Count Tolstoi and the Public Censor
|Count Tolstoi and the Public Censor (1887)
|Published in the July 1887 edition of Atlantic Monthly|
It is a well-known fact that the sympathy between Count Lyof Tolstoi and the censor of the Russian press is the reverse of profound. Nevertheless, the manner in which the two men are working together, unwittingly, for the confusion of the count's future literary executors and editors, furnishes a subject of interest, not unmixed with amusement, to spectators in a land which is not burdened with an official censor. The extent of the censorship exercised over the first eleven volumes of his works will probably never be known. But the twelfth volume is a literary curiosity, which can be appreciated only after a comparison of its contents as printed there with the manuscript copies of works prohibited in Russia, or with copies of such works printed out of Russia.
The contents of the volume are of a very miscellaneous character, and consist of sixteen short moral tales for popular reading, some of which are cast in the form of legends, folk-tales, and explanatory texts to accompany cheap chap-book pictures; a fragment entitled In What Happiness Consists; and article on the Census of Moscow, written in 1882; one written two year later, called Thoughts Evoked by the Moscow Census; a psychological study of death, - The Death of Ivan Ilitch; and an article on Popular Education, which was originally printed in a journal in 1875, and accidentally omitted from the fourth volume of the collected works, where it properly belongs, in company with a large number of the stories of popular reading. This last article serves, in some measure, to explain why so highly talented an author has devoted himself, of late years, to the production of the peculiar stories begun in his pedagogical journal, entitled Yasnaya Polyana, after the name of his estate, and continued to the present time in various publications. As he has added no qualifying notes, the article may be taken as still presenting his views. They may be summed up as follows: that the German method of elementary instruction (evidently the Kindergarten) may be suited to the capacities of "Hottentots, negroes, and small German children," but that it certainly is not to the little Russian muzhik, who knows more at the age of two years than all the elaborate puerilities of the two chief Russian authorities on the subject can teach him from their books. He believes that the peasant himself is the best judge of what he should be taught, even though the latter does hold the Dogberrian theory that schools need not be permanent institutions, since, if the parents once learn, the following generations will inherit their wisdom. Count Tolstoi's personal experience in the peasant schools has shown him that Russian, Slavonic (the language of the church), and mathematics, "and nothing else" should constitute the course of study in schools for the people, since these branches of learning are at the foundation of all others. In order that the people may have proper reading matter for due progress, he has prepared the simple stories contained in the present volume, as well as those referred to as preceding them. They are written in the simplest, most concise peasant language, and in accordance with his theory that the people always speak good Russian, while the educated classes do not. They are all ingenious, though, at times, the moral truth which he seeks to convey is rendered difficult of perception by the involved allegories by which it is obscured. "Love one another, resist not evil, despise money:" such is the burden of his exhortation, and as a rule, it is beautifully and touchingly expressed. If the peasants are observing, however, they will not fail to note some discrepancies in his arguments on the subject of money. In one of the tales, for instance, he represents the subjects of Ivan the Fool - who are fools like their ruler, yet the only wise in truth - as refusing money altogether except for the purpose of necklaces for the women and playthings for the children, since it is nothing but an invention of "the real gentleman, the old Devil," to lead men astray. In another, a man who finds a heap of gold by the wayside, and devotes the whole of it to the founding of asylums for orphans and old people, and other works of charity, is rebuked by an angel of the Lord for having even touched the accursed thing. In still another, a poor peasant, who has with difficulty scraped together enough money to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the salvation of his soul, spends nearly the whole of it in restoring a starving family to prosperity, and is obliged to return home. Yet he or his wraith is seen at the Holy Sepulchre by his friend and traveling-companion, as a heavenly reward for the good accomplished with the gold, that lure of the Evil One. The giving of money in alms is directly commended in other tales. The author's opinions on this question, elsewhere expressed, show that he entertains strong doubts as to whether money is not an unmixed evil, and the old-fashioned system of barter the only true solution of the difficulty. These stories, as printed in this volume, do not correspond, in all respects, with the versions furnished the people in the separate penny copies, but it can hardly be a question of the censor, in this case.
The fragment entitled In What Happiness Consists represents all of the work popularly known as My Religion which is allowed in a printed form, in Russia. It corresponds with a portion of chapter x., beginning with the sentence "Christ preaches the truth." (My Religion, Crowell, page 179; What I believe, Gottsberger, page 171.) Throughout, the "doctrine of the church" - where the phrase is permitted at all, - is replaced by the words, "the teaching of the world." The references to asceticism, voluntary torture in this life, and the scriptural quotation on which monasticism is founded are expunged. The remark that the circle of friends which emperors and kings have is very restricted also strikes the censor as objectionable. The outspoken passage on pages 191, 182 (respectively, as above), beginning with the comments on the servant in a bath-house, including observations on cabinet ministers perpetually engaged in signing documents of no importance, and men following a gaudy uniform to the wars, like a herd of cattle, and so on, is the next omission. The wickedness of oaths to authorities and the results of a refusal to perform military service follow, as well as the phrase about torture in Sevastopol and Plevna. (What I Believe, page 184.) The quotation and reference to poverty as one of the indispensable conditions of following Christ's doctrine is also omitted, possibly out of consideration for the feelings of wealthy ecclesiastics. The passage concerning the millions of men in Russia who do not practice the doctrine of Christ, and yet do not starve, the miracle of the loaves and fishes (pages 203-207; 191-194, as above), and one or two lesser omissions complete the list of the censor's cancellations. The cuts are significant and leave very little of even that one chapter to stand as the authorized version.
The Death of Ivan Ilitch is the most important thing, in the line of strictly literary work, which Count Tolstoi has written since Anna Karenina, and consists mainly of a subtle psychological study of the cultivated man in general, during the hopeless illness preceding his death. There is enough ordinary description connected with this to admit us into the circumstances of Ivan Ilitch's life, before and during his illness, and the unfeeling conduct of his family, which leaves him dependent for sympathy, in his sufferings, on the cheerful, simple-minded peasant who waits upon him. It is through the unconscious influence of this peasant that Ivan Ilitch is at last brought into a state of mind where he no longer fears death, but dies with the calm composure of the muzhik. As is natural, this portion of the narrative outweighs the rest in the reader's interest, but there is some equally fine analytical work in the opening chapter, where Petr Ivanovitch, Ivan Ilitch's old friend, calls upon the widow.
The most important article in this volume, however, is that devoted to the Census of Moscow. In general character, it is a continuation of My Religion, many of the same subjects being considered in the light of his personal experience as one of the census-takers in one of the poorest quarters of the city, to which he had been appointed at his own request. It was not to be expected that such a social study would be allowed to pass the censor unmutilated. The omissions are numerous and noteworthy. A hint of this state of things is sometimes conveyed by a line of dots, but in other cases no indication whatever is vouchsafed. Copies of the article, printed abroad, and under a different title, supply the suppressed passages, which are generally the most interesting of all. Count Tolstoi's idea of a census is to combine works of mercy with the technical labor: if a starving woman should come under the notice of one of the agents, she should be attended to, even if the census proper should go to destruction in consequence, the succor of the suffering being the most important task of our lives. In short, the census should be simply a means to that end.
In 1882, Count Tolstoi went to live in Moscow, where he was speedily struck with the numerous beggars, by whom he was cheated, in accordance with methods universally prevalent, when he offered them work, or gave them money for specific objects. He found that old inhabitants of the city spoke with considerable satisfaction and pride of the 50,000 beggars, just as people in London had boasted to him of the poverty of London. Prompted by a desire to inspect this wretchedness in person, he finally went to a certain square, which was a sort of headquarters for an army of beggars, after having made several attempts and beaten a retreat, overcome by his feelings. Thence he followed the crowd to the Lyapinsky free lodging-house for the night. While waiting with the throng for the doors to open, at five p.m., he conversed with various poor people, treated them to hot sbiten (poor man's tea, made of water, honey, and laurel or salvia leaves), and gave them all the money he had about him, amounting to twenty rubles. He was conducted over the house, as soon as it was opened, by some of his new friends, and got his first sight of the double row of bunks and their wretched occupants, as the latter prayed, cursed, and jested. The passage which follows is omitted from the version authorized by the censor. It describes his sensations of personal guilt, on returning to his own house, with its carpeted stairs and anterooms, where, after removing his fur cloak, he sat down to a dinner of five courses, served by two lackeys, in dress-coats, white ties, and white gloves. He also describes and execution which ha had witnessed thirty years before, in Paris, and announces his conviction that he was guilty of murder, because he bestowed his tacit approval on it by being present without offering a remonstrance. He compares his sensations on that occasion to those experienced on the present one, when he might have given, not only the small change in his pocket, but the coat from his back and the entire contents of his house, and declares that he shall always hold himself to be an accomplice in crime so long as he possesses two garments, while there is any one who has none at all. In the evening he discussed the question with a friend, and unconsciously shouted at the latter, as he says, with tears in his voice, "I can't live so; it is impossible to live so, - impossible!" until his wife rushed in from an adjoining room to inquire the cause of his excitement. He was then made to feel ashamed of his heat in argument, was told that he never could talk quietly, that he became unpleasantly excited, and it was proved to him that the existence of such unfortunate wretches could not possibly afford him any excuse for embittering the lives of those about him. "I felt that this was perfectly just," he adds, "and held my tongue; but at the bottom of my heart I knew that I was right, and I could not calm myself."
The luxury of his city life became intolerable to him, but his friends assured him that it was only because he was very good and tender-hearted, which he gladly believed. He then set about devising a plan of philanthropic activity, which would exhibit all his benevolence, although secretly persuaded that this was not what he wanted. This plan was the one above referred to in connection with the census, after exercising the exhaustive benevolence of which, the rich would be able to enjoy their luxuries without any compunction. All the friends to whom he wrote or spoke about banishing poverty from Moscow treated him with consideration, but appeared sorry to hear him utter nonsense which they could not qualify as such to his face. They allowed him to put down their names for various sums, but not one of them gave him ready money, as they would have done for a box at the theatre to see Sarah Bernhardt. At one elegant house, he found a large circle of ladies engaged in dressing dolls, which were to be raffled for the benefit of the poor, but lack of means prevented their giving him anything. He returned home with a mortified sense of having been engaged in something very shameful, but shame itself forbade the relinquishment of the scheme. He wrote his article on the census, containing an outline of his plan (it is given in this twelfth volume), and then read it to the city council, "blushing almost to tears" with embarrassment as he did so. No official action was taken; they all seemed to regret his folly; so did the students appointed to take the census; so did his wife, his son, and various other persons. He was still conscious that he was not on the right track, but his article was printed, and he entered on the duties connected with the census. He was assigned to a quarter of the city in which was situated a stronghold of the direst poverty, popularly known under the name of the "Rzhanoff house," or the "fortress." On the appointed day, the students who were to assist him made their appearance at that house early in the morning, but, as he did not rise until ten o'clock, and had to drink his coffee and smoke for his digestion, he, the benefactor, did not reach the fortress until twelve o'clock. His description of the sights which he witnessed there is graphic and terrible, as was to be expected; but at the end, he was ashamed to confess that he felt rather disappointed to discover that these people were not in the least peculiar, but exactly like his ordinary associates. He had gone there with the idea that he should find people in need of immediate assistance, and he saw petty artisans of various sorts, all cheerful and busily working. Where help was required, it had already been given by the poor people themselves. What these people needed, like people in the higher ranks, was to have their false views of life corrected. A comparison between the miserable women whom he found in this house and ladies of the higher classes has been suppressed by the censor. Among the children, he was particularly struck with a lad of twelve, named Serozha. He took Serozha to his own house, and installed him in the kitchen, being unwilling to introduce to his own children a boy fresh from the haunts of vice. Having thus, as he expresses it, shifted the feeding of the boy upon the cook, and presented him with some old clothes, he felt himself to be extremely good and benevolent. The child remained there one week, in the course of which Tolstoi addressed a few words to him on two occasions, and spoke to a shoemaker about taking the lad as an apprentice, as the latter had refused an offer to go to the country. At the end of the week, the boy ran away, and hired out for thirty kopeks a day, as one of a band of savages in costume, who led an elephant in a procession, and he appeared utterly ungrateful for Tolstoi's kindness. Thereupon the latter blames himself for having brought the boy into demoralizing contact with his own children, thereby imbuing him with the notion that enjoyment without labor was permissible to him also, since he saw the little Tolstois soiling and spoiling everything about them, breaking the dishes, eating dainties, and flinging to their dogs food which would have seemed a delicacy to this beggar lad. His criticism of his own course is very frank. His experience of giving assistance with money was a bitter disappointment; genteel beggars were voracious in their demands, and the really poor lied and deceived him, until his faith in his scheme was destroyed. Not one of the people who had offered their help or had promised money (he had reckoned their subscriptions at 3000 rubles) ever gave him a single kopek; but the students who were under his charge contributed what they received for their work on the census, - about twelve rubles. To this was added twenty-five rubles, sent to him by the city authorities, in compensation for his own work. "And I positively did not know," he adds, "to whom to give them." Before he went to the country for the summer, he made a special trip to the Rzhanoff fortress, for the purpose of "getting rid of those thirty-seven rubles." He found one poor old man to whom he gave five rubles. He gave the rest to a trustworthy man, for distribution in the neighborhood, as he could find no proper subjects for charity himself, and as those who begged of him were too well known to him, and in a roistering carnival state. Thus ended his scheme of benevolence, and he went off to the country, irritated with others because he had done a stupid and unprofitable deed. But though his experimental philanthropy was at an end, the thoughts evoked by it and the sentiments with which it had inspired him did not cease, and the inward conflict proceeded with redoubled vigor.
In the country, he says, he had done very little for the poor, but the demands upon him were so moderate that this little created an atmosphere of love and union with the people, which enabled him to believe what he had always heard, namely, that wealth is the gift of God, and that one can help the poor while continuing a life of luxury. A short personal investigation of city poverty convinced him that these wretched working classes could not be helped, because the very fact of their toil attached them to life more closely than he was himself attached, and because their chief misfortune lay in their being exactly the same as himself. For a long time, a false shame, and a liking for the self-satisfaction of feeling himself to be a benefactor, prevented his abandoning his attempts to render material aid. His mistake, which it took him three years longer to discover, lay in thinking that in order to live a good life it was necessary to amend the lives of others, not his own. The result of his reflections has been suppressed by the censor. It is, that the first cause of peculiar poverty of the city, which he was unable to alleviate, lies in the fact that he deprives the country people of their necessaries, and carries them off to town with him. The second cause is, that he employs the goods which he has collected in the village in senseless luxury, thereby demoralizing those country people who follow him thither, in the hope of in some way recovering a portion of their property. One day, as he was talking to his sympathizing sister, and to a peasant named Siutaeff, the latter gave him the first real gleam of light on the subject of true charity, and as to the reason why Tolstoi had been unsuccessful with his gifts of money. "True charity," said Siutaeff, "consists in teaching the poor. Take your proportion of the poor, work beside them in the fields, and they will learn; eat at the same table with them, and let them hear your words." At this point the censor intervenes, and cuts out over a thousand words containing reflections on this theme. Every effort in the life of the wealthy, says Tolstoi, from their food, clothing, and dwellings, down to their cleanliness and their culture, is directed towards keeping the poor at a distance, and nine tenths of their money is spent in attaining this object alone. His socialistic utterances upon this subject are delightfully unconventional, but those on cleanliness, which is regarded as a moral virtue, though in reality only valued as a mark of class distinction, are of the most radical sort. "White hands love other people's work," is the proverb which he takes for his motto. The popular idea of the grades among the upper classes is thus defined: Culture signifies fashionable clothing, political conversation, and clean hands. In the circle next above, a knowledge of French, the ability to play the piano and to write a letter in Russian free from orthographical errors, and a "still greater degree of outward cleanliness" are the requisites. The next step in the social scale brings a knowledge of English, a diploma from one of the higher institutes of learning, and still greater personal cleanliness. "I am convinced," he says, "that between the poor and the rich there rises this wall of cleanliness and culture, and that in order to assist the poor we must break down this wall, first of all, adopt the plan of Siutaeff, and receive the poor among ourselves."
Another of Count Tolstoi's experiences puzzled him not a little. If he gave a beggar a few kopeks, when requested, without stopping to speak to him, the beggar looked grateful, and the Count was conscious of an agreeable sense of benevolence himself. But if he conversed with the man he felt obliged to give more, and the more he gave the more displeased the beggar appeared. The gift of ten rubles caused the beggar to look as though he had been insulted, and to walk off without saying so much as "Thank you," leaving Tolstoi feeling conscience-stricken and guilty. He concludes that this is the result of deliberately abandoning the rôle of a good-natured passer-by, and assuming that of a kind-hearted man. The solution of this puzzle was furnished him by a little scene at his country place, which the censor has seen fit to omit. He wanted twenty kopeks to give to a tramp, and sent his son to the house to borrow it of some one. It was lent by the cook. Shortly afterwards Tolstoi wanted another twenty kopeks for a tramp, and went to the kitchen to see if the cook cold change a ruble for him. The cook called to his wife to take the money, and she, supposing that it was a gift, kissed Tolstoi's hand, whereupon the latter fled from the kitchen, groaning with shame, and did not undeceive her. The conclusion which he comes to is, that if any man asks three kopeks, or twenty, or even several rubles, one must give them, if one has them, this being merely a "matter of politeness, and not charity," with which view the censor, evidently, does not agree.
When Tolstoi first went to Moscow to live, he took up the habit of going to the Sparrow Hills to saw wood with a couple of peasants, for the sake of the exercise. One night he walked into town with them, and gave twenty kopeks to an old man who begged of them, thinking what a good impression such charity would make on Semyon, one of the peasants. Semyon pulled out his purse, gave the man a three-kopek piece, and asked for two kopeks in change. The man had but one, and after a momentary hesitation Semyon took off his cap, crossed himself, and went on, leaving the man the money. This set Tolstoi to thinking. Semyon had a wife and two children, and no reserve fund; Tolstoy had about 600,000 rubles saved up. In order to proportion his alms to Semyon's, Tolstoy reckoned that he should have given 3000 rubles, have asked 2000 in change, and then, leaving it all, have crossed himself, and proceeded quietly with his conversation. His deductions do not meet with the favor of the censor, who has cut out some reflections on the source of Tolstoi's fortune. "A part," says the author, "I inherited from my father. The peasant sold his last sheep to furnish me with it. Another part has come from the sale of my books. If my books are injurious, then I only lead people astray with them by selling them, and the money which I receive for them is ill-gained; but if they are helpful to people, my case is even worse. I do not give them to people, but I say, 'Give me seventeen rubles, and then I will give them to you.' And as the peasant sells his last sheep in the country, so here the poor student, the teacher, every poor man, deprives himself of necessaries in order to give me this money. And then I take this money to the city, and only give it to poor men when they comply with my shims, and come to town to clean my sidewalks, my lamps, my boots, and to toil in factories for my benefit. And I get as much as I can out of them, and give them as little as possible. I have erred so far that I have regarded this grasping of thousands with one hand, and this squandering of kopeks with the other, on any one who might strike my fancy, as good. It is no wonder that I was ashamed of myself." Very little of the following chapter meets with the approval of the censor. It contains comparisons of the ways of the rich - the Demidoffs and other families being mentioned by name, the bankers, merchants, and the land-owners, to which latter class the writer himself belongs - with those of the poor. "I go to help the poor," he says. "Who is poorer than I? No one. … I am a weak, good-for-nothing parasite, who can exist only under special conditions; who can exist only when thousands of people toil for the support of this life, which is useful to no one. … I know how to do nothing but eat, and talk, and listen, and write, and sleep. … The only wonder is that I should ever have had so stupid a thought as helping people who are good for something," is his conclusion. "I have never done anything in my life. I do nothing, and never shall do anything except cut off coupons, and yet I firmly believe that money represents labor. This is amazing! Talk of lunatics after that!" he exclaims at the conclusion of an earnest argument that money is only a new form of slavery. The root of all slavery is the use of the labor of others; and having once perceived the "immorality" of his position, Count Tolstoi resolved to use no more of his money to compel slavery, to do everything for himself, or to do without it. "This simple and inevitable deduction enters into all the details of my life," he says. "It alters it completely, at once frees me from those moral sufferings which I experienced at the sight of the sufferings and vice of men, and instantly annihilates all those causes of my inability to help the poor which I discovered while seeking the reason of my failure." These causes are, the herding together of the poor in towns, the isolation of the rich from the poor, and the shame consequent on the consciousness of being wrongfully in possession of the money with which he tried to assist the poor; money, being in itself an evil thing, cannot be used as an instrument of good. The sum of the matter is contained in the words of John the Baptist: "Let him that hath two garments give to him that hath none, and let him that hath food do likewise." As Tolstoi puts it, it means "to give away everything superfluous, and never more take what is superfluous from men. … For him who is sincerely pained by the sufferings of those about him, there is the easiest, simplest, and most evident remedy, the only possible one for the alleviation of the evil which environs us, and for conferring on us a consciousness of the legitimacy of our life, the same which John the Baptist gave and which Christ confirmed, - to have but one garment and no money. Having no money signifies making no use of the labors of others, and therefore doing with our own hands all that it is possible for us to do."
The next thing to which the censor takes exception is the description of a ball in fashionable society (in which Tolstoi expresses himself in the plainest language, with regard to the dresses and conduct of both men and women), which is introduced as a companion picture to a sketch of the factory girls who work in the vicinity of his Moscow house.
Tolstoi's argument on behalf of wearing one shirt a week, instead of paying a laundress to provide him with two clean ones each day, and of making his own cigarettes, is, that the money thus saved can be given to the laundress for less work, or to some superannuated working people. To this he suggests the retort, that "if one goes in dirty linen, and does not smoke, but gives the money to the poor, the latter will be deprived of the money all the same, and an individual drop in the sea will do not good." It is a shame to reply to such a commonplace objection, he says, yet he does make a reply, to the effect that he would not eat savory cutlets made from a prisoner, among cannibals, even if his refusal did the prisoner no good; but the censor disapproved of this, possibly the author himself thought better of it, for it is replaced in his collected works with an Indian fable about dipping the sea dry with a bucket, to find a lost pearl, which the spirit of the sea restored in affright on the seventh day. In a brief section he sketches life in the country, and shows the selfish proprietors during their short summer residence, and the hardships of the peasants. This is followed by a lengthy consideration of the merits of science and art. His chief objection to these latter lies in the fact that they are the outcome of the division of labor, and cannot exist on any other conditions than those of rendering many people slaves, for the production of the necessaries of life for those engaged in them. "Science has now become a distributor of premiums on idleness. … With frightful struggles and conflicts men have freed themselves from many delusions. And now a new and still worse delusion has sprung up in their path, - the delusion of science. … The theory of evolution, to speak in ordinary language, merely asserts that by accident, in an endlessly long space of time, out of anything you please any other thing you please may issue." He denies that art and science have given a great deal to mankind, as is usually affirmed. Hey have not devoted themselves to the interests of the people, and those who exercise them simply live on the necks of the laboring classes. "We have become so accustomed," he says, "to our weakly and tenderly cared for representatives of mental labor that it seems barbarous to us that a learned man or an artist should till the soil or cart manure. It seems to us that all his wisdom will be ruined and shaken out of him on the cart, and that the grand artistic conceptions which he bears about in his bosom will get soiled in the manure." He thinks that art and science should not be exempted from serving themselves and others, simply because they are such very beautiful things.
Tolstoi admits that telegraph, telephone, spectroscope, chloroform, and many other inventions and discoveries are wonderful, but he maintains that the condition of the majority - of the working people that is - has been rendered worse by them, since the railways, factories, and so on have only served to make poor men the slaves of capitalists. According to his views, the province of science is to teach the poor man what axe is the best to cut with, what is the swiftest saw, the best way to mix bread and the proper flour to use, how to set and bake it, and how to build an oven, also the right sort of food and the best utensils. He complains that instead of doing this, science has enumerated two million beetles. He frequently returns to this complaint. Not a single plant has been added to the list of foods since the days of ancient Egypt, when wheat and lentil were already known, except the potato, which was not the contribution of science. He goes into this question with a good deal of detail, pointing the moral at doctors, artists, teachers, musicians, and so forth, in turn. The poet and author should for example, throw aside their poems and romances, and write songs, histories, and tales which the people can understand; and Tolstoi considers the so-called division of labor, which has formed in our days the indispensable condition of activity on the part of artists and scientists, to be the chief reason for the slow progress of mankind. Science, in the true meaning of the term, he says, has existed as long as man himself has existed, and consists in the knowledge of those things which it most imports men to know. Such was the science of Confucius, Buddha, Socrates, Mahomet, and others, - a science which is within the comprehension of every one. This has degenerated, and art also, which has descended from its true sphere of activity in the church; so that those who exercise chorographic, culinary, cosmetic, and wig-making arts are now as much entitled to the name of artists as poets, painters, and musicians.
Tolstoi declares that if he in any way differs from the average man, on this question of the misapplication of art and science, it is because he, more than the average man, has served and forwarded this false conception of science which is held by the world, has received more applause from the people who belong to the reigning scientific circle, and has therefore sinned more than others and wandered further from the true path. For this reason, he thinks that the solution of the question which he has found for himself will fit the case of all sincere people, who have put the same question to themselves, namely, "What is to be done?" First of all, he has resolved not to lie, either to others or to himself, not to fear the truth, no matter whither it may lead him; since he firmly believes that in whatever position truth and conscience may land him, however terrible it may be, it cannot be worse than one that is founded on a lie. He has been rewarded for his boldness in doing this; all the incoherent, complicated, senseless phenomena of life have grown clear to him, and his own attitude among these conditions, formerly strange and oppressive, has become natural and easy. Too high an opinion of himself and his position led him to the second answer to the question, "What is to be done?" Thorough repentance, a just estimate of himself, a confession that he is ignorant and unlearned instead of cultured, harsh and immoral instead of kind and moral, lowly, instead of exalted, are what is required. "How am I, so fine a writer, a man who has acquired so much learning and talents, to use them for the benefit of the people?" is the erroneous form in which he put the question to himself. It should have run: "How am I, who have wasted the best years of my life in useless occupations which are ruinous to the soul" (this includes the French language, playing on the piano, grammar, geography, verses, novels, romances, and so forth), "to repay the people who fed and clothed me during all that time, and who still feed and clothe me?" The answer to this is: "I must learn not to live on others, and, having learned this, I must devote to the service of the people hands, and feet, and heart, and brain, and everything that the people may require; for the first and indubitable duty of man is to share in the struggle with nature, for his life and the lives of others." Count Tolstoi regards it as his and every man's first duty to provide his own food, clothing, fuel, and shelter, and thus help others; and departure from this law entails the inevitable penalty of the annihilation of the bodily or mental life of man. "At first," he says, "I thought that in order to carry out this plan some establishment was necessary, some institution, a company of men entertaining the same ideas, the consent of my family, life in the country; then I felt rather ashamed to show myself thus before people, to undertake a thing so unusual in our society as manual labor, and I did not know how to set about it." This false shame was expelled, however, by the real shame which he felt at not undertaking it, and he came to the conclusion that the strangeness would last only a week (in which calculation he appears to have been mistaken), and that no society or institution was required. He had also thought that this manual labor would absorb all his time, and deprive him of all possibility of pursuing intellectual occupations, "which I love," he says, "and which, in moments of self-sufficiency I have thought not unprofitable to my fellow-men." He found, however, that when he had given up the eight hours, during which he had formerly battled with ennui, to physical toil, he still had the five hours necessary for mental exertion; and he enters on a curious computation which proves that, if he had pursued the same plan, reading and studying during those five hours every day, and writing only a couple of pages on holidays, he would have accomplished as much in fourteen years as he has actually accomplished in forty. Physical exertion spurs up his mental faculties, and the nearer it approaches rude agriculture, the closer and more affectionate is his communion with men, his enjoyment of art and learning, and the true happiness of life. The writer also finds that many of his former requirements, in the way of dainty food, bed, clothing, "conventional cleanliness," all of which interfere with work, have disappeared without any effort on his part, and that he prefers the simplest food: cabbage soup, groats, black bread, and tea v prikusky (that is, tea which is not sweetened, but accompanied by bites at a lump of sugar). Thus, he sees that "the most costly needs of his life, vanity and relief from ennui," have vanished, and that his health is improved, in spite of his age. He decides that our arts and sciences and improvements of the pleasures of life are mere attempts to deceive the moral demands of man, and he refers to a peasant of his district who lost his wits through beholding the luxury of official life, and who now declares that he "lives to pass the time." Tolstoi declares that he gazes on this crazy muzhik as in a mirror. He has, accordingly, divided his days into four portions. The first is to be occupied with some heavy labor, of a nature to produce perspiration; the second, with labor of hands and wrists, some sort of artisan toil; the third, with exercise of the mind and imagination; and the fourth, in communion with others, since no one has a right to devote himself to a specialty, unless he feels within himself an irresistible impulse, and a demand is made by others, when he is justified in making this sacrifice to his breathren.
Count Tolstoi's hope is that if a number of his "caste" engage in a similar life, young people will be induced to follow their example. He argues that as it is now the fashion to do many things for one's self which no gentleman thought of doing when he was a boy, so it is a mere question of fashion when gentlemen will feed their own cows and hens, dig, plant potatoes, clean their boots, and wash their shirts; and he defines property as that which cannot be taken from a man, - in other words, his own person alone. It is worth noting that he permits the use of scientific improvements, and his perfect man will use a steam plough, if obtainable, or will scratch the soil with a hoe, if nothing better be within his reach; and people, perceiving his efforts, will strive to render his work as profitable as possible. Others, observing a handful of "lunatics tilling the soil and making shoes, instead of smoking cigarettes and playing cards," will comprehend what it behooves them to do, will cease to ruin each other, and will find happiness. He predicts that before long people of his class will consider it not disgraceful to make calls in boots made with the outside of the leather in, but disgraceful to wear overshoes in the presence of people who have no shoes at all; that it is not disgraceful to be ignorant of French, but disgraceful to eat bread, and not to know how it is made; that it is not disgraceful not to have starched shirts and clean clothes, but disgraceful to about in clean clothes, thereby demonstrating one's idleness; that it is not disgraceful to have dirty hands, but disgraceful not to have callouses on the hands. And all this will come about when public opinion demands it, like the emancipation of serfs and the destruction of other errors which concealed the truth. This section of the book closes with the author's views on the duties of women, which are expressed in the plainest of language. Their duty is to their family solely, and he concludes, "Yes, ye mothers, in your hands, more than in those of all others, rests the salvation of the world." There is much more that is worth quoting, in this volume, since it is pervaded with the strong personality of the great author, who has endeared himself to thousands of hearts outside of his own country, in spite of the disadvantages under which they have learned to know him, and who is revered by other thousands at home; but nothing less than a full translation would convey a complete idea of its contents, especially of the striking Moscow article.
|This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.
The author died in 1928, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.