Authors – Tolstoy, The Apostle Of Love

Count Leo Tolstoy, the intellectual giant of Russia, the moral Titan of Europe and the world’s most conspicuous exponent of the doctrine of love, is living a life of quiet retirement upon his estate near the village of Yasnaya, Poliana, about one hundred and thirty miles south of Moscow.

I made a visit to the home of this pleasant philosopher during my stay in Russia, driving from Tula in the early morning and arriving just after daylight. Consul General Smith of Moscow arranged with Count Tolstoy for the visit. I had intended remaining only a few hours, but his welcome was so cordial that my stay was prolonged until near midnight. Count Tolstoy is now about seventy-six years old, and while he shows the advance of years he is still full of mental vigor and retains much of his physical strength. As an illustration of the latter I might refer to the horseback ride and walk which we took together in the afternoon. The ride covered about four miles and the walk about two. When we reached the house the count said that he would take a little rest and insisted that I should do likewise. A few minutes later, when I expressed to the count’s physician, Dr. Burkenheim, the fear that he might have overtaxed his strength, the doctor smilingly assured me that the count usually took more exercise, but had purposely lessened his allowance that day, fearing that he might fatigue me.

Count Tolstoy is an impressive figure. His years have only slightly bowed his broad shoulders and his step is still alert. In height he is about five feet eight, his head is large and his abundant hair is not yet wholly white. His large blue eyes are set wide apart and are shaded by heavy eyebrows. The forehead is unusually wide and high. He wears a long, full beard that gives him a patriarchal appearance. The mouth is large and the lips full. The nose is rather long and the nostrils wide. The hands are muscular, and the grasp bespeaks warmth of heart. The count dresses like the peasants of his country, wearing a grayish-blue blouse belted in at the waist, with skirts reaching nearly to the boot-tops. His trousers, also of the peasant style, are inclined to be baggy and are stuffed into his boots. ‘ I was informed that the count never wears any other dress, even when other members of the family are entertaining guests in evening clothes.

The room which I occupied was the one used by the count as a study in his younger days, and I was shown a ring in the ceiling from which at the age of forty-eight he planned to hang himself—a plan from which he was turned by the resolve to change the manner and purpose of his life. As is well known, Count Tolstoy is a member of the Russian nobility and for nearly fifty years led the life of a nobleman. He early achieved fame as a novelist, his “War and Peace,” which was written when he was but a young man, being considered one of the literary masterpieces of the century. He sounded all the “depths and shoals of honor” in the literary and social world ; he realized all that one could wish or expect in these lines, but found that success did not satisfy the cravings of the inner man. While he was meditating upon what he had come to regard as a wasted life, a change came over him, and with a faith that has never faltered he turned about and entered upon a career that has been unique in history. He donned the simple garb of a peasant, and, living frugally, has devoted himself to philosophy and unremunerative work—that is, unremunerative from a financial standpoint, although he declares that it has brought him more genuine enjoyment than he ever knew before. All of his books written since this change in his life have been given to the public without copyright, except in one instance, when the proceeds of “Resurrection” were pledged to the aid of the Russian Quakers, called Doukhobors, whom the count assisted to emigrate from their persecution in Russia to western Canada, where they now reside. As an evidence of the count’s complete renunciation of all money considerations, it is stated that he has declined an offer of $500,000 for the copyright of the books written by him before his life current was altered.

My object in visiting him was not so much to learn his views—for his opinions have had wide expression and can be found in his numerous essays—but it was rather to see the man and ascertain if I could, from personal contact, learn the secret of the tremendous influence that he is exerting upon the thought of the world. I am satisfied that, notwithstanding his great intellect, his colossal strength lies in his heart more than in his mind. It is true that few have equaled him in power of analysis and in clearness of statement, while none have surpassed him in beauty and aptness of illustration. But no one can commune with him without feeling that the man is like an overflowing spring—asking nothing, but giving always. He preaches self-abnegation and has demonstrated to his own satisfaction that there is more genuine joy in living for others than in living upon others—more happiness in serving than in being served.

The purpose of life, as defined by him, has recently been quoted by Mr. Ernest Crosby in “The Open Court.” It reads as follows:

“Life then is the activity of the animal individuality working in submission to the law of reason. Reason shows man that happiness cannot be obtained by a self-life and leaves only one outlet open for him and that is love. Love is the only legitimate manifestation of life. It is an activity and has for its object the good of others. When it makes its appearance the meaningless strife of the animal life ceases” Love is the dominant note in Count Tolstoy’s philosophy. It is not only the only weapon of defense which he recognizes, but it is the only means by which he would influence others. It is both his shield and his sword. He is a deeply religious man, notwithstanding the fact that he was a few years ago excomunicated by the Russian church. In one of his essays he has defined religion as follows :

“True religion is a relation, accordant with reason and knowledge, which man establishes with the infinite life surrounding him, and it is such as binds his life to that infinity, and guides his conduct.”

He not only takes his stand boldly upon the side of spiritual, as distinguished from material, philosophy, but he administers a rebuke to those who assume that religious sentiment is an indication of intellectual weakness or belongs to the lower stages of man’s development. In his essay on “Religion and Morality,” to which he referred me for his opinion on this subject, he says :

“Moreover, every man who has ever, even in childhood, experienced religious feelings, knows by personal experience that it was evoked in him, not by external, terrifying, material phenomena, but by an inner consciousness, which had nothing to do with the fear of the unknown forces of nature—a consciousness of his own insignificance, loneliness and guilt. And, therefore, both by external observation and by personal experience, man may know that religion is not the worship of gods, evoked by superstitious fear of the invisible forces of nature, proper to men only at a certain period of their development; but is something quite independent either of fear or of their degree of education—a something that cannot be destroyed by any development of culture. For man’s consciousness of his finiteness amid an infinite universe, and of his sinfulness (i. e., of his not having done all he might and should have done) has always existed and will exist as long as man remains man.”

If religion is an expression of “man’s consciousness of his finiteness amid an infinite universe, and of his sinfulness,” it cannot be out-grown until one believes himself to have reached perfection and to possess all knowledge, and observation teaches us that those who hold this opinion of themselves are not the farthest advanced, but simply lack that comprehension of their own ignorance and frailty which is the very beginning of progress.

Count Tolstoy is an advocate of the doctrine of non-resistance. He not only believes that evil can be overcome by good, but he denies that it can be overcome in any other way. I asked him several questions on the subject, and the following dialogue presents his views :

Q. Do you draw any line between the use of force to avenge an injury already received, and the use of force to protect yourself from injury about to be inflicted?

A. No. Instead of using violence to protect myself, I ought rather to express my sorrow that I had done anything that would make any-one desire to injure me.

Q. Do you draw a line between the use of force to protect a right and the use of force to create a right?

A. No. That is the excuse generally given for the use of violence. Men insist that they are simply defending a right, when, in fact, they are trying to secure something that they desire and to which they are not entitled. The use of violence is not necessary to secure one’s rights; there are more effective means.

Q. Do you draw any distinction between the use of force to protect yourself and the use of force to protect someone under your care—a child, for instance?

A. No. As we do not attain entirely to our ideals, we might find it difficult in such a case not to resort to the use of force, but it would not be justifiable, and, besides, rules cannot be made for such exceptional cases. Millions of people have been the victims of force and have suffered because it has been thought right to employ it; but I am now old and I have never known in all my life a single instance in which a child was attacked in such a way that it would have been necessary for me to use force for its protection. I prefer to consider actual rather than imaginary cases.

I found later that this last question had been answered in a letter on non-resistance addressed to Mr. Ernest Crosby, in 1896 (included in a little volume of Tolstoy’s Essays and Letters recently published by Grant Richards, Leicester Square, London, and reprinted by Funk & Wagnalls of New York). In this letter he says :

“None of us has ever yet met the imaginary robber with the imaginary child, but all the horrors which fill the annals of history and of our own times came and come from this one thing—that people will believe that they can foresee the results of hypothetical future actions.”

When I visited him he was just finishing an introduction to a biographical sketch of William Lloyd Garrison, his attention having been called to Garrison by the latter’s advocacy of the doctrine of non-resistance.

Tolstoy, in one of his strongest essays that he has written—an essay entitled “Industry and idleness”—elaborates and defends the doctrine advanced by a Russian named Bondaref, to the effect that each individual should labor with his hands, at least to the extent of producing his own food. I referred to this and asked him for a brief statement of his reasons. He said that it was necessary for one to engage in manual labor in order to keep himself in sympathy with those who toil, and he described the process by which people first relieve them-selves of the necessity of physical exertion and then come to look with a sort of contempt upon those who find it necessary to work with their hands. He believes that a lack of sympathy lies at the root of most of the injustice which men suffer at the hands of their fellows. He holds that it is not sufficient that one can remember a time when he earned his bread in the sweat of his brow, but that he must continue to know what physical fatigue means and what drudgery is, in order that he may rightly estimate his brother and deal with him as a brother. In addition to this he says that, when one begins to live upon the labor of others, he is never quite sure that he is earning his living. Let me quote his language : “If you use more than you produce you cannot be quite content, if you are a conscientious man. Who can know how much I work? It is impossible. A man must work as much as he can with his hands, taking the most difficult and disagree-able tasks, that is, if he wishes to have a quiet conscience. Mental work is much easier than physical work, despite what is said to the contrary. No work is too humble, too disagreeable, to do. No man ought to dodge work. If I dodge work I feel guilty. There are some people who think they are so precious that other people must do the dirty, disagreeable work for them. Every man is so vain as to think his own work the most important. That is why I try to work with my hands by the side of workingmen. If I write a book, I cannot be quite sure whether it will be useful or not. If I produce something that will support life, I know that I have done something useful.”

Tolstoy presents an ideal, and while he recognizes that the best of efforts is but an approach to the ideal, he does not consent to the lowering of the ideal itself or the defense of anything that aims at less than the entire realization of the ideal. He is opposed to what he calls palliatives, and insists that we need the reformation of the individual more than the reformation of law or government. He holds that the first thing to do is to substitute the Christian spirit for the selfish spirit. He likens those who are trying to make piecemeal progress to persons who are trying to push cars along a track by putting their shoulders against the cars. He says that they could better employ their energy by putting steam in the engine, which would then pull the ‘cars. And the religious spirit he defines as “such a belief in God and such a feeling of responsibility to God as will manifest itself both in the worship of the Creator and in the fellowship with the created.”

During the course of conversation he touched on some of the problems with which the various nations have to deal. Of course he is opposed to war under all circumstances, and regards the professional soldier as laboring under a delusion. He says that soldiers, instead of following their consciences, accept the doctrine that a soldier must do what he is commanded to do, placing upon his superior officer the responsibility for the command. He denies that any individual can thus shift the responsibility for his conduct. In speaking of soldiers, he expressed an opinion that indicates his hostility to the whole military system. He said that soldiers insisted upon being tried by military men and military courts, and added: “That is . amusing. I re-member that when that plea was made in a case recently, I retorted that if that was so, why was not a murderer justified in demanding a trial at the hands of murderers, or a burglar in demanding trial by a jury of burglars. That would be on all fours with the other proposition.”

He is not a believer in protection, and regards a tariff levied upon all of the people for the benefit of some of the people as an abuse of government and immoral in principle. I found that he was an admirer of Henry George and a believer in his theory in regard to the single tax.

He is opposed to trusts. He says that the trust is a new kind of despotism and that it is a menace to modern society. He regards the power that it gives men to oppress their fellows as even more dangerous than its power to reap great profits.

He referred to some of our very rich men and declared that the possession of great wealth was objectionable, both because of its influence over its possessor and because of the power it gave him over his fellows. I asked him what use a man could make of a great fortune, and he replied : ‘ “Let him give it away to the first person he meets. That would be better than keeping it.” And then he told how a lady of fortune once asked his advice as to what she could do with her money (she derived her income from a large manufacturing establishment), and he replied that if she wanted to do good with her money she might help her work-people to return to the country, and assist them in buying and stocking their farms. -”If I do that,” she exclaimed in dismay, “I would not have any people to work for me, and my income would disappear.”

As all are more or less creatures of environment, Tolstoy’s views upon religion have probably been colored somewhat by his experience with the Greek church. He has, in some instances, used arguments against the Greek church which are broad enough to apply to all church organizations. He has not always discriminated between the proper use of an organization and the abuse of power which a large organization possesses. While animated by a sincere desire to hasten the reign of universal brotherhood, and to help the world to a realization of the central thought of Christ’s teachings, he has not, I think, fully appreciated the great aid which a church organization can lend when properly directed. In the work in which Tolstoy is engaged, he will find his strongest allies among church members to whom the commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is not merely sound philosophy, but a divine decree. These will work in the church and through the church, while he stands without raising his voice to the same God and calling men to the same kind of life.

His experience with the arbitrary methods of his own government has led him to say things that have been construed as a condemnation of all government. He has seen so much violence and injustice done in the name of government that it is not strange that the evils of government should impress him more than its possibilities for good. And yet those who believe that a just government is a blessing can work with him in the effort to secure such remedial measures as he asks for in his letter “To the Czar and His Assistants.”

Tolstoy’s career shows how despotic is the sway of the heart and how, after all, it rules the world, for while his literary achievements have been admired, the influence which they have exerted is as nothing compared with the influence exerted by his philosophy. People enjoy reading his character sketches, his dialogues and his descriptions of Russian life, but these do not take hold upon men like his simple presentation of the doctrine of love, exemplified in his life as clearly as it is expressed by his pen. Many of his utterances are denied publication in Russia, and when printed abroad cannot be carried across the border, and yet he has made such a powerful impression upon the world that he is himself safe from molestation. He can say with impunity against his government and against the Greek church what it would be perilous for others to say, and this very security is proof positive that in Russia thought inspired by love is, as Carlyle has declared it to be everywhere, stronger than artillery parks.