Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature : Chapter 4 : Turguéneff -- Tolstóy
You need https for logging in.Not Logged In: Login?
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From : "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From : "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
PÚSHKIN, Lérmontoff and Gógol were the real creators of Russian literature; but to Western Europe they remained nearly total strangers. It was only Turguéneff and Tolstóy-the two greatest novelists of Russia, if not of their century altogether-and, to some extent, Dostoyévskiy, who broke down the barrier of language which had kept Russian writers unknown to West Europeans. They have made Russian literature familiar and popular outside Russia; they have exercised and still exercise their share of influence upon West-European thought and art; and owing to them, we may be sure that henceforward the best productions of the Russian mind will be part of the general intellectual belongings of civilized mankind.
For the artistic construction, the finish and the beauty of his novels, Turguéneff was very probably the greatest novelwriter of his century. However, the chief characteristic of his poetical genius lay not only in that sense of the beautiful which he possessed to so high a degree, but also in the highly intellectual contents of his creations. His novels are not mere stories dealing at random with this or that type of men, or with some particular current of life, or accident happening to fall under the author's observation. They are intimately connected with each other, and they give the succession of the leading intellectual types of Russia which have impressed their own stamp upon each successive generation. The novels of Turguéneff, of which the first appeared in 1845, cover a period of more than thirty years, and during these three decades Russian society underwent one of the deepest and the most rapid modifications ever witnessed in European history. The leading types of the educated classes went through successive changes with a rapidity which was only possible in a society suddenly awakening from a long slumber, casting away an institution which hitherto had permeated its whole existence (I mean serfdom), and rushing towards a new life. And this succession of "historymaking" types was represented by Turguéneff with a depth of conception, a fullness of philosophical and humanitarian understanding, and an artistic insight, almost equal to foresight, which are found in none of the modern writers to the same extent and in that happy combination.
Not that he would follow a preconceived plan. "All these discussions about 'tendency' and 'unconsciousness' in art," he wrote, "are nothing but a debased coin of rhetorics. . . . Those only who cannot do better will submit to a preconceived program, because a truly talented writer is the condensed expression of life itself, and he cannot write either a panegyric or a pamphlet: either would be too mean for him." But as soon as a new leading type of men or women appeared amid the educated classes of Russia, it took possession of Turguéneff. He was haunted by it, and haunted until he had succeeded in representing it to the best of his understanding in a work of art, just as for years Murillo was haunted by the image of a Virgin in the ecstasy of purest love, until he finally succeeded in rendering on the canvas his full conception.
When some human problem had thus taken possession of Tuguéneff's mind, he evidently could not discuss it in terms of logic-this would have been the manner of the political writer-he conceived it in the shape of images and scenes. Even in his conversation, when he intended to give you an idea of some problem which worried his mind, he used to do it by describing a scene so vividly that it would for ever engrave itself in the memory. This was also a marked trait in his writings. His novels are a succession of scenes-Some of them of the most exquisite beauty-each of which helps him further to characterize his heroes. Therefore all his novels are short, and need no plot to sustain the reader's attention. Those who have been perverted by sensational novel-reading may, of course, be disappointed with a want of sensational episode; but the ordinary intelligent reader feels from the very first pages that he has real and interesting men and women before him, with really human hearts throbbing in them, and he cannot part with the book before he has reached the end and grasped the characters in full. Simplicity of means for accomplishing far-reaching ends-that chief feature of truly good art-is felt in everything Turguéneff wrote.
George Brandes, in his admirable study of Turguéneff (in Moderne Geister), the best, the deepest, and the most poetical of all that has been written about the great novelist, makes the following remark:
"It is not easy to say quite definitely what makes of Turguéneff an artist of the first rank. . . . That he has in the highest degree the capacity which makes a true poet, of producing living human beings, does not, after all, comprise everything. What makes the reader feel so much his artistic superiority is the concordance one feels between the interest taken by the poet in the person whom he depicts, or the poet's judgment about this person, and the impression which the reader himself gets; because it is in this point-the relation of the artist to his own creations-that every weakness of either the man or the poet must necessarily appear."
The reader feels every such mistake at once and keeps the remembrance of it, notwithstanding all the efforts of the author to dissipate its impression.
"What reader of Balzac, or of Dickens, or of Auerbach-to speak of the great dead only-does not know this feeling!" Brandes continues. "When Balzac swims in warmed-up excitement, or when Dickens becomes childishly touching, and Auerbach intentionally naïve, the reader feels repulsed by the untrue, the unpleasant. Never do we meet with anything artistically repulsive in Turguéneff."
This remark of the great critic is absolutely true, and only a few words need be added to it, with reference to the wonderful architecture of all Turguéneff's novels. Be it a small novel, or a large one, the proportion of the parts is wonderfully held; not a single episode of a merely "ethnographical " character comes in to disturb or to slacken the development of the inner human drama; not one feature, and certainly not one single scene, can be omitted without destroying the impression of the whole; and the final accord, which seals the usually touching general impression, is always worked out with wonderful finish. 1
And then the beauty of the chief scenes. Every one of them could be made the subject of a most artistic and telling picture. Take, for instance, the final scenes of Helen and Insároff in Venice: their visit to the picture gallery, which made the keeper exclaim, as he looked at them, Poveretti! or the scene in the theater, where in response to the imitated cough of the actress (who played Violetta in Traviata) resounded the deep, real cough of the dying Insároff. The actress herself, with her poor dress and bony shoulders, who yet took possession of the audience by the warmth and reality of her feeling, and created a storm of enthusiasm by her cry of dying joy on the return of Alfred; nay, I should even say, the dark harbor where one sees the gull drop from rosy light into the deep blackness of the night-each of these scenes comes to the imagination on canvas. In his lecture, Hamlet and Don Quixote, where he speaks of Shakespeare and Cervantes being contemporaries, and mentions that the romance of Cervantes was translated into English in Shakespeare's lifetime, so that he might have read it, Turguéneff exclaims: "What a picture, worthy of the brush of a thoughtful painter: Shakespeare reading Don Quixote! "It would seem as if in these lines he betrayed the secret of the wonderful beauty-the pictorial beauty-of such a number of his scenes. He must have imagined them, not only with the music of the feeling that speaks in them, but also as pictures, full of the deepest psychological meaning and in which all the surroundings of the main figures-the Russian birch wood, or the German town on the Rhine, or the harbor of Venice-are in harmony with the feeling.
Turguéneff knew the human heart deeply, especially the heart of a young, thoroughly honest, and reasoning girl when she awakes to higher feelings and ideas, and that awakening takes, without her realizing it, the shape of love. In the description of that moment of life Turguéneff stands quite unrivaled. On the whole, love is the leading motive of all his novels; and the moment of its full development is the moment when his hero-he may be a political agitator or a modest squire-appears in full light. The great poet knew that a human type cannot be characterized by the daily work in which such a man is engaged-however important that work may be-and still less by a flow of words. Consequently, when he draws, for instance, the picture of an agitator in Dmitri Rúdin, he does not report his fiery speeches-for the simple reason that the agitator's words would not have characterized him. Many have pronounced the same appeals to Equality and Liberty before him, and many more will pronounce them after his death. But that special type of apostle of equality and liberty-the "man of the word, and of no action" which he intended to represent in Rúdin-is characterized by the hero's relations to different persons, and particularly, above all, by his love. By his love-because it is in love that the human being appears in full, with its individual features. Thousands of men have made "propaganda by word," all very much in the same expressions, but each of them has loved in a different way. Mazzini and Lassalle did similar work; but how different they were in their loves! You do not know Lassalle unless you know his relations to the Countess of Hatzfeld.
In common with all great writers, Turguéneff combined the qualities of a pessimist and a lover of mankind.
"There flows a deep and broad stream of melancholy in Turguéneff's mind," remarks Brandes, "and therefore it flows also through all his works. Though his description be objective and impersonal, and although he hardly ever introduces into his novels lyric poetry, nevertheless they produce on the whole the impression of lyrics. There is so much of Turguéneff's own personality expressed in them, and this personality is always sadness-a specific sadness without a touch of sentimentality. Never does Turguéneff give himself up entirely to his feelings: he impresses by restraint; but no West European novelist is so sad as he is. The great melancholists of the Latin race, such as Leopardi and Flaubert, have hard, fast outlines in their style; the German sadness is of a caustic humor, or it is pathetic, or sentimental; but Turguéneff's melancholy is, in its substance, the melancholy of the Slavonian races in its weakness and tragical aspect, it is a descendant in a straight line from the melancholy of the Slavonian folk-song. . . . When Gógol is melancholy, it is from despair. When Dostoyévskiy expresses the same feeling, it is because his heart bleeds with sympathy for the down-trodden, and especially for great sinners. Tolstóy's melancholy has its foundation in his religious fatalism. Turguéneff alone is a philosopher. . . . He loves man, even though he does not think much of him and does not trust him very much."
The full force of Turguéneff's talent appeared already in his earlier productions-that is, in the series of short sketches from village life, to which the misleading title of A Sportsman's NoteBook was given in order to avoid the rigors of censorship. Notwithstanding the simplicity of their contents and the total absence of the satirical element, these sketches gave a decided blow to serfdom. Turguéneff did not describe in them such atrocities of serfdom as might have been considered mere exceptions to the rule; nor did he idealize the Russian peasant; but by giving life-portraits of sensible, reasoning, and loving beings, bent down under the yoke of serfdom, together with life-pictures of the shallowness and meanness of the life of the serf-owners-even the best of them-he awakened the consciousness of the wrong done by the system. The social influence of these sketches was very great. As to their artistic qualities, suffice it to say that in these short sketches we find in a few pages most vivid pictures of an incredible variety of human characters, together with most beautiful sketches of nature.
Contempt, admiration, sympathy, or deep sadness are impressed in turns on the reader at the will of the young author-each time, however, in such a form and by such vivid scenes that each of these short sketches is worth a good novel.
In the series of short novels, A Quiet Corner, Correspondence, Yákov Pásynkov, Faust, and Asya, all dated 1854 and 1855, the genius of Turguéneff revealed itself fully: his manner, his inner self, his powers. A deep sadness pervades these novels. A sort of despair in the educated Russian, who, even in his love, appears utterly incapable of a strong feeling which would carry away all obstacles, and always manages, even when circumstances favor him, to bring the woman who loves him to grief and despair. The following lines from Correspondence characterize best the leading idea of three of these novels: A Quiet Corner, Correspondence, and Asya. It is a girl of twenty-six who writes to a friend of her childhood:
"Again I repeat that I do not speak of the girl who finds it difficult and hard to think. . . . She looks round, she expects, and asks herself, when the one whom her soul is longing for will come. . . . At last he appears: she is carried away by him; she is like soft wax in his hands. Happiness, love, thought-all these come now in streams; all her unrest is settled, all doubts resolved by him; truth itself seems to speak through his lips. She worships him, she feels ashamed of her own happiness, she learns, she loves. Great is his power over her at that time! . . . If he were a hero he could have fired her, taught her how to sacrifice herself, and all sacrifices would have been easy for her! But there are no heroes nowadays. . . . . Still, he leads her wherever he likes; she takes to what interests him; each of his words penetrates into her soul-she does not know yet how insignificant and empty, how false, words can be, how little they cost the one who pronounces them, how little they can be trusted. Then, following these first moments of happiness and hopes, comes usually-owing to circumstances (circumstances are always the fault)-comes usually the separation. I have heard it said that there have been cases when the two kindred souls have united immediately; I have also heard that they did not always find happiness in that . . . however, I will not speak of what I have not seen myself. But-the fact that calculation of the pettiest sort and the most miserable prudence can live in a young heart by the side of the most passionate exaltation, this I have unfortunately learned from experience. So, the separation comes. . . . Happy the girl who at once sees that this is the end of all, and will not soothe herself by expectations! But you, brave and just men, you mostly have not the courage, nor the desire, to tell us the truth . . . it is easier for you to deceive us . . . or, after all, I am ready to believe that, together with us, you deceive yourselves."
A complete despair in the capacity for action of the educated man in Russia runs through all the novels of this period. Those few men who seem to be an exception-those who have energy, or simulate it for a short time, generally end their lives in the billiard room of the public house, or spoil their existences in some other way. The years 1854 and 1855, when these novels were written, fully explain the pessimism of Turguéneff. In Russia they were perhaps the darkest years of that dark period of Russian history-the reign of Nicholas I.-and in Western Europe, too, the years closely following the coup d'état of Napoleon III. were years of a general reaction after the great unrealized hopes of 1848.
Turguéneff, who came very near being marched to Siberia in 1852 for having printed at Moscow his innocent necrological note about Gógol, after it had been forbidden by the St. Petersburg censorship, was compelled to live now on his estate, beholding round him the servile submissiveness of all those who had formerly shown some signs of revolt. Seeing all round the triumph of the supporters of serfdom and despotism, he might easily have been brought to despair. But the sadness which pervades the novels of this period was not a cry of despair; it was not a satire either; it was the gentle touch of a loving friend, and that constitutes their main charm. From the artistic point of view, Asya and Correspondence are perhaps the finest gems which we owe to Turguéneff.
To judge of the importance of Turguéneff's work one must read in succession-so he himself desired-his six novels: Dmitri Rúdin, A Nobleman's Retreat (Une nichée de Gentilshommes, or, Liza, in Mr. Ralston's version), On the Eve, Fathers and Sons, Smoke, and Virgin Soil. In them, one sees his poetical powers in full; at the same time one gets an insight into the different aspects which intellectual life took in Russia from 1848 to 1876, and one understands the poet's attitude towards the best representatives of advanced thought in Russia during that most interesting period of her development. In some of his earlier short tales Turguéneff had already touched upon Hamletism in Russian life. In his Hamlet of the Schigróvsky District, and his Diary of a Useless Man, he had already given admirable sketches of that sort of man. But it was in Rúdin (1855) that he achieved the full artistic representation of that type which had grown upon Russian soil with especial profusion at a time when our best men were condemned to inactivity and-words. Turguéneff did not spare men of that type; he represented them with their worst features, as well as with their best, and yet he treated them with tenderness. He loved Rúdin, with all his defects, and in this love he was at one with the best men of his generation, and of ours, too.
Rúdin was a man of the "forties," nurtured upon Hegel's philosophy, and developed under the conditions which prevailed under Nicholas I., when there was no possibility whatever for a thinking man to apply his energy, unless he chose to become an obedient functionary of an autocratic, slaveowning State. The scene is laid in one of the estates in middle Russia, in the family of a lady who takes a superficial interest in all sorts of novelties, reads books that are prohibited by censorship, such as Tocqueville's Democracy in America; and must always have round her, whether it be in her salon in the capital or on her estate, all sorts of men of mark. It is in her drawing-room that Rúdin makes his first appearance. In a few moments he becomes master of the conversation, and by his intelligent remarks to the point wins the admiration of the hostess and the sympathy of the younger generation. The latter is represented by the daughter of the lady and by a young student who is the tutor of her boys. Both are entirely captivated by Rúdin. When he speaks, later on in the evening, of his student years, and touches upon such taking subjects as liberty, free thought, and the struggles in Western Europe for freedom, his words are full of so much fire, so much poetry and enthusiasm, that the two younger people listen to him with a feeling which approaches worship. The result is evident: Natásha, the daughter, falls in love with him. Rúdin is much older than Natásha-silver streaks already appear in his beautiful hair, and he speaks of love as of something which, for him, belongs to the past. "Look at this oak," he says; "the last autumn's leaves still cover it, and they will never fall off until the young green leaves have made their appearance." Natásha understands this in the sense that Rúdin's old love can only fade away when a new one has taken its place and gives him her love. Breaking with all the traditions of the strictly correct house of her mother, she gives an interview to Rúdin in the early morning on the banks of a remote pond. She is ready to follow him anywhere, anyhow, without making any conditions; but he, whose love is more in his brain than in his heart, finds nothing to say to her but to talk about the impossibility of obtaining the permission of her mother for this marriage. Natásha hardly listens to his words. She would follow him with or without the consent of her mother, and asks: "What is then to be done? "-" To submit," is Rúdin's reply.
The hero who spoke so beautifully about fighting against all possible obstacles has broken down before the first obstacle that appeared in his way. Words, words, and no actions, was indeed the characteristic of these men, who in the forties represented the best thinking element of Russian society.
Later on we meet Rúdin once more. He has still found no work for himself, neither has he made peace with the conditions of life at that time. He remains poor, exiled by the government from one town to another, till at last he goes abroad, and during the insurrection of June, 1848, he is killed on a barricade in Paris. There is an epilogue to the novel, and that epilogue is so beautiful that a few passages from it must be produced here. It is Leézhneff, formerly Rúdin's enemy, who speaks.
" I know him well," continued Lézhneff, "I am aware of his faults. They are the more conspicuous because he is not to be regarded on a small scale."
"His is a character of genius!" cried Bassístoff.
"Genius, very likely he has! " replied Léhneff," but as for character. . . . That's just his misfortune: there's no force of character in him. . . . But I want to speak of what is good, of what is rare in him. He has enthusiasm; and, believe me, who am a phlegmatic person enough, that is the most precious quality in our times. We have all become insufferably reasonable, indifferent, and slothful; we are asleep and cold, and thanks to anyone who will wake us up and warm us! It is high time! Do you remember, Sásha, once when I was talking to you about him, I blamed him for coldness? I was right, and wrong too, then. The coldness is in his blood-that is not his fault-and not in his head. He is not an actor, as I called him, nor a cheat, nor a scoundrel; he lives at other people's expense, not like a swindler, but like a child. . . . Yes; no doubt he will die somewhere in poverty and want; but are we to throw stones at him for that? He never does anything himself precisely, he has no vital force, no blood; but who has the right to say that he has not been of use, that his words have not scattered good seeds in young hearts, to whom nature has not denied, as she has to him, powers for action, and the faculty of carrying out their own ideas? Indeed, I myself, to begin with, have gained all that I have from him. Sásha knows what Rúdin did for me in my youth. I also maintained, I recollect, that Rúdin's words could not produce an effect on men; but I was speaking then of men like myself, at my present age, of men who have already lived and been broken in by life. One false note in a man's eloquence, and the whole harmony is spoiled for us; but a young man's ear, happily, is not so over-fine, not so trained. If the substance of what he hears seems fine to him, what does he care about the intonation? The intonation he will supply for himself! "
"Bravo, bravo! " cried Bassístoff, "that is justly spoken! And as regards Rúdin's influence, I swear to you, that man not only knows how to move you, he lifts you up, he does not let you stand still, he stirs you to the depths and sets you on fire!"2
However, with such men as Rúdin further progress in Russia would have been impossible: new men had to appear. And so they did: we find them in the subsequent novels of Turguéneff-but they meet with what difficulties, what pains they undergo! This we see in Lavrétskiy and Líza (A Nobleman's Retreat) who belonged to the intermediate period. Lavrétskiy could not be satisfied with Rúdin's rôle of an errant apostle; he tried his hands at practical activity; but he also could not find his way amid the new currents of life. He had the same artistic and philosophical development as Rúdin; he had the necessary will; but his powers of action were palsied-not by his power of analysis in this case, but by the mediocrity of his surroundings and by his unfortunate marriage. Lavrétskiy ends also in wreck.
A Nobleman's Retreat was an immense success. It was said that, together with the autobiographic tale, First Love, it was the most artistic of Turguéneff's works. This, however, is hardly so. Its great success was surely due, first of all, to the wide circle of readers to whom it appealed. Lavrétskiy has married most unfortunately-a lady who soon becomes a sort of a second-rate Parisian lioness. They separate; and then he meets with a girl, Líza, in whom Turguéneff has given the best impersonation imaginable of the average, thoroughly good and honest Russian girl of those times. She and Lavrétskiy fall in love with each other. For a moment both she and Lavrétskiy think that the latter's wife is dead-so it stood, at least, in a Paris feuilleton; but the lady reappears bringing with her all her abominable atmosphere, and Líza goes to a convent. Unlike Rúdin or Bazároff, all the persons of this drama, as well as the drama itself, are quite familiar to the average reader, and for merely that reason the novel appealed to an extremely wide circle of sympathizers. Of course, the artistic powers of Turguéneff appear with a wonderful force in the representation of such types as Líza and Lavrétskiy's wife, Líza's old aunt, and Lavrétskiy himself. The note of poetry and sadness which pervades the novel carries away the reader completely. And yet, I may venture to say, the following novel, On the Eve, far superseded the former both in the depth of its conception and the beauty of its workmanship.
Already, in Natásha, Turguéneff had given a life-picture of a Russian girl who has grown up in the quietness of village life, but has in her heart, and mind, and will the germs of that which moves human beings to higher action. Rúdin's spirited words, his appeals to what is grand and worth living for, inflamed her. She was ready to follow him, to support him in the great work which he so eagerly and uselessly searched for, but it was he who proved to be her inferior. Turguéneff thus foresaw, since 1855, the coming of that type of woman who later on played so prominent a part in the revival of Young Russia. Four years later, in On the Eve, he gave, in Helen, a further and fuller development of the same type. Helen is not satisfied with the dull, trifling life in her own family, and she longs for a wider sphere of action. "To be good is not enough; to do good-yes; that is the great thing in life," she writes in her diary. But whom does she meet in her surroundings? Shúbin, a talented artist, a spoiled child, "a butterfly which admires itself "; Berséneff, a future professor, a true Russian nature-an excellent man, most unselfish and modest, but wanting inspiration, totally lacking in vigor and initiative. These two are the best. There is a moment when Shúbin as he rambles on a summer night with his friend Berséneff, says to him: "I love Helen, but Helen loves you. . . . Sing, sing louder, if you can; and if you cannot, then take off your hat, look above, and smile to the stars. They all look upon you, upon you alone: they always look on those who are in love." But Berséneff returns to his small room, and-opens Raumer's "History of the Hohenstauffens," on the same page where he had left it the last time. . . .
Thereupon comes Insároff, a Bulgarian patriot, entirely absorbed by one idea--the liberation of his mother-country; a man of steel, rude to the touch, who has cast away all melancholy philosophical dreaming, and marches straight forward, towards the aim of his life-and the choice of Helen is settled. The pages given to the awakening of her feeling and to its growth are among the best ever written by Turguéneff. When Insároff suddenly becomes aware of his own love for Helen, his first decision is to leave at once the suburb of Moscow, where they are all staying, and Russia as well. He goes to Helen's house to announce there his departure. Helen asks him to promise that he will see her again to-morrow before he leaves, but he does not promise. Helen waits for him, and when he has not come in the afternoon, she herself goes to him. Rain and thunder overtake her on the road, and she steps into an old chapel by the roadside. There she meets Insároff, and the explanation between the shy, modest girl who perceives that Insároff loves her, and the patriot, who discovers in her the force which, far from standing in his way, would only double his own energy, terminates by Insároff exclaiming: "Well, then, welcome, my wife before God and men!"
In Helen we have the true type of that Russian woman who a few years later joined heart and soul in all movements for Russian freedom: the woman who conquered her right to knowledge, totally reformed the education of children, fought for the liberation of the toiling masses, endured unbroken in the snows and jails of Siberia, died if necessary on the scaffold, and at the present moment continues with unabated energy the same struggle. The high artistic beauty of this novel has already been incidentally mentioned. Only one reproach can be made to it: the hero, Insároff, the man of action, is not sufficiently living. But both for the general architecture of the novel and the beauty of its separate scenes, beginning with the very first and ending with the last, On the Eve stands among the highest productions of the sort in all literatures.
The next novel of Turguéneff was Fathers and Sons. It was writen in 1859 when, instead of the sentimentalists and "esthetical" people of old, quite a new type of man was making its appearance in the educated portion of Russian society-the nihilist. Those who have not read Turguéneff's works will perhaps associate the word "nihilist" with the struggle which took place in Russia in 1879-1881 between the autocratic power and the terrorists; but this would be a great mistake. "Nihilism" is not "terrorism," and the type of the nihilist is infinitely deeper and wider than that of a terrorist. Turguéneff's Fathers and Sons must be read in order to understand it. The representative of this type in the novel is a young doctor, Bazároff-"a man who bows before no authority, however venerated it may be, and accepts of no principle unproved." Consequently he takes a negative attitude towards all the institutions of the present time and he throws overboard all the conventionalities and the petty lies of ordinary society life. He comes on a visit to his old parents and stays also at the country house of a young friend of his, whose father and uncle are two typical representatives of the old generation. This gives to Turguéneff the possibility of illustrating in a series of masterly scenes the conflict between the two generations-"the fathers" and "the sons." That conflict was going on in those years with bitter acrimony all over Russia.
One of the two brothers, Nikolái Petróvitch, is an excellent, slightly enthusiastic dreamer who in his youth was fond of Schiller and Púshkin, but never took great interest in practical matters; he now lives, on his estate, the lazy life of a landowner. He would like, however, to show to the young people that he, too, can go a long way with them: he tries to read the materialistic books which his son and Bazároff read, and even to speak their language; but his entire education stands in the way of a true "realistic" comprehension of the real state of affairs.
The elder brother, Peter Petróvitch, is, on the contrary, a direct descendant from Lérmontoff's Petchórin- that is, a thorough, well-bred egotist. Having spent his youth in high society circles, he, even now in the. dullness of the small country estate, considers it as a "duty" to be always properly dressed "as a perfect gentleman," strictly to obey the rules of "Society," to remain faithful to Church and State, and never to abandon his attitude of extreme reserve-which he abandons, however, every time that he enters into a discussion about "principles" with Bazároff. The "nihilist" inspires him with hatred.
The nihilist is, of course, the out-and-out negation of all the "principles" of Peter Petróvitch. He does not believe in the established principles of Church and State, and openly professes a profound contempt for all the established forms of society-life. He does not see that the wearing of a clean collar and a perfect necktie should be described as the performance of a duty. When he speaks, he says what he thinks. Absolute sincerity-not only in what he says, but also towards himself-and a common sense standard of judgments, without the old prejudices, are the ruling features of his character. This leads, evidently, to a certain assumed roughness of expression, and the conflict between the two generations must necessarily take a tragical aspect. So it was everywhere in Russia at that time. The novel expressed the real tendency of the time and accentuated it, so that-as has been remarked by a gifted Russian critic, S. Venguéroff-the novel and the reality mutually influenced each other.
Fathers and Sons produced a tremendous impression. Turgu&eacte;neff was assailed on all sides: by the old generation, which reproached him with being "a nihilist himself"; and by the youth, which was discontented at being identified with Bazároff. The truth is that, with a very few exceptions, among whom was the great critic, Písaareff, we do not properly understand Bazároff. Turguéneff had so much accustomed us to a certain poetical halo which surrounded his heroes, and to his own tender love which followed them, even when he condemned them, that finding nothing of the sort in his attitude towards Baxároff, we saw in the absence of these features a decided hostility of the author towards the hero. Moreover, certain features of Bazároff decidedly displeased us. Why should a man of his powers display such a harshness towards his old parents: his loving mother and his father-the poor old village-doctor who has retained, to old age, faith in his science. Why should Bazároff fall in love with that most uninteresting, self-admiring lady, Madame Odintsóff, and fail to be loved, even by her? And then why, at a time when in the young generation the seeds of a great movement towards freeing the masses were already ripening, why make Bazároff say that he is ready to work for the peasant, but if somebody comes and says to him that he is bound to do so, he will hate that peasant? To which Bazároff adds, in a moment of reflection: "And what of that? Grass will grow out of me when this peasant acquires wellbeing!" We did not understand this attitude of Turguéneff's nihilist, and it was only on re-reading Fathers and Sons much later on, that we noticed, in the very words that so offended us, the germs of a realistic philosophy of solidarity and duty which only now begins to take a more or less definite shape. In 1860 we, the young generation, looked on it as Turguéneff's desire to throw a stone at a new type with which he did not sympathize.
And yet, as Písareff understood at once, Bazároff was a real representative of the young generation. Turguéneff, as he himself wrote later on, merely did not "add syrup" to make his hero appear somewhat sweeter.
"Bazároff," he wrote, "puts all the other personalities of my novel in the shade. He is honest, straightforward, and a democrat of the purest water, and you find no good qualities in him! The duel with Petr Petróvitch is only introduced to show the intellectual emptiness of the elegant, noble knighthood; in fact, I even exaggerated and made it ridiculous. My conception of Bazároff is such as to make him appear throughout much superior to Petr Petróvitch. Nevertheless, when he calls himself nihilist you must read revolutionist. To draw on one side a functionary who takes bribes, and on the other an ideal youth-I leave it to others to make such pictures. My aim was much higher than that. I conclude with one remark: If the reader is not won by Bazároff, notwithstanding his roughness, absence of heart, pitiless dryness and terseness, then the fault is with me-I have missed my aim; but to sweeten him with syrup (to use Bazároff's own language), this I did not want to do, although perhaps through that I would have won Russian youth at once to my side."
The true key to the understanding of Fathers and Sons, and, in fact, of whatever Turguéneff wrote, is given, I will permit myself to suggest, in his admirable lecture, Hamlet and Don Quixote ( 1860). I have already elsewhere intimated this; but I am bound to repeat it here, as I think that, better than any other of Turguéneff's writings, this lecture enables us to look into the very philosophy of the great novelist. Hamlet and Don Quixote-Turguéneff wrote-personify the two opposite particularities of human nature. All men belong more or less to the one or to the other of these two types. And, with his wonderful powers of analysis, he thus characterized the two heroes:
" Don Quixote is imbued with devotion towards his ideal, for which he is ready to suffer all possible privations, to sacrifice his life; life itself he values only so far as it can serve for the incarnation of the ideal, for the promotion of truth, of justice on Earth. . . . He lives for his brothers, for opposing the forces hostile to mankind: the witches, the giants-that is, the oppressors. . . . Therefore he is fearless, patient; be is satisfied with the most modest food, the poorest cloth: he has other things to think of. Humble in his heart, he is great and daring in his mind." . . . "And who is Hamlet? Analysis first of all, and egotism, and therefore no faith. He lives entirely for himself, he is an egotist; but to believe in one's self-even an egotist cannot do that: we can believe only in something which is outside us and above us . . . As he has doubts of everything, Hamlet evidently does not spare himself; his intellect is too developed to remain satisfied with what be finds in himself: he feels his weakness, but each self-consciousness is a force wherefrom results his irony, the opposite of the enthusiam of Don Quixote." . . . " Don Quixote, a poor man, almost a beggar, without means and relations, old, isolated-undertakes to redress all the evils and to protect oppressed strangers over the whole earth. What does it matter to him that his first attempt at freeing the innocent from his oppressor falls twice as heavy upon the head of the innocent himself? . . . What does it matter that, thinking that he has to deal with noxious giants, Don Quixote attacks useful windmills? . . . Nothing of the sort can ever happen with Hamlet: how could be, with his perspicacious, refined, skeptical mind, ever commit such a mistake! No, he will not fight with windmills, he does not believe in giants . . . but he would not have attacked them even if they did exist . . . . And yet, although Hamlet is a skeptic, although he disbelieves in good, be does not believe in evil. Evil and deceit are his inveterate enemies. His skepticism is not indifferentism." . . . " But in negation, as in fire, there is a destructive power, and how to keep it in bounds, how to tell it where to stop, when that which it must destroy, and that which it must spare are often inseparably welded together? Here it is that the often-noticed tragical aspect of human life comes in: for action we require will, and for action we require thought; but thought and will have parted from each other, and separate every day more and more. . . .
"And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought. . . . "
This lecture fully explains, I believe, the attitude of Turguéneff towards Bazároff. He himself belonged to a great extent to the Hamlets. Among then he had his best friends. He loved Hamlet; yet he admired Don Quixote-the man of action. He felt his superiority; but, while describing this second type of men, he never could surround it with that tender poetical love for a sick friend which makes the irresistible attraction of those of his novels which deal with one or other of the Hamlet type. He admired Bazároff-his roughness as well as his power; Bazároff overpowered him; but he could by no means have for him the tender feelings which he had had for men of his own generation and his own refinement. In fact, with Bazároff they would have been out of place.
This we did not notice at that time, and therefore we did not understand Turguéneff's intention of representing the tragic position of Bazároff amid his surroundings. "I entirely share Bazároffs ideas," he wrote later on. " All of them, with the exception of his negation of art." " I loved Bazároff ; I will prove it to you by my diary," he told me once in Paris. Certainly he loved him-but with an intellectually admiring love, quite different from the compassionate love which he had bestowed upon Rúdin and Lavrétskiy. This difference escaped us, and was the chief cause of the misunderstanding which was so painful for the great poet.
Turguéneff's next novel, Smoke (1867), need not be dwelt upon. One object he had in it was to represent the powerful type of a Russian society lioness, which had haunted him for years, and to which he returned several times, until he finally succeeded in finding for it, in Spring Flood, the fullest and the most perfect artistic expression. His other object was to picture in its true colors the shallowness-nay, the silliness, of that society of bureaucrats into whose hands Russia fell for the next twenty years. Deep despair in the future of Russia after the wreck of that great reform movement which had given to us the abolition of serfdom pervades the novel; a despair which can by no means be attributed entirely, or even chiefly, to the hostile reception of Fathers and Sons by the Russian youth, but must be sought for in the wreck of the great hopes which Turguéneff and his best friends bad laid in the representatives of the reform movement of 1859-1863. This same despair made Turguéneff write "Enough; from the Memoirs of a Dead Artist" (1865), and the fantastic sketch, "Ghosts" ( 1867), and he recovered from it only when he saw the birth in Russia of a new movement, "towards the people!" which took place among our youth in the early seventies.
This movement he represented in his last novel of the above-mentioned series, Virgin Soil (1876). That he was fully sympathetic with it is self-evident; but the question, whether his novel gives a correct idea of the movement, must be answered to some extent in the negative-even though Turguéneff had, with his wonderful intuition, caught some of the most striking features of the movement. The novel was finished in 1876 (we read it, in a full set of proofs, at the house of P.L. Lavróff, in London, in the autumn of that year)-that means, two years before the great trial of those who were arrested for this agitation took place. And in 1876 no one could possibly have known the youth of our circles unless he had himself belonged to them. Consequently, Virgin Soil could only refer to the very earliest phases of the movement: misconception of the peasantry, the peculiar inca-did not meet with any of the best representativs of it. Much of the novel is true, but the general impression it conveys is not precisely the impression which Turguéneff himself would have received if he had better known the Russian youth at that time.
With all the force of his immense talent, he could not supply by intuition the lack of knowledge. And yet he understood two characteristic features of the earliest part of the movement: misconception of the peasantry, the peculiar incapacity of most of the early promoters of the movement to understand the Russian peasant, on account of the bias of their false literary, historical, and social education; and the Hamletism: the want of resolution, or rather "resolution sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought," which really characterized the movement at its outset. If Turguéneff had lived a few years more he surely would have noticed coming into the arena the new type of men of action-the new modification of Insároff's and Bazároffs type, which grew up in proportion as the movement was taking firm root. He had already perceived them through the dryness of official records of the trial of "the hundred-and-ninety three," and in 1878 he asked me to tell him all I knew about Mýshkin, one of the most powerful individualities of that trial.
He did not live to accomplish this. A disease which nobody understood and was mistaken for "gout," but which was in reality a cancer of the spinal cord, kept him for the last few years of his life an invalid, rivetted to his couch. Only his letters, full of thought and life, where sadness and merriment go on in turn, are what remains from his pen during that period of life, when he seems to have meditated upon several novels which he left unfinished or perhaps unwritten. He died at Paris in 1883 at the age of sixty-five.
In conclusion, a few words, at least, must be said about his "Poems in Prose," or "Senilia" (1882). These are "flying remarks, thoughts, images," which he wrote down from 1878 onwards under the impression of this or that fact of his own personal life, or of public life. Though written in prose, they are true pieces of excellent poetry, some of them real gems; some deeply touching and as impressive as the best verses of the best poets (Old Woman; The Beggar; Másha; How Beautiful, how Fresh were the Roses) ; while others (Nature, The Dog) are more characteristic of Turguéneff's philosophical conceptions than anything else he has written. And finally, in On the Threshold, written a few months before his death, he expressed in most poetical accents his admiration of those women who gave their lives for the revolutionary movement and went on the scaffold, without being even understood at the time by those for whom they died.
More than half a century ago, i.e. in 1852, the first story of Tolstóy, Childhood, soon followed by Boyhood, made its appearance in the monthly review, The Contemporary, with the modest signature, "L.N.T." The little story was a great success. It was imbued with such a charm; it had such freshness, and was so free of all the mannerism of the literary trade, that the unknown author at once became a favorite, and was placed by the side of Turguéneff and Gontcharóff.
There are excellent children stories in all languages. Childhood is the period of life with which many authors have best succeeded in dealing. And yet no one, perhaps, has so well described the life of children from within, from their own point of view, as Tolstóy did. With him, it is the child itself which expresses its childish feelings, and it does this so as to compel the reader to judge full-grown people with the child 's point of view. Such is the realism of Childhood and Boyhood-that is, their richness in facts caught from real life-that a Russian critic, Písareff, developed quite a theory of education chiefly on the basis of the data contained in these two stories of Tolstóy's.
It is related somewhere that one day, during their rambles in the country, Turguéneff and Tolstóy came across an old hack of a horse which was finishing its days in a lonely field. Tolstóy entered at once into the. feelings of the horse and began to describe its sad reflections so vividly, that Turguéneff, alluding to the then new ideas of Darwinism, could not help exclaiming, "I am sure, Lyov Nikoláevitch, that you must have had horses among your ancestors!" In the capacity of entirely identifying himself with the feelings and the thoughts of the beings of whom he speaks, Tolstéy has but few rivals; but with children this power of identification attains its highest degree. The moment he speaks of children, Tolstóy becomes himself a child.
Childhood and Boyhood are, it is now known, autobiographical stories, in which only small details are altered, and in the boy Irténeff we have a glimpse of what L.N. Tolstóy was in his childhood, He was born in 1828, in the estate of Yásnaya Polyána, which now enjoys universal fame, and for the first fifteen years of his life he remained, almost without interruption, an inhabitant of the country. His father and grandfather-so we are told by the Russian critic, S. Vengueroft-are described in War and Peace, in Nicholas Róstoff and the old Count Róstoff respectively; while his mother, who was born a Princess Volkhónskaya, is represented as Mary Bolkónskaya. Leo Tolstóy lost his mother at the age of two, and his father at the age of nine, and after that time his education was taken care of by a woman relative, T.A. Ergólskaya, in Yásnaya Polyána, and after 1840, at Kazáñ, by his aunt P.I. Yúshkova, whose house, we are told, must have been very much the same as the house of the Róstoffs' in War and Peace.
Leo Tolstóy was only fifteen when he entered the Kazáñ University, where he spent two years in the Oriental faculty and two years in the faculty of Law. However, the teaching-staff of both faculties was so feeble at that time that only a single professor was able to awaken in the young man some passing interest in his subject. Four years later, that is in 1847, when he was only nineteen, Leo Tolstóy had already left the University and was making at Yásnaya Polyána some attempts at improving the conditions of his peasant serfs, of which attempts he has told us later on, with such a striking sincerity, in The Morning of a Landlord.
The next four years of his life he spent, externally, like most young men of his aristocratic circle, but internally, in a continual reaction against the life he was leading. An insight into what he was then-slightly exaggerated, of course, and dramatized-we can get from the Notes of a Billiard Marker. Happily he could not put up with such paltry surroundings and in 1851, he suddenly renounced the life he had hitherto led-that of an idle aristocratic youth-and following his brother Nicholas, he went to the Caucasus, in order to enter military service. There he stayed first at Pyatigórsk-the place so full of reminiscences of Lérmontoff-until, having passed the necessary examinations, he was received as a noncommissioned officer (yunker) in the artillery and went to serve in a Cossack village on the banks of the Térek.
His experiences and reflections in these new surroundings, we know from his Cossacks. But it was there also that in the face of the beautiful nature which had so powerfully inspired Púshkin and Lérmontoff he found his true vocation. He sent to the Contemporary his first literary experiment, Childhood, and this first story, as he soon learned from a letter of the poet Nekrásoff, editor of the review, and from the critical notes of Grigórieff, Annenkoff, Druzhínin, and Tchernyshévskiy (they belonged to four different esthetical schools), proved to be a chef d'aeuvre.
However, the great Crimean war began towards the end of the next year (1853), and L.N. Tolstóy did not want to remain inactive in the Caucasus army. He obtained his transfer to the Danube army, took part in the siege of Silistria, and later on in the battle of Balakláva, and from November, 1854, till August, 1855, remained besieged in Sebastopol-partly in the terrible "Fourth bastion," where he lived through all the dreadful experiences of the heroic defenders of that fortress. He has therefore the right to speak of War: he knows it from within. He knows what it is, even under its very best aspects, in such a significant and inspired phase as was the defense of these forts and bastions which had grown up under the enemy's shells. He obstinately refused during the siege to become an officer of the Staff, and remained with his battery in the most dangerous spots.
I perfectly well remember, although I was only twelve or thirteen, the profound impression which his sketch, Sebastopol in December, 18 54, followed, after the fall of the fortress, by two more Sebastopol sketches-produced in Russia. The very character of these sketches was original. They were not leaves from a diary, and yet they were as true to reality as such leaves could be; in fact, even more true, because the were not representing one corner only of real life-the corner which accidentally fell under the writer's observations-but the whole life, the prevailing modes of thought and the habits of life in the besieged fortress. They represented-and this is characteristic of all subsequent works of Tolstóy-an interweaving of Dichtung and Wahrheit, of poetry and truth, truth and poetry, containing much more truth than is usually found in a novel, and more poetry, more poetical creation, than occurs in most works of pure fiction.
Tolstóy apparently never wrote in verse; but during the siege of Sebastopol he composed, in the usual meter and language of soldiers' songs, a satirical song in which he described the blunders of the commanders which ended in the Balakláva disaster. The song, written in an admirable popular style, could not be printed, but it spread over Russia in thousands of copies and was widely sung, both during and immediately after the campaign. The name of the author also leaked out, but there was some uncertainty as to whether it was the author of the Sebastopol sketches or some other Tolstóy.
On his return from Sebastopol and the conclusion of peace (1856) Tolstóy stayed partly at St. Petersburg and partly at Yásnaya Polyána. In the capital he was received with open arms by all classes of society, both literary and worldly, as a "Sebastopol hero" and as a rising great writer. But of the life he lived then he cannot speak now otherwise than with disgust: it was the life of hundreds of young men-officers of the Guard and jeunesse dorée of his own class-which was passed in the restaurants and cafés chantants of the Russian capital, amid gamblers, horse dealers, Tsigane choirs, and French adventuresses. He became at that time friendly with Turguéneff and saw much of him, both at St. Petersburg and at Yásnaya Polyána-the estates of the two great writers being not very far from each other; but, although his friend Turguéneff was taking then a lively part in co-editing with Hérzen the famous revolutionary paper, The Bell (see Chapter VIII.), Tolstóy, seems to have taken no interest in it; and while he was well acquainted with the editing staff of the then famous review, The Contemporary, which was fighting the good fight for the liberation of the peasants and for freedom in general, Tolstóy, for one reason or another, never became friendly with the Radical leaders of that review-Tchernyshévsky, Dobrolúboff, Mikháiloff, and their friends.
Altogether, the great intellectual and reform movement which was going on then in Russia seems to have left him cold. He did not join the part of reforms. Still less was he inclined to join those young Nihilists whom Turguéneff had portrayed to the best of his ability in Fathers and Sons, or later on in the seventies, the youth whose watchword became: "Be the people," and with whom Tolstóy has so much in common at the present time. What was the reason of that estrangement we are unable to say. Was it that a deep chasm separated the young epicuraean aristocrat from the ultra-democratic writers, like Dobrolúboff, who worked at spreading socialistic and democratic ideas in Russia, and still more from those who, like Rakhmétoff in Tchernyshévsky's novel What is to be done, lived the life of the peasant, thus practicing then what Tolstóy began to preach twenty years later ?
Or, was it the difference between the two generations -the man of thirty or more, which Tolstóy was, and the young people in their early twenties, possessed of all the haughty intolerance of youth,-which kept them aloof from each other. And was it not, in addition to all this, the result of theories? namely, a fundamental difference in the conceptions of the advanced Russian Radicals, who at that time were mostly admirers of Governmental Jacobinism, and the Populist, the No-Government man which Tolstóy must have already then been, since it distinctly appeared in his negative attitude towards Western civilization, and especially in the educational work which he began in 1861 in the Yásnaya Polyána school?
The novels which Tolstóy brought out during these years, 1856-1862, do not throw much light upon his state of mind, because, even though they are, to a great extent autobiographical, they mostly relate to earlier periods of his life. Thus, he published two more of his Sebastopol war-sketches. All his powers of observation and war-psychology, all his deep comprehension of the Russian soldier, and especially of the plain, un-theatrical hero who really wins the battles, and a profound understanding of that inner spirit of an army upon which depend success and failure: everything, in short, which developed into the beauty and the truthfulness of War and Peace was already manifested in these sketches, which undoubtedly represented a new departure in war-literature the world over.
Youth, The Morning of a Landed Proprietor, and Lucerne appeared during the same years, but they produced upon us readers, as well as upon the literary critics, a strange and rather unfavorable impression. The great writer remained; and his talent was showing evident signs of growth, while the problems of life which he touched upon were deepening and widening; but the heroes who seemed to represent the ideas of the author himself could not entirely win our sympathies. In Childhood and Boyhood we had had before us the boy Irténeff. Now, in Youth, Irténeff makes the acquaintance of Prince Nektúdoff; they become great friends, and promise, without the slightest reservation, to confess to each other their moral failings. Of course, they do not always keep this promise; but it leads them to continual self-probing, to a repentance one moment which is forgotten the next, and to an unavoidable duality of mind which has the most debilitating effect upon the two young men's character. The ill results of these moral endeavors Tolstóy did not conceal. He detailed them with the greatest imaginable sincerity, but he seemed nevertheless to keep them before his readers as something desirable; and with this we could not agree.
Youth is certainly the age when higher moral ideals find their way into the mind of the future man or woman; the years when one strives to get rid of the imperfections of boyhood or girlhood; but this aim is never attained in the ways recommended at monasteries and Jesuit schools. The only proper way is to open before the young mind new, broad horizons, to free it from superstitions and fears, to grasp man's position amid Nature and Mankind; and especially to feel at one with some great cause and to nurture one's forces with the view of being able some day to struggle for that cause. Idealism-that is, the capacity of conceiving a poetical love towards something great, and to prepare for it-is the only sure preservation from all that destroys the vital forces of man: vise, dissipation, and so on. This inspiration, this love of an ideal, the Russian youth used to find in the student circles, of which Turguéneff has left us such spirited descriptions. Instead of that, Irténeff and Neklúdoff, remaining during their university years in their splendid aristocratic isolation, are unable to conceive a higher ideal worth living for, and spent their forces in vain endeavors of semi-religious moral improvement, on a plan that may perhaps succeed in the isolation of a monastery, but usually ends in failure amid the attractions lying round a young man of the world. These failures Tolstóy relates, as usual, with absolute earnestness and sincerity.
The Morning of a Landed Proprietor produced again a strange impression. The story deals with the unsuccessful philanthropic endeavors of a serf-owner who tries to make his serfs happy and wealthy-without ever thinking of beginning where he ought to begin; namely, of setting his slaves free. In those years of liberation of the serfs and enthusiastic hopes, such a story sounded as an anachronism-the more so as it was not known at the time of its appearance that it was a page from Tolstóy's earlier autobiography relating to the year 1847, when he settled in Yásnaya Polyána, immediately after having left the University, and when extremely few thought of liberating the serfs. It was one of those sketches of which Brandes has so truly said that in them Tolstóy "thinks aloud" about some page of his own life. It thus produced a certain mixed, undefined feeling. And yet one could not but admire in it the same great objective talent that was so striking in Childhood and the Sebastopol sketches. In speaking of peasants who received with distrust the measures with which their lord was going to benefit them, it would have been so easy, so humanly natural, for an educated man to throw upon their ignorance their unwillingness to accept the threshing machine (which, by the way, did not work), or the refusal of a peasant to accept the free gift of a stone house (which was far from the village) . . . . . But not a shade of that sort of pleading in favor of the landlord is to be found in the story, and the thinking reader necessarily concludes in favor of the common sense of the peasants.
Then came Lucerne. It is told in that story how the same Neklúdoff, bitterly struck by the indifference of a party of English tourists who sat on the balcony of a rich Swiss hotel and refused to throw even a few pennies to a poor singer to whose songs they had listened with evident emotion, brings the singer to the hotel, takes him to the dining-hall, to the great scandal of the English visitors, and treats him there to a bottle of champagne. The feelings of Neklúdoff are certainly very just; but while reading this story one suffers all the while for the poor musician, and experiences a sense of anger against the Russian nobleman who uses him as a rod to chastise the tourists, without even noticing how he makes the old man miserable during this lesson in morals. The worst of it is that the author, too, seems not to remark the false note which rings in the conduct of Neklúdoff, nor to realize how a man with really humane feelings would have taken the singer to some small wine-shop and would have had with him a friendly talk over a picholette of common wine. Yet we see again all Tolstóy's force of talent. He so honestly, so fully, and so truly describes the uneasiness of the singer during-the whole scene that the reader's unavoidable conclusion is that although the young aristocrat was right in protesting against stone-heartedness, his ways were as unsympathetic as those of the self-contented Englishmen at the hotel. Tolstóy's artistic power carries him beyond and above his theories.
This is not the only case where such a remark may be made concerning Tolstóy's work. His appreciation of this or that action, of this or that of his heroes, may be wrong; his own "philosophy" may be open to objection, but the force of his descriptive talent and his literary honesty are always so great, that he will often make the feelings and actions of his heroes speak against their creator, and prove something very different from what he intended to prove.3 This is probably why Turguéneff, and apparently other literary friends, too, told him: "Don't put your 'philosophy into your art.' Trust to your artistic feeling, and you will create great things." In fact, notwithstanding Tolstóy's distrust of science, I must say that I always feel in reading his works that he is possessed of the most scientific insight I know of among artists. He may be wrong in his conclusions, but never is he wrong in his statement of data. True science and true art are not hostile to each other, but always work in harmony.
Several of Tolstóy's novels and stories appeared in the years 1857-1862 (The Snow-Storm, The Two Hussars, Three Deaths, The Cossacks) and each one of them won new admiration for his talent. The first is a mere trifle, and yet it is a gem of art; it concerns the wanderings of a traveler during a snow-storm, in the plains of Central Russia. The same remark is true of the Two Hussars, in which two generations are sketched on a few pages with striking accuracy. As to the deeply pantheistic Three Deaths, in which the death of a rich lady, a poor horse-driver, and a birch-tree are contrasted, it is a piece of poetry in prose that deserves a place beside Goethe's best pieces of pantheistic poetry, while for its social significance it is already a forerunner of the Tolstóy of the later epoch.
The Cossacks is an autobiographical novel, and relates to the time, already mentioned on a previous page, when Tolstóy at twenty-four, running away from the meaningless life he was living, went to Pyatigórsk, and then to a lonely Cossack village on the Térek, hunted there in company with the old Cossack Yeróshka and the young Lukáshka, and found in the poetical enjoyment of a beautiful nature, in the plain life of these squatters, and in the mute adoration of a Cossack girl, the awakening of his wonderful literary genius.
The appearance of this novel, in which one feels a most genuine touch of genius, provoked violent discussions. It was begun in 1852, but was not published till 1860, when all Russia was awaiting with anxiety the results of the work of the Abolition of Serfdom Committees, foreseeing that when serfdom should be done away with a complete destruction of all other rotten, obsolete, and barbarous institutions of past ages would have to begin. For this great work of reform Russia looked to Western civilization for inspiration and for teachings. And there came a young writer who, following in the steps of Rousseau, revolted against that civilization and preached a return to nature and the throwing off of the artificialities we call civilized life, which are in reality a poor substitute for the happiness of free work amid a free nature. Everyone knows by this time the dominant idea of The Cossacks. It is the contrast between he natural life of these sons of the prairies and the artificial life of the young officer thrown in their midst. He tells of strong men who are similar to the American squatters, and have been developed in the Steppes at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, by a perilous life, in which force, endurance, and calm courage are a first necessity. Into their midst comes one of the sickly products of our semi-intellectual town life, and at every step he feels himself the inferior of the Cossack Lukáshka. He wishes to do something on a grand scale, but has neither the intellectual nor the physical force to accomplish it. Even his love is not the strong healthy love of the prairie man, but a sort of slight excitement of the nerves, which evidently will not last, and which only produces a similar restlessness in the Cossack girl, but cannot carry her away. And when he talks to her of love, in the force of which he himself does not believe, she sends him off with the words: " Go away you weakling!"
Some saw in that powerful novel such glorification of the semi-savage state as that in which writers of the eighteenth century, and especially Rousseau, are supposed to have indulged. There is in Tolstóy nothing of the sort, as there was nothing of the sort in Rousseau. But Tolstóy saw that in the life of the Cossacks there is more vitality more vigor, more power, than in his well-born hero's life-and he told it in a beautiful and impressive form. His hero-like whom there are thousands upon thousands-has none of the powers that come from manual work and struggle with nature; and neither has he hose powers which knowledge and true civilization might have given him. A real intellectual power is not asking itself at every moment, "Am I right, or am I wrong?" It feels that there are principles in which it is not wrong. The same is true of a moral force: it knows that to such an extent it can trust to itself. But, like so many thousands of men in the so-called educated classes, Neklúdoff has neither of these powers. He is a weakling, and Tolstóy brought out his intellectual and moral frailty with a distinctness that was bound to produce a deep impression.
In the years 1859-1862 the struggle between the "fathers" and the "sons" which called forth violent attacks against the young generation, even from such an "objective" writer as Gontcharóff-to say nothing of Písemskiy and several others,-was going on all over Russia. But we do not know which side had Tolstóy's sympathy. It must be said, though, that most of this time he was abroad, with his elder brother Nicholas, who died of consumption in the south of France. All we know is that the failure of Western civilization in attaining any approach to well-being and equality for the great masses of the people deeply struck Tolstóy; and we are told by Venguéroff that the only men of mark whom he went to see during this journey abroad were Auerbach, who wrote at that time his Schwartzwald stories from the life of the peasants and edited popular almanacs, and Proudhon, who was then in exile at Brussels. Tolstóy returned to Russia at the moment when the serfs were freed, accepted the position of a mirovóy posrédnik, or arbitrator of peace between the landlords and the freed serfs, and, settling at Yásnaya Polyána, began there his work of education of children. This he started on entirely independent lines,-that is, on purely anarchistic principles, totally free from the artificial methods of education which had been worked out by German pedagogists, and were then greatly admired in Russia. There was no sort of discipline in his school. Instead of working out programs according to which the children are to be taught, the teacher, Tolstóy said, must learn from the children themselves what to teach them, and must adapt his teaching to the individual tastes and capacities of each child. Tolstóy carried this out with his pupils, and obtained excellent results. His methods, however, have as yet received but little attention; and only one great writer-another poet, William Morris, -has advocated (in News from Nowhere) the same freedom in education. But we may be sure that some day Tolstóy's Yásnaya Polyána papers, studied by some gifted teacher, as Rousseau's Emile was studied by Froebel, will become the starting point of an educational reform much deeper than the reforms of Pestalozzi and Froebel.
It is now known that a violent end to this educational experiment was put by the Russian Government. During Tolstóy's absence from his estate a searching was made by the gendarmes, who not only frightened to death Tolstóy's old aunt (she fell ill after that) but visited every corner of the house and read aloud, with cynical comments, the most intimate diary which the great writer had kept since his youth. More searchings were promised, so that Tolstóy intended to emigrate for ever to London, and warned Alexander II., through the Countess A. A. Tolstáya that he kept a loaded revolver by his side and would shoot down the first police officer who would dare to enter his house. The school had evidently to be closed.
In the year 1862 Tolstóy married the young daughter of a Moscow doctor, Bers; and, staying nearly without interruption on his Túla estate, he gave his time, for the next fifteen or sixteen years, to his great work, War and Peace, and next to Anna Karénina. His first intention was to write (probably untilising some family traditions and documents) a great historical novel, The Decembrists (see Chapter 1.), and he finished in 1863 the first chapters of this novel (Vol. 111. of his Works, in Russian; Moscow, 10th edition). But in trying to create the types of the Decembrists he must have been taken back in his thoughts to the great war of 1812. He had heard so much about it in the family traditions of the Tolstóys and Volkhónskys, and that war had so much in common with the Crimean war through which he himself had lived that he came to write this great epopee, War and Peace, which has no parallel in any literature.
A whole epoch, from 1805 to 1812, is reconstituted in these volumes, and its meaning appears-not from the conventional historian's point of view, but as it was understood then by those who lived and acted in those years. All the Society of those times passes before the reader, from its highest spheres, with their heart-rending levity, conventional ways. of thinking, and superficiality, down to the simplest soldier in the army, who bore the hardships of that terrible conflict as a sort of ordeal that was sent by a supreme power upon the Russians, and who forgot himself and his own sufferings in the life and sufferings of the nation. A fashionable drawing-room at St. Petersburg, the salon of a person who is admitted into the intimacy of the dowager-empress; the quarters of the Russian diplomatists in Austria and the Austrian Court; the thoughtless life of the Róstoff family at Moscow and on their estate; the austere house of the old general, Prince Bolkónskiy; then the camp life of the Russian General Staff and of Napoléon on the one hand, and on the other, the inner life of a simple regiment of the hussars or of a field-battery; then such world-battles as Schöngraben, the disaster of Austerlitz, Smolénsk, and Borodinó; the abandonment and the burning of Moscow; the life of those Russian prisoners who had been arrested pell-mell during the conflagration and were executed in batches; and finally the horrors of the retreat of Napoléon from Moscow, and the guerrilla warfare-all this immense variety of scenes, events, and small episodes, interwoven with romance of the deepest interest, is unrolled before us as we read the pages of this epopee of Russia's great conflict with Western Europe.
We make acquaintance with more than a hundred different persons, and each of them is so well depicted, each has his or her own human physiognomy so well determined, that each one appears with his or her own individuality, distinct among the scores of actors in the same great drama. It is not so easy to forget even the least important of these figures, be it one of the ministers of Alexander I. or any one of the ordinances of the calvary officers. Nay, every anonymous soldier of various rank-the infantryman, the hussar, or the artilleryman-has his own physiognomy; even the different chargers of Rostoff, or of Denísoff, stand out with individual features. When you think of the variety of human character which pass under your eyes on these pages, you have the real sensation of a vast crowd-of historical events that you seem to have lived through-of a whole nation roused by a calamity; while the impression you retain of human beings who you have loved in War and Peace, or for whom you have suffered when misfortune befell them, or when they themselves have wronged others (as for instance, the old countess Róstoff and Sónitchka)-the impression left by these persons, when they emerge in your memory from the crowd, gives to that crowd the same illusion of reality which little details give to the personality of a hero.
The great difficulty in an historical novel lies not so much in the representation of secondary figures as in painting the great historical personalities-the chief actors of the historical drama-so as to make of them real, living beings. But this is exactly where Tolstóy has succeeded most wonderfully. His Bagratlón, his Alexander I., his Napoléon, and his Kutúzoff are living men, so realistically represented that one sees them and is tempted to seize the brush and paint them, imitate their movements and ways of talking.
The "philosophy of war" which Tolstóy had developed in War and Peace has provoked, as is well known, passionate discussion and bitter criticism; and yet its correctness cannot but be recognized. In fact, it is recognized by such as know war from within, or have witnessed human mass-actions. Of course, those who know war from newspaper reports, especially such officers as, after having recited many times over an "improved" report of a battle as they would have liked it to be, giving themselves a leading rôle-such men will not agree with Tolstóy's ways of dealing with "heroes"; but it is sufficient to read, for instance, what Moltke and Bismarck wrote in their private letters about the war of 1870-71, or the plain, honest descriptions of some historical event with which we occasionally meet, to understand Tolstóy's views of war and his conceptions of the extremely limited part played by "heroes" in historical events. Tolstóy did not invent the artillery officer Timókhin who had been forgotten by his superiors in the center of the Schöngraben position, and who, continuing all day long to use his four guns with initiative and discernment, prevented the battle from ending in disaster for the Russian rearguard: he knew only too well of such Timókhins in Sebastopol. They compose the real vital force of every army in the world; and the success of an army depends infinitely more upon its number of Timókh'ns than upon the genius of its high commanders. This is where Tolstóy and Moltke are of one mind, and where they entirely disagree with the "war-correspondent" and with the General Staff historians.
In the hands of a writer possessed of less genius than Tolstóy, such a thesis might have failed to appear convincing; but in War and Peace it appears almost with the force of self-evidence. Tolstóy's Kutúzoff is-as he was in reality-quite an ordinary man; but he was a great man for the precise reason, that, forseeing the unavoidable and almost fatal drift of events, instead of pretending that he directed them, he simply did his best to utilize the vital forces of his army in order to avoid still greater disasters.
It hardly need be said that War and Peace is a powerful indictment against war. The effect which the great writer has exercised in this direction upon his generation can be actually seen in Russia. It was already apparent during the great Turkish war of 1877-78, when it was absolutely impossible to find in Russia a correspondent who would have described how "we have peppered the enemy with grape-shot," or how "we shot them down like nine-pins." If a man could have been found to use in his letters such survivals of savagery, no paper would have dared to print them. The general character of the Russian war-correspondent had grown totally different; and during the same war there came to the front such a novelist as Gárshin and such a painter as Vereschágin, with whom to combat war became a life work.
Everyone who has read War and Peace remembers, of course, the hard experiences of Pierre, and his friendship with the soldier Karatáeff. One feels that Tolstóy is full or admiration for the quiet philosophy of this man of the people, -a typical representative of the ordinary, common-sense Russian peasant. Some literary critics concluded that Tolstóy was preaching in Karatáeff a sort of Oriental fatalism. In the present writer's opinion there is nothing of the sort. Karatáeff, who is a consistent pantheist, simply knows that there are natural calamities, which it is impossible to resist; and he knows that the miseries which befall him-his personal sufferings, and eventually the shooting of a number of prisoners among whom to-morrow he may or may not be included-are the unavoidable consequences of a much greater event: the armed conflict between nations, which, once it has begun, must unroll itself with all its revolting but absolutely ungovernable consequences. Karatáeff acts as one of those cows on the slope of an Alpine mountain, mentioned by the philosopher Guyau, which, when it feels that it begins to slip down a steep mountain slope, makes at first, desperate efforts to hold its ground, but when it sees that no effort can arrest its fatal gliding, lets itself quietly be dragged down into the abyss. Karataéff accepts the inevitable; but he is not a fatalist. If he had felt that his efforts could prevent war, he would have exerted them. In fact, towards the end of the work, when Pierre tells his wife Natásha that he is going to join the Decembrists (it is told in veiled words, on account of censorship, but a Russian reader understands nevertheless), and she asks him: "Would Platón Karatáeff approve of it?" Pierre, after a moment's reflection, answers decidedly, "Yes, he would."
I don't know what a Frenchman, and Englishman, or a German feels when he reads War and Peace-I have heard educated Englishmen telling me that they found it dull-but I know that for educated Russians the reading of nearly every scene in War and Peace is a source of indescribable esthetic pleasure. Having, like so many Russians, read the work many times, I could not, if I were asked, name the scenes which delight me most: the romances among the children, the mass-effects in the war scenes, the regimental life, the inimitable scenes from the life of the Court, aristocracy, the tiny details concerning Napoleon or Kutúzoff, or the life of the Róstoffs-the dinner, the hunt, the departure from Moscow, and so on.
Many felt offended, in reading this epopee, to see their hero, Napoleon, reduced to such small proportions, and even ridiculed. But the Napoleon who came to Russia was no longer the man who had inspired the armies of the sansculottes in their first steps eastwards for the abolition of serfdom, absolutism, and inquisition. All men in high positions are actors to a great extent-as Tolstóy so wonderfully shows in so many places of his great work-and Napoleon surely was not the least actor among them. And by the time he came to Russia, an emperor, now spoiled by the adulation of the courtiers of all Europe and the worship of the masses, who attributed to him what was attributable to the vast stir of minds produced by the Great Revolution, and consequently saw in him a half-god-by the time he came to Russia, the actor in him had got the upper hand over the man in whom there had been formerly incarnated the youthful energy of the suddenly-awakened French nation, in whom had appeared the expression of that awakening, and through whom its force had been the further increased. To these original characteristics was due the fascination which the name of Napoleon exercised upon his contemporaries. At Smolénsky, Kutúzoff himself must have experienced that fascination when, rather than rouse the lion to a desperate battle, he opened before him the way to retreat.
Of all the Tolstóy's novels, Anna Karénina is the one which has been the most widely read in all languages. As a work of art it is a master-piece. From the very first appearance of the heroine, you feel that this woman must bring with her a drama; from the very outset her tragical end is as inevitable as it is in a drama of Shakespeare, In that sense the novel is true to life throughout. It is a corner of real life that we have before us. As a rule, Tolstóy is not at his best in picturing women-with the exception of very young girls-and I don't think that Anna Karénina herself is as deep, as psychologically complete, and as living a creation as she might have been; but the more ordinary woman, Dolly, is simply teeming with life. As to the various scenes of the novel-the ball scenes, the races of the officers, the inner family life of Dolly, the country scenes on Lévin's estate, the death of his brother, and so on-all these are depicted in such a way that for its artistic qualities Anna Karénina stands foremost even among the many beautiful things Tolstóy has written.
And yet, notwithstanding all that, the novel produced in Russia a decidedly unfavorable impression, which brought to Tolstóy congratulations from the reactionary camp and a very cool reception from the advanced portion of society. The fact is, that the question of marriage and of an eventual separation between husband and wife had been most earnestly debated in Russia by the best men and women, both in literature and in life. It is self-evident that such indifferent levity towards marriage as is continually unveiled before the Courts in "Society" divorce cases was absolutely and unconditionally condemned; and that any form of deceit, such as makes the subject of countless French novels and dramas, was ruled out of question in any honest discussion of the matter. But after the above levity and deceit had been severely bran, the rights of a new love, serious and deep, appearing after years of happy married life, had only been the more seriously analyzed. Tchernyshévsky's novel, What is to be done, can be taken as the best expression of the opinions upon marriage which had become current among the better portion of the young generation. Once you are married it was said, don't take lightly to love affairs, or so-called flirtation. Every fit of passion does not deserve the name of a new love; and what is sometimes described as love is in a very great number of cases nothing but temporary desire. Even if it were real love, before a real and deep love has grown up, there is in most cases a period when one has time to reflect upon the consequences that would follow if the beginnings of his or her new sympathy should attain the depth of such a love. But, with all that, there are cases when a new love does come, and there are cases when such an event must happen almost fatally, when, for instance, a girl has been married almost against her will, under the continued insistence of her lover, or when the two have married without properly understanding each other, or when one of the two has continued to progress in his or her development towards a higher ideal, while the other, after having worn for some time the mask of idealism, falls into the Philistine happiness of warmed slippers. In such cases separation not only becomes inevitable, but it often is to the interest of both. It would be much better for both to live through the sufferings which a separation would involve (honest natures are by such sufferings made better) than to spoil the entire subsequent existence of the one-in most cases, of both-and to face moreover the fatal results that living together under such circumstances would necessarily mean for the children. This was, at least, the conclusion to which both Russian literature and the best all-round portion of our society had come.
And now came Tolstóy with Anna Karénina, which bears the menacing biblical epigraph: "Vengeance is mine, and I will repay it," and in which the biblical revenge falls upon the unfortunate Karénina, who puts an end by suicide to her sufferings after her separation from her husband. Russian critics evidently could not accept Tolstóy's views. The case of Karénina was one of those where there could be no question of "vengeance." She was married as a young girl to an old and unattractive man. At that time she did not know exactly what she was doing, and nobody had explained it to her. She had never known love, and learned it for the first time when she saw Vrónskiy. Deceit, for her, was absolutely out of the question; and to keep up a merely conventional marriage would have been a sacrifice which would not have made her husband and child any happier. Separation, and a new life with Vrónskiy, who seriously loved her, was the only possible outcome. At any rate, if the story of Anna Karénina had to end in tragedy, it was not in the least in consequence of an act of supreme justice. As always, the honest artistic genius of Tolstóy had itself indicated another cause-the real one. It was the inconsistency of Vrónskiy and Karénina. After having separated from her husband and defied "public opinion"-that is, the opinion of women who, as Tolstóy shows it himself, were not honest enough to be allowed any voice in the matter-neither she nor Vrónskiy had the courage of breaking entirely with that society, the futility of which Tolstóy knows and describes so exquisitely. Instead of that, when Anna returned with Vrónskiy to St. Petersburg, her own and Vrónskiy's chief preoccupation was-How Betsey and other such women would receive her, if she made her appearance among them. And it was the opinion of the Betsies-surely not Superhuman justice-which brought Karénina to suicide.
Everyone knows the profound change which took place in Tolstóy's fundamental conceptions of life in the years 1875-1878, when he had reached the age of about fifty. I do not think that one has the right to discuss publicly what has been going on in the very depths of another's mind; but, by telling us himself the inner drama and the struggles which he has lived through, the great writer has, so to say, invited us to verify whether he was correct in his reasonings and conclusions; and limiting ourselves to the psychological material which he has given us, we may discuss it without undue intrusion into the motives of his actions.
It is most striking to find, on re-reading the earlier works of Tolstóy, how the ideas which he advocates at the present time were always cropping up in his earlier writings. Philosophical questions and questions concerning the moral foundations of life interested him from his early youth. At the age of sixteen he used to read philosophical works, and during his university years, and even through "the stormy days of passion," questions as to how we ought to live rose with their full importance before him. His autobiographical novels, especially Youth, bear deep traces of that inner work of his mind, even though, as he says in Confession, he has never said all he might have said on this subject. Nay, it is evident that although he describes his frame of mind in those years as that of "a philosophical Nihilist," he had never parted, in reality, with the beliefs of his childhood.4 He always was an admirer and follower of Rousseau. In his papers on education (collected in Vol. IV. of the tenth Moscow edition of his Works) one finds treated in a very radical way most of the burning social questions which he has discussed in his later years. These questions even then worried him so much that, while he was carrying on his school work in Yásnaya Polyána and was a Peace Mediator-that is, in the years 1861-62-he grew so disgusted with the unavoidable dualism of his position of a benevolent landlord, that-to quote his own words-"I should have come then, perhaps, to the crisis which I reached fifteen years later, if there had not remained one aspect of life which promised me salvation,-namely, married life." In other words, Tolstóy was already very near to breaking with the privileged class point of view on Property and Labor, and to joining the great populistic movement which was already beginning in Russia. This he probably would have done, had not a new world of love, family life, and family interests, which he embraced with the usual intensity of his passionate nature, fastened the ties that kept him attached to his own class.
Art, too, must have contributed to divert his attention from the social problem-at least, from its economic aspects, In War and Peace he developed the philosophy of the masses versus the heroes, a philosophy which in those years would have found among the educated men of all Europe very few persons ready to accept it. Was it his poetical genius which revealed to him the part played by the masses in the great war of 1812, and taught him that they-the masses, and not the heroes-had accomplished all the great things in history? Or, was it but a further development of the ideas which inspired him in his Yásnaya Polyána school, in opposition to all the educational theories that had been elaborated by Church and State in the interest of the privileged classes? At any rate, War and Peace must have offered him a problem great enough to absorb his thoughts for a number of years; and in writing this monumental work, in which he strove to promote a new conception of history, he must have felt that he was working in the right way. As to Anna Karénina, which had no such reformatory or philosophical purpose, it must have offered to Tolstóy the possibility of living through once more, with all the intensity of poetical creation, the shallow life of the leisured classes, and to contrast it with the life of the peasants and their work. And it was while he was finishing this novel that he began to fully realize how much his own life was in opposition to the ideals of his earlier years.
A terrible conflict must have been going on then in the mind of the great writer. The communistic feeling which had induced him to put in italics the fact about the singer at Lucerne, and to add to it a hot indictment against the civilization of the moneyed classes; the trend of thought which had dictated his severe criticisms against private property in Holstomyér: the History of a Horse; the anarchistic ideas which had brought him, in his Yásnaya Polyána educational articles, to a negation of a civilization based on Capitalism and State; and, on the other hand, his individual property conceptions, which he tried to conciliate with his communistic leanings (see the conversation between the two brothers Lévin in Anna Karénina) ; his want of sympathy with the parties which stood in opposition to the Russian Government and, at the same time, his profound, deeply rooted dislike of that Government, all these tendencies must have been in an irreconcilable conflict in the mind the great writer, with all the passionate intensity which is characteristic of Tolstóy, as with all men of genius. These constant contradictions were so apparent that while less perspicacious Russian critics and the Moscow Gazette defenders of serfdom considered Tolstóy as having joined their reactionary camp, a gifted Russian critic, Mihailóvskiy, published in 1875 a series of remarkable articles, entitled The Right Hand and the Left Hand of Count Tolstóy, in which he pointed out the two men who constantly were in conflict in the great writer. In these articles, the young critic, a great admirer of Tolstóy, analyzed the advanced ideas which he had developed in his educational articles, which were almost quite unknown at that time, and contrasted them with the strangely conservative ideas which he had expressed in his later writings. As a consequence, Mihailóvskiy predicted a crisis to which the great writer was inevitably coming.
"I will not speak," he wrote, "of Anna Karénina, first of all because it is not yet terminated, and second, because one must speak of it very much, or not at all. I shall only remark that in this novel-much more superficially, but for that very reason perhaps even more distinctly than anywhere else-one sees the traces of the drama which is going on in the soul of the author. One asks oneself what such a man is to do, how can he live, how shall he avoid that poisoning of his consciousness which at every step intrudes into the pleasures of a satisfied need? Most certainly he must, even though it may be instinctively, seek for a means to put an end to the inner drama of his soul, to drop the curtain; but how to do it? I think that if an ordinary man were in such a position, he would have ended in suicide or in drunkenness. A man of value will, on the contrary, seek for other issues, and of such issues there are several." (Otechestvennyia Zapiski, a review, June, 1875; also Mihailóvskiy's Works, Vol. III, P. 491.)
One of these issues-Mihailóvskiy continued-would be to write for the people. Of course, very few are so happy as to possess the talent and the faculties which are necessary for that:
"But once he (Tolstóy) is persuaded that the nation consists of two halves, and that even the 'innocent' pleasures of the one half are to the disadvantage of the other half-why should he not devote his formidable forces to this immense task? It is even difficult to imagine that any other theme could interest the writer who carries in his soul such a terrible drama as the one that Count Tolstóy carries. So deep and so serious is it, so deeply does it go to the root of all literary activity, that it must presumably destroy all other interests, just as the creeper suffocates all other plants. And, is it not a sufficiently high aim in life, always to remind 'Society' that its pleasures and amusements are not the pleasures and the amusements of all mankind, to explain to 'Society' the true sense of the phenomena of progress, to wake up, be it only in the few, the more impressionable, the conscience and the feeling of justice? And is not this field wide enough for poetical creation? . . .
"The drama which is going on in Count Tolstóy's soul is my hypothesis," Mihailóvskiy concluded, "but it is a legitimate hypothesis without which it is impossible to understand his writings." (Works, 111, 496.)
It is now known how much Mihailóvskiy's hypothesis was prevision. In the years 1875-76, as Tolstóy was finishing Anna Karénina, he began fully to realize the shallowness and the duality of the life that he had hitherto led. "Something strange," he says, "began to happen within me: I began to experience minutes of bewilderment, of arrest of life, as if I did not know how to live and what to do." "What for? What next?" were the questions which began to rise before him. "Well," he said to himself, "you will have 15,000 acres of land in Samara, 3000 horses-but what of that? And I was bewildered, and did not know what to think next." Literary fame had lost for him its attraction, now that he had reached the great heights to which War and Peace had brought him. The little picture of Philistine family-happiness which he had pictured in a novel before his marriage (Family happiness he had now lived through, but it no longer satisfied him. The life of Epicureanism which he had led hitherto had lost all sense for him. "I felt," he writes in Confession, "that what I had stood upon had broken down; that there was nothing for me to stand upon; that what I had lived by was no more, and that there was nothing left me to live by. My life had come to a stop." The so-called "family duties" had lost their interest. When he thought of the education of his children, he asked himself, "What for?" and very probably he felt that in his landlord's surroundings he never would be able to give them a better education than his own, which he condemned; and when he began thinking of the well-being of the masses he would all of a sudden ask himself: "What business have I to think of it ?"
He felt that he had nothing to live for. He even had no wishes which he could recognize as reasonable. "If a fairy had come to me, and offered to satisfy my wish, I should not have known what to wish . . . I even could not wish to know Truth, because I had guessed of what it would consist. The Truth was, that life is nonsense."He had no aim in life, no purpose, and he realized that without a purpose, and with its unavoidable sufferings, life is not worth living (Confession, VI, VII).
He had not-to use his own expression-"the moral bluntness of imagination" which would be required not to have his Epicureanism poisoned by the surrounding misery; and yet, like Schopenhauer, he had not the Will that was necessary for adjusting his actions in accordance with the dictates of his reason. Self-annihilation, death, appeared therefore as a welcome solution.
However, Tolstóy was too strong a man to end his life in suicide. He found an outcome, and that outcome was indicated to him by a return to the love which he had cherished in his youth: the love of the peasant masses. "Was it in consequence of a strange, so to say a physical love of the truly working people," he writes-or of some other cause? but he understood at last that he must seek the sense of life among the millions who toil all their life long. He began to examine with more attention than before the life of these millions. "And I began," he says, "to love these people." And the more he penetrated into their lives, past and present, the more he loved them, and "the easier it was for me to live." As to the life of the men of his own circle-the wealthy and cultured, "I not only felt disgust for it: it lost all sense in my eyes." He understood that if he did not see what life was worth living for, it was his own life "in exclusive conditions of epicureanism" which had obscured the truth.
"I understood," he continues, "that my question, 'What is life?' and my reply to it, 'Evil,' were quite correct. I was only wrong in applying them to life altogether. To the question, 'What is life?' I had got the reply, 'Evil and nonsense!' And so it was. My own life-a life of indulgence in passions-was void of sense and full of evil, but this was true of my life only, not of the life of all men. Beginning with the birds and the lowest animals, all live to maintain life and to secure it for others besides themselves, while I not only did not secure it for others: I did not secure it even for myself. I lived as a parasite, and, having put to myself the question, 'What do I live for?' I got the reply, 'For no purpose.' "
The conviction, then, that he must live as the millions live, earning his own livelihood; that he must toil as the millions toil; and that such a life is the only possible reply to the questions which had brought him to despair-the only way to escape the terrible contradictions which had made Schopenhauer preach self-annihilation, and Solomon, Sakiamuni, and so many others preach their gospel of despairing pessimism, this conviction, then, saved him and restored to him lost energy and the will to live. But that same idea had inspired thousands of the Russian youth, in those same years, and had induced them to start the great movement "V narod!"
"Towards the people; be the people!"
Tolstóy has told us in an admirable book, What is, then, to be done? the impressions which the slums of Moscow produced upon him in 1881, and the influence they had upon the ulterior development of his thoughts. But we do not yet know what facts and impressions made him so vividly realize in 1875-81 the emptiness of the life which he had been hitherto leading. Is it then presuming too much if I suggest that it was this very same movement, "towards the people," which had inspired so many of the Russian youth to go to the villages and the factories, and to live there the life of the people, which finally brought Tolstóy, also, to reconsider his position as a rich landlord?
That he knew of this movement, there is not the slightest doubt. The trial of the Netcháeff groups in 1871 was printed in full in the Russian newspapers, and one could easily read through all the youthful immaturity of the speeches of the accused the high motives and the love of the people which inspired them. The trial of the Dolgúshin groups, in 1875, produced a still deeper impression in the same direction; but especially the trial, in March, 1877, of those of transcendent worth, girls Bárdina, Lubatóvitch, the sisters Subbótin, "the Moscow Fifty" as they were named in the circles, who, all from wealthy families, had led the life of factory girls, in the horrible factory-barracks, working fourteen and sixteen hours a day, in order to be with the working people and to teach them. . . . And then-the trial of the "Hundred-and Ninety-Three" and of Véra Zasúllitch in 1878. However great Tolstóy's dislike of revolutionists might have been, he must have felt, as he read the reports of these trials, or heard what was said about them at Moscow and in his province of Túla, and witnessed round him the impression they had produced-he, the great artist, must have felt that this youth was much nearer to what he himself was in his earlier days, in 1861-62, than to those among whom he lived now-the Katkóffs, the "Fets," and the like. And then, even if he knew nothing about these trials and had heard nothing about the "Moscow Fifty," he knew, at least, Turguéneff's Virgin Soil, which was published in January, 1877, and he must have felt, even from that imperfect picture, so warmly greeted by young Russia, what this young Russia was.
If Tolstóy had been in his twenties, he might possibly have joined the movement, in one form or another, notwithstanding all the obstacles. Such as he was, in his surroundings, and especially with his mind already preoccupied by the problem-"Where is the lever which would move human hearts at large, and become the source of the deep moral reform of every individual?" with such a question on his mind, he had to live through many a struggle before he was brought consciously to take the very same step. For our young men and women, the mere statement that one who had got an education, thanks to the work of the masses, owed it therefore to these masses to work in return for them-this simple statement was sufficient. They left their wealthy houses, took to the simplest life, hardly different from that of a workingman, and devoted their lives to the people. But for many reasons-such as education, habits, surroundings, age, and, perhaps, the great philosophical question he had in his mind, Tolstóy had to live through the most painful struggles, before he came to the very same conclusion, but in a different way: that is to say, before he concluded that he, as the bearer of a portion of the divine Unknown, had to fulfill the will of that Unknown, which will was that everyone should work for the universal welfare.5
The moment, however, that he came to this conclusion, he did not hesitate to act in accordance with it. The difficulties he met in his way, before he could follow the injunction of his conscience, must have been immense. We can faintly guess them. The sophisms he had to combat-especially when all those who understood the value of his colossal talent began to protest against his condemnation of his previous writing-we can also easily imagine. And one can but admire the force of his convictions, when he entirely reformed the life he had hitherto led.
The small room he took in his rich mansion is well known through a world-renowned photograph. Tolstóy behind the plow, painted by Ryépin, has gone the round of the world, and is considered by the Russian Government so dangerous an image that it has been taken from the public gallery where it was exhibited. Limiting his own living to the strictly necessary minimum of the plainest sort of food, he did his best, so long as his physical forces lasted, to earn that little by physical work. And for the last years of his life he has been writing even more than he ever did in the years of his greatest literary productivity.
The effects of this example which Tolstóy has given mankind everyone knows. He believes, however, that he must give also the philosophical and religious reasons for his conduct, and this he did in a series of remarkable works.
Guided by the idea that millions of plain working people realized the sense of life, and found it in life itself, which they considered as the accomplishment of "the will of the Creator of the universe," he accepted the simple creed of the masses of the Russian peasants, even though his mind was reluctant to do so, and followed with them the rites of the Greek Orthodox Church. There was a limit, however, to such a concession, and there were beliefs which he positively could not accept. He felt that when he was, for instance, solemnly declaring during the mass, before communion, that he took the latter in the literal sense of the words-not figuratively-he was affirming something which he could not say in full conscience. Besides, he soon made the acquaintance of the Non-conformist peasants, Sutyáeff and Bondaryóff, whom he deeply respected, and he saw, from his intercourse with them, that by joining the Greek Orthodox Church he was lending a hand to all its abominable prosecutions of the Non-conformists-that he was a party to the hatred which all Churches profess towards each other.
Consequently, he undertook a complete study of Christianity, irrespective of the teachings of the different churches, including a careful revision of the translations of the gospels, with the intention of finding out what was the real meaning of the Great Teacher's precepts, and what had been added to it by his followers. In a remarkable, most elaborate work (Criticism of Dogmatic Theology), he demonstrated how fundamentally the interpretations of the Churches differed from what was in his opinion the true sense of the words of the Christ. And then he worked out, quite independently, an interpretation of the Christian teaching which is quite similar to the interpretations that have been given to it by all the great popular movements-in the ninth century in Armenia,-later on by Wycliff, and by the early Anabaptists, such as Hans Denck,6 laying, however, like the Quakers, especial stress on the doctrine of nonresistance.
The ideas which Tolstóy thus slowly worked out are explained in a succession of three separate works: (I) Dogmatic Theology, of which the Introduction is better known as Confession and was written in 1892; (2) What is my Faith? (1884); and (3) What is then to be Done? (1886), to which must be added The Kingdom of God in Yourselves, or Christianity, not as a mystic Teaching but as a new Understanding of Life (1900) and, above all, a small book, The Christian Teaching (1902), which is written in short, concise, numbered paragraphs, like a catechism, and contains a full and definite exposition of Tolstóy's views. A number of other works dealing with the same subject-such as The Life and the Teachings of the Christ, My Reply to the Synod's Edict of Excommunication, What is Religion, On Life, etc., were published during the same year. These books represent the work of Tolstóy for the last twenty years, and at least four of them (Confession, My Faith, What is to be Done, and Christian Teaching) must be read in the indicated succession by everyone who wishes to know the religious and moral conceptions of Tolstóy and to extricate himself from the confused ideas which are sometimes represented as Tolstóyism. As to the short work, The Life and the Teaching of Jesus, it is, so to speak, the four gospels in one, told in a language easy to be understood, and free of all mystical and metaphorical elements; it contains Tolstóy's reading of the gospels.
These works represent the most remarkable attempt at a rationalistic interpretation of Christianity that has ever been ventured upon. Christianity appears in them devoid of all gnosticism and mysticism, as a purely spiritual teaching about the universal spirit which guides man to a higher life-a life of equality and of friendly relations with all men. If Tolstóy accepts Christianity as the foundation of his faith, it is not because he considers it as a revelation, but because its teaching, purified of all the additions that have been made to it by the churches, contains "the very same solution of the problem of life as has been given more or less explicitly by the best of men, both before and since the gospel was given to us-a succession which goes on from Moses, Isaiah, and Confucius, to the early Greeks, Buddha, and Socrates, down to Pascal, Spinoza, Fichte, Feuerbach, and all others, often unnoticed and unknown, who, taking no teachings on mere trust, have taught us, and spoken to us with sincerity, about the meaning of life" 7; because it gives "an explanation of the meaning of life" and "a solution of this contradiction between the aspiration after welfare and life, and the consciousness of their being unattainable" (Chr. Teach. § 13) -"between the desire for happiness and life on the one hand, and the increasingly clear perception of the certainty of calamity and death on the other" (ibid., § 10).
As to the dogmatic and mystical elements of Christianity, which he treats as mere additions to the real teaching of Christ, he considers them so noxious that even he makes the following remark: It is terrible to say so (but sometimes I have this thought) if the teaching of Christ, together with the teaching of the Church that has grown upon it, did not exist at all-those who now call themselves Christians would have been nearer to the teachings of Christ-that is, to an intelligent teaching about the good of life-than they are now. The moral teachings of all the prophets of mankind would not have been closed for them." 8
Putting aside all the mystical and metaphysical conceptions which have been interwoven with Christianity, he concentrates his main attention upon the moral aspects of the Christian teaching. One of the most powerful means-he says-by which men are prevented from living a life in accordance with this teaching is "religious deception." "Humanity moves slowly but unceasingly onward, towards an ever higher development of consciousness of the true meaning of life, and towards the organization of life in conformity with this development of consciousness;" but in this ascendant march all men do not move at an equal pace, and "the less sensitive continue to adhere to the previous understanding and order of life, and try to uphold it." This they achieve mainly by means of the religious deception which consists "in the intentional confusion of faith with superstition, and the substitution of the one for the other." (Chr. Teach., § § 181, 180.) The only means to free one's self from this deception is-he says-"to understand and to remember that the only instrument which man possesses for the acquisition of knowledge is reason, and that therefore every teaching which affirms that which is contrary to reason is a delusion." Altogether, Tolstóy is especially emphatic upon this point of the importance of reason. (See The Christian Teaching, §§ 206, 214.)
Another great obstacle to the spreading of the Christian teaching he sees in the current belief in the immortality of the soul-such as it is understood now. (My Belief, p. 134 of Tchertkoff's Russ. ed.) In this form he repudiates it; but we can-he says give a deeper meaning to our life by making it to be a service to men-to mankind-by merging our life into the life of the universe; and although this idea may seem less attractive than the idea of individual immortality, though little, it is sure." (Chr. Teaching.)
In speaking of God he takes sometimes a pantheistic position, and describes God as Life, or as Love, or else as the Ideal which man is conscious of in himself (Thoughts about God, collected by V. and A. Tchertkoff); but in his last work (Christian Teaching, ch. VII. and VIII.) he prefers to identify God with "the universal desire for welfare which is the source of all life." "So that, according to the, Christian teaching, God is that Essence of life which man recognizes both within himself and in the whole universe as the desire for welfare; it being at the same time the cause by which this Essence is enclosed and conditioned in individual and corporal life" (§36). Every reasoning man-Tolstóy adds-comes to a similar conclusion. A desire for universal welfare appears in every reasoning man, after his rational consciousness has been awakened at a certain age; and in the world around Man the same desire is manifest in all separate beings, each of whom strives for his own welfare (§37). These two desires "converge towards one distinct purpose-definite, attainable, and joyful for man." Consequently, he concludes, Observation, Tradition (religious), and Reason, all three, show him "that the greatest welfare of man, towards which all men aspire, can only be obtained by perfect union and concord among men." All three show that the immediate work of the world's development, in which he is called upon to take part, is "the substitution of union and harmony for division and discord." "The inner tendency of that spiritual being-love -which is in the process of birth within him, impels him in the same direction."
Union and harmony, and steady, relentless effort to promote them, which means not only all the work required for supporting one's life, but work also for increasing universal welfare-these are, then, the two final accords in which all the discords, all the storms, which for more than twenty years had raged in the distraught mind of the great artist, all the religious ecstasies and the rationalistic doubts which had agitated his superior intelligence in its insistent search for truth finally found their solution. On the highest metaphysical heights the striving of every living being for its own welfare, which is Egoism and Love at the same time because it is Self-Love, and rational Self-Love must embrace all congeners of the same species-this striving for individual welfare by its very nature tends to comprise all that exists. "It expands its limits naturally by love, first for one's family-one's wife and children-then for friends, then for one's fellow-countrymen; but Love is not satisfied with this, and tends to embrace all" (ibid., §46).
The central point of the Christian teaching Tolstóy sees in nonresistance. During the first years after his crisis he preached absolute "nonresistance to evil"-in full conformity with the verbal and definite sense of the words of the gospel, which words, taken in connection with the sentence about the right and the left cheek, evidently mean complete humility and resignation. However, he must have soon realized that such a teaching not only was not in conformity with his above-mentioned conception of God, but that it also amounted simply to abetting evil. It contains precisely that license to evil which always has been preached by the State religions in the interest of the ruling classes, and Tolstóy must have realized this. He tells us how he once met in a train the Governor of the Túla province at the head of a detachment of soldiers who were armed with rifles and provided with a cart-load of birch-rods. They were going to flog the peasants of a village in order to enforce an act of sheer robbery passed by the Administration in favor of the landlord and in open breach of the law. He describes with his well-known graphical powers how, in their presence, a "Liberal lady" openly, loudly and in strong terms condemned the Governor and the officers, and how they were ashamed. Then he describes how, when such an expedition began its work, the peasants, with truly Christian resignation, would cross themselves with trembling hand and lie down on the ground, to be martyrized and flogged till the heart of the victim stopped beating, without the officers having been touched in the least by that Christian humility. What Tolstóy did when he met the expedition, we don't know: he does not tell us. He probably remonstrated with the chiefs and advised the soldiers not to obey them-that is, to revolt. At any rate, he must have felt that a passive attitude in the face of this evil-the nonresistance to it-would have meant a tacit approval of the evil; it would have meant giving support to it. Moreover, a passive attitude of resignation in the ace of evil is so contrary to the very nature of Tolstóy, that he could not remain for a long time a follower of such a doctrine, and he soon altered his interpretation of the text of the gospel in the sense of: "Don't resist evil by violence." All his later writings have consequently been a passionate resistance against the different forms of evil which he has seen round about himself in the world. Continually he makes his mighty voice resound against both evil and evil-doers; he only objects to physical force in resisting evil because he believes that works harm.
The other four points of the Christian teaching, always according to Tolstóy's interpretation of it, are: Do not be angry, or, at least, abstain from anger as much as you can: Remain true to the one woman with whom you have united your life, and avoid all that excites passion: Do not take oaths, which in Tolstóy's opinion means: Never tie your hands with an oath; oath-taking is the means resorted to by all governments to bind men in their consciences to do whatever they bid them do; and finally, Love your enemies; or, as Tolstóy points it out in several of his writings: Never judge, and never prosecute another before a tribunal.
To these five rules Tolstóy gives the widest possible interpretation and he deducts from them all the teachings of free communism. He proves with a wealth of arguments that to live upon the work of others, and not to earn one's own living, is to break the very law of all nature; it is the main cause of all social evils, as also of nearly all personal unhappiness and discomforts. He shows how the present capitalistic organization of labor is as bad as slavery or serfdom has ever been.
He insists upon the simplification of life-in food, dress, and dwelling-which results from one's taking to manual work, especially on the land, and shows the advantages that even the rich and idle of to-day sould find in such labor. He shows how all the evils of present misgovernment result from the fact that the very men who protest against bad government make every effort to become a part of that government.
As emphatically as he protests against the Church, he protests against the State, as the only real means for bringing to an end the present slavery imposed upon men by this institution. He advises men to refuse having anything to do with the State. And finally, he proves with a wealth of illustrations in which his artistic powers appear in full, that the lust of the rich classes for wealth and luxury-a lust which has no limits, and can have none-is what maintains all this slavery, all these abnormal conditions of life, and all the prejudices and teachings now disseminated by Church and State in the interest of the ruling classes.
On the other hand, whenever he speaks of God, or of immortality, his constant desire is to show that he needs none of the mystical conceptions and metaphysical words which are usually resorted to. And while his language is borrowed from religious writings, he always brings forward, again and again, the rationalistic interpretation of religious conceptions. He carefully sifts from the Christian teaching all that cannot be accepted by followers of other religions, and brings into relief all that is common to Christianity as well as to other positive religions; all that is simply humane in them and thus might be approved by reason, and therefore be accepted by disbelievers as well as by believers.
In other words, in proportion as he has lately studied the teachings of different founders of religions and those of moral philosophers, he has tried to determine and to state the elements of a universal religion in which all men could unite-a religion, however, which would have nothing supernatural in it, nothing that reason and knowledge would have to reject, but would contain a moral guidance for all men-at whatever stage of intellectual development they may halt. Having thus begun, in 1875-77, by joining the Greek Orthodox religion-in the sense in which Russian peasants understand it-he came finally in The Christian Teaching to the construction of a Moral Philosophy which, in his opinion, might be accepted by the Christian, the Jew, the Mussulman, the Buddhist, and so on, and the naturalist philosopher as well-a religion which would retain the only substantial elements of all religions: namely, a determination of one's relation towards the universe (Weltanschauung), in accordance with present knowledge, and a recognition of the equality of all men.
Whether these two elements, one of which belongs to the domain of knowledge and science and the other (justice) to the domain of ethics, are sufficient to constitute a religion, and need no substratum of mysticism-is a question which lies beyond the scope of this book.
The disturbed conditions of the civilized world, and especially of Russia, have evidently more than once attracted the attention of Tolstóy, and induced him to publish a considerable number of letters, papers, and appeals on various subjects. In all of them he advocates, first of all, and above all, an attitude of negation towards Church and State. Never enter the service of the State, even in the provincial and urban institutions, which are granted by the State only as a snare. Refuse to support exploitation in any form. Refuse to perform military service, whatever the consequences may be: for this is the only method of being truly anti-militarist. Never have anything to do with Courts, even if you are offended or assailed;-nothing but evil results from them. Such a negative and eminently sincere attitude, he maintains, would better promote the cause of true progress than any revolutionary means. As a first step, however, towards the abolition of modern slavery, he also recommends the nationalization, or rather the municipalization, of land.
It is manifest that the works of art which he wrote during the last five-and-twenty years, after 1876, must bear deep traces of his new point of view. He began, first, by writing for the people, and although most of his small stories for popular reading are spoiled to some extent by the too obvious desire of drawing a certain moral, and a consequent distortion of facts, there are a few among them-especially How much Land is required for a Man-which are wonderfully artistic. The Death of Iván Illýtch need only be named to recall the profound impression produced by its appearance.
In order to speak to a still wider audience in the theaters for the people, which began to be started in Russia about that time, he wrote The Power of Darkness,-a most terrible drama from the life of the peasants, in which he aimed at producing a deep impression by means of a Shakespearian or rather Marlowian realism. His other play-The Fruits of Civilization-is in a comical vein. The superstitions of the "upper classes" as regards spiritualism are ridiculed in it. Both plays (the former-with alterations in the final scene) are played with success on the Russian stage.
However, it is not only the novels and dramas of this period which are works of Art. The five religious works which have been named on a preceding page are also works of art in the best sense of the word, as they contain descriptive pages of a high artistic value; while the very ways in which Tolstóy explains the economical principles of Socialism, or the No-Government principles of Anarchism, are as much masterpieces as the best socialistic and anarchistic pages of William Morris-far surpassing the latter in simplicity and artistic power.
Kreutzer Sonata is surely, after Anna Karénina, the work of Tolstóy which has been the most widely read. However, the strange theme of this novel and the crusade against marriage altogether which it contains so much attract the attention of the reader and usually become the subject of so passionate a discussion among those who have read it, that the high artistic qualities of this novel and the analysis of life which it contains have hardly received the recognition they deserve. The moral teaching that Tolstóy has put in Kreutzer Sonata hardly need be mentioned, the more so since the author himself has withdrawn it to a very great extent. But for the appreciation of Tolstóy's work and for the comprehension of the artist's inner life this novel has a deep meaning. No stronger accusation against marriage for or mere outer attraction, without intellectual union or sympathy of purpose between husband and wife, has ever been written; and the struggle that goes on between Kóznysheff and his wife is one of the most deeply dramatic pages of married life that we possess in, any literature.
Tolstóy's What is Art? is mentioned in Chapter VIII. of this book. His greatest production of the latest period is, however, Resurrection. It is not enough to say that the energy and youthfulness of the septuagenarian author which appear in this novel are simply marvelous. Its absolute artistic qualities are so high that if Tolstóy had written nothing else but Resurrection he would have been recognized as one of the great writers. All those parts of the novel which deal with Society, beginning with the letter of "Missie," and Missie herself, her father, and so on, are of the same high standard as the best pages of the first volume of War and Peace. Everything which deals with the Court, the jurymen, and the prisons is again of the same high standard. It may be said, of course, that the principal hero, Neklúdoff, is not sufficiently living; but this is quite unavoidable for a figure which is meant to represent, if not the author himself, at least his ideas or his experience: this is a drawback of all novels containing so much of an autobiographical element. As regards all the other figures, however, of which so immense a number pass under our eyes, each of them has its own character in striking relief, even if the figure (like one of the judges or of the jurymen, or the daughter of a jailer) appears only on a single page, never to reappear again.
The number of questions which are raised in this novel-social, political, party questions, and so on-is so great that a whole society, such as it is, living and throbbing with all its problems and contradictions, appears before the reader, and this is not Russian Society only, but Society the civilized world over. In fact, apart from the scenes which deal with the political prisoners, Resurrection applies to all nations. It is the most international of all works of Tolstóy. At the same time the main question: "Has Society the right to judge? Is it reasonable in maintaining a system of tribunals and prisons?" this terrible question which the coming century is bound to solve, is so forcibly impressed upon the reader that it is impossible to read the book without, at least, conceiving serious doubts about our system of punishments. Ce livre pèsera sur la conscience du siècle. ("This book will weigh upon the conscience of the century") was the remark of a French critic, which I heard repeated. And of the justice of this remark I have had the opportunity of convincing myself during my numerous conversations in America with persons having anything to do with prisons. The book weighs already on their consciences.
The same remark applies to the whole activity of Tolstóy. Whether his attempt at impressing upon men the elements of a universal religion which-he believes-reason trained by science might accept, and which man might take as guidance for his moral life, attaining at the same time towards the solution of the great social problem and all questions connected with it-whether this bold attempt be successful or not, can only be decided by time. But it is absolutely certain that no man since the times of Rousseau has so profoundly stirred the human conscience as Tolstóy has by his moral writings. He has fearlessly stated the moral aspects of all the burning questions of the day, in a form so deeply impressive that whoever has read any one of his writings can no longer forget these questions or set them aside; one feels the necessity of finding, in one way or another, some solution. Tolstóy's influence, consequently, is not one which may be measured by mere years or decades of years: it will last long. Nor is it limited to one country only. In millions of copies his works are read in all languages, appealing equally to men and women of all classes and all nations, and everywhere producing the same result. Tolstóy is now the most loved man-the most touchingly loved man--in the world.
3. This has struck most critics. Thus, speaking of War and Peace, Pílsareff wrote: "The images he has created have their own life, independently of the intentions of the author; they enter into direct relations with the readers, speak for themselves, and unavoidably bring the reader to such thoughts and conclusions as the author never had in view and of which he, perhaps, would not approve." (Works, V1. P. 420.)
4. Introduction to the Criticism of Dogmatic Theology and to an Analysis of the Christian Teaching, or Confession; Vol. I of Tchertkoff's edition of Works prohibited by the Russian Censorship (in Russian), Christchurch, 1902, p. 13.
5. "That which some people told me, and of which I sometimes had tried to persuade myself-namely, that a man should desire happiness, not for himself only, but for others, his neighbors, and for all men as well: this did not satisfy me. Firstly, I could not sincerely desire happiness for others as much as for myself; secondly, and chiefly, others, in like manner as myself, were doomed to unhappiness and death, and therefore all my efforts for other people's happiness were useless. I despaired." The understanding that personal happiness is best found in the happiness of all did not appeal to him, and the very striving towards the happiness of all, and an advance towards it, he thus found insufficient as a purpose in life.
8. What is my Belief, ch. X, p. 145 of Tchertkoff's edition of Works prohibited by Russian Censorship. On pp. 18 and 19 of the little work, What is Religion and What is its Substance. Tolstóy expresses himself even more severely about "Church Christianity." He also gives us in this remarkable little work his ideas about the substance of religion altogether, from which one can deduct its desirable relations to science, to synthetic philosophy, and to philosophical ethics.
From : Anarchy Archives
No comments so far. You can be the first!
<< Last Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature
Current Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature
Next Work in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature >>
All Nearby Works in Ideals and Realities in Russian Literature