevision Mihaylóvsky predicted an inevitable crisis in Tolstoy's life and added: One asks oneself what such a man is to do, and how he is to live? . . . I think an ordinary man in such a position would end by suicide or drunkenness; but a man of worth will seek for other issues—and of these there are several."6

These then were the forces which drove Tolstoy remorselessly on: an exterior world in which no right-thinking man had any right to be content; an interior world which had not yet organized itself in either peace or power upon the high levels to which his better self was always urging him. We see directly how the great human experiences constantly repeat themselves. Tolstoy's feet are already set—had indeed long been set—upon the way of the mystics. He was now about to enter the stage of purgation. Temperamental forces, of course, are here much in evidence; nowhere do men differ so widely as in their attitudes towards the complex elements which enter into their lives. Multitudes of men are always and unquestionably content to dwell upon the lower levels; they surrender without protest their high estate, live and die, seemingly without travail or inner protest, upon levels which are far, far short of the best. A good many men seem able to maintain themselves upon the conventional levels "of reason, order, decency and use"; still others are gradually pushed from such respectable stations down all the passes of that weary road which leads to darkness. From time to time we are vouchsafed the vision of those who seem born citizens of the highest; they do not strive nor cry aloud; their voice is not heard in the streets; they simply come home, quietly, directly, with no conflict which other men at least may discern, to the high habitations of the soul. They mount up with wings as eagles and where we falter through the shadows they pass in radiant certitudes. But there are others still—and all our studies have had to deal with such—who will not surrender to the lowest and who cannot attain the highest except in sore agonies of spiritual endeavour. Intimations are not wanting even in Tolstoy's earliest self-revelation of such a sore conflict and yet he would have been a rare prophet who could have anticipated at the time of Tolstoy's marriage, or even a decade later, the forms which that conflict were to take, the bitter intensity of it, its wearied duration and its outcome. When the time came he laid bare his soul in his Confession and there we may trace it all, step by step.

He writes, as has already been said, with the utmost restraint, with a Doric simplicity, and yetwith passionate intensity. From time to time the subterranean fires break through; you are always conscious of their presence. The early pages of the Confession record the decay of an inherited faith which had really never gripped his soul and is one more chapter in the story of that twilight of the gods whose shadow has fallen deeply across so many men and women in the last two generations, whose recital lends haunting melancholy to wide reaches of contemporaneous literature. Like all his comrades, Tolstoy's "cradle faith" died of inanition. "Thus, now as then, the religious teaching, which is accepted through confidence and is supported through external pressure, slowly melts under the influence of knowledge and the experiences of life, which are contrary to the religious teaching, and a man frequently goes on imagining that the religious teaching with which he has been imbued in childhood is in full force in him, whereas there is not even a trace left of it."7 It is a bitter day when a man comes to bear his weight upon inherited convictions and finds they will not support him.

He tells of his friends' experiences, for example: "S—, an intelligent and truthful man, told me how he came to stop believing. When he was twenty-six years old he once at a night's rest during the chase followed his old habit, acquired in his childhood, and stood up to pray. His elder brother, who took part in the chase, was lying on the hay and looking at him. When S—got through and was about to lie down, he said to him: 'So you are still doing these things?' That was all that was said. And S—that very day quit praying and attending church. Thirty years have passed since he stopped praying, receiving the communion, and going to church. Not that he knew the convictions of his brother and had joined them, not that he had decided on anything in his mind, but only because the sentence which his brother had uttered was like the pressure exerted with a finger against a wall which was ready to fall of its own weight; the sentence was merely an indication that where he thought there was faith there had long been a vacant spot, and that, therefore, the words which he spoke and the signs of the cross and the obeisances which he made during his praying were quite meaningless actions. Since he had come to recognize their meaninglessness, he could not keep them up any longer."8

With nothing to sustain him except a passion for perfection unrelated to transforming and redeeming powers, Tolstoy entered, he tells us, upon bitter and sterile years. "I cannot recall those years without dread, loathing, and anguish of heart. I killed people in war and challenged to duels to kill; I lost money at cards, wasting the labour of the peasants. . . . Lying, stealing, acts of lust of every description, drunkenness, violence, murder—there was not a crime which I did not commit, and for all that I was praised, and my contemporaries have regarded me as a comparatively moral man."9

He found nothing in the standards and ideals of his contemporaries either to correct or inspire him; they were all alike wanting in any real vision of the meaning of life. Literary activities brought him no release; his stars were blotted out and the deep weariness of life weighed increasingly upon him. Life had lost its meanings, its compulsions, its justifications. The question "why" hung like a portent across all his horizons. "The truth was that life was meaningless. It was as though I had just been living and walking along, and had come to an abyss, where I saw clearly that there was nothing ahead but perdition. And it was impossible to stop and go back, and impossible to shut my eyes, in order that I might not see that there was nothing ahead but suffering and imminent death—complete annihilation."10

He found a strange and vivid commentary upon his situation in the Eastern story about the traveller who, in the steppe, was overtaken by an infuriated beast. "Trying to save himself from the animal, the traveller jumps into a waterless well, but at its bottom he sees a dragon whoopens his jaws in order to swallow him. And the unfortunate man does not dare climb out, lest he perish from the infuriated beast, and does not dare jump down to the bottom of the well, lest he be devoured by the dragon, and so clutches the twig of a wild bush growing in a cleft of the well and holds on to it. His hands grow weak and he feels that soon he shall have to surrender to the peril which awaits him at either side; but he still holds on and sees two mice, one white, the other black, in even measure making a circle around the main trunk of the bush to which he is clinging, and nibbling at it on all sides. Now, at any moment, the bush will break and tear off, and he will fall into the dragon's jaws. The traveller sees that and knows that he will inevitably perish; but while he is still clinging, he sees some drops of honey hanging on the leaves of the bush, and so reaches out for them with his tongue and licks the leaves. Just so I hold on to the branch of life, knowing that the dragon of death is waiting inevitably for me, ready to tear me to pieces, and I cannot understand why I have fallen on such suffering. And I try to lick that honey which used to give me pleasure; but now it no longer gives me joy, and the white and the black mouse day and night nibble at the branch to which I am holding on. I clearly see the dragon, and the honey is no longer sweet to me. I see only the inevitable dragon and the mice, and am unable to turn my glance away from them. That is not a fable but a veritable, indisputable, comprehensible truth."11

Such a tragic impotence is never wanting—at a central stage—in the lives of men upon whom the quest lays its searching touch. Many men have also stood upon what Hutton calls "the last shelf of things, looking out into the blankness." Listen to Arthur Christopher Benson, whose serene meditations, sent out volume after volume from the quiet cloisters of Cambridge or from that sequestered grange upon which the towers of Ely look down and up to whose very garden walls the orchards come with their colour and their perfume, seem as far removed from the tragedies of the soul as college gardens from the habitations of Begbie's Twice Born Men. None the less he, also, came to the end of the road. "I seemed to myself like a man who has wandered heedlessly along the rocks of some iron-bound coast, with the precipices above him on one hand and the sullen sea on the other hand. I had reached, as it were, a ledge, from which advance and retreat seemed equally impossible; the cliff overhead, with its black and dripping crags, was too steep to climb, and I seemed to be waiting for the onrush of some huge and silent billow from the bitter surge beneath. I was at bay at last, helpless and hopeless."12 When a man stands on "the last shelf of things," driven from behind, there is only one of two things to do: to fling oneself out either for life or for death.

Tolstoy seriously contemplated suicide and his biographers delight to show us just the beam between the book shelves in the library where he meditated hanging himself. "And it was then that I, a man favoured by fortune, hid a cord from myself, lest I should hang myself from the crosspiece of the partition in my room, where I undressed alone every evening; and I ceased to go out shooting with a gun, lest I should be tempted by so easy a way of ending my life. I did not myself know what I wanted: I feared life, desired to escape from it, yet still hoped something of it."13 All this while he was not yet fifty, happily married, a man of large fortune and international fame. But Tolstoy's hands were holden by the very intensity of those forces which hold us fast to life and, since he could not choose to die, he must learn to live.

Well, there is this one thing in it all: if a man stands on "the last shelf of things" and throws himself out on life life will bear him up and life has its own compensations, its own mystical and unfailing reënforcements. We are always being taught this. From time to time in the regions of speculation men have stripped themselves as bare of certainties as Tolstoy and his kind have been stripped bare of peace and power, and always, when doubt and skepticism have led them tothe brink of abysses of negation and their last support is about to disappear, they have saved themselves by cramping their slipping feet against some ledge of reality and therefrom painfully climbing towards the table-lands, accepting what life offers and rebuilding laboriously, but with a new and unfailing sense of security and power, the houses of their habitation, the temples of their worship. Curiously enough when such houses and temples are finished they are very like those from which they had moved out, but always with this difference: their foundations have been reëstablished in those certainties beyond which we cannot pass and deeper than which we cannot delve. Surely this is the first stage in the new birth: to begin again with nothing at all except life itself. It is worth while at any cost to go down to the foundations of things. We who do not so dare or are not so driven are at least in debt to the men who have sounded the shadows and who come back to testify to us that the "foundation of God standeth sure." To be sure those who make this discovery do not always directly discover that it is the foundation of God. That comes later as the light begins to rise.

Tolstoy, then, came in his agony to the place where he really had to choose between death and life: he chose life and set out to find its meanings. Then he found directly, as we all find, that as the day so shall our strength be. Life offered him enough to go on with and the further he went the stronger and more wonderful it became. He sought the guidance of all sorts and conditions of men; he asked many questions of the leaders of the Greek Church. He consorted with peasants and sought their point of view who see life most simply and elementally unconfused by learning, possessions or responsibility; and he found, he confesses, most help from those who approach life most simply and bravely. He got no help from those dreamers whose final verdict is "vanity of vanities; all is vanity." They were wanting, we see clearly enough and he felt clearly enough, in the very first condition of escape: and that is the will to live. Life will not yield its meanings to those who despair of understanding them. When Christian was locked up with Hopeful in Doubting Castle he discovered one day that he was a fool so to lie in a stinking dungeon when he might as well have been walking at liberty, for he had all the while a key in his bosom which would open any lock in Doubting Castle. He called that the key of promise. We may call it, if we will, the key of confidence and action, for confidence and action are the ward and slot of the key to all the meanings of life. Mr. William James and his school have rendered us no greater service than in justifying on psychological grounds the ancient enthusiasms of the soul; they have shown us that desire does not follow but leads in the master enterprises of life and that will is a creative force giving quality and solidity to all our experiences. So many men to whom the generations have looked for guidance, asking bread only to be given a stone, have failed just here: they have really been wanting in the will to live and have spread abroad a contagious paralysis which is responsible for an unbelievable body of confusion and despair.

Tolstoy also examined and immediately discarded three or four ways by which he found men and women about him trying to escape. He would have nothing to do with the way of ignorance or self-indulgence or weakness. He found some help in what he calls the way out through force and energy. "I saw that this was the worthiest way and I wanted to act in that way." But force and energy may make our life more difficult than ever if they are not constantly sustained by the inflooding of an energy which supplements our weakness and knows no ebbing tides. Above all, if force and energy do not act in the right direction and along an open road they are likely in the end to dash us against a wall.

So, having determined to live, Tolstoy sought next the right way in which to live and the secret of unfailing power. He found the secret of unfailing power where men have always found it: in God. His search for God carries us into regions which no confession heretofore considered hasoccupied—the region of intellectual doubt. It goes without saying that this is a modern note which has come into the quest. The strife of St. Augustine, St. Paul and John Bunyan is the strife of the divided purpose; they found it hard enough to completely surrender their lives to the will of God, but they never doubted His existence. Tolstoy grappled with his doubts. "He would not make his judgment blind." How far, in the end, he completely resolved his doubts or in what conceptions of God he finally rested it is not easy to say. As far as one may read between the lines of his confession his apprehensions of God were emotional rather than intellectual; his path the mystic's rather than the high and austere road of reason. His confidence in God is born of satisfied need. "I need," he said, "only to be aware of God to live; I need only to forget Him or disbelieve in Him, and I die. . . . 'What more do you seek!' exclaimed a voice within me. 'This is He. He is that without which one cannot live. To know God and to live is one and the same thing. God is life. Live seeking God and then you will not live without God.' And more than ever before, all within me and around me lit up, and the light did not again abandon me."14

Having so discovered God and resolved his doubts by experience rather than by reasoning processes he saw faith in a new light. For a little, indeed, he accepted with a childlike simplicity the offices of the Greek Church. "And strange as much of it was to me, I accepted everything; and attended the services, knelt morning and evening in prayer, fasted and prepared to receive the eucharist; and at first my reason did not resist anything. What had formerly seemed to be impossible did not now evoke in me any resistance."15 This could not long continue, but it enabled Tolstoy to gain a deeper and more inclusive vision of the meaning of faith and worship. "I told myself that the essence of every faith consists in its giving life a meaning which death does not destroy." This really marvellous definition, a little amplified, comes more nearly to the heart of the problem, which emerges now in one aspect, now in another, in all the literature of confession and travail, than in any other sentence in all such literature, save the great word of St. Augustine, so often herein quoted: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and we are restless till we rest in Thee." Faith not only gives to life a meaning which death does not destroy, but it gives to life a meaning which doubt, fear, perplexity, despondency, the vast incessant challenges of pain, tragedy and loss cannot destroy. It gives to life a meaning which no shadow can permanently darken, no flood overwhelm and no earthquake level to the dust. Faith then is the assumption of truths, realities, relationships which make life livable, give us heart to face its demands, introduce into every situation, no matter how perplexing or complex, just the final elements which are necessary to clear it up and make it consonant with the needs of the soul, the demands of justice and the nature of love itself. The supreme affirmation of all that is deepest within us

That we may lift from out the dust
A voice as unto him that hears,
A cry above the conquer'd years
To one that with us works, and trust,

With faith that comes of self-control,
The truths that never can be proved
Until we close with all we loved,
And all we flow from, soul in soul,16

is, so Tolstoy found, the indispensable condition of coherent thought as it is of fruitful action.

The childlike submission of a man like Tolstoy to the offices and creeds of the Greek Churchcould not long endure; there came a time when he deliberately stopped fasting on fast days and disengaged himself, strand by strand, from all the web which that Church weaves about the subjects of the Czar. He was willing that his children should be married without the sanction of the Church (though they themselves chose differently); he asked neither its sacraments nor its absolutions. He was rather bitterly at odds with Pobiedonóstzeff, the fiercely reactionary patriarch of the Greek Church, and he has spoken upon occasion as bitterly of the Church as any one would care to speak. All the temper of the man drove him ultimately in another direction. He examined, one by one, the articles of the historical creeds and, one by one, he discarded them. He familiarized himself with the original tongues of the Old and New Testament that he might search out the heart of their meanings. He dropped entirely during this period all literary creation, gave himself entirely to the study of religion and theological problems, grew suddenly old and deep lined in face, white haired, with sad deep eyes and flowing white beard. He became, in outward form, brother to all the prophets since the morning of time. Surely it is a testimony to the dominance of the spirit to which we ought not to shut our eyes that men separated by all the reaches of nationalities, civilizations and the unresting years do, nevertheless, under the stress of the same experiences conform to type in body, mind and soul.

It is not easy to say how far Tolstoy's theological studies have greatly served any one but the man who made them. He took liberties with the New Testament, he himself confesses, in his translations and, on the whole, all which he sought to do in the region of scholarship has been better done by men who were better fitted to do it. The whole thing was a necessary stage in Tolstoy's own spiritual endeavour. He found his own peace more and more in utter simplification of his life. He sought guidance from all sorts and conditions of people, as has been said, but he found most light in those who worked with their hands and lived nearest the earth. He began to take the teachings of Jesus literally; all his instincts and the whole driving force of his temperament made it easy for him to do this. He dwelt much upon the five central commandments of Christ as the great guiding rules for a Christian. The first, "Do not be angry." The second, "Do not give way to evil desire." The third, "Do not forswear thyself; do not, that is, give away the control of your future actions." The fourth, "Resist not him that is evil." The fifth, "Love your enemies." How far Tolstoy was right in his interpretations of Jesus' teaching is not here in discussion. The wisest and most sincere of men equally desirous of peace and the triumph of the Kingdom differ radically as to the practicability of non-resistance. Tolstoy was a spiritual anarchist and the solution of all moral problems in terms of the simple exercise of individualism was as natural to him as the course of a river to the sea. He immediately began, however, to give these fundamental teachings of Jesus, as he conceived them, the right of way in his own life, sought to live simply, work with his hands and support himself by that same labour, and to undo and remake all the world about him in order that the expectations of the sons of God might become real.

If we could stop here there would be little to add except that one of the most distinguished figures in our modern life chose to accept the words of Jesus with sweeping literalness and to live them out with searching fidelity and that, moreover, in doing all this the very station and quality of the man combined to give his spiritual endeavour a picturesque and dramatic quality which made it carry far. We might then discuss the real significance of it and close this [essay], and we should still be in as much doubt as when we began whether Tolstoy's contribution to the problem of life had largely contributed towards its solution. But just here an unexpected thing began to happen; very likely it ought not to be called unexpected, for intimations of it had not been wanting in Tolstoy's earlier experiences, and yet one may reasonably contend that even Tolstoy himself could not have clearly foreseen where he was going to be carried. In proportion as hesimplified his own life, grew careless of externalities, stood one side from the pleasures and occupations of his class and station, he began to see the world with new eyes and a sense of its inequalities, follies and miseries came upon him like a tide. It has always been so; no man has ever come down to elemental things, shaken himself clear of the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches, sought to test life by searching standards and stored his treasures in the treasure houses of the Kingdom, who has not come to see the tremendous masses of social injustice and misery clear against his sky. Tolstoy must always have been uneasily conscious of the social inequalities, the injustices of his world, but he comes now to the place where he can see nothing else. The scales have dropped from his eyes. He became a brother to Amos and Micah, John the Baptist, St. Francis of Assisi; he became the comrade of the judges of human delinquencies, the dreamers of a happier world. He saw what none of the men whom we have heretofore considered has seen, felt that to which they had been strangely insensible; he saw that salvation is no mere individual concern—men can never be at peace as long as their neighbours are in sorrow, or perfectly attain their own salvation while the bitter cry of an unsaved world forever rises towards the stars.

All this makes it impossible to say whether Tolstoy's road is the road to real peace, for directly he began to travel it it led him into the very heart of the fellowship of the wounded and forgotten. Before he was done with saving his own soul the problem of salvation had so widened as to throw him into the swift current of a deeper river to battle once more for the shore. He saw the Russian world divided into two parts: on the one side the rich and the comfortable, on the other side the unbelievably poor and degraded, and he saw the rich and the comfortable feasting like Dives with Lazarus lying at his gate and strangely untroubled by the misery which they had but to open their eyes to see. The whole situation became for him directly impossible and his sense of the impossibility of it all is perhaps, when everything is said and done, his greatest contribution to the hope of the Kingdom. In a paragraph of such vividness as only Tolstoy could compass he simply opens to their very roots two outstanding convictions which never failed him, about which he never wavered and in defense of which he lifted up his voice until that voice was forever stilled, although indeed it is not likely, the world being what it is and life being what it is, that a voice so lifted can ever be stilled.

Thirty years ago in Paris, I once saw how, in the presence of thousands of spectators, they cut a man's head off with a guillotine. I knew he was a dreadful criminal; I knew all the arguments that have been written in defense of that kind of action, and I knew it was done deliberately and intentionally; but at the moment the head and body separated and fell into the box, I gasped and realized not with my mind, but with my heart and my whole being, that all the arguments in defense of capital punishment are wicked nonsense, and that however many people may combine to commit murder—the worst of all crimes—and whatever they may call themselves, murder remains murder, and that a crime had been committed before my eyes; and I, by my presence and non-intervention, had approved and shared in it. In the same way now, at the sight of the hunger, cold and degradation of thousands of people, I understand not only with my mind or heart, but with my whole being, that the existence of tens of thousands of such people in Moscow—while I and thousands of others overeat ourselves with beefsteaks and sturgeon, and cover our horses and floors with cloth or carpets—no matter what all the learned men in the world may say about its necessity, is a crime, and one not committed once, but constantly; and that I with my luxury not merely tolerate it, but share in it.17

We may say what we will in criticism of Tolstoy's economic and social vagaries, we may defend as we will the supposititious necessities of government and society, but we are not likelyto get away from these fundamental contentions of the great Russian. They did not begin with him; they did not cease when his pen fell from his fingers. They are likely, in the end, to have their way with all of us. We know better than Tolstoy what far-reaching reconstitutions of our world and of all the lives of men and women in it are necessary before the day of their sure and untroubled triumph shall have dawned, but we are under the necessity of unweariedly seeking such triumph, nor will all our better hopes come true until love and brotherhood are supreme.

During all this period Tolstoy was simplifying in every possible way the conduct of his own life. It must always be a question how far such simplification was robbed of its most searching difficulties by the encompassing circumstances of his life. The little room in which he wrote was barren and monastical enough but it was a part of a very considerable establishment. He wore the costume of a peasant but it has been reported—one does not know how truly—that he wore silken underwear. He did labour with his hand, but his manual labour was only an incident in his social and literary career. He made boots, but his handiwork acquired an excessive value from the very circumstances under which he made them, and his philosophic soul was really troubled because he was always finding out that people were willing to pay very much more than the market price for his handiwork, not because they were good boots but because Leo Tolstoy made them. It was impossible to eliminate a certain theatrical element from the situation which he partly created for himself and which was partly created for him by forces too strong for his control. There is always the temptation to think of Tolstoy as unconsciously a poseur; very likely such a conclusion is unjustified, but it is not easy to escape the suggestion of it.

Certain things, however, undoubtedly came out of Tolstoy's whole course of renunciation. For one thing his health was better, his literary creativeness increased. He suddenly began to look like an old man, but beneath his long gray hair and wrinkled face was a soul whose fires if anything grew more intense, while his body grew tireless, inexhaustible in its vitality. He learned what we are all in sore danger of forgetting: the joy of physical labour. He has written few more compelling passages than the story of the mowing in Anna Karénina. We may be sure then that the joy which Levin found in manual labour, the purgation of body, mind and soul which came to him as he kept pace all day long with the mowing peasants, is Tolstoy's own personal testimony. He was sadly wanting in economic vision, but when he tells us how manual labour sweetens and simplifies life and clarifies the moral vision he is dwelling upon a truth too easily forgotten.

From the levels to which Tolstoy now ascended, for one must always climb to reach the levels of simplicity and humility, he saw a new world. We have already dwelt much upon the new sense of social inequalities and injustices so fathered. He had always moved much among simple folk; this now grew upon him. He was unhappy enough in Moscow during the winter and went to the city only for the social and educational advantages of his children. While they were busy about their balls and dinners Tolstoy sounded the depths of the poverty, misery and sin of the holy city of all the Russians. It is not too much to say that here he was almost a pioneer and in proposing to friends who would barely listen to him and, at best, dismissed him with unfulfilled promises, the rehabilitation of the whole submerged population, he was proposing what is now the ideal of every social worker worth the name. He saw clearly and felt still more deeply how complex and interwrought was the web whose black threads were sorrow, poverty, shame, degradation and despair.

Tolstoy's social impulses worked out in three directions: in the conduct of his own life, in what may be called his spiritual economy, and in impulses which he communicated to others. Thefruit of it all in the simplification of his own life we have already dwelt upon, but he could not rest content with that. He was a born propagandist, even though he was impatient of discipleship. In the face of the misery and inequalities of Russian society he asked himself the question, What shall we do?—and answered his own question at length in a book so named. He was not always consistent. At certain times in his life he was inconsiderately generous, giving away relatively large sums of money without inquiry and upon impulse. He did this, for example, in that Moscow winter when he sought to organize Russian society for the rehabilitation of the underworld of the old city. In the end he came to attach very little value to money and was firmly persuaded that the regeneration of society was to be accomplished by the bestowal of other and more precious gifts. He had the modern science of charity on his side in such contention. It is perfectly evident to us all now that what the submerged really need is redemptive personal contact; the giving of money is too often an wholly inexpensive escape from situations demanding life and love, fidelity and wisdom. We are not to be permitted so to escape the moral compulsions which are laid upon us. Tolstoy's impatience of such superficial charities led him, however, to strange extremities, as when, for example, he refused to supply his own villagers with spades enough to do the spring planting, stoutly contending that it would be better for them to pass the three spades which they had between them from hand to hand than to have a sufficient supply of those homely tools. The sheer inconvenience of such a situation seems wholly to have escaped him. There is a time for sowing, and even the most friendly village in the world can sow adequately only when there are spades enough to go around.

He was more than impatient of all organized effort—it never for a moment entered into his scheme of things—nor had he any use for division of labour; each man must be sufficient unto himself, dividing his day's work into three parts—for one-third of the time he is to dig, for another third weave, and for another third write about it all. He was quite persuaded that society could be organized on the basis of a Russian village; the fuller development of the social order seemed to him not only unnecessary but iniquitous. Part of this, of course, was temperamental, part due to the circumstances under which he found himself. There was little in the Russian bureaucracy of Tolstoy's maturer years to commend itself to thoughtful and justice-loving men. No wonder multitudes of Russians have reacted against it all. Anarchism and nihilism have rooted themselves in an overgoverned soil, protests both against rigidities, conservatism, intrusions and arbitrary stupidities which have rendered all government odious in the eyes of those so governed, led them wholly to underestimate the worth of organized effort and to seek to establish the state of their dreams upon wholly inadequate foundations.

Tolstoy was wanting always in the sense of historic backgrounds; he did not attach importance enough to the great ordered movements of society nor did he understand the deep solidities of forms and institutions against which his life was a flaming protest. There is nothing, after all, arbitrary or capricious in the forms into which our common life has, of necessity, fallen. What vast intricacies of abuse and maladministration our folly and our fault have woven about the methods and administrations of our common life is evident to us all, but always to deny these methods and administrations because of such abuses is to throw the baby out with the bath. Morality, we are told, is of the nature of things; so also is the state and so also, indeed, are the great industrial and social tendencies which we may discern slowly emerging as from troubled waters and beneath cloud-filled skies. Tolstoy ignored the witness of his own experiences and the manifold necessities of human life. The individual does not find or fulfill himself except in comradeships; our world always breaks down in the measure in which we isolate ourselves. Loneliness carried to its logical extreme is just nothingness. We do not need to dismiss the state; we have rather to recall it to forgotten tasks, baptize it into new names, consecrate it to newendeavours. In asking the help of his Moscow friends for the rehabilitation of certain sections of Moscow society Tolstoy was anticipating the whole current of modern welfare work. Why could he not have seen that only the whole of society is equal to such an undertaking? Those excesses of individualism which have really undone us are not to be cured by more but by less anarchy. The division of labour is an unescapable economy. Our world demands and will increasingly demand specialization and the faults of specialization are to be met not by turning the clock back nor by shattering a machine constructed at such vast cost and capable of so great service, but by bringing into play new and compensating forces, by a more equitable sharing of burdens, by a more careful assignment of men to their work and a greater enrichment of all our common life. Such social readjustments are already beginning to be indicated and are to save us all from the consequences of an industrial order whose tendencies towards subdivision of labour are inevitable, but whose tendencies towards the alienation of classes must be combated at any cost.

Tolstoy's value then, as a social reformer, is to be sought rather in the impulses which he communicated than the methods which he suggested; we are in debt to him for a passionate humanity, for a persistent courage, for a kindling fidelity to his own ideals. He was, indeed, saved from the full consequences of what he was urging upon others by the very situations of his own household, but we must recognize behind all the contradictions of Tolstoy's régime a real courage, a patience and consistency, an endeavour to simplify and at the same time elevate life which has made the man who lived as a monk, swung the scythe like a peasant, worked with his awl and waxed ends as a cobbler, wrote as only the great masters of all literature may write, repented as St. Peter, and loved in his more tender moments as one to whom much has been forgiven, one of the great forces of a troubled time, a man who swayed the ideals of the dreamers of two continents, and who became himself one of the most tenderly loved of the men of the last two generations.

Tolstoy's influence communicated itself; it was impossible, of course, that it should not. Disciples came and went and more than one colony endeavoured to put into active operation the theories of the master. Without exception such colonies have so far failed. The rope of sand by which they were bound together could not sustain the strain even of the most trivial necessities of daily life. One or two perfectly ridiculous instances illustrate the helplessness of men who surrender every authority and seek to secure no real reincarnation of the authority so surrendered in some larger expression of life. In one of the colonies a neglected boy was adopted. He was first taught that no physical force could be used upon any one, that no true follower of Tolstoy could appeal to the courts, and that the possession of property was an obstacle to the life of the soul. Whereupon, having learned his lesson, the boy appropriated the waistcoat of the man who had taught him. No logical argument could get the waistcoat off the boy and on the back of its one time possessor. The boy took his stand upon the wrongfulness of property and challenged the unhappy advocates of non-resistance to get the waistcoat back again. They might indeed have recaptured it while the boy was abed, but under such circumstances the man who went to bed first was evidently at the mercy of the whole community; he might well find himself hard put to it to make a proper showing in the world upon awaking. The whole colony was eventually drawn into the dispute and got such a vision of the unworkableness of the principles to which they had committed themselves as practically to bring them back to a less ideal world, but a world, none the less, in which one can at least be sure of his clothes in the morning. Here, as elsewhere, Tolstoy forgot to qualify. The great single teachings of Jesus are always, we shall find, qualified either by other teachings of the Master or by the whole spirit of His teaching. The law of love must always qualify the teaching of indiscriminate charity. We are, indeed, under bonds to give to all who ask but we are never under bonds to give them the thing which they ask. Very oftensociety is kindest in giving to the beggar who asks for bread not bread but a stone to break and a stick of wood to saw. It would seem to the unregenerate that what that boy needed was not a waistcoat but a pretty thorough course in discipline. Love and wisdom are heaven-born comrades.

In another instance the colonists were finally led to give a piece of woodland to the peasants; thereupon the peasants came in like carrion birds. The woodland was the scene of riot; the richest peasants with the most horses got the most timber. The only thing which came out of it all was quarrelling, greed and disillusionment. Monastic life has shown again and again that a group of men under a stern discipline to which they are held by great religious enthusiasms can live such a life as Tolstoy suggested, but even so the note of authority is never wanting but always lodged by the community in one who becomes the incarnation of its common purpose. Fruitful monastic life has been possible only when such authority has been strongly sustained, discipline rigidly enforced and the springs of religious enthusiasm pure and unfailing. Even under such circumstances the richest monastic life in the records of the history of the Church has still been sterile in great regions and the complete extension of it would have meant the extinction of society.

There is nothing to say then in dismissing these activities of Tolstoy but to dwell once more upon his great contributions and to forget their unhappy deficiencies. He has taught us the worth of the simple life, exalted in the materialistic age the things of the spirit above mere possession, dignified labour and shown us, above all, how clearly we are bound to discern the dramatic inequalities and the unconsidered miseries of the world directly we have been brave enough to shake ourselves free from the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches. He has shown us, moreover, that the quest which begins in loneliness must end in comradeship, that there is no peace for a man until his neighbour has secured peace, that to live and die as the soldier of the ideal is better than many possessions or any success which has been achieved at the cost of the ideal.

Such then are the necessities and considerations which Tolstoy, the regenerate, began to urge upon the world. After the full readjustment of his life he followed to the end roads already indicated, lived in such fashion as we have sought to portray, sought for himself in increasing intensity those ideals of character and conduct whose light had scattered his sore darkness. He grew more and more like an Old Testament prophet in his outward seeming, with a look upon his face which proclaimed a new inner life which, if not at peace upon its troubled spaces, was at least growing serene in its depths. His brother-inlaw—S. A. Behrs—thus pictures for us certain aspects of the new Tolstoy. "His face, however, showed evident signs of the serious mental suffering he had endured. It was calm, sad and had a quite new look; and it was not his face only, but his whole personality that had completely altered; and not his life only and his relation to everybody, but his whole mental activity. If he still retained many of his former views (his hostility to 'progress' and 'civilization,' for instance) the ground for these convictions had greatly changed."18

Any thoroughgoing criticism of Tolstoy's contentions would carry us far afield. We have already seen how hopelessly individualistic he was; how careless of precedent, how impatient of reforms into which, from the very beginning, society has tended to organize itself. His disciples found in their own evanescent Tolstoyian colonies that even the peaceful continuance of a small group of the elect was impossible upon Tolstoyian foundations. By how much the more then would the continued existence of society have been impossible under such conditions, for society is nogroup of the elect, but the whole turbulent force of life working under manifold compulsions towards ends whose full significance has not yet begun to appear. Surely if morality is the nature of things, the deep channelled forms which the world has worn may also prove themselves to be the nature of things, to be ignored at our peril and to be discharged only when we have attained such altitudes of perfection as are now far, far above us.

In such fashion as this does the old, old strife between the prophet and the statesman, the dreamer and the man of affairs, the idealist and the administrator reveal itself. We should be poor enough without either. We are needing constantly to correct our too hasty judgments, our rigid definitions, our passion of idealism by the vast deductions of experience and the massive testimonies of an unresting world. But we are needing just as constantly to test our accepted judgments, our familiar inductions, and even our seemingly indispensable forms, by the vision and passion of the prophet. It is always possible that much which seems to us to be of the nature of things may be only the projection of our selfishnesses, our lethargies or our blindnesses against our horizons—nay, that the nature of things by which we are so eager to test every voice which summons us to set out for the city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God, is nothing other than some low and most unworthy nature which, for the sake of life itself, needs to be transcended. The master dreamers have been rare enough; we have not too often had men who can speak from mountain tops of vision with voices which carry across seas and continents and years. We would better, at least, be patient with them, for the past testifies that they also have been of the nature of things, their voices are remembered when the voices of protest are stilled, and their dreams have more than once proved more permanent than the empires which mocked them in their pride and the forces which sought, in their arrogance of station and possession, to silence them. The world at large has never been seen yet on the side of too much idealism; here, if anywhere, we need correction.

Without any doubt Tolstoy has largely influenced our own time, even where we do not dream his influence to run. Already some of his revolutionary proposals have become our commonplaces. The forces of idealism, which are just now challenging every accepted position and reaching forward across even adamantine barriers towards the realization of a better world, have drawn their strength from a multitude of sources. We have only to study the lives of many men who are conspicuous just now for their idealistic leadership to find how far by their own confession they have been influenced by the great Russian. His weakness, then, is not that he is dreamer or even pure dreamer—pure dreamer indeed he never was; there was always a practical side to the man's life which was capable, upon occasion, of large effectiveness; his fine leadership in relief work during a Russian famine showed that. He had a power of organization and direction which would put him as an equal, for example, alongside any of the Red Cross leaders of our own time. He did not, however, consider his service to be in such fields; he approached them reluctantly, turned from them gladly and became again the stern, sad prophet, the protagonist of gentleness, love and stainlessness in the souls of men. He was wrong, if anywhere, in his underestimate of the price at which all this was to be attained; he simplified life far too much—the redemption of our common life is much more than the formula of the salvation of the individual: it is the salvation of the individual in the mass and even by the mass, a distinction which Tolstoy never clearly grasped. The world is to be saved, not by the withdrawal of the individual into lonely and isolated simplifications of peasant-like life, but in the consecration of society itself to the tasks of its own redemption. Nay, if St. Paul and St. Augustine are not mistaken, even this is not enough: the salvation of the world demands not only the consecration of society to redemptive tasks, but the reënforcement of a redemptive society by the indwelling spirit of a redemptive God who has made Himself manifest in a redemptive incarnation and set up the cross as theeternal sign of the comradeship between the human and the divine in the great tasks of making men indeed the children of mercy and justifying the travail of the Eternal.

In the end Leo Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Greek Church, not the first of the great-souled sons of men to be so singled out nor in all likelihood the last. Excommunication is sometimes the greatest honour which a decadent church can bestow upon God's prophet and the greatest condemnation which she can visit upon herself. There is a terrible reflex power in excommunication and more than once such ecclesiastical anathemas have done nothing more than to separate the authorities which pronounced them still further from the Master whom they vainly sought to honour and defend. It is an open question how far Jesus of Nazareth would have found in Leo Tolstoy a wholly balanced and clear visioned interpreter of His teachings, but it is beyond debate, if the Gospel in any fashion portrays what He was or what He said, that He would have recognized in Tolstoy a disciple and would have stood in wonder and aghast at the claim of Pobiedonóstzeff and the Church of which he was the patriarch to represent His life, reincarnate His authority, continue His temper and defend His honour.

It remains to be said that Tolstoy's long and dramatic life and immense labour do not bring us into clear or final regions. He is, in many ways, a better witness than guide. He bears a compelling testimony to the inability of things to satisfy the soul; he testifies also that we are in sore danger of forgetting elemental things—labour, simplicity of life and singleness of vision. What light he has he owes to his singleness of vision. "If the eye be single," said the Master, "the whole body will be full of light." The very complexity of our vision blinds us to the reality of things. Because Tolstoy shook himself free of position, convention, presupposition and sought, as far as possible, to free himself from the recurrent restlessness of unassuaged desire, he saw the contradictions of life, the fundamental inequalities of our social state, the injustices of much which we accept as a matter of course, the tragic sterility of war and its brutalities. His great literary genius, his dramatic position, the appealing qualities of his manhood gave, to his affirmation of all these things, a carrying quality which won him the hearing of the civilized world. Very likely his supreme service to our time is more distinctly here than anywhere else.

The social character of the quest becomes vividly apparent in Tolstoy. No one of the men heretofore considered has had any such sense of what may be called the communal character of any real peace as the great Russian. In many ways more hopelessly individualistic than even Bunyan's Christian, who set out running alone, Tolstoy never for a moment forgets the encompassing comradeships of the weary and heavy laden. We are sure now of one thing: we shall never enter into whatever measure of peace life keeps for men except as that peace is shared. We are all bound up in one bundle; a lonely redemption is no redemption at all nor is there any real escape from a situation in which others are involved except as they also are set free. The impulses by which Tolstoy began directly to be stirred, once he sought really to conform his life to the teachings of Jesus Christ, are moreover a compelling illustration of the dynamic of the Gospel. We do not need to go all the way with Tolstoy in his unqualified acceptance of teachings which, even upon the lips of Jesus, were never unqualified and were always subordinate to larger determining processes whose full significance Tolstoy never seems to have sensed, to recognize that there is no way except the way which Jesus indicated. The more clearly we discern, the more patiently and bravely we follow His roads, the clearer the light into which we come. Tolstoy did not solve all his own problems or furnish his disciples with any final formula, but his life was increasingly fruitful in all fine and continuing things as he walked more intimately in the comradeship of the Nazarene. Could he have grasped more strongly the full significance of the Kingdom teaching with its emphasis upon fellowship and coöperation—sosupplementing his exaltation of lonely citizenship with the kindling sense of encompassing and transforming comradeships—he would have spoken more truly and saved himself and his disciples much wandering in waste places.

Finally Tolstoy testifies more distinctly than any of the great seekers that the search itself is part of the meaning of life. We have striven to draw an impossible line of demarcation between the journey and its goal, between the quest and its recompense. We are always assuming that somewhere at the end of the road are cities of serenity, sheltering sanctuaries, which finally attained, we shall be at rest. It is not so. The quest and the goal are one and the same thing; the deepest peace is to be sought not at the end of the journey, but in the journey itself. The only serenity which life offers men is the serenity of ceaseless endeavour. We want indeed to be quite sure of our road and our guide, but given the right road and the right guide the glory of life is to be always going on. It is not in arriving that we are blessed, but in endlessly aspiring. All this is not incompatible with an inner quietness, a sustaining confidence, a growing sense of the worth of the whole endeavour. The poets are here truer teachers than the theologians. Virtue, indeed,

Desires no isles of the blest, no quiet seats of the just,
Nor to dream in golden groves, nor to bask in a summer

The greatest thing the quest can yield us is an unconquerable passion for perfection which in the face of the Ultimate Shadow seeks only the "wages of going on and not to die" and shouts aloud when the lesser levels have been gained: "Other heights in other lives, God willing."

1The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. I, p. 19.

2The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. I, pp. 37, 38.

3My Confession, Tolstoy, Beacon Edition, p. 6.

4The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. II, p. 74.

5The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. I, p. 441.

6The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. I, p. 395.

7My Confession, Tolstoy, Beacon Edition, p. 5.

8My Confession, Tolstoy, Beacon Edition, pp. 5, 6.

9Ibid., p. 8.

10My Confession, Tolstoy, Beacon Edition, p. 19.

11My Confession, Tolstoy, Beacon Edition, pp. 21, 22.

12Thy Rod and Thy Staff, Arthur Christopher Benson, pp. 61, 62.

13The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. I, p. 402.

14The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. I, pp. 417, 418.

15Ibid., p. 419.

16 "In Memoriam," CXXXI. Tennyson.

17The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. II, pp. 110, 111.

18The Life of Tolstoy, Aylmer Maude, Vol. II, p. 325.

Aylmer Maude (essay date 1927)

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SOURCE: "The Root of Religion," in The Sackbut, Vol. VII, No. II, June, 1927, pp. 314-16.

[In the following essay, Maude briefly discusses the impact of Tolstoy's Confession immediately following the book's publication.]

Few books have created so much surprise when they were produced, or influenced so wide a circle the world over, as Tolstoy's Confession. The reason of this was threefold.

First, the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina frankly exposed to every one the workings of his reason and conscience and the motives actuating his life in the past and in the present. This autobiographical interest by itself sufficed to secure widespread attention for the work.

Secondly, the book showed that the author's power of infecting his readers with his feelings operated as powerfully when he wrote of fundamental problems as it had done when he wrote fiction, and critics who began by bewailing that the 'great writer of our Russian land' was 'abandoning art', had gradually to realize that Tolstoy did not cease to be an artist when he had a weighty message to convey, and that the world then listened to his message more eagerly than ever.

Thirdly, Tolstoy was an exceptionally thoughtful writer, and he tackled basic problems with a childlike simplicity and as though no one had ever dealt with them before. He wrestled with them with soul-shaking intensity, could not rest till a solution that satisfied his reason was reached, and then proceeded to state the problem and its solution in autobiographical form, determined to make it 'plain to every cabman'—as he once expressed himself in conversation with me.

In Confession he treated the most fundamental of human problems—man's need of religion; and writing at a time and in a society which was inclined to identify religion with superstition and to regard anyone who spoke seriously of it as a benighted believer in obsolete delusions, he deliberately ran counter to the trend and spirit of his day. He was so far from accepting the dogmas of the established Orthodox Church that its high priests eventually excommunicated him, but at the same time he rejected the theories then prevalent in the scientific world, which held out hopes of explaining man by mechanics and man's reason and conscience by physical and chemical reactions.

The book is quite short, barely thirty thousand words. It fills less than half of the volume of the 'World's Classics' pocket edition in which it is published, and anyone who cares to know the intensity of Tolstoy's feelings and to follow the experiences that led him to his conclusions, should there read it as he tells it. It indicates the lucidity of his views, that the skeleton of his argument, stripped of his fervour, eloquence, and artistic presentation, can be briefly summarized without losing its logical validity.

From the time he was a young man he had again and again felt checked, and his activities challenged, by the questions: What am I? Why am I here? What should I do? Absorption in work, in art, in pleasure, in marriage and family life, and in estate management, diverted him for years from these problems, but they recurred time and again and finally, when he was fifty, happily married, prosperous, and stood in the forefront of the world's writers, he found his life coming to a standstill, and that he could not continue writing, managing his estates, caring for the education of his children, or doing anything else, unless he could discover a meaning and purpose for his life. He had property worth some £60,000. If he could increase it tenfold, would that supply a valid motive for living? It seemed to him that it would not; for there was death—coming every day a step nearer and a step nearer, to deprive him of it. The more he prized his property the more terrible it was to know that it must inevitably be lost by death.

It is told of the late Sir Henry Hawkins, who was a wealthy man and reputed to be close-fisted, that once when he declined to give money to a deserving object, a friend remonstrated with him, saying: 'Now, Hawkins, what is the good of hugging your money? You can't take it with you when you go, and if you do it will probably melt.' Tolstoy did not say that, but the idea in his mind was much the same. And what applied to wealth applied also to love of family, love of fame, and everything else that he had cared for: the approach of death made their pursuit futile and made life terrible.

It is a mistake to suppose that Tolstoy was afraid of death. In the Caucasus, at the siege of Sevastopol, and when bear-hunting, he had shown over and over again that he was not less brave than others. What he shrank from was not death, but life without knowledge of what life is for.

In Confession he describes how he consulted scientists, priests, people of his own class, and finally peasants, to find out how each of them understood the purpose of life; and he tells of the disappointments he met with in that search.

When eventually one day a peasant told him that he should not live for himself 'but for God', it did not immediately clear up his problem, but Tolstoy perceived that every sane man is so made that he must of necessity approve and disapprove of something.

In case anyone doubts that fact, let me tell a story I heard from Miss Flora Shaw (now Lady Lugard), who was The Times correspondent in Africa. She wanted to know whether a sane man could live without disapproving of anything: so being among a tribe of cannibals and noticing a particularly debased and repulsivelooking individual among them, she asked, through an interpreter, whether there was anything he disapproved of. He said he strongly disapproved of eating his own mother. Miss Flora Shaw thinks his moral scruples even extended to eating any near female relative. Wishing to test the depth of his conviction, Miss Flora Shaw pointed out that perhaps he and his mother might find themselves in the desert, some days' distance from the tribe, and might have eaten up all their provisions, so that they could not both get back alive but one or both of them must perish. What use would it be for a feeble old woman to eat him? If she got back alive to her tribe she could only be a burden to it in her old age, whereas a strong, healthy, young man like himself, by doing the sensible thing and eating his mother, might reach home and continue to render service to his tribe for years to come. The degraded cannibal, having listened to the argument, held up his hands in horror and said that 'Only a rascal could do it!' Thereupon Miss Shaw abandoned the search for a sane man with no moral scruples, convinced, as Tolstoy was, that man's fundamental nature compels him to discriminate between right and wrong.

No doubt reason and conscience are more developed in some than in others, but they operate in every one. That being the essential characteristic of man, whence does it come? We did not make it ourselves. 'It comes by an evolutionary process', say scientists. No doubt; but though that removes the problem farther from our own experience and may obscure it to our perception, the question remains: 'How comes it that through this process something causes me to approve and disapprove?' It must have an origin of such a nature as caused the production of the reason and conscience which influence each man's course in life.

When Tolstoy tried to express in simple language this lesson, learnt from observation of the workings of his own mind and of the minds of others, he found that the phraseology used by the religious people who speak of the fatherhood of a God whose will we must do by serving our brother men, though poetic, is not irrational, and that in fact it would be difficult to state the case better or more simply.

This perception did not induce Tolstoy to accept the theological doctrines of the Church, nor to accept the miraculous or unintelligible portions of the Bible, but having perceived a reasonable purpose for his life which was not rendered futile by the brevity of man's life on earth, he devoted his last thirty years to a singularly strenuous and whole-hearted endeavour to promote the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. It may be said that he did not accomplish that aim and that many dreadful things have happened since, but the same may be said of all prophets and religious leaders who have ever lived, and does not prove that their efforts were futile.

Having spoken of 'religion', and that word being a stumbling-block to many, it may be as well to quote from a later essay in which Tolstoy says that true religion is a reasonable relation which man establishes between himself and all that exists within him and outside himself, and it is such as binds his life to that infinity and guides his conduct.

How, having reached his religious perception, Tolstoy tried to serve his fellows, what opinions he formulated, what he achieved, what mistakes he made, and what the results were on his own life and on the lives of others, would take long to tell, but one has only to read Confession to see how remarkably persuasive a presentation it is of the indispensability of a reasonable religious outlook for every thoughtful man who prizes his sanity.

Thomas Mann (essay date 1928)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy," in The Dial, Vol. 85, December, 1928, pp. 453-57.

[Mann was a German novelist and short story writer. In the following essay, he records his impressions of Tolstoy's philosophy.]

He had the stature of the nineteenth century, this giant, who bore epic burdens, under which our quick-breathing and more fragile generation would sink. How great was this period, in all its sombreness, its materialism, its scientific inflexibility and asceticism; how great was that race of writers to which Tolstoy belonged, whose creations dominate the five decades before 1900. Does any cosmic insight that we may have, or are beginning to have, does our yet timid dream of a gladder and more confident humanity, justify us in underestimating, as is now our habit, that earlier time; since after all it would be difficult to deny that from the moral stand-point we have fallen far below its level? In striking contrast with it, our detachment and complacent undervaluing of thought and human dignity would not have been tolerated by the "fatalistic" nineteenth century; and while the war was raging, I often reflected that it would not have had the temerity to break out if in 1914 the sharp penetrating grey eyes of the old man of Yasnaya Polyana had still been upon us. A childish thought, perhaps. At any rate, history had ordained it; he was gone and left no one like him. The reins of Europe fell slack with no hand to guide them, and are without one to-day.

Tolstoy has said of Childhood and Adolescence, one of his early works: "Without false modesty . . . , it is something like the Iliad." It was literally true and only in a superficial way is the assertion yet more applicable to the giant-work of his maturity, War and Peace. The Homeric, the typically-epic, was perhaps more marked in Tolstoy than in any other man of genius. In his work is the heaving might and rhythmic uniformity of the sea, its pristine vigour, its native pungency, imperishable health, and deathless realism. For surely it is permissible to see and feel these things as one, health and realism—the world of plastic form, of instinct, of high kinship with nature on the one hand, contrasting with, as I once tried to suggest in a more comprehensive way, the world of hyper-susceptibility and mental aristocracy, Schiller's world of the ideal, Dostoevsky's apocalyptic world of shadows. Goethe and Tolstoy—when their names were first linked together in criticism, surprise and doubt were aroused; but recent psychological studies have enabled us to take such comparisons for granted. To elaborate the parallel beyond the generically-typical would be pedantic caprice. We need not dwell upon the too obvious and predetermined differences of mind, country, or period. As soon as we advert to culture—that formula which implies nature's groping after mind and the inevitable impulse of mind towards nature—we must abandon the too facile analogy. We ought to be honest enough to admit that to those who possess Goethe, Tolstoy's absurd, naively tragic reaching after culture must present the spectacle at once pathetic and sublime, of a child-like barbarian's noble but futile striving towards what is true and human.

Nevertheless, this very Titanic helplessness, recalling the swollen, straining muscles of one of Michael Angelo's tortured creations, lends tremendous moral force to him as an artist. As a story-teller he is without equal; his art, even when he no longer had use for it, except as a means of furthering a dubious and depressing kind of moralizing, affords to any receptive talent (there can be no other) unfailing strength, refreshment, and elemental joy. Not at all with a view to imitating, for who could imitate? He has no following which could accurately be termed a school. Tolstoy's influence, indeed, whether on the spirit or form of a work, makes itself felt in very different ways, and above all, in writings quite unrelated to his own. But even as he, an Antaeus, received fresh creative strength from each contact with earth, so the world of his mighty art is to us, earth and nature—a reincarnation of itself. To reread him, to let that preternaturally sharp gaze of the lower animals cast its spell on us, the force of his imagery, and limpid clarity of style untinctured with mysticism, again so reminiscent of Goethe, is to find release from every phase of artificiality and useless frivolity, a return to what in each of us is fundamentally wholesome.

Merezhkovski has called him the great prophet of the body, in contrast with Dostoevsky, the prophet of the mind. In fact, the soundness of Tolstoy's art consists in its corporeality. Where we have psychology, we have also pathology. Disease derives from the mind, health from the body. Dostoevsky has given us an analysis of Anna Karenina, full of insight and love, reminding us of Schiller's affectionate eulogy of Wilhelm Meister; but Tolstoy was naturally without comprehension of Dostoevsky. For a moment, at the time of Dostoevsky's death, Tolstoy imagined that "he had been very fond of this man," but he had never previously troubled himself about the author of the Brothers Karamazoff and remarks dropped in conversation might have been made by a dunce. "The man was sick himself," he said, "and made all things appear sick." Supposing this to be true, it is an unprofitable truth, as though it should be said of Nietzsche "No, no, from the sick can come only sickness"; which would be not only unworthy but the reverse of the truth. Tolstoy's judgements were those of a great man, arbitrary, objective, and uncompromisingly literal. One need not go back to his unfavourable comparison of Shakespeare, as immoral, with Uncle Tom's Cabin. But has he dealt more "justly" with his own work? Certainly not when he discarded his Titanic masterpieces as irrelevant and harmful beguilements. Earlier, indeed, while writing Anna Karenina, that very greatest novel of society, he threw the manuscript aside as rubbish, again and again; and had no higher regard for it later. This is hardly to be looked upon as mere morbid self-depreciation. He would not have tolerated such criticism from another. His standard of measurement was one he had found in himself. And such impatient disparagement of his own work is contradictorily an artist's acknowledgement of a self transcending his work. It may be a case of having to be more than the thing one creates; of greatness having its origin in something still greater. Apocalyptic wonders such as Leonardo, Goethe, Tolstoy, support the supposition. But why had Tolstoy never the apologetic attitude to his prophesyings and sectarian doctrine, his ideas of moral improvement, that he has shown towards his artistic creations? Why has he never once held them up to ridicule? One is justified perhaps in this inference: since he is greater than his art, he would, naturally, be greater than his ideas.

Ah, yes—Tolstoy's opinions! Regarded as revelations, for that was their true character, autocratic pronunciamentos of what we call "personality" receiving authority from the workings of that natural magic which turned the manor-house in the Province of Tula into a shrine for distressed humanity, a world-centre radiating vitality and healing. Vitality and greatness, greatness and power, in what degree are they synonymous? It is the problem of the "great man"; we have groped for its solution throughout the ages and find it in the Chinese theory of practical democracy—in the proverb which so offends our ears: A great man is a public misfortune. European instinct has been and now is for an aesthetic justification of the phenomenon. However, in matters of leadership, education, and progress, there remains, to put it mildly, a doubt, whether the function or even the existence of a great man may, without straining the truth, be so much as brought into relation with these things, whether he may not be purely incidental, an explosion of force without moral significance; touching in his effort to give himself a moral interpretation—that effort made by the prophet of Yasnaya Polyana with such praiseworthy ineptitude, embarrassed as he was by the absurdity of his disciples. . . . How blessed that life! Blessed in every phase of its tragedy and devout tragi-comedy as power rather than thought; for even the moral sensibility and aspiration of this portentous life teem with expressions of physical exuberance. The incentive? Horror of death in an organism whose thinking was only another manifestation of its immense vitality. We should be frank, without fear of belittling what is great. Even at the last, that famous withdrawal of the saint from home and household signifies as much at least as the social and religious impulse toward salvation, theinstinctive flight of a dying animal.

But why should the so beautiful solemn words of Goethe haunt me—

Denkt er immer sich ins Rechte?
Ist er ewig schön und gross?

What modesty, what moral contagion lie in the endeavour to subdue inherent creative power—under no exterior compulsion—to "the search of truth alone" and to dedicate one's vital momentum to the service of humanity and the spirit! Though Tolstoy's genius may have miscarried a hundred times and his thought stumbled into childish, benighted, unbecoming digressions, his laborious anguish will always be "beautiful and great." It had its source in the perception of a very profound truth. Tolstoy realized that a new era was at hand, an age which would not be satisfied with an art serving merely to enhance life, but which would put socially significant virtues—leadership, decisiveness, and clear thought—above individual genius; and value morality and intelligence more than irresponsible beauty; and he never sinned against his innate greatness, never claimed a "great man's" licence to work confusion, atavism, and evil, but to the best of his understanding, in complete humility, laboured for that which is divinely reasonable.

I seem to be presenting him as a pattern. We are a little, at all events a circumscribed, Central European race compared with his, we writers of to-day.

Nothing can absolve us, and least of all fear of ridicule, or the reproaches and contempt of fools, should we fail to accept the challenge of our time and of our conscience, each among his own people, sincerely to "search out truth alone."

Hugh I'Anson Fausset (essay date 1947)

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SOURCE: "The Testimony of Tolstoy," in Poets and Pundits: Essays and Addresses, Jonathan Cape, 1947, pp. 13-30.

[In the following essay, Fausset examines evidence of Tolstoy's philosophical convictions in his fiction.]

During the War a writer in a Sunday paper declared that 'we're all Tolstoyans now'. He was referring, of course, to the carefully expurgated Tolstoy whose novel War and Peace had been broadcast, and not to the Tolstoy who denounced the barbarity of war and preached the way of peace. But the real Tolstoy can no more be contained in the pocket of the doctrinaire pacifist than in the clever hands of the propagandist exploiting the historical parallels between Napoleon's and Hitler's invasion of Russia.

The title which he gave to his great novel, he might have given to his own life. It was a life in which peace had to be incessantly won from war, which is to say that he was deeply rooted in human existence. So, to understand his views on anything, those views which he strove to define in his later didactic works, we need to know what he was, the forces and ideas which possessed him and which he struggled to reconcile in himself, and something even less definable than this, something which we can only experience in the astonishing sweep and simplicity and naturalness of his writing, when we do not try to explain it.

For great as was Tolstoy's reasoning power, and it became more dominating as he grew older, he could never be a detached thinker. To that we owe the exceptional compulsion of everything he wrote. He may be at times extremely partial in his view of social problems or institutions. He refuses compromise, he over-simplifies. But never is he anything but a man searching with every faculty he possesses for the truth, convinced that truth must be lived as well as thought, and that for each one of us, as for him, it is a matter of life and death.

There are two early incidents in Tolstoy's life which symbolize what his primitive attachment to nature was to cost him. The first is his earliest and most vivid impression of lying bound, as a tightly swaddled baby, and screaming because he wanted to free his arms. The second was the occasion of his removal from his childhood nursery to the lower storey where his older brothers and their tutor lived. Never again, he wrote, did he feel so strongly the cross of duty, of moral and ethical obligation, which every one of us is called to carry. 'It was hard for me to part from all I had known since I was born. I was sad less because I had to part from human beings, my nurse, my sisters, my aunt, than because I was leaving my little bed with its curtains and pillows. Moreover, I was apprehensive of the new life I was entering.'

Thomas Mann, who quotes this passage in his essay, Goethe and Tolstoy, remarks that the process of loosing oneself from nature was always to be felt by Tolstoy as painful and ethical, that to be humanized meant for him to be denaturalized and that, from this moment on, the struggle of his existence consisted in this sort of humanizing process, regarded as a divorce from everything that was natural and to him peculiarly so. There is truth in this, but he distorts it when he adds that 'Tolstoy's critical and moral faculty, in short his bias toward spirit, was but a secondary impulse, and a feeble one at that'. If it had been, the struggle would not have been so intense or so prolonged.

In few men has that struggle, common to us all, between that part of our nature which is bound to earth by its physical instincts, and the spirit which knows itself in essence to be free, been so implacable. For no man was committed more deeply to the life both of the senses and the spirit than he. Hence his ecstatic and organic response to the world of nature and his immense love and understanding of people, a love devoid utterly of either sentimentality or cynicism. For elemental and nihilistic, primeval and pagan, as one part of his being was, and that the most deeply rooted, there was a humanity in him too, a peasant simplicity, an integral goodness which made him, as Gorky testified, 'a man of the whole of mankind'. Such a man may not be humanistic, but he can be the more profoundly human for that.

As a child Tolstoy knew the harmony of being possessed by life without the anguish. But as the child changed into the youth and the man, the unity of the spirit and the senses was broken, never again to be wholly healed. Consequently his greatness lies as much in the immense force of his moral seriousness as in the unique richness of his physical awareness. If he had merely been a great artist turned into a moral preacher, which is the trite explanation of his development, he would not have been nearly so significant or so human. But he was at one and the same time a supreme imaginative writer and the most formidable moralist of the last hundred years. The two sides of his nature could and did function separately, but they were never really dissociated. He was that rare thing, an imaginative moralist, a moralist who felt with all the physical, mental and human immediacy of the artist and to whom therefore the quest of perfection in life was the supreme art.

It was his insistent striving to approach perfection as a man which so exasperated Turgenev who was content to achieve a limited perfection in his art. That there was egoism, at times intolerant, in Tolstoy's pursuit of moral perfection and that he never wholly outgrew this, hard as he strove to, is undeniable. But there was an imaginative depth in it, too, and a relentless sincerity which dictated the whole painful course of his later life and his intrepid exposure of the corruption of Church and State and of the sickly civilization which they so selfishly maintained.

From boyhood Tolstoy kept a diary of every little sin he committed. He kept it even when he was serving in the Caucasus as a soldier, and this is a characteristic entry.

How strong I seem to myself to be against all that can happen; how firm in the conviction that one must expect nothing here but death; yet a moment later I am thinking with pleasure of a saddle I have ordered, on which I shall ride dressed in a Cossack cloak, and of how I shall carry on with the Cossack girls; and I fall into despair because my left moustache is higher than my right and for two hours I straighten it out before the looking glass.

Tolstoy was only in his twenties when he wrote this. But already he had begun to see the struggle for a meaning in things which nothing could assail as one in which death confronted life. And his horror of death, moral and physical, was the measure of his instinctive love of life. In childhood life had intoxicated him. As a young man he was so physically alive that he felt death for the most part only as a kind of loss of instinctive virtue. In the finest of his early stories, The Cossacks, he drew from his own experience an unforgettable picture of a people that 'lives as nature lives: they die, are born, unite, and more are born—they fight, eat and drink, rejoice and die, without any restrictions, but those that nature imposes on the sun and grass, on animal and tree. They have no other laws.'

Olenin, the hero of the tale, who is essentially Tolstoy himself, loves these people. Compared to himself they appear to him beautiful, strong and free, and the sight of them makes him feel ashamed and sorry for himself, particularly when a Cossack girl, Maryanka, whom he hopes to marry, spurns him with abhorrence.

In this experience, which was his own in the Caucasus, was contained what one might describe as the first phase of the conflict that was to be fought out in Tolstoy's soul—the primitive in him confronting the self-conscious and spurning it, and the self-conscious knowing it can never return to the primitive, yet ever longing for an Eden regained. And so again and again in his great novels we find the characters in whom there is the most of himself struggling to throw off the cramp of the self and to be caught up into that spring of being which he so often associated with the coming of the Russian spring and the resurrection of natural life from the icy grip of winter.

How closely the physical sensation of life could be associated with a moral sensation of goodness is shown in passage after passage of his writings, in this one from Youth, for example, in which, after evoking an April morning through natural detail that quivers with life as he describes it, he went on: 'Something new to me, something extraordinarily potent and unfamiliar, had suddenly invaded my soul . . . Everything spoke to me of beauty, happiness, and virtue as three things which were both easy and possible for me, and said that not one of them could exist without the other two, since beauty, happiness and virtue were one. "How did I never come to understand that before?" I cried to myself. "How did I ever manage to be so wicked? Oh, but how good, how happy, I could be—nay, I will be—in the future! At once, at once—yes, thisvery minute—I will become another being, and begin to live differently." '

That was in his youth. To the end of his days he could resolve to become another being almost as ardently and impulsively. But the years taught him how far from 'easy and possible' it was. In such characters as Prince Andrew and Pierre Bezúkhov in War and Peace or Levin in Anna Karenina we see the second phase of the struggle. They, too, on occasions can be seized with an unreasoning spring-time feeling of joy and rejuvenation, as Prince Andrew was when, after falling in love with Natasha, he rode past the old oak and found it spreading out a canopy of sappy, dark-green foliage.

But such moments are infrequent and all too soon found to be delusive. It is when Prince Andrew lies wounded on the field of Austerlitz and sees the distant sky, not clear, yet immeasurably lofty with grey clouds gliding slowly across it, that for the first time he really knows release from the intolerable burden, the insoluble dilemma, of himself. 'How is it I did not see that lofty sky before?' he asks. 'How happy I am to have recognized it at last! Yes, all is vanity, all is falsehood, except that infinite heaven. There is nothing, nothing but that.' But the sense of release, of being part of an immense, harmonious whole, is only momentary. It fades as death ceases to cast its shadow upon him.

In such characters as these, as I have said, we may see reflected the second phase of the struggle in Tolstoy's soul. 'Spring, love, happiness', thinks Prince Andrew as he first rides past the leafing oak-tree, 'how is it you are not weary of this eternal, stupid and meaningless fraud?' It was the fraud of nature, the feud she provoked between the temporal and the eternal, the instinctive impulse and the moral imperative, which Tolstoy, because he was profoundly divided in himself, came increasingly to see and to be tortured by in the years immediately after these great novels were written.

As his physical energies began to decline, his intellectual questioning grew. It proved a knife which cut at the roots of all that was merely instinctive in his faith. It cut no less searchingly through all that was conventional in contemporary religious faith and evasive in worldly philosophy. And it left him standing in horror on the edge of an abyss in which life was as meaningless as death, in which his past activities seemed a self-indulgent lie and the future contained no reasonable incentive for continuing to live.

And so at the age of fifty he turned with a relentless sincerity which alarmed and shocked the worldly-wise to answer the three fundamental questions which he could not silence, 'What am I?' 'Why do I live?' 'What must I do?'

In answering those questions he was led on inevitably to ask the whole European world, which lay under the same condemnation as he felt himself to lie, the same question. The only difference was that the Churches and States of Europe seemed unconscious of the infamous life they countenanced. And no scientific adjustment, no rationalized reform on the surface, Tolstoy was convinced, could save them from the abyss of destruction to which they were surely moving. The more fully men believe', he wrote, 'that humanity can be led, in spite of itself, by some external, self-acting force (whether religion or science) to a beneficial change in its existence—and that they need only work in the established order of things—the more difficult will it be to accomplish any beneficial change.' There must be an inward change, a real revolution. 'All the great revolutions in men's lives', he declared, 'are made in thought.' The rationalist in him tended to undervalue the heart's share in such revolutions. But he knew thatthe thought that men ordinarily think must be transformed and renewed by something more integral than itself, by a redirection of the will. 'Repent,' cried John the Baptist, 'for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.' 'Repent,' pleaded Tolstoy, 'or hell will overtake you. Change your view of life and your way of living or you will all perish.'

Merely to change the system of Government by violence could only, he believed, result in the eventual re-establishment, under a new form, of the old combination of autocracies and servitudes, in an even more frenzied arming of the nations, in terrible massacres and in the ruin and degeneration of all the peoples.

In this, as in all else, Tolstoy spoke out of his own experience. He had erred in his own life, he concluded, not primarily because he thought incorrectly, but because he lived badly. And all his searching logic led to this conclusion as the foundation of any life that should be reasonable and fruitful.

'I quite returned', he wrote, 'to what belonged to my earliest childhood and youth. I returned to the belief in that Will which produced me, and desires something of me. I returned to the belief that the chief and only aim of my life is to be better, i.e. to live in accord with that Will . . . There was only this difference, that then all this was accepted unconsciously, while now I know that without it I could not live.'

That was the gulf which had to be crossed—the gulf between an unconscious and a conscious acceptance of a mysterious creative will. The acid of self-consciousness had poisoned the springs of unconscious living. Somehow this crippled, wary ego had to die, if health was to be renewed. It was this death which Tolstoy for the rest of his life strove so hard and patiently to die. None knew better than he the subtle power and pride of the ego. All the circumstances of his birth and upbringing as a Count, an officer and a landowner had nourished pride. And behind all this there was the overruling force of his genius.

Of the arrogance with which he had to struggle we catch a glimpse in Turgenev's remark: 'Personally I never encountered anything more disconcerting than that inquisitorial look, which, accompanied by two or three biting words, was enough to drive to fury any man who lacked self-control.'

The humility of such a man was as challenging as pride itself, his life-instinct as tenacious as his need of death. Yet through all the failures for which he never ceased to reproach himself, he held firmly to his quest. Excommunicated, harried and abused in his own home, tortured by the contradiction he felt between what he preached and the way he lived, he strove to achieve what the old Mason in War and Peace named the chief virtue, the love of death, a love from which the spring his heart hungered for, the spring he had known so beatifically as a child, might break in his heart into second leaf.

In Tolstoy, then, because he lived and thought and suffered so fundamentally, the tragic drama of the modern world was enacted with this difference, that he had the strength and imagination to create in himself at least a part of a saving third act. He offered his experience of this third act to the world, crying, 'I cannot keep silent', as he wrung his hands over the inhumanity of its rulers and the credulity of their victims, 'the everlastingly deceived, foolish working people,' as he called them, 'who with their blistered hands have built all those ships and fortresses, andarsenals, and barracks, and cannons and steamers, and harbours and bridges, and all those palaces, halls, and platforms and triumphal arches, and have printed all the newspapers and pamphlets . . . It is always the same good-natured foolish people who, showing their healthy white teeth as they smile, gaze like children, naively delighted at the dressed-up admirals and presidents, at the flags waving above them, and at the fireworks, and the playing bands; though before they have time to look about them, there will be neither admirals, nor presidents, nor flags, nor bands, but only the desolate wet plain, cold, hunger, misery—in front of them the slaughtering enemy, behind them the relentless government, blood, wounds, agonies, rotting corpses, and a senseless, useless death.'

No wonder that the Tsarist Government did its best to suppress such words; no wonder that M. Maisky, the Russian Ambassador, in his preface to the B.B.C. pamphlet introducing the broadcast of War and Peace flatly disowned that Tolstoy. Had he been living in the Russia of the last twenty years his voice would doubtless have been forcibly silenced. For what Totalitarian government could tolerate a man, however prophetic, however devoted to the common man, who declared unceasingly, that the truth in men's souls, if they would but be faithful to it, was irresistible. 'Governments', he wrote, 'know this and tremble before that force, and with all the means at their disposal try to resist it or gain possession of it. They fear the expression of independent thought more than an army.'

Tolstoy lived before the wireless and expertly organized propaganda had still further reduced the capacity for independent thought. His standard of true manhood was the peasant and the saint. And passionate as his indictment was of the slums of Moscow, he hardly visualized a society in which misdirected mechanism and profit-seeking industrialism might sap even the peasant's integrity and create a rootless spiritually-starved proletariat.

But such a development was implicit in the diseased condition which he diagnosed so powerfully because he had lived through certain crucial phases of the disease so intensely himself. He was convinced that civilization had reached that inner point of cleavage between an old and a new order of being which had brought him to the edge of an abyss where the choice lay between suicide and a revolutionary integration. The war within man was reflected not only in social sickness but in the increasing destructiveness and futility of war between nations, its degeneration from what was still a life-struggle, in which the combatants were bound together, into a death-orgy of mutual extermination.

Tolstoy had fought in wars himself. He had seen how degenerate was the national war in the Crimea compared with the tribal warfare of the Caucasus, and his descriptions of national warfare in War and Peace reveal how strongly the imagination of the moralist in him repudiated what the artist so graphically described. But war then still retained certain conventions which linked it with a traditional human code.

In his own history Tolstoy lived through such a phase of diminishing equilibrium between his conscience and his instincts during the first fifteen years of his married life. But it became harder and harder for him to maintain this balance. And when it broke down, when the pure human values which a truly self-conscious being must live or be in eternal contradiction with himself, had become irresistibly real to him, he saw with a terrible urgency that European civilization had reached the same point of extreme peril as himself, that, above all, its science, the instrument and portent of its partial self-consciousness, would destroy it unless it struck roots in a new humanity, a greater and truer selfhood.

He had no 'atomic bomb' to shock him into this realization, but there had been times, he knew, when at the height of his own inner conflict, he had nearly gone mad. The same fate, he could not doubt, awaited mankind, if it could not resolve the same conflict. Significantly the last unfinished essay he wrote in 1910, the year of his death, was entitled 'On Insanity' and to the question in it why kind reasonable people learn how to kill and set out killing people they do not know he answered that 'those who order others to accomplish such deeds, as well as those who will accomplish them, are in a state of insanity. Not in any figurative or exaggerated sense, but literally, in the most direct sense of the word . . . We live an insane life contrary to the first and simplest demands of common sense. Because we all, or the great majority of us, lead this kind of life, we no longer see the difference between insane life and rational life, and regard our insane life as sound and rational.'

Gerald Heard has come to much the same conclusion when he writes in Man the Master that 'short of union with the eternal and infinite life we are all of us in some degree insane, "idiotic", and sooner or later we must break down'. But Tolstoy knew that there was no short cut to the sanity of such union, that a merely emotional faith in the eternal was only a drug against the pains of growing up. He insisted that the supreme criterion for distinguishing real life from what was merely its resemblance 'has been and always will be self-consciousness, the highest property of the soul'. Yet mere ego-consciousness brought division and conflict. It was, as Dostoevsky wrote and so terribly portrayed, 'a great torment'.

Tolstoy writhed under this torment. All that may well seem too absolute in his repudiation of an industrial civilization and of the intelligence that served it, as also his sweeping denunciation of dogmas or of forms of art, the inner meaning of which he did not understand, was related to this unresolved war in himself. His refusal, too, to compromise in any way with the machinery of modern government, his inveterate distrust of officialdom and his belief that all efforts to organize the external conditions of men's lives diverts attention from their inner needs, may well seem too extreme. Yet it was consistent with his view of the revolution required of the individual. Governments based on and practising violence were the exact equivalent of the predatory ego which it was essential to disown in oneself. To support a modern state was, in his view, as much a sin as to support the selfish, unsocial and atavistic part of oneself, the part which had served a necessary purpose, maybe, in the adolescent struggles of the past, but which now had to be outgrown. The Christian anarchy he visualized was not, of course, social chaos, but a new organic order, a substitution of real selfgovernment through the brotherly co-operation of free men working together in federated groups for the forceful government imposed by a self-interested or class-interested or power-seeking minority on a deluded and subservient majority. The clean cut with the predatory State which he preached is perhaps at present as unattainable, except by spiritual devotees or small groups dedicated to living in community, as the clean cut with the predatory ego which it necessitates. But in view of the increasing servitude which the modern State has imposed, the ultimate Tightness of his outlook has become much more convincing, nor did he have any difficulty in answering the usual objection that without a government based on violence we should be at the mercy of worse violence than we are already.

Tolstoy was equally absolute in his interpretation of the injunction not to resist evil. This was shown particularly in the correspondence which he had with a Mr. Ballou, an enlightened American expounder of 'Non-Resistance'. Tolstoy enthusiastically approved of Ballou's writings, but rejected the concessions which Ballou made for employing what he called 'uninjuriousbene volent physical force' against drunkards and insane people. 'A true Christian', Tolstoy wrote, 'will always prefer to be killed by a madman, than to deprive him of his liberty.' To this Ballou replied that, if so, a true Christian watching over a delirious sick man, would prefer to see him kill his wife, children and best friends, rather than restrain or help restrain him. Christ, he argued, could never have meant that.

Most of us would agree with Mr. Ballou, even if he did assume too easily the adequacy for all insane situations of 'uninjurious physical force'. But Tolstoy was not to be reasoned out of his absoluteness. In theory at least he was an unrepentant dogmatist. Such theorizing may well seem academic to-day when men in cold and calculated delirium kill fifty thousand wives and children and justify it as not only strategical but moral expediency. But the underlying problem remains, the old question as to how such precepts as those in the Sermon on the Mount should be lived.

Tolstoy took them literally and tried to live them literally. He failed to do so, at least until that last bitter hour of despairing renunciation when he went out from his home into the night and the snow, never to return. Yet he never ceased to believe that he ought to live them literally and this belief embittered his life and the lives of others to whom he was closely tied.

This, of course, is no proof that he was wrong. And seeing to-day how slippery is the slope down which those who compromise with the injunctions of faith and love slide into acceptance of the utmost infamy, we may be more ready to think that he was right. It may be, too, that he who would commit himself to a life of creative love must be an offence to all who lack the courage and maturity to do so.

But it is well to be clear just what such a literal interpretation of 'resist not evil' does socially involve. Tolstoy was quite clear about it. In theory and as much as he could in practice he repudiated the State and all it existed to uphold, because government, as it existed, was at bottom regulated violence. That being so, he had no legal standing in the society to which he belonged.

If you refuse military service on the grounds of absolute obedience to the Sermon on the Mount, you must also refuse police protection, refuse to support or help administer the existing law, to pay taxes or to seek any redress if a criminal steals everything you have and leaves you to starve. You must be prepared to do and to suffer all this. And worse—you must be prepared to find yourself in the situation in which Tolstoy found himself, faced by an intolerable alternative, either to preach what you don't practise or to inflict suffering on someone dear to you who sees your renunciation, not as humble selflessness, but as insane egotism. Of course you may not be called to suffer all this. In the degree that your faith is pure of egotism, of all pride of selfseeking, your suffering is likely to be the more inwardly redemptive, the more hidden and fruitful, For as Eckhart wrote, 'to him who suffers not for love, to suffer is suffering and is hard to bear. But he who suffers for love does not suffer, and this suffering is fruitful in God's sight'.

It is, perhaps, only in this deeply inward sense that such injunctions as 'Resist not evil' should be read and lived. This does not mean that they should be less fully accepted, but more integrally, more creatively, and less logically or as legal and moral ordinances. The instinct against moral absolutes is a sound one. Human life is only fruitful when the absolute is humbled to the relative. To impose a moral dictate upon life is as much an error as to live without a sense of inner direction. And such dictates are imposed because the moralist in some degree cannotyield himself to life. He clings to something absolutely fixed for fear his impulses should get the better of him. It may be a doctrine of absolute non-resistance he clings to. But in doing so he is really still fighting evil, in himself and in the world, with the bayonet of a moral dictate. That at a certain stage of growth into full and free self-awareness such absolute prohibitions may be necessary, as discipline to predatory impulses not yet inwardly redeemed, is undeniable. But they involve an inevitable and unhappy division between absolute doctrine held in theory and compromise, grudgingly and dangerously consented to, in practice.

So it was with Tolstoy. He was too great an artist and too profoundly human to be a rigid moralist in practice. No man strove harder in the continual testings of his relationship with others to quell the pride of a supremely powerful mind or the compulsive force of his convictions. No man learnt more hardly to be patient or reproached himself more bitterly for his failures. Yet he does at times seem to have been too much preoccupied with personal salvation, though a new self be the first condition of real service to and understanding of others.

As a Russian writer said: 'He listened so intently to the noise in his own ears, that he hardly heard what other people were saying.' This overstates his self-absorption. But in seeing the world so exclusively in the mirror of his own intense moral struggle, he did tend to deny all virtue to those who, if working on the surface, were trying disinterestedly to better the world by applying humane intelligence to it.

When Tchekhov, who as a doctor knew what sick men were, said, 'You live badly, my friends', there was forgiveness in his words. Tolstoy found it hard to forgive the world for being what it was, because he found it hard to forgive himself. He knew all too well his own sickness, his own incapacity to be the truth which his mind so cogently defined.

A visitor to 'Yasnaya Polyana', his home, has left on record that after one of the all too frequent stormy scenes when the Countess denounced her husband's ideas and projects, he and Tolstoy talked all the evening on the theme that 'a man's enemies are those of his own household', and how Tolstoy said that opposition from relatives gave an indication of the measure of a man's readiness to serve the truth. 'It means', he said, 'that there is in us something that renders it impossible for others to suspect us of being insincere people playing at simplification . . . It is only on that subtle instinct which discerns with wonderful exactitude the weak spot in another's soul, that the world's whole attack on those who seek the truth, rests. Also that attack will continue till we believe in the truth as sincerely as they believe in falsehoods. It all depends on that. That is the only conquering strength'.

We have only to think of the world's martyrs to know that this is but partially true, that the world more often hates than loves the highest, because it fears the little that it can see. Fear of the good, as Kierkegaard has shown, is as potent and demonic a force as fear of the evil. But as a reflection upon a weakness in himself Tolstoy spoke truly enough. His moral over-emphasis was a sign that his imagination was still at war with his will, that his ego was insufficiently subdued to a truth greater than itself.

This feud between the natural man in him and the spiritual is most clearly shown in his attitude to women. No novelist has entered into the instinctive soul of a woman or evoked her physical charm more compellingly than the creator of Anna Karenina. Yet even when he wrote that great novel something in him feared and hated what sense and imagination found so irresistible. It was not only because the plot dictated it that he had to kill Anna. And the feud was never resolved. Indeed it was intensified, as the Kreutzer Sonata and other stories of his middle and later years show, or that anecdote of Gorki's which has in it an element of terrible comedy. With Tchekhov, Gorki and one or two others, Tolstoy, then an old man, had been sitting in the park. They had been talking about women, but for a long time Tolstoy listened in silence. Then he suddenly said: 'And I will tell you the truth about women, when I have one foot in the grave—I shall tell it, jump into my coffin, pull the lid over me, and say, "Do what you like now".' The look he gave us, Gorki adds, 'was so wild, so terrifying, that we all fell silent for a while'.

In such a story Gorki makes us see what passion was embodied in the man, how deep and tenacious his roots in the physical, how intense the counter force of his spirit which found bondage to the physical intolerable. Perhaps only in the wonderful tales and parables he wrote for the people was the moral man in him perfectly reconciled with the imaginative. There the moral injunction ceased to be a doctrine and became what he always longed for it to be, as natural and necessary, as simple and spontaneous an expression of inherent human goodness as it was in the little peasant of War and Peace, the loving, suffering, smiling Platon Karataev.

Such imaginative simplicity which no subtle reasoning can contravert is perhaps Tolstoy's greatest gift as a teacher. It enshrines the real ideal which never seems fantastic and which no practical arguments can discredit. All didactic truth is in some degree partial and reflects a certain assumption of moral superiority in its enunciator. Tolstoy himself acknowledged this when he wrote: 'When people consider me as one who cannot make a mistake, every error seems like a lie or a piece of hypocrisy. But if I am understood to be a weak man, the discord between my words and acts appears as a sign of weakness, but not as a lie or an hypocrisy. And then I appear to be what I am: a sorry but sincere man now and always wishing with his soul to be quite good.'

Tolstoy's moral crisis is so significant because he endured and so memorably expressed the tension of selfconsciousness which, on a vast surface if seldom at his depth, has become the anguish of our age. No one has experienced more intensely than he the tragic power to understand that life cannot be understood or the breaking point which sooner or later is reached by the man who tries to be an end in himself or who, in despair, offers himself as a means to false ends.

If he did not actually see the full horror of a world in which individualism, dying at its roots for want of sustenance, had begotten industrialized man and mechanized societies, and then collapsed into warring masses, he saw enough to declare how inevitable such an issue was. He saw that man, shut off from the mysteries of his being in a prison of materialistic assumptions, must find his soul again or perish, that he must regain consciously those unconscious depths which were a constant peril, if denied. He must live in faith, if he was not to die of fear. This was what religion meant to Tolstoy. He defined its fundamental principles very simply as amounting to this: 'that while conscious of the Divine within ourselves and acknowledging its presence in everybody else, we should love everybody and refrain from doing to others what we do not wish to be done to ourselves'.

We may think that here as elsewhere he put it all too simply, that he over-estimated the natural man's powers of resistance to secular authority which denied his status as a son of God and cajoled or compelled him to be a cog in a machine; that he equally under-estimated the aberrations in man's soul and will, those demonisms of the underworld which Dostoevsky so unforgettably portrayed.

But even if Tolstoy overlooked the psychological and technical complexities, of which we are so conscious, or reduced economic issues to too simple terms, he saw the fundamental issues clearly enough. He knew that there was no retreat possible from self-consciousness, that a conscious being was the goal of evolution and that men had reached a crisis in human development when they must pass from one conception and order of life to a new one. And he knew that this birth into a new life of cooperation meant and cost a death to the old life of predatory and combative egotism, that life which the primitive in him understood so well and relished. It was not merely a common-sense recognition that by co-operation instead of conflict the share of personal happiness gained by each man would be greater, and human life in general would be reasonable and happy instead of a succession of contradictions and sufferings.

Most of us know that, but our knowledge does not compel us to live it except partially and spasmodically. For such knowledge to become act, said Tolstoy, like all the great teachers before him, we must die to what is false in us, to the delusions of pride and separateness, and be reborn in the unity of a greater selfhood. But it was not a blind death. Faith in a power and a Being greater than himself was, he affirmed, as necessary to the soul of man as air and food to his body. Without it he became sick with fear and impotent to create. But he must not cease to think because conceit of thought had weakened his power of action. He must recover the true power of action on a new creative level by living and so thinking better. Only thus can modern man extricate himself from the mechanism which his mind has contrived to stultify his heart and dehumanize his life; only by surrendering to what is eternal within and beyond himself can he find strength not to be caught up into the flood of mass insanity or enslaved by material powers. Only by this surrender, consciously made and sustained, can he become a fully responsible and adult human being. The one alternative to the standardized man is the newly integrated man. That in essence is what Tolstoy taught us and what in a life of compulsive sincerity he strove to be.

Philip Rahv (essay date 1949)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy: The Green Twig and the Black Trunk," in Image and Idea: Fourteen Essays on Literary Themes, New Directions, 1949, pp. 71-85.

[In the following essay, Rahv assesses existentialism in Tolstoy's works, noting that Tolstoy was "the last of the unalienated artists. "]

The art of Tolstoy is of such irresistible simplicity and truth, is at once so intense and so transparent in all of its effects, that the need is seldom felt to analyze the means by which it becomes what it is, that is to say, its method or sum of techniques. In the bracing Tolstoyan air, the critic, however addicted to analysis, cannot help doubting his own task, sensing that there is something presumptuous and even unnatural, which requires an almost artificial deliberateness of intention, in the attempt to dissect an art so wonderfully integrated that, coming under its sway, we grasp it as a whole long before we are able to summon sufficient consciousness to examine the arrangement and interaction of its component parts.

Tolstoy is the exact opposite of those writers, typical of the modern age, whose works are to be understood only in terms of their creative strategies and design. The most self-observant of men, whose books are scarcely conceivable apart from the ceaseless introspection of which they are the embodiment, Tolstoy was least self-conscious in his use of the literary medium. That ischiefly because in him the cleavage between art and life is of a minimal nature. In a Tolstoyan novel it is never the division but always the unity of art and life which makes for illumination. This novel, bristling with significant choices and crucial acts, teeming with dramatic motives, is not articulated through a plot as we commonly know it in fiction; one might say that in a sense there are no plots in Tolstoy but simply the unquestioned and unalterable process of life itself; such is the astonishing immediacy with which he possesses his characters that he can dispense with manipulative techniques, as he dispenses with the belletristic devices of exaggeration, distortion, and dissimulation. The fable, that specifically literary contrivance, or anything else which is merely invented or made up to suit the occasion, is very rarely found in his work. Nor is style an element of composition of which he is especially aware; he has no interest in language as such; he is the enemy of rhetoric and every kind of artifice and virtuosity. The conception of writing as of something calculated and constructed—a conception, first formulated explicitly by Edgar Allan Poe, upon which literary culture has become more and more dependent—is entirely foreign to Tolstoy.

All that is of a piece, of course, with his unique attitude toward literature, unique, that is, for a writer of modern times. For Tolstoy continually dissociated himself from literature whether considered matter-of-factly, as a profession like any other, or ideally as an autonomous way of life, a complete fate in the sense in which the French writers of Flaubert's generation conceived of it. In his youth a soldier who saw war at first hand, the proprietor and manager of Yasnaya Polyana, a husband and father not as other men are husbands and fathers but in what might be described as a programmatic and even militant fashion, and subsequently a religious philosopher and the head of a sect, he was a writer through all the years—a writer, but never a litterateur, the very idea repelled him. The litterateur performs a function imposed by the social division of labor, and inevitably he pays the price of his specialization by accepting and even applauding his own one-sidedness and conceit, his noncommitted state as witness and observer, and the necessity under which he labors of preying upon life for the themes that it yields. It is with pride that Tolstoy exempted Lermontov and himself from the class of "men of letters" while commiserating with Turgenev and Goncharov for being so much of it; and in his Reminiscences of Tolstoy Gorky remarks that he spoke of literature but rarely and little, "as if it were something alien to him."

To account for that attitude by tracing it back to Tolstoy's aristocratic status, as if he disdained to identify himself with a plebeian profession, is to take much too simple a view of his personality. The point is, rather, that from the very first Tolstoy instinctively recognized the essential insufficiency and makeshift character of the narrowly aesthetic outlook, of the purely artistic appropriation of the world. His personality was built on too broad a frame to fit into an aesthetic mold, and he denied that art was anything more than the ornament and charm of life. He came of age at a time when the social group to which he belonged had not yet been thoroughly exposed to the ravages of the division of labor, when men of his stamp could still resist the dubious consolations it brings in its train. Endowed with enormous energies, possessed of boundless egoism and of an equally boundless power of conscience, he was capable, in Leo Shestov's phrase, of destroying and creating worlds, and before he was quite twenty-seven years old he had the audacity to declare his ambition, writing it all solemnly down in his diary, of becoming the founder of "a new religion corresponding with the present state of mankind; the religion of Christ but purged of dogmas and mysticism—a practical religion, not promising future bliss but giving bliss on earth." No wonder, then, that while approaching the task of mastering the literary medium with the utmost seriousness, and prizing that mastery as a beautiful accomplishment, he could not but dismiss the pieties of art as trivial compared withthe question he faced from the very beginning, the question he so heroically sought to answer even in his most elemental creations, in which he seems to us to move through the natural world with splendid and miraculous ease, more fully at home there than any other literary artist. Yet even in those creations the very same question appears now in a manifest and now in a latent fashion, always the same question: How to live, what to do?

In 1880, when Turgenev visited Yasnaya Polyana after a long estrangement, he wrote a letter bewailing Tolstoy's apparent desertion of art. "I, for instance, am considered an artist," he said, "but what am I compared with him? In contemporary European literature he has no equal. . . . But what is one to do with him. He has plunged headlong into another sphere: he has surrounded himself with Bibles and Gospels in all languages, and has written a whole heap of papers. He has a trunk full of these mystical ethics and of various pseudo-interpretations. He read me some of it, which I simply do not understand. . . . I told him, 'That is not the real thing'; but he replied: 'It is just the real thing'. . . . Very probably he will give nothing more to literature, or if he reappears it will be with that trunk." Turgenev was wrong. Tolstoy gave a great deal more to literature, and it is out of that same trunk, so offensive in the eyes of the accomplished man of letters, that he brought forth such masterpieces as The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Master and Man, plays like The Power of Darkness, also many popular tales which, stripped of all ornament, have an essential force and grace of their own, and together with much that is abstract and over-rationalized, not a few expository works, like What Then Must We Do?, which belong with the most powerful revolutionary writings of the modern age. For it is not for nothing that Tolstoy was always rummaging in that black trunk. At the bottom of it, underneath a heap of old papers, there lay a little mana-object, a little green twig which he carried with him through the years, a twig of which he was told at the age of five by his brother Nicholas—that it was buried by the road at the edge of a certain ravine and that on it was inscribed the secret by means of which "all men would cease suffering misfortunes, leave off quarreling and being angry, and become continuously happy." The legend of the green twig was part of a game played by the Tolstoy children, called the Ant-Brothers, which consisted of crawling under chairs screened off by shawls and cuddling together in the dark. Tolstoy asked to be buried on the very spot at the edge of the ravine at Yasnaya Polyana which he loved because of its association with the imaginary green twig and the ideal of human brotherhood. And when he was an old man he wrote that "the idea of ant-brothers lovingly clinging to one another, though not under two arm-chairs curtained by shawls but of all mankind under the wide dome of heaven, has remained unaltered in me. As I then believed that there existed a little green twig whereon was written the message which would destroy all evil in men and give them universal welfare, so I now believe that such truth exists and will be revealed to men and will give them all it promises." It is clear that the change in Tolstoy by which Turgenev was so appalled was entirely natural, was presupposed by all the conditions of his development and of his creative consciousness. In the total Tolstoyan perspective the black trunk of his old age represents exactly the same thing as the green twig of his childhood.

Even the crude heresies he expounded in What is Art? lose much of their offensiveness in that perspective. In itself when examined without reference to the author's compelling grasp of the central and most fearful problems of human existence, the argument of that book strikes us as a wilful inflation of the idea of moral utility at the expense of the values of the imagination. But actually the fault of the argument is not that it is wholly implausible—as a matter of fact, it is of long and reputable lineage in the history of culture—as that it is advanced recklessly and with a logic at once narrow and excessive; the Tolstoyan insight is here vitiated in the same way as the insight into sexual relations is vitiated in The Kreutzer Sonata. Still, both works, theonslaught on modern love and marriage as well as the onslaught on the fetishism of art to which the modern sensibility has succumbed, are significantly expressive of Tolstoy's spiritual crisis—a crisis badly understood by many people, who take it as a phenomenon disruptive of his creative power despite the fact that, in the last analysis, it is impossible to speak of two Tolstoys, the creative and the noncreative, for there is no real discontinuity in his career. Though there is a contradiction between the artist and the moralist in him, his personality retains its basic unity, transcending all contradictions. Boris Eichenbaum, one of the very best of Tolstoy's Russian critics, has observed that the spiritual crisis did not operate to disrupt his art because it was a crisis internally not externally determined, the prerequisite of a new act of cognition through which he sought to re-arm his genius and to ascertain the possibility of new creative beginnings. Thus My Confession, with which Tolstoy's later period opens and which appeared immediately after Anna Karenina, is unmistakably a work of the imagination and at the same time a mighty feat of consciousness.

Six years after writing What is Art? Tolstoy finished Hadji Murad (1904), one of the finest nouvelles in the Russian language and a model of narrative skill and objective artistry. Is not the song of the nightingales, that song of life and death which bursts into ecstasy at dawn on the day when Hadji Murad attempts to regain his freedom, the very same song which rises in that marvelously sensual scene in Family Happiness, a scene bathed in sunlight, when Masha, surprising Sergey Mikhaylych in the cherry orchard, enjoys for the first time the full savor of her youthful love? Hadji Murad was written not less than forty-five years after Family Happiness. And in The Devil—a moral tale, the product, like The Kreutzer Sonata, of Tolstoy's most sectarian period and extremest assertion of dogmatic asceticism—what we remember best is not Eugene Irtenev's torments of conscience, his efforts to subdue his passion, but precisely the description of his carnal meetings in the sun-drenched woods with Stepanida, the fresh and strong peasant-girl with full breasts and bright black eyes. The truth is that in the struggle between the old moralist and the old magician in Tolstoy both gave as good as they got.

Tolstoy has been described as the least neurotic of all the great Russians, and by the same token he can be said to be more committed than any of them to the rational understanding and ordering of life and to the throwing off of romantic illusions. Unlike Dostoevsky, he owes nothing either to the so-called natural school of Gogol or to the Romantic movement in western literature. The school of Gogol is a school of morbidity, whereas Tolstoy is above all an artist of the normal—the normal, however, so intensified that it acquires a poetical truth and an emotional fullness which we are astounded to discover in the ordinary situations of life. Analysis is always at the center of the Tolstoyan creation. It is the sort of analysis, however, which has little in common with the analytical modes of such novelists as Dostoevsky and Proust, for example, both characteristically modern though in entirely different ways. While in their work analysis is precipitated mainly by deviations from the norm, from the broad standard of human conduct, in Tolstoy the analysis remains in line with that standard, is in fact inconceivable apart from it. Dostoevsky's "underground" man, who is a bundle of plebeian resentments, is unimaginable in a Tolstoyan novel. Even in Tolstoy's treatment of death there is nothing actually morbid—certainly not in the description of the death of Prince Andrey in War and Peace and of Nikolay Levin in Anna Karenina. As for The Death of Ivan Ilyich, that story would be utterly pointless if we were to see Ivan Ilyich as a special type and what happened to him as anything out of the ordinary. Ivan Ilyich is Everyman, and the state of absolute solitude into which he falls as his life ebbs away is the existential norm, the inescapable realization of mortality. Nothing could be more mistaken than the idea that Tolstoy's concern with death is an abnormal trait. On thecontrary, if anything it is a supernormal trait, for the intensity of his concern with death is proportionate to the intensity of his concern with life. Of Tolstoy it can be said that he truly lived his life, and for that very reason he was so tormented by the thought of dying. It was a literal thought, physical through and through, a vital manifestation of the simplicity with which he grasped man's life in the world. This simplicity is of a metaphysical nature, and in it, as one Russian critic has remarked, you find the essence of Tolstoy's world-view, the energizing and generalizing formula that served him as the means unifying the diverse motives of his intellectual and literary experience. It is due to this metaphysical simplicity that he was unable to come to terms with any system of dogmatic theology and that in the end, despite all his efforts to retain it, he was compelled to exclude even the idea of God from his own system of rationalized religion. Thus all notions of immortality seemed absurd to Tolstoy, and his scheme of salvation was entirely calculated to make men happy here and now. It is reported of Thoreau that when he lay dying his answer to all talk of the hereafter was "one world at a time." That is the sort of answer with which Tolstoy's mentality is wholly in accord.

The way in which his rationalism enters his art is shown in his analysis of character, an analysis which leaves nothing undefined, nothing unexplained. That systematization of ambiguity which marks the modern novel is organically alien to Tolstoy. Given the framework in which his characters move we are told everything that we need to know or want to know about them. The tangled intimate life, the underside of their consciousness, their author is not concerned with: he sets them up in the known world and sees them through their predicaments, however irksome and baffling, without ever depriving them of the rationality which supports their existence. For just as in Tolstoy's religiosity there is no element of mysticism, so in his creative art there is no element of mystery.

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Tolstoy did not pass through the school of Romanticism, and perhaps that is the reason he never hesitated to strike out the dark areas in the space in which he outlined his leading figures. He has few links with the literary culture evolved in Russia after 1820; the fact is that he has more in common with his literary grandfathers than with his literary fathers. Insofar as he has any literary affiliations at all they go back to the eighteenth century, to Rousseau, to Sterne, to the French classical drama, and in Russia to the period of Karamzin, Zhukovsky, Novikov, and Radichev. He has their robustness and skepticism. His quarrels with Turgenev, his inability to get on with the liberal and radical writers grouped around the Contemporary, a Petersburg periodical edited by the poet Nekrasov in which Tolstoy's first stories were published, are explained not so much by personal factors, such as his intractability of temper, as by the extreme differences between the conditions of his development and those of the Russian intelligentsia, whose rise coincides with the appearance of the plebeian on the literary scene. Tolstoy's family background was archaistic, not in the sense of provincial backwardness, but in the sense of the deliberate and even stylized attempt made by his family—more particularly his father—to preserve at Yasnaya Polyana the patriarchal traditions of the Russian nobility of the eighteenth century. It was a conscious and militant archaism directed against the "new" civilization of Petersburg, with its state-bureaucracy and merchant princes. The young Tolstoy was scornful of the "theories" and "convictions" held by the writers he met in Petersburg in the 1850's; instead of putting his trust in "theories" and "convictions" he relied on those Franklinesque rules and precepts of conduct with which he filled his diaries—rules and precepts he deduced from his idea of unalterable "moral instincts." In Nekrasov's circle he was regarded as a "wild man," a "troglodyte"; and in the early 1860's, when he set out on his second European tour, Nekrasov and his friends hoped that he would return in a mood of agreement with their notions of education and historical progress. Nothingcame of it, of course, for he returned armed with more of those "simplifications" that cut under their assumptions. But if the Westernizers found no comfort in Tolstoy, neither did the Slavophils. The latter's ideology, with its forced and artificial doctrine of superiority to the West, was also aligned with plebeian social tasks; at bottom it represented the discomfiture of a small and weak plebeian class in a semifeudal society, a discomfiture idealized through national messianism. It was an obscurantist ideology incompatible with Tolstoy's belief in self-improvement and in the possibility of human perfection. Moreover, in Tolstoy's approach to western culture there was no distress, no anger, no hostility. He was never put off by it, for he considered European culture to be a neutral sphere the products of which he could appropriate at will, and in any order he pleased, without in the least committing himself to its inner logic. He felt no more committed by his use of western ideas than the French-speaking gentry in War and Peace feel obligated to import the social institutions of France along with its language. Thus Tolstoy was able to sort out western tendencies to suit himself, as in War and Peace, where he is to some extent indebted for his conception of Napoleon to certain French publicists of the 1850's and 60's, who in their endeavor to deflate the pretensions of Napoleon III went so far in their polemics as also to blot out the image of his illustrious ancestor. Again, in that novel he is partly indebted for his so-called organic idea of war to Proudhon's book La Guerre et la Paix, which came out in a Russian translation in 1864. (Tolstoy had met Proudhon in Brussels in March, 1861.) And the arbitrary way in which he helped himself to the ideas of western thinkers is shown by the fact that he entirely ignored Proudhon's enthusiastic affirmation of Napoleon's historical role. The West was the realm of the city, a realm so strange to Tolstoy that he could regard it as neutral territory. The city was essentially unreal to him; he believed in the existence solely of the landowners and of the peasants. The contrast between Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, which Merezhkovsky and after him Thomas Mann have presented in terms of the abstract typology of the "man of spirit" as against the "man of nature," is more relevantly analyzed in terms of the contradiction between city and country, between the alienated intellectual proletariat of the city and the unalienated patriciatepeasantry of the country.

Much has been written concerning the influence of Rousseau on Tolstoy, but here again it is necessary to keep in mind that in western literature we perceive the Rousseauist ideas through the colored screen of Romanticism while in Tolstoy Rousseau survives through his rationalism no less than through his sensibility. In point of fact, the Rousseauist cult of nature is operative in Tolstoy in a manner that leads toward realism, as is seen in his Caucasian tales, for instance. If these tales now seem romantic to us, that is largely because of the picturesque material of which they are composed. A narrative like The Cossacks is actually turned in a tendencious way against the tradition of "Caucasian romanticism" in Russian literature—the tradition of Pushkin, Lermontov, and Marlinsky. Olenin, the protagonist of The Cossacks, is so little of a Romantic hero that he is incapable of dominating even his own story; the impression of his personality is dissipated as the attention shifts to the Cossack lad Lukashka, to Daddy Eroshka, and to the girl Marianka. Think what Chateaubriand would have made of a heroine like Marianka. In Tolstoy, however, she is portrayed in an authentically natural style, with all the calm strength, unawareness of subjective values, and indifference of a primitive human being. Though she is a "child of nature" and therefore an object of poetical associations, she is seen much too soberly to arouse those high-flown sentiments which "nature" inspires in Romantic poets like Novalis or even the Goethe of Werther. Where the Romantics convert nature into a solace for the trials of civilization, into a theater of lyrical idleness and noble pleasures, Tolstoy identifies nature with work, independence, self-possession.

Compared with Pierre, Prince Andrey, or Levin, Olenin is a weak hero, but he is important in that in his reflections he sums up everything which went into the making of the early Tolstoy and which was in later years given a religious twist and offered as a doctrine of world-salvation. The primacy which the issue of happiness assumes in Olenin's thoughts is the key to his Tolstoyan nature. "Happiness is this," he said to himself, "happiness lies in living for others. That is evident. The desire for happiness is innate in every man; therefore it is legitimate. When trying to satisfy it selfishly—that is, by seeking for oneself riches, fame, comforts, or love—it may happen that circumstances arise which make it impossible to satisfy these desires. It follows that it is these desires which are illegitimate, but not the need for happiness. But what desires can always be satisfied despite external circumstances? What are they? Love, self-sacrifice." In these few sentences we get the quintessence of the Tolstoyan mentality: the belief that ultimate truth can be arrived at through common-sense reasoning, the utilitarian justification of the values of love and self-sacrifice and their release from all otherworldly sanctions, the striving for the simplification of existence which takes the form of a return to a life closer to nature—a return, however, involving a self-consciousness and a constant recourse to reason that augurs ill for the success of any such experiment.

Tolstoy's art is so frequently spoken of as "organic" that one is likely to overlook the rationalistic structure on which it is based. This structure consists of successive layers of concrete details, physical and psychological, driven into place and held together by a generalization or dogma. Thus in The Cossacks the generalization is the idea of the return to nature; in Two Hussars it is the superiority of the elder Turbin to the younger, that is to say, of the more naive times of the past to the "modern" period. (The original title of the story was Father and Son.) The binding dogma in Family Happiness is the instability and deceptiveness of love as compared with a sound family life and the rearing of children in insuring the happiness of a married couple. Yet the didacticism of such ideas seldom interferes with our enjoyment of the Tolstoyan fiction. For the wonderful thing about it is its tissue of detail, the tenacious way in which it holds together, as if it were a glutinous substance, and its incomparable Tightness and truthfulness.

Parallelism of construction is another leading characteristic of the Tolstoyan method. In War and Peace, in the chronicle of the lives of the Bolkonsky and Rostov families, this parallelism is not devised dramatically, as a deliberate contrast, but in other narratives it is driven toward a stark comparison, as between Anna and Vronsky on the one hand and Kitty and Levin on the other in Anna Karenina, or between two generations in Two Hussars, or between Lukashka and Olenin in The Cossacks. One writer on Tolstoy put it very well when he said that in the Tolstoyan novel all ideas and phenomena exist in pairs. Comparison is inherent in his method.

His early nouvelles can certainly be read and appreciated without reference to their historical context, to the ideological differences between him and his contemporaries which set him off to confound them with more proofs of his disdain for their "progressive" opinions. Still, the origin of Family Happiness in the quarrels of the period is worth recalling. At that time (in the 1850's) public opinion was much exercised over the question of free love and the emancipation of women; George Sand was a novelist widely read in intellectual circles, and of course most advanced people agreed with George Sand's libertarian solution of the question. Not so Tolstoy, who opposed all such tendencies, for he regarded marriage and family life as the foundations of society. Thus Family Happiness, with its denigration of love and of equal rights for women, was conceived, quite apart from its personal genesis in Tolstoy's affair with Valery a Arsenev, as a polemical rejoinder to George Sand, then adored by virtually all the Petersburg writers, including Dostoevsky.

The faith in family life is integral of Tolstoy. It has the deepest psychological roots in his private history, and socially it exemplifies his championship of patriarchal relations. It is a necessary part of his archaistic outlook, which in later life was transformed into a special kind of radicalism, genuinely revolutionary in some of its aspects and thoroughly archaistic in others. War and Peace is as much a chronicle of certain families as an historical novel. The historical sense is not really native to Tolstoy. His interest in the period of 1812 is peculiarly his own, derived from his interest in the story of his own family. He began work on Anna Karenina after failing in the attempt to write another historical novel, a sequel to War and Peace. And Anna Karenina is of course the novel in which his inordinate concern with marriage and family life receives its fullest expression.

So much has been made here of the rationalism of Tolstoy that it becomes necessary to explain how his art is saved from the ill effects of it. Art and reason are not naturally congruous with one another, and many a work of the imagination has miscarried because of an excess of logic. "There may be a system of logic; a system of being there can never be," said Kierkegaard. And art is above all a recreation of individual being; the system-maker must perforce abstract from the real world while the artist, if he is true to his medium, recoils from the process of abstraction because it is precisely the irreducible quality of life, its multiple divulgements in all their uniqueness and singularity, which provoke his imagination.

Now there is only one novel of Tolstoy's that might be described as a casualty of his rationalism, and that is Resurrection. The greater part of his fiction is existentially centered in a concrete inwardness and subjectivity by which it gains its quality of genius. In this sense it becomes possible to say that Tolstoy is much more a novelist of life and death than he is of good and evil—good and evil are not categories of existence but of moral analysis. And the binding dogmas or ideas of Tolstoy's fiction are not in contradiction with its existential sense; on the contrary, their interaction is a triumph of creative tact and proof of the essential wholeness of Tolstoy's nature. The Tolstoyan characters grasp their lives through their total personalities, not merely through their intellects. Their experience is full of moments of shock, of radical choice and decision, when they confront themselves in the terrible and inevitable aloneness of their being. To mention but one of innumerable instances of such spiritual confrontation, there is the moment in Anna Karenina when Anna's husband begins to suspect her relation to Vronsky. That is the moment when the accepted and taken-for-granted falls to pieces, when the carefully built-up credibility of the world is torn apart by a revelation of its underlying irrationality. For according to Alexey Alexandrovitch's ideas one ought to have confidence in one's wife because jealousy was insulting to oneself as well as to her. He had never really asked himself why his wife deserved such confidence and why he believed that she would always love him. But now, though he still felt that jealousy was a bad and shameful state, "he also felt that he was standing face to face with something illogical and irrational, and did not know what was to be done. Alexey Alexandrovitch was standing face to face with life, with the possibility of his wife's loving some one other than himself, and this seemed to him very irrational and incomprehensible because it was life itself. All his life Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived and worked in official spheres, having to do with the reflection of life. And every time he stumbled against life itself he had shrunk away from it. Now he experienced a feeling akin to that of a man who, while calmly crossing a precipice by a bridge, should suddenly discover that the bridge is broken, and that there is a chasm below. That chasm was life itself, the bridge that artificial life in which Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived. For the first time the question presented itself to him of the possibility of his wife's loving some one else, and he was horrified at it."

It is exactly this "standing face to face with life," and the realization that there are things in it that are irreducible and incomprehensible, which drew Tolstoy toward the theme of death. Again and again he returned to this theme, out of a fear of death which is really the highest form of courage. Most people put death out of their minds because they cannot bear to think of it. Gorky reports that Tolstoy once said to him that "if a man has learned to think, no matter what he may think about, he is always thinking of his own death. All philosophers were like that. And what truths can there be, if there is death?" That is a statement of despair and nihilism the paradox of which is that it springs from the depths of Tolstoy's existential feeling of life; and this is because the despair and nihilism spring not from the renunciation but from the affirmation of life; Tolstoy never gave up the search for an all-embracing truth, for a rational justification of man's existence on the earth.

The fact is that Tolstoy was at bottom so sure in his mastery of life and so firm in his inner feeling of security that he could afford to deal intimately with death. Consider the difference in this respect between him and Franz Kafka, another novelist of the existential mode. In Kafka the theme of death is absent, not because of strength but rather because of neurotic weakness. He was ridden by a conviction, as he himself defined it, of "complete helplessness," and baffled by the seeming impossibility of solving even the most elementary problems of living, he could not look beyond life into the face of death. He wrote: "Without ancestors, without marriage, without progeny, with an unbridled desire for ancestors, marriage, and progeny. All stretch out their hands towards me: ancestors, marriage, and progeny, but from a point far too remote from me." That is the complaint of an utterly alienated man, without a past and without a future. Tolstoy, on the other hand, was attached with the strongest bonds to the patrician-peasant life of Yasnaya Polyana, he was in possession of the world and of his own humanity. His secret is that he is the last of the unalienated artists. Hence it is necessary to insist on the differences not so much between him and other artists generally as between him and the modern breed of alienated artists. It is thanks to this unalienated condition that he is capable of moving us powerfully when describing the simplest, the most ordinary and therefore in their own way also the gravest occasions of life—occasions that the alienated artist can approach only from a distance, through flat naturalistic techniques, or through immense subtleties of analysis, or through the transposition of his subject onto the plane of myth and fantasy.

But, of course, even Tolstoy, being a man of the nineteenth century, could not finally escape the blight of alienation. In his lifetime Russian society disintegrated; he witnessed the passing of the old society of status and it's replacement by a cruelly impersonal system of bourgeois relations. Tolstoy resisted the catastrophic ruin of the traditional order by straining all the powers of his reason to discover a way out. His so-called conversion is the most dramatic and desperate episode in his stubborn and protracted struggle against alienation. His attack on civilization is essentially an attack on the conditions that make for alienation. The doctrine of Christian anarchism, developed after his conversion, reflects, as Lenin put it, "the accumulated hate, the ripened aspiration for a better life, the desire to throw off the past—and also the immaturity, the dreamy contemplativeness, the political inexperience, and the revolutionary flabbiness of the villages." Still, the point of that doctrine lies not in its religious content, which is very small indeed, but rather in its formulation of a social ideal and of a Utopian social program.

Renato Poggioli (essay date 1957)

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SOURCE: "A Portrait of Tolstoy as Alceste," in The Phoenix and The Spider: A Book of Essays about Some Russian Writers and Their View of the Self, Harvard University Press, 1957, pp. 49-108.

[In the following essay, Poggioli compares Tolstoy's character and philosophical views with those of the character Alceste in Molière's play The Misanthrope.]


It is well known that George Orwell drew a parallel between Tolstoy in his old age and King Lear. He did so in a brilliant essay, where he tried to explain the motives that led the Russian writer to single out King Lear in his indiscriminate indictment of the Bard.1 According to Orwell, Tolstoy's extreme dislike for the story of King Lear was due to its strange similarity to the history of his own life:

There is a general resemblance which one can hardly avoid seeing, because the most impressive event in Tolstoy's life, as in Lear's, was a huge and gratuitous act of renunciation. . . . But the deeper resemblance lies in the fact that Tolstoy, like Lear, acted on mistaken motives and failed to get the results he had hoped for. . . . Tolstoy renounced the world under the expectation that this would make him happier. But if there is one thing certain about his later years, it is that he was not happy. On the contrary, he was driven almost to the edge of madness by the behavior of the people about him, who persecuted him precisely because of his renunciation . . . he even had two children whom he had believed in and who ultimately turned against him though, of course, in a less sensational manner than Regan and Goneril. . . . And though Tolstoy would not foresee it when he wrote his essay on Shakespeare, even the ending of his life—the sudden unplanned flight across country, accompanied only by a faithful daughter, the death in a cottage in a strange village—seems to have in it a sort of phantom reminiscence of Lear.

Orwell's parallel is conceived in a spirit of poetic justice, and of tragic irony; and this makes it convincing and paradoxical at the same time. The comparison acts like a flash of lightning, instantly illuminating the tragic finale of Tolstoy's biography. Orwell's analogy finds confirmation in similar suggestions by other witnesses or critics. For instance, another English writer, Isaiah Berlin, closed a recent and penetrating study by likening Tolstoy to Sophocles' Oedipus:

At once insanely proud and filled with self-hatred, omniscient and doubting everything, cold and violently passionate, contemptuous and selfabasing, tormented and detached, surrounded by an adoring family, by devoted followers, by the admiration of the entire civilized world, and yet almost wholly isolated, he is the most tragic of great writers, a desperate old man, beyond human aid, wandering self-blinded at Colonus.2

Both comparisons are touching and striking, and yet they fail equally to throw an even and steady light on the perplexing complexity of Tolstoy's figure. They are not life portraits, but death masks, molded on Tolstoy's face while it still held the traces of his agony. The great man died before men's eyes, making of his death both a denial and a confirmation of his life. After all, he had lived for a long time on the stage of the world as a lord and a king, as a leader and a master, as a banner of truth and a beacon of light. Thus the closing episode of his life was both a sacrifice and an ordeal; he died not only like a martyr or a saint, but also like a demigod or ahero.

Tolstoy's more than human greatness had been noticed long before his departure from this world. Only a few years before Tolstoy's end, Gorki had seen him as the reincarnation of a legendary figure from Russia's mythical past, as a new bogatyr rousing wonder and awe: "His disproportionately overgrown individuality is a monstrous phenomenon, almost ugly, and there is in him something of Svyatogor, the bogatyr, whom the earth can't hold. Yes, he is great."3 Even Anton Chekhov, who came to dislike increasingly some aspects of Tolstoy's personality, was forced again and again to acknowledge the supernatural proportions of his stature. Thus, after reading a minor piece of writing by his former idol, Chekhov felt compelled to proclaim, with a sudden cry from his heart: "Oh, that Tolstoy, that Tolstoy! He, at the present time, is not a human being, but a superman, a Jupiter."4 It is hardly surprising to see Tolstoy treated like an almost godlike figure; yet the interpretation of his life in heroic terms is as misleading, or at least as onesided, as the interpretation of his ultimate destiny in tragic terms.

Rainer Maria Rilke, who, by the way, loved Tolstoy very deeply, used to say that every man is granted the kind of death he lived for. But in the case of Tolstoy the realization of how he died hardly helps us to recognize what he had lived by. His final apotheosis is no less wrong than was his canonization while he was still alive. It was against that canonization that Gorki once raised a voice of protest: "I do not want to see Tolstoy as a saint: let him remain a sinner close to the heart of the all-sinful world, even close to the heart of each of us." The danger of interpreting a historical personality in a legendary vein or in a hagiographic key can be avoided only by measuring it with the yardsticks of psychology and biography, and by correcting the tragic or epic outlook with the comical insight. An all too well known saying claims that no great man is such to his valet; yet what is needed in Tolstoy's case is not the viewpoint of low comedy, the only one which can adopt a lackey's perspective. Tolstoy cannot be looked at from below, by reducing him to the level of farce. We may view him far better by choosing the ground of high comedy, thus placing ourselves on the same plane as our subject. We shall understand him only if we remember that he was as human as we are, without forgetting, however, that he was incommensurably greater than even the best of us. Such a critical inquiry, if lucid and honest, will ultimately lead to a fairer evaluation of his greatness, since, as Gorki said, "he is great and holy because he is a man, a madly and tormentingly beautiful man, a man of the whole of mankind."

It is in this spirit that the following pages will unfold a comic parallel, to illuminate some lasting trends of Tolstoy's personality, some recurring aspects of his life. The character chosen for this purpose, although genuinely comic, was originally conceived in a mood of high seriousness. This character is Alceste, the protagonist of The Misanthrope, and perhaps the supreme creation of Molière: of an author, needless to say, on a par with Tolstoy, and not too inferior to the tragic creators of Oedipus and Lear. It may be worth remarking that the Russian master felt constant sympathy for Molière, while he always felt only distaste and contempt toward Shakespeare. There is no better proof of Tolstoy's high regard for the greatest of all comedy writers than that famous page in What is Art? where he contrasts the universality of the Joseph story in the Bible with the limited appeal of a few classical and modern writers, all of them great masters. Yet, while doing so, he still finds it fitting to qualify his invidious comparison to the almost exclusive benefit of the author of The Misanthrope: "though Molière is perhaps the most universal, and therefore the most excellent artist of modern times."5


The most typical trait of Molière's Alceste is not a mere concern for truth, but an outright obsession with sincerity per se. We learn this from the very beginning of the play, when the protagonist indignantly accuses Philinte of hypocrisy for having treated a third party as if he were a bosom friend, while hardly remembering his name. At the climax of his tirade, Alceste proudly and earnestly proclaims:

Je veux qu'on soit sincère, et qu'en homme d'honneurOn ne lâche aucun mot qui ne parte du coeur.

I'd have them be sincere, and never part
With any word that isn't from the heart.

Tolstoy shares with Alceste this mania for sincerity, as his letters and diaries, as well as many other testimonials, so abundantly prove. Such a mania was in him not an acquired, but an inborn trait. This is fully apparent in Childhood, Tolstoy's earliest literary product, as well as in its sequels, Boyhood and Youth. To appraise the documentary value of the whole cycle, one should recall that the author represented there not his own family, but several members of the friendly Islenev clan, whom he adumbrated under the name of Irtenev. Thus the writer depicted himself, as he had been at the early stages of his life, in the child Nikolenka Irtenev, who becomes more and more the single protagonist of the series. Nikolenka is the first of Tolstoy's many self-portraits, and it hardly matters that he is painted against the background of another family group. Here, as in other cases, the reader will do well to distrust the disclaimer of the old Tolstoy, who unjustly disliked this early exercise and denied that it was an autobiography at all, and to rely instead on what he had originally stated in his preface to Childhood. There the writer had justified the absence from his book of "all the mannerisms of authorship" on the very ground that "he was writing in autobiographical form."6 The statement, however, must not be taken too literally: "autobiographical form" must be understood as a fusion of "poetry" and "truth," of imagination and memory, of unrelated experiences and events. The author extends some of his biographical and psychological traits to characters other than the one representing himself, especially to Dmitri Neklyudov, Nikolenka's best friend.7

The fact that both youngsters reflect some important facets of Tolstoy's personality makes quite significant the first intimate conversation taking place between them. It occurs in the closing chapter of Boyhood, entitled "The Beginning of Friendship." It is Neklyudov who speaks first:

"Do you know why . . . I care more for you than for people with whom I am better acquainted and with whom I have more in common? I have just discovered it. You have a wonderful and rare quality—frankness."

"Yes, I always say the very things I am ashamed to confess," I assented, "but only to those in whom I have confidence."

Nikolenka's qualification intimates a difference in temperament between these moral twins. One could say that in this composite self-portrait Tolstoy unconsciously gives us a double, youthful version of the Alceste prototype. Nothing proves this point better than the naïve, reciprocal commitment made by the two youths. Nikolenka and Dmitri resolve to exact from each other what Molière's hero could never obtain from his own bosom friend: a total, reciprocal forthrightness, with an absolute disregard for any consideration but truth. This timetoo Neklyudov speaks first:

"Do you know what has occurred to me, Nicholas?" he added. . . . "Let us promise to confess everything to one another. We shall know one another. We shall know one another and not be ashamed, and not be afraid of other people; let us promise never to tell anything to any one about each other! Let us do that!"

"Let us!" I said.

In this double self-reflection the young Tolstoy reveals an all too intransigent temper, seemingly alien to the Tolstoy of maturity, who, very often, out of prudence or indifference, kept his truth to himself, and cared little for friendship. The two youngsters, like the far older Alceste, consider friendship an exclusive bond, a privilege to be granted to a limited number of chosen beings, to the happy few. One of the reproaches Alceste addresses to Philinte is that the latter does exactly the opposite: that, apparently at least, he extends the privilege of friendship to any undeserving creature he may chance to meet. Alceste maintains that:

c'est n'estimer rien qu'estimer tout le monde;
to honor all men is to honor none;

and concludes his protest with the famous words:

Je veux qu'on me distingue, et, pour le trancher net,L'ami du genre humain n 'est point du tout mon fait.

I choose, sir, to be chosen; and in fine
The friend of mankind is no friend of mine.

"The friend of mankind": the formula is quite striking, and seems but a paraphrase of the Greek "philanthrope." By his ironic use of such a term, Alceste reveals himself, at least in this passage, as a "misanthrope" of a peculiar sort. The "philanthropy" he rejects is that which consists in being nice to everybody, or in liking mankind in the abstract, rather than in earnestly loving a given person, a concrete, individual being. Alceste hates the habitual or professional lover of the human kind, who treats all men with equal benevolence or indifference. It is well known that Tolstoy felt like Alceste in this matter. He projected that feeling through Konstantin Levin, the most autobiographical of all his fictitious characters, and, besides the protagonist, the most important figure in Anna Karenina. That feeling itself is well exemplified in Levin's strong reaction against his brother Sergey's tendency to exalt an entire class of men, treated in mass. The object of Sergey's exaltation is the Russian peasantry. Levin cannot accept that exaltation, since, as Tolstoy says, "he liked and did not like peasants, just as he liked and did not like men in general. . . ."8

The words just quoted become quite important in view of the fact that Tolstoy himself later became a fanatic asserter of the moral superiority of the muzhik over all other human types and groups. Such an evolution is already hinted at in the characterization of Levin, who will ultimately find in simple peasants' hearts that meaning of life he had vainly sought for so long. This is but one of the many Tolstoyan contradictions, and it would be unwise and improper to reproach him with the words: "Physician, heal thyself." Yet it is only fair to recall that afterhis so-called conversion, which took place immediately after the publication of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy became the most famous "philanthrope" of his time, while remaining a "misanthrope" like Alceste, perhaps even more so. Failure to understand this radical contradiction in Tolstoy's psyche will make incomprehensible and senseless all the moral conflicts which embittered the last period of his life, and which at the end of his days changed him from an Alceste into a Lear. In Tolstoy the lover of mankind is inextricably bound up with the scorner and despiser of man; like Levin, he both likes and dislikes the human species in general. This is another of the many paradoxes of his Alcestian make-up. Yet, unlike Alceste, Tolstoy could realize that the fatal outcome of an intransigent sincerity might be the opposite of truth. This is what happens in Youth when Nikolenka and Dmitri try to put into effect their reciprocal commitment to absolute sincerity: "Carried away by frankness, we had sometimes gone so far as to make quite shameless comparisons, describing (to our shame) suppositions and fancies as wishes and feelings. . . ."

This episode reveals Tolstoy's precocious insight, and suggests that he well knew that one may run the risk of becoming like Rousseau while behaving like Alceste. Even the latter seems to be vaguely aware of that danger when he tells Oronte:

Mais l'amitié demande un peu plus de mystère.
But friendship requires a little more mystery.

Tolstoy, however, would go further than this, up to the point of admitting the wisdom of Philinte's retort:

Il est bon de cacher ce qu'on a dans le coeur,
It's often best to veil one's true emotions.

The conclusion to be reached, then, is that Tolstoy frequently acted and felt like an Alceste saddened by experience, and thus willing to heed the lesson of the Philintes. Despite this, sincerity remained forever his idol, and from maturity on it shaped his literary works, dictated his esthetic theories, conditioned his moral preachings, in short, made him the man he was born to be. Above all, this yearning after sincerity led him to confess himself in writing to the entire world as perhaps only Rousseau had done before him. True enough, after seeing how the world took his confession, he must have often thought that it would have been better if he had listened to the counsel of discretion given him by the Philinte within himself. Tolstoy frequently made Alceste's mistake, and weakened his case by taking, even in small matters, too rigid a stand. Thus he often did disservice to his own cause, which was indeed the cause of truth. He was blamed for this even by his best friends, who were no Philintes. Of all too many of his pronouncements one could repeat what Chekhov said about The Kreutzer Sonata: "On reading it one could hardly refrain from exclaiming: 'This is true!' or 'This is preposterous!'"9 While realizing that sincerity may not be enough, and that sometimes it is too much, Tolstoy could never refrain from yielding anew to sincerity's urge, from obeying truth's command. This is why, like Alceste, he failed to learn in full the cynical, and yet wise, lesson of the world.

Strength of character may be made of weakness too. La Rochefoucauld maintains that "vices enter into the composition of virtues, as poisons enter into the composition of drugs."10 The maxim applies to Alceste, since there is some disguised vice behind his evident virtue. His soul is madeof a noble alloy, which contains, however, a small quantity of base metals, such as a touch of amour propre and a shade of pride. In brief, the righteous man is self-righteous as well, and there is some poetic justice in the fact that the censorious Alceste is bound to be not too unfairly censured by people who are ethically inferior to him. Célimène, while being perhaps too harsh, is objectively, if not subjectively, right when she claims that what rules Alceste is not truthfulness but a spirit of contradiction and dissent:

Le sentiment d'autrui n'est jamais pour lui plaire:Il prend toujours en main l'opinion contraire,Et penserait paraître un homme du commun,Si l'on voyait qu'il fût de l'avis de quelqu'un.L'honneur de contre dire a pour lui tant de charmes,Qu'il prend contre lui-même assez souvent les armes;Et ses vrais sentiments sont combattus par lui,Aussitôt qu'il les voit dans la bouche d'autrui.

What other people think, he can't abide;
Whatever they say, he's on the other side;
He lives in deadly fear of agreeing;
'Twould make him seem an ordinary being.
Indeed, he's so in love with contradiction,
He'll turn against his most profound conviction
And with a furious eloquence deplore it,
If only someone else is speaking for it.

Alceste is present while Célimène refers thus to him in the third person; and he feels so deeply the bitter truth of her remarks, that he fails to make any retort. The only thing he can do is to complain acidly:

Les rieurs sont pour vous, Madame, c'est tout dire;Et vous pouvez pousser contre moi la satire.

Go on, dear lady, mock me as you please;
You have your audience in ecstasies.

Célimène's remarks could be suitably extended to Tolstoy, as the latter would have been the first to admit. Tolstoy was aware that his longing for sincerity was a genuine trait of his character; yet he was equally aware that the longing derived at least in part from a yearning for distinction, from a desire to be different, or even unique, to stand out against the gray background of the average norm. He confessed as much, for instance, in a letter to Peter Biryukov, a friendly disciple: "A trait of my character, which, either good or bad, was certainly always peculiar to me, is that despite myself I would always react against all external or superficial influences. . . . I felt a repulsion for the general current."

Tolstoy's struggle against public morality and the established church, his rebellion against any official authority in the cultural and esthetic field, his universal scorn for ready-made concepts and idées reçues, his hatred for cant and respectability, in brief, all the things he stood for or against, were deeply rooted not only in the demands of his conscience, but also in his compulsion to act, feel, and think unlike anybody else. His first and second nature, made respectively ofsincerity and vanity, joined together spontaneously, with the effect of enhancing even more the exceptional, almost exasperating singularity of his being. Originality is rather uncomfortable, and men often feel uneasy in its presence. Gorki understood this very well, as shown in the page where he described the great old man in one of those moments when he was unconquerably himself. In such moments, Tolstoy's strangeness would become estrangement, and the consciousness of his own uniqueness would change into a sense of alienation from his fellow men: "At times he gives one the impression of having just arrived from some distant country, where people think and feel differently and their relations and language are different." Tolstoy had, of course, to pay very dearly for his dual nature, for his repulsions and compulsions, for his estrangement and alienation from other human beings. The very complexity of his character led him not only to contradict others, and even himself, but to deny the values for which he stood, and to do violence to his soul. Hypocrisy rules the world, and men never forgave him for many of the things he did. Yet it was the nemesis of his own character, rather than the revenge of society, that at times made him the laughing stock of the world. And it was reality itself that retaliated against this supreme realist by making him the butt, not always unjustly, of the harshest of all satires, the satire of fact.


Alceste's spirit of contradiction is not so universal that it rejects or protests at everything. His pessimism is often only relative, being directed not against man in general, but against the type of man fashioning the society of his time, and being shaped by it. Molière felt that this side of Alceste's mind was highly important, and this is why he took pains to emphasize it with the utmost frequency and intensity. Thus both Alceste and Philinte repeatedly affirm that the object of the protagonist's wrath is primarily the moral standards of his own age and milieu. Philinte does so in the first of his many warnings to his friend:

Je vous dirai tout franc que cette maladie,Partout où vous allez, donne la comédie;Et qu'un si grand courroux contre les moeurs du tempsVous tourne en ridicule auprès de bien des gens.

I'll tell you plainly that by being frank
You've earned the reputation of a crank,
And that you're thought ridiculous when you rage
And rant against the manners of the age.

Philinte expresses the same view a little later, when, vexed with his friend's intolerance, he exclaims:

Mon Dieu, des moeurs du temps mettons-nous [moins en peine. . . .
Come, let's forget the follies of the times. . . .

It is true that at least once Philinte reproaches Alceste for hating all mankind:

Vous voulez un grand mal à la nature humaine,
Your hatred's very sweeping, is it not?

and that Alceste himself claims elsewhere that his misanthropy is universal in character, transcending the boundaries of place and time:

Non: elle est générale, et je hais tous les hommes:Les uns, parce qu'ils sont méchants et malfaisants,Et les autres, pour être aux méchants complaisants. . . .

No, I include all men in one dim view:
Some men I hate for being rogues; the others
I hate because they treat the rogues like brothers. . . .

Yet, in the end, even Alceste feels that in practice the object of his moral hatred is his own generation, rather than the generality of mankind; and says as much when he seems to welcome the eventual loss of his legal suit, and even his impending ruin, as an eloquent proof of the wickedness of his contemporaries:

Comme une marque insigne, un fameux témoignageDe la méchanceté des hommes de cet âge.

As a great proof and signal demonstration
Of the black wickedness of this generation.

The same view is explicitly stated by Alceste when, for the first time in the play, he announces his decision to withdraw from a world made wicked not so much by the generic perfidy of man, as by the specific corruption of the times:

Trop de perversité règne au siècle ou nous sommes,Et je veux me tirer du commerce des hommes.

This age is evil, and I've made up my mind
To have no further commerce with mankind.

Tolstoy exhibits all too often the same tendency to attack evil from the perspective of time, rather than from that of eternity. This tendency is one of his chief psychological fixations, of his main ideological prejudices. His writings are full of numberless variations of the old-fashioned cry of complaint, O tempora, O mores! and in this he is more consistent and extreme than Alceste, who is a hater of the present without being a lover of the past. Logically, however, the man who rejects the manners and the morals of his age is bound to be at the same time a laudator temporis acti. Such a truth, half-hidden in Alceste's case, is all too apparent in Tolstoy's. It may seem paradoxical that the man who wrote War and Peace, a historical novel which denies the value of history, and who claimed to preach and teach only what is permanent and universal in human nature, was often inclined to see too much evil in the present and too much good in the times gone by. This is especially true of the earlier part of Tolstoy's life. Nothing could better prove this point than An Infected Family, a comedy written in 1864, which remained unknown in Tolstoy's lifetime, to be made public only in the centenary edition of his writings (1928). Conceived in the shade of such novels as Turgenev's Father and Sons and of Chernishevski's What is to Be Done? this earliest of all Tolstoy's plays is a violent tractegainst the times, against that new generation which was trying to shape Russian life into its own ideal image. If Chernishevski treats the "new men" as the harbingers of a bright future, Tolstoy instead considers them as uprooted and shallow destroyers of all traditional values. Tolstoy's attitude differs even more sharply from the stand of Turgenev, who saw both sides of the issue, and treated with equal fairness the upholders of the old system and the announcers of the new order.

Tolstoy's nostalgic admiration for an idealized past is fully apparent in "Two Hussars," the most subtly tendentious of his earliest tales. The author betrays his bias in the very structure of the story, which is made like a diptych. Its two parts contrast the behavior of two hussars, who chance to stop briefly in the same provincial place, at an interval of more than twenty years. The first hussar, a warm-blooded daredevil, intoxicated with life, who represents the exuberant vitality of the men of the beginning of the past century, obeys only his spontaneous impulses, showing in all his actions a strange and yet captivating mixture of generosity and violence. The second hussar, who represents the calculating and mean mind of the new generation, the selfish opportunism of the men of the mid-century, betrays the trust of the family which has welcomed him as a friend and a guest. The oldest members of that family still preserve in their hearts the glorious memory of the hussar who had visited their place twenty years before. In their feeling of shame for the behavior of their visitor, they try to forget the second hussar as soon as he leaves. From an objective moral viewpoint, neither of the two hussars is much better than the other; there is after all no great moral difference between a rake and a cad. Yet Tolstoy stacks all the cards in favor of the bold and romantic representative of the old generation, and manages to make a villain out of the more vulgar or prosaic man of the new times. The lesson is brought home even more forcefully by the hardly co-incidental fact that the second hussar is the son of the first. The obvious moral of this simple fable is that even among nobles the sons are but the degenerate offspring of their fathers. The belief that men were far better in the days just gone by is stated with great assurance in the tale's introduction, which is worth quoting, at least in part:

Early in the nineteenth century, when there were as yet no railways or macadamized roads, no gaslight, no stearine candles . . . no disillusioned youth with eye-glasses, no liberalizing women philosophers, nor any charming dames aux camélias of whom there are so many in our times, in those naïve days, . . . when our fathers were still young and proved it not only by the absence of wrinkles and grey hair but by fighting duels for the sake of women. . . .11

The entire passage should be placed at the head of any biography of the young Tolstoy, where it could serve as a kind of reminder of the way of life into which he was born and raised, and also as a telling document of the backward-looking nostalgia which inspired not only this mediocre composition, but also a masterwork like War and Peace. This longing after a nobler past survived forever, even if repressed and hidden, in the depths of Tolstoy's personality, and was the cause, rather than the effect, of his Alcestian scorn for the values, the standards, and the men of his time.

This nostalgia is a characteristic aristocratic trait. Yet it comes to the fore only when aristocratic values are on the wane, or put in doubt. Alceste does not need to project his ideals into the past, since he sees them universally accepted in the present, if not in practice, at least in theory. His chief protest is merely that his peers honor them more in the breach than in theobservance. The peculiarity of Tolstoy's situation lies, rather, in the conflicting demands of his aristocratic upbringing and breeding, and of the democratic spirit of the new times. Unlike Alceste, Tolstoy could not take his status as a nobleman for granted, and was bound to consider it a problem as well as a fact. Even before his conversion, as shown by his repeated attempts to improve the lot of his peasants and to educate their children, he followed, like his hero Levin, the commandment implied in the motto noblesse oblige, by which a nobility no longer sure of itself tries to justify its very existence. Alceste does not need to restate that norm, since he has no reason to fear that the aristocratic way of life will ever be doubted or challenged. After all, Molière wrote The Misanthrope for a parterre de rois, or at least, for a public of courtiers, and even now the spectator or reader who wishes to understand the play must assume, at least provisionally, an upper-class point of view. This does not exempt Alceste from being treated comically, although Molière never makes him as ludicrous as the commoners he portrayed in other plays, as for instance Tartuffe, Georges Dandin, or Monsieur Jourdain. The Misanthrope, like all Molière's comedies, is addressed to the social élite; its main point is that the ungovernable temper of his noble protagonist prevents him from behaving as sensibly as a gentleman should.

Tolstoy, however, did not live in seventeenth-century France, but in nineteenth-century Russia, not in the capital or the court, but in the country and in the provinces, as a member of the landed gentry, a class and a society which could still be considered feudal on many counts. Despite this, the spirit of the age was already so democratic that even then many of his admirers failed to put the title of nobility before his family name. Yet it may be wrong to forget that Leo Tolstoy was born a count, and that he remained one to the end of his days. After all, Tolstoy's plight was similar to Alceste's also in the sense that his fellow noblemen strongly resented his obstinate refusal to act like one of them, to live in the settled nobleman's ways. Yet, looking more deeply, one may see that his deviations from the aristocratic pattern were only relative. Even now the aristocrat seems to retain the privilege of being different, exceptional, eccentric. A nobleman is still entitled to behave in an ungentlemanly way, while a bourgeois cannot afford to do so. In brief, Tolstoy acted like a nobleman even when he denied the raison d'être of his class. All his moral crises unfolded within the framework of the aristocratic way of life, which at first he understood in a shallow and narrow sense, as the mode of being of the privileged upper crust. In Youth there is a passage where the writer confesses with charming irony his youthful snobbishness:

My favorite and chief division of people at the time of which I am writing, was into the comme il faut and the comme il ne faut pas. The latter I subdivided into those inherently not comme il faut, and the common people. The comme il faut people I respected and considered worthy of being on terms of equality with me; the comme il ne faut pas I pretended to despise but in reality hated, nourishing a feeling of personal offence against them; the lower classes did not exist for me—I despised them completely.

For a long time, even when he was no longer a child, Tolstoy felt allegiance only to the class of the well born and the chosen few, and that allegiance was so exclusive as to imply an absolute contempt for all those who were beyond the pale of the élite of which he was part. Tolstoy attested as much in a famous page of A Confession: "It seemed to me that that narrow circle of rich, learned, and leisured people to which I belonged formed the whole of humanity, and that those billions of others who have lived and are living were cattle of some sort—not real people."12 It is true that in the end he withdrew from high society, not so much to embrace mankind as to live less falsely, and be more like himself. Or, as he says in A Confession: "Iturned from the life of our circle, acknowledging that ours is not life, but a simulation of life." It is equally true that he had gradually started leaving le monde a long time before his final break, precisely because he had learned his lesson earlier and more easily than Alceste. Yet, in the innermost recesses of his being, Tolstoy remained a Russian aristocrat even after his socalled conversion, when he preached the brotherhood of man and exalted the muzhik as the purest and noblest representative of humankind. Nobody recognized this as shrewdly as Maxim Gorki, whose life as an outcast had taught him to see through all pretense, beyond the mask of humility as well as of pride:

And suddenly, under the peasant's beard, under his democratic crumpled blouse, there would rise the old Russian barin, the grand aristocrat; then the noses of the simple-hearted victims, educated and all the rest, instantly became blue with intolerable cold. It was pleasant to see this creature of the purest blood, to watch the noble grace of his gestures, the proud reserve of his speech, to hear the exquisite pointedness of his marvelous words. He showed just as much of the barin as was needed for those serfs, and when they called out the barin in Tolstoy, it appeared naturally and easily, and crushed them so that they shriveled up and whined.

The persuasive voice which uttered those words still seems to sound a warning to all those who are too willing to forget that Tolstoy was born in "a nest of gentlefolk."


The indestructibility of the aristocratic strain in Tolstoy's personality does not cast any doubt on the sincerity of his rebellion not only against society in general, but also against society in the narrow sense of the term. There is no doubt that the man who was born Count Tolstoy rebelled against the class from which he had sprung. His revolt was moral, rather than social or political, in temper. Perhaps his peculiar brand of universal anarchism derived, at least in part, from his psychological inability to find a valid alternative to the ancient regime, although he condemned it with all his mind and heart. He found that order wanting, yet he found equally wanting all other possible orders. Aristocratic liberalism, no less than bourgeois democracy, was anathema to him. Yet he rejected with equal scorn the Marxist belief in industrial progress, with its implied faith in the redemption of and by the urban masses. As for his cult of the peasantry, he saw in that class an example of ethical perfection, but not the active agent of a transformation for the better of the social system. He hated revolution as much as reaction, and refused to justify the excesses of terrorism by the provocations and repressions of tsardom, while indicting the latter with harsh and powerful words. His single social or political imperative took a passive and negative form, and he directed his followers not to resist organized evil, except by martyrdom.

In brief, Tolstoy was a dissenter from the old social order, rather than the builder of a new one. In this too, strangely enough, he reveals psychological traits akin to Alceste's. Molière's misanthrope does not question the social structure of which he is part; he is not a critic of society, but of man. The criticism itself is passive rather than active, and this makes Alceste a "protestant," not a "reformer." In brief, Alceste plays the role of a conscientious objector, upholding his ethical principles against society, and accusing the latter of not measuring up even to its own standards. His stiff-necked intransigence sharply contrasts with the easygoing tolerance of practically everybody else, yet he fails to do anything more than to preach sermons, or to set an example. He hardly tries to win over converts to his cause, realizing perhaps that converts are not gained by upbraiding alone. Nor does he strive to bring about even the slightestchange of heart in those whom he censors or judges. Philinte is quite right when he warns his friend:

Le monde par vos soins ne se changera pas;
The world won't change, whatever you say or do;

Yet even he fails to realize that Alceste is more interested in uttering his solemn jeremiads than in helping to correct the shortcomings or to improve the behavior of his fellow men. Philinte is nearer to the truth when he exclaims:

Mon Dieu, des moeurs du temps mettons-nous [moins en peine,
Come, let's forget the follies of the times,

since now he seems to guess that the only thing that Alceste wants to do is to worry, and to get angry, at the ways of the world. One of the intentions of the play could be defined as the attempt to portray in Alceste the opposite of Tartuffe. The two types are opposites not only through the moral contrast between the sincerity of the one and the hypocrisy of the other, but also through their being made equally grotesque, Tartuffe by the extreme vileness, and Alceste by the excessive nobility, of his character. Molière makes Alceste ridiculous by endowing him not only with a noble soul, but also with an unruly temper, with a temperament largely made of intemperance. It may be worth recalling that at first Molière intended to entitle his comedy L'Atrabiliaire. This clue, and the other clues left in the text, may prove that the play was originally conceived in the key of a "comedy of humors," which later became a "comedy of character," and a "comedy of manners," as well. Yet the author's original intent is still evident in the attention he pays to all the idiosyncracies of Alceste's temperament. With great dramatic insight, Molière reveals such idiosyncrasies through the peculiar mannerisms of the hero's speech. Any time he utters a general principle, Alceste states it in subjective, imperative terms, and opens his utterance with a proud and childish je veux: "Je veux me fâcher" (I choose to be rude); "Je veux qu'on soit sincère" (I'd have them be sincere); "Je veux qu'on me distingue" (I choose, sir, to be chosen); "Je veux que l'on soit homme" (Let men behave like men).

When he loses his patience or nerve, Alceste bursts out with a flood of bitter words. He announces such outbursts by using, in the first person and in the present tense, one of the many synonyms of the verb s'enrager. Even righteous wrath may derive from a psychological flaw, rather than from an earnest and severe conscience; it may be the symptom of a mental disorder, a maladie, as Philinte calls it, rather than the by-product of a lofty concern for moral truth. At least on one occasion Alceste himself describes his saeva indignatio in psychopathological terms. The key words of Alceste's self-diagnosis, "melancholy" and "gall," are directly related to the old medical belief that the structure of the psyche is determined by the prevalence within the body of a given set of "humors":

Mes yeux sont trop blessés, et la cour et la villeNe m'offrent rien qu'objets à m'échauffer la bile.J'entre en une humeur noire, en un chagrin profond,Quand je vois vivre entre eux les hommes comme ils font.

All are corrupt; there's nothing to be seen
In court or town but aggravates my spleen.
I fall into deep gloom and melancholy
When I survey the scene of human folly.

This does not mean that Alceste should be reduced to a mere hypochondriac. He is not only a generic "humor," but also a specific character, made peculiar by the excessive delicacy of his moral sense. Alceste's "misanthropy" is but the outcome of his delusion that all men should be naturally provided with a conscience as delicate and sensitive as his own. Like most pessimists, Alceste is a former optimist, who has seen his expectations disappointed by experience. This singular mixture of idealism and susceptibility makes him ridiculously vulnerable to even the slightest blows. Yet the idealist in him remains visible even when he utters his harshest pronouncements against the human race, which fall short of the merciless lucidity of Philinte. If the latter refuses to condemn men for being what they are, it is only because he knows that evil is part of nature. We must take human malice for granted, he says, as we take for granted the cruelty of wild beasts:

Oui, je vois ces défauts dont votre âme murmureComme vices unis à l'humaine nature,Et mon esprit enfin ç 'est pas plus offenséDe voir un homme fourbe, injuste, intéressé,Que de voir des vautours affamés de carnage,Des singes malfaisants et des loups pleins de rage.

Why, no. These faults of which you so complain
Are part of human nature, I maintain,
And it's no more a matter for disgust
That men are knavish, selfish, and unjust,
Than that the vulture dines upon the dead,
And wolves are furious, and apes ill-bred.

One may find it surprising that Molière attributes such hard thinking and plain speaking to the skeptical but hardly cynical Philinte. After all, the author conceived him not only as the wise man, or the sensible character of the piece, but also as another "humor," as a phlegmatic temperament to be contrasted with Alceste's bilious one. Alceste implies as much when he tells his friend:

Mon flegme est philosophe autant que votre bile.
My phlegm's as philosophic as your spleen.

Philinte exhibits such a constant equanimity in the course of the play that it is not hard to surmise that it is Molière's passionate voice that speaks in the passage where men are compared to rapacious animals. Yet Philinte's assertion of man's indignity is but a corollary of the pessimistic view of human nature characteristic of traditional Christianity. It is true that Philinte dresses that view in worldly wisdom, and that he treats with unruffled indulgence the weaknesses of all the children of Adam:

Je prends tout doucement les hommes comme ils sont.
I take men as they are, or let them be.

A man speaking thus, and behaving accordingly, may be defined an enlightened conformist. As for Alceste, everything he says and does shows that he belongs instead to the type of man whom we call, in either a religious or a psychological sense, a nonconformist. The nonconformist is both a fanatic and an enthusiast, yet his fanaticism and enthusiasm do not necessarily lead him to any kind of public action, unless merely negative in character. The nonconformist is often in theory a sectarian, or the member of a partisan faction, but in practice he is a lone wolf, a rugged individualist. His real allegiance is to the way of life he has chosen to follow, which means that ultimately he is loyal only to himself. It is by obeying his "inner voice" that he tests the validity of his moral choice, or contests the choices of his fellow men. He hardly cares for doing more, and scarcely bothers to force on the public the pattern of his private conduct. The most famous of Tolstoy's declarations of faith, which may be read in A Confession, proves that he was a nonconformist of this kind: "The arbiter of what is good and evil is not what people say and do, nor is it progress, but it is my heart and I."

These words, which Alceste could have uttered without change, represent the perfect antithesis of all Philinte thinks and feels. Experience teaches us that the world needs the conformist as well as the nonconformist; the social order would break down without Philintes, while it would stagnate without Alcestes. We may learn this lesson from Tolstoy's novels as well as from The Misanthrope. If this is true, then it hardly matters that Tolstoy preferred the Alcestes over the Philintes, or that he chose to portray himself in the type of the nonconformist. The important point is that he considered each of these two social and psychological archetypes as necessary as the other. War and Peace presents many Philintes among its minor figures, while treating its three main heroes as variations of the Alcestian character. Pierre Bezukhov is an Alceste who remains forever young, preserving his naïve idealism unscathed through the ordeals of life. Andrey Bolkonski is an Alceste without illusions, although passion and ambition force him for some time to act and behave like a Philinte. Nikolay Rostov is a boorish and provincial Alceste, steadfastly refusing to be seduced by society, living quietly in his corner, with the proud assurance of being both right and upright. Dmitri Neklyudov, the protagonist of Tolstoy's last novel, Resurrection, after having led for too many years the life of a Philinte, finally succeeds in becoming an Alceste. The contrast between these psychological prototypes appears even in Anna Karenina. The masculine world of that novel is based not only on the conflict between Vronski and Karenin, but also on the contrast between them and Levin, and even on the antithetical characters of Levin and his friend Stiva Oblonski. The last of these contrasts, which is very similar to the one between Alceste and Philinte, was shrewdly observed and commented on by a brilliant American sociologist, David Riesman. After having formulated the concepts of "inner-direction" and "other-direction," by which he defines psychological attitudes not too different from those designated here by the terms of conformism and nonconformism, David Riesman picks Stiva Oblonski as an almost perfect specimen of the other-directed type: "Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonski in Anna Karenina is one of the more likable and less opportunistic examples, especially striking because of the way Tolstoy contrasts him with Levin, a moralising inner-directed person."13

While David Riesman is more directly concerned with Stiva Oblonski, with the "other-" rather than with the "inner-directed" man, we are far more interested in Konstantin Levin, in the Tolstoyan variant of the Alceste, rather than of the Philinte, type. Yet we must follow for awhile in Mr. Riesman's footsteps, and study Tolstoy's version of the "other-directed" man, of the conformist à la Philinte. The passage where Tolstoy describes the mental make-up of Stiva Oblonski is of great sociological interest. He first sketches Stiva's moral portrait through the perspective of his political opinions:

Stepan Arkadyevich had not chosen his political opinions and his views: these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shape of his coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society—owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of direction, for some degrees of mental activity—to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat. If there was a reason for his preferring to conservative liberal views, which were held also by many of his circle, it arose not from his considering liberalism more rational, but from its being in closer accordance with his manner of life. . . . And so liberalism had become a habit of Stepan Arkadyevich. . . .

Tolstoy points out that the political ideology of Stiva Oblonski is but a consequence of that open-mindedness which is a characteristic trait of the most wordly and least traditional members of a social élite. Stiva Oblonski embodies in modern terms the ideal of the honnête homme. He is a perfect gentleman, since his "perfect liberalism," as Tolstoy says, "was not the liberalism he read of in the papers, but the liberalism that was in his blood, in virtue of which he treated all men perfectly equally, exactly the same, whatever their future or calling might be." Stiva's liberality of mind consists in his willingness to extend the policy of laissez-faire, laissez-passer from the domain of political economy to all the spheres of social endeavor and of human intercourse. It sounds strange to call liberal a type of man previously labeled as conformistic and "other-directed," and it sounds even stranger to define conservative or reactionary the type already described as nonconformistic and "inner-directed." This paradox may be solved with the help of Mr. Riesman, who claims that the nonconformist is not only "inner-," but also "tradition-directed." This is certainly true of Konstantin Levin, whom his friends consider a conservative and a reactionary, as he is himself willing to admit. After all, the reactionary and the revolutionary minds are both "radical," although in a different sense, while the liberal mind is always "moderate" in all the meanings of that term. In Levin's radical conservatism Tolstoy portrays not only a specific tendency of his character, but also a general social attitude, no less typical of aristocratic mentality than its opposite, which is Oblonski's liberalism. It is to Stiva that Levin confesses his allegiance to the traditional way of life of the landed gentry, now being threatened by the forces of historical change, by what the liberals call progress: "You'll say again that I'm a reactionist, or some other terrible word; but all the same it does annoy and anger me to see on all sides the impoverishing of the nobility to which I belong, and, in spite of the amalgamation of classes, I'm glad to belong."

These words by Levin sound like a belated echo of the youthful Tolstoy's decision "to reject the temptation of liberalism." This motto fully reveals how innately conservative was the mind of the man who was fated to become the foremost of all modern "levelers," the most radical of all the moral rebels of his time. Yet this contradiction between Tolstoy's character and his destiny is not so great as it may seem, since there is no irreconcilable conflict between the two psychological tendencies which we have respectively named "traditionalism" and "protestantism." Romain Rolland acknowledged this truth in terms of both biography and ideology, when he described the doctrines of the Russian master as "those free theories of a revolutionary conservative, as he always was."

All the notions we have used up to now to understand the contradictions and the complications of Tolstoy's personality may be suitably shifted from him to the character of Alceste. The latter, like the former, looks at life sub specie aeternitatis, thus failing to understand its irrationality, its complexity, and its absurdity. He refuses to bend his body, or to lower his eyes, to better follow the uneven flow of reality, all the divergent streams of experience. Philinte often blames Alceste for this fault, as Stiva also blames his friend: "You're very much all of a piece. That's your strong point and your failing. You have a character that's all of a piece, and you want the whole life to be of a piece too—but that's not how it is." Stiva reproaches Kostya not only for this, but also for his particular scorn toward any kind of public employment and service. Such scorn is typical of the landed gentry or provincial nobility, proud of its economic self-sufficiency as well as of its freedom and independence. The individual member of that social group may often translate such class feeling into a personal sense of pride at his own inability to breathe in the moral climate of the centers of authority and power. Alceste does the same thing when he describes his maladjustment to courtly life as a moral virtue rather than as a psychological defect:

Le Ciel ne m'a point fait, en me donnant le jour,Une âme compatible avec l'air de la cour.

The soul God gave me isn't of the sort
That prospers in the weather of a court.

When trying to convince Kostya that the civil servant's task is not so hollow and false as the latter thinks, Stiva employs the same arguments as do Alceste's friends, when they try to dispel his prejudices against serving at court: "You despise public official work because you want the reality to be invariably corresponding all the while with the aim—and that's not how it is. . . . All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow. . . ." Despite Stiva's protestations, Levin goes on despising those who are more willing to serve the dubious cause of the public good rather than the private, and higher, demands of the self. In this Tolstoy fully identifies himself with Levin, to whom he attributes his own absolute "disbelief in the sense of all public institutions." In the same novel Tolstoy projects that disbelief in his negative characterization of Alexey Karenin, the only figure portrayed with consistent antipathy, with all the author's bitter hatred for the ambitious bureaucrat, for the opportunist and the time-server, for the man equally able to yield and to coerce, equally willing to obey and to command. It is against him that Tolstoy speaks with full Alcestian severity. As for Levin, he plays his Alcestian role with less intransigence than his prototype: and this is shown by the way he treats the Philinte of the novel, Stiva Oblonski. In their reciprocal reactions, the two friends seem equally able to discriminate between friendship and prejudice. By doing so, Levin unwittingly proves that he is not all of one piece, as his friend and everybody else think he is. One could say, paradoxically, that Stiva is the more consistent of the two; it is he, rather than Kostya, who is all of one piece, even if the stuff he is made of is not hard, but soft.


The Philinte within him taught the young Tolstoy the most useful and the most difficult of all wisdoms: wisdom in the affairs of the heart. Alceste learns this wisdom the hard way, and too late to profit by it. Love, the second of his ordeals, besides the ordeal of friendship, is the leading motive of the play's subplot. The Misanthrope is after all not a tragedy by Racine, but a comedy by Molière, and thus it contains but a moderate amount of love interest. Yet the love angle contributes to both the characterization of the hero and the dénouement of the intrigue. Alceste's foolish infatuation for frivolous Célimène enhances the play's comic effect, since it proves that even the most solid masculine character may be highly vulnerable to passion's blows. It is his disappointment in love, more than anything else, which seems to determine his decision to abandon forever the world.

Through his inborn wisdom in the affairs of the heart, Tolstoy limited the scope of love within his life even more than Molière did within The Misanthrope. Unlike Alceste, he was almost always able to keep that passion in check. Eros, as distinguished from sex, played a small role in his biography, and even less in his works. The man who wrote War and Peace and the second part of Domestic Happiness, Anna Karenina and The Kreutzer Sonata, "The Devil" and "Father Sergius," stands almost alone among modern authors in his inward and outward rejection of romantic love.14 Tolstoy condemned romantic love both in words and deeds, and he was hardly able to make himself as ridiculous as Alceste by losing his head over a bluestocking or a flirt. As a matter of fact, what would have made Tolstoy look funny in the moral climate of Molièrian comedy is his outright denial of sentiment in matters of love. It would be hard to find anything more alien to the French literary imagination than that family cult and marriage worship which dominated the life and works of Tolstoy's maturity; or, even more, than the theory or the practice of sexual abstention which ruled the latter part of his life. In contrast to the traditional French preoccupation with le romanesque, or with what Stendhal calls I'amour-passion, Tolstoy as a man was successively attracted by three different tendencies, promiscuity, uxoriousness, and asceticism, each one of which in its special way is a denial of romantic love. While l'amour-passion derives from a profane apotheosis of the Eternal Feminine, promiscuity, uxoriousness, and asceticism are but different forms of the same contempt for woman. In brief, Tolstoy was not only, like Alceste, a misanthrope: unlike him, he was a misogynist too. His work is full of eloquent proofs of this truth, which finds confirmation also in Gorki's significant testimony:

Woman, in my opinion, he regards with implacable hostility, and loves to punish her, unless she is a Kitty or a Natasha Rostova, i.e., a creature not too narrow. It is the hostility of the male who has not succeeded in getting all the pleasure he could, or it is the hostility of the spirit against "the degrading impulses of the flesh." But it is hostility, as cold as in Anna Karenina.

While almost always able to master l'amour-passion, Tolstoy was all too often incapable of mastering the sexual instinct. Yet this failure, only imperfectly corrected by his desperate attempt to deny and repress the force of libido, enabled him to see through the veils which imagination and sentiment, along with hypocrisy and self-deceit, throw on the sexual act, to cover and idealize it. Being himself a slave and victim of sex, he was lucidly and adultly aware of "the facts of life," as well as of the everlasting misery they may bring into our existence. "Man survives earthquakes, epidemics, the horrors of disease," he told Gorki, "but for all time his most tormenting tragedy has been and will be the tragedy of the bedroom."

Tolstoy was not a courtly aristocrat, but a country squire, and in his love affairs or sexual experiences he was naturally led to choose the easy rather than the hard path. While avoiding, almost with no effort, all liaisons dangereuses with high-placed ladies of his class, he could hardly resist the temptation to pick up a harlot in a city street or a peasant woman in the fields. His diaries, as well as many of his most autobiographical stories, refer all too frequently to episodes of this kind, which Tolstoy records in a vein of confession and introspection, in a mood of repentance and remorse. This is why he early saw in marriage the only escape fromcorruption and sin. In his long quest for a bride, he almost always laid his eyes on that type of woman who is neither glamorous nor fashionable. Tolstoy was generally able to recognize the despicable Célimènes around him, and found it rather easy to escape from their nets. Although respecting, like Alceste, the experienced and mature Arsinoës, he did not care for them either, since he longed for purity but not for prudery. He was fascinated by the Eliantes, by fresh and innocent girlhood. Sonya Bers, the woman whom he married, was like this; and he represented her, as his feminine ideal, in the Kitty Shcherbatski of Anna Karenina, who becomes the bride of Levin. Life, however, is a continuous paradox; thus, despite this ability to recognize the feminine ideal best suited to him, for a while even Tolstoy felt the attraction of a girl whom he himself accused of being a bluestocking and a flirt, and with whom he finally broke, far earlier than Alceste ever did.

The story is worth retelling in detail. In 1856, Tolstoy fell in love with a girl far younger than himself, Valeria Arsenyeva, a rich orphan living not far from his estate. As a friend of the family, the writer had been legally appointed her tutor. Attracted by her unspoiled freshness, Tolstoy seriously contemplated marrying his ward; yet in the depth of his heart he never took the girl too seriously, or held her in great respect. He toyed with the idea of educating Valeria, of submitting her to that process of self-reform he was then imposing on himself. Besides documenting all this, Tolstoy's letters and diaries of that time prove that at first he conceived the hope that Valeria would improve under his moral guidance. At the beginning of the play, Alceste nourishes the same illusions in regard to Célimène:

Sa grâce est la plus forte; et sans doute ma flammeDe ces vices du temps pourra purger son âme.

Her charm outweighs her faults; I can but aim
To cleanse her spirit in my love's pure flame.

Despite those hopes, Tolstoy was, however, unable to dispel his inner doubts concerning the wisdom of his choice. Valeria's actions and words made him frequently wonder whether she was the woman for him. In brief, he often told himself the same things which in a similar situation Alceste is told by Philinte. The latter shows in this a frankness which normally we would hardly expect from him. Shocked by his friend's inclination, Philinte questions the wisdom of Alceste's choice:

Et ce qui me surprend encore davantageC'est cet étrange choix où votre coeur s'engage.

And what is more amazing, I'm afraid,
Is the most curious choice your heart has made.

Philinte points out that Alceste could find a better partner in either the honest Eliante or the prude Arsinoë; and that his infatuation for Célimène,

De qui l'humeur coquette et l'esprit médisantSemble si fort donner dans les moeurs d'à présent,

Whose brittle malice and coquettish ways
So typify the manners of our days,

runs against the demands of his nature. Alceste's mind admits the truth of Philinte's words, but his heart rejects it. His reply to Philinte's objections is as bitter and lucid as a maxim:

Mais la raison n'est pas ce qui règle l'amour.
But reason doesn't rule in love, you know.

Tolstoy, however, was able to listen to reason and to do violence to his heart. Thus he renounced the idea of marrying Valeria Arsenyeva. The crisis which precipitated his decision was a fit of jealousy, yet even before this Tolstoy had felt offended by the girl's worldliness. The young maid attended the coronation festivities of 1856, when Alexander II succeeded his father on the Russian throne, and Tolstoy felt repelled by a letter of hers, describing with glowing colors the glamor of the occasion and the splendor of the court. The letter was of the kind which Célimène herself, if invited to Versailles, would have written to a not yet disappointed Alceste; and Alceste, being congenitally unable to breathe in a courtly atmosphere, would have reacted precisely as Tolstoy did. Tolstoy finally broke with Valeria after he learned of her sentimental attachment for an obscure music teacher. He felt wounded not only in his love, but in his pride too; he could not stand the thought that for a passing moment the woman he loved had preferred the company of a man inferior to himself. Tolstoy vented his indignation in an insulting letter, yet even this was not enough for him. He could find solace for his discomfiture only by proving to his satisfaction that, had the marriage taken place, it would have resulted in failure, and not for faults of his own. He did so by writing in 1858 the long story Domestic Happiness, undoubtedly the most perfect of his early works. Here is not the place to discuss in detail this little masterpiece, which transcends the motivation that dictated it. Yet it must be pointed out that the story was originally written with the intention of teaching a lesson to a naughty girl. Tolstoy felt ashamed for having written this work, and vainly tried to withdraw the manuscript, which was published in 1859. It is easy to imagine the embittered Alceste writing a similarly nasty libel against women after his disappointment with Célimène. One could likewise envisage no better epigraph for Domestic Happiness than the words by which Alceste reproaches his fiancée for her behavior:

Madame, voulez-vous que je vous parle net?De vos façons d'agir je suis mal satisfait.

Shall I speak plainly, Madam? I confess
Your conduct gives me infinite distress.

Tolstoy felt the same urge for plain speaking, if not for fair dealing, when he condemned Valeria through the written word. Objectively, Tolstoy's resentment was hardly justified, and this is why jealousy plays a far smaller role in the tale than in the real event. Alceste's jealousy is made ridiculous by its exaggeration, but it never becomes absurd or grotesque, because he finds some foundation in Célimène's manners, if not in her deeds. Yet Tolstoy was able elsewhere to describe the passion of jealousy even when it is grounded on neither appearance nor fact. Literature generally represents this kind of jealousy only in extreme tragic or comic terms. Tolstoy avoided doing so and chose instead a middle ground between the two. He was unwilling to represent either too pathetically or too farcically a masculine weakness of which he had been the victim himself. There is in Anna Karenina a minor episode, probably based on a realincident in Tolstoy's married life. Stiva Oblonski pays a visit to the Levins' country place and brings along a young acquaintance named Vasenka Veslovski. Veslovski is attracted by the charming beauty of Kitty, and begins courting her, perhaps with too flattering insistence, but still without violating the code of manners of their social milieu. Yet Levin loses his head: he makes a scene in public, and asks the unwelcome guest to leave. Stiva Oblonski reacts to this stupid little scandal with words which could have been uttered by Philinte, the more so since they are in French: "Well, this I didn't expect of you. On peut être jaloux, mais à ce point, c'est du dernier ridicule." Tolstoy shares the feeling of Levin, rather than that of Stiva, and this is why he represents the incident as a shameful experience, with bitterness and sadness, rather than with irony and mirth. Probably Tolstoy wrote this little scene with a heavy heart, with the spirit of a gnomic writer or of a moraliste. His aim was perhaps to convey the same truth which Molière sums up in Alceste's words:

Montrer que c'est à tort que sages on nous nomme,Et que dans tous les coeurs il est toujours de l'homme.

And I shall prove to you before I'm done
How strange the human heart is, and how far
From rational we sorry creatures are.


The parallel between Alceste and Tolstoy-Levin could be further expanded into a comparison between The Misanthrope and Anna Karenina. Like Molière's play, Tolstoy's novel deals with contemporary life, which it represents with the fidelity of a historical document. In this Anna Karenina differs greatly from War and Peace, which is but the exalted evocation of a way of life forever past, "gone with the wind." Turgenev, though admiring it as a supreme masterpiece, noticed that that historical novel was strangely lacking in historical sense, and that despite its nostalgia for the past, it failed to reproduce the color of the times gone by. Merezhkovski pushed further Turgenev's point:

Reading War and Peace, we cannot help feeling that all the events reported, despite their historical appearance, are taking place today: and that all the characters described, notwithstanding their quality as historical portraits, are our own contemporaries. . . . The air we breathe in War and Peace and Anna Karenina is the same; the historical flavor is in both epochs the same; in either work there is the same atmosphere, so well known to us, of the second half of the nineteenth century.15

One may acknowledge the truth of the statement, while rejecting the criticism it implies. Tolstoy's inability to perceive any historical hue but that of his time betrays his classical temper, his universal tendency to reduce all experience to the standards of an eternal present. Anna Karenina, a novel of "contemporary" life, looks more genuinely "historical" than War and Peace, because direct social observation plays a far greater role in the former than in the latter. While War and Peace is based on the everlasting conflict between the public world of history and the private world of family and personal life, the contrast at the bottom of Anna Karenina rests on the more limited and particular conflict between the social élite, leading a conventional and artificial existence in the big city, and the landed gentry, living a more humanand human life through their closeness to nature and the soil. Kostya is the single representative of the second of these two ways of life, while the first is represented by Anna and her brother, by Vronski and his friends, by Karenin and his circle. Tolstoy idealizes into a romantic idyll Levin's country life, while portraying the other characters' worldly existence in a spirit of realistic irony. This concentration of a lucid critical attention on the restricted milieu which the French call le monde changes Anna Karenina, at least in part, into a novel of manners. Thus some sections of Anna Karenina give the effect of a "drawing room comedy" written in satirical key against the main theme of the novel, which is obviously "the tragedy of the bedroom." In brief, Tolstoy depicts the social élite in a way not too different from Molière's portrayal of the précieux and the précieuses, or of all those among his characters who are too exclusively ruled by the esprit de société.

Tolstoy is not a dramatic writer, and yet sometimes he makes direct use of action and character to project more impersonally his social satire. So, for instance, it is through Karenin's perspective that he gives his own criticism of the précieux side of "high life." The effect of this is highly ironical, because Karenin worships the "high circles," if not as centers of elegance, at least as centers of power. And it is quite significant that in the mocking compliment he pays to Princess Betsy and her coterie, Karenin alludes to one of the chief cultural objects of Molièrian satire: '"Your Rambouillet is in full conclave,' he said looking around at all the party: 'the graces and the muses.'" Generally, however, Tolstoy is a far less detached critic of the social élite. In this he failed to follow the example of Molière, who refused in The Misanthrope to make his own the extreme viewpoints of either Philinte or Alceste, and chose a middle ground between the two. Such a central stand is the ideal comic position. Tolstoy instead, even when he remains behind the scene, uses Levin as his own mouthpiece, and fills the novel with his own asides. This means that in Anna Karenina the role of Alceste is unconsciously played by the author, as well as by one of the main characters. This may be proved by comparing the handling of the same situation in The Misanthrope and in Anna Karenina.The Misanthrope treats this situation in the scene where Célimène and her guests indulge in a detailed discussion of the shortcomings of all their mutual acquaintances. Here the chief object of Molière's satire is not the highminded misanthropy of the protagonist, but the actual malevolence of so many of the play's minor figures. Molière unfolds the scene with a crescendo of comical effects. At first, he contrasts the spiteful prattle of Célimène and her guests with Alceste's wordless pantomime, and then, with the flow of bitter words by which Alceste suddenly breaks his ominous silence:

Allons, ferme, poussez, mes bons amis de cour;Vous n'en épargnez point, et chacun a son tour.

How bravely, sirs, you cut and thrust at all
These absent fools, till one by one they fall.

Molière knows that Alceste is morally right, yet he makes him ludicrous through this outburst of wrath. Even here, the misanthrope is intellectually wrong and psychologically naïve. He fails to realize that man is the social animal par excellence, and that gossip is the most natural of all his social impulses. It is the inability to understand this that makes Alceste ridiculous. The nemesis of moral idealism is social clumsiness. Social ease is a value that Tolstoy could hardly respect: and it is with his nasty temper, or with the boorish seriousness so characteristic of Levin and himself, that he dealt with the same situation. He gave us the same picture as Molière, but he spoiled it by judging the situation du côté de chez Alceste, and by replacing genial laughter with disenchanted bitterness:

Round the samovar and the hostess the conversation had been meanwhile vacillating in just the same way between three inevitable topics: the latest piece of public news, the theatre, and scandal. It, too, finally, came finally to rest on the last topic; that is, ill-natured gossip.


The examples just given prove that the comedy and the novel of manners portray society from the viewpoint not only of its mores but also of its culture. In brief, they deal with the intellectual foibles, as well as with the ethical and psychological flaws, of the milieu they have chosen as the subject of their picture. They may even represent their characters through the highly conscious perspective of literature. This is especially true in the case of Molière, one of whose favorite themes is the inability of a certain human type to adjust itself to the cultural demands of a higher social status. So, for instance, the bourgeois gentilhomme becomes ludicrous because his ambition to climb higher in the social scale contrasts not only with his lack of breeding, but also with his ignorance of cultural values. The précieuses become likewise ridicules because they confuse affectation with elegance, and mistake fashion for style. Molière measures intellectual and social intercourse by the standards of the honnête homme, who is ruled by tact in conversation, and by taste in the appreciation of culture. If we now apply these standards to Alceste, we realize that he is almost wholly devoid of tact, while being richly endowed with taste. Alceste's esthetic judgment is so keen that Molière uses him as his mouthpiece in literary matters. As the spokesman for his author's artistic creed, Alceste expresses a frank dislike for the mannerisms of the précieux, and an outright predilection for simplicity of diction and directness of style. Alceste states dramatically these principles in the magnificent sonnet scene, which reveals him at once as a good critic of poetry, and as a bad judge of human nature. The scene deserves being studied in detail, if for no other reason than that in a similar situation neither Kostya Levin nor Leo Tolstoy would have acted otherwise.

Oronte, whom Philinte has just introduced to Alceste, expresses his wish to read them a sonnet he has recently composed. His purpose, or pretense, is to get their expert opinion whether the piece is worth publishing:

Je viensVous montrer un sonnet que j'ai fait depuis peu,Et savoir s'il est bon qu'au public je l'expose.

I intend
To please you, if I can, with a small sonnet
I wrote not long ago. Please comment on it.
And tell me whether I ought to publish it.

Alceste, with some lack of candor, begs to be excused from a task for which he claims to be unfit. Yet, when Oronte questions the motive of his hesitation, he throws all prudence to the wind, and answers bluntly:

J'ai le défautD'être un peu plus sincère en cela qu'il ne faut.

I am, I fear,
Inclined to be unfashionably sincere.

Oronte replies that he asks for nothing better than an honest judgment, and Alceste is left with no other alternative than to comply with Oronte's request. The latter prefaces his reading with an inept apology, full of amour propre and false modesty. But Alceste impatiently brushes all those inanities aside, and forces Oronte to proceed with his reading.

Oronte's sonnet is written in short lines: its brevity makes it look like an epigram; its frivolity, like a madrigal. Full as it is with pointes, or with puns and conceits, it exemplifies in extreme form the literary ideal of préciosité, or, in English terms, not so much of "metaphysical poetry" as of "euphuism." In the play's context, Oronte's sonnet produces an effect of conscious parody, although; being presumably composed by someone other than Molière himself, we can only surmise whether it had been originally penned in a spirit of malice or of naïveté.16 Philinte intervenes in every pause of the reading to marvel aloud at the poet's virtuosity, at his well-wrought phrases, at his display of wit. Alceste is shocked by the sycophancy of his friend, and rebukes him in a series of indignant asides. At the end of the reading, Philinte pays again his dutiful tribute to the vanity of Oronte, while Alceste chooses at first the path of false prudence, and condemns the poet in devious, impersonal terms. He strikes at Oronte's literary pretensions by shooting at a more general target, and he tries to soften his blows by feigning to repeat what he had said once to another would-be-writer, who remains nameless:

Mais un jour, à quelqu'un dont je tairai le nom,Je disais, en voyant des vers de sa façon,Qu'il faut qu'un galant homme ait toujours grand empireSur les démangeaisons qui nous prennent d'écrire.

But once, to one whose name I shall not mention,
I said, regarding some verse of his invention,
That gentlemen should rigorously control
That itch to write which often afflicts the soul.

Alceste concludes his tirade by advising Oronte not to become a professional author, or rather what we would now call a hack:

Si l'on peut pardonner l'essor d'un mauvais livre,Ce n'est qu'aux malheureux qui composent pour vivre.Croyez-moi, résistez à vos tentations,Dérobez au public ces occupations;Et n'allez point quitter, de quoi que l'on vous somme,Le nom que dans la cour vous avez d'honnête homme,Pour prendre, de la main d'un avide imprimeur,Celui de ridicule et misérable auteur.

There's no excuse for printing tedious rot
Unless one writes for bread, as you do not.
Resist temptation, then, I beg of you;
Conceal your pastimes from the public view;
And don't give up, on any provocation,
Your present high and courtly reputation,
To purchase at a greedy printer's shop
The name of silly author and scribbling fop.

Molière was both a commoner and a man of genius. What's more important in this context, he was also a man of the theater. Even in his time the theater was a career, and had professionals as its main practitioners. Yet here Molière chooses to express through one of his characters the aristocratic conception of the artist as a cultivated and enlightened amateur. According to that conception, no honnête homme is such unless he is endowed with the goût of a connoisseur; but he ceases being one if he tries to become an artist himself, without being graced by the faculty La Bruyère will soon call esprit, and later others will name génie. The honnête homme endowed with normal or mediocre gifts may write or compose for his own benefit, but must never exhibit, even privately, the fruits of his labors or leisure. And if he is a genuine artist, the honnête homme will make public the products of his talent without thought of material gain, lest he reduce the cultivation of the liberal arts to the exercise of a mechanical craft. This would change the well-born man into an artisan or a merchant. Alceste fully represents this system of values. He sees no disgrace in not being a poet; but he knows that the honnête homme must be a critic, and above all a self-critic. While greatly admiring literature, he feels an aristocratic scorn for the scribblers, for all those who treat writing not as a vocation or an avocation but as a trade.

Oronte listens with impatience to Alceste's lecture: and when the lecture is over, asks what is wrong with his sonnet. Without further hesitation, Alceste replies that its faults are nothing less than a deplorable artificiality of feeling, and conventionality of style:

Ce n'est que jeu de mots, qu'affectation pure,Et ce n'est point ainsi que parle la nature.

It's nothing but a sort of wordy play,
And nature never spoke in such a way.

Like every true critic, Alceste is able to point out what is good, as well as what is bad; and he shows this ability by opposing to Oronte's sonnet an old folksong, the Chanson du Roi Henri:

Si le roi m'avait donnéParis, sa grand' ville,Et qu 'il me fallût quitterL'amour de ma mie,Je dirais au roi Henri:"Reprenez votre Paris,J'aime mieux ma mie, au gué!J'aime mieux ma mie. "

If the King had given me for my own
Paris, his citadel,
And I for that must leave alone
Her whom I love as well,
I'd say then to the Crown,
"Take back your glittering town;
My darling is more fair, I swear,
My darling is more fair."

Alceste quotes this song by heart not once, but twice. Willing as he is to admit that its technique is unrefined, and its diction is old-fashioned, he still claims that the song redeems such defects by sincerity of inspiration, and by naturalness of style. Don't you see, he asks rhetorically,

que la passion parle là toute pure ?
that there's passion in its every word?

and concludes, with triumphant finality:

Voilà ce que peut dire un coeur vraiment épris.
There speaks a loving heart.

Here Alceste obviously speaks with the voice of Molière: of that Molière who tested the quality of a new play through the approval of his maid. A great poet either is a good critic, or knows where to find one. This is true not only of Molière, but also of Tolstoy, who, although far better at creating literature than at judging it, was also a better critic and self-critic than it is generally supposed. Despite his feigned indifference toward esthetic values, he was, like Alceste, a connoisseur; like him, he took art and literature very seriously, while taking far less seriously their practitioners. He belonged to a proud and traditional nobility, and this is why he felt about literary people precisely as Alceste feels. All the students of his life and works, although with different emphasis, have pointed out Tolstoy's congenital disrespect for the corporation he had to join. This disrespect toward his fellow men of letters is one of the most crucial traits of his psychological make-up.

Tolstoy first met the Russian literary greats just after the publication of his Sebastopol Sketches. Posterity has preserved a memento of that occasion in a group photograph representing him among such bright stars as Turgenev, Goncharov, Ostrovski, and such minor planets as Druzhinin and Grigorovich. André Suarès, describing Tolstoy's attitude as fixed in that portrait (he is the youngest member of the group, and stands stiff and proud in the background, wearing his officer's uniform), aptly observes that "he seems to be watching those people, rather than being one of their company: one could say that he is ready to bring them back to jail."17 Tolstoy had no literary friendships, with the one exception of the poet Afanasy Foeth, who was his neighbor, and who was, despite his poetic talent, a hardheaded and a hardfisted landowner, and rather a boor. Tolstoy's feud with Turgenev, based on the younger man's irrepressible dislike for the older one, is retold in detail in all Tolstoy's biographies, and hardly does honor to him. As for Tolstoy's attitude toward Dostoevski, whom he never met, it was either overbearing or condescending, and often ambiguous, to say the least. His letters and journals amply testify to his unrelieved antipathy toward his literary colleagues and their way of life; and in one of his diaries, after having spoken of Annenkov, Goncharov, and other men of letters, he confesses: "The literary atmosphere disgusts me more than anything else."

In later and more formal writings, Tolstoy generally refrained from condemning his rivals by name and chose to indict the whole confrérie as a band of outcasts. This is especially true of What is Art? and of A Confession. A famous passage in the latter refers to the writer's first acquaintance with his literary brethren, with a tone of casual contempt. Yet at that meeting his majors and elders had officially consecrated the young author of the Sebastopol Sketches as a master of the word, and welcomed him as their peer. Tolstoy recalls that occasion in these curt and cold words: "At twenty-six years of age I returned to Petersburg after the war, and met the writers. They received me as one of themselves and flattered me. . . ." But later, Tolstoy goes on to say, "having begun to doubt the truth of the author's creed itself, I began to observe its priests more attentively, and I became convinced that almost all priests of that religion, the writers, were immoral, and for the most part men of bad, worthless character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former, dissipated and military, life. . . ." In brief, the scorn of Tolstoy for his equals is as unmitigated as Alceste's scorn for Oronte. Tolstoy goes further than Alceste, since he condemns all men of letters as bad men as well as bad writers. Yet even this is but a logical extension of the same aristocratic attitude. The nobleman considers the writer a despicable creature on ethical as well as on social grounds, since nothing contrasts more to his own ideal of gentlemanly behavior than the vie de bohême. It is in the same spirit that in What is Art? Tolstoy condemns in toto the morals, as well as the manners, of the writers of his time. But what makes that book even more important is its unrestrained attack against artistic and literary professionalism. That plague or curse is for Tolstoy the root of all the evils of modern culture: "Professionalism is the first condition of the diffusion of false, counterfeit art."

There is no doubt that Tolstoy made this statement in good faith: its sincerity is not nullified even by the embarrassing circumstance that the man who spoke those words was perhaps the best paid of all the great authors of his age. Molière has stated the same view through Alceste, thus avoiding preaching directly a theory in disagreement with his practice, but in agreement with the ideas of his audience. By preaching the same doctrine, Tolstoy both denies his practice and runs against the historical trends of his time, revealing also in this his anachronistic bent and aristocratic cast of mind. Truly enough, he did not base his condemnation of professionalism on the old-fashioned notion of the writer and the artist as a gentlemanly dilettante; he was as hostile as any modern writer to genteel amateurism. It is equally true that his dislike for art as a profession derived at least in part from his cult of self-expression, from his conception of the artistic faculty as a universal gift, which may be shared by the ignorant and the unlearned, by peasants and children. This was, of course, the positive side and the progressive aspect of his doctrine, and it coincided in part with the socialist ideal of an art for all and by all, which would become a reality only in a society of equals. Yet Tolstoy's doctrine remained predominantly reactionary in spirit, being deeply rooted in a traditional aristocratic attitude, in a lofty disdain for the commercialization and industrialization of literature. Tolstoy refused to consider art as a commodity to be bought and sold, and disliked the very idea of writing and creating for gain. Art was for him the fruit of leisure, and in this context it matters very little that he wanted to change that leisure and its fruit from a class privilege into a universal right. Whether or not we consider the Tolstoyan hope of an art for all and by all as liable of realization in a near or distant future, we must still admit that that hope is highly unrealistic within the historical and social framework of modern culture. Even in Tolstoy's time artistic and literary professionalism was accepted without qualms by such different writers as the bourgeois Dickens and Thackeray, and the antibourgeois Balzac and Flaubert. All of them treated their career as professional men of letters not as an unnatural calamity, but merely as a natural necessity. Even in Russia, where so many writers were born to rank and wealth, and could enjoy, like Turgenev and Tolstoy, the privilege of creating in freedom without the pressure of want, there was at least Dostoevski, who accepted with both sorrow and pride the destiny that forced him to become a slave of the pen, or, as he said, a "proletarian of literature."

Alceste and Tolstoy are joined by other features than the ideological and sociological link of their common hatred for the shopkeepers and handymen of literature. If they seem to belong to the same type of critic, it is because they are so temperamentally akin as to take the same psychological attitudes. They face a critical challenge with the same mental posture, and react to it with the same responses. Like Alceste, Tolstoy feels equal to any critical task; he accepts one either with defiance or with only feigned hesitation. There is no need to ask him twice for his opinion: he will immediately offer it in the shape of a sharp, categorical judgment. It matters very little whether the work in question is minor and obscure, or by such a master as Beethoven or Shakespeare. Tolstoy is always a self-assured, but not always a self-controlled, critic. Like Alceste, he may ostensibly admit that his fault is to be a more outspoken judge than is fashionable or required. Yet, in their minds, both Alceste and Tolstoy consider this a merit rather than a demerit. At any rate, even if that tendency is a virtue, it has, like all virtues, its vices. Thus Tolstoy is not only outspoken and opinionated, but also biased and prejudiced. His prejudice is often based on considerations so personal as to make questionable, if not his judgment, at least its motives. This is true also of Alceste, who is led to exaggerate his condemnation of Oronte the poet by his dislike of Oronte the man, in whom he sees a rival in love, and whose sonnet seems addressed to Célimène. Generally, however, Tolstoy's slant is less subjective and more general in character, deriving from his moralistic bent, rather than from passion or interest. Yet the similarity between their critical minds is so great that there is nothing Alceste does and says in the sonnet scene that Tolstoy did not do or say numberless times in his long life. Thus, for instance, Alceste ridicules "the bad taste of the age," le méchant goût du siècle, as well as the mediocrity of Oronte's sonnet, by quoting most of its lines in a single rhetorical question:

Qu'est-ce que, Nous berce un temps notre ennui?Et que, Rien ne marche après lui?Que, Ne vous pas mettre en dépense,Pour ne me donner que l'espoir?Et que, Philis, on désespère,Alors qu'on espère toujours?

For example, Your face smiled on me awhile,
Followed by, 'Twould have been fairer to smile!
Or this: Such joy is full of rue;
Or this: For death is fairer than the fair;
Or, Phyllis, to hope is to despair
When one must hope eternally!

Tolstoy uses the same device, only more copiously and conspicuously, in that famous chapter of Whatis Art? where he condemns the bad verse writing of his own time (by which he means the poetry of the French decadents and symbolists), by quoting in succession several poems by Baudelaire, Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Maeterlinck. To those poems, which often look like better specimens than Tolstoy thinks, he adds without comment other and worse samples by younger poets of the same school (Régnier, Viele Griffin, Moréas, and Montesquiou), which he scornfully confines to a special appendix, where they are indicted with the mute eloquence of anaccusing finger.18

What is Art? gives proof of Tolstoy's unconscious tendency to imitate Alceste's critical method in its "reason," as well as in its "madness." We remember that Alceste, to make Oronte's discomfiture as evident as possible, contrasts his specious and pretentious sonnet with such a simple composition as the Chanson du Roi Henri. The mere recitation of that folksong makes pale and insignificant the false and contrived brilliancy of the sonnet Oronte has just read. Tolstoy makes a similar, devastating use of the comparative method at least three times in What is Art? The first object of Tolstoy's invidious comparison is Western fiction of the end of the century, to which he opposes a children's story he had just chanced to read. Tolstoy makes his blow more telling by failing to mention the title of the story, and its author's name:

For my work on art I have this winter read diligently, though with great effort, the celebrated novels and stories praised by all Europe, written by Zola, Bourget, Huysmans and Kipling. At the same time I chanced on a story in a child's magazine, by a quite unknown writer, who told of the preparations for Easter holidays in a poor widow's family. . . . Well! the reading of the novels and stories by Zola, Bourget, Huysmans, Kipling, and others, handling the most harrowing subjects did not touch me for one moment. . . . On the other hand, I could not tear myself away from the unknown author's tale of the children and the chicken, because I was at once infected by the feeling the author had evidently experienced, re-evoked in himself, and transmitted.

In the second case Tolstoy takes a celebrated stage interpretation of the most famous play of Western drama, and contrasts it, to its disadvantage, with the performance of a drama never committed into writing, by a group of primitive and ignorant actors. The first term of the comparison is the Hamlet of Shakespeare as played by Rossi; the second, the folk play of a remote Siberian tribe. While Tolstoy had watched the former, he admits, as if it were a matter of no importance, that he had not personally witnessed the latter. He had merely read about it; yet he does not care to refer to the document, nor does he bother to quote from the testimonial on which he relies. In this incredible page, Tolstoy reveals to what extreme limits he could push his critical tendentiousness, as well as his artistic iconoclasm:

I remember seeing a performance of Hamlet by Rossi. . . . And yet, both from the subject matter of the drama and from the performance, I experienced all the time that peculiar suffering which is caused by false imitations of works of art. But I lately read of a theatrical performance among a savage tribe—the Voguls. A spectator describes the play. . . . And from the mere description I felt that this was a work of art.

Tolstoy is quite capable of applying the same methods to his own work, of turning the same arguments against himself. In a footnote to one of the most crucial passages of What is Art? he places on the same scale all his literary writings, balanced against two slight pieces which no critic would ever dream of including in the canon of his work. They are a religious and a moral tale, the one written for peasants and the other for children, representing respectively his own two categories of "Christian" and "universal" art. Tolstoy claims that that little parable and that simple apologue weigh more than the whole of his narrative output, including such vast masterpieces as Anna Karenina and War and Peace: "I must moreover mention that I consign my own artistic production to the category of bad art, excepting the story 'God Sees the Truth but Waits,' which seeks a place in the first class, and 'A Prisoner in the Caucasus,' which belongs to the second."

Here Tolstoy turns his own critical misanthropy against himself. Yet, even in his worst exaggerations, he serves up to a point a literary cause which was not alien to Molière himself. What Tolstoy defends is a kind of liberal classicism, free from the taint of any pedantry or academicism. His great esthetic ideal is the natural, which he conceives of in a modern spirit, in terms of spontaneity rather than decorum. Sometimes, as Molière does, he expresses that ideal indirectly, through his fictional characters, rather than through direct statement. He does so more than once through Levin, and it is quite significant that he chose as his literary spokesman a character who does not care for literature per se. In this connection it is perhaps worth recalling that all men of letters who appear in Tolstoy's fiction are shallow and hollow men, unpleasant and even disgusting figures. Yet Tolstoy enhanced the genuineness of Levin's nature by endowing him with a fine gift for artistic appreciation. Although far less articulate and alert than Alceste, Levin is often able to make equally keen and sharp judgments. He shows his mettle in his visit to Anna, an episode which plays in Tolstoy's novel a role similar to the sonnet scene in The Misanthrope. The hostess and her guests are chatting when the talk suddenly shifts to artistic matters. One of the visitors attacks a modern French illustrator of the Bible for the brutal realism of his drawings. Levin, who agrees, condemns modern French fiction on the same grounds. He does so by taking a paradoxical position: while indicting French realism for its excesses, he partly justifies the latter as a reaction against the artificiality of the French tradition. Here Levin voices Tolstoy's views: "Levin said that the French had carried conventionality further than anyone, and that consequently they see a great merit in the return to realism. In the fact of not lying they see poetry." As the closing epigram shows, Levin's utterance is oracular and cryptic. By developing his point of view, Anna pays him a most charming compliment, and clarifies the fact that Tolstoy's target is here not as much realism as naturalism:

"What you said so perfectly hits off French art now, painting and literature too, indeed—Zola, Daudet. But perhaps it is always so, that men form their conceptions from fictitious, conventional types, and then—all the combinaisons made—they are tired of the fictitious figures and begin to invent more natural true figures."

Anna's words are very important, and the Marxist critic Georg Lukács could have aptly used them to bolster his claim that it is not Zola's naturalism, or Flaubert's estheticism, but the classical and critical realism of Tolstoy and the other Russian masters that developed the tradition opened by Balzac and Stendhal.19 Yet those words, which reflect so fully Tolstoy's thought, may also be seen as further proof of that writer's refusal to accept the main artistic trends of his age. This implies that Tolstoy was an eccentric not only as a man, but also as a writer and a critic. In this too he resembles Alceste, who prefers to follow other standards than the critical norms of his time. Alceste may violate the social code of his class by tearing Oronte's unlucky sonnet to shreds, but he also violates its literary code when he measures that sonnet by other yardsticks than those of Boileau. When he reads his sonnet, Oronte expects it to be judged by a critic of the traditional type. The most perfect manifestation of this type is the arbiter elegantiarum, or the "man in the know," who assesses the exquisite quality of a single detail with the same sureness of taste with which a gourmet appraises the delicacy of a dish, or a man of fashion judges the refinement of a piece of clothing. Oronte is instead suddenly faced with someone judging his sonnet as a whole, and condemning it not on formal or technical grounds, but for the total failure of its inspiration. Even when he points out a few minor blemishes, Alceste's aim is not to help the author to correct or to improve his sonnet, but to force him to acknowledge the "original sin" of his own creation.

In this, Alceste may indeed go beyond his creator's conscious intent, and seems to anticipate esthetic and critical attitudes yet to come. Thus, for instance, when he says:

ce n'est point ainsi que parle la nature,
nature never spoke in such a way,

he seems to speak with the voice of Diderot and Rousseau, rather than that of the writers of his century. By "nature" Alceste means something more lively and spontaneous than was generally meant in his tradition or age; in brief, an inspiration ruled not so much by goût as by génie. Génie must be understood in the preromantic, rather than in the romantic sense of that term, or in a meaning already very close to that it acquired in the Sturm und Drang, a period which was also called Geniezeit. For the men of that epoch, génie meant both creativity and personality. Tolstoy seems to share their view of art and poetry as a "voice of nature," as the self-expression of the psyche. This is why Tolstoy the critic follows no other criteria than those of sincerity and insincerity. Like Alceste, Tolstoy condemns an artistic work at first glance, merely because it fails to produce on him an impression of naturalness and simplicity; only later, as he does in What is Art? with a few poems by Verlaine, he analyzes at length all the external symptoms that may prove that he was right in his diagnosis. The greatest artistic malady is for him what one might call emotional atrophy, and often he defines the works he dislikes as "works à froid, cold drawn, without feeling." In the sonnet scene Alceste attacks not only Oronte as a false poet, but also Philinte as a false critic; and Tolstoy indicts in mass, for the same reason, the critics as well as the artists of his time. He considers the former no less responsible than the latter for the falseness of modern art, and treats them as if they were not merely the Philintes, but the Tartuffes of literature: "Every false work of art extolled by critics serves as a door through which the hypocrites of art at once crowd in."

By "hypocrites of art" Tolstoy doubtless meant the exponents and supporters of the two main artistic and literary currents dominating the culture of his age: on one side the "decadents," and on the other, the "naturalists." He always felt that both groups sinned against nature, the one through its pathological subjectivism and morbid artificiality, the other through a passive objectivity and a sordid acceptance of reality. It was in reaction against an art enslaved by either our brains or our senses that Tolstoy, in his early youth, proclaimed an art based on "the understanding of the heart." In the preface to Childhood he contrasted that kind of understanding with the purely mental one by means of a felicitous simile:

One may sing in two ways: from the throat or from the chest. Is it not true that a voice from the throat is much more flexible than one from the chest, but then, on the other hand, it does not set on your soul. . . . It is the same in literature: one may write from the head or from the heart. . . . It may be a mistake, but I always checked myself when I began to write from my head, and tried to write only from my heart. . . .

It is from the simple seeds of such thoughts that Tolstoy slowly developed all the doctrines he finally set down in What is Art? That early page contains in a nutshell the main belief of his later literary creed: that, when inspired by genuine feeling, art transmits itself to the hearts of all men with the overwhelming power of an infectious disease, through the "contagion" of its emotions. Despite its romantic appearance, this Tolstoyan view of artistic communication is classical in temper. The empathy he advocates is based not on a passionate but on an understanding heart. As for the theory of "contagion," it presupposes a natural, spontaneous exchange, rather than the operation of willful witchcraft. Yet it was through an artificial sorcery that the literary artists of the new generation tried to convey to a limited group of readers the cold magic of their private worlds. They considered form as the vessel, and words as the vehicle, of art. Tolstoy, however, never believed in the suggestive or evocative power of a deliberate style, nor in the incantatory power of the word. This made him one of the very few modern literary creators who failed to play up the verbal side of their calling or craft. The indifference or the hostility he felt toward poetry were in part an effect of this neglect. As a writer, he ignored poetry, up to the point of hardly composing a single verse in his whole life, and as a critic, he turned to poetry only to find there examples of "bad art." He would have resisted the modern attempt to reduce prose to the condition of poetry as strongly as he resisted in his own time the attempt to reduce it to the condition of music. He treated the epithet "poetic" as a term of opprobrium, as a contemptuous synonym for falsity in art. In What is Art? he gave a negative definition of that epithet and of all it implies in style as well as in content. It is obvious, and yet significant, that he condemned as "poetic" what others prefer to condemn under such labels as "conventional" and "literary":

Thus, in our circle, all sorts of legends, sagas and ancient traditions are considered poetic subjects. Among poetic people and objects we reckon maidens, warriors, shepherds, hermits, angels, devils of all sorts, moonlight, thunder, mountains, the sea, precipices, flowers, long hair, lions, lambs, doves, and nightingales. In general all those objects are considered poetic which have most frequently been used by former artists in their productions.

"Poetic means borrowed": this is how Tolstoy concludes his indictment against any form of literary sham. By this denial of the "poetic" Tolstoy reasserts his esthetic ideal, which is that of a classicism based more on the imitation of nature than on the imitation of art. Tolstoy's classicism is based on the primacy of sense over sound, rather than of sound over sense, on the belief that even in poetry it is rhyme that must agree with reason, not reason with rhyme. In this too Tolstoy runs against the trend of modern literature, which from romanticism on has tended more and more to treat prose as if it were verse, while the classical ages have done exactly the opposite. This is why, while many of his contemporaries would have chosen "prosaic" as the most negative of all critical terms, Tolstoy chose "poetic" instead. Such a choice was natural on the part of a writer who considered prose the natural idiom of both life and art.

Yet even though he was, so to speak, the great Monsieur Jourdain of modern writing, Tolstoy was always able to distinguish between the prose of life and the prose of art. While despising the esthetic bent of French realism, he knew as well as Flaubert and the other masters of the écriture artiste that literary creation is the art of taking infinite pains, that perfection is elusive, and may escape the writer unless he pins it down with the help of le mot juste, or through the right cadence and turn. Tolstoy stated this principle in a famous page of What is Art?

I have elsewhere quoted the profound remark of the Russian artist Bryulov on art, but I cannot here refrain from repeating it, because nothing better illustrates what can, and what cannot, be taught in the schools. Once when correcting a pupil's study, Bryulov just touched it in a few places and the poor dead study immediately became animated. "Why, you only touched it a wee bit, and it is quite another thing!" said one of the pupils. "Art begins where the wee bit begins," replied Bryulov, indicating by these words just what is most characteristic of art. The remark is true of all the arts, but its justice is particularly noticeable in the performance ofmusic . . . so that the feeling of infection by the art of music, which seems so simple and so easily obtained, is a thing we receive only when the performer finds those infinitely minute degrees which are necessary to perfection in music. It is the same in all arts: a wee bit lighter, a wee bit darker, a wee bit higher, lower, to the right or to the left, in painting; a wee bit weaker or stronger in intonation, a wee bit sooner or later in dramatic art; a wee bit omitted, over-emphasized, or exaggerated in poetry, and there is no contagion. Infection is only obtained when an artist finds those infinitely minute degrees of which a work of art consists, and only to the extent to which he finds them.

Even in this statement Tolstoy fails to emphasize, as Flaubert would have done, that the artist's quest for perfection is an ordeal and a strife, a torture or a martyrdom. Tolstoy prefers to think that the artist is guided in that quest by an inborn wisdom or by an inner grace: more simply, by the sure feeling of what is right and what is wrong. That feeling was once called goût. By this deference to the authority of taste, Tolstoy here speaks again as a classic, rather than as a modern, artist. The words just quoted seem to recall La Bruyère's claim that the genuine artist or critic instinctively recognizes the ineffable and imponderable values of form. The gift of recognizing those values is negative and subjective, but the values themselves, although intangible, are objective and absolute. The miracle of art may be a je ne sais quoi, but that quoi is a quid:

There is in art a point of perfection, as there is a point of goodness and maturity in nature. Those who feel and love it have a perfect taste; those who do not feel that point, or whose likings fall short of its mark, or overshoot it, have a defective taste. Thus there is both a good and a bad taste: and one argues about tastes with good reason.20


A comic archetype is to be taken no less seriously than a tragic one. While doing so, one must, however, avoid the temptation to change the former into the latter. This is precisely the mistake Rousseau made in his critique of The Misanthrope, where he presumed to understand Alceste better than Molière ever did. That critique should be discussed for no other reason than that Tolstoy would have more readily recognized his own likeness in Rousseau's distorted reflection than in Molière's original picture. This is hardly surprising when we realize that Rousseau redrew Alceste's portrait in his own image, and that often Tolstoy himself, a long time before books were written to prove this point, felt he was a moral twin of Rousseau. The young Tolstoy patterned his life and ideas on the model of the Swiss master as soon as an early reading of The Confessions made him fall in love with the author of that book. In his late years, in a conversation reported by Paul Boyer, he recalled his youthful infatuation for Rousseau with the following words: "I worshipped him. I wore on my neck his portrait in a locket, as if it were a holy image."21 It is true that with the passing of time he turned against his idol, whom in his old age he judged rather harshly, as shown in his statement to Gorki that "Rousseau lied and believed his lies." Yet one cannot deny that without Rousseau Tolstoy would have been a far different person than he was. Rousseau's misinterpretation of Alceste's misanthropy may be far from misleading if applied to the misanthropy of Tolstoy himself. Alceste becomes more like Tolstoy if we look at him through the eyes of Rousseau rather than of Molière.

Rousseau's critique of The Misanthrope can be found in his polemical epistle to D'Alembert, generally known under the title Letter sur les Spectacles. The whole letter is an indictment of the theater, which the author condemns on the same grounds as Tolstoy, for being both conventional and immoral. The critique itself is but a part of the section on comedy, which Rousseau considers more dangerous than tragedy, since it portrays passions and vices all too accessible to the average man. With good strategy, Rousseau concentrates his attack on Molière as the recognized master of the genre. The assault opens with the rhetorical question: "Who will . . . refuse to admit that the theater of this Molière, whose talents I admire more than anyone, is but a school of vice and bad morals?" After a few more generalities, Rousseau turns to The Misanthrope, as Molière's acknowledged masterpiece. All he does in his re-examination of that play is to re-evaluate Alceste at the expense of Molière. While praising the edifying and exemplary morality of the ideal character Molière had chosen to represent, Rousseau blames the playwright for having drawn not a portrait, but a caricature. Rousseau undertakes to redress this wrong, and starts his apology with an almost romantic praise of the misanthrope as a critic of society, as the moral conscience of his generation: "What is then Molière's misanthrope? An honorable man detesting the mores of his age and the wickedness of the men of his time; who, precisely because he loves his fellow men, hates in them their reciprocal evildoings, and the vices producing them."

In brief, Rousseau separates the creature from his creator, and deals with Alceste as if he were a real person, whom Molière had supposedly libeled. According to Rousseau, Molière chose to emphasize not Alceste's major qualities, but his minor foibles. By phrasing this accusation in seventeenth-rather than in eighteenth-century terms, one could say that Alceste's creator criticized an homme de bien merely because he was not at the same time an honnête homme. (Rousseau, however, uses honnête homme in its modern sense, as a synonym of homme de bien, and prefers to convey the same meaning through the less flattering formula homme de monde.) What Rousseau claims is simply that Molière was unfair to his character, since he mocked his social shortcomings without paying the tribute due to the nobility of his soul. What's even worse, the final effect of all this was that Molière made fun not only of Alceste's defects, but also of his virtues:

He did not endeavor to form an honest man, but a man of the world: consequently, he aimed at correcting not what is vicious, but what is merely ridiculous; and, as I have already said, he found in vice itself a suitable tool to help him in doing this. Thus, intending to expose to public laughter all the shortcomings contrary to the qualities of the sociable and likable man, after having made fun of so many foibles, the only one still left to him to play up was that which the world least forgives, i.e., the ridicule of virtue: and this is what he did in the Misanthrope.

The chief argument of Rousseau's apology for Alceste deals with his would-be misanthropy. Rousseau claims that Alceste's misanthropy is but the reverse side of the love he feels for his fellow men. Since men are all too ready to commit evil, or unwilling to resist it, misanthropy is both just and necessary; and it testifies to the moral nobility of the all too rare beings who hate mankind for its vices: "Thus only a great and noble soul may be affected by it. . . . There is no honest man who is not a misanthrope in this sense." Rousseau rejects the general opinion that Alceste may be right in theory, but that he is wrong in practice; that his extreme idealism leads him to commit the error, and even the injustice, of condemning as absolute evils the most venial sins. A really honest man, after all, should forgive and forget. Rousseau instead praises Alceste even for his worst exaggerations, since they are but the logical consequence of the fanaticism of virtue: "Truly enough, it is not worth while to remain a misanthrope if you are one only by half. . . . " Attack is the best defense, and Rousseau strikes with savage irony at Philinte, who plays the role of Alceste's antagonist, while acting at the same time as the mouthpiece of Molière, or as the spokesman of the society for which Molière wrote:

This Philinte is the sage of the play: one of those gentlemen of high society whose principles look very much like those of the scoundrels; of those people so sweet and amiable as to find that everything goes well, since it is in their interest that nothing go better. . . .

How easy it is to recognize in this portrait of Philinte, as redrawn by Rousseau, the perfect and eternal model of all those wise men of the world whom Tolstoy judges in Anna Karenina and Resurrection through the critical eyes of Konstantin Levin and Dmitri Neklyudov! And how equally easy it is to admit that Tolstoy looks far more like Alceste now that his likeness is compared not with Molière's original, but with a copy corrected by the hand of Rousseau!

Rousseau finds inexcusable in Molière his having forced such a "forthright and upright" character as Alceste "to cut a ridiculous figure." He condemns the author through the character himself, who, according to him, "hates calumny and detests satire." Calumny and satire are equally alien to high comedy, which is serious in temper; and they are wholly absent from this portrayal of Tolstoy as Alceste, whether secundum Rousseau or secundum Molière. The modern mind, however, may prefer to look at Tolstoy according to the first rather than to the second alternative. This is only natural. Tolstoy's misanthropy, after all, was of a kind conceivable only within a culture placing the individual far higher than his own society. Yet even so, Tolstoy's plight cannot be understood in the key of tragedy, but only of tragicomedy. It is in this key that the romantic mind reinterpreted the type of the misanthrope, as well as his plight. Such a reinterpretation reverses the original comic situation, since it is society that now becomes the butt of the satire.

Romantic criticism is full of such paradoxical reappraisals of Molière's masterpiece, yet it fell upon Russian culture to rewrite an inverted version of The Misanthrope. This is what Griboyedov did in Woe from Wit, a comedy of great interest on literary, as well as on historical, grounds: above all, for its almost perfect fusion of new values and old views. This fusion is evident even in the play's original title, Gore ot uma, where um is used, like the English "wit," as a double synonym for seventeenth-century esprit and eighteenth-century génie. In brief, what the title intended to convey is that it is a misfortune to be endowed with an original mind and with a singular personality. The play's protagonist, Chatski, is a Russian Alceste who returns home after having spent a few years abroad. Experience suddenly disappoints his naïve enthusiasm. His fiancée prefers to him a vain and vulgar opportunist, while the pillars of society mock his unpractical idealism. Unable to readjust himself to the corruption of this world, Chatski condemns that corruption with such violence as to leave society no other way out than to declare officially insane the only one of its members who is endowed with a lucid mind and a noble soul. Modern society likewise treats misanthropes as more or less dangerous fools, but from romanticism on, the poets of that society have preferred to consider the Alcestes and the Chatskis as either heroes or victims, rather than as misfits. This is only natural, since those poets like to play the misanthrope's role, and cannot fail to feel love, admiration, and pity for the Alceste or Chatski in themselves. Tolstoy himself was a far more realistic Alceste, and a far less romantic Chatski, and did not need to go into the world to know that society would treat him like a fool. Like all modern misanthropes, he hated society a priori, even before experiencing its falseness and deceit.

Society, in its turn, need not be deceived by Tolstoy's misanthropy, of which one could say what Rousseau said of Alceste's: "A convincing proof that Alceste is not a misanthrope in the literal sense is that despite all his temperamental excesses he still remains interesting and likable. . . . Although there are in Alceste some real shortcomings which deserve being laughed at, we cannot however help but feel respect for him in the bottom of our heart. . . ." This is perhaps the only point where Rousseau understates his case. As for our own Alceste, he was far more than merely interesting and likeable. He was a genius in the romantic as well as in the Rousseauistic definition of that term. By génie Rousseau meant not the originality of the active mind, but the originality of the passive soul. Tolstoy shared Rousseau's belief in the supreme value of the Self. The greatest paradox of his life and work is perhaps that, while being the outstanding creative mind of his age, he still exalted psychological originality to the detriment of esthetic originality. For him a man could become an artist only by remaining the kind of man he was born to be.


A portrait painter, when he wishes to convey more than a physical likeness, represents his model against the background best suited to him. If he chooses to portray his subject wearing a costume or playing an assumed role, then the artist projects the human image against an ideal landscape. Background and landscape provide the portrait with the proper atmosphere, and place the character within a broader frame. The portrait painter is a kind of emblematic biographer, and like all biographers, he must satisfy the conflicting demands of psychology and history. This applies also to this literary portrait, which up to now has, however, represented its model with the help of psychology alone. Now history must come to the portraitist's aid. After all, Tolstoy resembles Alceste psychologically because he resembles him historically. Truly enough, Tolstoy looks more like Alceste when the latter is contemplated through later reinterpretations, rather than through the original version, of his character. This simply means that Tolstoy may be understood better through the cultural perspective of the eighteenth century than through that of the seventeenth. The task of the following pages is to prove this point, which could be summed up by saying that Tolstoy resembles in Rousseau's age other figures than Rousseau, and that, in a far more limited way, he resembles also, in Molière's age, other figures than Molière. While fulfilling this task, we may seem to lose sight of Alceste. This is not true: even if Alceste reappears only at the end of this essay, he will remain ideally present also in this particular inquiry, at least as a cultural symbol, if not as a psychological type.

Tolstoy is one of those rare figures who represent a cultural span far greater than that of their age. Like Goethe, whom Friedrich Schlegel defined as both the Shakespeare and the Voltaire of his own nation and time,22 Tolstoy was a child of both the enlightenment and the nineteenth century. He was one of the few great men of his generation who was deeply rooted, and felt always at home, in the culture of le siècle des lumières. The cultural hero of le siècle des lumières had been the man of letters, understood not as a magician of words (like the poet for the romantics), or as a craftsman of style (as the novelist for Flaubertian realism), but as a critic and a teacher of life, as a shaper of thought and as a spreader of truth. Nothing conveys such a conception as fully as the names of philosophe and Aufklärer, by which the great masters of the eighteenth century chose to label themselves. Besides being a modern literary artist, Tolstoy was also a philosophe or an Aufklärer in the old-fashioned sense of those terms. This justifies the traditional parallel between him and Rousseau on historical, as well as on psychological, grounds. Yet Rousseau was not the whole of eighteenth-century thought. As for Tolstoy, he was not only the Rousseau of his age, but the Voltaire too.

Both paradoxically and properly, the Voltairian cast of Tolstoy's mind is nowhere so apparent as in the polemical side of his religious writings, although it is evident even in some of his less ideological works. In the pars construens of his religious doctrine, Tolstoy follows the example of Rousseau's confession de foi, by listening predominantly to the dictates of his conscience and heart. In the pars destruens, however, he adopts quite naturally the Voltairian method, cutting to shreds with razor-sharp reasoning and savage mockery all ecclesiastical sham. The cry "écrasez l'infâme" seems to re-echo continuously in the religious controversy of this would-be evangelist. There is no better example of this than the concluding page of a work to which he gave an almost Kantian title: A Critique of Dogmatic Theology. There, with impeccable logic and with devastating irony, he sums up all the hollow answers organized religion gives to man's tragic questions about life and death:

He asks that, and God by the mouth of the Church gives him this reply: You want to know what this world is? It is this: There is one God, all-knowing, all-good, and almighty. He is simply a spirit, but He has will and reason. This God is one, and at the same time three. The Father begot a Son, and the Son is in the flesh, and sits at the right hand of His Father. The Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father. All three of them are God, and they are all different and all the same. . . .23

In the rest of this page Tolstoy, with bitter sarcasm, doubly criticizes the vain reply the church gives to the "why's" man eternally asks. On one side, he confronts that reply with the Rousseauian demands of our heart, which needs the living spirit of faith and belief, while it is offered instead the dead letter of the dogma, a cold and rigid doctrine which confuses and repels. Our soul hungers for bread, and is given a stone. On the other side, he shows that that answer contravenes the Voltairian claims of our reason, the laws of logic, the requirements of what Dostoevski's Ivan Karamazov would call our "Euclidian mind." And it is with the lucid, even cynical, skepticism of such modern Biblical scholars as Strauss or Renan, as well as with the biting irony of a Voltaire, that Tolstoy points out further on the natural and logical impossibilities of God's creation of the world, as reported in Genesis: "There was a morning and an evening for the first day. If there was no sun during the first days, God himself shook the illuminating matter that there might be a morning and evening." It is significant that Tolstory found it proper, without fear of being accused of either plagiarism or vulgarity, to point out again the most obvious of all scriptural absurdities, which so many minds had observed even before modern science and modern Biblical criticism. No better demonstration could be found of Tolstoy's tendency to think in eighteenth-rather than in nineteenth-century terms. The truth of this may be confirmed by a negative proof: by showing, for instance, that one of his greatest contemporaries used the same Biblical reference to teach a contrary lesson, and to affirm opposite values. In an episode of The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevski caused one of his characters to underscore the same scriptural absurdity; yet he did so only to prove that that critical observation was a sign not only of intellectual immaturity, but even of a wicked and twisted understanding. While drawing a retrospective portrait of the bastard Smerdyakov, a scoundrel and a flunkey, Dostoevski reports a telling incident of his childhood. The aged, stern, and pious servant Grigori, who had taken the foundling Smerdyakov into his house, was one day teaching the Scripture to his ward, then a boy twelve years old. They were reading the first chapter of Genesis, when Grigori noticed an impious grin on the boy's face. This is how the clever and blasphemous child answered the old man's indignant question why he was smiling: "Oh, nothing. God created light on the first day, and the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. Where did the light come from on the first day?"24 As any reader of Dostoevski's novel is well aware, Smerdyakov is but a caricature of Ivan Karamazov, who symbolizes the disloyalty ofintelligence, with its Luciferian rebellion not so much against the Creator, as against the world He created. As such, Ivan Karamazov transcends the protest of Voltaire, although he himself quotes the name of that old sinner, with ambiguous sympathy, at least once in the story. Beyond the Voltairianism he shares with Smerdyakov, and perhaps even with Fyodor Karamazov, Ivan represents modern scientific rationalism, with its proud challenge to anything that is mysterious and sacred. Thus Dostoevski condemns in Smerdyakov and Ivan Karamazov the Western notion of reason, the absolute claim of the logical spirit.

Tolstoy, however, fully agreed with that notion, although he saw in the logical faculty a critical power, rather than a creative one. Thus he agreed with Rousseau in refusing to consider reason the best instrument to discover the meaning of life, but agreed with Voltaire in viewing it as the aptest tool to reveal what is unreal and untrue. And he used that weapon, as naïvely as Alceste, and as consistently as Voltaire, any time he wished to attack anything that looked to him like a lie, even if others saw there revealed truth or myth. The idea that man cannot do without reason, although reason by itself is not enough, is after all the position of Kant; and there is an important page in A Confession where Tolstoy restates that position as his own: "I wish to recognize anything inexplicable as being so not because the demands of my reason are wrong, but because I recognize the limits of my intellect." Thus, exactly like Kant, Tolstoy conceived of reason as a critical tool; but, being more of a philosophe in the French manner than a philosopher in the German sense of that term, he preferred to confuse Vernunft and Verstand, and refused to distinguish logic from intelligence. In this, he was like Voltaire, although the comparison may be a misleading one, since Tolstoy was a critic of society, but not a reformer, and also because the God he tried to believe in was not the God of Voltaire, but the God of Rousseau.

One could even say that Tolstoy's God was the God of Pascal, since he saw in Him a Supreme Being speaking directly to man's heart. For Tolstoy, as well as for that great contemporary of Molière, religion and faith were to be primarily rooted in the faculty of feeling. This does not mean that the believer must reject the help of intelligence, which may serve as a guiding light in his attempt to penetrate the divine truth hidden under the all too human veil of myth. Both Pascal and Tolstoy felt that there is only one faculty which could hinder man in his quest after God. To this faculty, which he considered equally opposed to feeling and understanding, Pascal gave the name of "imagination." For him imagination played in man's life the role of la folle du logis. In brief, Pascal conceived of imagination in psychological rather than in esthetic terms, and viewed it as a form of daydreaming and wishful thinking, leading us to self-deceit. Reason, instead, if used widely, strengthens, rather than weakens, the faith of man. With almost classical moderation, the religious mind must avoid both the "two excesses" of "excluding reason, or of admitting nothing besides it."

This is all the more necessary since God's revelation seems to fail to satisfy what one might call the Cartesian demands of reason itself, because "God fails to reveal Himself to men with all the evidence at His disposal." Such evidence, by which Pascal means the unequivocal logic of a direct statement, is particularly lacking in the Old Testament, where God, to reveal his truth to a primitive people like the Jews, who could understand only the material language of things, had to speak in images, or, as we would now say, in mythical terms. This is why Pascal says, "the Old Testament is only figurative." Pascal sees a great danger in this, since metaphorical and mythical imagery may strike our fancy, without convincing our mind or conquering our soul. This appeal to our imagination, as a matter of fact, may lead astray our sentiment even more than our intellect, since "men often mistake their imagination for their heart." God's revelationis happily not limited to the Hebrew books. One of the blessings of the new tidings was that the Gospel spoke not the language of the letter, but the language of the spirit. For Pascal, the Saviour redeemed man from his errors, as well as from his sins: Jesus Christ "came to take the figures away, and to put truth in their place." Christ was "the light that shines in the darkness," and Pascal conceived of that light in moral as well as in logical terms, as shown by his claim that "all that does not go toward charity is mere figure." Yet he often treated Christ not only as the Redeemer, but also as a spiritual Aufklärer, or as the Divine Being who dissipated the barbaric obscurity of the ancient religion and replaced it with classical clarity, as the prophet who resolved the confused poetry of the Old Testament into the lucid prose of the New.23

Strangely enough, Tolstoy took toward the Scriptures the same position as Pascal did. He too overemphasized the spirit to the detriment of the letter. He too distrusted the imagination and its power to distort even the Holy Writ. Quite naturally, he took an even more extreme stand than Pascal's, and denied to the Old Testament even the symbolic significance which no Christian apologist could fail to attribute to it. In short, he dared to reinterpret the faith of the Messias without taking into account the books that had prophesied His advent. He did so from the very earliest among his many evangelical tracts, in the preface of which he spoke thus:

I do not consider the Old Testament, for the question is not what was the faith of the Jews, but in what does the faith of Christ consist. . . . The faith of the Jews, foreign to us, is as interesting to us as is, for instance, the faith of the Brahmins.

In brief, Tolstoy accepted the Pauline distinction between the dead letter and the living spirit at least as fully as Pascal, and claimed even more fully that that spirit breathes in the New Testament alone. He said so in the introduction to The Gospel in Brief: "The source of Christian teaching is the Gospels, and in them I found the explanation of the spirit which guides the life of all who really live." Finally, acting in this case more like Voltaire than like Pascal, he maintained that even in the Gospels the letter all too often deadens the spirit; that the fictions of imagination, or the importance of superstition, all too often obscure even there the light of faith, or the mirror of truth. Tolstoy did not hesitate to state this view with a repellent image, and in strong words:

But together with this source of the pure water of life I found, wrongfully united with it, mud and slime which had hidden its purity from me: by the side of and bound up with the lofty Christian teaching, I found a Hebrew and a church teaching alien to it. I was in the position of a man who receives a bag of stinking dirt, and only after long struggle and much labor finds that amid that dirt lie priceless pearls: and he understands that he was not to blame for disliking the stinking dirt. . . .

As soon as he realized this, Tolstoy decided to be the man who would sift the pearls of Christ's faith from tradition's mud. With blasphemous daring, he did so by following both a medieval precedent and a modern example, and compiled an "evangelical harmony,"26 or a fusion of the Four Gospels into a single one. But while "evangelical harmonies," whether inspired by a mystical or a critical spirit, are generally produced through a process of accumulation and consolidation, with the reluctant omission of only those details that stand in glaring contradiction with the whole, Tolstoy adopted a far more stringent and rigorous canon: he expunged from the text as inane interpolations all passages offending either his sentiment or his reason. Thus he gave us a Gospel secundum Tolstoy, devoid of irrationality, deprived of metaphysical and mystical vision, despoiled of metaphors and symbols, mutilated of itsmiracles, and sometimes of its parables as well. By killing the letter, he killed also the spirit; and the outcome of this was that he finally dispensed not only with religion, but even with God: "I regard Christianity neither as a divine revelation nor as a historical phenomenon, but as a teaching which gives us the meaning of life. . . ."

Thus, by using the weapons of reason with neither pity nor piety, Tolstoy destroyed not only religion but science itself. His radical historical skepticism led him to deny not only sacred history, but human history as well. To do so, he had to be all at once a new Pascal and a new Voltaire, a new Kant and a new Rousseau; he had to be a skeptic and a believer, an idolater and an iconoclast, a classicist and a realist, in brief, Leo Tolstoy himself. To achieve this supreme paradox of his work and life, he had to be a new Alceste, equally unwilling to submit either his conscience to his consciousness, or his consciousness to his conscience. Refusing to be servant of the two spiritual rulers of his time, which were science and faith, he became their master, and forced them to do the bidding of both his mind and heart.


One could say that Tolstoy's achievements and failures proceed in part from his psychological dilemma, that they derive from the inner dualism of his problematic nature. On one side he strikes us with his liberality of mind, with an unmatched power to grasp the whole range of life. On the other, he surprises us with the one-sidedness of his concern not with human existence but with "what men live by." Two souls fight in his breast, one asserting the primacy of thinking, and the other, of being. Now, like Dmitri Karamazov, he would love life above anything else; now, like Dmitri's brother, Ivan, he would worship merely "the meaning of life." Isaiah Berlin adumbrated this conflict in a paradox he derived from a line by Archilochus. A sentence preserved among the fragments of that poet claims that the fox may know many little things, and the hedgehog only one, but big. Mr. Berlin extends this antithesis to the world of the spirit, dividing all writers and thinkers into "hedgehogs," who "relate everything to a single central vision, one system more or less coherent and articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel," and into "foxes," who "lead lives, perform acts, and entertain ideas that are centrifugal rather than centripetal, seizing upon the essence of a vast variety of experiences and objects for what they are in themselves." After having so defined his two categories, Mr. Berlin advances the hypothesis that "Tolstoy was by nature a fox, but he thought he was a hedgehog." If this were true, it would mean in political terms that in Tolstoy the liberal fox was stronger than the conservative hedgehog, or, in religious terms, that his pagan consciousness was stronger than his puritan conscience. This would also deny the schism of his soul, and reduce it to a matter of mere appearance. That schism, however, was his destiny, and the token of his greatness. Tolstoy himself saw contradiction and conflict as part of the human condition, as the lot of that feeling and thinking reed which is man. In his moods of Olympic serenity, when he could master or transcend his inner rifts, he considered contradiction as the most precious of man's gifts. Gorki once had the privilege of catching the old man in one of these moods, and of fixing that instant forever, to posterity's benefit. The aged master and the younger writer were sitting together among the cypresses of Crimea, listening to the song of a chaffinch. Tolstoy talked a while about the extreme jealousy which that bird seems to feel for its mate, and this led him to discuss human jealousy as well. Tolstoy concluded his talk with the remark that man becomes love's slave when woman holds him not by his lust, but by his soul. By way of objection, Gorki reminded Tolstoy that his Kreutzer Sonata was the very contradiction of what he had just said. All he got in reply was the radiance of a sudden smile beaming through Tolstoy's beard, and the single retort: "But I am not a chaffinch."

No, Tolstoy was not a chaffinch, nor was he a fox or a hedgehog, or, rather, he was both. He was perhaps more of a hedgehog as a man, and more of a fox as an artist; and this is why he smiled with Philinte's indulgence toward life, and frowned like Alceste on his fellow men. Yet this does not mean that we can sever in him the Philinte from the Alceste, the hedgehog from the fox, or the man from the artist. It was the inner discord of his personality that made him unique. Only by realizing this may we solve the most vexing question of Tolstoy's biography, which is whether the unrelenting warfare which as a convert and a doctrinaire he waged against the poet and the creator within himself ended in victory or defeat. The outcome of that issue was obviously a double triumph for the man and the artist. Rainer Maria Rilke was one of the few who saw this, as shown by the letter in which he re-evokes, almost a quarter of a century later, the visits he had paid to Tolstoy in his youth:

His very figure appeared to me like the personification of a fatality, of a misunderstanding: and in the end it moved me, since, despite all the obstinate wrongs that fiercely unruly man did to himself, and was always willing to do to others, he still seemed to remain touchingly valid and safe even when rebelling against his greatest and most evident duties. It was in this way and no other that a young man like me, who had already decided to devote all his life to art, could understand that self-contradictory old man, trying to stifle within his soul what had been divinely imposed on it; who with tireless effort foreswore himself even in his own blood, but who failed to control the immense energies inexhaustibly renewed by his artist's nature, being repressed and denied by him. How lofty (and how pure!) stood he above all those, the majority in Europe, who, unlike him, doubting those energies all their life, had resolved to hide with skill and deceit (with "literature") the temporary decline, or the absence, of their creative powers!27

What Rilke says here is simply that Tolstoy never played any stock role, that in all he did he acted, like his Levin, out of "a perfectly new, unexpected view of things." This perpetual freshness of outlook was rooted in his very being, and the artist expressed it simply and directly without ever trying to enhance it. The classical simplicity of his writing achieved very often the opposite effect, by attenuating the singular novelty of his vision, and by reducing to the level of the natural the almost unnatural wonders of his unique Self. This is why, unlike so many of the artists of our time, he never attempted to correct, improve, or transform himself as an artist. The only "counsel of perfection" he sought to follow was, if not religious, chiefly ethical in character. Yet this "counsel of perfection" never implied, even after the so-called conversion, the notion of a personal metamorphosis or a radical psychological change. In early Christianity, the pagan convert considered himself a new man, as if he were reborn. But Tolstoy, who always reacted against both death and life with the stubborn "I don't want to" of his own Ivan Ilich,28 was never seduced by the idea of rebirth. He wanted to remain eternally who he was, or perhaps to become more fully what he had always been. He could have said of himself what he said once of his hero Levin: "He felt himself, and did not want to be anyone else. All he wanted now was to be better than before."

It is perhaps in this paradoxical ability to reconcile within himself the contrasting demands of becoming and being that there lies the greatest difference between Tolstoy and Alceste. The latter has settled forever all moral problems in his intransigent code of behavior, as well as in his intolerant mind, and it is this weakness that makes him a comic type. In a high and noble sense, Alceste always remains the extreme and rigid manifestation of the hypochondriac "humor" which is the basis of his character. In other words, he will play to the end the role of the crankand the "eccentric" in a social and moral milieu which does not value exception and eccentricity. Tolstoy's character, however, was never fixed into a rigid mold; his, to use Montaigne's term, was an "undulating" nature. In brief, while Alceste cannot stand contradictions, which deny or destroy his very being, Tolstoy seems to prosper and grow stronger amidst them. Such a contrast is not merely psychological, but also historical in character. The culture that created Molière's misanthrope considered society, rather than itself, as the supreme value, and looked askance at any form of introspection and nonconformity. But Tolstoy lived in a culture partly shaped by Rousseauistic and romantic ideas, and therefore he was inclined to take the side of the individual in his struggle with the body social and politic. He did so in Anna Karenina, where he sided with the person against the group (but not, as Anna's destiny shows, against a morality standing higher than both the person and the group). In that novel practically everybody condemns the splendid isolation of Levin, his absolute absorption in himself, his total disrespect for all social standards and forms. As in the case of Alceste, all his friends consider Levin un grand extravagant. His older brother Sergey upbraids him for this: "Come, really, though . . . there's limit to everything. It's very well to be original and genuine, and to dislike everything conventional. . . ." It is the author alone who sympathizes with an "eccentricity" which all other characters either resent or scorn. Some of them see in such "eccentricity" a social danger so great as to imperil civilization itself. It is in reply to Levin's indictment of luxury and hedonism that Stiva accuses Kostya of savagery and barbarism:

"Why, of course," objected Stepan Arkadyevich. "But that's just the aim of civilization—to make everything a source of enjoyment." "Well, if that's the aim, I'd rather be a savage." "All you Levins are savages. . . ."

Stiva's accusation sounds like a replica or an echo of the line by which Philinte rejects, as both uncivil and uncivilized, Alceste's dogmatic and doctrinaire misanthropy:

Ce chagrin philosophe est un peu trop sauvage.
This philosophic rage is a bit extreme.

The intent of Philinte's words is merely to point out the uncouthness of his friend's pedantic moralism. By accusing of "savagery" the "philosophical wrath" of Alceste, Philinte restates on the author's behalf the moral and intellectual ideal of the honnête homme. Yet Molière could not realize the almost prophetic quality of that line, which seems to announce the culture of the following century, when the civilized common sense of the Philintes was to be replaced by the Alcestian savagery of a new "philosophic wrath." The philosophe will take the place of the honnête homme, and the former will convert into a virtue what was a vice in the latter. This is the reason why the following century will rehabilitate Alceste beyond Molière's intention, and against his will. Through the mediation of eighteenth-century thought, Tolstoy will inherit this "philosophical wrath," sharing it with Levin and all his autobiographical characters, and spreading it over all his works. The objects of that wrath will be numberless: not only such great entities as civilization and society, art and culture, state and church, but even things as small and petty as those which are often the occasion of Alceste's misanthropy, or its pretext.

What Tolstoy has in common with his archetype is that there is method in his madness. Like Alceste he obeys almost without self-control the heedings of his "inner voice," the dictates of a conscience denying all values but those of the self. Yet he feels at the same time the compulsionof seeking the rationale of both his denial and his stand. When he believes he has found a general principle satisfying at once the demands of his mind and his heart, Tolstoy applies it to life, without regard for the consequences. Molière makes fun of what one would now call Alceste's "intellectual radicalism." Yet "intellectual radicalism" was to dominate modern culture from the eighteenth century on. Tolstoy himself is an extreme manifestation of this trend, since he never hesitated to follow an idea to its bitter end, wherever it might lead him. Romain Rolland praised him for his "heroic logic," in terms which would have been hardly acceptable to the century of Molière and Descartes, when logic was identified with common sense, and the latter was considered "la chose du monde la plus répandue." Yet Tolstoy deserves that praise, even though he used the sharp razor of logic a little irresponsibly, with Voltairian amusement and Shavian mischief.

The nemesis of an originality of this kind, based on the concordia discors of the two opposite "inner voices," on the conflicting claims of reason and sentiment, is selfrighteousness, to be understood not only in its normal, moral sense, but in the intellectual as well. Tolstoy could not be satisfied except by being Tolstoy and right at the same time. He did not care much to convert others to his own way of life, but he had to convert them to his views. In doing so, he showed little regard for human feelings, and even for the truth, being all too prone to confuse what he felt inwardly truthful with the objectively true. George Orwell noticed this trait of Tolstoy's character, which he defined as a sort of "spiritual bullying." Chekhov pointed out even more harshly "the boldness with which Tolstoy treats what he does not know and, out of sheer stubbornness, refuses to understand."29 On another occasion, Chekhov went so far as to assert that Tolstoy was a spiritual tyrant, who used his prestige and eminence to behave with a boorishness which public opinion would allow to nobody else:

All great sages are as despotic as generals, and as ignorant and indelicate as generals, because they feel secure. Diogenes spat in people's faces, knowing that he would not suffer for it. Tolstoy abuses doctors as scoundrels, and displays his ignorance in great questions because he's just such a Diogenes he won't be locked up and abused in the newspapers. And so to the devil with the philosophy of all the great ones of this world.30

Chekhov was a doctor, and what stirred his indignation in this case was Tolstoy's Molièrian scorn for medicine and its practitioners. Yet this indictment transcends the immediate occasion that dictated it, and brands forever the great man's one-sidedness and wrongheadedness. The very allusion to Diogenes seems to imply that Tolstoy, while playing all too consciously his role as a critic of society, sometimes acted unconsciously as society's clown or fool. This, however, is not true, and the Chekhovian parallel between Tolstoy and Diogenes cannot be reduced to the ferocious caricature it seems to be. Tolstoy was a sincere and suffering Diogenes; even though he was unwilling to leave his family and house to live within a barrel, he was at least able to use the lamp of his mind to look for an honest man not only without, but also within himself.

The spectator of The Misanthrope never knows whether Alceste will make good his word and retire forever from the community of his peers, or whether he will yield to the entreaties of his friends and remain among his fellow men. He merely knows that Alceste will never become a cynic, although he will never cease to be a misanthrope. This is equally true of Tolstoy, who will direct his misanthropy toward man as a social animal, but whose cynicism will never involve man as a person or soul. This is why Tolstoy's main commandment may be summed up in two Alcestian utterances, one taking an imperative, and the other a negative, form. The first one is:"Je veux que l'on soit homme" (Let men behave like men), and there is no need to elaborate what such a principle meant for Tolstoy himself. The second is: "Plus de société" (No more conversation), which, as the translation clearly indicates, means simply "no more talk." Yet one should not forget that esprit de conversation and esprit de société are one and the same thing,31 that all the misanthropes who start by requesting the abolition of social intercourse end by asking the abolition of society itself. Since society refuses to abolish both its talk and itself, the misanthrope has no other alternative but to withdraw "du commerce des hommes" (from the commerce with mankind).

Man may, however, lose his life in the attempt to save it; while trying "de fuir dans un desert l'approche des humains" (to flee into a desert land unfouled by mankind), he may die in solitude and despair far from his family and home, like Diogenes or King Lear. Yet sometimes a misanthrope like Tolstoy may be able to find, if only for a while, in life and not in death, if not in Yasnaya Polyana at least within himself, a secluded corner

Où d'être homme d'honneur on ait la liberté.
Where he'll be free to have an honest heart.

Society will in the end recognize the nobility of such an attempt, whether successful or not. And this is why posterity should engrave on Tolstoy's tomb, as an ideal epitaph, Eliante's simple praise of the misanthropic Alceste:

Et la sincérité dont son âme se piqueA quelque chose en soi de noble et d'héroïque.C'est une vertu rare au siècle d'aujourd'hui,Et je la voudrais voir partout comme chez lui.

The honesty in which he takes such pride
Has—to my mind—its noble, heroic side.
In this false age, such candor seems outrageous;
But I could wish that it were more contagious.


1 The main vehicle of the indictment was Tolstoy's late pamphlet "Shakespeare and the Drama," which had also roused the attention of G. B. Shaw. Orwell's essay, amusingly entitled "Lear, Tolstoy, and the Fool," appeared in Polemic, VII (March 1947). Before Orwell, Romain Rolland had described the tragic episode which closed Tolstoy's life as "the flight of the old and dying King Lear across the steppe" (Vie de Tolstoï, Paris, 1928).

These two texts are the first of the many primary or secondary sources referred to more than once in the course of the present essay. To avoid taxing the patience of the reader with an excessive burden of notes, I give the full title, and other pertinent or biographical information, only at the point where each one of such texts is mentioned for the first time. For the sake of brevity, I have omitted giving page numbers for the passages cited or quoted.

2 Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox, An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History (London, 1953).

3 Maxim Gorki, Reminiscences of Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy. Translated by S. S. Koteliansky and Leonard Woolf (New York, 1920). All other quotations from Gorki are taken from this work.

4 In a letter to A. S. Suvorin, dated December 11, 1891. This and all Chekhov's other letters are quoted as translated by Constance Garnett in Letters by Anton Chekhov, partly reproduced in The Personal Papers of Anton Chekhov (New York: Lear Publishers, 1948).

5 This, and all passages from the same work, are quoted from What is Art? and Essays on Art by Leo Tolstoy, as translated by Aylmer Maude, and as published in the Centenary Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1929).

6 All quotations from Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth are taken from the translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude, in the Centenary Edition.

7 The truth of this may be proved not only by internal evidence, but also by the external sign of the name of Nikolenka's friend. It is not anachronistic to argue that the latter too must be at least in part a self-portrait, in view of the fact that Tolstoy will give again and again the same name and surname to characters created to project some of his own autobiographical experiences. It may suffice to mention that he did so with the protagonist of such an early fragment as "A Landowner's Morning," and, in his old age, with the hero of his last novel, Resurrection.

8 All quotations from Anna Karenina are given in Constance Garnett's translation, as published in the Modern Library edition.

9 In a letter to A. N. Pleshcheev, written on February 15, 1890 (see note 4 above).

10Maximes, no. 182.

11 Quoted as translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude, Centenary Edition.

12 Quoted as translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude, Centenary Edition.

13 David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1953; abridged edition).

14War and Peace and Domestic Happiness condemn romantic love directly and indirectly, mainly through the celebration of family life and conjugal love. Anna Karenina contrasts tragically to the latter an adulterous passion, which breaks the barriers of the moral code and the social norm. The Kreutzer Sonata, "The Devil," and "Father Sergius" are outright indictments of sexual love, whether lawful or not.

15 See Dmitri Merezhkovski, Tolstoy i Dostoevski, 2 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1912). An earlier, abridged version was translated into English under the title Tolstoy as Man and Artist, with an Essay on Dostoevski (New York, 1902).

16 Some scholars attribute Oronte's sonnet to the précieux poet Benserade. This would mean that it was originally written with a serious intent.

17 André Suarès, Tolstoï (Paris, 1899).

18 To add scorn to injury, Tolstoy claims to have chosen his pieces at random: "To avoid the reproach of having selected the worst verses, I have copied out of each volume whatever poem happened to stand on page 28."

19 Georg Lukács, Studies in European Realism, translated by Edith Bone (London, 1900).

20 This aphorism is to be found in the introductory section of La Bruyère's Les Charactéres ("Des Ouvrages de l'Esprit").

21 In an interview published in Le Temps on August 28, 1901.

22 Friedrich Schlegel made this statement in Die alte und neue Litteratur.

23 This, and all other quotations from Tolstoy's theological works, are given as translated by A. Maude, Centenary Edition.

24 From The Brothers Karamazov as translated by Constance Garnett.

25 I have already developed the same idea in an essay on Pascal's classicism, published originally in Italian: "Classicismo di Pascal," Letteratura (Florence), IX, 3 (May-June 1947).

26 A similar "harmony" was compiled in his spare time by Mr. Pontifex, ST., as any reader of Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh well knows.

27 Rainer Marie Rilke, Briefe aus Muzot (1921-1926) (Leipzig, 1935); letter no. 98, written to Prof. Hermann Pongs on October 21, 1924.

28 "I don't want to": these words are continuously repeated by Ivan Ilich during his agony.

29 From a letter to A. A. Pleshcheev written on February 15, 1890 (see note 6 above).

30 From a letter to A. Suvorin, dated September 8, 1891 (see note 6 above).

31 This idea was stated by Madame de Staël in De la Littérature, and, above all, in De l'Allemagne.

Fedor Stepun (essay date 1960)

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SOURCE: "The Religious Tragedy of Tolstoy," in The Russian Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, April, 1960, pp. 157-70.

[In the following essay, Stepun discusses the effects of religious conversion on Tolstoy's personal life.]

Anyone undertaking a discussion of Tolstoy should bear in mind the words of his wife, who eight years after his death, said to one of his biographers: "For forty-eight years I lived by the side of Lev Nikolaevich and to this day do not know what sort of person he was." The enigmatic character of the great novelist, religious thinker, and social reformer may principally be explained through the bewildering number of contradictions in his nature and by his untoward tendency to make dogmatic generalizations about his multifarious probings into the spheres of life and the human spirit. It would be simple to extract characteristic quotations from his many writings and to group them in such a way that they could give completely different portraits—each one resembling the great man yet each mutually irreconcilable.

The two-fold fame of Tolstoy, the fame of an artist and that of a "social prophet," as he was often called, was unique in his own time. During his lifetime there were few relatively cultivated persons who did not know of his Christianity that deprecated culture, and spurned the State, the judiciary, and private property. Not only in Europe, but all over the world his name had wide currency. Gandhi acknowledged that he had been given courage for his bloodless revolution by Tolstoy's doctrine of non-resistance. The spiritually kindred sect of the Dukhobors (Fighters of the Spirit), which he had greatly sustained in their enforced emigration from Russia, carried his name to North America.

To the Russian government, of course, he was a thorn in the side. It might have done much to frustrate his efforts, but could not. To have deported him or even merely to have banned his writings would have done more harm to itself than to him. At the same time, he was an involuntary ally in the government's battle against the terrorist revolutionaries of that period.

There are different opinions of the uniqueness of Tolstoy's talent. The great Russian philosopher and sensitive lyric poet, Soloviev for example, rejected him because of his naturalism. But there can be no dispute over the dimensions of his genius. Even Turgenev, himself an artist of significance, wrote: "Tolstoy is a giant among Russian writers—in the proportion of the elephant to other animals." The Russian religious philosopher Constantin Leontiev, a bitter enemy of Tolstoy's rosily sentimental social Christianity, carried the simile further: "Tolstoy, like an elephant, can wrest trees from the ground with his trunk, but can also lift a butterfly so tenderly from a flower that the flower loses none of its pollen."

Even someone who has read but a single one of Tolstoy's novels will agree with this observation. His ability to project himself into the mind and body of men and all living things, and to place them with stereoscopic plasticity before the eyes of the reader is unique. The baring of the soul and dealing with spiritual realities, of which Dostoevsky was such a great master, were more foreign to Tolstoy. The famous statement of Dostoevsky to characterize his art, "I am called a psychologist but I am a higher realist,"—Berdyaev speaks of him as if he were a pneumatologist—may scarcely be applied to Tolstoy. There can be no doubt that the great artistry of Tolstoy was of a paganly sensuous nature rather than of a Christian spiritual one, and this must understandably have made difficult his approach to the Christian mysteries.

Tolstoy had to overcome similar difficulties as a religious philosopher and social reformer. Even his first autobiographical novel, in which he tells of his childhood and youth, shows him on the one hand to be a pronounced moralist—the young hero of his story keeps diaries in which he notes down his faults and vices—and on the other hand to be a pantheist in whom there is thedesire to be as submerged in the totality of things as is a drop of water in the sweep of the ocean.

However significant moralism and pantheism may be as religious categories, they are hindrances rather than aids to a sympathetic approach to Christianity. The relationships must be clearly seen in order to properly understand the tragedy of Tolstoy in his passionate battle for Christianity.

After interrupting his law studies, after unsuccessfully trying to administer his estate along his own ideas, and after living the carefree existence of a wealthy youth of his station in Petersburg, Tolstoy volunteered to go to the Caucasus, where he fought for four years the wild native mountaineers, then to Crimea where he fought against the English and the French in Sevastopol. From three trips abroad he brought back a lively reaction against social injustice and an awakened interest in problems of education. At thirty-four he married the nineteen-year-old Sophie Bers and brought her to his estate, which bore the pleasant and propitious name, "Bright Meadow." Happiness did arrive—"an unbelievable, breath-taking happiness," as Tolstoy wrote in his diary—one that he felt to be "unnatural," "undeserved," and not meant for himself. The blessings of this love lasted fifteen whole years at least, not without occasional clouds and rough spots, to be sure. With gratifying devotion he worked at his great novels, which brought him wide fame and considerable money. The management of his estate, previously unsuccessful, improved from year to year with the help of his wife. He rejoiced in the arrival of his children. Both father and mother devoted themselves with equal enthusiasm to their rearing and education. The mother instructed them in languages; the father taught arithmetic. The children also learned from him how to swim, ride, tumble, and play croquet, at which he was an expert. Frequently guests would come to visit. They would philosophize over tea until late in the night. The salon was filled with music and song. The memoirs of a contemporary Russian philosopher compare the Tolstoy of this period to a mightly patriarchal oak, the roots of which penetrate deep into the native soil while the powerful green branches rustle high in the clear, blue air.

Tolstoy's diaries and letters confirm the truth of this picture. Yet, even this great initial happiness of his life was overcast periodically by fits of melancholy and dejection. He read widely in Schopenhauer and declared this philosopher of pessimism to be one of the greatest geniuses who had ever lived. An insurmountable fear of death beset him suddenly in an attack of depression. In 1863, at the time when his happiness was in full flower, he wrote: "Ever more swiftly I am cascading into the abyss of death and cannot grab hold of myself. But I refuse to die. I crave and I love immortality."

Seven years after his marriage Tolstoy learned that an estate in a distant province was available at an attractive price. En route to the place he stopped over in the small town of Arsamas. Sleep was out of the question, and at two o'clock in the morning, he was seized by an inexplicable pain and fit of terror. Not being able to fathom the cause of this seizure, he wrote to his wife from the next station to find if there had been any untoward event at home. Tolstoy revealed this incident fifteen years later in his autobiographical story, "Sketches of a Madman," which appeared posthumously. In it we learn that it became clear to him that night in Arsamas not only that his trip was completely futile, but that nothing in his whole life had made any sense. In a manner that never had occurred before he felt himself suddenly split in two and become estranged from himself. Trying to overcome this sensation he went into the next room where his servant was soundly asleep. The feeling stayed with him, however, and he was evermore confronted with the questions, "Where am I dragging myself? What am I sad about? What am I afraid of? The voiceof death appeared before me—'I am here!'." His back was drenched in sweat. "He will come indeed," he said to himself aloud, "and is already at hand, but that cannot be!"

Tolstoy, who had been cited for bravery in battle, did not experience fear of death in Arsamas, but something entirely different—an impassioned protest against man's mortality. It was as though something strove to rip his soul into pieces and yet could not. He tried to go back to his room and fall asleep. He was tormented by a delirium, "red, white, and quadratic." (Notice the unusual expressionistic phrases that Tolstoy uses.) There was not a drop of compassion left in his soul. He only felt a calm anger at himself and at what had fashioned him. He tried praying, but that failed to help. Perhaps in this last sentence lies the deepest problem of Tolstoy's life and thus of significance to the study of Tolstoy. One certainly cannot pray to an It; one must pray to a Thou. Whether that It, which created mankind, ever finally metamorphosed into a Thou for Tolstoy must be doubted in view of his last words dictated to his daughter shortly before his death: "God is the boundless All . . . In reality nothing exists but God . . . God is not love. The more, however, man loves and the more he overflows with God, the more real, truly real he becomes." These highly significant and meaningful sentences appear more as metaphysical statements than as a confession of faith.

The "agony of Arsamas," as the incident was later called in Tolstoy's family, did not dissipate completely after his return to "Bright Meadow." While his delight in artistic creation and the joy of being father and husband remained, yet his life took on a bitter savor, aggravated by external circumstances. Four times within five years death struck at the once so happy household. Tolstoy's old governess, to whom he had been attached, his aunt, and two of his children died. A sense of the transitoriness of life increasingly troubled him. The thought of suicide was constantly with him. Contented though he appeared, he was afraid to go hunting with a firearm, and he hid away a rope, lest he hang himself in his room at night. A sharp light is focused on his preoccupation with death by the fact that of the two hundred and thirty-nine chapters of Anna Karenina only one has a title, and that is: "Death." As he relates in his Confession, turning to Christianity saved him from utter desperation.

Although Tolstoy was one of the most widely read men of his time, it is almost impossible to determine which key works of world literature molded him. He possessed a singular immunity to the reading material he stored away. In reading, he was concerned chiefly with the confirmation of his own ideas, and hardly at all with ramifications and variations on them. This unproductive, egocentric path in the realm of literature led him to seek answers to the questions that haunted him not so much in books as in fellow men.

In that society to which he was born he found scarcely a person to whom he was able to speak on his own terms. They lived on, happily and frivolously as long as their accustomed life had flavor and then sank into anguish and pettiness as soon as the taste for life waned. Tolstoy found the real answers to his questions about death among the peasants: from those he knew in his village and from pilgrims he sought out on the highways with whom he engaged in long discussions over refreshment. His friend Strakhov tells of this. From these discussions there developed in him a very particular idea of the wisdom of life seen in the simple, hard-working Russian people. In Confession he says: "Every human being came to the world by the will of God and God has created every human being in such a way that he not only can save his soul but can also destroy it. The task of man is to save his soul. This can only succeed' if he hearkens to God, if he renounces what is pleasurable, if he toils and remains humble and compassionate to his neighbor." Tolstoy declared that the Russian people's moral preeminence was a result of their Christian faith. This insight drew Tolstoy to the Christian faith of the Russian people—to prayer, to fasting, confession and communion and to acceptance of dogma. It also brought about a determination to silence his critical reason.

An external attachment to the people accompanied the inward one. Tolstoy donned the peasant's blouse, and his sensitive writer's hand took up the plough and scythe. Becoming a peasant follows becoming a Christian.

As Dostoevsky predicted after reading Anna Karenina, this attempt at salvation failed most tragically. The real reason for this collapse may be found in its unreality, which initially was probably not apparent to Tolstoy, but which could not long remain concealed from a man so earnestly seeking the truth.

The chief reason for this failure was that his conception of the essence of the faith of the Russian people overlooked everything vital to this faith—the triune God, Christ as the only-begotten son of God, the intercession of Mary, who was especially revered by the Russian people, and the resurrection of the body transfigured—in short, the whole mystery of Christianity.

Furthermore, the peasants through their faith lived on, unconcerned about death whilst Tolstoy embraced the faith of the peasants out of his fear of death. His decision to become a Christian in the manner of a peasant is also reflected in the picture of the peasant's courage to live in his story, "Three Deaths." "A peasant is there to live, and he dies just for the very reason that he is not a Christian. Even if he follows the customs of the Church, his true faith is actually Nature, in which he lives."

Already feeling inwardly alienated from the Church, Tolstoy made an attempt to pick an argument with it. He did not make it an easy task for himself. He renewed his half-forgotten knowledge of Greek and learned Hebrew, in order to read the two Testaments of Holy Scripture in the original. Two books resulted from these studies pursued with such dedicated fervor—The Critique of Dogmatic Theology, which he meant to be scholarly, but only half succeeded, and My Religion, a tract in which he states in burning words the philosophical results of his learned efforts.

The Critique of Dogmatic Theology is the only vulnerable work of Tolstoy. The reason for this weakness is that before he began his research, he knew which conclusion he would draw. He did not investigate in order to discover a truth, but to prove to himself and to the world the absolute validity of a truth he had already discovered.

His roundabout way to his religious and social proclamations in My Religion were useless. He could have written this piece without postulating dilletantish and petulant attacks on the doctrines of Christianity and on the Church. For in the final analysis, this rests completely and entirely on concepts which Tolstoy had mistakenly declared to be the faith of the Russian people about the essence of Christianity. He now had finally determined that Jesus Christ was not a God, but a human prophet of a truth, that the Gospel was not revelation, but that which is engraved into the soul of every worthy man. Conquering death was not realized by belief in the resurrection, but by fulfilling the teaching of Christ, that is to say by the unity of mankind, by mutual love, and by the maintenance of peace on earth. Whoever fulfilled these demands would be united after physical death with that love emanating in the world, with God.

Tolstoy admits in his letter to the Holy Synod in connection with his excommunication that this teaching, which plainly reveals the ethical-pantheistic stamp of his religiosity, has practically nothing in common with the mystery of Christ, as the Church experiences it and teaches it. "I believe," he wrote, "that God has most clearly made known His will in the teaching of Christ the Man, whom to regard as God, however, and to pray to, I regard as a blasphemy." The Synod excommunicated Tolstoy, perhaps not from the purest of motives, but it was certainly completely justified in doing this. Invoking the name of Christ, the Son of God, every Sunday in the Liturgy, it could scarcely acknowledge as a Christian and harbor in the Church any person who regarded such supplications as blasphemy. If there is a question of the Church's culpability in regard to Tolstoy, then it should not be related to his excommunication, but to its inability to prove to him that it was filled with the spirit of Christ.

In his struggles with God Tolstoy found his neighbor; in the false paths of his theology, his social ethic; in the Utopian demands of this ethic, the liberation of his conscience from torment—the greatest social conscience of his time, and to which he had sacrificed everything—his art and his domestic happiness.

The basic idea on which Tolstoy constructed his social ethic and social philosophy is found in Matthew 5: 38-39 and reads: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil." From this renunciation of force Tolstoy derived his stand against anger, taking an oath, waging war, and above all, against the State as the sworn community of the wrathful, who out of wrath turn to war. In What Shall We Do Then? Tolstoy gives an incisive summary of the formation of the power of the State: first the people are enslaved by the sword and then they are enslaved by money.

After a thorough study of the most diverse theories of money, Tolstoy arrives at his famous formula: "Money is a certificate for the work of the poor and disinherited." Therefore it follows that money can be of no help to the poor, whose exploitation cannot be lessened just because these certificates of their sweat and blood change hands. This technically untenable theory of money came to Tolstoy in an especially paradoxical and tragic manner when, on a visit to the Moscow almshouse, he saw that he was in no position to help the miserable inmates with money.

Tolstoy drew the conclusion from his radical rejection of money that the capitalistic economic system was the worst and most unjust that had ever existed. In regard to the sociological bases of the capitalist system, he explored in a most original manner the principle upon which modern society rests, that of the division of labor. The representatives of the professions emerged especially poorly. In What Shall We Do Then? his attack on all the professions is characterized by particular severity but also by stylistic splendor. One feels that here not only social theories are being developed but attacks made on the society of which Tolstoy is bitterly conscious of being a member. In this book, this attack is especially effective, because one has the feeling that it is a direct attack upon himself. He could no longer bear to see good, earnest men of the people attend his household, have them fell trees in the forest and chop wood so that he would be warm in the winter. It distressed him to see them draw water for the kitchen so that his food would be cooked; to have them groom the horses for his use; to milk cows for cream in his coffee; to make them brush his clothes and clean his boots—in short, to have them do everything that was necessary for his daily existence. And what did he offer in return? Nothing but his novels that could not possibly be of interest to the people—and even could not be read by most of them, because they were illiterate. Was not such an exchange pure and simple theft? Could such a person who was conscious of this situation continue his parasitic life in good conscience?Tolstoy denied this for himself and for the whole class of landed people and of those who are dominant by dint of wealth.

Tolstoy, always attacking a problem in its entirety, asked himself what could be done to eliminate this inequitable division of labor in society and how it could be substituted with something more just. In answering the fundamental question of his book Tolstoy's famous "four teams" theory arose. As may be anticipated from his criticism of the principle of the division of labor, the basic idea was for every person to do for himself everything that had to be done for the interest of all. According to Tolstoy's scheme, everyone's day should be divided into four sections, or as he calls it, four "teams," which should be divided in natural order by the usual meals. Before breakfast everyone should do heavy manual work and "earn his bread by the sweat of his brow." Between breakfast and the noon meal each person should improve his skill at some craft; and from noon until vespers all should engage in some mental exercise to sharpen their wits and imagination. Evening should be devoted to the cultivation of good relations with one's fellow beings, in friendly association with one's neighbor. This program, which Tolstoy worked out with all the joy of discovery, was greeted in St. Petersburg, where he had hoped to submit it to the government, with no enthusiasm. In spite of this failure, his great disappointment led to a new and final version of his religious and social theory. Out of the sky it occurred to him that Christianity was in no position to shape external life, because this would be actually impossible without the use of force. Its true mission was entirely different. It was to perfect each person inwardly and to organize into a society those souls awakened to the truth.

The Light Shineth in the Darkness, the title of his autobiographical drama, which Tolstoy undertook in the 'nineties, introduces meaningfully this last phase of the development of his teaching. One can see how seriously he regarded his new conviction and to what paradoxical conclusions it led him by the following incident: When a terrible famine broke out in Russia in 1891 and the government was powerless to control it, certain representatives of the intelligentsia decided to take matters into their own hands. The well-known writer Leskov called on Tolstoy in connection with this and pleaded with him to devote himself, his name, and his energies to battling the famine. Tolstoy categorically rejected this request and expressed the opinion that it was not a matter of giving bread to the hungry, but of loving both the hungry and well-fed alike.

But this theory could not survive for long in the face of grim reality in the starving districts. Tolstoy got five hundred rubles from his wife, and with two daughters went to the famine regions, where he managed to help the dying in a sacrificing and ingenious manner with the energies characteristic of him. Every day 13,000 adults and 3,000 children were nourished at his food stations. He also undertook to feed the starving cattle during the winter and in the spring returned the cows and horses in well-fed condition to the peasants who had meanwhile been saved. He naturally needed money for all of this and with his name it was not hard to get. But he did not regard this activity as being right. In a letter written later to one of his followers who upbraided him for interfering in the famine he admitted that it had not been right for him to help the suffering with the aid of money side by side with the State which he denied, because that was deceitful and pharisaical. However, he could no longer bear the suffering of the peasants and had to come to their aid.

Tolstoy's life ended in complete chaos. Such an end did not arrive unexpectedly. A full thirteen years before his death, just at the time he had determined to abandon his house and family forever, he wrote in his diary: "I have prayed to God to free my life and I pray again and cry inpain; I have erred, have faltered, and cannot help myself. I hate myself and my life." His condition worsened year after year. His uncompromisingly serious and sincere efforts to live a Christian life, from external appearances at least, showed only negative results. The once so happy marriage suffered complete deterioration, resulting in the alienation of the children, as some took sides with their father and others with their mother. The powers of the Church triumphed as they regarded with satisfaction what discontent with himself and the world the apostle of love had wrought for himself. And finally, it even led to the disappointment of his closest followers, who were only able to accomplish the disinheritance of his family through means that they absolutely rejected. Indeed, to prepare a will demanded recognition of the State, of the Law, and above all of money—that was to say, of force.

The signing of the will took place in secret and not without tragically romantic color. Early on the morning of July 22, 1910, Tolstoy rode to a nearby forest where Chertkov, his closest friend, two of his staff, and the pianist Goldenweiser awaited to serve as witnesses. How hard it was for him to sign the paper may be seen by the fact that he signed it under protest.

During the night that followed, Tolstoy heard furtive steps outside his study and a door open. He immediately realized it was his wife searching for his will. He was seized with disgust and indignation. His pulse leaped and he could scarcely breathe. Suddenly the firm decision came—to flee, to flee immediately. At four o'clock in the morning he wrote his letter of farewell to his wife, awoke his youngest daughter and the family doctor, went outside and had the horses harnessed, he himself trying to help in nervous haste. He then abandoned his house forever.

His daughter and one of her friends brought him to a convent, where his sister was a nun. Meanwhile things were happening at home. After his wife had read his letter, she ran to the pond to drown herself. She was prevented from this with difficulty by a daughter. That night she paced like a shadow across the room loudly sobbing.

On the train taking him to his still indeterminate destination Tolstoy came down with a serious case of pneumonia. At the station at Astapovo it was imperative that he leave the train and be lodged in the quarters of the station master. The Countess followed with her two sons in a special train, but was admitted by the doctors only once for a short time into the sick room where her husband lay scarcely breathing, with his eyes closed. Seven days later Tolstoy died, surrounded by the love and care of those closest to him. His friend Chertkov, two daughters, and his eldest son stood by his bed as he died. His wife was not there. They had requested her not to return until after he had recovered.

This moving tragedy, so contrary to the spirit of Tolstoy, was unfolded in the bright light of publicity. The telegraph rattled away all day long to inform the world of the progress of Tolstoy's illness. At the station, newspapermen from home and abroad lingered about for the slightest news. At a discreet distance away, the gendarmerie was stationed on orders from St. Petersburg. There was fear that news of the death of the internationally famous friend of the people would draw unwanted crowds. Thus the dying man accumulated about his deathbed everything that he had rejected and fought against for most of his life.

The burial in a previously chosen patch of his favorite forest was the occasion of a moving demonstration. Overcrowded trains arrived from Moscow, one after the other. Thousands of people followed behind the coffin. The procession stretched for miles. As the coffin was lowered, the throng sang the beautiful chant of the Orthodox requiem, in which the dead are promisedeternal remembrance. Someone shouted "On your knees!" to the police guards, who obediently followed the order.

The tragic conclusion of such sincere, thorough, and courageous efforts as Tolstoy's to bring about the realization of a Christian life raises two questions to anyone trying to unravel the unique phenomenon of this genius. Why did he fail, and why, even as a failure, was he beloved and admired by so immeasurably many people as the true apostle of Christianity?

While finding it difficult to phrase my answer to this question, I wish to do it with the reservation that I might be in error and with all due respect for the sufferings of the great man. Tolstoy's life as a Christian failed because he lacked the true Christian experience, because the truth for which he stood was not the truth of Christ, but his own. When Christ said to his apostles, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free," he was not referring to truth as a doctrine or a rule of law, but to Himself, in unity with his Father, and to the acknowledgement of a union with Him, the Christ, God and Man in one person. This mystical conception, if that it should be called, was completely alien and foreign to Tolstoy, as he himself once stated. The truth of Christianity for him was not the reality of the countenance of Christ, as revealed to us and concealed from us in the Gospels, but the various requirements and counsels in them, a sort of New Testament code of laws which he made the basis of the Christian religious and social philosophy. It never became clear to him that these demands and homilies, as they are in part given and set in mythical parables, only reveal the model of a Christian and cannot be conceived as advice for all times and all situations, and that Christianity cannot be used as a guidebook for social and economic policy.

Tolstoy in the end came to this conclusion, as is represented in so many analyses of theology and philosophy of religion, but only in the last period of his life, only from the time following the failure of his "four-team" theory. Then he preached that the Kingdom of God could only reside within the human soul and that the outside world was not to be shaped along the lines of Christianity. But even with this insight he made entirely impossible demands, as we learn from his conversations with Leskov.

But if Tolstoy's life, despite so many failures, was nonetheless able to make a very great impression on the contemporary world, the explanation lay in his struggle to realize Christianity—as he understood it—with such sincerity and self-sacrifice as was scarcely possible in his time. It worked like a miracle and commanded reverence and created its own sense of gratitude for this undeserved gift to a faithless age. Tolstoy died with the words, "To seek, always to seek!" He was forever seeking and striving. Perhaps as he died he heard the choir of angels:

For he whose strivings never ceaseIs ours for his redeeming. [Goethe, Faust, II, Act V. Tr. by Philip Wayne]

G. W. Spence (essay date 1963)

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SOURCE: "Suicide and Sacrifice in Tolstoy's Ethics," in The Russian Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, April, 1963, pp. 157-67.

[In the following essay, Spence argues that at the time of his conversion, Tolstoy was caughtbetween the extremes of suicide and asceticism to resolve his existential dilemmas.]

Tolstoy's ideals of non-resistance and of complete celibacy are both derived from the same two beliefs, one of which is positive—that God exists; and the other negative—that we need to renounce the welfare of the personality.1 He himself had already renounced the welfare of his personality before he came to believe in God (he was going to kill himself), and this fact is fundamental to his understanding of Christianity and his formulation of an ethical code. For this code, when expressed in a concrete form applicable to life, is negative. The five commandments of the Sermon on the Mount, which for him constitute the essence of Christ's teaching, he interprets negatively: "Do not be angry, do not lust, do not take oaths, do not go to law, do not fight." According to him, only a man anxious for his own personal welfare or for that of those he loved would seek to justify himself in breaking any of these rules. For a man who recognizes the impossibility of individual happiness, and who knows that the pursuit of it merely causes further suffering to oneself and others, it is illogical to break them.

Tolstoy's choice, at the time of his conversion, was between suicide and a life of self-sacrifice. Nothing else was possible; he could not go on living as before. Either there is no God, and life is a cheat; or there is a God, and life takes its meaning from its divine origin. Now if the latter is true, it is inconceivable that God should grant individuals life for their own enjoyment, since that enjoyment is unattainable and the desire for it results in despair, from which the individual can only be rescued by the substitution of some other end. Since life in time and space derives its significance solely through its dependence on God, who is beyond time and space, any activity is meaningless if it is not in accordance with the will of God, and the only end to which the individual can dedicate his life without a return to despair is service of God, which necessarily involves self-sacrifice.

It is death, above all, that proves the vanity of the personal life, says Tolstoy; but true life, if one participates in it by foregoing one's own will and doing that of the Father, lifts one beyond the death that destroys the personality, since it is the common life of humanity bound up with past, present, and future.2 It follows, then, that true life is a life of love.3 For while the personal life is born of the flesh, there is that in man which is born of God and which we should exalt in ourselves to attain true life. If a man merges his life into God's, he becomes united with others; he finds life in the son of man, which is the son of God and is present in us all.4

Tolstoy is opposed to individualism, and therefore he is opposed to the theory of personal immortality, as is clear from What I Believe. But in the essay On Life, where a theory of immortality is argued at length, the issue is confused. There he says that each man has his real and special self, independent of the conditions of time and space, and therefore immortal.5 But if one man's self is beyond time and space, it cannot be divided off from other such selves, but must be one with them. That being so, everyone's self, as distinct from his personality, is the same. One man's likes and dislikes, therefore, cannot logically be equated with his self, though Tolstoy tries to make out that they can, but they must be due to his personality, since they differ from another man's; and, as there can only be one ever-living self, it is nonsense to talk of my special self and your special self.

It now becomes clear why Tolstoy insists strenuously that the theory that force should never be used to resist evil is the key to Christ's teaching, and that it cannot be modified without impairing the essence of that teaching. For to him non-resistance is simply a form of self-sacrifice.

Someone may gladly turn the other cheek when it is his own cheek he is turning, and yet may refuse to stand by merely protesting verbally when another person is attacked; he will argue that he is compelled by love of that victim to resort to force—to kill, maybe, to prevent killing. Tolstoy refutes this argument. He says indeed that, besides using words, one should defend the victim with one's breast, laying down one's life by standing in the aggressor's way. But sometimes this measure is not adequate. He counters this objection by saying that nonresistance is a principle, and that, whereas one cannot forsee the consequence of one's actions, principles are clear, so one should always obey principles; that one can never be quite sure that the murder one is trying to prevent would otherwise take place; and that, if one tries to kill the aggressor, one cannot love him, though one should love all men equally.6

Now non-resistance is certainly a sound principle if I, in renouncing my personal welfare, am justified in renouncing the personal welfare of others also. Admittedly that welfare will be taken from them eventually by death, if not before; but death does not prove the vanity of all physical life. If it did, it was a mistake of God's to give us bodies in the first place. Here we perceive the absurdity of dualism. I should not renounce my animal personality, says Tolstoy, but only its welfare; that personality I should submit to the demands of reasonable consciousness and use as an instrument for promoting the good of others. But if my own personal welfare is vain to me, another man's is vain to him, and I am doing him a disservice in promoting it. I can, logically, only benefit another by telling him that his suffering has its origin in an erroneous valuation of personality,7 and that he should regard his body merely as a tool of the spirit.8 But if he asks me what he should then do with that tool, I am lost for an answer.

It is important to try to distinguish between the meanings of "personal life" and "animal personality." The former phrase, as used in What I Believe and On Life, describes "the life in which it is necessary that all should love me alone and I love only myself, and in which I want to get as much enjoyment as possible and free myself from suffering and death," and such a life is condemned as the greatest and most unceasing suffering.9 But the phrase is not necessarily confined to this meaning, and its sense overlaps that of "animal personality," which is used in On Life to indicate the organism10 or the sum of those attributes of a man that exists in time and space,11 that is to say, all but his reasonable consciousness or real and special self.

Now the personal life, in the narrow sense of that phrase, is clearly a negation of love; and, if we confine its meaning to this when we condemn it and demand love, we do not arrive at absurdity. If the spirit of man is one, as is postulated, it is sinful for men to live in mutual conflict. By renouncing one's personal life and acknowledging the spirit, one is united in spirit with humanity. Once this union is achieved, the value of one's animal personality has yet to be demonstrated, but it is not necessarily denied.

But to regard the personality merely as a tool of the spirit is to deny its value, as we have seen. For it is to imply that the earth is nothing but a shed full of tools; and that for a man to labor for the material well-being of others is like using a tool for the improvement of other tools, which are themselves useful only for the improvement of other tools, and so on to infinity. If tools have any value, it consists in the fact that their owners can use them to make their own lives more abundant. The owner of the body is the spirit; but, if the spirit is independent of the conditions of time and space, nothing that is done in time and space—no activity of the tools—can benefit or harm it. This is an argument not only for non-resistance to evil, which Tolstoy asserts, but also for inaction, which, illogically, he rejects. Once all the tools are perfected, which, to Tolstoy, can only mean, once everyone has decided that his personality is just a tool, they become utterly useless, and the human race should die out, as Pozdnyshev wants.12

If a man's real and actual self is beyond time and space, there is no reason why he should delight in his animal existence; on the contrary, it is a burden. But Tolstoy sees that it cannot be right that a man should simply get rid of that burden by suicide; he must have been given it for some purpose. Now the purpose of the individual, according to Tolstoy, is, as we have seen, to end his individuality by merging his life into God's; the merging occurs in spirit, and the body becomes a tool. A similar theory is applied to mankind. It is to be united in love, which means that all men will be at one with God and their bodies will become redundant. The argument that the body is a tool will then lose whatever validity it may have had, for there will be no more work, as the aim of life will have been achieved. There will then be nothing for it but to get rid of those bodies, not by slaughter, but by abstention from sexual relations. In other words, the species will commit suicide. Pozdnyshev's theory is not just Pozdnyshev's; it is not contradicted by Tolstoy in anything that was written after The Kreutzer Sonata, and it is the logical outcome of the despairing passages of the Confession.13

Chapter XI of the Confession is a chapter of self-condemnation, where Tolstoy singles out the badness of his own way of life as the prime cause of his despair: "I understood that my question as to what my life is, and the answer—an evil—was quite correct. The only mistake was that the answer referred only to my life, while I had referred it to life in general. I asked myself what my life is, and got the reply: An evil and an absurdity. And really my life—a life of indulgence of desires—was senseless and evil, and therefore the reply, 'Life is evil and an absurdity', referred only to my life, but not to human life in general."

By saying this, and by seeking solidarity with those who, in contrast to the people of his own parasitic class, labor to support life, he hoped to put an end to his despair. And indeed the despair disappears when life is believed to have an aim, and the suicidal desire to be rid of the body is replaced by an attitude of stoical indifference towards it. But the indifference is as general as the despair had once been. Seeing the cause of his despair over life in his individual worthlessness, Tolstoy supposed that everyone is worthless as an individual and only really alive as a manifestation of a divine, impersonal force.

The logic that binds The Kreutzer Sonata to the Confession could only have been broken if he had found some other meaning in the body than that it is a tool of the spirit. As it was, in renouncing his own personal welfare, he came to believe that all people should renounce the welfare of their personalities, meaning not just that each person should sacrifice himself for others, but that mankind as a whole should sacrifice itself. The suicide of the individual is against the will of God, but that of mankind will be in accordance with it. For when the individual's life is perfected, it ceases to exist in itself and is one with God and mankind; and when mankind is one, the idea of mutual service will be outmoded, the word mutual being meaningless within a unity, as it implies the existence of at least two entities. Then since the body, to Tolstoy, has no value in itself, it should be discarded, he says, when the time comes at which we can allow ourselves to believe that the spirit needs it no longer.

But if the spirit will not need the body at that uncertain time in the future, logically it cannot need it now. Indeed, in The Kingdom of God is Within You, IV, we are told that life consists only in the freeing of the son of God existing in each man from the animal, and its approach to the Father—which means that life is fulfilled only in death. Since death, in Tolstoy's view, proves that the good of the animal personality is illusory, it cannot matter to him if one dies naturally or at the hands of an assassin. The only person who really suffers at a murder is the murderer, because he is in error. The victim is relieved of a burden which is a temptation, and of a tool which is evidently no longer wanted. If it were still wanted, God would not permit its destruction.14

This is the only possible argument that can lie behind the following statement:15 "All men are brothers equally. And if a Zulu comes to roast my children, the one thing I can do is try to impress upon him that this is not advantageous and good for him; to impress this on him while submitting to his force—especially as there is no advantage for me in fighting him. Either he will overcome me and roast still more of my children, or I shall overcome him and my children will tomorrow fall ill and die with worse sufferings. It is inexpedient, because by submitting I certainly do better, while by resisting I do something doubtful."

God created men that they may attain unity; but it is only the animal personality that is keeping them apart; so the existence of the animal personality is not justified, and therefore we should never do anything doubtful in its defense. The person who by this reasoning adopts the principle of non-resistance to evil by violence is not actively sacrificing human lives for the sake of spiritual unity, but his conception of spiritual unity justifies him in not doing all he can to prevent the destruction of every value that we can ascribe to physical life and personality.

Hence it is that Tolstoyan non-resistance is the expression of an individual's desire to sacrifice himself transferred to mankind, the link that makes this transference possible being the belief in spiritual unity. The theory of non-resistance flows from the same source as the theory of complete celibacy. Sexual relations are doubtful in that they provide pleasure for the personality; they constitute a fall, a sin, because they are a service of the personality, which, according to Tolstoy's theory, cannot be a service of God.16 Similarly, Tolstoyan non-resistance involves not only an assertion of the spirit but a denial of the body.

The most cogent argument for non-violence is that one should love all men equally, and that it is hypocrisy to claim that one loves a man whom one is trying to kill. Now this claim, which is sometimes made, can have its origin only in a dualistic view of human nature not unlike that taken by Tolstoy. "I love your soul, but this does not prevent me from destroying your body, if I think it necessary to do so." Tolstoy himself regarded this attitude as hypocritical, for by his reasoning only a mistaken belief in the good of the personality would ever lead one to think it necessary to take life. No real good, according to him, can possibly be gained by violence. But in that case nothing at all is worth doing except preaching.

One can only withdraw from such a position by saying that in murder some real value is denied the victim. What should keep one from murder, therefore, is not the belief that the good of the personality is illusory, but the opposite of that belief; and this applies to every act of murder however it is motivated, including killing to prevent killing. Logically, even if one thinks that a man is bent on murder, by murdering him one denies the value one is seeking to defend.

Does this mean that non-resistance should, after all, be accepted as a principle? If one sees some value in the personality, one is placed like Camus' rebel, who cannot absolutely claim not to kill without accepting, once and for all, evil and murder, but who cannot agree to kill, since the inverse reasoning which would justify murder and violence would also destroy the reasons for his insurrection. And to defend nonresistance, as Tolstoy does at times,17 on the grounds thatit is the only means of putting an end to evil and murder, is to defend it by virtue of its consequences, as one foresees them, and not as an absolute principle.

Tolstoy's writings often reveal a deep loathing for killing, and, as he says,18 he understood not only with his mind but with his whole being that executions cannot be justified. Now it is because of this distinction between what one holds to with the mind alone and what one holds to with the whole being—that is to say, it is because of the presence of an irrational element in Tolstoy's ethics—that we should not reject those ethics just when we find that two of the main ideals are derived from a metaphysic that is unacceptable to us. Indeed, his horror of killing is so deep that it is merely by deduction from his theory that one can say that to him the state of the murderer's soul is the only terrible thing about murder. He is revolted by the outrage that is done to the victim, as the article "I Cannot Be Silent," for example, bears witness; and this revulsion testifies to an awareness of a value in the animal personality that is not accounted for in the theorizing of On Life. It is to this awareness, in fact, that his best passages are due. What Then Must We Do? and Resurrection reveal an enormous compassion for the oppressed, in the light of which his rationalization of life becomes insignificant, and a willingness for self-sacrifice appears that is not a disguised form of suicide but springs from genuine love.

What Then Must We Do? was completed in 1886, three years before The Kreutzer Sonata and a year before On Life. In it Tolstoy does not develop his thesis by arguing from a specific philosophy of life, as he does in the 1890s in The Kingdom of God is Within You and The First Step; Christianity is merely vindicated in passing19 and, as the epigraphs indicate, implied in the conclusion. Non-violence is claimed, at the end of the discussion of money, to be the only remedy of injustice;20 it is not asserted at the beginning as a principle, as it is in What I Believe as well as in The Kingdom of God is Within You. In What Then Must We Do? Tolstoy begins by describing an iniquity and looks for a solution; he does not start with a solution ready-made. Compared with it, the argument in The First Step, which moves from general instruction about the righteous life to a description of a particular wrong—cruelty to animals—is back-to-front, since it suggests that one should abstain from meat primarily to promote one's own blessedness, vegetarianism being the first step in the infinite road to perfection. Because What Then Must We Do? begins with a sense of shame and outrage at injustice, it necessarily goes on to assert the claims of the oppressed; and the welfare of the personality, far from being denied, is the very thing Tolstoy is trying to secure in seeking for just principles. He says, for instance, that, just as the slave has an innate right to seek his own welfare rather than that of his owner, so each man has an innate right to live on the land with his personal or communal tools to produce things he considers useful for himself.21

In What I Believe marriage is held to be holy and obligatory;22 in What Then Must We Do? the bearing of children is regarded as the fulfillment of God's will, and the joys of love are hymned.23 Aylmer Maude accounts for the expression of the opposite opinion in The Kreutzer Sonata and its "Afterword" by referring to Tolstoy's quarrels with his wife over the disposal of his property, which caused him to feel that sexual love and marriage form an obstacle to right life and as such should be shunned by a Christian.24 This is a kind of explanation, but it is not a complete one; for, whatever light our knowledge of Tolstoy's private life may throw on the attitude that underlies The Kreutzer Sonata, it is clear that the ideas expressed therein flow inevitably from his belief in the need for the renunciation of personal welfare. When writing What I Believe in 1883, he was not aware that the ideal of celibacy is the logical deduction tomake from that belief—a belief that is not enunciated in What Then Must We Do? where the argument moves on a tide of impulses which involve joy in physical life and are not yet changed into the loathing that in The Kreutzer Sonata is bolstered by teleology.

1On Life, XXI. All quotations from Tolstoy are taken from the translations by Aylmer Maude, Oxford University Press.

2What I Believe, VIII.

3On Life, XXV.

4What I Believe, VII.


6The Kingdom of God is Within You, II.

7On Life, XXXV.

8Ibid., XVI.

9Ibid., XIX.

10Ibid., XIII.

11Ibid., XIV.

12The Kreutzer Sonata, XI.

13Confession, IV, V, VI.

14On Life, XXXIII.

15 A letter to M. A. Engelhardt, 1882, published in 1950 with the title What Then Must We Do?

16 "Afterword to The Kreutzer Sonata", quoted by Aylmer Maude in his Life of Tolstoy, vol. II, chap. XI.

17E.g., The Kingdom of God is Within You, X.

18Confession, III.

19What Then Must We Do?, XXII.

20Ibid., XXI.

21Ibid., XVII.

22What I Believe, XII.

23What Then Must We Do?, XL.

24 Footnote to translation of What I Believe, VI. "I Cannot Be Silent" and "The First Step" are published in Recollections and Essays. The reference to Camus is to The Rebel, V, translated by Anthony Bower, Hamish Hamilton.

Radoslav A. Tsanoff (essay date 1968)

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SOURCE: "Count Leo Tolstoy," in Autobiographies of Ten Religious Leaders: Alternatives in Christian Experience, Trinity University Press, 1968, pp. 201-29.

[In the following essay, Tsanoff considers Tolstoy as a significant Christian leader in twentieth-century thought.]

The conventional, the ordinary, produces slight impression on us, nor do we feel drawn towards the entirely respectable; but the unusual personality is likely to engage our attention, especially if it is in some ways negative. Men have repeatedly been stirred by those who have defied "the establishment." The sophisticated days of Athenian culture and Corinthian luxury were just right for Diogenes of Sinope. He spat at the Hellenic amenities as artificial barriers to unbound self-expression. Spurning all social honor and conformity as empty, he found his satisfaction in suiting his own passing mood, fareing on garlic and lodging in his proverbial tub. Yet he commanded the respect of those whose proprieties he scorned. Even so the rich sensuous Florentines of the Renaissance were gripped by the scathing sermons of Savonarola. The formal conventional eighteenth century was similarly shocked and engrossed by Rousseau's romantic plea for a return to primitive nature. Coming closer home, we may note the spreading renown of Thoreau, who shrugged off New England respectabilities, to worship the Goddess of Sincerity and live his own simple life of daily self-penetration. In all these cases the daring challenge of the simple or austere or nonconformist prophet has had engrossing influence.

This reflection may help us to understand why the strong impression of Tolstoy's religious and social criticisms of our traditional culture exceeded even the worldwide fame of his literary mastery. We may understand, but still we are puzzled. How was it possible for him to command such attention, and sympathy too, when he repudiated the basic principles of our modern life? In an age of most intense struggle for self-advancement and conquest, Tolstoy preached nonresistance. In an age whose proudest boast is that of its technical mastery, he scorned material dominance. In an age of the division of labor, he considered no man moral unless he produced for himself the necessities of life. Yet in spite of all this dissidence, millions have been drawn to him.

So extreme have his denials of the orthodox and the respectable seemed to some of his critics that they have even doubted the sincerity of this Russian nobleman who put on the peasant's blouse and went to the fields to plow side by side with his former serfs, and more than that, tried to learn from their dull minds moral wisdom and Christian piety. But Romain Rolland, in his response to Tolstoy's work, has spoken for great multitudes: "Ours it was by its ardent love of life, by its quality of youth; ours by its irony, by its disillusion, its pitiless discernment, and its haunting sense of mortality. Ours by its dreams of brotherly love, of peace among men; ours by its terrible accusation of the lies of civilization, ours by its realism; by its mysticismours; by its savour of nature, its sense of invisible forces, its vertigo in face of the infinite."1 Few readers of Tolstoy would subscribe to every clause of Rolland's panegyric; the various selections that are likely to be made would indicate the unlikelihood of any adequate formula to describe Tolstoy's outlook on life: criticism of Russian orthodoxy, or populism, or pacifism, or Christian anarchism, or whatever. Distrusting labels and prejudgment, we should pursue in his works his own struggle with the problems of life. If his solution of those problems should strike us as too bold, we would find the actual decisions which he made in his own life much bolder; and if they puzzle us, who shall say that Tolstoy is entirely to blame? "When a book and a head strike against each other, and a dull sound ensues, is the trouble always with the book?"

Before tracing the journeys and the arrivals of the great Russian pilgrim, we may consider his starting points: his ancestral background; what he finally refused to live up to; or rather, as he would have said, what he resolved to live down. Leo Nikolayevitch Tolstoy came from the topmost cream of Russian society. If one is to trust the traditional Book of Nobility (1686), the first recorded founder of the family was a certain Indris who came to Russia during the fourteenth century, perhaps from Germany but more likely from Lithuania. By the time of Peter the Great, the Tolstoys rose high in the Tsarist regime, but their fortunes swayed with the dynastic repercussions in Petersburg, politically and economically. Our Tolstoy's grandfather, generous to others and most aristocratically extravagant in self-indulgence, consumed his own fortune as well as that of his rich wife, Princess Gorchakov. His very handsome son Nikolai entered the army, fought in the Napoleonic wars, and at the death of his father found the Tolstoy estate so debt-ridden that he refused his inheritance. There was only one way ahead for him if he was to save the requirements of nobility; he found it in marrying the rich heiress Princess Marya Volkonsky, moved to the Volkonsky manor house at Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula district, and espoused her estate of eight hundred serfs. Tolstoy's mother had ancestry as ancient as any in Russia, bar none; it reached clear back to Rurik and by marriages through the centuries was allied with every renowned name in Russia.

This was the ancestral setting and standing in which Lyof (Leo) Tolstoy was born, in 1828. As he grew up, he would be told the names of his forebears, paternal and maternal, whose portraits hung on the walls around him; some of them stiff Tsarist conservatives, others venturing liberals, but all of them distinguished aristocrats and good orthodox churchmen. One portrait was missing, that of his mother, who died when little "Lyovotchka" was two years old. His father's death followed seven years later. The boy and his three brothers and one sister were to be brought up by various aunts as the family moved to Moscow, to Kazan, and back to Yasnaya Polyana. Leo cherished the memories and the eulogies of his parents and of the Tolstoy family tradition: if he could only come up to it, himself!

Tolstoy was deeply impressed by those before him and around him. Searching students have traced in his novels and stories the portraits for which his imagination drew upon his family environment; most notably those of his parents, whom he had in mind in telling the romance of Nikolai Rostov and Princess Maria Bolkonsky in War and Peace. But stronger than biographic strains in his novels were the autobiographic. It was evident in his first sketches, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth; in The Cossacks, as well as in some of his later works; and especially in Anna Karenina.

Keen mentally but not diligent and not at all outstanding in performance, suspicious and generous in turn; reserved yet athirst for loving attention; morbid, with a certain deep melancholy, and nonetheless a reckless and quite mischievous abandon—he was a boy of athousand questions, the despair of his tutors but also the darling of his aunts. Among his games with his three brothers, one in particular remained a cherished memory throughout life. It was directed by his eldest brother Nikolai, whom he greatly admired. Nikolai disclosed to them that there was a great secret, "how to banish all unhappiness from life, all dispute and anger, and to make people happy forever. This secret, as he told us, he had written on a green stick, and the green stick was buried near the road along the hollow by the old wood." But the first condition to be fulfilled in order to find this green stick was "to stand in a corner and not think of a white bear." All his life Tolstoy sought that green stick of blessedness. He sought it in the transports of passion, in the thrill of the gambling table, in the calm vastness and grandeur of untamed nature, in the daredevil intoxication of ever-present death and in the hardening of the soul by war; in the serene joys of a happy family life, in the glowing sense of widespread fame, social prestige, power of wealth. And then, when he had scaled the heights of human ambition, as he recoiled from it all, on the brink of an abyss, he was still in quest of that occult talisman. "As I believed then in the existence of a green stick on which was written the secret which would do away with all evil in humanity and give great happiness, so I believe now that there exists such a truth; this will be divulged to mankind and all promises will be fulfilled."2 At the age of eighty he dictated to his secretary his request that at his death his body was to be buried near where that green stick was hidden, along the hollow by the old wood.

The problem of life and death and the meaning of it all troubled his unquiet spirit from early years. The orthodox conformity and assurance in which he had been brought up were disturbed when he was only ten years old, by the announcement made by a grammar school pupil of a latest discovery—"that there is no God, and that all we are taught about Him is a mere invention." This announcement and later ones like it, and also reading Voltaire when he was very young, did not alter Tolstoy's church conformity, but they affected his spirit in the conforming. He still said his prayers and observed the orthodox practices, but his real faith was being gradually dissipated. "A man very often lives on, imagining that he still holds intact the religious doctrine imparted to him in childhood, whereas not a trace of it remains."3

After the death of his father the family had moved to Kazan, where his aunt and appointed guardian lived. He followed his brothers to the University of Kazan, starting in the Department of Oriental Languages, changing to that of Law the second year; but disappointed in both educational ventures he left the university without his diploma. Unsteady in his purposes and decisions, shifting from lofty sentiments to low hankerings, scarcely twenty years old, he started to write down in his Dnevniki (Diaries) a list of elaborately classified rules for the manifold direction of his mind and character and development of will and emotions and daily conduct. There were over forty of them. And yet he wrote that same spring, "I do not accomplish what I resolve to do; what I do accomplish is not done well."4 He read the entire shelf of Rousseau's writings, was swept away by Rousseau's romantic ideals, wore around his neck a medallion with Rousseau's portrait, and planned to live a simple life close to nature. But in his conduct, on returning to Yasnaya Polyana, he imitated the vagabond practices related in Rousseau's Confessions. Gypsy dancers and revelers, gamblers and roisterers became his daily and nightly company. Months passed in riotous living, which later necessitated the sale and removal of the house in which he had been born, to pay his gambling debts. But with the objectivity with which he described his moral degradation he also recorded the deeper yearnings after ideal purposes which stirred in his soul, unrealized. Resolving one day to turn a really new leaf, he went south with his brother Nikolai, to the Caucasus, to find worthy satisfaction in primitive unspoiled nature. His story, The Cossacks, was the literary fruit of his venture in the simple life like Rousseau.

The hero in The Cossacks, Olyenin, (a transparent self-portrait) is a Moscow society young man who has squandered half his patrimony, and has not entered any career or carried out any resolution firmly; who feels in himself energies but does not decide in what channel to direct them: a character without spiritual orientation. In the midst of wild nature he is ever in his own way, unable to become one with his environment, unable to bridge the gap between himself and others or to find happiness in generous fellowship with them. Tolstoy was writing this in his story, and in his Diaries and letters he was expressing similar feeling and problems in his own person. "The man who strives only for his own happiness is bad; he who aims for the good opinion of others is weak; he who seeks the happiness of others is virtuous; he whose aim is God is great."5

His life—thought and feeling and action—was embroiled by conflicting motives. He was in the Caucasian wilds seeking meaningful existence in primitive simplicity, but he was still the proud young aristocrat with his high demands and standards. This contention of motives showed itself unawares in minor ways. Despite his love for his brother he disapproved of Nikolai's untidiness; Nikolai in his turn laughed at Lyof's changing his linen twelve times a day. So on an earlier occasion, in Kazan, the two had argued about Leo's expressed scorn for an apparent gentleman who was out walking in the street without gloves. This same aristocrat in later life would be putting on a peasant's smock and would advocate keeping on one's soiled shirt, or washing it oneself, so as to lessen one's demands on the service of others.6

At deeper levels this inner conflict may be noted in his disdainful self-analysis, over against the loftiest religious and moral aspirations. He had entered military service in the Crimean War, which was to take him from the Balkans to Sevastopol. At the outset of it he probed himself ruefully, as in this extract: "I am ugly, awkward, uncleanly, and lack society education. I am irritable, a bore to others, not modest, intolerant, and as shame-faced as a child. I am almost an ignoramus. What I do know, I have learned anyhow, by myself, in snatches, without sequence, without a plan, and it amounts to very little. I am incontinent, undecided, inconstant, and stupidly vain and vehement, like all characterless people. I am not brave. I am not methodical in life, and am so lazy that idleness has become an almost unconquerable habit of mine."7 And much more to the same dismal tune. As Maude observed, this sort of self-opprobrium by a young man in his twenties who already had mastery or good knowledge of half-a-dozen languages, whose first stories were welcomed by the editor of Russia's leading magazine, and it may be added, whose early fame, together with his reported bravery on the battlefront, had led the Tsar to send orders for special care of his personal safety in Sevastopol—all this should show the real meaning of Tolstoy's self-reproach, in his discontent with his failure to come up to his own high aspirations.

A page from his diaries of that period expresses the lofty religious ideals to which later in his life he was to become utterly consecrated:

A discussion on God and Faith brought me to a great, a stupendous idea, to the realization of which I feel able to devote my life. The idea is to create a new religion corresponding to the development of mankind, a religion of Christ purified from dogma and mysticism, a practical religion, not promising bliss in future, but giving happiness on earth. I understand that this idea can be realized only by generations consciously working for that purpose. One generation will bequeath this idea to the next, and some day by fanaticism or by reason it will be realised. To work consciously for the union of mankind by religion—that is the foundation of the ideawhich I hope will inspire me.8

After the Crimean War Tolstoy went to St. Petersburg, where he was received with virtual ovation in the literary circles. The fame he had gained by his early stories was sealed by his Sevastopol war sketches. Even in their censored form they reported the soldier's life on the battlefield in a way which gripped the reader. The poet-editor Nekrasov wrote him: "Truth—in such a form as you have introduced it in our literature—is something completely new among us." But the life of the literary elite of the capital began to weary him. Literature ought to be a guide of the people to a higher life, and here were its leaders in Russia, "who did not care who was right and who was wrong, . . . for the most part men of bad, worthless character, . . . but they were self-confident and selfsatisfied as only those can be who are quite holy or who do not know what holiness is. These people revolted me, I became revolting to myself, and I realized that that faith was a fraud."9

Tolstoy took his only trips to Western Europe, three of them, to study social and agricultural conditions, and in 1861 returned to Yasnaya Polyana. He anticipated Tsar Alexander II's emancipation of the serfs by freeing his own peasants and devoted his time to their education and their general betterment. During a siege of illness the doctors ordered him to go to his estate in Samara to recover his health on a diet of sour milk. On his way he stopped overnight in Moscow and backslid into a gambling party. The man to whom he lost, Katkov, was the editor of Russky Vyestnik, who accepted as payment of Tolstoy's gambling debt the manuscript of The Cossacks. The spiritual pilgrimage had, and was still to have, its deviations.

In the summer of 1862 Tolstoy was in Moscow, wooing Sophia Behrs and experiencing the anguish to which the memory of his past debauches drove him when he thought of offering his life to a pure young woman. But at least he would be honest, and just before his wedding he unburdened his dismal conscience to his betrothed.

If family happiness could ever satisfy a normal person's full expectations of life, it should have satisfied Tolstoy. Sophia Behrs—or Sonya, as he called her—was a most helpful and utterly devoted wife. Her direction of the daily round of duties and the care of her large family at Yasnaya Polyana was smooth perfection. And she was more than a good mother and competent housekeeper; she was Tolstoy's literary assistant. And what a man she had to assist! He was probably the most inveterate reviser and proof corrector among all authors of masterpieces. He would insert not only words but whole sentences between the lines or even across them until the pages would be scarcely legible, and had to be copied clean, so that he could resume his further revisions and corrections. The Countess undertook this task, again and yet again. Seven times over she transcribed in longhand the whole manuscript of War and Peace.

The sixties and the seventies, 1863-1878, were Tolstoy's most productive years as a creative artist. To those years we owe War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Reflecting on those fifteen years, he wrote: "The new conditions of a happy family life completely diverted me from all search for the general meaning of life. My whole life was centered at that time in my family, wife and children, and therefore in care to increase our means of livelihood. My striving after self-perfection, for which I had already substituted a striving for perfection in general, i.e., progress, was now again replaced by the effort simply to secure the best possible conditions for myself and my family."10 Diverted he was from his basic aim, as he wrote, but not completely. The concern for the general welfare and the quest for the ultimate meaning of life, which had engrossed his deepest reflection, were not dismissed altogether. This must be clear to anythoughtful reader of his two greatest novels.

It is a mistaken notion that at the age of fifty, after having written Anna Karenina, Tolstoy suddenly turned right about face and changed his entire course of life. The true account is different. Tolstoy's conversion was dramatic, decisive; it did change radically his course and career during the remaining thirty years of his life. But it was not sudden and abrupt. In the later Tolstoy we can note the fuller and more resolute recognition of a truth which was lurking in his spirit during his entire life, despite divergences and deviations and backslidings and seeming oblivion—until finally his pitiless sincerity brought him squarely before the inevitable issue, and he confronted it and grappled with it as a man and a devotee.11

The moral and religious crisis in the late seventies, which led to Tolstoy's writing his Confession and indicated clearly the new paths he had resolved to follow, was anticipated almost twenty years earlier, when the death of his brother Nikolai confronted him sharply with the problem of the finalities of value and meaning in human existence. His intense creative activity which produced his two masterpieces postponed the great reversal in his own life quite as much as the spreading happiness of his married life. But already in War and Peace he was grappling imaginatively with the problem of the lasting significance of human life and the moral issues of love and marriage. These two problems Tolstoy took up imperatively in his next novel.

Anna Karenina has impressed most readers and critics by its masterly portrayal of the adulterous love of Anna and Alexey Vronsky: its ominous invasion of an honest soul, its feverish intensity and abandon, its dissolution of the emotional and moral personality, and its disastrous final ruin. But Anna Karenina does not stop with the exposure of pestilential illicit passion. Tolstoy's probing of the problem of love and marriage reached a deeper issue. The seeker after the decisive meaning of life asked whether human existence can be justified and blessed by love alone, be it even as stainless as his own, Tolstoy's love for Sonya. This is the autobiographical significance of the story of the love and married life of Konstantin Levin and Kitty Shtcherbatsky, which forms the counterpart in the novel to the adulterous passion of Anna and Alexey Vronsky.

Tolstoy's portrait of Levin is autobiographic. Levin is a wealthy landowner of an intensely serious and self-critical turn of mind. He is not a saint; the book of his life has filthy pages of debauch; but the miserable memory of them is countered by an eroding thought of the futility of his outwardly blameless mature life. Gloomy he is not because he is still hankering after vice but because he cannot see clearly what gives a virtuous life enduring worth. He had realized his dream of marrying Kitty, and his new life satisfied him for some time; but before very long the old doubts and discontent returned. The death of his brother and the birth of his own child—two events described unforgettably in the novel—bring Levin faceto-face with ultimate problems. He takes good care of his peasants; he is honest in his dealings; he is true and loving to his wife: but what is it all about? '"Without knowing what I am, and why I am here, it is impossible to live. Yet I cannot know that, and therefore I can't live,' he said to himself. 'In an infinity of time, matter, and space, a bubble organism separates itself, maintains itself awhile, and then bursts, and that bubble is—I!' . . . And though he was a happy and healthy family man, Levin was several times so near to suicide that he hid a cord he had lest he should hang himself, and he feared to carry a gun lest he should shoot himself."12

It is quite clear that in Anna Karenina we have not only a portrayal of a man in spiritual struggle and anguish, but the portrayal of him by an author who was himself struggling andanguished spiritually. We know what the people who read the novel when it was first published did not understand: the struggle of life and death that was going on in Tolstoy's soul—the struggle of a man whose genius the world admired and approved, but who was not sure that God approved it, or approved him, or was in any way concerned with him; worse, was not certain whether there was any God to approve or be concerned, and was utterly dismayed by the uncertainty. The novelist of Anna Karenina would soon be engrossed in the writing of his Confession.

The more he saw of life and the more he thought about it, the less satisfied he became. What was the meaning of it all? He had some fifteen thousand acres of land in the Samara province and three hundred horses. He was a nobleman of most distinguished parentage, with an enviable military record, a devoted wife, a happy family: but what did it all matter in the end? He was a world-famous writer, but suppose that he were to become "more famous than Gogol or Pushkin or Shakespeare or Molière, or than all the writers in the world—and what of it?" Was there any meaning in his life that would not be gone the moment he died? "I felt that what I had been standing on had collapsed, and that I had nothing left under my feet." While the public marveled at the genius revealed in Tolstoy's portrayal of Levin's spiritual anguish, in Anna Karenina, that genius himself battled with Levin's problems' and, despairing in his failure to master them, contemplated hanging himself from the crossbeam of his study and "ceased to go out shooting with a gun, lest I should be tempted by so easy a way of ending my life."13

He remembered an Oriental fable about a traveler running away from a wild beast. The traveler seeks refuge inside a dry well, but sees at its bottom a dragon with gaping jaws. He seizes and clings to a twig growing in a crack of the wall and barely holds on; in dismay he sees two mice, a black one and a white one, gnawing at his branch. Thus menaced any moment to lose his last grip on life, the poor traveler licks some drops of honey which drip from the leaves of his already bending branch. "And this is not a fable, but the real unanswerable truth intelligible to all. . . . The two drops of honey, . . . my love of my family, and of writing—art as I called it—were no longer sweet to me."14

Like his Levin, Tolstoy reflected: "In infinite space, in infinite time, infinitely small particles change their forms in infinite complexity, and when you have understood the laws of those mutations of form, you will understand why you live on the earth."15 You will understand why you live, and why you die, too; but not what is the meaning and the worth of it all. Neither science nor philosophy could give Tolstoy an answer to that last vital question. Yet despite this fatal quandary men all about him still somehow kept on living: Was there some understanding of life of which he was ignorant? The various answers of the people of his own class—he listed them in turn—were of no avail; but what about any possible wisdom of the ignorant peasants, who lacked the pleasures and comforts of their masters yet lived on contentedly to a ripe old age? Perhaps they, the benighted ones by the standards of society, perhaps they had this true wisdom. He had to understand why those millions of humble folk should endure their poverty while he found his opulent life unendurable. Was it due to their plain dullness; or did those peasants, after all, possess some saving insight?

And so, as Tolstoy wrote, "I began to draw near to the believers among the poor, simple unlettered folk: pilgrims, monks, sectarians, and peasants. . . . I began to look well into the life and faith of these people, and the more I considered it the more I became convinced that they have a real faith, which is a necessity to them and alone gives their life a meaning and makes it possible for them to live."16 When he asked them they told him that they tried to follow the law of God; but what could be the meaning of that law? For their simple minds that law included allmanner of beliefs and practices and rituals which to his intelligence were rank superstition. But might not there be, along with this dull credulity, "the one thing needful" of which he read in the Gospel? This possible basic truth in religion, and first of all in the Christian religion of his peasants, he must discover and grasp. It was for him personally a matter of life or death.

Tolstoy, resolved to hold fast that which is good and true, would "prove all things." He would not prejudge the dogmatic theology or the ceremonials of the Orthodox Church. He joined the peasants in attending the church services, liturgy and genuflexion and holy water sprinkling and the Eucharist and all. At home he stacked his library with religious books and Bibles and Gospels in many languages. And before long, in his forthright study of Scriptures and orthodox treatises, he began separating the wheat from the chaff, the kernel from the shell. As he grasped and cherished the teachings of Jesus in the Four Gospels, he reached the conclusion that dogmatic orthodox theology had distorted their straightforward meaning and misplaced the center of true religious devotion. His study of other religions showed him similar obscuring of their glad tidings, in fogs of ritualism and abstruse theology. But despite dogmatism and superstition, the true message of all great religions was unmistakable. There is a divine reality; it is present in every one of us, and in our way of life we can increase or repress it. The godlike life is expressed in the Golden Rule; it is the heart of Christ's religion. Jesus aimed to point out to you and to me the way to God. What he taught was not a system of doctrines but a divine ideal of life. We are all children of the same Father, but most of us are prodigal sons; we have forgotten our divine origin and destiny; we have forsaken the home of our Father and are wasting our substance in riotous living. Jesus would rouse us to come to ourselves, to return home, to seek and to find the meaning of life, to learn how we can live for God and for our fellowmen. And Tolstoy set himself most earnestly to learn in detail what Jesus taught about this godlike life.

This earnest inquiry, study and exposition of the Gospels, absorbed Tolstoy's energies. Neither his wife nor his friends could understand his new direction. Countess Tolstoy could not fathom her husband's upset, as she called it. "We all love one another. He is loved and respected by us all. All submit to him and live happily with such a wise and loving guide. He is occupied with the literary work which he loves; it brings him the people's affection, and fame, and money. What more is he looking for?"17 Devoted as she had always been to all his work, she wrote to her sister: "He reads and thinks till his head aches, and all to show how incompatible the Church is with the teaching of the Gospel. Hardly ten people in Russia will be interested in it; but there is nothing to be done. I only wish he would get it done quicker, and that it would pass like an illness."18 Countess Sonya's entries in her Diaries record in far more poignant words the tragedy in her family life: her inability to share what she regarded as her husband's religious obsession and her sore irritation by his altered way of life; his inability to realize that to her nothing finally mattered except her absolute need of his love. "He cried out aloud today that his most passionate desire was to get away from his family. To my last breath shall I remember this candid exclamation, which seemed to tear out my heart. . . . I am begging God to let me die, for I cannot live without his love. . . . He is full of Christianity and the idea of self perfection. I am jealous."19

His friends and former admirers complained that he had turned his back on life; but Tolstoy replied that it was because they, not he, had mistaken the true meaning of life. He did not write another War and Peace, but, doubtless feeling his wife's anxiety about him, he tried to reassure her: "Now it is clearing up. . . . Ah, God willing, what I am going to write will be very important." He was not like his good friend, the poet Fet who, as Tolstoy put it, "at sixteen wrote: 'The spring bubbles, the moon shines, and she loves me,' and who went on writing andwriting, and at sixty wrote: 'She loves me, and the spring bubbles, and the moon shines.'"20 He, Tolstoy, was learning new and better tunes. His chief aim as an artist now was not merely to describe life as it was but also to draw life as it should be, to understand and to proclaim the moral and religious ideals of Jesus.

The fallacy of men's lives is this, that the average person devotes his endeavors to devising means of self-gratification and self-aggrandisement. Man seeks his own interest, his own pleasure and profit and power; he thinks he can never be so happy as when he can enforce his will on the will of others. This egoism, this lust for self-assertion and self-indulgence—sexual, economic, political, intellectual—this is responsible for the evils in life. Egoism poisons the home; it twists the social fabric of our civilization; it leads thinking to cynicism instead of yielding spiritual peace. The Gospel of Jesus, Tolstoy declared, consisted precisely in pointing out and rejecting this evil, this fallacy of life. "Man gives himself to the illusion of egoism, lives for himself—and he suffers. It suffices that he begin to live for others, and the suffering becomes lighter, and there is obtained the highest good in the world: love of people."21 By denying the low aims in life we can turn towards higher spiritual realization: "Whosoever would save his life shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life?"22

To match the Decalogue of Mount Sinai, Tolstoy pointed out five commandments in the Sermon on the Mount which Jesus stated with unquestionable clearness and simplicity and which should be recognized as the foundation of the genuine Christian religion.23

"Ye have heard that it was said to them of old times, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment."24 This first commandment is hard—so hard indeed that some old readers or copyists must have sought to soften it by adding after the clause "everyone who is angry with his brother" the words "without a cause," thus nullifying the force and indeed the real sense of the commandment. (As we know today, the modern revisions of the Gospel have recognized and excluded this interpolation.) According to Tolstoy, Jesus stated plainly and simply: Anger in the heart is murder; be not angry. And when Jesus added the admonition against calling one's brother "Raca" or "thou fool," he emphasized the moral claim which each man has upon us. We are not to excuse our anger or the evil we do to some man by scorning him as foolish and worthless, a nobody, of no account.

Tolstoy obeyed this commandment by allaying animosity in his own personal relations. Had he not quarreled with Ivan Turgenev, challenged him to a duel, and despite some formal pacifications remained estranged from him? In April, 1878 he wrote Turgenev that he was overjoyed to find in his soul no longer any hate but only hope for their renewed mutual friendship. Would his old friend forgive him for all his blame and be assured of all the comradeship of which he is capable? It was reported that Turgenev wept when he read that letter. For his part he not only responded readily to the friendly appeal but later when almost from his deathbed, wrote to Tolstoy a letter in the noblest spirit. He, Turgenev, could not share Tolstoy's religious devotion, and he urged his friend, "great writer of our Russian land," to return to his former creative activity; but he sent him his warmest friendly farewell.25

The second commandment of Jesus stresses the spiritual principle in a most intimate personal relation. Here Jesus is likewise perfectly clear: "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery; but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after herhath committed adultery with her already in his heart. . . . It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress; and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery."26 By very persistent examination of the Greek text and various translations, Tolstoy supported his interpretation of this commandment by correcting the clause "saving for the cause of fornication" (as if it referred to the wife) to read "besides the sin of dissoluteness," as referring to the husband who divorces his wife so that he can marry another.27 In this second commandment, Tolstoy insisted, Jesus condemned sensuality, lust. Whether a union of passion is sanctified by the Church or is in secret or overt defiance of social and religious conventions: it is all the same debased so long as it is not transfigured by a motive nobler than the urge for self-gratification. If the incentive to marriage is merely sexual pleasure, that marriage is adultery in God's eyes; it is surely damned. The family relation includes sex, but it can yield a moral homelife only as it is transfigured by higher purposes and more integral personal communion. Tolstoy's moral reason sought to grasp this interpretation of Jesus's second commandment, and his creative imagination also gave it living portrayal, as in his works, The Kreutzer Sonata and Resurrection.

The third commandment in the Sermon on the Mount affects the political sphere and official relations. "Again ye have heard that it was said to them in old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shall perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all, . . . but let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than that is of the evil one."28 To Tolstoy this commandment did not mean a condemnation of profanity and cursing, taking the name of God in vain. It was interpreted by Tolstoy to signify the attitude of Jesus towards government and official oaths of obligation. Jesus charged us to kee p—respect and preserve—our spiritual freedom. Do not pledge yourself absolutely to duties and alliances of which your better conscience may disapprove tomorrow. Do not surrender to another man nor to an institution or system your moral right and duty to act at any future time in accordance with your own best light. How can you, taking an oath, lay your hand on a cross or on the Gospels, when the crucified Lord declared strictly in the Gospels, Swear not at all? Your oaths in any assumed official position, military or civil or whatever, subject your will to the order of someone else; but the responsibility for your actions is and must remain yours alone.

Related to the third commandment, which concerns a person's relation to the official social system, Jesus taught in another commandment the right principle in our attitude towards aliens, and more broadly in the whole problem of international relations. "Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you. . . . For if ye love them that love you, . . . what do ye more than others? Do not the Gentiles do the same?"29 The reference to "the Gentiles" elucidates the expanded meaning of Jesus's basic teaching of love as the guiding motive of life. The term "neighbor," in the Jewish usage, signified a Jew, as may be seen clearly in the Parable of the Good Samaritan; it meant "a fellow-countryman, a man of one's own people." The term "enemy" signified the alien, the Gentiles, the national foes. Against this narrow nationalistic outlook Jesus declared: "Know that all men are brothers, sons of one God; and do not infringe peace with any one for the sake of national aims."30 You have been taught patriotism, the exclusive love for your own people; but I tell you, love all nations, love all men. Jesus would replace narrowly patriotic devotion by all-human fellowship. In this spirit Tolstoy wrote emphatically: "I now know that my unity with others cannot be destroyed by a frontier line, or by a governmental decree that I am to belong to this or that nation. I now know that all men, everywhere, are equals and brothers. . . . I now understand that welfare is only possible to meon condition of my acknowledging my oneness with all people in the world without exception."31

The commandment which Tolstoy regarded as the most fundamental of all and as the keystone of the truly Christian moral edifice and the heart of the religion of Jesus has been called the law of nonresistance. "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him that asketh thee, from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."32 Theological commentators through the centuries have qualified this teaching so as to adapt it to our own worldly practices. Of course, they have said, Jesus condemned relentless vindictive retaliation; but he surely did not mean to prohibit the restraint or punishment of the wrongdoer so as to safeguard public and private security. Both orthodox dogmatists and freethinking liberals come to his commandment with the unquestioned assumption that the preservation of our social order is the sacrosanct first principle. But, according to Tolstoy, that is precisely what Jesus questioned when he declared his universal law of love under all conditions. By returning evil for evil you can make the wrongdoer no longer dangerous, but not better. Now, you may say, when I have once rendered him harmless, then I can with safety try to convert him to a good life. This is moral confusion. By force you may cow the evildoer into submission, but you can get him to follow God freely only by love. Do not resort to violence in any circumstances, private or public. Love is the law of the Christian life, and only love can arouse love.

This commandment may be criticized as impracticable and inexpedient. That in fact is the most common and persistent criticism of it. So we read in Tolstoy's Diaries of his discussion with the Countess and with the poet Fet: "The Christian teaching is unworkable."—"So it is folly?"—"No, but impracticable."—"Have you tried to practise it?"—"No, but it is impracticable."33 Now it is precisely against our worldly pursuit of the practicable and the expedient that Jesus protests. Whether we follow him or not, we should at least not be confused or evasive about his crystal-clear teaching. In his Gospel Jesus upset the worship of expediency and put in its place the worship of God, who is not the ideal of practicality and expediency, but of holiness, who does not as a reasonable shepherd remain prudently with his ninety-nine sheep that are safe in the fold, but like a loving shepherd goes out in search of the one lost sheep.

The average man is much more conformist in his beliefs than he is in his daily conduct. Most men seem quite ready to include in their doctrine any creed which is solemnly pronounced to them and to which they nod assent and which is to take them to heaven, if only it is reasonable in its practical applications and does not interfere unduly with their worldly affairs. And that is the usual way in which people judge each other, as Tolstoy observed in his own case. But then his earnest study of the Gospels revealed to him the supreme truths of the good and godlike life. He adopted the explicit teachings of Jesus, which required a radical reformation of a person's life and of the established social system. As he pointed out in his Critique of Dogmatic Theology and other writings, his conversion to the spiritual ideals of the Gospels was also a radical departure from the system of beliefs and practices and ritual of traditional Christianity. He repeated his conviction that the religion of Jesus was not a theological system but a Gospel of the blessed life. He endeavored to follow it by striving to rid his soul of anger, of lust and violence and all selfishness and to cherish the spirit of love and universal fellowship.

The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, which was closely allied with the autocratic regime of the Tsar, was more and more alarmed by the spreading popular influence of Tolstoy in"Holy Russia" and finally resolved to excommunicate him officially. In February, 1901, the Holy Synod issued its anathema of "the new false teacher—Count Leo Tolstoy. . . . In his works and letters, distributed in great numbers by him and his followers throughout the whole world, and particularly within the borders of our dear land, he preaches with zealous fanaticism the overthrow of all the dogmas of the Orthodox Church and the very essence of the Christian faith. . . ." Contrary to the full confidence of the Church hierarchy in its sovereign authority over the people, its edict evoked universal protest which spread throughout the world and found expression in countrywide demonstrations of admiration for Tolstoy. Countess Sonya, declaring her own unalterable orthodoxy, wrote in indignation to the Holy Synod for their excommunication of her earnestly religious husband who, like many others outside the Church, led a more truly Christian life than certain high ecclesiastics "wearing diamonded miters and stars." Tolstoy himself answered the Holy Synod in a spirit of Christian charity but firm rededication to his Gospel convictions, and continued devoutly in his search and practice of the teachings of Jesus.34 But in a certain sense the Holy Synod was right, for Tolstoy's teachings did aim at the repudiation of the institutional system of orthodox beliefs and practices. In his Diaries he wrote explicitly that the chief service to mankind in our time would be the destruction of the distorted Christianity and the establishment of the true Christian religion.35

Tolstoy's beliefs were not beliefs about things but beliefs in principles, commitments, and loyalties. Thus believing in the Gospel of Jesus, he was resolved to follow it in directing every part of human life. It became for him the program of all reform—political, social, economic, artistic, intellectual—and not only as a general principle, but as applied to himself, to Leo Tolstoy.

He considered the teachings of Jesus as they should apply to his career as a literary artist, and more generally as a member of the intelligentsia. People speak loftily of the "division of labor"—but what is right division of labor? Do the scientist, the novelist or dramatist, the poet, the musician, the artist serve directly the spiritual needs of the workers who by their labor satisfy directly his physical needs? When a scientist compiles a catalogue of a million beetles, when an artist paints opulence, when a poet indulges in sophisticated fancies, and all help themselves to the products of the peasant's toil, is there any fair division or exchange of labor?

Tolstoy pursued this problem in his essay entitled What is Art? Great art is to be judged by its capacity to communicate itself to universal humanity: not only to some aesthetic coterie but to all men and women however simple and humble. A work of art which fails or refuses to perform this chief function for a part, and that by far the greater part of humanity, is bad art, no matter how highly it might be praised by those who, in lauding it, aristocratically isolate themselves from the common people. "The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that well-being for men consists in being united together, and to set up, in place of the existing reign of force, that Kingdom of God, i.e., of love, which we all recognize as the highest aim of human life."36 "Art is only one and consists in this: to increase the sinless general joys accessible to all—the good of man."37 Tolstoy applied this principle in a radical and negative rejudgment of traditionally proclaimed literary and artistic masterpieces, and of his own works also; discarding War and Peace and Anna Karenina and saving only stories like "The Prisoner of Caucasus" as an example of universal art communicating the very slightest feelings common to all men, and "God Sees the Truth" ("The Long Exile") as belonging to religious art, transmitting feelings of love of God and our fellowmen.

Tolstoy applied his understanding of the Gospel of Jesus in dealing with the problems of social-economic reform. He offered his services as a worker to the Russian census bureau, choosing for his district the slums of Moscow, to see directly the homes and lives of the submerged masses. There he learned that those people cannot be saved from squalor and degradation merely by almsgiving. Organized charity cannot cure the ills of poverty, for the idle and wasteful affluence of the upper classes not only impoverishes the multitudes but also corrupts them by rousing in their souls greed and envy and distorted ideas of happiness through mere possession.

The pursuit of pleasure and sensual enjoyment and idle luxury is not repellent to us aristocrats only because we are all morally dull and do not realize the daily enormity of our lives. Consider, my titled friends, Tolstoy exclaimed, bethink yourselves: what are you about? Here are a hundred women at a festive ball. "Each woman at this ball whose dress costs a hundred and fifty rubles was not born at the ball, but she has lived also in the country, has seen peasants, knows her own nurse and maid, whose fathers and brothers are poor, for whom earning one hundred and fifty rubles to build a cottage with is the end and aim of a long, laborious life; she knows this; how can she, then, enjoy herself, knowing that on her half-naked body she is wearing the cottage which is the dream of her housemaid's brother?"38

But what is to be done? For this is the title of the book from which we are quoting—What Is to be Done? Stop thinking all the time of yourselves, of your desires and pleasures and so-called cultural demands, and think a while of your fellowmen. But you may insist: what difference would it make in the end? My philanthropic drop in the ocean would make no real change; things will go on as they are just the same. "If I came among savages," Tolstoy replied, "who gave me chops which I thought delicious, but the next day I learned (perhaps saw myself) that these delicious chops were made of a human prisoner who had been slain in order to make them; and if I think it bad to eat men, however delicious the cutlets may be, and however general the custom to eat men among the persons with whom I live, and however small the utility to the prisoners who have been prepared for food my refusal to eat them may be, I shall not and will not eat them."39

An Oriental proverb has the truth in a nutshell: If there is one man idle there is another dying of hunger. This problem is quite simple; it needs only willingness and resolution to solve it. "If a horseman sees that his horse is tired out, he must not remain on its back and hold up its head, but first of all get off." Feed the horse, Tolstoy said, but first of all get off the horse's back! Make sure, first of all, that by your own personal way of life you are not enslaving the lives of others. The more you spend on yourself, the more you oblige others to labor for you; the less you spend and consume, the more you yourself work, the better member of society you are. Give to the poor, yes, but first, stop the spread of poverty by your own excessive drain of the social resources. The realization of this truth was compared by Tolstoy to the experience of a man who, having started on a certain errand, finds out that it is futile and wrong, and turns back home. What had been on his right hand would now be on his left, and what had been to the left would be to the right. This is the meaning of our conversion to the social gospel of Jesus in brief: a gospel to the weary and heavy-laden, but also to a certain rich man.

This teaching could not remain mere preachment; it was initially and finally a self-probing and self-judgment. Tolstoy asked himself: How can I, Lyof Tolstoy, how can I stop exploiting others and using them as my servitors? Well, I can take care of my own room; I can clean my own boots; indeed I can make my own boots; I can go out in the fields and by my own work produce theequivalent of the food which I consume. And only after I have done this, only then shall I have a right to offer my help to my fellowmen without feeling like a robber who returns part of the booty. Nor am I, in so doing, rejecting the true dignity of mental work. The maximum time that I can spend in really productive mental activity is five hours a day. I sleep eight hours. What do I do with the remaining eleven hours? Let me, during this time, relieve the peasant of some manual labor; let me allow him some little rest, a chance to have a cup of tea and think may be for half an hour.

Still, what was Tolstoy to do with his large property, with his thousands of acres of land, with the copyrights of his writings? The rich young man of the Gospel, whom Jesus asked to give his wealth to the poor, was presumably a bachelor; Tolstoy's case was quite different. Would he be justified in giving away all his estate to the poor, to the peasants? That would have compelled his wife and his five sons and three daughters to give up their rich life and follow him, maybe contrary to their personal convictions—and compulsion is wrong, according to the Gospel. Besides, Countess Sonya had helped to increase his wealth: he could not, give away her and her children's shares. On the other hand, he could no longer keep it up and remain honest in his convictions. Tolstoy's solution was to renounce all rights to his estate; he turned it over to the Countess to manage as she saw fit. In his own house he remained as a guest. Each day he spent several hours in manual labor, earning his own bread directly. He wrote steadily but declared all his work, from then on, free of copyright, free for anyone to publish and circulate. Only when the Dukhobors faced punishment for their refusal to serve in the army, Tolstoy copyrighted his novel Resurrection to raise funds for their planned emigration to Canada where freedom and respect for their religious convictions were promised them. In his stories and essays he advocated the gospel teaching of universal love and fellowship, in opposition to all violence and selfishness.

But still he felt that he was not able to live as unselfishly as he ought, even though only a guest at Yasnaya Polyana. In the year 1897, he wrote the following letter to his wife and put it among his papers, asking that it be delivered to her after his death—only the beginning of it is cited here:

My dear Sonya:

Already for a long time I have been tortured by the contradiction existing between my life and my religious convictions. I could not oblige you to change your life—the habits to which I myself accustomed you . . . but I cannot continue living as I have lived here sixteen years; . . . and now I have decided to carry out that which for a long time I have wished to do—to go away. . . .

More than thirteen years elapsed before Tolstoy carried out this decision, and on November 10, 1910, fled from his house at Yasnaya Polyana to seek his peace in seclusion with God. He was eighty-two years old and, as it turned out, very seriously ill. He was unable to continue on his road in the cold weather and had to stop over at the railway station of Astapovo, where his condition worsened; inflammation of the lungs set in, and his life slowly ebbed away. His last words as he was losing consciousness were: "All is well, . . . all is simple and well . . . well . . . yes, yes."40

Who is to judge Tolstoy's faith and his life? His own parable of "The Two Old Men" is addressed as much to himself as to the rest of us. Two peasants, Yefim and Yelisei, set out on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But Yelisei is delayed on his journey by the call of mercy and, havingspent on a poor family most of the money which he had saved up for his pilgrimage, he is obliged to return to his village. Yefim proceeds on his way alone, wary of strangers and prudently calculating from beginning to end. But when he finally reaches his goal, arriving just in time to elbow his way inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, behold! he catches sight of Yelisei, there ahead of him, clear up towards the altar. It is only Yefim's vision, of course, and it is Tolstoy's parable; but its message is unmistakable.


1 Romain Rolland, Tolstoy (transl, by Bernard Miall), New York, Dutton, 1911, p. 5.

2The Life of Tolstoy by Tolstoy's very close friend and biographer, Paul Birukoff (Engl. transl.), London, Cassell, 1911, pp. 15 f.

3 Tolstoy, A Confession (transl, by Aylmer Maude), Oxford University Press ed. of 1945, pp. 3, 5. This work is cited hereafter as Confession.

4 Lev Tolstoy, Sobraniye sotchinenii (Collected Works), Moscow, Khud Literatura, 1965, Vol. XIX, pp. 33, 41-46. Cited below as Sobraniye sotchinenii.

5Sobraniye sotchinenii, Vol. XIX, p. 95; transl, in Paul Birukoff, The Life of Tolstoy, p. 35.

6 Cf. Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy: First Fifty Years, London, Cassell, 1911, p. 60.

7Ibid., pp. 128 f.

8Sobraniye sotchinenii, Vol. XIX, p. 150; transl, in Paul Birukoff, The Life of Tolstoy, pp. 37 f.

9 Cf. Maude, The Life of Tolstoy: First Fifty Years, p. 132; Confession, p. 11.

10Confession, p. 17.

11 Cf. Countess Tatiana Tolstoy's essay in Family Views of Tolstoy (transl, by Louise and Aylmer Maude), Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1926, p. 87, note.

12 Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (transl, by Louise and Aylmer Maude), Oxford University Press, Vol. II, 1944 ed., p. 405.

13Confession, pp. 19 ff., 28.

14Ibid., pp. 23 f.

15Ibid., p. 31.

16Ibid., p. 66.

17 Tatiana Tolstoy's essay in Family Views of Tolstoy, p. 89.

18 Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy: Later Years, London, Constable, 1911, p. 13.

19The Diary of Tolstoy's Wife, 1860-1891 (transl, by Alexander Werth), London, Gollancz, 1928, p. 200.

20 Maude, The Life of Tolstoy: Later Years, pp. 13, 7, 372.

21Sobraniye sotchinenii, Vol. XX, p. 105; transl, by Rose Strunsky, The Journal of Leo Tolstoy, 1895-1899, New York, Knopf, 1917, p. 255.

22 Matthew 16:25 f.

23 Cf. Tolstoy, What I Believe (transl, by Aylmer Maude), Oxford University Press, 1945 ed., chap. vi.

24 Matthew 5:21 f.

25Sobraniye sotchinenii, Vol. XVII, pp. 237, 488 f.; Sergei Tolstoy, Tolstoy Remembered by His Son (transl. by Moura Budberg), New York, Atheneum, 1962, pp. 162 f.

26 Matthew 5:27 f., 32 f.

27 Tolstoy, What I Believe (with A Confession) (transl. by Aylmer Maude), Oxford University Press, 1945 ed., pp. 194 ff.

28 Matthew 5:33 f., 37.

29 Matthew 5:43 f., 46 f.

30 Tolstoy, What I Believe, p. 224.

31 Quoted by Aylmer Maude, The Life of Tolstoy: Later Years, p. 57.

32 Matthew 5:38-42.

33Sobraniye sotchinenii, Vol. XIX, pp. 285 f.

34 Cf. Ernest J. Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, Boston, Little Brown, 1946, chap. xxxiv, especially pp. 594 ff.

35 Cf. Sobraniye sotchinenii, Vol. XX, p. 165.

36 Tolstoy, What Is Art? (transl. by Aylmer Maude), New York, Crowell, 1899, p. 184.

37Journal of Leo Tolstoy, 1895-1899, p. 26.

38 Tolstoy, What Is to be Done? (transl., ed. by Isabel F. Hapgood), New York, Crowell, 1890, p. 153.

39Ibid., p. 156.

40 Birukoff, op. cit., pp. 148, 154.

Ernest J. Simmons (essay date 1968)

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SOURCE: "Religious, Moral, and Didactic Writings," in Introduction to Tolstoy's Writings, The University of Chicago Press, 1968, pp. 94-117.

[In the following essay, Simmons presents an overview of Tolstoy's philosophical writings.]


When Leo Tolstoy and his three brothers were children they used to play a game which had been started by the oldest, the eleven-year-old Nicholas. He possessed a wonderful secret that would make all men happy, he told them, and he had written it on a little green stick which he had buried at a certain spot by the edge of the road in the Zakaz Forest near their house at Yasnaya Polyana. By performing special tasks, his younger brothers would one day learn the secret. Huddled together in a shelter made of boxes and chairs covered with shawls, the children would talk fervently about the mysterious secret written on the green stick. When it became generally known, they decided, it would bring about a Golden Age on earth. There would be no more sickness, no human misery, no anger, and all would love one another.

Tolstoy never forgot this childhood game which may be said to mark the beginning of his lifelong quest for the secret of earthly happiness. That is, the search did not begin, as is commonly supposed, at the time of his intense spiritual experience at the age of fifty. Throughout his early years and during the period of writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina, his diary, letters, and even his fiction contain abundant evidence of a preoccupation with religious and moral problems. To cite just one of numerous examples, at the age of twenty-seven he entered in his diary: "Yesterday a conversation about divinity and faith suggested to me a great, a stupendous idea to the realization of which I feel capable of dedicating my whole life. This is the idea—the founding of a new religion corresponding to the development of mankind: the religion of Christ, but purged of all dogma and mystery, a practical religion, not promising future bliss but realizing bliss on earth. I understand that to bring this idea to fulfillment the conscientious labor of generations towards this end will be necessary."

There can be no question, however, that shortly after finishing Anna Karenina in 1877, Tolstoy experienced a shattering moral and spiritual crisis which brought him to the verge of suicide. A Confession, one of the noblest utterances of man, is the chronicle of his doubts and merciless self-examination. He admitted that he had everything to live for—a loving wife, family, wealth, fame, and good health. Yet life seemed stupid, a spiteful joke that someone had played on him. Why should he go on living, he asked himself? Did life have any meaning which the inevitability of death did not destroy?

In A Confession, which he began in 1880 and finished two years later, Tolstoy records the unique and overwhelming personal experience of a man perplexed in the extreme by life's most agonizing problem—the relation of man to the infinite. The result is a masterpiece of the highest art, comparable to the Book of Job in its terrible human urgency of the need to know, as well as in its wonderful language, with biblical echoes, and its compelling use of parables to illustrate ideas. With courage not devoid of a certain humility he dared to tell cynical unbelievers thatreligion contained the only explanation of the meaning of life, and to believers in dogmatic and popular religions he declared that the very foundations of their faith were erroneous. With complete sincerity, he made it clear that he was uncompromisingly turning his back on all the joys and fame and magnificent artistic achievements of his fifty years of existence in the search for a new way of life that would enable him to seek moral perfection in service to God and humanity.

In a prolonged effort to formulate the direction and terms of his search, Tolstoy devoted the next few years to an exhaustive study of the works of renowned thinkers and the great religions of the world, especially Christianity. In general, he came to the conclusion that the teachings of the Christian churches consisted of meaningless verbiage and incredible statements which afforded no satisfactory direction to man. But in the thoughts of Christ, corrected as he felt they should be if they were to retain their original substance, he discovered an answer to his question about the meaning of life. To put his conclusion in very simple form: the purpose of life on earth is to serve not our lower animal nature but the power to which our higher nature recognizes its kinship. There is a power in each of us, he asserted, enabling us to discern what is good, and we are in touch with that power. Our reason and conscience flow from it, and the purpose of our conscious life is to do its will, that is, to do good. This is the purpose of life which Tolstoy finally accepted.

In the Gospels, specifically in the Sermon on the Mount, Tolstoy sought light on the practical application of this purpose in daily living. From the commandments he extracted five which, he maintained, were the true utterances of Christ. Set down in brief form they are: do not be angry; do not lust; do not bind yourself by oaths; resist not him who is evil; be good to the just and the unjust. All of Tolstoy's future teaching, as well as his own behavior, were guided by these commandments.

Tolstoy's new convictions drove him into a comprehensive examination of the whole organization of modern society. His findings astonished many and convinced others that he was somewhat insane and government authorities that he was a dangerous threat to established order. To his own satisfaction at least, he proved that modern religious faith as preached by churches amounted to a belief in what one knew to be untrue. The Russian Church replied by excommunicating him. Next the institutions of government came under his lash. The result was their theoretic destruction. For a man who will take no oaths, that is, will not submit his will to another, who will not resist evil by force, and who loves all nations and peoples equally and will not punish the just or the unjust, such a man obviously can take no part in war, be patriotic, or hold property, since force is necessary to protect it.

In essence, during the last thirty years of his life Tolstoy labored mightily toward the realization on earth of the kingdom of God, which for him meant the kingdom of truth and good. He did not demand that men be truthful and do good in order to achieve a personal immortality, but because this was the fullest expression of their own personalities and the only way that peace and happiness could be achieved. He saw in the simple tillers of the soil, the hewers of wood, and the drawers of water a deeper understanding of the meaning of life, of goodness, and of truth. Organized government was for him a vast conspiracy against man, designed to exploit his labor, corrupt his soul, and murder him in the violence of war. He fully realized that the end he sought belonged to a distant millenium, but this did not prevent him from devoting all his extraordinary intellectual and artistic powers to denouncing nearly every aspect of modern society which he considered a violation of the natural rights of man.


Tolstoy's writings on these matters were extensive, including at least five full-length books, numerous brochures and articles, and scores of long letters which in effect were formal essays on special problems raised by correspondents. All this writing, and much more of a purely creative kind, went on while he was very busy with many civic and family concerns, with endless visitors from all over the world, and hardly ever free from governmental harassment and persecution. Few of these works were permitted publication in Russia, though most of them were widely circulated in clandestine hectographed and mimeographed copies. The bulk of them were sent out of the country and published abroad, which often resulted in printing errors and mutilated texts. Not infrequently numerous copies of printed foreign versions of such works were smuggled back into Russia.

Though at times contemporary critics lamented Tolstoy's forsaking belles-lettres for these purely religious, moral, and didactic works, in them he never ceased to be the literary craftsman, often the artist, and always the supreme writer. That is, it would be a mistake to imagine that they lack elements of the rich art and vision of life of the master novelist. For the remarkable persuasiveness of the best of these writings depends in large measure on Tolstoy's matter-of-fact imagination and that quality of his fiction which reveals a natural concern for the universal activities of humanity. The ruthless realism and brilliant descriptive powers of his novels are frequently carried over into this non-fiction, and his agonizing search in it for the moral laws that will determine the course of his own life is really a continuation of the intense artistic preoccupation with the moral laws that guide the lives of the great characters of his novels.

So large is this body of writing that only the most significant and representative books and articles can be considered here. The first in point of time is An Examination of Dogmatic Theology which he wrote in 1880. It is perhaps the least read of all these works, and undeservedly so, for it is an unusually fervent and compellingly logical attack on revealed religion and especially on the Russian Orthodox Church. He combined with a profoundly religious spirit an unsparing truthfulness. Heedless of personal risk in condemning an all-powerful Church, he sought the truth wherever he might find it.

In one sense, the anarchistic temper of his mind admirably fitted him for an examination of dogmatic theology: he was not disposed to accept anything that would not stand the test of reason. If mediaeval churchmen had sought to believe in order to understand, Tolstoy sought to understand in order to believe. On the other hand, he had the defect of this virtue, for he was inclined to place too much faith in his own reasoning. After a thorough study of the dogmas of the Church, he concluded that they were false and an insult to human intelligence. The Church itself, he charged, supported its tenets by deceitful verbal tricks, and sought merely power instead of trying to fulfil its obligation to spread a right understanding of religion on the basis of Christ's teaching.

Tolstoy next turned to an investigation of the Gospels, for he was mystified by what he considered the Church's distortion of the spirit of Christ's teaching. By accepting literally Christ's injunction in Matthew, "Resist not him that is evil," much that had been obscure in the Gospels became plain to him. For by not resisting him that is evil one will never do violence, never do an act contrary to love, which he decided was the real substance of Christianity. And bya literal reading of Christ's words in the Gospels and the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, he cut through much of the mystical and allegorical interpretation which he was firmly convinced had distorted the plain meaning of these precepts over the ages. On the basis of this lengthy study, in which he used extensive scholarly literature and the earliest Greek texts, Tolstoy elucidated the five commandments of Christ already mentioned. They represented the core of Christ's teaching, he insisted, and if faithfully practiced would link religion to the daily life of man. So brief a summary of An Examination of Dogmatic Theology fails to suggest striking features that characterize this and similar writings of Tolstoy—his lucidity of style, the compact argumentation which is never lacking in effective homely illustrations, and his skill in the use of irony and ridicule.

What Tolstoy had set forth as a personal religious experience in A Confession and polemically defended in An Examination of Dogmatic Theology is crystallized into the most comprehensive exposition of his faith in What I Believe, a book that he finished in 1884. The distilled essence of virtually everything he had written or thought on the subject of religion and his relation to it up to this time is clearly and artistically treated. He approached Christ's teaching as a philosophical, moral, and social doctrine, firmly indicated his disbelief in personal resurrection and immortality which, he insisted, had never been asserted by Christ, and for the first time offered a succinct explanation of the position of nonresistance to evil and his reasons for accepting it. The conclusion he reaches is that life is a misfortune for him who seeks only personal welfare which death in the end destroys, but a blessing for him who identified himself with the teaching of Christ and the task of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, here and now. He goes straight to what matters most for him—the rules of behavior in people. The Ten Commandments of Moses he regards as instructions for doing or not doing, whereas he seeks commandments that will determine being. Despite the didactic nature of the work, it has a profound human quality because of his ability to share with readers the tremendous inner struggle and intense experience that led him to his convictions.

Convinced by his previous experience with A Confession that such a religious work would never pass the censor, Tolstoy attempted a rather familiar dodge in such circumstances. He arranged for an expensive edition of only fifty copies of What I Believe in the hope that the volume, apparently not intended for popular circulation, would be certified. The ruse failed. The head of the Moscow Civil Censorship Committee reported that What I Believe "must be considered an extremely harmful book which undermines the foundations of social and governmental institutions and wholly destroys the teaching of the Church."


Tolstoy's new faith aroused in him an intense interest in poverty and social evil, and he felt keenly that he must do something to remedy the situation in his own environment. For the human misery he observed in the slums of Moscow, where he and his large growing family regularly lived in the winters in order to participate in the social season, struck deeply at the roots of his new beliefs and called into question his way of life. But he first felt the need to inform himself fully of the extent and causes of all this suffering, and in 1881 he spent some time in the Khitrov market district among beggars, human derelicts, and prostitutes. The next year, at the time of the decennial census, he proposed a campaign of organized charity in a stirring newspaper article. His plan was to persuade the numerous census takers to conduct a canvass of the city's poor in the course of their official duties. On the basis of detailed information thus obtained, a complete list of the most worthy cases would be compiled alongwith relevant data necessary to provide the most effective kind of aid. He even secured a position as an organizer in the census and asked to be assigned one of the worst sections of the city, and the conditions of life he saw there appalled him.

The more Tolstoy worked among the poor and thought of the ultimate causes of all this poverty, the more he lost heart in the practicality of his grandiose philanthropic scheme. He soon began to wonder whether dispensing money was a remedy. Was not money an evil in itself, he asked?

Out of these crushing experiences came his well-known book What Then Must We Do? which he worked on for several years and did not finish until 1886. He wrestled with the intricate problems connected with the work, for he felt that upon their solution would depend the justification of his new faith. With overwhelming evidence and irrefutable logic, he stated the case of the poor against the rich. Not content with this, he insisted that such economic disparity inevitably resulted in the moral impoverishment of both classes. Nor did he except himself from the general condemnation of the well-to-do; if anything, he was most severe on what he considered his own guilt.

Tolstoy concluded from his experiences that private or organized charity was not an answer to the conditions of the poor. His investigation convinced him that money does not usually represent work done by its owner, but rather the power to make others work. In the course of theorizing in the book he examined his practices and decided that he ought to consume as little as possible of the work of others in order not to cause suffering and vice. No one possesses any rights or privileges, he asserts, but only endless duties and obligations, and that man's first duty is to participate in the struggle with nature in order to support his own life and that of others. And in general he attempted to abide by this conclusion—in answer to the question of What Then Must We Do?—in the future ordering of his affairs.

The vicious economic contradictions of society, Tolstoy explained in his book, resulted from the exploitation by the few of the labors of the many, and at the bottom of it all was poverty. The position was an old one with him, but now he saw it in a new light. Formerly men seized upon the labors of others by violence—slavery; now, it was done by means of property. The division and safeguarding of property, he declared, occupy the whole world. Property is the root of all evil, for it brings about the sufferings of those who possess it or are deprived of it, the reproaches of conscience of those who misuse it, and it causes deadly quarrels between those who have a superfluity of property and those who are in need.

What Then Must We Do? is a unique work which, without benefit of the arguments of Marxian economic determinism, did more than any other book up to that time to expose the tremendous contradiction of poverty in modern society. Tolstoy felt the problem acutely, described its unhappy effects with the skill of a great literary artist, and condemned the causes of poverty with all the moral indignation of an eloquent preacher. The solution he offered, however, is by no means as convincing as his diagnosis of the causes. His outlook was circumscribed by the backward condition of Russian society at that time, and still more limited by his instinctive devotion to his own class. He was ignorant of the changes that developing science, industry, and commerce were bringing about in the economics of capitalism, and this unawareness was rendered virtually incurable by an ethical arrogance that made him all too ready to condemn achievements remote from his own experience. An enemy of progress in terms of modern technical advancement, he oversimplified the complex phenomena of industrial and economic life. That government in its systematic organization of society might logically strive to achieve righteousness, he emphatically denied. Yet in What Then Must We Do? Tolstoyperformed a signal service in his frank and fresh treatment of one of the most acute problems of modern times, and his prediction that if the problems were not solved in Russia, "a worker's revolution with horrors of destruction and murder" would ensue, was fulfilled not many years later.

In 1886 Tolstoy wrote one of his long letters in the form of an essay on the subject of life and death. The theme gripped his attention and he decided to elaborate it in a book. Throughout most of 1887 he could think of little else. He attended meetings of the Moscow Psychological Society, perhaps with the hope that his ideas on life and death would obtain some support from such learned men. At one of the meetings he read a paper on "Life's Meaning," but his effort was not well received by these disciples of the new materialism.

He finished On Life in 1887—Tolstoy used this short title because in the final version of the work he devoted little space to the theme of death. Though it is an important philosophical treatment of his views on the subject, the book is comparatively little known. All the mature wisdom of some ten years of meditation on religion and on man and his relation to the world is to be found in this treatise, and the beliefs expressed were not significantly altered during the remainder of his life. There is reflected in the work his careful study of church creeds, and he states his conclusion that they consist of incredible statements which afford no real guidance for life. The understanding of life which he elaborates and defends with vigor is that of Christ as revealed in the Gospels, but he avoids the confusion of divergent interpretations of the texts by putting his case independently of the Gospels, simply quoting a sentence occasionally by way of illustration. One perceives in On Life that he regards all the great religions of the world, which he had studied, as fundamentally one, separated only by the discord among them that man had introduced. The work, like so much of Tolstoy's religious and philosophical writing, admirably exemplifies his absolute faith in reason as the keen knife necessary to cut away all the falseness that has accumulated in religious, moral, and ethical doctrine. It never occurs to him that man may require something more exalted than reason to subdue his inherently iniquitous tendencies.


Perhaps the most celebrated and influential of all Tolstoy's books on religious and moral problems is The Kingdom of God Is Within You, which he began in 1890 and finished in 1893. It absorbed most of the time he allotted to writing during these years when he was intensely busy organizing widespread relief undertakings to counter the terrible famine that beset Russia. He wrote of his progress on the manuscript to a close disciple: "Never has any work cost me so much effort, or so it has seemed. I want to finish it and yet I shall be sorry to part with it." Of course there was no hope of its being published in his own country, but a Russian edition appeared in Berlin in 1894. When a French translation was submitted to the censor of foreign books in Russia, he is reported to have declared that The Kingdom of God Is Within You was the most harmful of all books that he had ever had an occasion to ban. In fact, the government's intensification of its persecution of Tolstoy's followers at that time may be attributed in part to this work.

In The Kingdom of God Is Within You Tolstoy carries his Christian anarchism to its ultimate development. The core of the work deals with his theory of nonresistance to evil, which he now applies to governments. He asserts that they are all essentially immoral and exist for the advantage of the rich and powerful, persecuting the masses of mankind through their use offorce in wars, in maintaining prisons, and in collecting taxes.

Much of the first part of the book is given over to a consideration of various criticisms of the doctrine of nonresistance to evil while at the same time paying tribute to those who had preceded him in publicly professing this position. A good deal of the criticism had come from foreign countries, but some belonged to native clerical and lay writers, although What I Believe, in which he had first advocated nonresistance to evil, had been officially banned in Russia. With a touch of humor he points out that even the government encouraged refutation of a book supposed to be unknown, and that arguments against it were set as themes for theological essays in the academies. Tolstoy also makes the important point in this first part that critics had accused him of preaching moral perfection, whereas he had made it clear that every condition, according to Christ's teaching, is merely a stage on the path toward unattainable inner and outward perfection and is therefore of no significance itself; blessedness lies only in progress toward perfection. He condemns Christian churches of all denominations for perverting the true teaching of Christ in order to maintain their power over the masses upon whom their economic existence depends. Nor does he accept the conviction of many intellectuals that the real import of Christ's teaching rests in its supposed advocacy of service to all humanity. Christian teaching, Tolstoy insists in his book, has nothing in common with socialism or communism or any doctrine advocating universal brotherhood of man based on the advantageousness of such brotherhood. For true Christian teaching, he declares, has a firm and clear basis in the individual human soul, while love of humanity is only a theoretical deduction from analogy.

The contradictions between man's life and his Christian consciousness are dwelt upon at some length. The principal reason for misunderstandings is the acceptance of Christ's teaching without making an effort to change one's life. But recognition of this error, says Tolstoy, is becoming more and more general. "Humanity has outgrown its social and governmental stages," he writes, "and has entered upon a new one. It knows the doctrine that should be made the basis of life, but through inertia continues to keep to the old forms of life. From this discord between the new understanding of life and its practise, a series of contradictions and sufferings results, which poison our life and demands its alteration."

The rest of the book is concerned with an examination of the powers and activities of governments that enable them to prevent the masses of mankind from resolving, in favor of Christ's teaching, the contradictions between their present life and their Christian consciousness. Force or violence he singles out as the chief instruments that governments employ to maintain themselves in power and the people in subjection to the un-Christian life thrust upon them. Every manifestation of governmental force is analyzed by Tolstoy, especially military conscription and war. The result is one of the most scathing denunciations of war ever written.

Nor does Tolstoy accept revolution as a way out of the tyranny of governments. He was unalterably opposed to its violence, and besides, history had taught him that in such forcible changes the masses are the sufferers and that under the new government oppression in no way lessens but sometimes even increases. Only people who have something which they will under no circumstances yield, he argues, can resist a government and curb it. The way out, he urges, is passive, civil disobedience to all those demands of government which violate the conscience of men. For only thus will public opinion, the sole power that can subdue governments, be aroused. And only men who live according to their conscience can exert influence on people, and only activity that accords with one's conscience can be useful.

In short, the escape from the violence and oppression of governments, Tolstoy concludes in this book, is for all mankind to live according to the true precepts of Christ. Man must understand, he declares, that "his life does not belong to himself or his family or the State but to Him who sent him into the world, and that he must therefore fulfill not the law of his personality or family or State, but the infinite law of Him from Whom he has come—and he will feel himself absolutely free from all human authorities and will even cease to regard them as able to trammel anyone."

Nor did Tolstoy hesitate to blueprint in his book the way of salvation for the man who is aroused to an understanding of true Christianity. His first precept is to remember that the only guide for a Christian's actions is to be found in the divine principle that dwells within him, which in no sense can be checked or governed by anything else. Man must not suppose, Tolstoy insists, that the amelioration of life will come about, as the socialists preach, by some spontaneous, violent reconstruction of society. The freedom of all men can be achieved only by the liberation of individuals separately. Every man, hearkening to the dictates of his conscience and abiding by the teaching of Christ, must quietly refuse to serve the government in any way: he must refuse to take an oath, to pay taxes, or to serve in the army. If he is persecuted for thus violating the law, he must not oppose violence by force.

Without explicitly stating it in his book, Tolstoy quite clearly anticipated a growing movement of civil disobedience based on the principle of nonresistance to evil, which he was convinced would eventually undermine the whole structure of government. He believed that such a forward movement of humanity toward a more conscious assimilation of the Christian conception of life already existed. This moral progress, he felt, would ultimately influence public opinion, and once such informed public opinion gained ascendancy, it would transform all the activity of men and bring it into accord with Christian consciousness. Then truly would the Kingdom of God on earth be achieved by every man first realizing that the kingdom was within himself.

It is impossible to convey in a necessarily short analysis the persuasiveness of Tolstoy's closely reasoned arguments, running over almost five hundred pages of this work, and there is also the danger of minimizing its effectiveness, for he rarely fails to anticipate objections to his solutions of the many controversial issues he raised. But the fault he committed in all his didactic works, that of generalizing on the basis of special conditions existing in Russia, is everywhere in evidence in the book. There was a manifest unfairness in his failure to give credit to democratic progress in governments of Western Europe and America, although he bluntly declared that the only difference between a despotic government and the republics of France and America was that, in the former, power was concentrated in the hands of a small number of oppressors and the violence was cruder, whereas in the latter, power was divided among a larger number of oppressors and was expressed less crudely.


There is bound to be a certain arbitrariness in attempting to select for brief comment what appear to be the most significant of the shorter pieces belonging to this chapter. For the purpose of convenient thematic reference, as well as for observing the scope and development of Tolstoy's views on the subject matter indicated, it seems best to arrange these articles under three broad headings. In the first, on religion, the separate "Preface" to his unfinished The Christian Teaching (1898), an attempt to state his religious perception in systematic form, recapitulates in a concise manner the doubts and difficulties Tolstoy experienced in arriving at his beliefs. In essence it is a kind of later summary of the detailed account in A Confession and hence provides an effective brief introduction to his whole treatment of religion.

In "Religion and Morality" (1893) Tolstoy examines several religions in an effort to answer the frequent query of what religion is and whether morality can exist independently of it. He concludes that the relation which man establishes between his individual personality and the infinite universe or its source is religion, and that it cannot exist apart from morality, which is an outgrowth of this relation and the ever-present guide to life.

Tolstoy's rationalism, his emphasis on the primacy of reason in any concern with faith, is stressed in the succinct treatment of "Reason and Religion." The purpose of this epistolary essay is to demonstrate that man has received direct from God only one instrument wherewith to know himself and his relation to the universe—reason. Therefore—the argument runs—it is entirely proper for man to exert the whole strength of his mind to elucidate for himself the religious foundation on which his faith must rest. Here we have Tolstoy, the rationalist, protesting against mysticism or revelation of any sort, a protest that worried certain disciples who were mystically minded.

The Reply to the Synod's Edict of Excommunication (1901) is a dignified and impressive rejoinder to the Russian Orthodox Church's exclusion of Tolstoy from its membership. His fundamental differences with the Church had been a matter of public knowledge for a long time before this official separation, but he avails himself of the opportunity to restate his views on the Church and to point out in forceful language why he believes that it is the chief obstacle to those who seek a reasonable understanding of religion.

Though Tolstoy's writings on religion and his denunciations of the practices of the Russian Orthodox Church provided sufficient reason for his excommunication, the action provoked a surprising amount of public sympathy on his behalf. In his reply to the edict he explained in forthright terms what he considered to be true and what untrue in the Holy Synod's statement. He admitted that he did not believe in what the Church said it believed in, and yet he insisted that he believed in much that the Church had attempted to persuade people that he did not believe. "I believe in this," he wrote. "I believe in God, whom I understand as Spirit, as love, as the Source of all. I believe that He is in me and I in Him. I believe that the will of God is most clearly and intelligibly expressed in the teaching of the man Jesus, whom to consider as God and pray to, I esteem the greatest blasphemy. I believe that man's true welfare lies in fulfilling God's will, and His will is that men should love one another and should consequently do to others as they wish others to do to them—of which it is said in the Gospels that in this is the law and the prophets. I believe therefore that the meaning of the life of every man is to be found only in increasing the love that is in him; that this increase of love leads man, even in this life, to ever greater and greater blessedness, and after death gives him the more blessedness the more love he has, and helps more than anything else toward the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth: that is, to the establishment of an order of life in which the discord, deception, and violence that now rule will be replaced by free accord, by truth, and by the brotherly love of one for another."

After this confession of faith, Tolstoy rose to heights of nobel sincerity in concluding his answer to the Synod: "Whether or not these beliefs of mine offend, grieve, or prove a stumbling block to anyone, or hinder anything, or give displeasure to anybody, I can as little change them as I can change my body. I must live my own life, and I must myself alone meet death (and that verysoon), and therefore I cannot believe otherwise than as I—preparing to go to that God from whom I came—do believe. I do not believe my faith to be the one indubitable truth for all time, but I see no other that is plainer, clearer, or answers better to all the demands of my reason and my heart; should I find such a one I shall at once accept it; for God requires nothing but the truth. But I can no more return to that from which with such suffering I have escaped, than a flying bird can re-enter the eggshell from which it has emerged."

Not long after his reply to the Holy Synod, Tolstoy completed a long essay, "What Is Religion, and Wherein Lies Its Essence" (1902). Within its scope, this work is perhaps his most conclusive, best-tempered, and persuasive treatment of the subject. He approaches it historically and reaches a definition of true religion as the relation which man, in terms of reason and knowledge, establishes with the infinite life surrounding him, and it binds him to that infinity and determines his conduct. The real essence of Christianity, he declares, is allied with the essence of all other major religions, whereas faith is neither hope nor credulity, but a special state of the soul that obliges man to do certain things.


The second grouping is on peace, a subject that commanded a great deal of Tolstoy's attention during the last years of his life. Here not only his central doctrine of nonviolence is involved, but also his conviction that the amazing advances of science will be used more and more to develop frightful instruments of war to kill millions of people more expeditiously. His vigorous efforts to unmask the social, political, and economic forces that cause war and prevent peace are often most effective, but the remedies he offers appear to defy the logic of civilization's progress, although it must be realized that Tolstoy seriously questioned the validity of what is generally accepted as "modern progress."

The extensive essay "Christianity and Patriotism" (1894) is one of the finest of these efforts and at the same time an excellent example of his polemical powers. He begins with a shrewd and often amusing account, based on newspaper reports, of the outpouring of fraternal admiration and patriotism that gripped Russia and France on the occasion of the exchange of visits, in 1893, of their respective fleets to Kronstadt and Toulon. Then Tolstoy debunks all this manufactured enthusiasm as something contrived by the two governments to enlist public support in case war breaks out between France and Germany. He indicts patriotism as a false sentiment and demonstrates that it and war have nothing in common with the true interests of the masses or with the precepts of Christianity.

"Patriotism and Government" (1900) is a shorter and more angry article, prompted by the cynicism of the peaceful professions of the great powers at the very time they are planning further strife. To deliver mankind from the ever-increasing evils of growing armaments and war, Tolstoy argues, neither congresses nor conferences nor courts of arbitration will do; simply destroy those instruments of violence called governments from which humanity's greatest evils flow. To eliminate the violence of governments only one thing is needed: people should be made to realize that the feeling of patriotism, which supports violence, is a bad feeling, and, above all, is immoral. It can be eradicated, he points out, only when men are educated through Christ's teaching that it is wrong to kill. And he prophetically anticipates more terrible wars—World War I began fourteen years later—unless universal disarmament can be achieved.

Tolstoy accepted an invitation to participate in the Eighteenth International Congress for Peace at Stockholm in August, 1909, although earlier he had repeatedly refused to attend such gatherings. He now felt it his duty to use this opportunity to present his views at a world forum, and he eagerly set to work on his speech. It appears that the organizers of the Congress were more surprised than pleased by his acceptance. They had not expected this feeble old man of eighty to attend and had merely wished to use his name and receive his moral support. Their surprise turned into embarrassment when the news leaked out to the world press that Tolstoy would challenge the Congress to be honest for once and demand the abolition of all armies as the only sincere and effective way to obtain world peace. Because of health and family complications, it was unlikely that he would have attended anyway, but the Congress leaders suddenly announced that the meeting would be postponed until the next year owing to a worker's strike—some newspapers flatly declared that the real reason was the fear that Tolstoy would actually appear and deliver his speech. They had cause to fear, for his "Address to the Swedish Peace Congress" (1909) is one of Tolstoy's strongest denunciations of war and of the governments that perpetuate it. He sees the problem as an acute contradiction between the moral demands of mankind and the existing social order. The moral truth in its full meaning, he declares, lies in what was said thousands of years ago, the law of God: "Thou Shalt Not Kill." The military profession, he asserts, "notwithstanding all the efforts to hide its real meaning, is as shameful a business as an executioner's and even more so. For the executioner only holds himself in readiness to kill those who have been adjudged harmful and criminal, while a soldier promises to kill all whom he is told to kill, even though they be those dearest to him or the best of men." At the end of his address Tolstoy called upon all individual members of the Congress to use the utmost public moral pressure on their various governments to convince them that war is not patriotism or service to one's country but "the naked, criminal business of murder!"

The five commandments that Tolstoy had distilled from the Gospels guided his daily conduct, and his devotion to the Christian ideal as he understood it—a renunciation of one's self in order to serve God and one's neighbor—made of his conscience a watchdog to detect the slightest intrusion of heretical thoughts or actions. In these terms he not only tried honestly to reform his own behavior, but also, through his writings, the moral, social, and political abuses of society. A selection of such articles makes up this final grouping.

At the age of sixty, for example, Tolstoy renounced meat, alcohol, and tobacco. That year he wrote his article, "Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?" (1888), in which he roundly condemns drinking and smoking as habits employed by mankind to still the voice of conscience. The peasants of Yasnaya Polyana were among his first converts; they reluctantly surrendered their tobacco pouches and took the pledge not to drink and then broke it by stealth. Though Tolstoy's absolutism in these matters is discouraging, it is interesting to observe, because of his views on nonresistance to evil, that he does rule out the use of force or laws to obtain his ends, compulsions that are advanced and sometimes unsuccessfully employed to eradicate these habits in our own day.

The First Step (1891) is really a moral essay on right living and points out the wisdom of moving toward virtue by taking the first step up the ladder on which all other steps depend. The simple way of life which Tolstoy had begun to lead after his spiritual revelation he now advocates as the rational and Christian way for people—taking care of all one's needs oneself and not depending on the labor of others. The last part of the essay is a powerful argument for vegetarianism. Here the novelist's art is employed in a nightmarishly realistic description of the slaughterhouse and its dumb victims, the material for which he gathered at first hand.

Both moral and political questions are dealt with in "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (1900), inspired by an anarchist's assassination of King Humbert of Italy. Here Tolstoy's tone becomes somewhat shrill, and his customary moral earnestness gives way to harsh criticism of the mighty rulers of the earth who cause the death of countless people without arousing the indignation that swept Europe over the murder of a single king. But in the end Tolstoy draws the moral that it is just as evil for private individuals to kill kings as it is for kings to send thousands of their subjects to death in wars.

In What's to Be Done? (1906) Tolstoy attempts to answer the question put by young radicals caught up in the turmoil of the 1905 Revolution. Since the government and the revolutionists who opposed it were both committed to violence, Tolstoy's answer is that all should accept God's law to love one another, but that in any case they should not kill or attack each other's liberty.

None of Tolstoy's many articles and pamphlets on contemporary issues won for him such international reclame as "I Cannot Be Silent" (1908), written when he was eighty. The emotional intensity and high seriousness of the piece were no doubt influenced by a long series of police prosecutions of his followers for publishing, possessing, lending, or distributing his anti-government writings. If these acts were crimes, he felt equally guilty, and the fact that he was not punished tormented his conscience. Then, too, the rising incidence of executions of revolutionists and terrorists caused him much anguish. He wrote a friend: "My God, my God, these executions, prisons, jails, these exiles! And they imagine that they will improve something or other." Then came the newspaper report of the hanging of twenty peasants (actually twelve) for attacking a landowner. This was more than Tolstoy could bear and he wrote his famous article, an effort that gave him a feeling of great moral relief. Tolstoy's superb literary talent and his knowledge of human psychology and sense of drama contribute to this impressive and anguished outcry against man's inhumanity. He struck a note that won response from all thinking people. The crimes of the revolutionists, he points out, are terrible, but they do not compare with the criminality and stupidity of organized legalized violence of the government. The delusion is the same in both, he added, and the excuse is that an evil deed committed for the benefit of many ceases to be immoral. Since the government claims these executions are done for the general welfare, Tolstoy declares, then he as one of the people cannot escape the feeling that he is a participator in these horrible deeds. In the end he defies the government, promising to circulate his article by every means in his power, in the hope that either these inhuman punishments may cease or that he may be sent to prison and thus be relieved of the burden of conscience that the executions are committed on his behalf. Better still, he writes, let them "put on me, as on those twelve or twenty peasants, a shroud and a cap and push me also off a bench, so that by my own weight I may tighten the well-soaped noose round my old throat."

David Matual (essay date 1975)

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SOURCE: "On the Poetics of Tolstoj's Confession," in Slavic and East European Journal, Vol. 19, No. 3, Fall, 1975, pp. 276-87.

[In the following essay, Matual discusses the structure and form of the Confession in terms of classical poetics.]

In its final form the Confession was intended as an introduction to Tolstoj's polemical treatise on Orthodox dogmatic theology (Issledovanie dogmati eskogo bogoslovija (1879-80). These two works together with his translation of the gospels (Soedinenie i perevod etyrex evangelij) and the systematic exposition of his new faith (V em moja vera?) represented his major statements on the religious questions which were to pre-occupy him for the rest of his life. As religious literature the Confession found both defenders and assailants; but those critics who were indifferent to the religious crisis it depicts either understated its value or attempted to demonstrate its relevance to the pressing social issues of the day. With few exceptions this trend has continued to our own time.1 While acknowledging the importance and even the beauty of the Confession, critics have generally failed to deal meaningfully with its purely artistic features. Although it was conceived as a preface to the later religious writings, its character is not exclusively functional or "cognitive," as even the most cursory reading will reveal. This paper is a preliminary attempt to explore and define the poetic value of Tolstoj's treatise apart from its role in the evolution of his religious thought. Specifically, it will focus attention on the structural design of the work, the development of its most important themes, the special role of parables and extended similes, and the use of classical rhetorical devices.

The Confession consists of sixteen chapters which are logically developed, arranged, and interrelated through a system of recurring themes and elaborate comparisons. Nicolas Weisbein has described the structural framework with the following scheme (130-31): the first three chapters are a historical survey of Tolstoj's spiritual dilemma; chapters 4-7 present the reason for his conversion; and the remaining chapters examine the faith which he has attained. Although this scheme is basically accurate, it is not sufficiently detailed. Each chapter has a specific role to play, and in this "poetry of thought" each is related to the others both aesthetically and logically. Although the Confession was intended as a preface, only the last chapter, the sixteenth, explicitly serves this purpose. At the same time it functions as an epilogue to the fifteen preceding chapters. Because its tone and theme set it apart from the rest of the work, it is advisable to consider the first fifteen chapters as the body of the Confession proper.

Chapters 1-3, as Weisbein indicates, are essentially autobiographical. The exposition is dynamic and swift, proceeding not only along logical lines to the inexorable crisis adumbrated in chapter 3, but in chronological order from Tolstoj's childhood to the fiftieth year of his life. In chapter 1 Tolstoj tells the reader how his faith in the teachings of the Church was replaced by faith in selfperfection. The second details his military career and his early years as a writer. The third shows him as teacher, family man, and renowned author. The disillusionment described at the end of the chapter foreshadows the total despair of chapter 4. Intended as a sharp contrast to the preceding three chapters, the fourth represents a static interlude, the theme of which is stated in the very first sentence: "My life stopped."2 It is followed by seven chapters (5-11) which cover a relatively brief period in the author's life but present in great detail the arduous intellectual labors which result in a rebirth of religious faith. The process begins as Tolstoj turns for consolation to man's knowledge: to empirical science in chapter 5 and to philosophy in chapter 6. Finding no satisfactory answer in either, he begins to examine the beliefs and behavior of the people around him. At first he observes the members of his own social class (chapter 7) and then the Russian peasantry (chapter 8). Chapters 9 and 10 summarize and synthesize the preceding four. The findings of chapters 5 and 6 are re-examined and properly evaluated in chapter 9. After a reconsideration of chapters 7 and 8 (in chapter 10) Tolstoj accepts the faith of the Russian people. In chapter 11 he consolidates his gains by reviewing all the earlier arguments; at the same time he points to the next crisis, described inthe following chapter. Like chapter 4, chapter 12 is basically static. Once again life seems to stop in the face of a new dilemma—this time, the search for God. The resolution of the problem, expressed metaphorically in the parable of the boat, is a direct answer to the pessimistic parable of the traveler in the static fourth chapter. The structural symmetry in the Confession is reinforced by chapters 13-5, which correspond to the first three chapters as 12 corresponds to 4. Although the earlier sections treat a much longer period in Tolstoj's life, the latter chapters are also autobiographical in nature insofar as the author now lives the conclusions reached in the purely contemplative chapters (5-11). In addition, these final autobiographical notes lead up to the ultimate purpose of the Confession, which is openly stated in chapter 16. Here Tolstoj declares his intention of going to the sources: to study the theology of the Orthodox Church and to examine the Scriptures. The chapter ends with a dream, which succinctly outlines the struggle that has been waged and, presumably, won.

Thematic development in the Confession may be compared to that of the sonata form in music.3 In the opening chapter Tolstoj states his major themes, which are fully developed and frequently recapitulated in subsequent chapters. The first of these principal themes is the loss and rediscovery of religious faith. Tolstoj begins by describing the erosion of his childhood beliefs and their eventual transformation into an indefinable faith in lofty principles and self-perfection. Evaluating this new Weltanschauung, he emphasizes again and again what he regards as the foolishness of his position by the repeated use of the phrase "I could not say" or a variation of it. It appears whenever he seeks to define any belief or the purpose of any action prior to his crisis and conversion. An illustrative passage occurs toward the end of chapter 1: "What I believed in I could not say. I believed in God, or, rather, I did not deny God, but what sort of god I could not say. Nor did I deny Christ and his teachings, but what his teachings were I also could not say." (p. 3.) The same phrase occurs, though often in a variant form, when Tolstoj tries to determine what he hopes to accomplish by writing novels, what he intends to teach to peasant children, or how he is to answer the apparently unanswerable questions which besiege him at the height of his career. He implies that a loss of faith puts every man in a ridiculous and defenseless position, variously described as foolishness, ignorance, illness, and even madness.

Tolstoj treats the untenable position resulting from a rejection of pristine ideals as an inevitability in his own life and in the lives of most of his peers. It is inevitable merely because it is part of the very process of growth. The old disabuse the young, the young lose their beliefs, and they in turn corrupt the succeeding generation. The "foolishness" or "madness" perpetuates itself from one generation to the next. In chapters 1 and 2 Tolstoj describes his experiences passing from childhood to manhood. He recalls being scandalized by the jokes made at the expense of his older brother Dmitrij, who was a serious and devout youth at the time. As he himself matured, he found himself in a similar predicament, ridiculed for noble aspirations and praised for passions and vices ("Succumbing to these passions, I was becoming more like an adult, and I felt that people were pleased with me," p. 4). Like St. Augustine, Tolstoj allows the praise of others to undermine the goodness which he regards as inherent in early childhood.4 His degradation proceeds from passions to crimes to writing—all with the constant encouragement first of his elders and then of his contemporaries.

Further developing the theme of the loss and recovery of faith, Tolstoj finds that as he rises in the esteem of others, his self-esteem declines; this sets the stage for the crisis depicted in chapter 4. He insists, however, that even after the deterioration of his religious beliefs and in spite of his friends' contrary advice he continued to aspire to virtue: "With all my heart Iwanted to be good. But I was young, I had passions, and I was alone, completely alone, when I sought the good." (p. 4.) In a similar passage in his Confessions Rousseau shows how a man can become evil and unjust in his actions without losing his love of virtue.5 It is precisely such latent noble sentiments which rescue Tolstoj from his spiritual impasse, deliver him from his inconclusive ruminations, and enable him to accept the faith of the Russian people as the answer to his dilemma. To Tolstoj, this faith is an "irrational knowledge," which makes life possible despite the hopeless conclusions of the philosophers, whose ideas he outlines in chapter 6. He contends, however, that he has arrived at this knowledge through purely rational argument. Chapters 9 and 10, in which the theme of religious faith is most fully developed, are presented as a summary and evaluation of chapters 5-8, the most purely analytical chapters of the Confession. The anaphoric repetition of the phrase "I understood" at the end of chapter 10 and throughout chapter 11 emphasizes once again Tolstoj's conviction that his conclusions are fully in accord with the dictates of his reason. This conviction notwithstanding, it is the desire for good, characteristic of his youth and described in chapter 2, which predisposes him to reject what he considers the false standards of his social class (chapter 7), to turn to the common people, the "makers of life" (chapter 8), and to seek a principle which affirms life in the face of death (chapters 9 and 10). However questionable Tolstoj's arguments in the last of the analytical chapters, his insistence on the rationality of his search for faith provides a contrast and introduction to his irrational quest for God, which is the second principal theme of the Confession.6

It is a reminiscence of childhood which introduces the theme of God early in chapter 1. Tolstoj recalls the day when Vladimir Miljutin, a gymnasium student, revealed a great discovery to him and his brothers: that God does not exist.7 This information is received with interest and a degree of sympathy, as indicated in the final version of the Confession: "I remember that we were all very excited, and we accepted this news as something very intriguing and entirely possible" (p. 1). The implication is clear that the boys are inclined to believe their friend's revelation. In an earlier variant of this anecdote, however, the passage above ends with the clause, "although we did not believe him" (p. 488). The news which was not accepted in an early version is judged "entirely possible" in the final text. This is the starting point in Tolstoj's downfall. Significantly, the process begins with an idea acquired in school. Thus, as with the theme of faith, there is a connection between intellectual development and the loss of one's belief in God.

As Tolstoj grows into young manhood in chapters 2 and 3, his earlier belief in God yields to faith in self-perfection, in the writer's mission, and in the teacher's task. The theme of God is absent from these chapters (as is the word Bog). It returns, in covert form, only in chapter 4, where "life stops" and Tolstoj suspects that a nameless "someone" has played a cruel joke on him: " izn' moja est' kakaja-to kem-to sygrannaja nado mnoj glupaja i zlaja šutka" (p. 13). The sentiment and even the wording are strongly reminiscent of Lermontov's poem "I sku no i grustno." Like Tolstoj, the poet finds that life's hopes and joys are illusory and concludes that his existence is a fatuous jest: "I izn', kak posmotris' s xolodnym vniman'em vokrug,—/Takaja pustaja i glupaja šutka." In later chapters the Lermontov echo develops into a label attached to those members of Tolstoj's class who continue to live in spite of their rejection of God and their conviction that life is an absurdity.

In chapters 5-10 the theme of God recedes into the background once again, replaced by the "questions," "answers," and "meaning" which typify the middle section of the Confession. Then in chapter 11 Tolstoj reviews his former life and all the conclusions he has reached up to thispoint. The final paragraphs, especially the parable of the worker at the well, prepare the reader for chapter 12, the last "static" chapter and the ultimate response to the despair of chapter 4.

If Tolstoj arrives at faith through ratiocination in chapters 5-11, he rediscovers God through intuition in chapter 12. Religious faith as a general principle is presented as the concluding argument of an elaborate dialectic. But Tolstoj remains unsatisfied. Reason alone is inadequate. Ultimate satisfaction derives only from faith in God, and that faith, in Tolstoj's view, is achieved by intuitive and even mystical experience. In chapter 12, as in the numerous "conversion" scenes from War and Peace to the later fiction, the discovery of God is contingent upon the triumph of the irrational over the rational. Here the discovery is made through memory, the third major theme of the Confession. The connection between God and memory is made explicit: "But then I looked at myself and at what was happening inside me, and I remembered all the hundreds of times that I had died and come back to life. I remembered that I lived only when I believed in God." (p. 45.) The same notion is emphasized in the anaphoric insistence on the words "I returned," which in their context are the equivalent of "I remembered." Tolstoj remembers his former faith in God and believes once again: "I returned completely to the very beginning, to my childhood and my youth" (p. 46). In a variant of this chapter he expresses the view that the religious impulses which survived his childhood were rooted not in his earlier beliefs but in the secular literature which he avidly read as a young man (p. 490). In the final versions of both chapters 1 and 12, however, there is no indication of this. On the contrary, the early readings—in Voltaire, for example—only served to undermine his faith in God. In its final form the Confession is the story of memory, of a return to a former state of childlike acceptance. The parable which closes chapter 12 makes this quite clear. It relates Tolstoj's attempt to cross a river while the current carries him relentlessly downstream. Realizing that he is heading for the rapids and certain death, he "comes to his senses" (opomnilsja), and the parable ends with the following words: "But looking back, I saw a great many boats stubbornly and unceasingly trying to cross the current. I remembered (vspomnil) the shore, the oars, and my direction, and I began to row back upstream and toward the shore." (p. 47.) The same theme of salvation through memory is found in the dream at the end of the last chapter. The dream itself, added several years after Tolstoj began work on the Confession, is said to have been prompted by a rereading of the preceding chapters and the memory of the thoughts and feelings which the author had experienced while writing them. Inspired by the Confession, the dream is in effect a summation of it. Its conclusion stresses once again the role of memory in the process of conversion: "And it seemed that somebody was telling me: 'Look and remember.' And I woke up." (p. 59.)

Tolstoj develops his principal themes—the attainment of faith, the search for God, the importance of memory—in an intricate pattern of anticipations and repetitions. The most prominent and surely the most impressive means employed to dramatize his quest and conversion is the parable or the extended comparison. The parables of the Confession vivify the author's story and give it a Biblical grandeur quite suited to its subject and purpose. Their themes correspond to the principal sections of the work and fall into the following categories: (1) those which serve to characterize Tolstoj's state of mind before the crisis, (2) those which objectify the inner dilemma, and (3) those which offer a solution to the problem.

The first category is represented by a long comparison in chapter 2 between the literary confraternity, of which Tolstoj had been a member in the late 1850's, and the inmates of a madhouse. In their eagerness to be praised, their quickness to take offense, and their determination to out-shout one another, the writers are similar to and eventually even identicalwith madmen. In chapter 8 Tolstoj takes up the theme of madness again: be finds it to be characteristic of those members of his social class who have completely ignored the broad masses of the people. The "madness" reappears in chapter 11 in an extended comparison of the educated classes with those people (here, an executioner, an alcoholic, and a madman) who spend their lives in a dark room convinced that they will perish if they leave their place of confinement. Questioned about the nature of human existence, they reply that life is the greatest evil. Tolstoj comments: "The madman's answer would be completely correct, but only for him" (p. 42). Interpreting the parable of the worker at the well toward the end of the chapter and linking it to the earlier comparison, he states that some workers—the intellectuals—will not pump water from the well because they cannot understand why they must do so. They despise their master and ignore his commands.

The parables and comparisons dealing with the spiritual crisis itself begin in chapter 3, which is both a continuation of the autobiographical chapters and an introduction to the suspension of life in chapter 4. The first comparison is occasioned by the many unanswered questions which begin to harass Tolstoj at the height of his career. At first these questions are merely annoying, but in time they become more frequent and persistent until they coalesce into a "single black spot" (odno ernoe pjatno), which replaces the "empty space" (pustoe mesto) left by the erosion of faith in chapter 1. It is the darkness represented by the black spot which impels Tolstoj to suicide at the end of chapter 4: "The terror of the darkness was too great, and I wanted to free myself from it as quickly as possible, either with a noose or with a bullet. And it was this feeling which drew me most forcefully toward suicide." (p. 15.) But the darkness is "answered" in chapters 11 and 12, both of which are responses to chapter 4. In an allusion to the Gospel according to St. John in chapter 11, Tolstoj insists that the darkness is a matter of choice and that people prefer it because "their deeds are evil." In chapter 12 the light, which Tolstoj associates with belief in God, triumphs over the darkness: "And more brightly than ever before everything inside me and around me was illuminated, and that light has not left me" (p. 46).

Immediately after the comparison between the unanswered questions and the black spot, Tolstoj, in a noteworthy anticipation of the theme of The Death of Ivan Il'i, equates his condition at the time of his spiritual crisis to the state of a sick man whose affliction develops only gradually into prolonged suffering. The author adds: "The suffering increases and the patient no sooner turns around than he realizes that what he had assumed to be a sickness was that which was the most significant thing in the world to him—death" (p. 11). These words are answered only at the end of chapter 12: "And so the power of life was restored in me, and once again I began to live" (p. 47).

A comparison Tolstoj uses repeatedly to dramatize his crisis is to a man lost in a forest. It first appears in chapter 4, where the man who has lost his way begins to panic at the mere realization of his situation. Tolstoj too is terrified because he cannot cope with the problem that torments him at the zenith of his fortunes. The simile is elaborated at the beginning of chapter 6. Now the author finds himself in the forest of man's knowledge. From the tops of the trees (empirical science) he sees clearings but cannot find his way home. Entering the thicket (philosophy) he finds only darkness. The theme is reintroduced in chapter 11 when Tolstoj discovers that he was lost because he had "lived badly." In the following chapter he compares himself to a fledgling which has fallen from the nest and is squealing for its mother. In an early variant Tolstoj had chosen a puppy, not a bird, as the object of comparison (p. 505). Apparently the change was made in order to continue the imagery of the forest, for twoparagraphs later Tolstoj finds himself in the woods searching for God: "I remember it was early in the spring. I was alone in the woods listening to its sounds. I was listening and thinking about one thing all the time just as I had constantly thought the same thing those past three years. I was looking for God again" (p. 45). The structure of the passages immediately following and especially the use of interior monologue to mark the various stages of Tolstoj's quest suggest that it is also in a forest that he discovers the answer to his dilemma in a renewed faith in God. Now the darkness, which had been associated with the woods, turns to light.

The image of the man lost in a forest is related to the numerous allusions in the Confession to Tolstoj's age at the time of his spiritual crisis: the age of fifty. The subject is introduced in chapter 3, when the author contends that the early years of his marriage only postponed the dilemma which faced him approximately fifteen years later. Since he was married in 1862, the crisis apparently began in 1877, i.e., at a time when he was nearly fifty years old. In chapter 4 the moments of doubt and dejection persist until they poison his life at its peak ("before I was fifty"). Later in the same chapter he sees himself at the "summit of life." In chapter 5 the age of fifty is mentioned again, at the moment when Tolstoj contemplates suicide because he cannot determine the meaning of his existence. Fifty is the middle of life. This is clear in the parable of the boat when he loses the direction and abandons his oars "in the very middle of the stream." If the theme of age is linked to the imagery treated earlier, Tolstoj appears as a man lost in a forest in the middle of his life. Viewed in this light his dilemma strongly suggests the opening lines of Dante's Inferno: "Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita/mi ritrovai per una selva oscura/che la via diritta era smarrita."8

The longest of the parables treating the feeling of desolation at the height of the crisis is the Indian legend recounted in chapter 4. It is the story of a traveler who finds himself menaced by a ferocious animal. He escapes by jumping into a dry well at the bottom of which is a dragon ready to devour him just as surely as the beast above. The traveler desperately clings to a bush growing in the crevices of the well, although two mice, one black and the other white, are gnawing at its stem. On the leaves of the bush he sees honey, which he reaches out and licks with his tongue. The dragon, Tolstoj explains, is death; the mice are day and night eating away at his life; the honey is his consolations—his family and his art; but death is the great reality, and he concludes: "And this is no fable but the honest, indisputable, universally intelligible truth" (p. 14).

The gloom of the traveler's tale is dispelled by the parable of the worker in chapter 11, the first of three parables treating the resolution of Tolstoj's crisis. It is the story of a hungry and naked beggar who is taken from the street and given a job "moving a stick." At first he does not know why he is doing this, but he trusts his master unquestioningly. In time he realizes that he is pumping water from a well which irrigates rows of fruit trees. The ominous, dry well of chapter 4 has now become the source of life. There is little doubt that Tolstoj intended to respond to the parable of the traveler by reviving the image of the well. In an early version of chapter 8 he wrote: "I finally understood, finally broke through that wall separating me, a wise and learned man, from the foolish and the ignorant. I came to my senses as if I had sprung forth from a stifling well into the light of day" (p. 500). In the parable of chapter 11 the worker is at first puzzled by the well; he understands it only after he places his faith in his benevolent master. The master in the story is obviously God.

The parable representing Tolstoj's rediscovery of God in chapter 12 is prepared for by a passage in chapter 3. Ridiculing the faith in progress which he had substituted for his earlierfaith in God, Tolstoj likens his situation to that of a man in a boat battered by winds and waves. When he asks himself what direction he must take, he responds incongruously that he is being "carried off somewhere." Belief in progress is viewed as an irrelevant answer to the most important question in Tolstoj's life. In chapter 12 the boat reappears. In a tale that offers a contrast to the parable of the traveler in chapter 4, Tolstoj is supposed to cross a river in a boat. At first he merely sails with the current and drifts downstream. When he realizes, however, that he is heading toward destruction, he remembers his original destination (God), picks up the oars (faith), and arrives safely at the other shore. This parable is both an answer to the despair of the parable it is meant to balance and a summary of the journey Tolstoj has made from the faith of his childhood in chapter 1 to the rediscovery or memory of that faith in the "middle of his life."

The final chapter ends with the description of a dream Tolstoj had in 1882. Allegedly, it was inspired directly by the "thoughts and feelings" experienced during the writing of the Confession proper. If this is truly the case, his dream is as artistic as his conscious creations in the earlier chapters. He himself points out that it clarifies and summarizes the entire work. And that is precisely what it does. As a representation of Tolstoj's life up to that time and a restatement of the story told in the Confession, its meaning is transparent. There is no explanation at the end as there is at the end of the long parables in chapters 4 and 12; nevertheless, this too must be considered a parable. Tolstoj dreams that he is lying on a bed. All is well until he begins to think about what he is doing. This passage of the dream parallels chapters 1-3, which depict the loss of faith as the result of heightened consciousness and maturity. He notices that he is lying on straps which can be moved. When he begins to experiment with them, they slip away until the lower part of his body is hanging toward the ground. Looking down, he sees an unimaginably deep abyss. The reference here is to chapter 4 and specifically to the parable of the traveler looking down into the jaws of the dragon at the bottom of the well. At this point Tolstoj directs his attention upward and forgets the abyss below. His position seems secure, and his fear of destruction is gone. He begins to review what has happened to him: "I remember everything that occurred. I remember how it all happened: how I moved my legs, how I hung there, how I grew terrified and was saved from this terror by looking up" (pp. 58-59). These lines reflect Tolstoj's desperate search for the meaning of his life and his ultimate discovery of faith. But the ordeal is not over. He begins to wonder what is supporting the weight of his body as he looks upward. He discovers a column at his head and a loop extending from it, on which he lies securely. The column is firm yet physically impossible, since it has nothing to rest upon. It is clearly a symbol of God, and the episode is a reference to chapter 12. A voice in the dream now tells him to remember all that he has seen. The parable ends and he awakens.

The language of the Confession deserves a special study of its own. However, I treat only its most salient features here. Mirsky's assertion that "every detail, every turn of thought, every rhetorical cadence, is in its right place" (p. 300) is a good point of departure. But it is difficult to agree with him when he insists that Tolstoj spurns all the devices of traditional rhetoric. On the contrary, he makes effective use of the devices and syntactical constructions of classical rhetoric throughout the Confessions. Reference has already been made to his liberal use of anaphora, for example. In Chapters 10 and 11 the words "I understood" are used anaphorically ten times, as Tolstoj draws up the balance sheet of his speculations; "I remembered" appears five times in chapter 12 when the author returns to the God of his boyhood. In chapter 10 the phrase "in opposition to this" (v protivupolo nost' tomu) introduces five contrasts between the members of Tolstoj's class and the peasantry.

Certain key phrases recur at various points in the story. Developing the theme of foolishness—the foolishness of those who have fallen away—Tolstoj frequently uses the clause "I could not say" or a variation of it. In similar fashion the expression "that is how I lived" and its variations occur whenever one period of Tolstoj's life is ending and another is beginning: after his life in the army, after the first few years of his career as a writer, after fifteen years of marriage, and after his acceptance of the people's faith. The phrase always suggests that Tolstoj is ready to leave the plateau he has reached and continue his search. In chapter 16 the chain is broken by the dream, which begins with the words: "I wrote this three years ago" (p. 57). Tolstoj gives the impression that he has reached the last plateau and that he is content to remain there.

A striking rhetorical device in the Confession is the arrangement of nouns, adjectives, or verbs in groups of three. These triads can be found in abundance, but one example from chapter 10, a contrast of two triads, will suffice: "V protivupolo nost' tomu, to spokojnaja smert', bez u asa i ot ajanija, est'samoe redkoe isklju enie v našem kruge, smert'nespokojnaja, nepokornaja i neradostnaja est' samoe redkoe isklju enie sredi naroda" (p. 40). Like single words and phrases, clauses also frequently show a tripartite construction (the tricolon of classical rhetoric).

On occasion Tolstoj follows the advice of Cicero and punctuates the meaning of a passage with a line of rhythmic prose. Gusev has demonstrated that Tolstoj was quite conscious of this device, for he used it while working on his unfinished novel on Peter the Great.9 The reader is struck by the iambic cadence of such lines as the following: "I dumaju i uvstvuju i ja" (p. 26) toward the end of chapter 6 or "No v em byla ošibka, ja nikak $$Word$$ mog najti" (p. 31) at the very end of chapter 7. These rhythmic units confirm the reader's impression that Tolstoj has paid attention to the minutest details of euphony.

The elements treated above—the symmetrically balanced structural framework, the statement and exposition of themes, the use of parables and similes as illustrations to Tolstoj's search and discovery, and the presence of rhetorical ornamentation—are too often neglected in the critical literature on the Confession. Questions of genre and style also need to be investigated. While there is general agreement that Tolstoj did not cease to be an artist after his conversion, it must also be said that his artistry is evident in his religious writings as well as in his fiction. This study has attempted to show the Confession as a vivid, persuasive presentation of Tolstoj's spiritual peripeties and as a worthy introduction to the later religious treatises.


1 For a survey of critical opinion see N. N. Ardens, Tvor eskij put' L. N. Tolstogo (M.: AN SSSR, 1962), 374-75; B. I. Bursov, L. N. Tolstoj: Seminarij (L.: $$Word$$ 1963), 342; S. P. By kov, L. N. Tolstoj (M.: GIXL, 1954), 333-36; Hugh I'Anson Fausset, Tolstoy: The Inner Drama (New York: Harcourt Brace, n.d.), 196-207; M. S. Gromeka, Poslednie proizvedenija grafa L. N. Tolstogo: Kriti eskij ètjud (M.: N. N. Baxmetev, 1884); Derrick Leon, Tolstoy: His Life and Work (London: Routledge, 1944), 194-95; D. S. Mirsky, A History of Russian Literature, ed. Francis J. Whitfield (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949), 299-301; Alexander I. Nazaroff, Tolstoy: The Inconstant Genius (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1929), 215; Romain Rolland, Vie de Tolstoï, 10th ed. (Paris: Librairie Hachette, 1921), 80-84; Antoni Semezuk, Lew Tolstoj (Warsaw: Wiedza powszechna, 1963), 221-33; Ernest J. Simmons, Tolstoy (Boston: Routledge & Kegal Paul, 1973), 103-06; A. M. Skabi evskij, "Mysli i zametki po povodu nravstvennofilosofskix idej gr. L. Tolstogo," So inenija, 3rd ed., ed. F. Pavlenkov (2 vols.; SPb.: Ju. N. Èrlix, 1903), II, 157-216; G. W. Spence, Tolstoy the Ascetic (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967), 13-16; Henri Troyat, Tolstoï (Paris: Fayard, 1965), 480-81; Nicolas Weisbein, L'Evolution religieuse de Tolstoï (Paris: Librairie des Cinq Continents, 1960), 128-47.

2 L. N. Tolstoj, Polnoe sobranie so inenij, ed. V. G. ertkov et al. (90 vols.; M., L.: GIXL, 1928-58), XXIII, 11. Subsequent page references in the text are to this volume. Translations are my own.

3 For a discussion of the sonata form in Tolstoj's earlier works see R. F. Christian, Tolstoy: A Critical Introduction (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1969), 61.

4 St. Augustine, Confessions (2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1960), I, 38-40. The relevant passage is worth quoting in its entirety: "Non te amabam et fornicabar abs te, et fornicanti sonabat undique: 'euge, euge.' Amicitia enim mundi huius fornicatio est abs te et 'euge, euge' dicitur, ut pudeat, si non ita homo sit."

5 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Oeuvres complètes, ed. Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond (Bruges: Editions Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1959), I, 56.

6 In chapter 9 Tolstoj emphasizes that one must define one's faith first before searching for God.

7 In the final text Miljutin's name is only an initial. The disclosure of his identity might have been interesting to the first readers of the Confession because he had committed suicide in 1855 at the height of a brilliant academic career.

8 The parallel is not exact; Dante regarded the age of thirty-five as the middle of life, in accord with the Scriptures (cf. Psalms 90: 10).

9 N. N. Gusev, Lev Nikolaevi Tolstoj: Materialy k biografii s 1870 po 1881 god (M.: AN SSSR, 1963), 125.

Walter Kaufmann (essay date 1976)

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SOURCE: "Tolstoy Versus Dostoevsky," in Existentialism, Religion, and Death: Thirteen Essays, New American Library, 1976, pp. 15-27.

[In the following essay, Kaufmann contrasts the political and philosophical views of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.]


It is customary to think of Tolstoy as a very great novelist who wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but who then became immersed in religion and wrote tracts. His later concerns are generally deplored, and many readers and writers wish that instead he might have written another novel of the caliber of his masterpieces. A very few of his later works are excepted: chief among these is The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, which is acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of world literature. And some of those who have read the less well-known fable, How Much Land Does a Man Need? have said that it may well be the greatest short story ever written. But these are stories. Such direct communications as My Religion, with their unmistakable and inescapable challenge, one prefers to escape by not reading them. This makes it likely that most admirers of the stories, and even of Anna Karenina, come nowhere near understanding these works—a point amply borne out by the disquisitions of literary critics.

Lionel Trilling, as perceptive a critic as we have, has said that "every object . . . in Anna Karenina exists in the medium of what we must call the author's love. But this love is so pervasive, it is so constant, and it is so equitable, that it creates the illusion of objectivity. . . . For Tolstoi everyone and everything has a saving grace. . . . It is this moral quality, this quality of affection, that accounts for the unique illusion of reality that Tolstoi creates. It is when the novelist really loves his characters that he can show them in their completeness and contradiction, in their failures as well as in their great moments, in their triviality as well as in their charm." Three pages later: "It is chieflly Tolstoi's moral vision that accounts for the happiness with which we respond to Anna Karenina."

Happiness indeed! Love, saving grace, and affection! Surely, the opposite of all this would be truer than that! After such a reading, it is not surprising that the critic has to say, near the end of his essay on Anna Karenina (reprinted in The Opposing Self): "Why is it a great novel? Only the finger of admiration can answer: because of this moment, or this, or this. . . ." The point is not that Trilling has slipped for once, but that Anna Karenina is generally misread—even by the best of critics.

Any reader who responds with happiness to this novel, instead of being disturbed to the depths, must, of course, find a sharp reversal in Tolstoy's later work which is so patently designed to shock us, to dislodge our way of looking at the world, and to make us see ourselves and others in a new, glaring and uncomfortable light. Even if we confine ourselves to Anna Karenina, I know of no other great writer in the whole nineteenth century, perhaps even in the whole of world literature, to whom I respond with less happiness and with a more profound sense that I am on trial and found wanting, unless it were Søren Kierkegaard.

Far from finding that Tolstoy's figures are bathed in his love and, without exception, have a saving grace, I find, on the contrary, that he loves almost none and that he tells us in so many words that what grace or charm they have is not enough to save them.

Instead of first characterizing an apparently repulsive character and then exhibiting his hidden virtues or, like Dostoevsky, forcing the reader to identify himself with murderers, Tolstoy generally starts with characters toward whom we are inclined to be well disposed, and then, with ruthless honesty, brings out their hidden failings and their self-deceptions and often makes them look ridiculous. "Why is it a great novel?" Not on account of this detail or that, but because Tolstoy's penetration and perception have never been excelled; because love and affection never blunt his honesty; and because in inviting us to sit in judgment, Tolstoy calls onus to judge ourselves. Finding that most of the characters deceive themselves, the reader is meant to infer that he is probably himself guilty of self-deception; that his graces, too, are far from saving; that his charm, too, does not keep him from being ridiculous—and that it will never do to resign himself to this.

The persistent preoccupation with self-deception and with an appeal to the reader to abandon his inauthenticity links Anna Karenina with The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, whose influence on existentialism is obvious. But in Anna Karenina the centrality of this motif has not generally been noticed.

It is introduced ironically on the third page of the novel, in the second sentence of Chapter II: "He was incapable of deceiving himself." To trace it all the way through the novel would take a book; a few characteristic passages, chosen almost at random, will have to suffice. "He did not realize it, because it was too terrible to him to realize his actual position. . . . [He] did not want to think at all about his wife's behavior, and he actually succeeded in not thinking about it at all. . . . He did not want to see, and did not see. . . . He did not want to understand, and did not understand. . . . He did not allow himself to think about it, and he did not think about it; but all the same, though he never admitted it to himself . . . in the bottom of his heart he knew. . . ." (Modern Library ed., 238 ff.) "Kitty answered perfectly truly. She did not know the reason Anna Pavlovna had changed to her, but she guessed it. She guessed at something which she could not tell her mother, which she did not put into words to herself. It was one of those things which one knows but which one can never speak of even to oneself. . . ." (268) "She became aware that she had deceived herself. . . ." (279) "He did not acknowledge this feeling, but at the bottom of his heart. . . ." (334)

Here is a passage in which bad faith is specifically related to religion: "Though in passing through these difficult moments he had not once thought of seeking guidance in religion, yet now, when his conclusion corresponded, as it seemed to him, with the requirements of religion, this religious sanction to his decision gave him complete satisfaction, and to some extent restored his peace of mind. He was pleased to think that, even in such an important crisis in life, no one would be able to say that he had not acted in accordance with the principles of that religion whose banner he had always held aloft amid the general coolness and indifference." (335)

Later, to be sure, Anna's husband becomes religious in a deeper sense; but as soon as the reader feels that Tolstoy's cutting irony is giving way to affection and that the man "has a saving grace," Tolstoy, with unfailing honesty, probes the man's religion and makes him, if possible, more ridiculous than he had seemed before. And the same is done with Varenka: she is not presented as a hypocrite with a saving grace but as a saint—until she is looked at more closely.

Inauthenticity is not always signaled by the vocabulary of self-deception. Sometimes Tolstoy's irony works differently: "Vronsky's life was particularly happy in that he had a code of principles, which defined with unfailing certitude what he ought and what he ought not to do. . . . These principles laid down as invariable rules: that one must pay a cardsharper, but need not pay a tailor; that one must never tell a lie to a man, but one may to a woman; that one must never cheat anyone, but one may a husband; that one must never pardon an insult, but one may give one, and so on. These principles were possibly not reasonable and not good, but they were of unfailing certainty, and so long as he adhered to them, Vronsky felt that his heart was at peace and he could hold his head up." (361) Here, too, we encounter a refusal to think about uncomfortable matters. Here, too, as in the passage about religion, it is not just one characterwho is on trial but a civilization; and while the reader is encouraged to pass judgment, he is surely expected to realize that his judgment will apply preeminently to himself.

Such passages are not reducible, in Trilling's words, to "this moment, or this, or this." The motifs of deception of oneself and others are absolutely central in Anna Karenina. Exoterically, the topic is unfaithfulness, but the really fundamental theme is bad faith.

Exoterically, the novel presents a story of two marriages, one good and one bad, but what makes it such a great novel is that the author is far above any simplistic black and white, good and bad, and really deals with the ubiquity of dishonesty and inauthenticity, and with the Promethean, the Faustian, or, to be precise, the Tolstoyan struggle against them.

Exoterically, the novel contains everything: a wedding, a near death, a real death, a birth, a hunt, a horse race, legitimate and illegitimate love, and legitimate and illegitimate lack of love. Unlike lesser writers, who deal with avowedly very interesting characters but ask us in effect to take their word for it that these men are very interesting, Tolstoy immerses us compellingly in the professional experiences and interests of his characters. The sketch of Karenina working in his study, for example (Part III, Chapter XIV), is no mere virtuoso piece. It is a cadenza in which the author's irony is carried to dazzling heights, but it is also an acid study of inauthenticity.

When Tolstoy speaks of death—"I had forgotten—death" (413; cf. 444)—and, later, gives a detailed account of the death of Levin's brother (571-93), this is not something to which one may refer as "this moment, or this, or this," nor merely a remarkable anticipation of The Death of Ivan Ilyitch: it is another essential element in Tolstoy's attack on inauthenticity. What in Anna Karenina, a novel of about one thousand pages, is one crucial element, becomes in The Death of Ivan Ilyitch the device for focusing the author's central message in a short story. And confronted with this briefer treatment of the same themes, no reader is likely to miss the point and to respond with "happiness."

All the passages cited so far from Anna Karenina come from the first half of the book, and they could easily be multiplied without going any further. Or, turning to Part V, one could point to the many references to dread and boredom, which, in the twentieth century, are widely associated with existentialism, and which become more and more important as the novel progresses. Or one could trace overt references to self-deception through the rest of the book: "continually deceived himself with the theory . . ." (562); "this self-deception" (587); "deceived him and themselves and each other" (590); and so forth. Or one could enumerate other anticipations of existentialism, like the following brief statement which summarizes pages and pages of Jaspers on extreme situations (Grenzsituationen): "that grief and this joy were alike outside all the ordinary conditions of life; they were loopholes, as it were, in that ordinary life through which there came glimpses of something sublime. And in the contemplation of this sublime something the soul was exalted to inconceivable heights of which it had before had no conception, while reason lagged behind, unable to keep up with it." (831 f.) Instead, let us turn to the end of the novel.

"Now for the first time Anna turned that glaring light in which she was seeing everything on to her relations with him, which she had hitherto avoided thinking about." (887) Thus begins her final, desperate struggle for honesty. On her way to her death she thinks "that we are all created to be miserable, and that we all know it, and all invent means of deceiving each other." (892)Yet Tolstoy's irony is relentless—much more savage, cruel, and hurtful than that of Shaw, who deals with ideas or types rather than with individual human beings. Tolstoy has often been compared with Homer—by Trilling among many others—but Homer's heroes are granted a moment of truth as they die; they even see into the future. Not Anna, though numerous critics have accused the author of loving her too much—so much that it allegedly destroys the balance of the novel. Does he really love her at all? What she sees "distinctly in the piercing light" (888) is wrong; she deceives herself until the very end and, instead of recognizing the conscience that hounds her, projects attitudes into Vronsky that in fact he does not have. Like most readers, she does not understand what drives her to death, and at the very last moment, when it is too late, "she tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back."

Did Tolstoy love her as much as Shakespeare loved Cleopatra, when he lavished all the majesty and beauty he commanded on her suicide? Anna's death quite pointedly lacks the dignity with which Shakespeare allows even Macbeth to die. She is a posthumous sister of Goethe's Gretchen, squashed by the way of some Faust or Levin, a Goethe or a Tolstoy. Her death, like Gretchen's, is infinitely pathetic; in spite of her transgression she was clearly better than the society that condemned her; but what matters ultimately is neither Gretchen nor Anna but that in a world in which such cruelty abounds Faust and Levin should persist in their "darkling aspiration."

Their aspirations, however, are different. Faust's has little to do with society or honesty; his concern is preeminently with self-realization. Any social criticism implicit in the Gretchen tragedy is incidental. Tolstoy, on the other hand, was quite determined to attack society and bad faith, and when he found that people missed the point in Anna Karenina he resorted to other means. But there are passages in Anna Karenina that yield to nothing he wrote later, even in explicitness.

Here is a passage that comes after Anna's death. It deals with Levin. "She knew what worried her husband. It was his unbelief. Although, if she had been asked whether she supposed that in the future life, if he did not believe, he would be damned, she would have had to admit that he would be damned, his unbelief did not cause her unhappiness. And she, confessing that for an unbeliever there can be no salvation, and loving her husband's soul more than anything in the world, thought with a smile of his unbelief, and told herself that he was absurd." (912)

Tolstoy's interest in indicting bad faith does not abate with Anna's death: it is extended to Kitty's religion and to Russian patriotism. But in the end Levin's unbelief is modified without any abandonment of the quest for honesty. "He briefly went through, mentally, the whole course of his ideas during the last two years, the beginning of which was the clear confronting of death at the sight of his dear brother hopelessly ill." (926) And then his outlook is changed, but not, as some critics have said, into "the effacing of the intellect in a cloud of happy mysticism" (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed.); far from it. The religious position intimated here is articulated with full force in the works reprinted in the present volume. Neither here nor there can I find any "effacing of the intellect" nor even what Trilling, at the end of his essay, calls "the energy of animal intelligence that marks Tolstoi as a novelist." What awes me is perhaps the highest, most comprehensive, and most penetrating human intelligence to be found in any great creative writer anywhere.

These remarks about Anna Karenina should suffice to relate The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, How Much Land Does A Man Need?, My Religion, and Tolstoy's reply to hisexcommunication, to his previous work. They show that he was not a great writer who suddenly abandoned art for tracts, and they may furnish what little explanation the writings reprinted here require. The world has been exceedingly kind to the author of War and Peace, but it has not taken kindly to the later Tolstoy. The attitude of most readers and critics to Tolstoy's later prose is well summarized by some of our quotations from Anna Karenina: "He did not want to see, and did not see. . . . He did not want to understand, and did not understand. . . . He did not allow himself to think about it, and he did not think about it. . . ."

What is true of most readers is not true of all. The exceptions include, above all, Mahatma Gandhi, whose gospel of nonviolence was flatly opposed to the most sacred traditions of his own religion. The Bhagavadgita, often called the New Testament of India, consists of Krishna's admonition of Aryuna, who wants to forswear war when his army is ready for battle; and Krishna, a god incarnate, insists that Aryuna should join the battle, and that every man should do his duty, with his mind on Krishna and the transitoriness of all the things of the world and not on the consequences of his actions. The soldier should soldier, realizing that, ultimately, this world is illusory and he who thinks he slays does not really slay. It would be a gross understatement to say that Gandhi owed more to Tolstoy than he did to Hinduism.

Among philosophers, Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose influence on British and American philosophy after World War II far exceeded that of any other thinker, had the profoundest admiration for Tolstoy; and when he inherited his father's fortune, he gave it away to live simply and austerely. But his philosophy and his academic influence do not reflect Tolstoy's impact.

Martin Heidegger, on the other hand, owes much of his influence to what he has done with Tolstoy. The central section of his main work, Being and Time, deals at length with death. It contains a footnote (original ed., 1927, p. 254): "L. N. Tolstoy, in his story, The Death of Ivan Ilyitch, has presented the phenomenon of the shattering and the collapse of this 'one dies.'" "One dies" refers to the attitude of those who admit that one dies, but who do not seriously confront the fact that they themselves will die. In the chapter on "Existentialism and Death," below, I have tried to show in some detail how "Heidegger on death is for the most part an unacknowledged commentary on The Death of Ivan Ilyitch"; also how Tolstoy's story is far superior to Heidegger's commentary.

Tolstoy's magnificent Reply to the Synod's Edict of Excommunication is relevant to the misleading suggestion that Anna Karenina is a Christian tragedy. First of all, Anna Karenina is not a tragedy. Not only is it a novel inform; it is essentially not a tragedy that ends in a catastrophe but an epic story that continues fittingly after Anna's death to end with Levin's achievement of more insight. Secondly, it is rather odd to hold up as an example of what is possible within Christianity a man formally excommunicated, a writer whose views have not been accepted by any Christian denomination—a heretic.

Tolstoy drew his inspiration in large measure from the Gospels. His intelligence and sensitivity were of the highest order. And whether we classify him as a Christian or a heretic, his late writings remain to challenge every reader who is honestly concerned with the New Testament or, generally, with religion. Other writers one can take or leave, read and forget. To ignore Tolstoy means impoverishing one's own mind; and to read and forget him is hardly possible.


Asked to name the two greatest novelists of all time, most writers would probably choose Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. They were contemporaries, Russian to the core, at home in English, French, and German literature, and deeply concerned with Christianity. But their interpretations of Christianity were as different as their temperaments and their artistic techniques.

Tolstoy thought the Christian message involved a radical criticism of society, and his conception of the gospel was social. Dostoevsky's novels, on the other hand, urge the individual to repent of his sins; to accept social injustice because, no matter how harshly we may be treated, in view of our sinfulness and guilt we deserve no better; and not to pin our faith on social reforms. This message is particularly central in his last and greatest novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Mitya, the victim of a miscarriage of justice, accepts his sentence willingly as a welcome penance. And his brother Ivan, though also legally innocent, considers himself no less guilty than the murderer.

Unlike Anna Karenina and Resurrection and most great novels, The Brothers Karamazov contains a sequence of two chapters which, though an integral part of the work, can also be read separately without doing an injustice either to this fragment or to the novel: the conversation between Ivan and Alyosha in which Ivan tells his story of the Grand Inquisitor. These chapters help to characterize the two brothers, and the views of the Grand Inquisitor are emphatically not the views of Dostoevsky: on the contrary, what is intended is an indictment of the Roman Catholic church—and probably also of such men as Jefferson and Mill and of the ideal of the pursuit of happiness.

When "The Grand Inquisitor" is read out of context, the immediately preceding chapter is generally ignored; but the story is more likely to be understood as it was meant to be by the author, if one includes the conversation that leads up to it. Moreover, Ivan's vivid sketches of the sufferings of children deserve attention in their own right.

What makes the story of the Grand Inquisitor one of the greatest pieces of world literature is, first of all, that outside the Bible it would be hard to find another story of equal brevity that says so much so forcefully. Moreover, the story challenges some of the most confident convictions of Western Christians.

Reading the story merely as a diatribe against the Roman Catholic church and supposing that it stands or falls with its applicability to one religion is almost as foolish as supposing that the Inquisitor speaks the author's mind. What is presented to us, backed up by powerful though not conclusive arguments, is one of the most important theories of all time, for which it would be good to have a name. I shall call it benevolent totalitarianism.

By totalitarianism I mean a theory which holds that the government may regulate the lives of the citizens in their totality. Whether this is feasible at the moment is not essential. For political reasons or owing to technological backwardness, a totalitarian government may not actually regulate the citizens' lives in their totality: what matters is whether the government believes that it has the right to do this whenever it seems feasible.

In this sense, the governments of Hitler and Stalin were totalitarian; and their conduct explains, but does not justify, the popular assumption that totalitarianism is necessarily malignant. Ivan Karamazov submits that a man might honestly believe that, in the hands of wise rulers, totalitarianism would make men happier than any other form of government. The point is ofcrucial importance: what is at stake is the dogmatic and naïve self-righteousness of Western statesmen who simply take for granted their own good faith, benevolence, and virtue and the lack of all these qualities in statesmen from totalitarian countries.

Dostoevsky's point is not altogether new: the first book on political philosophy, written more than two thousand years ago—Plato's Republic—presents a lengthy defense of benevolent totalitarianism. Some writers balk at calling it totalitarianism, mainly because they associate the word with malignancy. Others, seeing clearly that the doctrine of the Republic is totalitarian, have charged Plato with malignancy. A reading of Dostoevsky's tale shows us at a glance where both camps have gone wrong.

Plato, moreover, develops his arguments over roughly three hundred pages, introducing a great wealth of other material, while the Grand Inquisitor takes less than twenty. This chapter, then, is one of the most important documents of social philosophy ever penned, and any partisan of civil liberties might well say, as John Stuart Mill did in his essay On Liberty: "If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, . . . let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labor for ourselves."

Still, it may not be at all clear how the tale, if it is aimed at the Vatican, could also be aimed at Mill and Jefferson; and how, if it does not stand or fall with its applicability to Catholicism, it is important for religion. Both points depend on Dostoevsky's repudiation of the pursuit of happiness.

The ideal of the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number—which, though this formulation is British, is nothing less than the American dream—seemed to Dostoevsky to justify benevolent totalitarianism. He thought we had to choose between Christ and this world, between freedom and happiness.

Dostoevsky might have echoed Luther's words: "Even if the government does injustice . . . yet God would have it obeyed. . . . We are to regard that which St. Peter bids us regard, namely, that its power, whether it do right or wrong, cannot harm the soul. . . . To suffer wrong destroys no one's soul, nay, it improves the soul."1 Or this quotation, also from Luther: "There is to be no bondage because Christ has freed us all? What is all this? This would make Christian freedom fleshly! . . . Read St. Paul and see what he teaches about bondsmen. . . . A bondsman can be a Christian and have Christian freedom, even as a prisoner and a sick man can be Christians, even though they are not free. This claim aims to make all men equal and to make a worldly, external kingdom of the spiritual kingdom of Christ. And this is impossible. For a worldly kingdom cannot exist unless there is inequality among men, so that some are free and others captive."2

In his politics, Dostoevsky, like Luther, was a radical authoritarian and an opponent of social reforms. His Christianity is concerned with the individual soul and its salvation; it is metaphysical, brooding, and preoccupied with guilt; it is otherworldly and content to give unto Caesar what is Caesar's. While Tolstoy wants to prepare the kingdom of God on earth, Dostoevsky seeks the kingdom only in the hearts of men. The tale of the Grand Inquisitor is meant as an indictment of all who "would make Christian freedom fleshly."

Tolstoy staked his message on his reading of the New Testament, and his interpretations andassumptions are answered to some extent by Morton Scott Enslin, Albert Schweitzer, and other interpreters of the Gospels. Dostoevsky's bland assumption, on the other hand, that the pursuit of happiness must lead to totalitarianism, and that his Inquisitor is the nemesis of democracy, has not been discussed much and should therefore be questioned briefly at this point.

If democracy meant majority rule pure and simple, it would be compatible with totalitarianism. For democracy so understood, the men who framed the American Constitution held no brief, any more than Mill did. They were afraid of the possible tyranny of majorities and, to guard against that, devised an intricate system of checks and balances, a Constitution, and, amending that, a Bill of Rights. The whole point of the Bill of Rights is that the government may not regulate the lives of the citizens in their totality—not even if the majority should favor this.

It might be objected that the Bill of Rights could be repealed. But that could be done only if the overwhelming majority of the people, and not those in one part of the country only, should insist on it over a long period of time; and in that case, of course, no framer of a constitution could prevent a revolutionary change. Any change of that sort, however, was made as difficult as possible.

What is incompatible with totalitarianism is not majority rule but belief in the overruling importance of civil liberties or human rights. You can have majority rule without civil liberties. Indeed, no country with effective guarantees of free speech and a free press is ever likely to accord its government the kind of majority endorsement which is characteristic of countries without free speech and a free press, from Hitler's Germany to Nasser's Egypt, with their 99 percent votes for the Leader. But it may well be the case that, conversely, you cannot long protect the people's civil liberties without introducing checks and balances including popular participation.

With this in mind, two answers could be given to Dostoevsky's tale. First, human nature may be different from the Inquisitor's conception of it. Three quarters of a century after the story first appeared, the people in West Germany were happier than those in East Germany. Freedom and happiness are compatible, and loss of liberty is likely to entail a great deal of unhappiness. Suffice it here to say that this is arguable—and that there has been a disturbing lack of argument. On the whole, democrats have considered this answer to the Inquisitor to be self-evident. Reading the tale again may convince at least some readers that it is not, and that much might be gained, even internationally, by developing this answer carefully instead of merely reiterating it dogmatically.

Second, one might answer, at least partly in Dostoevsky's spirit: If a choice had to be made between freedom and happiness, we should choose freedom. But precisely for that reason I cannot agree with Dostoevsky's and Luther's authoritarian politics. I believe that freedom and happiness are compatible, but I should not base the case for freedom on this point. If a vicar of Christ or secular Caesar or drug discoverer found a way to give men happiness conjoined with imbecility and slavery, I should hold out for liberty.

Instead of saying that such an attitude "would make Christian freedom fleshly," one might argue that in the New Testament Jewish freedom is made otherworldly; and it is noteworthy that both Luther and Calvin associated any attempt to realize freedom in this world with Moses and Judaism.3


1Treatise on Good Works (1520), in Werke, Weimar ed., VI, 259; Works, Philadelphiaed., I, 263.

2 Cited in Troeltsch, Die Soziallehren der christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen (1912), 581, note 282.

3 The themes of the last two paragraphs are developed in The Faith of a Heretic and in Without Guilt and Justice.

T. G. S. Cain (essay date 1977)

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SOURCE: "The Religious Crisis: A Confession," in Tolstoy, Paul Elek Ltd., 1977, pp. 124-36.

[In the following essay, Cain contends that a biographical reading of Tolstoy's Confession is key to understanding him as a historical figure.]

During the years in which he was working on the later books of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy entered on what was to prove the most profound, the most sustained and the most agonising spiritual crisis of his life. The questions which tormented him were not new: they were the problems of how and why he should live which had troubled him throughout his adult life, and which directly or indirectly had entered into everything he had written up to this point. It was in these years of the late 1870s, though, that the problems intensified for him in such a way that they demanded some more definite answer than he had been able to give before. The final mysteries of life and death had now to give way before the remorseless, rationalist urge to see things clearly and see them whole. To surrender to the stream of life, to say 'you cannot understand the meaning of life, so don't think about it but live', was no longer enough: the meaning of life, and above all of death, had to be accounted for once and for all. A Confession, begun in 1879, was the first and by far the most powerful of a sequence of books and pamphlets in which Tolstoy tried to forge for himself a clear and final answer to the questions 'how?' and 'why?'

In turning to A Confession one turns to some extent from the concerns of literary criticism to those of biography. But this book marks such a pivotal point in Tolstoy's career, that without coming to terms with it we cannot hope to reach a real understanding of his work either before or after it was written. Besides which, spiritual autobiography is so central to Tolstoy's greatness as a novelist that his spiritual biography is not something the critic can or should hope to eschew, and A Confession, for all its many faults, is the most succinct and revealing link we have between the actual, historical figure of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and the man as he appears through his novels.

To read A Confession is to realise just how close Tolstoy's experience could be to that of his central characters. The religious crisis which we see Levin undergo in Anna Karenina corresponds very closely to that which Tolstoy describes in A Confession: the sense of an absence, and of a 'want of clearness' in the soul, the clash between reason and an instinctive faith, the periods of acute despair, even the removal of the potential instruments of suicide, are all common to Tolstoy and Levin. The faith towards which Levin is moving at the close of Anna Karenina, based on the faith of the peasants and not of the intellectuals, is also close to that towhich Tolstoy was moving (though it is, I think, largely hind-sight, a confusing of art with biography, which leads critics to see in Levin's faith a serious threat to the values of marriage and the family which the novel celebrates). It is not only Levin whom we can recognise re-emerging in A Confession: so far is the crisis of the 1870s from being the expression of new doubts or new answers, that we are frequently liable to feel that we are reading the thoughts of Andrey, Pierre, or even Olenin.

Still, it is Levin who is closest of all to the Tolstoy who speaks with such trenchant directness in A Confession. Indeed, at times it seems the kind of book that Levin might have written had he been able. And in this we have a clue to the source of much that is wrong with it. For Levin is, like Tolstoy's other alter egos, not Tolstoy, but a character in a novel, a character who is placed with all his limitations, as well as his strengths, within the context of a much wider, more complex reality than he himself is able to perceive. He is not a Zhivago figure, nor even a Prince Andrey: there are a host of things which his creator can understand which are closed to him. We don't, in the novel, object to Levin's obsessions, his self-absorption, his blindness to other ways of thinking and feeling, because we see that he is at heart a good man struggling to find his way with what honesty and sincerity he can in a world that has lost its old clarity and simplicity. We judge him within the overall context of the novel, and if Vronsky, Koznyshev or Oblonsky regards him as an eccentric, we are likely to agree, but to feel that nevertheless he has the advantage over them in most respects. But we don't therefore have to accept him as a sage, or to feel that if instead of his book on agriculture he were to turn to a description of his spiritual struggle it would carry a really authoritative weight. We expect from Tolstoy himself something much richer than Levin's version of his religious experience might be. In A Confession, it is at times as if Tolstoy had become that single aspect of his character that is Levin, and not the great novelist who can understand, besides Levin, the inner workings of Anna, Vronsky, Karenin or Oblonsky. Instead of the openness and expansive honesty of the great novelist, we have for the first time in Tolstoy a determined narrowing of vision, a desire to see only part of the truth so that it may be made more manageable: a prose medium of wonderful and incisive simplicity is seen too frequently, here, and even more in the later religious work, at the service of a vision that is willing to twist experience to fit an argument—to do, in fact, what Tolstoy the novelist has up to this point characteristically refused to do.

That A Confession remains nevertheless a work of considerable power and persuasiveness there is no question (though it seems to me to fall well short of the point where it may be compared favourably with Augustine's Confessions, as Professor Christian does, or be set alongside Job and Ecclesiastes, as Mirsky suggests).1 It is true that it suffers more than most of Tolstoy's work in translation, since no English translation at least can capture the colloquial and yet dignified simplicity of the vocabulary he uses, a vocabulary owing much to the Russian Bible, but remaining very much a live, idiomatic medium. But Aylmer Maude's translation is tactful and intelligent as always, and, as Mirsky says, conveys at least the 'oratorical movement' of the original, the effects which depend on logic and figures of rhetoric rather than on the texture of the language itself. Mirsky is one of many who reserve very high praise indeed for A Confession, rightly emphasising its craftsmanship, and calling it 'in some ways his greatest artistic work'.2 In a limited sense he is right: but he himself suggests how limited when he emphasises the way in which 'it is constructed, and constructed with supreme skill and precision' to serve a certain end. In fact, A Confession is effective as the greatest oratory is effective, but not as the greatest art is—not, at least, if we take as our pattern for such art either Anna Karenina or King Lear. For it involves, as 'constructed' suggests, the calculated imposition of Tolstoy's will on his experience in a way that is antipathetic to the explorativeopenness we find in Shakespeare or the Tolstoy of the two major novels. Indeed, it recounts the very process of that limiting imposition taking place—for that is surely what Tolstoy's conversion as he describes it amounts to in the end, a circumvention of crisis by the inventing of a rational faith, and of a God, which will suit his requirements, answer his needs.

A quarter of a century earlier he had noted in his diary the birth of an idea to which he felt capable of dedicating his whole life, 'the founding of a new religion . . . the religion of Christ, but cleansed of dogma and mystery, a practical religion, not promising future bliss but giving bliss on earth'.3 The idea took a long time to develop, but its spirit is essentially that which we find in A Confession and the subsequent religious writings: in them Tolstoy is constructing his new and 'practical' religion, rejecting anything in existing Christian doctrine that does not answer to the demands of his reason. In A Confession he may reasonably be said to be creating his own God; having done so, he was to go on to rewrite the Gospels to make them coincide with his own interpretation of what they should have been, rejecting what he called 'useless passages', and regarding anything he was not already inclined to believe as a textual or doctrinal corruption of Christ's original teaching. The deep seated, almost Luciferian egoism which is present in so much of his work and his life was never so clearly displayed as in his search for humility and faith, and to read his religious works from A Confession onwards is to recognise the justice of Gorky's comment on his relationship with God:

In his diary which he gave me to read, I was struck by a strange aphorism: 'God is my desire.'

Today, on returning him the book, I asked him what it meant.

'An unfinished thought,' he said, glancing at the page and screwing up his eyes. 'I must have wanted to say: 'God is my desire to know Him.' . . . No, not that . . .' He began to laugh, and, rolling up the book into a tube, he put it into the big pocket of his blouse. With God he has very suspicious relations; they sometimes remind me of the relation of 'two bears in one den.'4

As it happens, Tolstoy's rejected explanation was not such an inaccurate summary of the attitude to God that we find in A Confession. Ultimately this search for a clear conception of God can be seen as an attempt at a final working out of that conflict between reason and intuition, which runs through so much of his writing. In War and Peace and Anna Karenina he had celebrated intuitive knowledge above abstract reason; there, his simpler heroes and heroines know instinctively what is right and what is wrong, without having to have a clear philosophical base for their knowledge. But when Tolstoy's thinking characters come to recognise such innate moral knowledge in themselves, their rationalisation of it is always slightly evasive; Nikolay Rostov, Natasha and Kitty don't need to explain their knowledge of good and evil to themselves or to us. But Pierre and Levin do, partly because it is a fresh discovery for them, and partly because they are, inescapably, thinkers. In fact, their explanations are based on a notably vague theology: we may feel that we understand the experience, because Tolstoy presents its emotional concomitants so persuasively. But it would be difficult to put Pierre's or Levin's apprehension of God into clear philosophical terms, because Tolstoy himself is so uncertain. It is thus that reason is given fairly short shrift in his account of their religious experience: ' "The law of loving others" ' thinks Levin to himself ' "could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable." ' (VIII. 12) Significantly, Tolstoy was to feel the opposite to be true after he had written A Confession: then he was able to convince himself that such things as the law of non-resistance were so simple and clear that he would have worked them out for himself if Christ and his doctrine had never existed. He was too much of a rationalist to accept for good thevague theology he had given to Pierre and Levin: only when his belief had a firm ground of reason could he feel secure in it, and A Confession was the first and most important step in that direction.

Why he should have felt so strong a compulsion to move in that direction, why the need for an explanation in religious rather than materialist terms was so pressing, is largely accounted for by the obsession with death which we see running through all his work. As he grew older the question of how to live, the problem of happiness, gave way more and more to the question of why, the problem of death. The prospect of a complete annihilation as the inevitable end of all that he might achieve was an agonising one: that he was simply moving towards death seemed to him to rob all that he did of meaning and value, to make a cruel joke of his life, a life which he saw above all as a struggle towards meaning and truth. If there was no other end than death to his activities as artist, father, landowner, teacher, then it was better not to struggle. The vision of a terrible pointlessness is seen again and again in his diaries, letters, stories and novels, and in the pages of A Confession, and it is in the latter that it finds its most stark and concentrated expression, as he describes how the questions 'What is it for? What does it lead to?' drove him to the very edge of suicide:

My mental condition presented itself to me thus: my life is some kind of stupid and evil joke played on me by someone . . . it seemed to me that there, somewhere, is someone who is now amusing himself by watching how I have lived for a whole thirty or forty years: lived learning, developing, growing in body and mind, and how now, having with a mature mind reached that summit of life from which it all lay open before me, how I stand on that summit like an arch-fool, understanding clearly that there is nothing in life, was not and will not be. (Chapter 4)

The agony of annihilation was so terrible for Tolstoy partly because, as this passage suggests, life had given him so much, not only in his birth and material success, but in his enormous vitality. He was so much more alive than most men that death was all the greater an enemy: what it took from him would be more than it took from others. His pride and egoism were aspects of this vitality: that he, Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, should cease to exist seemed absurd and terrible, all the more so because the search for meaning and significance, for the purpose of it all, had become his raison d'être. Thus it is that more and more in the years before A Confession his remorseless rationalism returned him to the question 'why?', worrying the problem like a tenacious dog, and again and again coming to the same, terrifying conclusion: that life had no meaning in the face of death, that even his boundless energies and appetites could not give it such a meaning, that it was simply a cruel joke, and that the only worthy way of escape was not to submit to the joke, but to stop living—to commit suicide. Tolstoy's respect in A Confession for those who, finding themselves in such a position, do have the courage to kill themselves casts an interesting light on Anna's suicide. For Anna's clear vision of life as she drives to the station, the book she reads 'filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief, and evil', is very close to that view of life as a cruel joke which Tolstoy holds to be the logical view of anyone who has no faith. Not only do we come to understand better the respect with which he viewed Anna's suicide, but it seems likely that he put into the utter nihilism of her newly enlightened vision something of his own most desperately bleak moments at this time.

Without underrating this despair—indeed, it is impossible to do so when we look at Anna, or at Levin's fears that he may kill himself—it seems doubtful if suicide was ever quite so close for Tolstoy as A Confession maintains. The 'irresistible power' which drew him away from life seems to have been matched by that instinctive belief in life which was, after all, the ultimatecause of his troubles. And in the end it is that force of life that wins in A Confession, though only at a great cost to itself. It drives him to construct a rational religion that will enable him to go on living, but in the process the old, generous vitality, the love that is not based on principle or theory, is itself forced into a rational straitjacket, from which it is only to emerge in flashes in the later work, and only finally to reassert itself in the posthumously published Hadji Murat.

Though it was the major factor, the need to come to terms with death was not the only motive that drove Tolstoy towards his new faith. Another was undoubtedly that strong sense of guilt which pursued him from his earliest years, and which emerges most clearly in the diary entries of his early manhood. In those diaries we find a frequently repeated pattern of confessions of prurience of one kind or another, followed by remorse, a new and firm resolution to live a life of moral purity and simplicity, and a repetition of the same sins, the whole cycle often taking place in the space of a day or two. What these diary entries bear witness to is not hypocrisy of any kind, but a struggle between immensely strong appetites. The desire for an ascetic life, a life of absolute moral purity, was very great in Tolstoy, but so too were other desires, particularly sexual ones, which worked in the opposite direction. At times the spectacle of Tolstoy agonistes is a truly moving one; at others it can become comic, as when he tries to persuade himself that he is pleased he has caught syphilis: 'Yesterday, at the thought that my nose might fall in, I imagined what an enormous and beneficial impulse this would give me in the direction of moral development.'5

This strong conflict in the young Tolstoy was only temporarily quieted by marriage, which helped to order not only his sexual appetite, but also those other excesses, particularly gambling, to which he was prone (the sums he lost at cards during these early years were enormous, and had to be met by such desperate measures as selling serfs and land). With his wife to guard him, his growing family to provide for, and his estates to manage, Tolstoy was given, as it were, a high plateau of some fifteen years in which his genius could flower without his hyperactive conscience bringing him too close to the edge of despair. But though a long respite, it was still a temporary one; the very success it brought him helped to add new dimensions to his sense of guilt, as he came to see himself more and more as a parasite on society, a purveyor of entertainment for the rich few who, like himself, lived at the expense of the work and sufferings of countless thousands of others, to whom his novels were so irrelevant as to be meaningless. So to his strong sense of sexual guilt, no longer assuaged by the idea that it was legitimatised by marriage, was added one of social guilt, and a desire to humble himself in the eyes of the world, to atone for the birth and privileges he felt he had enjoyed so irresponsibly.

These then were the major forces driving him towards his 'conversion', the forces underlying the account given in A Confession. Tolstoy begins there by setting out briefly the course of his life up to the time when the crisis arrived: he describes the early decay of his boyhood Christianity, 'as is usual among people of our level of education', and the way in which his innate desire for moral perfection was deflected by the ways of the world into a desire to perfect himself in lesser ways—to be physically and mentally stronger than other men, and thus to become 'more famous, more important and richer than others'. It is here that one first notes that deliberate oversimplification of experience that is to recur too often in the subsequent pages. For the desire for moral perfection never did disappear in the way he suggests: the diaries and the earlier stories and novels provide unanswerable evidence that it remained very much alive during this period of youth and early manhood.

He goes on to summarise these years in a way that distorts the reality still more. Searching for the striking, paradoxical effect, as well as indulging in the exaggeration of past sins common to all converts, he writes:

I cannot think about those years without horror, loathing and heartache. I used to kill men in war and challenge men to duels in order to kill them, lose at cards, consume the labour of the peasants, punish them, debauch and deceive. Lies, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, murder . . . There was no crime I did not commit, and for all that my contemporaries praised me, and considered and still consider me to be a comparatively moral man. (Chapter 2)

His contemporaries, of course, were quite right, and it is sad to see the man whose concern was always to find the truth, whose greatest work is characterised by its refusal to distort experience in order to fit his requirements, indulging in this ostentatious self-humiliation by way of half-truths. The picture of Tolstoy as a drunken, adulterous robber is a ludicrous one, whatever logical justification there may be for it, just as is his account of his early work as a writer. He began to write, he says, 'from vanity, covetousness and pride', in order to get 'fame and money', and for the sake of this it was necessary to 'hide the good and display the evil'. This description covers Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, the Sevastopol Sketches, the beginnings of The Cossacks, and shorter pieces like The Raid or A Landlord's Morning, any one of which would serve to show the inaccuracy of his account of both his motives and his execution.

Tolstoy is no more just to his literary contemporaries, the writers amongst whom he moved during the next few years. Like him, he says, their 'real innermost reasoning was . . . to get as much money and praise as possible', to which end they had developed the attractive theory that they were the teachers of mankind, although they had no idea what it was they were teaching, and were almost all 'bad, worthless in character, much inferior to those whom I had met in my former dissipated and military life'. This covers such men as Turgenev, Goncharov, Nekrasov, and Fet. As elsewhere, there is no doubt a glimmering of truth in what he says, but again it is obvious that there is also a wilful blindness to other aspects of these men's characters, and their work, that makes the whole account a viciously distorting one. It gives Tolstoy a platform from which he launches a splendid attack on 'progress' as a faith, but its manifest unfairness undercuts much of the force which that attack would otherwise have.

The same distorting treatment of his experience is evident in the rest of his autobiographical account: after his marriage, for example, he devoted himself to writing 'as a way of improving my material position and of stifling in my soul any questions as to the meaning of my own life or life in general'. And yet it is of the essence of War and Peace and Anna Karenina that they explore rather than stifle such questions, so that his statement that he wrote 'teaching what was for me the only truth, that one should live so as to have the best for oneself and one's family' is quite unacceptable as a summary of either novel.

It was towards the end of this period that Tolstoy moved into the crisis already described, in which 'before occupying myself with my Samara estate, the education of my son, or the writing of a book, I had to know why I was going to do it. While I did not know why, I could do nothing and could not live.' For an answer, he turned to the two spheres of human knowledge that seemed most likely to offer it—to what he calls the 'experimental' and 'abstract' sciences, by which hemeans physical science and philosophy respectively. The former, as he well knew before he asked, could return no answer at all, while philosophy, though it returned a kind of answer, only confirmed the conclusion that he himself had already reached: that life is indeed an evil, and that death is the logical way out. He quotes a decidedly selective group—the Buddha, Socrates, Schopenhauer and Ecclesiastes—to support his contention that this is the conclusion of all 'real philosophy'. But though his reason, thus supported by other thinkers, led him to the point where suicide was the next logical step, something held him back, 'something which I can only call a consciousness of life'.

Looking away from the philosophers, away from his own, educated class in general, he thought he saw in the common people, the 'enormous masses of . . . simple, unlearned and poor people who have lived and are living', a sense of the meaningfulness of life. They, and not the idle parasitic rich who rode on their backs, were the people who had the answers to his questions. With the entry of the common people (they are actually only marginally relevant to the logical argument, but highly relevant biographically) that note of wilful distortion and blindness to the complex reality of things again enters A Confession. One doubts (and Gorky's observations help bear this out) whether Tolstoy ever wholly believed that 'with rare exceptions' all those many millions of people who had lived the simple life of the peasant could both understand the question that so tormented him, and 'reply to it with extraordinary clarity'. There is an intellectual dishonesty in this, as great as there is in his perverse contention that the whole of his adult life had been useless, 'senseless and evil', destructive of life in himself and others. His exaltation of physical labour at the expense of his art is a form of trahison des clercs that grows out of his strong, and largely unjustified, sense of social guilt, together with what he himself calls his 'strange physical love . . . for the real working people'; but whatever its sources, we cannot help recognising it as a betrayal of that clear-sighted search for truth to which he had dedicated himself.

Seeing the contentment that the faith of the common people appeared to bring them, Tolstoy would if he could have moved at once towards it: but his reason could not allow him to accept it. He had reached an impasse to which, since he could not abandon his reason, there was only one solution—faith must become reasonable: 'Either that which I called rational was not so rational as I thought, or that which seemed to me irrational was not so irrational as I thought.' Predictably, both propositions are found to be true: reasoning had taken a false route in that it had tried to find an answer to a question about the relationship between the finite and the infinite in terms only of the finite: 'I asked: "What is the meaning of my life, beyond time, beyond cause, beyond space?" And I replied to the question: "What is the meaning of my life within time, cause and space?" And it came out that, after long efforts of thought, the answer I reached was: "None." ' (Chapter 9) Only faith could supply the answers, however irrational they might seem at first, because only faith introduced 'into every answer a relation between the finite and the infinite'. Thus Tolstoy reaches a point where faith, while seemingly irrational in itself, is made necessary by a process of reasoning. By adopting some kind of faith, as long as it did not demand a direct denial of his reason, he could provide himself with the answers to his questions about the meaning of life, he could 'apply reason to explain it'.

The search for such a faith was, as he says, a long and hard one. Predictably, the faith towards which he was most drawn, and was at first most able to accept, was that of the peasants; but at the same time as he extols their faith, he makes it clear that it could never be wholly his own, however much he might wish it so. What he believes he has learnt from the peasants is that no faith, no awareness of a meaning and purpose in life, can exist unless the life itself is lived'usefully'—that is, in materially useful labour, such as that of the peasant. The immense labour involved in writing War and Peace and Anna Karenina is not, it is implied, at all useful—it is merely a part of that parasitic and indulgent life-style of the privileged few who can naturally have no faith because their life is 'meaningless and evil'.

It is on the basis of this dubious perception that Tolstoy moves towards the real climax of A Confession, his recognition of the existence of God. Reason still plays a considerable part in his search for belief in a God, for it is most certainly a search, and a desperate one, rather than something which comes to him easily. He argues fairly conventionally from the need for a First Cause, only to find himself checked by his own counter-arguments. Whenever he is able to believe for a moment that God might exist, he discovers that his load of spiritual anguish is lifted; but as soon as he decides once again that there is no God, gloom and the prospect of suicide return: 'Not twice or three times, but tens and hundreds of times, I reached those states, first joy and animation, then despair and the consciousness of the impossibility of living.' It is thus that he comes to his conversion, surely the most tentative and rationalised of all famous conversions:

But then I turned to look at myself, at what was going on in me, and 1 remembered all those deaths and reanimations that went on within me hundreds of times. I remembered that I lived then only when I believed in God. As it was before, so it was now; I said to myself: I need only to be able to be aware of God to live; I need only to forget Him, or disbelieve Him, and I die. What are these animations and deaths? I do not live when I lose belief in the existence of God. I should long ago have killed myself if I had not had a dim hope of finding Him. I live, really live, only when I feel Him and seek Him. 'So what more do I seek?' exclaimed a voice within me. 'So this is He. He is that without which it is impossible to live. To know God and to live is one and the same thing. God is life.

'Live seeking God, and then you will not live without God.' And stronger than ever before all within me and around me lit up, and this light did not again abandon me. (Chapter 12)

The 'voice within me' is very much the voice of reason and will, and not of revelation. The apprehension of God is tentative indeed, but it is one Tolstoy could not afford to give up. It gave him the essential key, after which the fashioning of a rationally acceptable ethical and religious system based on Christian principles became possible. Above all it gave a meaning to what seemed otherwise a meaningless existence. For all the distorting arguing that has preceded it, for all that it involves the rejection of so much of life, it still represents an assertion of life, as Tolstoy tacitly acknowledges. He had gone through a crisis in which he had seen into the emptiness, absurdity and triviality of human existence with a clarity as painful as that of any twentieth-century explorer of the absurd, and he had refused to accept the finality of that vision. In A Confession he is forging for himself a way to go on living precisely because the 'force of life' in him could not in the end give way to his logical rejection of life as meaningless. In making life meaningful, though, he also simplifies it, denying it much of that complexity, the apprehension of which is so essential to his greatest work. From now on, his work was to take a different tone, as he judged his experience in the cold and simple light of his new faith.

Almost all of his later fiction is illuminated by one form or another of that ruthlessly simplifying light; sometimes it takes the form of a devastating intensity of vision that cuts away all the deceptions, the false values and irrelevant half-truths by which man bolsters up his life, as in The Death of Ivan Ilyich or Master and Man ; sometimes it has a coldlyrelentless, documentary objectivity about it, as in Resurrection; and sometimes it becomes obsessive and reductive, as in The Kreutzer Sonata. Always, though, it plays on the corruptions and vanities of human existence with a terrible lucidity that is quite different from the lucidity of War and Peace or Anna Karenina. Tolstoy still 'makes it strange': but the eye which still sees everyday experience with an incomparable originality and freshness, as though it had never been seen in that way before, is no longer directed by that wide-ranging, apparently involuntary love for whatever comes under its gaze. What Thomas Mann called 'the mighty sense-appeal of Tolstoy's art'6 is sharply diminished. There is no longer a place for a Stiva Oblonsky, nor even for a Natasha Rostova, in the work that follows A Confession. Only in Hadji Murat, so significantly unlike all the rest of his late work, does one feel that the vision is again directed by that amoral love of both body and soul which is so vital to the earlier work, and of which he had once written in his notebook: 'the first condition of a writer's popularity . . . is the love with which he treats all his characters.' Elsewhere, Tolstoy's newly-forged Christianity emerges, as far as his art goes, in a paradoxical detachment, a lack of that kind of love.


1 Christian, Tolstoy, p. 213; Mirsky, op. cit., p. 299.

2Ibid., p. 299.

3Works, XLVII, 37, March 4th, 1855.

4Op. cit., p. 23.

5 Quoted by Simmons, Leo Tolstoy, p. 114.

6Op. cit., p. 118.

Maurice Larkin (essay date 1977)

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SOURCE: "Experience versus the Intellect: Tolstoy," in Man and Society in Nineteenth-Century Realism: Determinism and Literature, Rowman and Littlefield, 1977, pp. 111-20.

[In the following essay, Larkin examines how Tolstoy's beliefs influenced his use of literary realism.]


Tolstoy sits uneasily in any assemblage of Realists. He despised much of the mainstream of western intellectual thought, and his recipe for living was directly at odds with it. But for all that, he lived in a milieu that was influenced by western determinism; and the problems it raised are a recurring feature of his books.

His interior life was one of conflict: a continuous struggle between what his reason told him was the truth about life, and what his experience and emotions told him life could be like if properly lived. This struggle partly corresponded to the two main streams in his cultural formation: the traditional attitudes of rural Russia and the western legacy of the French Enlightenment. It was in fact an individual reflection of the great debate between Westerners and Slavophils that was dividing educated Russian society as a whole. But whereas most writers were, like Turgenev, drawn to one side or the other, the battle in Tolstoy's case continued within him.

Conflict characterised the whole spectrum of his attitudes. In Henri Troyat's words

[he was] not one man but ten or twenty, all sworn enemies of one another: an aristocrat jealous of his prerogatives and a friend of the people who dressed as a peasant, an ardent Slavophil and a Westernising pacifist, a denouncer of private property and a landowner enlarging his domains, a keen shot and a protector of animals, a hearty trencherman and a vegetarian, an Orthodox believer of the moujik type and an enraged assailant upon the Church, an artist and a despiser of art, a sensualist and an ascetic.

Other Realists, like Eliot, went through conflicting phases of belief and scepticism; but the end result was usually some form of synthesis or modus vivendi, which was intellectually coherent, if not necessarily satisfying to the emotions. With Tolstoy, however, there was no ultimate arrival at a modus vivendi, however much a novel like Anna Karenina might suggest that there was. The solutions that sustained Tolstoy when he wrote Anna Karenina were to undergo further metamorphoses in the years to come, even though they may strike many readers as remarkably coherent and self-sustaining as they stand. And although Anna Karenina, like his other works, provided him with a static canvas on which he would partially resolve his problems, in a way that he found difficult in the moving context of his own life, the resolution is only partial.

The forces of heredity and environment are as strong in Anna Karenina as in any other Realist novel. Tolstoy knew and respected the scientific arguments in their favour; but it was his own experience, rather than scientific conviction, which shaped his portrayal of them in his novels. His characters are nonetheless determined for that; and are arguably the more convincing for being the fruit of observation rather than the conscious embodiment of an intellectual concept in a Stendhalian or Balzacian sense. His concern for environment is particularly apparent in his treatment of family life, while almost every page displays his remarkable awareness of how mood and attitudes depend on circumstance and physical wellbeing. A bright, crisp morning, luck at shooting, a filling sandwich, any of these can temporarily dispel the blackest cares, just as toothache or an irritating visitor can induce unmitigated pessimism. Similarly, he has a Sterne-like awareness of how people variously respond to the same information or circumstances, according to personal mood or situation. An oft-quoted example is the discussion between Pestsov, Karenin, Oblonsky and Dolly about women's rights. Only Pestsov comes near to having a disinterested view of the matter. Karenin, with Anna in mind, is hostile to women's rights. Oblonsky, thinking of a ballerina he has picked up, is in favour; his wife thinking of the same ballerina, is against. Tristram Shandy abounds in complex ensembles of this kind, but Tolstoy brings to his a remarkable spontaneity and freshness.

But if experience, rather than the intellect, has the upper hand in Tolstoy's portrayal of determinism, Anna Karenina also affirms Tolstoy's belief that experience is often wiser than the intellect. Moreover, the intellect, if allowed supremacy, is capable of destroying the happiness that is rooted in experience. 'Experience' for Tolstoy went far deeper than thelifetime of the individual. For him its surest and most rewarding expression was in the accumulated wisdom of past generations. Anna Karenina in effect is a celebration of the fruits of this collective experience: family life, traditional values, and the religious and social institutions that protect them.

Most Realists would share Tolstoy's respect for experience. Büchner, Flaubert and Eliot had all castigated would-be reformers who created cerebral solutions that took too little account of the nature and emotional needs of the people for whom they were intended. But Tolstoy's stance was to appear too anti-intellectual, and left too many issues unresolved, for it to offer the sort of inspiration that a large section of the educated public found in a writer like George Eliot. It was Tolstoy's perception rather than his prescriptions that made him appear to contemporaries as perhaps the greatest of the nineteenth-century Realists.

Tolstoy was nevertheless aware of the limitations of his solutions. They are specifically voiced by various of his fictional characters. He knew that collective experience was itself made up of the modifications and changes that earlier generations had made to the traditions of their predecessors. Each human situation had to be approached as a separate issue—not with traditional answers. And his own disputes with the Government, his fellow landowners and later with the Orthodox Church show him as pragmatic in his attitude to authority.

The contradictions in his nature owed much to his early life. As a member of the serf-owning landed aristocracy, he was steeped in the indigenous traditions of a despotic way of life. Yet it was a milieu strongly influenced by a cosmopolitan western culture. He himself was educated by a succession of French tutors; and, as a law student at Kazan University, he spent a great deal of his spare time reading Rousseau and Montesquieu. On an earthier level, his grandfather used to send the family washing across northern Europe to Holland, the sparkling reputation of Dutch laundries being but part of the family's respect for western civilisation.

Tolstoy claimed that it was his adolescent reading of the French philosophes that killed the remnants of his religious faith. In a schoolboy aphorism, worthy of Destutt de Tracy, he remarked that 'I want, therefore I am' was how human existence should be understood. Like Flaubert, he found his university legal studies boring, and made illness a pretext for leaving them. Again, like Flaubert, he felt drawn to medicine and medical theory and resolved to draw up a programme of spare-time reading in the subject. The inheritance of a large estate, however, brought him new responsibilities, and thenceforward his enthusiasm for progressive thought was diverted into the initiation of modern farming methods. A spell of military service gave him an opportunity for writing—work which quickly attracted the attention of Turgenev and other literary figures in St. Petersburg.

He was invited by Turgenev to share his apartment where despite a basic esteem and concern for each other, there soon developed the violent quarrels that were always to punctuate their relationship. Tolstoy still led the life expected of a young nobleman: whoring and gambling, paying his debts with serfs and suffering occasional doses of clap. Tolstoy would spend the morning sleeping off the excesses of the night before, and then proceed to castigate his host and his Westerner friends for what he called their political spinelessness. Their attempts to remain on good-humoured terms with him annoyed him further; and in fury he deserted the company of the Westerners early in 1856 to see if the Slavophils could offer anything better. They too proved disappointing. He disliked their religious Orthodoxy and their willingness to be patronised by an authoritarian government which was harassing intellectuals of otherpersuasions.

Despite his multifarious activities and the success that greeted his novels in the 1860s, he became increasingly tormented by the need to find a meaning to life. His temperament, if not his intellect, yearned for religious certainty. As he wrote in 1859,

I have searched the gospels and found there neither God, nor Redeemer, nor the sacraments . . . There is no doubt that I love and esteem religion; I believe that without it, man can be neither good nor happy . . . But I have no religion and I have no faith. With me, it's life that makes religion and not religion that makes life . . . You make fun of nature and nightingales. But for me nature is the mediatrix of religion.

1869 brought a crisis. While on an excursion to buy some land, he spent a night in a hotel in Arzamas, where he suddenly awoke, overcome by a box-like horror: 'as though I was about to vomit', giddy with the thought that 'there is nothing in life, nothing exists but death, and death should not be'. As with Levin in Anna Karenina, times came when Tolstoy contemplated suicide. A happy marriage and literary success only served to underline for him the inevitability of death and the meaninglessness of life.

Science offered no answer to his search. After extensive reading in physiology, he found that 'Above all, my personal question "What am I with my desires?" remained quite unanswered' (A Confession). Philosophy, on the other hand, merely confirmed the meaninglessness of life. Socrates, Solomon, Buddha, Schopenhauer, all concluded that life was 'vanity and emptiness'. Levin in Anna Karenina is obsessed with the thought that 'if my senses are annihilated, if my body dies, no further existence is possible'. 'This whole world of ours is nothing but a speck of mildew, which has grown up on a tiny planet. And for us to suppose we can have something great—ideas, work—it's all dust and ashes'.

Tolstoy subsequently claimed that salvation came to him not from the intellectual few, the Solomons and the Schopenhauers, but from 'the real labouring people'. He saw that they endured conditions of life which he would have found insupportable. And yet they did not contemplate suicide. They had a simple faith which they accepted without question: and they were happy.

Rational knowledge, presented by the learned and the wise, denies the meaning of life, but the enormous masses of men, the whole of mankind, receive that meaning in irrational knowledge, find that irrational knowledge is faith, that very thing which I could not [at that time] but reject (A Confession).

Walking through the spring woods, he reflected that he felt an ineffable joy whenever he unthinkingly assumed that God existed; but that as soon as he applied the corrosive force of his intellect to the matter, his happiness disappeared. As he noted in his diary in March 1870, 'As soon as man applies his intelligence—and only his intelligence—to any object at all he unfailingly destroys the object'.

Levin makes the same discovery in Anna Karenina. Talking to one of his farm-workers, he is impressed by the peasant's unquestioning assumption that the way to live is 'plain enough': 'living rightly, in God's way'. Levin contrasts the peasant's calm conviction with his own tortured thoughts, and realises that this is the way to accept life. It is this, rather than the religious content of the peasant's words, which came as a revelation. Levin has known the Christian message all his life. What is new is his realisation of the folly of subjecting this or any other source of happiness to the withering heat of intellectual scrutiny.

If this Tolstoyan 'truth' struck many contemporary readers as anti-intellectual, it was anti-intellectual in an indirect way. Tolstoy was not specifically turning his back on the intellect; he was claiming instead that there was a whole category of fundamental issues that lay beyond the range of scientific enquiry and were therefore not a subject where the intellect had pre-emptive rights.

Tolstoy felt it within the logic of his discovery that he should accept and follow the peasants' way of worship. He therefore embarked on his strange relationship with Russian Orthodoxy, meticulously observing its ritual, but periodically jibbing at various of its dogmas. The early 1880s were to find him questioning the Trinity and the divinity of Christ, until eventually, after a further decade of stormy exchanges, the Church officially excommunicated him in 1901.

Doctrinal difficulties apart, Tolstoy had never pretended that his new-found faith would resolve the many problems, general and personal, that beset him. On the universal level, Tolstoy like Levin was troubled by the question of whether other religions could be a road to salvation. If Orthodoxy was his own haven, 'the Jews, the Mohammedans, the Confucians, the Buddhists—what of them? Can those hundreds of millions of human beings be deprived of that greatest of blessings without which life has no meaning?' Levin's answer to this problem may strike the reader as no answer at all; yet it follows logically from his realisation of the limits of the intellect: 'I have no right to try to decide the question of other religions and their relations to the Deity; that must remain unfathomable to me'.

At the same time Levin understands that although his life now has a meaning, and in a sense is now transformed, he will still fall into the same petty transgressions as before.

I shall still lose my temper with Ivan the coachman . . . I shall probably go on scolding [my wife] in my anxiety . . . but my life now . . . independently of anything that can happen to me . . . has a positive meaning of goodness with which I have the power to invest it.


Tolstoy's respect for collective experience strongly influenced his view of Russian society and deepened certain of his prejudices. For him this experience was most faithfully reflected in the nobility and the peasantry, with their roots firmly embedded in the soil and Russia's past. For all their arrogance and selfishness, the nobility had the nation's history in their veins; their names were resonant with the achievements of past generations. The peasantry, for their part, despite their stupidity and reluctance to consider anything new, supposedly embodied the solidity and simple wisdom of tradition. Tolstoy believed it a matter of national urgency that the peasants' ignorance and apathy in technical matters should be dispelled by a programme of universal education. The 1860s and early 1870s found him busy experimenting in educational methods, both as the author of a children's reader, and as a teacher to the peasant children on his own estate.

When I see these tattered, underfed, unwashed youngsters with their candid eyes, fromwhich the soul of an angel often shines out, a feeling of apprehension and horror comes over me, as though I were watching someone drown.

The corollary of Tolstoy's belief in experience was his distrust of untried 'rational' solutions. It was symptomatic of his outlook that his extensive acquaintance with the French Enlightenment should leave him admiring most of all two of its least characteristic figures, Rousseau and Montesquieu, the writers who accorded most importance to the irrational in human nature. If, in his view, the untried figments of the inexperienced intellect were the prime threat to the hallowed institutions born of traditional wisdom, he saw the liberal intelligentsia as the hawkers, hucksters and fabricators of these insidious commodities. He called them 'la cuisine littéraire', rootless men, many of them middle-class, knowing little, and understanding less, of the fundamental wisdom of the peasantry or the traditional responsibilities and loyalties of the landed nobility. Brash and arrogant in their ignorance, they presumed to criticise matters they did not begin to comprehend.

Symptomatically the middle class get short shrift in Anna Karenina. Levin refuses to speak to the land speculator who buys Oblonsky's forest: admittedly at an over-advantageous price. And the professional middle classes fare no better at Tolstoy's hands. He paints a particularly unsympathetic vignette of the doctor, 'the celebrated specialist' who insists on Kitty undressing; and he likewise mixes venom with his ink in his brief sketch of 'the famous Petersburg lawyer' who handles Karenin's marital problems.

Contemptuous of the middle class, Tolstoy reserved his bitterest feelings for the liberal nobility who betrayed their destiny by joining forces with them. Turgenev he saw as one of these. The mixture of admiration and exasperation that characterised their relationship was nowhere more apparent than in their differences over the emancipation of the serfs. Both were convinced of its necessity, yet they disagreed violently on the spirit in which it should be done. The Westerner, Turgenev, saw it as part of a self-evident programme of democratic reforms, that commended itself automatically to any rightminded liberal. Tolstoy, by contrast, had lived with serfdom for nearly thirty years, before seriously deciding that it must go; only on his return from Western Europe in 1857 did he see it with new eyes. Like Turgenev, he commuted his serfs' labour dues for a quit rent. But he was not prepared to regard Turgenev's concession as commensurate with his own. Was it not precisely the sort of legalistic gesture that one could expect from a man who saw little of his peasants and spent most of his time pursuing an unresponsive prima donna around Western Europe? Tolstoy, by contrast, laboured in the fields with his peasants; he scythed the hay with them and ate with them beneath the waggons at midday. Like most of his major decisions, this singular practice stemmed from his belief that experience was everything; only by sharing their lives in this fashion could he feel for himself what were their genuine needs. (It perhaps also reflected, if only unconsciously, an inward sense of guilt towards the men whose labours made his comfortable existence possible.) Whatever the underlying motivation, the net effect was to make him feel that he had already established a humane relationship with his peasants, which, if it still left their emancipation as a worthy objective, rendered it less urgent.

Turgenev's reform, by contrast, struck him as a barren cerebral gesture which brought him no nearer to his peasants and merely dispensed Turgenev from his previous guilty feelings, guilt perhaps being the only emotional link Turgenev had ever had with them (apart from amorous entanglements with serving girls). In Tolstoy's view, Turgenev's reform cost him no more than the rich man's subscription to charity, which enables him to enjoy his wealth without givingthe poor another thought.

Turgenev, for his part, doubtless saw Tolstoy's labour in the fields as an absurd act of self-delusion, exorcising Tolstoy's own uneasy conscience but offering no tangible benefit to the peasantry. As a liberal Westerner, he did not share Tolstoy's contempt for cerebral gestures; the whole history of western democratic progress was built on them: constitutions, equality before the law, the rights of labour, all depended on laws which were the very framework of freedom, however remote and abstract the principles and the institutions that had brought them into being.

It was characteristic of Tolstoy that when the Emancipation Edict became law in 1861, he was in no great hurry to implement it on his own estate, despite his previous campaigning against serfdom. Now that it was an obligatory matter, incumbent on every landowner, it had somehow lost its savour: law deprived it of the spontaneous, heartfelt quality, without which it was hard to enlist Tolstoy's enthusiasm. Even so, when he belatedly got round to emancipation, he equally characteristically gave his serfs the maximum of land allowed under the system. Moreover, he was appointed as an official government arbitrator of the scheme in his locality and quickly made enemies among the gentry by consistently taking the side of the peasantry in disputed cases: so much so that he was driven to resign in April 1862.

There were other points of friction between Tolstoy and Turgenev. Tolstoy despised Turgenev's western manners, his manicured fingernails and dandified appearance—the features that the self-perceptive Turgenev partially parodies in the shape of Pavel Kirsanov in Fathers and Sons: Turgenev even goes to the point of saddling Pavel with un grand amour, painfully suggestive of his own debilitating passion for Pauline Viardot. Morever, Turgenev sent his natural daughter, the child of a young seamstress, to be educated with Pauline Viardot's family in western Europe. Tolstoy strongly disapproved of this uprooting of the child, which deprived her of the native background that Tolstoy considered essential to the happiness and self-fulfilment of any Russian. His provocative remarks on the matter so incensed Turgenev that the older man threatened to hit him. Despite Turgenev's apologies for his reaction, Tolstoy insisted on fighting a duel, a grotesque situation that was only narrowly averted after prolonged and difficult negotiation, fraught with the usual misunderstandings on both sides.


Tolstoy described Anna Karenina as 'a declaration of love for the idea of the family'. Not only was family life the oldest embodiment of collective experience, but it shapes all who participate in it, parents as well as children. It was for Tolstoy the foremost environmental force. Those who lack it, like Vronsky and Karenin, who knew little parental love in childhood, remain morally impoverished throughout their lives. And even Levin only narrowly escapes a similar deprivation through the good fortune of having the Shcherbatskys as a surrogate family.

Family life is a theme as old as literature; yet it acquired a certain acuity in the nineteenth century, since it was then that it was subjected to serious questioning for the first time in Russia. Russia was still a confessional state; but the popularity of Romantic literature in educated circles gave increasing, if limited, currency to the notion that love transcends everything, including the family. Marital infidelity, in the name of love, was no new phenomenon, any more than infidelity tout court. Indeed certain infidelities had traditionally been regarded as normal and even desirable. Tolstoy's own aunt,

herself the purest of beings, always told me that there was nothing she so desired for me as that I should have relations with a married woman: 'Rien ne forme un jeune homme comme un liason avec une femme comme il faut'.

But this was the discreet sort of liaison that was tolerated in aristocratic society because it left the marriage outwardly intact. Its essence was its discretion: everyone knew about it, including the 'wronged' parties, but no one talked about it in public.

Romanticism, however, sought to justify le grand amour in the name of a higher good. Tolstoy not only rejected this claim, but firmly believed that no love could survive without the sustaining responsibilities of rearing children and running a household. The experience of Anna and Vronsky demonstrates that love and passion cannot by themselves create a permanent relationship; it needs to be buttressed by a joint task, the shared commitment and cares of creating a happy and productive household. Anna has staked all on her love for Vronsky, and having found that, for Vronsky at least, love on its own is not enough, she inflicts on him the terrible, indelible memory of her departure and suicide. Her bitter cry 'Are we not all flung into the world only to hate each other, and therefore to torment ourselves and others?' is the converse of Dorothea's declaration in Middlemarch at a similarly desperate moment of her life. 'What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?' But whereas Dorothea has wider commitments than her feelings for Ladislaw, Anna has risked all on her love for Vronsky.

The converse of this tragedy is the home life of Levin and Kitty, largely based on Tolstoy's own experience. For all its contretemps, their love is firmly based on the mutual, wider tasks of family and household, causing them to fuse into something greater than their individual selves: as Tolstoy says of Levin 'he could not now tell where she ended and he began'.

Yet this enlargement of Levin's being has a paradoxical counterpart in his refusal to involve himself in the much wider issues that lie beyond the boundaries of his estate, notably provincial politics and Russia's foreign responsibilities. The paradox largely resolves itself when it is seen in the light of Tolstoy's basic contention: that unless the emotions as well as the intellect are involved in philanthropic activity, the activity will remain sterile; one's whole being must be committed, not just the intellect. This, in fact, was the basic issue that underlay his earlier differences with Turgenev over the peasantry (pp. 117-18). Levin's family and estate are sufficiently limited to be within the capacity of his love and solicitude; he can feel for them and see the results of his care, in a way that is not possible with the huge impersonal issues of provincial politics and international relations. These matters can only be tackled with the mind and not the heart; and without the heart, philanthropic activity is ultimately barren. Moreover, it is only in the restricted sphere of personal relationships that the individual can hope to perceive what is good and what is not. There are too many unknown factors in large public issues for the individual to be able to commit himself to one side or the other, and feel confidence in his decision.

Looked at with these criteria, certain contradictions in Tolstoy's attitudes seem less puzzling. Levin's refusal to concern himself with Russia's war against Turkey is in keeping with Tolstoy's arguments. What superficially might seem less consistent is Tolstoy's own involvement in educational reform and his later activity in the nationwide famine relief of the 1890s. Yet ignorance and hunger were evils which Tolstoy could see and experience for himself on his ownestate. It required no particular stretch of empathy to feel, as well as recognise cerebrally, that they must also be fought on a larger national scale. In the same way, earlier in his life, (see pp. 117-18), his participation in the nationwide campaign for Emancipation resulted from his own personal observation of peasant life.

Unlike Levin, Levin's half brother, the intellectual Koznyshev, is deeply committed to issues that lie beyond his immediate personal experience: in particular Russia's campaign against Turkey. But Tolstoy portrays this concern for national questions as the corollary to his unwillingness to risk his ego in the mutual self-giving required by marriage and family life; it is a function of his inadequacy.

. . . the thought struck [Levin] that this faculty for working for the public good, of which he felt himself completely devoid, was perhaps not so much a quality as a lack of something—not a lack of kindly honesty and noble desires and tastes but a lack of the vital force, of what is called heart, of the impulse which drives a man to choose someone out of all the innumerable paths of life and to care for that one only . . . Koznyshev, and many people who worked for the welfare of the public, were not led by an impulse of the heart to care for the public good, but had reasoned out in their minds that it was a right thing to take interest in public affairs, and consequently took interest in them.

Turgenev's sympathies in this debate would have been largely with Koznyshev. Indeed, he said on reading Anna Karenina,

[Tolstoy] has lost his way . . . It's the influence of Moscow, the Slavophil nobility, Orthodox spinsters, his isolation and lack of artistic work.

For Tolstoy, however,

The question is not what kind of community life is best, but what are you going to do as a reasonable being appearing for a brief moment in the world, who may depart at any moment? I know nothing of the result. I only know what I must do.

David Patterson (essay date 1978)

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SOURCE: "The Movement of Faith as Revealed in Tolstoi's Confession," in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 74, Nos. 3-4, July-October, 1978, pp. 227-43.

[In the following essay, Patterson presents an analysis of the steps through which Tolstoy moved in his religious conversion, as outlined in his Confession.]

Tolstoi's Confession is the story of the spiritual crisis which its author experienced during the late 1870s, when the man who had written War and Peace and Anna Karenina came to believe that he had accomplished nothing in life, that his life was meaningless. Although there are parallels between the torments of Levin in Anna Karenina and Tolstoi's own conflicts in the Confession, the latter piece was written in 1879, two years after the publication of the former, and represents a more developed reflection on "the problem of life." As I shall argue in this article, the resolution of the crisis related in Tolstoi's Confession comes in a movement of faith which emerges as the fourth aspect of a four-dimensional change or metamorphosis withinthe individual. The four dimensions of the metamorphosis may be described as (1) the encounter with death, (2) the onset of despair, (3) the struggle for possibility, and (4) the movement of faith. Let us now see how an analysis of the movement of faith as revealed in Tolstoi's Confession may be rendered in these terms.


From the opening pages of the Confession it may be seen that the encounter with death is initiated by the Fall; like Adam, Tolstoi discovered that the Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life. His Garden was the Orthodox Church in which he was christened, and the Fruit that tempts him comes in the form of a rumor he heard one day at school to the effect that there is no God.1 The serpent was right. We shall not surely die; if we eat we may become as gods, not only knowing but devising the difference between good and evil.

Once Tolstoi consumes the Fruit his eyes are open to contradiction, and he sees that the world is not good. Using the measuring stick of reason and ethics contained in the Fruit, he is quick to perceive that "people live just as everyone lives, yet they all live according to principles which not only have nothing in common with the teachings of faith, but for the most part are opposed to them" (I, 95), and that "the teachings of faith, which are accepted on trust and sustained by external pressure, fade little by little under the influence of knowledge and the experience of life, which are at odds with the teachings of faith" (I, 96).

The prohibition to eat the Fruit awakens a feeling of dread because it awakens a sense of freedom; a gasping "What if?" fills the emptiness of innocence, which in this case is the emptiness of the Orthodox creed. Once he had acquired the knowledge of good and evil, Tolstoi came to maintain a belief in moral perfection which was soon transformed into a "belief in perfection in general, into a desire to be better not in the eyes of myself or God, but in the eyes of other people," and this turned into a longing to be more powerful than others (I, 97). Here the connection between a sense of ethics and the operations of reason should be noted. First of all, attention is directed outward, toward the eyes and the power of other people. Second, the focus on one's position in the external world opens up a sense of balance; Tolstoi's ethical posture and worldly power are weighed against the morality and power of those around him. His desire to be better and more powerful than others reveals his concern for a result, for a fixed state of being rather than a process of becoming. Such a concern is characteristic of ethics and reason, where both are oriented toward the "then" of an if-then way of existing: if I am to realize my desire to be better than others, then I must behave in a manner prescribed by others. This is in fact the starting point for several characters in Tolstoi's fiction, including Levin in Anna Karenina, Ivan Il'ich, Father Sergius, and Nekhliudov in Resurrection.

As a fallen man, Tolstoi longs to become as the gods, and by replacing God with himself Tolstoi loses himself in his effort to be himself. Allowing himself to be determined by others, he arrives at the point where "there was not a crime I did not commit, and for all this my superiors praised me and considered me and still consider me a relatively moral man" (I, 98). From here it was only a short step to a position in which people became repugnant to him, and he became repugnant to himself; he understood that his belief in perfection was nothing more than a deception. Although he could now see the lie of perfection, Tolstoi tells us, "I did not reject the rank bestowed upon me by these people—the rank of artist, poet, and teacher" (I, 100).

Aware only of the mirage of power, progress, and position, Tolstoi was conscious of neither life nor death, but only of the feeling that something was amiss: "I was tormented, like any living individual, by questions of how to live better. I still did not understand that in answering, 'One must live for progress,' I was talking just like a person being carried in a boat along the waves and wind, a person who replies without actually answering the primary and for him the only real question, 'Where are we to steer?' by saying, 'We are being carried somewhere'" (I, 102). The torment which begins to turn the individual about, throwing him back upon himself, colllides with the herd's refusal to acknowledge any torment which is the mark of individual existence apart from the herd. The attempt to smother the agony of the loss of self by pointing the individual toward progress or a rational and necessary evolution only increases it, since this amounts to an attempt to eliminate the individual self. Thus the person is left in a limbo between himself and the world, carried along by the system and unable to steer himself back to himself.

It is the man adrift, the man who has labored himself into no self, the fallen man who encounters the skull amid the wine cups and the roses. For Tolstoi the encounter came in Paris on 25 March 1857, when François Riche was put to death for murder: "Thus during my stay in Paris the spectacle of an execution revealed to me the feebleness of my superstitious belief in progress. When I saw how the head was severed from the body and heard the thud of each part as it fell into the box, I understood, not with my intellect but with my whole being that no theory of the rationality of existence or of progress could justify this act" (I, 102). Another faculty has now come into play: the whole being. It emerges opposite the feebleness and nothingness of a rationality that would deny the legitimacy of any such understanding. It is this displacement of the intellect that signals the reversal in direction from outwardness to inwardness.

It is important to note further that the element of the sudden creeps into the consciousness in a manner that cannot be assimilated by the intellect. It has a sound, a thud, the finality of which puts an end to the rationality of the system; reality has been stuffed piecemeal into the box. Death turns out to be something completely different from what the individual had expected it to be. He cannot formulate any thoughts about it, nor can he discover or devise any theories on it; rather, he is forced to move beyond the if-then reality he has fashioned for himself. Whereas death had previously been a mere nothing, a dreamless sleep into which we fade after threescore and ten years, it now presents itself as a something which devours and swallows from within, a substance that negates all other possibility of substance. What had been a complacent acquiescence of the intellect now becomes the sobbing rebellion of the whole being. Thus we see the fear revealed in a handful of dust, and death is as tangible as the dust itself. It reduces not only the individual to dust, but time and accomplishment as well; all possibility vanishes, eclipsed by the one certainty, the one necessity of death. And there is no getting around this one little detail that divides the self against itself; the rational and necessary evolution that had been a source of reassurance has become something quite different.

The encounter with death is not a physical one; it occurs rather on a metaphysical or spiritual level. Tolstoi in fact repeatedly demonstrated his courage in the face of death on the battlefield, and he was once very nearly killed by a bear on a hunting trip. That the encounter does not actually pertain to any single event becomes clearer when in September of 1869 it is repeated, this time in the absence of anyone dying. Tolstoi was on his way to Penza to buy an estate at a bargain price, when he put up for the night at an inn in Arzamas. And then it happened. "The horror came over him," as Henri Troyat describes it, "mixed with despair, 'as if he were about to vomit.' A geometric horror, 'a white and red horror, square,' the horror of the box."2 Thisincident has been referred to as the "Arzamas agony," and it was later retold by Tolstoi in 1884 in Notes of a Madman. As the title indicates, Tolstoi took this horror and depression, this spiritual nausea, to be a type of madness. In this case, however, the individual is left without the security of one who is irrevocably mad, whose madness is a refuge from the world; here it is existence itself that has gone mad, and there can be no refuge. Furthermore, Tolstoi is responsible for his madness to the extent that it is a symptom of his having failed to synthesize the eternal and finite aspects of himself, the religious and secular parts of himself. Yet for the individual whose existence has been shaped by reason, ethics, and natural necessity, in order to create a relationship of himself to himself he must contract the madness, since the horror of the box ignites the passion which leads to a relationship between the self and itself and between the self and God. The sickness is itself the cure. It is this madness, this pathological state of horror and despair, that distinguishes the next dimension of the metamorphosis.


Tolstoi had contracted what Kierkegaard calls the sickness unto death. Indeed, it was in 1874, five years prior to the writing of the Confession, that Tolstoi claims despair set in. "I began to experience moments of confusion," he writes. "Life came to a stop, as though I didn't know how to live or what to do; I became lost and fell into despair" (I, 104). In despair the finite self is turned about, thrown back upon itself, and left entirely to itself; the coordinate system that had provided the individual with direction has been lost and with it the finite self which it had shaped. But rather than meet the task of creating a self that can set out, like Abraham, without direction, the man in despair continues to clutch at the pieces of the crumbling structure, knowing all the while there is nothing to support the weight of his despair. Afraid to let go and afraid not to, he cannot move; he can only gape and stare and be afraid.

The man in despair is a man lost, and he discovers the spiritual or eternal aspect of himself by discovering that he is lost, that the spirit is always somewhere else. Furthermore, because the spirit has been lost, the finite world has also been lost. The points of reference, the things that normally give the individual the strength to live, everything that might lead him back to life has been lost. This is the "coming to a stop," the impotence to act, the madness.

Having long since rejected a relationship with God, the encounter with death has led Tolstoi to an encounter with the nothingness which marks the absence of the relationship. Yet in a sense the relationship is not actually absent, because at this point its presence remains an impossibility. With the onset of despair the individual is thus abandoned to the geometric void of the box, lying atop the head and the body, so that instead of positing the synthesis of the finite and the infinite, he lamely insists on the detachment of the finite from the devouring, decomposing nothingness that characterizes the finite.

Looking at Ivan Il'ich, we see that one of the horrors of the despair is that the individual is cast into a state of forlornness from which there appears to be no escape: "He wept over his helplessness, over his terrible loneliness, over the cruelty of people, over the cruelty of God, over the absence of God."3 The state of forlornness is a state of being locked inside the finite while being enveloped by the infinite, reduced to nothing not before God but before the heartless immensity of the surrounding spaces. In the awakening to forlornness the individual discovers for the first time that there is a vital part of himself which must remain forever hidden and isolated, incommensurably alone; he discovers the self. Yet he feels that if only he could give voice to this forlornness, then death might be less unacceptable, less forlorn, for the horrorlies in the prospect of dying alone and unable to give voice to the dying. And the system which strives for calm and equilibrium strives to render the voice mute. Thus "Ivan Il'ich's main torment was the lie avowed for some reason by everyone, the lie that he was merely ill and not dying."4

This is the milieu in which Tolstoi's seemingly childish and foolish questions of "Why?" and "What next?" arise; and "as soon as I have come up against them and have tried to answer them," he writes, "I am immediately convinced first of all that they are not childish and foolish questions, but the most vital and profound questions in life, and secondly that no matter how much I ponder them, there is no way I can resolve them" (I, 105). That the futile attempt to resolve the foolish questions reveals their depth shows that neither the questions themselves nor the resolution is as vital as the passion in which they arise. Reason, which focuses only on the stasis of outcome and not on the dynamic of becoming, deems them foolish and childish, so much nonsense. Just as Tolstoi encountered death not through his intellect but through his whole being, the profundity of the questions is not impressed upon the intellect, which focuses on their content, but upon his whole being, which is the realm of the terror and the passion.

Tolstoi compares himself in despair to a sick man who, like Ivan Il'ich, suddenly realizes that the ailment "which he had taken for a mere trifle is in fact the most important thing on earth, that it is death" (I, 105). The harder he tries to respond to the questions, the greater his consciousness of them, and therefore the deeper his despair; yet it seems there will be no end to the despair unless he can come up with an acceptable response. And as the despair increases, the ability to live decreases: "It was as though I had lived a little, wandered a little, until I had arrived at the precipice, and I clearly saw that there was nothing ahead except ruin. And there was no stopping, no turning back, no closing my eyes so I wouldn't see that there was nothing ahead except the deception of life and of happiness and the reality of suffering and death, complete annihilation" (I, 106).

Thus, like Levin in Anna Karenina, Tolstoi was unable to make a move either within or without; the internal contradiction was pulling him in opposite directions. Thoughts of suicide came to him as a matter of course, even tempted him, so that he was afraid to remain in a room alone with a rope or to go hunting by himself. Think of it: the trembling hand gripping the coarseness of the rope, the eyes scanning the rafters along the ceiling, the gasping flight from the room to seek the company of the family only to dwell further on the rope and the room and the return to the room.

It is important to note that the temptation of suicide goes hand in hand with the hope of life; this is what makes the temptation a temptation and is the essence of the internal contradiction of life and of the self. This is the self which in defiance Tolstoi is not willing to be, the self which in defiance he is tempted to destroy. In the act of suicide the will of the self is at its pinnacle, so that by doing away with itself the self attains the ultimate awareness of substance of will within itself and therefore achieves "authenticity." The individual thus places himself in the position of the Power that determines his existence or nonexistence. In this sense suicide is a rebellion against God and against the trial of authenticity, because the truly authentic self is not attained until there is a return to the finite world, now qualified by the God relationship.

The encounter with death leads to an onset of despair in which one is hourly dying the death. Death is no longer the end or the last, but is experienced continually in the internal collapse of time. When death is not the last, but continually the last, it appears in the form of a truth whereall else is a lie and all other possibility closed. Such is the state of mind in which Levin "painfully felt that what he had referred to as his convictions was not only a lack of knowledge, but it was a train of thought that made the knowledge he required impossible."5 Thus in the Confession we read, "Now I cannot help seeing the days and nights rushing toward me and leading me to death. I see only mis, and this alone is truth. All that remains is a lie" (I, 109). The task now is to reverse the truth and the lie, to open the way to the possibility that life may be the truth and death the lie. In order to be able to live and die, the question "without which life is impossible" must be answered: "Is there a meaning in my life which will not be inevitably destroyed by my coming death?" (I, 111). More than that, it must be answered in the affirmative when by all that is conceivable it can only be answered in the negative. The alternative is the lingering horror of the black bag and the temptation of the rope. The question arises in despair, and it is in despair that the struggle for possibility is initiated.


The primary distinction between this phase and the previous one is not that the despair has passed, but that the individual now tries to move forward and bring together the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal. Tolstoi begins by rejecting the doctrine of progress which falsely taught that if he knew his place in the complexity of the evolving whole, then he would know himself (I, 112). If man and his world are indeed linked together in a system of evolution, the individual must direct his attention outside of himself in order to acquire a perspective of himself in relation to the whole before he can develop himself in relation to himself; rather than qualify the system as existing individual, he is qualified by the system and cannot exist as an individual apart from it. But this is precisely the source of Tolstoi's difficulty. Rather than examine the objective system, he must now establish a subjective individuality which may qualify the whole and encompass both the world and the personal perspective. Tolstoi finds accordingly that the knowledge of one's place in the whole is in inverse proportion to its applicability to the meaning of life (I, 113), and he therefore realizes that the individual who decides the question of his own life decides another question—that of humanity as a whole (I, 115). This relationship is not to be confused with that between the individual and the evolving whole; viewed as a cog in the machine, the person is defined by the machine rather than himself and has no substance apart from the machine. The question now before us, however, does not concern an objective humanity within the system but the subjective individual isolated from the system, so that the individual subjectively internalizes the race and then returns to the race. Insofar as a body of objective knowledge pertains to the external spatio-temporal process, turning to such knowledge amounts not only to turning away from the real question, but extinguishes any relationship between the individual and humanity which might transcend the evolution of the unit in space and time. Tolstoi therefore introduces four of the wisest men—Socrates, Schopenhauer, Solomon, and the Buddha—as single individuals who apart from a given network of objective knowledge have arrived at a personal and passionate expression of the problem facing Tolstoi.

Tolstoi focuses on the following line from Socrates: "We grow nearer to the truth to the extent that we grow farther from life. . . . The wise man seeks death all his life, and for this reason death is not terrifying to him" (I, 118).6 Tolstoi understood this to mean that death is the only truth, and life is an illusion. Here one might object that Tolstoi has missed the point of Socrates' remark; when the latter asserts that the wise man spends his life seeking and preparing for death, he is in fact giving meaning to life, and in no illusory fashion: we live inasmuch as we are engaged in dying the death. This, however, is not exactly the sort of meaning Tolstoi is after, even though he has indeed misunderstood Socrates. The Socratic search for knowledge, the daily discourse on virtue, and the preparation for death all take place in a spatio-temporal progression in which the moment is a particle of time, not of eternity.

The difference between the knowledge Socrates offers and the meaning Tolstoi seeks is the difference between Socratic recollection and Kierkegaardian repetition. "The dialectic of repetition is easy," says Kierkegaard, "for what is repeated has been, otherwise it could not be repeated, but precisely the fact that it has been gives to repetition the character of novelty. When the Greeks said that all knowledge is recollection they affirmed that all that is has been; when one says that life is a repetition one affirms that existence which has been now becomes."7 So it is that Kierkegaard speaks of recollection as a discarded garment and of repetition as an imperishable one.8 If repetition occurs in space and time, the possibility of repetition as a renewal of life is grounded outside space and time. The possibility for which Tolstoi is struggling is a condition which at every instant renews the life in the world from outside that life by renewing the life within from within. He does not seek a knowledge that is fixed and unchanging in the way Socratic knowledge is. In this sense Socratic knowledge is the knowledge acquired in the Fall, which has it that man in ignorance is not in a state of innocence but in a state of sin. Consequently there is no real difference between Socrates' striving for virtue and his preparation for death and Tolstoi's earlier striving for perfection. Both succumb to the serpent.

Although the Tolstoi of War and Peace had been influenced by Schopenhauer, the Tolstoi of the Confession no longer finds solace in Schopenhauer, who according to Tolstoi claims, "The fact that we are so frightened of nonexistence, or that we long to live so much only signifies that we ourselves are merely this desire. Therefore, upon the complete annihilation of the will all that remains for us, we who are fulfilled by that will, is of course nothingness; but on the other hand, for those in whom the will has been transformed and renounced, this world of ours which is so real, with all its suns and galaxies, is itself nothingness" (I, 119).9 Like Tolstoi, Schopenhauer was unable to see beyond the swallowing up of the finite by the infinite; the emptiness of existence, he says in the Parerga und Paralipomena, "finds its expression in the infinity of time and space opposite the finitude of the individual in both."10 It is through an assertion of the will to live that Tolstoi renounces the will to live a life whose meaning is nullified by the nothingness of death, since life itself is thereby a mere nothing. As the world and the will that renounces itself degenerate into nothingness, the self likewise fades into nothingness; both the finite and the eternal are lost. Schopenhauer thus leaves Tolstoi where he started.

Tolstoi turns next to the Solomon of Ecclesiastes, a book which was not actually written by Solomon, but rather dates from around the third century B.C. Quoting from Ecclesiastes, Tolstoi writes, "All is vanity! . . . There is nothing new under the sun. . . . I have committed my heart to knowing wisdom, madness, and folly; I have discovered that even this was a languishing of the spirit. For in much wisdom there is much sadness; and he who increases knowledge, increases sorrow. . . . The wise die the same death as the foolish! And I came to despise life" (I, 119-20). These lines paraphrase what Tolstoi has already said: if not today, then tomorrow. Yet there is an important difference between Tolstoi's use of Ecclesiastes and the point of the book itself: "To sum up the matter: fear God, and keep the commandments, since this is the whole duty of man. For God will call all hidden deeds, good or bad, to judgement" (Eccl 12:13-14). Solomon's lamentation of life arises not in the absence of God, as Tolstoi's does, but in the presence of a God whose ways we cannot understand, and who will call men to judgment in eternity, where all isrevealed. Unlike Schopenhauer, Solomon does not completely negate life: it is better to be a living dog, he says, than a dead lion (Eccl 9:4). But Tolstoi fails to consider this and equates the two thinkers. Nonetheless, the author of Ecclesiastes is a man in despair; if the outcry is in the presence of God, it is in the absence of a relationship to God and therefore in the absence of a synthesis whereby the self relates itself to itself. One thing that Solomon and Tolstoi do have in common is an underlying feeling that they have been the victims of a bad joke, a cosmic prank. Solomon was granted the gift of wisdom only to find that all is vanity; Tolstoi was among the greatest men of letters, and he has made the same unpleasant discovery.

Finally, Tolstoi relates the story of the young Buddha whose first sight of an old man, then a sick man, then a dead man led him to declare that life was evil, and he therefore set out to destroy its roots (I, 121-22). But Tolstoi again uses the story for his own purposes. The Buddha does experience the encounter with death as indicated and even the ensuing despair, but he does not attach the negative moral epithet to life that Tolstoi does. He finds, rather, that life is suffering, which is neither good nor evil, and that one may overcome the suffering of life through a spiritual detachment from life; one must free oneself from the bonds of existence. It must not be assumed, however, that Tolstoi knew very little about Buddhism; on the contrary, he had done a good deal of reading in the Eastern religions. Yet he does seem to be surveying the teachings of the Buddha through eyeglasses tinted with Schopenhauer. At any rate, the result of having examined the four sages was only an increase in his despair: "There is no deceiving myself. All is vanity. Happy is he who was never born, death is better than life; we must rid ourselves of life" (I, 123).

Having given up on the knowledge of the wise men as a source of possibility, Tolstoi began to look at the people around him, the people of his own class, and in doing so he concluded that they could be placed into four categories (I, 123-25). First, there were those who live in ignorance of the problem of life, who plod through life in a state of spiritual somnambulation. Then there were the Epicureans, who flee from the next day by trying to destroy pain and time in the awful daring of a moment's surrender through the gratification of their sensual desires. The third category consists of those few who possess the power of reason and the force of will to do away with an evil life. These are the nihilists who recognize that twice two is four and all else is trivial. Tolstoi deems this group the worthiest, but he lacks the boldness required to be a part of it. Thus he places himself into the fourth group, those who see that life is evil but drag it out because they are too weak to become true nihilists. In devising these classifications, however, he cannot shake the feeling that he has gone wrong somewhere. At this point he begins to call reason into question, since "reason is the fruit of life, but reason denies that very life" (I, 126). Reason cuts off the path to possibility. Yet Tolstoi is still in a state of confusion; reason is the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, not the Tree of Life.

His next move, then, is to examine reason and try to clear up the confusion, and in doing so he finds that it was not in fact reason that had enabled him to continue to live: "I wouldn't be speaking the truth if I were to say that it was through reason that I had arrived at this point without killing myself. Reason was at work, but it was working on a different level, something I cannot term other than a consciousness of life" (I, 128). In suspecting reason Tolstoi was soon led to a consideration of faith, and he explains the difference between the "knowledge" acquired through reason and the "knowledge" acquired through faith by saying, "Rational knowledge in the presence of the learned and the wise denies the meaning of life, but the vast masses of people acknowledge meaning through an irrational knowledge. And this irrational knowledge is faith, the one thing which I could not accept. . . . According to faith, in order to understand the meaning of life, I must cast off reason, the very thing for which meaning was necessary" (I, 130). Reason had raised the question, but in order to answer it, reason must be abandoned. But is this really the case? Doesn't the question instead arise in an emotion, in a movement of the spirit, at which point the intellect attempts to formulate a response? Tolstoi himself had indicated that he experienced the encounter with death not through the intellect, but through his whole being. And it isn't that the intellect cannot respond, but that it cannot respond in a manner acceptable to the spirit, which seeks not by means of rationality but with lamentation.

Tolstoi understood that an "answer" to his question of life must involve a relationship between the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal (I, 131-32), and it is here that he begins to probe the limits of reason, since reason can only equate the infinite with the infinite and the finite with the finite. Insofar as it involves a synthesis of the finite and the eternal, faith rests on a paradox that emerges at the living. Because this union occurs at the limits of reason, the faith which rests on the paradox issues from an association between reason and the paradox; it is reason trying to comprehend the condition that makes it paradoxical. So it is that the answers given by faith are so unattractive, even offensive to reason, yet it is the paradox that opens the way to possibility. Thus considered, faith is the passion by virtue of which life from the eternal point of view is rendered possible in the temporal world. "Faith is the knowledge of the meaning of life," says Tolstoi, "whereby the individual does not destroy himself but lives. Faith is the force of life" (I, 133).

In order to better comprehend the nature of faith, Tolstoi began to question those people of his own class who claimed to be believers, but he discovered no more than a counterfeit faith, one which only "clouded the meaning of life" (I, 135). He was not looking for arguments or demonstrations resting on reason, but for actions or manifestations of the force of life that emerge in spite of reason. This does not mean that he was looking for a basis of ethical behavior, but rather for the possibility of faith. Ethics or morality pertains to the actions themselves, apart from a God relationship or a relationship to the eternal upon which actions in the temporal are grounded; this is the relationship Tolstoi requires, and this ethics cannot provide.

When he turned to the believers among the simple and the poor, Tolstoi found that here too there were "superstitions" mixed with the truths of Christianity, but with a difference: the superstitions of the believers of his class were unnecessary to them, while among those of the laboring class the superstitions formed an integral part of their lives—they were as they believed (I, 137). Here life was the truth and death the lie. This was evidenced by the fact that "in contrast to the peaceful death, a death without terror and despair, which is the rarest exception in our class, it is the tormenting, unyielding, and sorrowful death that is the rarest exception among the people" (I, 138). For the man in despair, death is the nothingness that engulfs, the infinity that swallows up the finite. For the man of faith, seeing oneself before the infinite is not a source of despair, but rather means seeing oneself outside of space and time, in the context of a God relationship, because he has achieved the internal synthesis of the finite and the infinite. By grounding his temp