The Life of Tolstoy/Chapter 17

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London: Cassell, pages 142–145



Tolstoy's fame was now spread all over the civilised world. Telegrams from America asked his opinion on the Russian political movement. Connections were established with Australia, India, Japan, China, and the Mohammedan world. All these varied nationalities, with different languages, customs, and religions, recognised in him a teacher of mankind. In answer, as it were, to this general recognition, Tolstoy began a work which undoubtedly will lay the foundation of a universal religion. He enlarged his collection of thoughts and aphorisms of wise men, and instead of a few quotations for each day he gave systematic tracts on all the fundamental questions of religion, wisdom, and morality, and entitled the work "A Cycle of Reading," for which he wrote some new tales and finished former ones, such as "The Divine and the Human," "Berries," "A Prayer," "Why?" "Korney Vasilyef," etc.

Immediately after the issue of the first edition, Tolstoy began to revise the book, simplifying, explaining, and rearranging the order of the thoughts of the sages of mankind. Simultaneously he wrote a number of articles, and in one of the longest he dethroned Shakespeare. In another he explained for children the teaching of the New Testament, and with fresh energy he wrote on Single Tax, and a new essay, "The Law of Violence and the Law of Love."

The endless executions of late years were at this time weighing on the Russian people like a nightmare. Tolstoy could no longer witness the suffering, and his bitter cry of protest, "I Cannot be Silent," resounded through the world.

So Tolstoy reached his fourscore years. The Russian nation was preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of their beloved "Grand Old Man," but the day of rejoicing was darkened by the attitude of the Government. Long before the date, articles in the reactionary Press appeared denouncing the honouring of a wicked heretic. Fanatic priests delivered grossly insulting sermons, profaning the very walls of the churches by their vulgar abuse. The Government sent circulars to the local authorities prohibiting the celebration of Tolstoy's anniversary as that of a teacher of morality. Permission alone was given to speak of him as a literary man. In many places the authorities understood the circular in the sense that it was preferable not to speak at all, and in some towns on the day of the jubilee not a single word on Tolstoy was spoken publicly.

Nevertheless, public feeling could not be quite suppressed. Many Russian and even foreign papers contained on the day articles about Tolstoy, reminiscences, portraits, and sketches. Yasnaya Polyana was overwhelmed with congratulations, gifts, and deputations. The telegrams alone numbered over two thousand. All over Russia, where it was possible, and in many places abroad, soirees, meetings, theatrical representations, were held in honour of Tolstoy. It was clear that the whole of enlightened Russia was unanimous in the expression of admiration for the venerated old man who for so many years had been the conscience of humanity.

In St. Petersburg a committee had been formed for Tolstoy's jubilee. But Tolstoy had expressed the wish that the day should be as quiet as possible, and the committee transformed itself into a society for the foundation of a Tolstoy Museum. This society, in the spring of 1909, organised an interesting Tolstoy exhibition, consisting of original manuscripts and letters, pictures, busts, illustrations, post-cards, and caricatures, all the great author's published works, from the first to the last, in the Russian and European languages, a quantity of Russian and foreign literature on Tolstoy, and a collection of photographic portraits. So large a number of photographs as was here exhibited can never have been taken of any other man of note.

At this exhibition it was decided that the proposed Tolstoy Museum should contain the greater part of the collections then on view, so that they might be always accessible to the public.

An incident which occurred when Tolstoy passed through Moscow towards the end of 1909 reveals the enormous growth of his popularity. The local papers stated that at one o'clock p.m. he would take the train at the Kursk station for Yasnaya Polyana. By noon a large crowd of people had gathered, who enthusiastically greeted the beloved guest of Moscow, but rarely seen of late in that town.