Prophets of Dissent: Essays on Maeterlinck, Strindberg, Nietzsche and Tolstoy/IV.
THE REVIVALISM OF LEO TOLSTOY
In the intellectual record of our times it is one of the oddest events that the most impressive preacher who has taken the ear of civilized mankind in this generation raised up his voice in a region which in respect of its political, religious, and economic status was until recently, by fairly common consent, ruled off the map of Europe. The greatest humanitarian of his century sprang up in a land chiefly characterized in the general judgment of the outside world by the reactionism of its government and the stolid ignorance of its populace. A country still teeming with analphabeticians and proverbial for its dense medievalism gave to the world a writer who by the great quality of his art and the lofty spiritualism of his teaching was able not only to obtain a wide hearing throughout all civilized countries, but to become a distinct factor in the moral evolution of the age. The stupefying events that have recently revolutionized the Russian state have given the world an inkling of the secrets of the Slavic type of temperament, so mystifying in its commixture of simplicity and strength on the one hand with grossness and stupidity, and on the other hand with the highest spirituality and idealism. For such people as in these infuriated times still keep up some objective and judicious interest in products of the literary art, the volcanic upheaval in the social life of Russia has probably thrown some of Tolstoy's less palpable figures into a greater plastic relief. Tolstoy's own character, too, has become more tangible in its curious composition. The close analogy between his personal theories and the dominant impulses of his race has now been made patent. We are better able to understand the people of whom he wrote because we have come to know better the people for whom he wrote.
The emphasis of Tolstoy's popular appeal was unquestionably enhanced by certain eccentricities of his doctrine, and still more by his picturesque efforts to conform his mode of life, by way of necessary example, to his professed theory of social elevation. The personality of Tolstoy, like the character of the Russian people, is many-sided, and since Its aspects are not marked off by convenient lines of division, but are, rather, commingled in the great and varied mass of his literary achievements, it is not easy to make a definitive forecast of his historic position. Tentatively, however, the current critical estimate may be summed up in this: as a creative writer, in particular of novels and short stories, he stood matchless among the realists, and the verdict pronounced at one time by William Dean Howells when he referred to Tolstoy as "the only living writer of perfect fiction" is not likely to be overruled by posterity. Nor will competent judges gainsay his supreme importance as a critic and moral revivalist of society, even though they may be seriously disposed to question whether his principles of conduct constitute in their aggregate a canon of much practical worth for the needs of the western world. As a philosopher or an original thinker, however, he will hardly maintain the place accorded him by the less discerning among his multitudinous followers, for in his persistent attempt to find a new way of understanding life he must be said to have signally failed. Wisdom in him was hampered by Utopian fancies; his dogmas derive from idiosyncrasies and lead into absurdities. Then, too, most of his tenets are easily traced to their sources: in his vagaries as well as in his noblest and soundest aspirations he was merely continuing work which others had prepared.
An objective survey of Tolstoy's work in realistic fiction, in which he ranked supreme should start with the admission that he was by no means the first arrival among the Russans in that field. Nicholas Gogol, Fedor Dostoievsky, and Ivan Turgenieff had the priority by a small margin. Of these three powerful novelists, Dostoievsky (1821-1881) has probably had an even stronger influence upon modern letters than has Tolstoy himself. He was one of the earliest writers of romance to show the younger generation how to found fiction upon deeper psychologic knowledge. His greatest proficiency lay, as is apt to be the case with writers of a realistic bent, in dealing with the darkest side of life. The wretched and outcast portion of humanity yielded to his skill its most congenial material. His novels — "Poor Folk," (1846), "Memoirs from a Dead House," (1862), "Raskolnikoff," (1866), "The Idiot," (1868), "The Karamasoffs," (1879) — take the reader into company such as had heretofore not gained open entrance to polite literature: criminals, defectives, paupers, and prostitutes. Yet he did not dwell upon the wretchedness of that submerged section of humanity from any perverse delight in what is hideous or for the satisfaction of readers afflicted with morbid curiosity, but from a compelling sense of pity and brotherly love. His works are an appeal to charity. In them, the imperdible grace of the soul shines through the ugliest outward disguise to win a glance from the habitual indifference of fortune's enfants gâtés. Dostoievsky preceded Tolstoy in frankly enlisting his talents in the service of his outcast brethren. With the same ideal of the writer's mission held in steady view, Tolstoy turned his attention from the start, and then more and more as his work advanced, to the pitiable condition of the lower orders of society. It must not be forgotten in this connection that his career was synchronous with the growth of a social revolution which, having reached its full force in these days, is making Russia over for better or for worse, and whose wellsprings Tolstoy helps us to fathom.
For the general grouping of his writings it is convenient to follow. Tolstoy's own division of his life. Hia dreamy poetical childhood was succeeded by three clearly distinct stages: first, a score of years filled up with self-indulgent worldliness; next, a nearly equal length of time devoted to artistic ambition, earnest meditation, and helpful social work; last, by a more gradual transition, the ascetic period, covering a long stretch of years given up to religious illumination and to the strenuous advocacy of the Simple Life.
The remarkable spiritual evolution of this great man was apparently governed far more by inborn tendencies than by the workings of experience. Of Tolstoy in his childhood, youth, middle age, and senescence we gain trustworthy impressions from numerous autobiographical documents, but here we shall have to forego anything more than a passing reference to the essential facts of his career. He was descended from an aristocratic family of German stock but domiciled in Russia since the fourteenth century. The year of his birth was 1828, the same as Ibsen's. In youth he was bashful, eccentric, and amazingly ill-favored. The last-named of these handicaps he outgrew but late in life, still later did he get over his bashfulness, and his eccentricity never left him. His penchant for the infraction of custom nearly put a premature stop to his career when in his urchin days he once threw himself from a window in an improvised experiment in aerial navigation. At the age of fourteen he was much taken up with subtile speculations about the most ancient and vexing of human problems: the future life, and the immortality of the soul. Entering the university at fifteen, he devoted himself in the beginning to the study of oriental languages, but later on his interest shifted to the law. At sixteen he was already imbued with the doctrines of Jean Jacques Rousseau that were to play such an important role in guiding his conduct. In 1846 he passed out of the university without a degree, carrying away nothing but a lasting regret over his wasted time. He went directly to his ancestral estates, with the idealistic intention to make the most of the opportunity afforded him by the patriarchal relationship that existed in Russia between the landholder and the adscripti glebae and to improve the condition of his seven hundred dependents. His efforts, however, were foredoomed to failure, partly through his lack of experience, partly also through a certain want of sincerity or tenacity of purpose. The experiment in social education having abruptly come to its end, the disillusionized reformer threw himself headlong into the diversions and dissipations of the capital city. In his "Confession" he refers to that chapter of his existence as made up wholly of sensuality and worldliness. He was inordinately proud of his noble birth, — at college his inchoate apostleship of the universal brotherhood of man did not shield him from a general dislike on account of his arrogance, — and he cultivated the most exclusive social circles of Moscow. He freely indulged the love of sports that was to cling through life and keep him strong and supple even in very old age. (Up to a short time before his death he still rode horseback and perhaps none of the renunciations exacted by his principles came so hard as that of giving up his favorite pastime of hunting.) But he also fell into the evil ways of gilded youth, soon achieving notoriety as a toper, gambler, and courreur des femmes. After a while his brother, who was a person of steadier habits and who had great influence over him, persuaded him to quit his profligate mode of living and to join him at his military post. Under the bracing effect of the change, the young man's moral energies quickly revived. In the wilds of the Caucasus he at once grew freer and cleaner; his deep affection for the half-civilized land endeared him both to the Cossack natives and the Russian soldiers. He entered the army at twenty-three, and from November, 1853, up to the fall of Sebastopol in the summer of 1855, served in the Crimean campaign. He entered the famous fortress in November, 1854, and was among the last of its defenders. The indelible impressions made upon his mind by the heroism of his comrades, the awful scenes and the appalling suffering he had to witness, were responsible then and later for descriptions as harrowing and as stirring as any that the war literature of our own day has produced.
In the Crimea he made his debut as a writer. Among the tales of his martial period the most popular and perhaps the most excellent Is the one called "The Cossacks." Turgenieff pronounced it the best short story ever written in Russian, and it is surely no undue exaggeration to say of Tolstoy's novelettes in general that in point of technical mastery they are unsurpassed.
Sick at heart over the unending bloodshed in the Caucasus the young officer made his way back to Petrograd, and here, lionized in the salons doubly, for his feats at arms and in letters, he seems to have returned, within more temperate limits, to his former style of living. At any rate, in his own judgment the ensuing three years were utterly wasted. The mental inanity and moral corruption all about him swelled his sense of superiority and self-righteousness. The glaring humbug and hypocrisy that permeated his social environment was, however, more than he could long endure.
Having resigned his officer's commission he went abroad in 1857, to Switzerland, Germany, and France. The studies and observations made in these travels sealed his resolution to settle down for good on his domain and to consecrate his life to the welfare of his peasants. But a survey of the situation found upon his return made him real- ize that nothing could be done for the "muzhik" without systematic education: therefore, in order to prepare himself for efficacious work as a teacher, he spent some further time abroad for special study, in 1859. After that, the educational labor was taken up in full earnest. The lord of the land became the schoolmaster of his subjects, reenforcing the effect of viva voce teaching by means of a periodical published expressly for their moral uplift. This work he continued for about three years, his hopes of success now rising, now falling, when in a fit of despondency he again abandoned his philanthropic efforts. About this time, 1862, he married Sophia Andreyevna Behrs, the daughter of a Moscow physician. With characteristic honesty he forced his private diary on his fiancee, who was only eighteen, so that she might know the full truth about his pre-conjugal course of living.
About the Countess Tolstoy much has been said in praise and blame. Let her record speak for itself. Of her union with the great novelist thirteen children were born, of whom nine reached an adult age. The mother nursed and tended them all, with her own hands made their clothes, and until they grew to the age of ten supplied to them the place of a schoolmistress. It must not be inferred from this that her horizon did not extend beyond nursery and kitchen, for during the earlier years she acted also as her husband's invaluable amanuensis. Before the days of the typewriter his voluminous manuscripts were all copied by her hand, and recopied and revised — in the case of "War and Peace" this happened no less than seven times, and the novel runs to sixteen hundred close-printed pages! — and under her supervision his numerous works were not only printed but also published and circulated. Moreover, she managed his properties, landed, personal, and literary, to the incalculable advantage of the family fortune. This end, to be sure, she accomplished by conservative and reliable methods of business; for while of his literary genius she was the greatest admirer, she never was in full accord with his communistic notions. And the highest proof of all her extraordinary Tüchtigkeit and devotion is that by her common sense and tact she was enabled to function for a lifetime as a sort of buffer between her husband's world-removed dreamland existence and the rigid and frigid reality of facts.
Thus Tolstoy's energies were left to go undivided into literary production; its amount, as a result, was enormous. If all his writings were to be collected, including the unpublished manuscripts now reposing in the Rumyantzoff Museum, which are said to be about equal in quantity to the published works, and if to this collection were added his innumerable letters, most of which are of very great interest, the complete set of Tolstoy's works would run to considerably more than one hundred volumes. To discuss all of Tolstoy's writings, or even to mention all, is here quite out of the question. All those, however, that seem vital for the purpose of a just estimate and characterization will be touched upon.
The literary fame of Tolstoy was abundantly secured already in the earlier part of his life by his numerous short stories and sketches. The three remarkable pen pictures of the siege of Sebastopol, and tales such as "The Cossacks," "Two Hussars," "Polikushka," "The Snow-Storm," "The Encounter," "The Invasion," "The Captive in the Caucasus," "Lucerne," "Albert," and many others, revealed together with an exceptional depth of insight an extraordinary plastic ability and skill of motivation; in fact they deserve to be set as permanent examples before the eyes of every aspiring author. In their characters and their setting they present true and racy pictures of a portentous epoch, intimate studies of the human soul that are full of charm and fascination, notwithstanding their tragic sadness of outlook. Manifestly this author was a prose poet of such marvelous power that he could abstain consistently from the use of sweeping color, overwrought sentiment, and high rhetorical invective.
At this season Tolstoy, while he refrained from following any of the approved literary models, was paying much attention to the artistic refinement of his style. There was to be a time when he would abjure all considerations of artistry on the ground that by them the ethical issue in a narration is beclouded. But it would be truer to say conversely that in his own later works, since "Anna Karenina," the clarity of the artistic design was dimmed by the obstrusive didactic purpose. Fortunately the artistic interest was not yet wholly subordinated to the religious urge while the three great novels were in course of composition: "War and Peace," (1864-69), "Anna Karenina," (first part, 1873; published complete in 1877), and "Resurrection," (1899). To the first of these is usually accorded the highest place among all of Tolstoy's works; it is by this work that he takes his position as the chief epic poet of modern times. "War and Peace" is indeed an epic rather than a novel in the ordinary meaning. Playing against the background of tremendous historical transactions, the narrative sustains the epic character not only in the hugeness of its dimensions, but equally in the qualities of its technique. There is very little comment by the author upon the events, and merely a touch of subjective irony here and there. The story is straightforwardly told as it was lived out by its characters. Tolstoy has not the self-complaceticy to thrust in the odds and ends of his personal philosophy, as is done so annoyingly even by a writer of George Meredith's consequence, nor does he ever treat his readers with the almost simian impertinence so successfully affected by a Bernard Shaw. If "War and Peace" has any faults, they are the faults of its virtues, and spring mainly from an unmeasured prodigality of the creative gift. As a result of Tolstoy's excessive range of vision, the orderly progress of events in that great novel is broken up somewhat by the profusion of shapes that monopolize the attention one at a time much as individual spots in a landscape do under the sweeping glare of the searchlight. Yet although in the externalization of this crowding multitude of figures no necessary detail is lacking, the grand movement as a whole is not swamped by the details. The entire story is governed by the conception of events as an emanation of the cosmic will, not merely as the consequence of impulses proceeding from a few puissant geniuses of the Napoleonic order.
It is quite in accord with such a view of history that the machinery of this voluminous epopee is not set in motion by a single conspicuous protagonist. As a matter of fact, it is somewhat baffling to try to name the principals in the story, since in artistic importance all the figures are on an equal footing before their maker; possibly the fact that Tolstoy's ethical theory embodied the most persistent protest ever raised against the inequality of social estates proved not insignificant for his manner of characterization. Ethical justice, however, is carried to an artistic fault, for the feelings and reactions of human nature in so many diverse individuals lead to an intricacy and subtlety of motivation which obscures the organic causes through overzeal in making them patent. Anyway, Tolstoy authenticates himself In this novel as a past master of realism, particularly in his utterly convincing depictment of Russian soldier life. And as a painter of the battlefield he ranks, allowing for the difference of the medium, with Vasill Verestschagin at his best. It may be said in passing that these two Russian pacifists, by their gruesome exposition of the horrors of war, aroused more sentiment against warfare than did all the spectacular and expensive peace conferences inaugurated by the crowned but hollow head of their nation, and the splendid declamations of the possessors of, or aspirants for, the late Mr. Nobel's forty-thousand dollar prize.
Like all true realists, Tolstoy took great pains to inform himself even about the minutiae of his subjects, but he never failed, as did in large measure Zola in La Débâcle, to infuse emotional meaning into the static monotony of facts and figures. In his strong attachment for his own human creatures he is more nearly akin to the idealizing or sentimentalizing type of realists, like Daudet, Kipling, Hauptmann, than to the downright mat-ter-of-fact naturalists such as Zola or Gorki. But to classify him at all would be wrong and futile, since he was never leagued with literary creeds and cliques and always stood aloof from the heated theoretical controversies of his time even after he had hurled his great inclusive challenge to art.
"War and Peace" was written in Tolstoy's happiest epoch, at a time, comparatively speaking, of spiritual calm. He had now reached some satisfying convictions in his religious speculations, and felt that his personal life was moving up in the right direction. His moral change is made plain in the contrast between two figures of the story. Prince Audrey and Peter Bezukhoff: the ambitious worldling and the honest seeker after the right way.
In his second great novel, "Anna Karenina," the undercurrent of the author's own moral experience has a distinctly greater carrying power. It is through the earnest idealist, Levine, that Tolstoy has recorded his own aspirations. Characteristically, he does not make Levine the central figure.
"Anna Karenina" is undoubtedly far from "pleasant" reading, since it is the tragical recital of an adulterous love. But the situation, with its appalling consequence of sorrow, is seized in its fullest psychological depth and by this means saved from being in any way offensive. The relation between the principals is viewed as by no means an ordinary liaison. Anna and Vronsky are serious-minded, honorable persons, who have struggled conscientiously against their mutual enchantment, but are swept out of their own moral orbits by the resistless force of Fate. This fatalistic element in the tragedy is variously emphasized; so at the beginning of the story, where Anna, in her emotional confusion still half-ignorant of her infatuation, suddenly realizes her love for Vronsky; or in the scene at the horse races where he meets with an accident. Throughout the narative the psychological argumentation is beyond criticism. Witness the description of Anna's husband, a sort of cousin-in-kind of Ibsen's Thorvald Helmer, reflecting on his future course after his wife's confession of her unfaithfulness. Or that other episode, perhaps the greatest of them all, when Anna, at the point of death, joins together the hands of her husband and her lover. Or, finally, the picture of Anna as she deserts her home leaving her son behind in voluntary expiation of her wrong-doing, an act, by the way, that betrays a nicety of conscience far too subtle for the Rhadamantine inquisitors who demand to know why, if Anna would atone to Karenin, does she go with Vronsky? How perfectly true to life, subsequently, is the rapid dégringolade of this passion under the gnawing curse of the homeless, workless, purposeless existence which little by little disunites the lovers! Only the end may be somewhat open to doubt, with its metastasis of the heroine's character, — unless indeed we consider the sweeping change accounted for by the theory of duplex personality. She herself believes that there are two quite different women alive in her, the one steadfastly loyal to her obligations, the other blindly driven into sin by the demon of her uncontrollable temperament.
In the power of analysis, "Anna Karenina" is beyond doubt Tolstoy's masterpiece, and yet in its many discursive passages it already foreshadows the disintegration of his art, or more precisely, its ultimate capitulation to moral propagandism. For it was while at work upon this great novel that the old perplexities returned to bewilder his soul. In the tumultuous agitation of his conscience, the crucial and fundamental questions, Why Do We Live? and How Should We Live? could nevermore be silenced. Now a definitive attitude toward life is forming; to it all the later works bear a vital relation. And so, in regard to their moral outlook, Tolstoy's books may fitly be divided into those written before and those written since his "conversion." "Anna Karenina" happens to be on the dividing line.
He was a man well past fifty, of enviable social position, in prosperous circumstances, widely celebrated for his art, highly respected for his character, and in his domestic life blessed with every reason for contentment. Yet all the gifts of fortune sank into insignificance before that vexing, unanswered Why? In the face of a paralyzing universal aimlessness, there could be to him no abiding sense of life in his personal enjoyments and desires. The burden of life became still less endurable face to face with the existence of evil and with the wretchedness of our social arrangements. With so much toil and trouble, squalor, ignorance, crime, and every conceivable kind of bodily and mental suffering all about me, why should I be privileged to live in luxury and idleness? This ever recurring question would not permit him to enjoy his possessions without self-reproach. To think of thousands of fellowmcn lacking the very necessaries, made affluence and its concomitant ways of living odious to him. We know that in 1884, or thereabouts, he radically changed his views and modes of life so as to bring them into conformity with the laws of the Gospel. But before this conversion, in the despairing anguish that attacked him after the completion of "Anna Karenina," he was frequently tempted to suicide. Although the thought of death was very terrible to him then and at all times, still he would rather perish than live on in a world made heinous and hateful by the iniquity of men. Then it was that he searched for a reason why the vast proportion of humanity endure life, nay enjoy it, and why self-destruction is condemned by the general opinion, and this in spite of the fact that for most mortals existence is even harder than it could have been for him, since he at least was shielded from material want and lived amid loving souls. The answer he found in the end seemed to lead by a straight road out of the wilderness of doubt and despair. The great majority, so he ascertained, are able to bear the burden of life because they heed the ancient injunction: "ora et labora"; they work and they believe. Might he not sweeten his lot after the same prescription? Being of a delicate spiritual sensibility, he had long realized that people of the idle class were for the most part inwardly indifferent to religion and in their actions defiant of its spirit. In the upper strata of sodety religious thought, where it exists, is largely adulterated or weakened; sophisticated by education, doctored by science, thinned out with worldly ambitions and with practical needs and conuderations. The faith that supports life is found only among simple folk. For faith, to deserve the name, must be absolute, uncritical, unreasoning. Starting from these convictions as a basis, Tolstoy resolutely undertook to learn to believe; a determination which led him, as it has led other ardent religionists, so far astray from ecclesiastical paths that in due course of time he was unavoidably exconmiunicated from his church. His convictions made him a vehement antagonist of churchdom because of its stiffness of creed and laxness of practice. For his own part he soon arrived at a full and absolute acceptance of the Christian faith in what he considered to be its primitive and essential form. In "Walk Ye in the Light," (1893) , the reversion of a confirmed worldling to this original conception of Christianity gives the story of the writer's own change of heart.
To the period under discussion belongs Tolstoy's drama, "The Power of Darkness," (1886). It is a piece of matchless realism, probably the first unmixedly naturalistic play ever wrought out. It is brutally, terribly true to life, and that to life at its worst, both in respect of the plot and the actors, who are individualized down to the minutest characteristics of utterance and gesture. Withal it is a species of modern morality, replete with a reformatory purpose that reflects deeply the author's tensely didactic state of mind. His instructional zeal is heightened by intimate knowledge of the Russian peasant, on his good side as well as on his bad. Some of his short stories are crass pictures of the muzhik's bestial degradation, veritable pattern cards of human and inhuman vices. In other stories, again, the deep-seated piety of the muzhik, and his patriarchal simplicity of heart are portrayed. As instance, the story of "Two Old Men," (1885), who are pledged to attain the Holy Land: the one performs his vow to the letter, the other, much the godlier of the two, is kept from his goal by a work of practical charity. In another story a muzhik is falsely accused of murder and accepts his undeserved punishment in a devout spirit of non-resistance. In a third, a poor cobbler who intuitively walks in the light is deemed worthy of a visit from Christ.
In "The Power of Darkness," the darkest traits of peasant life prevail, yet the frightful picture is somehow Christianized, as it were, so that even the miscreant Nikita, in spite of his monstrous crimes, is sure of our profound compassion. We are gripped at the very heartstrings by that great confession scene where he stutters out his budget of malefactions, forced by his awakened conscience and urged on by his old father: "Speak out, my child, speak it off your soul, then you will feel easier."
"The Power of Darkness" was pven its counterpart in the satirical comedy, "Fruits of Culture," (1889). The wickedness of refined society is more mercilessly excoriated than low-lived infamy. But artistically considered the peasant tragedy is far superior to the "society play."
Tolstoy was a pessimist both by temperament and philosophical persuasion. This is made manifest among other things by the prominent place which the idea of Death occupies in his writings. His feelings are expressed with striking simplicity by one of the principal characters in "War and Peace": "One must often think of death, so that it may lose its terrors for us, cease to be an enemy, and become on the contrary a friend that delivers us from this life of miseries." Still, in Tolstoy's stories, death, as a rule, is a haunting spectre. This conception comes to the fore even long after his conversion in a story like "Master and Man." Throughout his literary activity it has an obsessive hold on his mind. Even the shadowing of the animal mind by the ubiquitous spectre gives rise to a story: "Cholstomjer, The Story of a Horse," (1861), and in one of the earlier tales even the death of a tree is pictured. Death is most terrifying when, denuded of its heroic embellishments in battle pieces such as "The Death of a Soldier" ("Sebastopol") or the description of Prince Andrey's death in "War and Peace," it is exposed in all its bare and grim loathsomeness. Such happens in the short novel published in 1886 under the name of "The Death of Ivan Ilyitch," — in point of literary merit one of Tojstoy's greatest performances. It is a plain tale about a middle-aged man of the official class, happy in an unreflecting sort of way in the jog-trot of his work and domestic arrangements. Suddenly his fate is turned,—by a trite mishap resulting in a long, hopeless sickness. His people at first give him the most anxious care, but as the illness drags on their devotion gradually abates, the patient is neglected, and soon almost no thought is given to him. In the monotonous agony of his prostration, the sufferer slowly comes to realize that he is dying, while his household has gone back to its habitual ways mindless of him, as though he were already dead, or had never lived. All through this lengthened crucifixion he still clings to life, and it is only when the family, gathering about him shortly before the release, can but ill conceal their impatience for the end, that Ivan at last accepts his fate: "I will no longer let them suffer — I will die; I will deliver them and myself." So he dies, and the world pursues its course unaltered, — in which consists the after-sting of this poignant tragedy.
Between the years 1879 and 1886 Tolstoy published the main portion of what may be regarded as his spiritual autobiography, namely, "The Confession," (1879, with a supplement in 1882), "The Union and Translation of the Four Gospels," (1881-2), "What Do I Believe?" (also translated under the title "My Religion," 1884) and "What Then Must We Do?" (1886). He was now well on the way to the logical ultimates of his ethical ideas, and in the revulsion from artistic ambitions so plainly foreshown in a treatise in 1887: "What is True Art?" he repudiated unequivocally all his earlier work so far as it sprang from any motives other than those of moral teaching. Without a clear appreciation of these facts a just estimate of "The Kreutzer Sonata" (1889) is impossible.
The central character of the book is a commonplace, rather well-meaning fellow who has been tried for the murder of his wife, slain by him in a fit of insensate jealousy, and has been acquitted because of the extenuating circumstances in the case. The object of the story is to lay bare the causes of his crime. Tolstoy's ascetic proclivity had long since set him thinking about sex problems in general and in particular upon the ethics of marriage. And by this time he had arrived at the conclusion that the demoralized state of our society is chiefly due to polygamy and polyandrism; corroboration of his uncompromising views on the need of social purity he finds in the evangelist Matthew, v:27-28, where the difference between the old command and its new, far more rigorous, interpretation is bluntly stated: "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."
Now Tolstoy thinks that society, far from concurring in the scriptural condemnation of lewdness, caters systematically to the appetites of the voluptuary. If Tolstoy is right in his diagnosis then the euphemistic term "social evil" has far wider reaches of meaning than those to which it is customarily applied. With the head person in "The Kreutzer Sonata," Tolstoy regards society as no better than a maison de tolérance conducted on a very comprehensive scale. Women are reared with the main object of alluring men through charms and accomplishments; the arts of the hairdresser, the dressmaker, and milliner, as well as the exertions of governesses, music masters, and linguists all converge toward the same aim: to impart the power of attracting men. Between the woman of the world and the professional courtezan the main difference in the light of this view lies in the length of the service. Pozdnicheff accordingly divides femininity into long term and short term prostitutes, which rather fantastic classification Tolstoy follows up intrepidly to its last logical consequence.
The main idea of "The Kreutzer Sonata," as stated in the postscript, is that sexless life is best. A recommendation of celibacy as mankind's highest ideal to be logical should involve a wish for the disappearance of human life from the globe. A world-view of such pessimistic sort prevents itself from the forfeiture of all bonds with humanity only by its concomitant reasoning that a race for whom it were better not to be is the very one that will struggle desperately against its summum bonum. Since race suicide, then, is a hopeless desideratum, the reformer must turn to more practicable methods if he would at least alleviate the worst of our social maladjustments. Idleness is the mother of all mischief, because it superinduces sensual self-indulgence. Therefore we must suppress anything that makes for leisure and pleasure. At this point we grasp the meaning of Tolstoy's vehement recoil from art. It is, to a great extent, the strong-willed resistance of a highly impressionable puritan against the enticements of beauty, — their distracting and disquieting effect, and principally their power of sensuous suggestion.
The last extensive work published by Tolstoy was "Resurrection," (1889). In artistic merit it is not on a level with "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina," nor can this be wondered at, considering the opinion about the value of art that had meanwhile ripened in the author.
"Resurrection" was written primarily for a constructive moral purpose, yet the subject matter was such as to secrete, unintendedly, a corrosive criticism of social and religious cant. The satirical connotation of the novel could not have been more grimly brought home than through this fact, that the hero by his unswerving allegiance to Christian principles of conduct greatly shocks, at first, our sense of the proprieties, instead of eliciting our enthusiastic admiration. In spite of our highest moral notions Prince Nekhludoflf, like that humbler follower of the voice of conscience in Gerhart Hauptmann's novel, impresses us as a "Fool in Christ." The story, itself, leads by degrees from the under-world of crime and punishment to a great spiritual elevation. Maslowa, a drunken street-walker, having been tried on a charge of murder, is wrongfully sentenced to transportation for life, because — the jury is tired out and the judge in a hurry to visit his mistress. Prince Nekhludoflf, sitting on that jury, recognizes in the victim of justice a girl whose downfall he himself had caused. He is seized by penitence and resolves to follow the convict to Siberia, share her suflferings, dedicate his life to her redemption. She has sunk so low that his hope of reforming her falters, yet true to his resolution he offers to marry her. Although the offer is rejected, yet the suggestion of a new life which it brings begins to work a change in the woman. In the progress of the story her better nature gradually gains sway until a thorough moral revolution is completed.
"Resurrection" derives its special value from its clear demonstration of those rules of conduct to which the author was straining with every moral fiber to conform his own life. From, his ethical speculations and social experiments are projected figures like that of Maria Paulovna, a rich and beautiful woman who prefers to live like a common workingwoman and is drawn by her social conscience into the revolutionary vortex. In this figure, and more definitely still in the political convict Simonson, banished because of his educational work among the common people, Tolstoy studies for the first time the so-called "intellectual" type of revolutionist. His view of the "intellectuals" is sympathetic, on the whole. They believe that evil springs from ignorance. Their agitation issues from the highest principles, and they are capable of any self-sacrifice for the general weal. Still Tolstoy, as a thoroughly anti-political reformer, deprecates their organized movement.
Altogether, he repudiated the systems of social reconstruction that go by the name of socialism, because he relied for the regeneration of society wholly and solely upon individual self-elevation. In an essential respect he was neverdieless a socialist, inasmuch as he strove for the ideal of universal equality. His social philosophy, bound up inseparably with his personal religious evolution, is laid down in a vast number of essays, letters, sketches, tracts, didactic tales, and perhaps most comprehensively in those autobiographical documents already mentioned. Sociologically the most important of these is a book on the problem of property, entitled, "What Then Must We Do?" (1886), which expounds the passage in Luke iii:10, 11: "And the people asked him, saying. What shall we do then? He answered and saith unto them. He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." Not long before that, he had thought of devoting himself entirely to charitable work, but practical experiments at Moscow demonstrated to him the futility of almsgiving. Speaking on that point to his English biographer, Aylmer Maude, he remarked: "All such activity, if people attribute importance to it, is worthless." When his interviewer insisted that the destitute have to be provided for somehow and that the Count himself was in the habit of giving money to beggars, the latter replied: "Yes, but I do not imagine that I am doing good! I only do it for myself, because I know that I have no right to be well off while they are in misery." It is worth mention in passing that during the famine of 1891-2 this determined opponent of organized charity, in noble inconsistency with his theories, led in the dispensation of relief to the starving population of Middle Russia.
But in "What Then Must We Do?" he treats the usual organized dabbling in charity as utterly preposterous: "Give away all you have or else you can do no good." . . . "If I give away a hundred thousand and still withhold five hundred thousand, I am far from acting in the spirit of charity, and remain a factor of social injustice and evil. At the sight of the freezing and hungering I must still feel responsible for their plight, and feel that since we should live in conditions where that evil can be abstained from, it is impossible for me in the position in which I deliberately place myself to be anything other than a source of general evil."
It was chiefly due to the influence of two peasants, named Sutayeff and Bondareff, that Tolstoy decided by a path of religious reasoning to abandon "parasitical existence," — that is, to sacrifice all prerogatives of his wealth and station and to share the life of the lowly. He reasoned as follows: "Since I am to blame for the existence of social wrong, I can lessen my blame only by making myself like unto those that labor and are heavy-laden." Economically, Tolstoy reasons from this fallacy: If all men do not participate equitably in the menial work that has to be performed in the world, it follows that a disproportionate burden of work falls upon the shoulders of the more defenseless portion of humanity. Whether this undue amount of labor be exacted in the form of chattel slavery, or, which is scarcely less objectionable, in the form of the virtual slavery imposed by modern industrial conditions, makes no material difference. The evil conditions are bound to continue so long as the instincts that make for idleness prevail over the co-operative impulses. The only remedy lies in the simplification of life in the upper strata of the social body, overwork in the laboring classes being the direct result of the excessive demands for the pleasures and luxuries of life in the upper classes.
To Bondareff in particular Tolstoy confessedly owes the conviction that the best preventive for immorality is physical labor, for which reason the lower classes are less widely removed from grace than the upper. Bondareif maintained on scriptural grounds that everybody should employ at least a part of his time in working the land. This view Tolstoy shared definitely after 1884. Not only did he devote a regular part of his day to agricultural labor; he learned, in addition, shoemaking and carpentry, meaning to demonstrate by his example that it is feasible to return to those patriarchal conditions under which the necessities of life were produced by the consumer himself. From this time forth he modelled his habits more and more upon those of the common rustic. He adopted peasant apparel and became extremely frugal in his diet. Although by natural taste he was no scomer of the pleasures of the table, he now eliminated one luxury after another. About this time he also turned strict vegetarian, then gave up the use of wine and spirits, and ultimately even tobacco, of which he had been very fond, was made to go the way of flesh. He practiced this self-abnegation in obedience to the Law of Life which he interpreted as a stringent renunciation of physical satisfactions and personal happiness. Nor did he shirk the ultimate conclusion to which his premises led: if the Law of Life imposes the suppression of all natural desires and appetites and commands the voluntary sacrifice of every form of property and power, it must be clear that life itself is devoid of sense and utterly undesirable. And so it is expressly stated in his "Thoughts."
To what extent Tolstoy was a true Christian believer may best be gathered from his own writings, "What Do I Believe?" (1884), "On Life," (1887), and "The Kingdom of God is within You," (1893). Although at the age of seventeen he had ceased to be orthodox, there can be no question whatever that throughout his whole life religion remained the deepest source of his inspiration. By the early eighties he had emerged from that acute scepticism that well-nigh cost him life and reason, and had, outwardly at least, made his peace with the church, attending services regularly, and observing the feasts and the fasts; here again in imitating the muzhik in his religious practices he strove apparently to attain also to the muzhik's actual gift of credulity. But in this endeavor his superior culture proved an impediment to him, and his widening doctrinal divergence from the established church finally drew upon his head, in 1891, the official curse of the Holy Synod. And yet a leading religious journal was right, shortly after his death, in this comment upon the religious meaning of his life: "If Christians everywhere should put their religious beliefs into practice with the simplicity and sincerity of Tolstoy, the entire religious, moral, and social life of the world would be revolutionized in a month." The orthodox church expelled him from its conununion because of his radicalism; but in his case radicalism meant indeed the going to the roots of Christian religion, to the original foundations of its doctrines. In the teachings of the primitive church there presented itself to Tolstoy a dumfoundingly simple code for the attainment of moral perfection. Hence arose his opposition to the established church which seemed to have strayed so widely from its own fundamentals.
Since Tolstoy's life aimed at the progressive exercise of self-sacrifice, his religious belief could be no gospel of joy. In fact, his is a sad, gray, ascetic religion, wholly devoid of poetry and emotional uplift. He did not learn to believe in the divinity of Christ nor in the existence of a God in any definite sense personal, and it is not even clear whether he believed in an after-life. And yet he did not wrongfully call himself a Christian, for the mainspring of his faith and his labor was the message of Christ delivered to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. This, for Tolstoy, contained all the philosophy and the theology of which the modern world stands in need, since in the precept of non-resistance is joined forever the issue between the Law and the Gospel: "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: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
And farther on: "Ye have heard that it hath been said. Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you." . . .
In this commandment Tolstoy found warrant for unswerving forbearance toward every species of private and corporate aggression. Offenders against individuals or the commonwealth deserve nothing but pity. Prisons should be abolished and criminals never punished. Tolstoy went so far as to declare that even if he saw his own wife or daughters being assaulted, he would abstain from using force in their defense. The infliction of the death penalty was to him the most odious of crimes. No life, either human or animal, should be wilfully destroyed.
The doctrine of non-resistance removes every conceivable excuse for war between the nations. A people is as much bound as is an individual by the injunction: "Whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." War is not to be justified on patriotic grounds, for patriotism, far from being a virtue, is an enlarged and unduly glorified form of selfishness. Consistently with his convictions, Tolstoy put forth his strength not for the glory of his nation but for the solidarity of mankind.
The cornerstones of Tolstoy's religion, then, were these three articles of faith. First, True Faith gives Life. Second, Man must live by labor. Third, Evil must never be resisted by means of evil.
Outside of the sphere of religious thought it is inaccurate to speak of a specific Tolstoyan philosophy, and it is impossible for the student to subscribe unconditionally to the hackneyed formula of the books that Tolstoy "will be remembered as perhaps the most profound influence of his day on human thought." Yet the statement might be made measurably true if it were modified in accordance with the important reservation made earlier in this sketch. In the field of thought he was not an original explorer. He was great only as the promulgator, not as the inventor, of ideas. His work has not enriched the wisdom of man by a single new thought, nor was he a systematizer and expounder of thought or a philosopher. In fact he possessed slight familiarity with philosophical literature. Among the older metaphysicians his principal guide was Spinoza, and in more modern speculative science he did not advance beyond Schopenhauer. To the latter he was not altogether unlike in his mental temper. At least he showed himself indubitably a pessimist in his works by placing in fullest relief the bad side of the social state. We perceive the pessimistic disposition also through his personal behavior, seeing how he desponded under the discords of life, how easily he lost courage whenever he undertook to cope with practical problems, and how sedulously he avoided the contact with temptations. It was only by an almost total withdrawal from the world, and by that entire relief from its daily and ordinary affairs which he owed to the devotion of his wife that Tolstoy was enabled during his later years to look upon the world less despairingly.
Like his theology, so, too, his civic and economic creed was marked by the utmost and altogether too primitive simplicity. Political questions were of slight interest to him, unless they touched upon his vital principles. If, therefore, we turn from his very definite position in matters of individual conduct to his political views, we shall find that he was wanting in a program of practical changes. His only positive contribution to economic discussion was a persistent advocacy of agrarian reform. Under the influence of Henry George he became an eloquent pleader for the single tax and the nationalization of the land. This question he discussed in numerous places, with especial force and clearness in a long article entitled "A Great Iniquity." He takes the view that the mission of the State, if it have any at all, can only consist in guaranteeing the rights of every one of its denizens, but that in actual fact the State protects only the rights of the propertied. Intelligent and right-minded citizens must not conspire with the State to ride rough-shod over the helpless majority. Keenly alive to the unalterable tendency of organized power to abridge the rights of individuals and to dominate both their material and spiritual existence, Tolstoy fell into the opposite extreme and would have abolished with a clean sweep all factors of social control, including the right of property and the powers of government, and transformed society into a community of equals and brothers, relying for its peace and well-being upon a universal love of liberty and justice.
By his disbelief in authority, the rejection of the socialists' schemes of reconstruction, his mistrust of fixed institutions and reliance on individual right-mindedness for the maintenance of the common good, Tolstoy in the sphere of civic thought separated himself from the political socialists by the whole diameter of initial principle; he might not unjustly be classified, therefore, as an anarchist, if this definition were neither too narrow nor too wide. The Christian Socialists might claim him, because he aspires ardently to ideals essentially Christian in their nature, and there is surely truth in the thesis that "every thinker who understands and earnestly accepts the teaching of the Master is at heart a socialist." At the same time, Christianity and Socialism do not travel the whole way together. For a religion that enjoins patience and submission can hardly be conducive to the full flowering of Socialism. And Tolstoy's attitude towards the church diifers radically from that of the Christian Socialists. On the whole one had best abstain from classifying men of genius.
The base of Tolstoy's social creed was the non-recognition of private property. The effect of the present system is to maintain the inequality of men and thereby to excite envy and stir up hatred among them. Eager to set a personal example and precedent, Tolstoy rendered himself nominally penniless by making all his property, real and personal, over to his wife and children. Likewise he abdicated his copyrights. Thus he reduced himself to legal pauperism with a completeness of success that cannot but stir with envy the bosom of any philanthropist who shares Mr. Andrew Carnegie's conviction that to die rich is to die disgraced.
Tolstoy's detractors have cast a plausible suspicion upon his sincerity. They pointed out among other things that his relinquishment of pecuniary profit in his books was apparent, not real. Since Russia has no copyright conventions with other countries, it was merely making a virtue of necessity to authorize freely the translation of his works into foreign languages. As for the Russian editions of his writings, it is said that in so far as the heavy hand of the censor did not prevent, the Countess, as her husband's financial agent, managed quite skilfully to exploit them.
Altogether, did Tolstoy practice what he professed? Inconsistency between principles and conduct is a not uncommon frailty of genius, as is notoriously illustrated by Tolstoy's real spiritual progenitor, Jean Jacques Rousseau.
Now there are many discreditable stories in circulation about the muzhik lord of Yasnaya Polyana. He urged upon others the gospel commands: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" and: **Take what ye have and give to the poor," and for his own part lived, according to report, in sumptuous surroundings. He went ostentatiously on pilgrimages to holy places, barefooted but with an expert pedicure attending him. He dressed in a coarse peasant blouse, but underneath it wore fine silk and linen. He was a vegetarian of the strictest observance, yet so much of an epicure that his taste for unseasonable dainties strained the domestic resources. He preached simplicity, and according to rumor dined off priceless plate; taught the equality of men, and was served by lackies in livery. He abstained from alcohol and tobacco, but consumed six cups of strong coffee at a sitting. Finally, he extolled the sexless life and was the father of thirteen children. It was even murmured that notwithstanding his professed affection for the muzhik and his incessant proclamation of imiversal equality, the peasantry of Yasnaya Polyana was the most wretchedly-treated to be found in the whole province and that the extortionate landlordism of the Tolstoys was notorious throughout the empire.
Much of this, to be sure, is idle gossip, unworthy of serious attention. Nevertheless, there is evidence enough to show that Tolstoy's insistence upon a literal acceptance of earlier Christian doctrines led him into unavoidable inconsistencies and shamed him into a tragical sense of dishonesty.
Unquestionably Tolstoy lived very simply and laboriously for a man of great rank, means, and fame, but his life was neither hard nor cramped. Having had no personal experience of garret and hovel, he could have no first-hand practical knowledge of the sting of poverty, nor could he obtain hardship artificially by imposing upon himself a mild imitation of physical discomfort. For the true test of penury is not the suffering of today but the oppressive dread of to-morrow. His ostensible muzhik existence, wanting in none of the essentials of civilization, was a romance that bore to the real squalid pauperism of rural Russia about the same relation that the bucolic make-belief of Boucher's or Watteau's swains and shepherdesses bore to the unperfumed truth of a sheep-farm or a hog-sty. As time passed, and the sage turned his thoughts to a more rigid enforcement of his renunciations, it was no easy task for a devoted wife to provide comfort for him without shaking him too rudely out of his fond illusion that he was enduring privations.
After all, then, his practice did not tally with his theory; and this consciousness of living contrary to his own teachings was a constant source of unhappiness which no moral quibbles of his friends could still.
Yet no man could be farther from being a hypocrite. If at last he broke down under a burden of conscience, it was a burden imposed by the reality of human nature which makes it impossible for any man to live up to intentions of such rigor as Tolstoy's. From the start he realized that he did not conform his practice entirely to his teachings, and as he grew old he was resolved that having failed to harmonize his life with his beliefs he would at least corroborate his sincerity by his manner of dying. Even in this, however, he was to be thwarted. In his dramatic ending, still plainly remembered, we feel a grim consistency with the lifelong defeat of his will to suffer.
Early in 1910 a student by the name of Manzos addressed a rebuke to Tolstoy for simulating the habits of the poor, denouncing his mode of life as a form of mummery. He challenged the sage to forsake his comforts and the affections of his family, and to go forth and beg his way from place to place. "Do this," entreated the young fanatic, "and you will be the first true man after Christ." With his typical large-heartedness, Tolstoy accepted the reproof and said in the course of his long reply: . . . "The fact that I am living with wife and daughter in terrible and shameful conditions of luxury when poverty surrounds me on all sides, torments me ever more and more, and there is not a day when I am not thinking of following your advice. I thank you very, very much for your letter." As a matter of fact, he had more than once before made ready to put his convictions to a fiery proof by a final sacrifice, — leaving his home and spending his remaining days in utter solitude. But, when he finally proceeded to carry out this ascetic intention and actually set out on a journey to some vague and lonely destination, he was foiled in his purpose. If ever Tolstoy's behavior irresistibly provoked misrepresentation of his motives it was by this somewhat theatrical hegira. The fugitive left Yasnaya Polyana, not alone, but with his two favorite companions, his daughter Alexandra and a young Hungarian physician who for some time had occupied the post of private secretary to him. After paying a farewell visit to his sister, a nun cloistered in Shamardin, he made a start for the Trans-Caucasus. His idea was to go somewhere near the Tolstoy colony at the Black Sea. But in an early stage of the journey, a part of which was made in an ordinary third-class railway compartment, the old man was overcome by illness and fatigue. He was moved to a trackman's hut at the station of Astopovo, not farther than eighty miles from his home, and here, — surrounded by his hastily summoned family and tenderly nursed for five days, — he expired. Thus he was denied the summit of martyrdom to which he had aspired, — a lonely death, unminded of men.
Even a summary review like this of Tolstoy's life and labors cannot be concluded without some consideration of his final attitude toward the esthetic embodiment of civilization. The development of his philosophy of self-abnegation had led irresistibly, as we have seen, to the condemnation of all self-regarding instincts. Among these, Art appeared to him as one of the most insidious. He warned against the cultivation of the beautiful on the ground that it results in the suppression and destruction of the moral sense. Already in 1883 it was known that he had made up his mind to abandon his artistic aspirations out of loyalty to his moral theory, and would henceforth dedicate his talents exclusively to the propagation of humanitarian views. In vain did the dean of Russian letters, Turgenieff, appeal to him with a death-bed message: "My friend, great writer of the Russians, return to literary work I Heed my prayer." Tolstoy stood firm in his determination. Nevertheless, his genius refused to be throttled by his conscience; he could not paralyze his artistic powers; he could merely bend them to his moral aims.
As a logical corollary to his opposition to art for art's sake, Tolstoy cast from him all his own writings antedating "Confession,"— and denounced all of them as empty manifestations of worldly conceit. His authorship of that immortal novel, "War and Peace," filled him with shame and remorse. His views on Art are plainly and forcibly expounded in the famous treatise on "What is Art?" and in the one on "Shakespeare." In both he maintains that Art, no matter of what sort, should serve the sole purpose of bringing men nearer to each other in the common purpose of right living. Hence, no art work is legitimate without a pervasive moral design. The only true touchstone of an art work is the uplifting strength that proceeds from it. Therefore, a painting like the "Angelus," or a poem like "The Man with the Hoe" would transcend in worth the creations of a Michael Angelo or a Heinrich Heine even as the merits of Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Goethe are outmatched in Tolstoy's judgment by those of Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. By the force of this naive reasoning and his theoretical antipathy toward true art, he was led to see in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" the veritable acme of literary perfection, for the reason that this book wielded such an enormous and noble influence upon the most vital question of its day. He strongly discountenanced the literary practice of revamping ancient themes, believing with Ibsen that modern writers should impart their ideas through the medium of modern life. Yet at the same time he was up in arms against the self-styled "moderns"! They took their incentives from science, and this Tolstoy decried, because science did not fulfill its mission of teaching people how rightly to live. In this whole matter he reasoned doggedly from fixed ideas, no matter to what ultimates the argument would carry him. For instance, he did not stick at branding Shakespeare as an utter barbarian, and to explain the reverence for such "disgusting" plays as "King Lear" as a crass demonstration of imitative hypocrisy.
Art in general is a practice aiming at the production of the beautiful. But what is "beautiful" ? asked Tolstoy. The current definitions he pronounced wrong because they were formulated from the standpoint of the pleasure-seeker. Such at least has been the case since the Renaissance. From that time forward, Art, like all cults of pleasure, has been evil. To the pleasure-seeker, the beautiful is that which is enjoyable; hence he appraises works of art according to their ability to procure enjoyment. In Tolstoy's opinion this is no less absurd than if we were to estimate the nutritive value of food-stuffs by the pleasure ac- companying their consumption. So he baldly declares that we must abolish beauty as a criterion of art, or conversely, must establish truth as the single standard of beauty. "The heroine of my stories whom I strive to represent in all her beauty, who was ever beautiful, is so, and will remain so, is Truth."
His views on art have a certain analogy with two modern schools, — much against his will, since he strenuously disavows and deprecates everything modern; they make us think on the one hand of the "naturalists," inasmuch as like them Tolstoy eschews all intentional graces of style and diction; and on the other hand of the "impressionists," with whom he seems united by his fundamental definition of art, namely that it is the expression of a dominant emotion calculated to reproduce itself in the reader or beholder. Lacking, however, a deep and catholic understanding for art, Tolstoy, in contrast with the modern impressionists, would restrict artists to the expression of a single type of sentiments, those that reside in the sphere of religious consciousness. To him art, as properly conceived and practiced, must be ancillary to religion, and its proper gauge is the measure of its agreement with accepted moral teachings. Remembering, then, the primitive form of belief to which Tolstoy contrived to attain, we find ourselves face to face with a theory of art which sets up as the final arbiter the man "unspoiled by culture," and he, in Tolstoy's judgment, is the Russian muzhik.
This course of reasoning on art is in itself sufficient to show the impossibility for any modern mind of giving sweeping assent to Tolstoy's teachings. And a like difficulty would be experienced if we tried to follow him in his meditations on any other major interest of life. Seeking with a tremendous earnestness of conscience to reduce the bewildering tangle of human affairs to elementary simplicity, he enmeshed himself in a new network of contradictions. The effect was disastrous for the best part of his teaching; his own extremism stamped as a hopeless fantast a man incontestably gifted by nature, as few men have been in history, with the cardinal virtues of a sage, a reformer, and a missionary of social justice. Because o£ this extremism, his voice was doomed to remain that of one crying in the wilderness.
The world could not do better than to accept Tolstoy's fundamental prescriptions: simplicity of living, application to work, and concentration upon moral culture. But to apply his radical scheme to existing conditions would amount to a self-stultification of the race, for it would entail the unpardonably sinful sacrifice of some of the finest and most hard-won achievements of human progress. For our quotidian difficulties his example promises no solution. The great mass of us are not privileged to test our individual schemes of redemption in the leisured security of an ideal experiment station; not for every man is there a Yasnaya Polyana, and the Sophia Andreycvnas are thinly sown in the matrimonial market.
But even though Tolstoyism will not serve as a means of solving the great social problems, it supplies a helpful method of social criticism. And its value goes far beyond that: the force of his influence was too great not to have strengthened enormously the moral conscience of the world; he has played, and will continue to play, a leading part in the establishing and safeguarding of democracy. After all, we do not have to separate meticulously what is true in Tolstoy's teaching from what is false in order to acknowledge him as a Voice of his epoch. For as Lord Morley puts the matter in the case of Jean Jacques Rousseau: "There are some teachers whose distinction is neither correct thought, nor an eye for the exigencies of practical organization, but simply depth and fervor of the moral sentiment, bringing with it the indefinable gift of touching many hearts with love of virtue and the things of the spirit."
- The only tragedy brought out during his life time.
- "The Life of Tolstoy," Later Years, p. 643 f.
- No. 434.
- Printed in the (London) Times of September 10, 1905.
- February 17, 1910.