Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 36.djvu/424

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410
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
EDITOR'S TABLE.


TOLSTOI'S "CONFESSION."

AMONG the numerous writings from the pen of Count Tolstoi which have of late been made accessible to the English reader is one entitled "My Confession." In this work the author tells us that, having in his youth led the life of a pleasure-loving man of the world, and in his maturer years of a literary man in considerable repute, he woke up in middle life, when all his outward circumstances were highly prosperous, to find that life to him seemed to possess no meaning and no value. He could find no answer to the Carlylean questions "Whence?" and "Whither?" and so distressed was he thereat that for a long time he was haunted by the thought of suicide. He had recourse to science, and could get no light; to philosophy, and could reap no consolation. It seemed to him as if some tyrant had called him into existence simply to make a mock of him, by hiding from his eyes the answer to life's riddle — by implanting in him an instinctive love of life, and yet depriving him of the knowledge which alone would supply a rational motive for living.

The nature of Tolstoi's trouble is fully explained in his book. His youth had been one of passion and riot, unguided by any principle save the loose code of honor prevalent in military circles. As an author he had encountered men with whom literature was a means for the gratification of vanity and nothing more, whose aims were sordid, whose ideas were conventional, and whose lives were actually worse than those of the wild companions of his youth. Yet these men set themselves up for guides of society and final arbiters in all questions of taste and morals. Tolstoi himself had caught their tone, and for a time imagined that, because he enjoyed popularity as a writer, he must necessarily be a very superior person. According to the ideas prevalent among his literary friends, the world existed for hardly any other purpose than to provide them with the opportunity for airing their superiority. It is not surprising that a man of Tolstoi's sensibility should eventually have been led to see the falsity of this whole view of life; the only wonder is that he did not revolt against it sooner than he did. The thoughts that came to him toward middle life have come to some others much earlier. The poet Clough was only twenty-two when he wrote:

"How often sit I poring o'er
 My strange distorted youth,
Seeking in vain, in all my store,
 One feeling based on truth;
Amid the maze of petty life
 A clew whereby to move,
A spot whereon in toil and strife
 To dare to rest and love!"

The life of Tolstoi had been essentially based upon privilege. He had lived above the mass of mankind, and had imbibed the narrow ideas of an exclusive set. He had not taken humanity into his thoughts, except for purposes of literary treatment; and, therefore, when a period of calm reflection came, though his intellectual pride took flight, and his false ideas stood confessed in their falsity, what to do he knew not. It seemed to him that he had to construct a new philosophy of life, and in the search for a solid basis for such a philosophy he endured the distress which he has so vividly described. He attacked the problem, however, from the wrong side, asking questions which only metaphysicians or theologians have ever attempted to answer, and which have never been answered in any satis-