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Even in the Age of Adventure, there were few men to equal
Yet what surely must be the highlight of Steven's entertaining book details how his journey took him to the home of Russia's most famous author, Count Leo Tolstoy. Over bowls of kumiss, the fermented mare's milk favoured by Central Asian nomadic horsemen, the two travellers carried on a historic discussion regarding horses, religion and politics.
On Friday, July 4, our road from Tula led through Yasnia Polyana, the ancestral estate of Count Leo N. Tolstoï, the novelist. We had ridden out to Tula that morning. and striking the great Moscow-Kharkoff highway, turned our horses’ heads toward the south. For some distance our road cut a swath through a magnificent forest. A stone pillar, surmounted by the imperial arms of Russia, told us that it was government property. We turned to the left, and a short distance from the road we came to a pair of circular pillars at the end of an avenue. It was the entrance to the Tolstoï estate. Both pillars and avenue seemed sadly neglected, to one accustomed to the neatness of England and America. The former were in decay, and the latter was overgrown with weeds and vagabond tree shoots. We seemed to be entering the domain of fallen grandeur rather than the abode of Russia’s greatest and best known novelist.
On the plastered wall of a tumble-down little lodge, near the pillars, was chalked, in Russian, “Come to the house.” We rode up the avenue to the house. It is a white two-storey structure of stone and wood − a roomy, though unpretentious abode. The only striking feature about it was a very broad veranda, with rude carvings of horses and birds on the railings. It was six o’clock in the evening, and on the portico sat the Countess and several young ladies. The Countess was doing the honors behind the samovar, and the party were regaling themselves with tea and strawberries. The author sent in his card. Our horses were taken to the stables, and in five minutes we were of the interesting party about the samovar. Beside the Countess were the eldest daughter, the Countess’s sister, two nieces from St. Petersburg, and two or three others.
“The Count has been mowing hay this afternoon,” said the Countess, “and has not yet come in. I have sent him your card. He will be here in a minute.”
Every person at the table could speak English, some of the young ladies so fluently that it was difficult to believe they had not been born and brought up in an English-speaking community.
Presently there appeared on the steps of the portico a thin, sun-browned man of medium height, clad in a coarse linen suit. His bushy eyebrows thatched a pair of kindly yet shrewd blue eyes, and his gray beard and long gray hair looked like a peasant’s. A cheap home-made cap, of the same material as his suit, adorned the head to which the world is indebted for “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” and other masterpieces of the Russian realistic school. Rude boots, as ungainly as the wooden shoes of Germany, attested mutely to the eminent novelist’s skill − or lack of it − as a cobbler. Both cap and boots were the Count’s own handiwork. The linen trousers were loose and the shirt looser. The latter was worn, moujik [a Russian peasant] fashion, outside the trousers, and was gathered about the waist with a belt of russet leather.
“I am very happy to see you,” said Count Tolstoï, cheerily. “I hope you will stay some days. We have had American visitors occasionally; you are, I see, from New York.”
“‘We are riding from Moscow to the Crimea,” I said, “and, of course, couldn’t think of passing without calling to pay our respects.”
The Count looked thin and worn from a recent illness, but said he was now in good health. He was taking a season of” koumiss cure.” At Samara, on the Volga, is an establishment for the manufacture of koumiss, to which the invalids of Russia resort. Count Tolstoï did not care to spend the summer at Samara, so he had set up a little koumiss establishment of his own.
“Come and see it,” he said, “ and take my koumiss. I have been mowing hay. I must now drink koumiss. I drink it six times a day, and take nothing else but a little soup or tea.”
At the end of another short avenue, we came to a round wattle hut with a conical roof. It was a nomad aoul, or tent, of the steppes, improvised out of the best material at hand instead of the felt matting of the tribes in their own homes. Three young colts were tethered to a rope outside, and three big, fine broodmares, their dams, were grazing in the orchard.
A family of Bashkirs occupied the aoul − husband, wife, and two small children. They had been obtained from the koumiss establishments of Samara and brought to Yasnia Polyana. The three mares each gave about a gallon of milk a day, the Count explained, and the foals were allowed to run with them at night. They were milked several times a day, and gave a pint at each milking.
Inside the aoul the Bashkir woman was plying a dasher in a horse-hide churn of milk. A big jar of koumiss stood on a fable. The Count poured some into a wooden bowl.
“See how you like it,” he said.
It tasted very much like buttermilk, and betrayed to the palate no suggestion of alcohol.
“I thought it had to be fermented,” I said.
“It is fermented,” returned the Count, “and if a man were to drink enough of it he would feel it go to the head.”
“And so you have been mowing hay. You do not, then, like Mr. Gladstone, confine yourself to one form of manual exertion?”
Tolstoï is an admirer of Mr. Gladstone, but freely criticised the motive of that statesman in chopping down trees as compared with his own ideas of why everybody should work. He had nothing to say against Mr. Gladstone felling trees, but thought it would be better were he to ply his ax for less selfish reasons than to exercise his body and maintain his health. Mr. Gladstone should wield his ax, if he prefers to chop down trees rather than to dig potatoes or mow hay, not merely for the same reason that an athlete goes to the gymnasium, but to earn his living.
“Every man,” said the novelist, “ought to do enough work each day to pay for the food he eats and the clothes he wears. Unless he does that he is sponging his living off the labor of other people, and is doing an injustice to his fellow-men. Some days I mow, others I sow grain, plow, dig in the garden, pick berries or apples, or, like Mr. Gladstone, fell a tree. I live very simply. I make my own boots, and if my women would let me, would also make all my own clothes. I do not have to work very long hours to pay for what I consume, and so I find plenty of time to write and study. I am only sixty-two years old, and intend to write a great deal. My only concern is that life may prove too short to enable me to finish all I wish to do.”
“What particular literary work have you in contemplation?”
“Oh, I have many things! My future works will be on educational rather than on purely social matters.”
“Will you advocate a new system of education, or only suggest improvements in the present methods?”
“The present system is all wrong,” replied the Count. “The foundation of the system which I shall advocate will be the purity and perfection of the parents. In the shadow of paternal perfection the boys will attain perfection, and the purity and goodness of the mothers will be transmitted to the girls. This will be the foundation of a better system of rearing and educating children than the world has yet seen. The present system is full of evils. People have become so used to evils that they are no longer capable of distinguishing the evil from the good. Or, if they recognize an evil, they have been used to it so long that they have lost the sense of proportion, and it seems to them less real and grievous than it is. I hope to expose the evils of the present system and to point out the way to a better order of things all round.”
I asked the Count when he expected to bring out his first work on education. He could not say, he replied. Possibly it would not appear during his lifetime. All would depend on circumstances. Tolstoï thinks it would be a good thing if every author would pigeonhole his manuscripts and publish nothing during his life.
“Then,” said he, “there would be less printed paper in the world, and people would find time for reading what was really good.”
No author, he argued, ought to receive any compensation for his work, either in money or fame. His reward should be the satisfaction of having done, or having tried to do, something for the improvement of his fellows. He has never willingly seen any of his work go to the publishers, but has always yielded to the importunities and wishes of his friends. His “Kreutzer Sonata,” he said, was an unfinished work, and was not intended by him to be published in its present form. But his friends took it, and against his better judgment it was given to the world. He was then preparing the epilogue to it that shortly afterward appeared. He was also writing a treatise on intemperance, setting forth his ideas regarding tobacco, alcohol, opium, hasheesh, rich food, romantic love, and various other indulgences that come under the ban of his creed.
We talked of Siberia, and of the methods of the Russian government. Tolstoï said, “The government is altogether bad. It is a monument of superstition and injustice.” As for himself, he went on in the even tenor of his way, doing whatever his conscience approved of, regardless of laws and governments. They usually let him alone, but collisions sometimes occur. The previous winter his eldest daughter had opened a school for the children on the estate. The village pope (priest) sent a memorial to the government asserting that the instruction given in the school was not orthodox. The Governor of Tula, Tolstoï’s personal friend, was obliged to come down to Yasnia Polyana and order the school closed. The winter was then about over, and the children had to go to work in the fields anyhow, so not much harm was done. His daughter intended to open the school again, however, the following winter, and to reopen it as often as the authorities might close it up. So, unless they tore it down, stationed a policeman at the door, or exiled the daughter, the school would be carried on.
“The government sins most against the people in the matter of education. None of the concessions it makes are of any value. They are only makeshifts. Schools are in every village, but nothing is taught but ‘nonsensical catechism’ and the ‘three R’s.’ Yet, with the government restrictions dragging on the heels of the people, a great improvement had taken place since the emancipation of the serfs. It is now possible for every peasant to learn to read and write. All the people need to make themselves heard, is a free rein to learn what they choose,” continued Tolstoï.
The Count called to him a bright little peasant girl, in a blaze of red clothes. “Look here,” he said, “how intelligent these children are. The moujik children are always brighter than ours, brighter than the children of the rich and noble, up to a certain age. My daughter proved that last winter, and it is a fact well known to all of us. But after ten or twelve years they begin to get dull and fall behind. It’s the hard life and the drudgery of toiling in the fields.”
We talked of Africa and its people, the Count having heard of my adventures there the year before. He listened with intense interest as I told him that among the uncivilized Africans, as well as the moujiks of Russia, the children were brighter than the grown people.
I intended to send the Count a copy of “Looking Backward” [by Edward Bellamy, published in 1887. This best-seller of its day places a citizen of Victorian England into a future society.] that I had in Moscow. He had already read it. He didn’t know whether the government permitted it to circulate in Russia, but he had received a copy through a friend. The story was very well told, he said but that was all he could say for it.
“To be of value, the book should have shown how the results which are portrayed were to be arrived at. Without that ‘Looking Backward’ was nothing but a fairy tale. Then, men should live a life as happy and perfect as that which Mr. Bellamy describes, of their own free will and spontaneous goodness, and not require government regulation for all their actions.”
Of the governments of the present day Tolstoï thinks the United States government a long way ahead. It is almost a mistake, he said, to call it a “government” at all in the general acceptation of the term. Certainly, it was not to be thought of as a “republic” in the sense that France is a republic. The French government is a “republican form of government”: the people of the United States have a “natural government” – they govern themselves. A people who are simply living under a “republican form of government,” because they think it better than any other, may possibly change their minds in time of some great public excitement and think that a king or an emperor would be better after all, but no such change is possible where the government is really and truly a government of the people − “natural government.”
We stayed all night, and the next morning the Count and the writer took a long stroll about the estate. On our return three pilgrims were standing outside the house waiting for alms. On the roads of Russia one meets every hour of the summer day little bands of ragged, sunburned men or women, toiling wearily along or sitting down resting by the way. These are people making pilgrimages to Moscow or Kiev, as good Mussulmans make pilgrimages to Mecca or Medina.
The three specimens who appeared at Tolstoï’s were uncouth members of the species; their faces were a dirty yellow, their hair and beards were all over their faces and shoulders, and their garments were a mass of rags and dirt. We came up to them, and the Count stood looking at them for a minute with a smile of admiration Then, with a sweep of the hand, such as an artist might make toward some long-worshiped masterpiece of art, “I like very much these people,” he said.
He ordered a servant to give each of them a coin, and then questioned them. One of the men, he explained, was very well off and owned a large farm near Kiev. The life the pilgrims lead was his ideal of a perfectly happy, peaceful existence. The only lamentable thing about them was their superstition. They were not influenced by correct motives. They believed that there was virtue in visiting the ikons at Moscow or Kiev; whereas the real virtue of their condition was that, in imitation of the Saviour, they were not afraid to start out on their long pilgrimages without so much as a single kopeck in their purses. This man, who owned a farm, had actually started out without a piece of money. The Count said he could, with the greatest pleasure, sever all the ties that bound him to his present mode of life and become a pilgrim.
“It is less of a tumble than most people think,” he continued, “to descend from wealth to the bottom of the scale. In Switzerland, a boy who was running in the dark, fell into a hole. He clutched frantically at the edge with his hands and managed to hang on. For a long time he shouted for help, all bruised and lacerated his hands, struggling to keep from falling to the bottom, which he supposed was a terrible distance below. At length a man came and told him to let go. He did as he was bid, and to his astonishment found that the firm, safe bottom of the hole was but a few inches below his feet. It is the same with a rich man. He struggles frantically to keep himself up, thinking the bottom means death or worse. Finally, he is compelled to let go, and, like the Swiss boy, is agreeably surprised to find the change a very small one.”
The Count told a story of a young man of good family, whom he had known in the Cadet Corps in St. Petersburg, who once turned up at his house as a pilgrim, as road-worn a specimen as any of the three before us. He had been a pilgrim for a year. After staying with Tolstoï awhile, and tasting the sweets of a comfortable life, he one morning suddenly disappeared, without a kopeck in his pocket, and again became a pilgrim.
In a sense, the Count thinks all travelers are pilgrims; and while the person who travels for pleasure or on business is not to be compared for righteousness to the pilgrim who sets out without purse or scrip, yet all travelers are worthier than stay-at-home people. Their virtues consist in their contempt for a life of ease. With delicate flattery he complimented the writer on being “almost a real pilgrim.”
It was hot, sultry weather at Yasnia Polyana, and rain and thunder and mud among the untrimmed vegetation about the house made a somewhat gloomy framework for the setting of Tolstoï at home. There were snatches of sunshine, however, in the morning prior to our departure, when the avenues and neglected grounds seemed a trifle more cheerful. From the Russian point of view, the Count’s estate, probably, was in very good trim.
We sat on the portico talking until eleven o’clock on the day of our arrival, and we wandered about the estate and chatted next morning. Many subjects were touched upon. The Count likes to talk and to draw out the ideas of his visitors and compare them with his own.
I found him predisposed in favor of America, and the fact that I had just come from New York, and represented an American newspaper, was an open sesame to his sympathies and good will.
It requires but a few minutes’ social intercourse with him to discover that, like the rest of us, he has his weak points. The Count does not altogether disdain notoriety, though he may not be conscious of it. He seemed to me to possess a fair share of “author’s vanity.” In spite of the humiliation of the spirit and suppression of human exaltation, which is the chief foundation of his creed, Tolstoï likes Americans, because of the English-speaking world, we were the first to translate, read, and appreciate his productions. The taste for Russian literature was acquired in the United States before it spread to England.
There have been visitors to Yasnia Polyana who have carried away the uncharitable conviction that the peculiarities of the Count’s daily life are theatrical; that he acts an eccentric part. Sometimes, during our conversations, I, too, thought him knowingly affected, but eventually decided that all his peculiarities come from sincere convictions and honest eccentricity of character.
At times, when talking, Tolstoï leaves the visitor momentarily in doubt whether he is not imposing on your credulity and trying to fathom your understanding; but the final impression is that he is sincere. There is a curious mixture in him of a deep knowledge of the world and the innocence and confidence of a child. Nobody would try to practice a deception on him as a man of the world, because he would feel in advance that Tolstoï would be sure to see through it. But by appealing to the benevolent side of his character, it required little penetration to see that the applicant would have him at a great disadvantage.
The young man who acted as a butler at the house, and whom I questioned about his master’s habits, told me that the moujiks often imposed on his benevolence and shamefully abused his charity. From all the country round the peasants came to Tolstoï with their woes and grievances, much as the freed negroes of the South used to appeal to the St. Clairs among the former slave owners, after the war. A short time before our visit a moujik come to Tolstoï with a very long face and asserted that his horse had died and that he was unable to cultivate his land. The Count gave him a horse out of his own stables to plow his ground and get in his crops. The moujik, who was a worthless fellow, took the horse away, sold. it, and spent the money on vodka. Only recently, too, the overseer of the estate had caught a moujik in the act of cutting down and carting off trees from the Count’s forest. He brought the thief to Tolstoï and proposed to take him before the court. “Let him go, poor fellow,” said the author of ‘Christ’s Christianity.’ “The trees are as much his as mine. I neither planted them nor cut them down,”
Neither the timber thief nor the man who swindled him out of the horse was punished. The wonder is that Yasnia Polyana does not become a nest of worthless vagabonds and that the Tolstoï estate is not stripped as bare as a desert. The latter possibility would disturb the Count’s equanimity little. He would, in fact, utter no word of protest at the spoliation of his property, and only the stand taken by the Countess and the children prevents the family possessions from melting entirely away.
The estate consists of 1000 dessiatines, or 2500 acres of arable land and forest. Part of it is the old family estate, given to the Count’s grandfather, General Tolstoï, by Catherine II., as a reward for military services. The remainder has been acquired chiefly from the literary earnings of the Count. All economic affairs he leaves entirely in the hands of his wife. He seems scarcely a member of his own family. By residing in a good house and retaining land and property more than sufficient for his bare support, Tolstoï lives in perpetual violation of his own conscience. This state of affairs he submits to for the sake of his family, who are only partially in sympathy with his creed.
He believes not only that he has no right to the estate, but that it would be an act of pride and presumption to take upon himself even the right to divide it up and give it away. “How can one have the presumption to give away what doesn’t belong to him?”
In the matter of land-ownership, Tolstoï declared himself a great admirer of the theories of Henry George. He declared George the greatest American citizen of the present time. He believed, however, in a system of communal, rather than a national, ownership of the land. The ideal state of society would be, to him, the simple, rural communes, in which every family would have the right to till soil enough for its own support. There would be no taxes and no government. The Count believed that all forms of government are humbugs, and that the whole machinery of law and lawyers, courts and judges, is a barbarity, and an excuse for setting one man above another, and enabling the privileged few to rob the many.
Governments he regards as the root of nearly all evils. Tax collectors he considers highwaymen, who are able to rob people without bloodshed, simply because the tax-payers know that it would be useless to resist the powerful organization of which they are members. He was looking forward to a day when men would see through the fiction of government and would no longer consent to be robbed of money, nor to be instructed in the art of murdering one another in war.
He admires America because we have only a handful of soldiers, and the bitterness of his soul went out to the armed camps of which Berlin and Paris are the centers. In his younger days the Count was an officer and saw service in the Crimean war; but since his conversion the earth contains for him no more monstrous thing than a body of men drilling and practicing every day to perfect themselves in the art of killing the largest number of their brothers in the shortest possible time.
The accumulation of vast possessions by individuals the Count regards as one of the great evils that people have become so accustomed to seeing that they deem the wrong far less than it really is. He believed, however, that the mission of the large American millionaires would be to hasten the climax, when the eyes of the people will be opened by the display of tremendous contrasts. The moral consciousness of the people needs a rude awakening, he thought, and only the development of abnormal contrasts in wealth and poverty is likely to bring the people to consider seriously the equal rights of all. Just as the undue development of the military will one day result in general disarmament, so, he believes, will the vast accumulations of the few and the poverty of the many open the people’s eyes to the fact that banks and government treasuries are robber’s caves, in which is hoarded the money that has been taken from the people.
The Count, however, didn’t think the equalization of property will be brought about by violence, but by a general moral awakening. Millionaires will become convinced that they have no right to the property that they now regard as their own, and will give it up; just as he would be willing to move off the family estate at Yasnia Polyana. America, he thought, will one day set the example. England will follow; then Russia. The thinkers of Russia, he said, are already seriously studying the problem of doing away with the private ownership of land.
One could not talk with Tolstoï for any length of time without the subject of religion coming to the fore. Only foolish people, he said, trouble their heads about whether there is or is not a personal God; or whether Christ was or was not more than human. We have our conscience for our guidance, and the only thing is to do right. People are mistaken in doing good here in the hope of future reward. This is the essence of selfishness. It prostitutes the best in humanity to the level of commerce. There is no merit in making a bargain by which you are to receive a ruble some time in the future in return for giving a poorer brother a kopeck or a crust of bread to-day. This is not charity, but usury pure and simple. In Russia the best Christians are those who never go to church. Priests, ministers, and churches the Count holds in scant esteem. The priests he considered as part and parcel of the governmental machinery for grinding the faces of the poor and living without work. To swing a censer and chant senseless masses is, in his opinion, stage-acting. The time wasted on this buffoonery, if devoted to planting and digging potatoes, would suffice them to earn their bread, and then there would be no need of preying on the ignorant and the superstitious.
Preachers should talk less about the future state and devote themselves, firstly, to earning their own livelihood by growing grain and vegetables, and, secondly, to bringing about the kingdom of heaven on earth. The Count had no patience with sectarianism, nor with preachers who are sticklers for certain forms of administering baptism or the sacrament. The spirit of hostility that brings ministers of the gospel on to the debating platform, he said, is not the spirit of Christ, but of Satan. Preachers and religious teachers should devote their energies to the work of compromising and the bridging of differences rather than disputing.
The world has more need of living examples than of weekly sermons. If all the preachers in the world would quit their fine houses, refuse their salaries, and take to sowing and reaping, and preaching every-day sermons of Christ-like lives, they would do more good in a week than they do now in a lifetime. According to the Count, a minister of the gospel who accepts a salary and lives off it, is a robber. The only difference between him and a footpad is that, whereas the latter knocks you down and rifles your pockets, the minister gets at the pockets of honest people by a more ingenious, if less violent, process. In both cases the results are the same: both minister and footpad eat food that they never produced and which, consequently, cannot possibly be theirs by right. Such is the Count’s creed.
I found Tolstoï a vegetarian, and convinced that the ideal physical life is that of the Brahmins of India. He believed in reducing one’s wants to a minimum, and in producing, so far as possible, with one’s own hands the wherewithal both to feed and clothe the body. A state of society in which the condition of one would never be such as to excite envy in another is the secret of true social happiness. In Russia, the pilgrims who roam the country over, depending for their support from day to day on the alms of the people, approach this ideal, and Tolstoï would, so I inferred from his remarks, become a pilgrim himself were it not for the restraints of family ties and considerations.
When he took me into his little koumiss establishment to give me a drink of the beverage, he said with enthusiasm, that with an acre of grass land and a couple of milch mares, a man would possess ample property for his support. The mares would live off the grass and the man could milk them and live off koumiss.
Temperance finds in the great novelist an enthusiastic supporter. He neither drinks intoxicating beverages nor smokes, and he includes in the term many other indulgences that the ordinary advocates of temperance consider apart from their creed.
In his creed romantic love is also intemperance. The tender passion that has from all time been the theme of the poet and the novelist, Tolstoï deems a species of moral depravity, on a par with gluttony, the smoking of opium, or indulgence in strong drink. A person finding himself, or herself, in love, particularly before marriage, should fight against it as against the opium habit or any other pernicious thing.
Theater-going, dancing, romantic literature of all kinds, anything, in short, that excites the imagination to thoughts of love, is intemperance. Cupid is the devil in his most artful guise.
In speaking of the relations of the sexes, Tolstoï talked with the same freedom from restraint as if he talked of digging potatoes or mowing hay.
The Countess and her sister from St. Petersburg sat at the other end of the table on one occasion, when the Count was particularly inquisitive about the natives of East Africa. To an ordinary mortal the situation would have been embarrassing in the extreme. The ladies, however, were busy chatting together, and their ears, of course, were closed to anything the Count or I might have said.
Tolstoï was deeply interested in the social life of the Masai and requested that a copy of “Scouting for Stanley in East Africa” might be sent him.
His interest in the relations of the sexes seemed to me to be abnormal, almost morbid. Men and women, he insists, should love one another only as friends or as brothers and sisters. Matrimony brought about by romantic love is an unholy and unnatural alliance, that in nine cases out of ten resulted in unhappiness for both parties to the contract. The keynote of the Count’s peculiar creed is “no violence.” If cuffed on one cheek, he would turn the other. No matter what another person may be doing, the utmost force that is permitted to be used against him is passive resistance or persuasion. “If a man robs you, who are you that sets yourself up to judge him whether he is in the right or the wrong? One man has no right to judge another, nor to assume the office of executioner by using violence against him. If a man knocks you down, who knows but you have deserved it?
“One person has no right to use violence against another under any circumstances whatever, not even to oppose violence. There must be no self defense beyond passive resistance. To subdue the passions and gain the upper hand of our human pride is man’s first duty to himself and to his fellows. After that, all the rest will come easy enough.”
After listening to such talk the Count’s advice to keep away from the churches sounded oddly. An American minister from New York once visited Tolstoï’ at Yasnia Polyana. Did I know him? I did not; and although Tolstoï’ spoke with every mark of respect for his visitor as a man, he let it be very plainly understood that the less the rising generation had to do with the modern expounders of the gospels the better for their comprehension of the true religion as he conceives it.
Previous to his conversion the Count had been an atheist. About ten years before there was a census of Russia. It is the custom of the government to impress the students of the universities to assist in taking a census. Tolstoï’s eldest son was then a student in· Moscow, and the father accompanied the son in going his rounds to number the people.
The task took them into some of the Moscow slums. The scenes of squalid poverty and wretchedness that the Count was then brought in contact with was the turning point in his career. For fifty years he had lived a life of selfish ease and pleasure. He had been through the whole mill of gay, fashionable existence. As a youth, he had been dissipated; as a man, well-to-do and successful. The world had been to him a pleasure-ground, and the future a subject of philosophical speculation.
He went home a changed man. It seemed as if all his life had been utterly wasted. The selfishness of a life that had been largely devoted to pleasure and self-seeking now seemed to him an enormity of error and wrong. How should he expiate the great crime of fifty years of wrongdoing?
He sought consolation in the existing forms of religion. He said he found them worse than honest atheism. He turned to the Scriptures and independent research and harkened to the teachings of Sutaieff, a free-thinking peasant of Novgorod, who had been persecuted by the priests for independent action in the matter of baptizing his children. He drew inspiration from the child-like simplicity of the peasantry on his estate. He brought to bear on his observations and researches the mind of a cultured man and the intellect of a genius. The result has been the teachings that the world now recognizes as the Tolstoïan creed.
After he had become convinced that salvation lay in living a Christly life in a truly unselfish sense, the Count was for getting rid of his property forthwith by distributing it among the peasantry. His plan was to descend at once to the level of the poorest of those about him, and earn his living with the plow and the hoe. That this was not done was due entirely to the Countess and friends of the family.
Such, then, was the apostle of this new religion, or, as he would say, of the Christian religion rightly interpreted, at home. Practical people in America would find in many of his ideas the vagaries of an ill-balanced but brilliant intellect.
Genius-like, he was not always logical and consistent. In discussing the merits of Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” he condemned the author’s judgment in presuming that such a state of society as he describes would be possible with human beings, possessed with the weaknesses and frailties of our kind. Only angels, he said, could exist under such conditions. Yet in the case of these same human beings, with the same weaknesses and frailties that would be the stumbling block in Bellamy’s new social world, he advocated “no government, no police, no prisons, no army, no church, no judiciary, no punishment for wrong doing.”
The Count’s ideas of what is best were still in a state of development. A couple of years before my visit Mr. Stead, of the “Review of Reviews,” paid him a visit. At that time he told Stead that he regretted every moment that he did not feel he was dying. He longed to have done with this world and to fathom the mystery of the next. Now he had changed his mind and told me his only fear was that he would not live long enough to finish all the work he wanted to do.
The wife of Tolstoï is a buxom lady, who looked about forty. She has a broad, matronly figure; a kind, motherly face, and was the daughter of a St. Petersburg physician. She is the mother of thirteen children, of whom nine were living. The eldest daughter and the two youngest children were at home. The others were traveling or away visiting, and the eldest son was officiating as Secretary on a Commission at the Prison Congress, which was then sitting in St. Petersburg. He had just written a letter to his mother, expressing disgust at the round of speeches and dinners that appeared to him to be the only probable outcome of the Congress.
The Countess acted as her husband’s amanuensis and copyist. She copied and corrected all of his manuscripts. She seemed to be a most excellent woman. The family life appeared to be altogether charming. Both wife and children fairly idolize the Count. The nieces also think their uncle the embodiment of wisdom and goodness, and the only point on which they openly take issue with him is, naturally enough, on the subject of romantic love as denounced in the “Kreutzer Sonata”.
These young people do not always fathom the Count, but they never doubt the wisdom of his actions or the goodness of his motives. Everything he does is right. If you venture to criticise anything the Count has said or done, in their hearing, they defend him stoutly.
We stayed to lunch at twelve, then rode away. In the house of strict temperance, where the master lives on curds and koumiss, cutlets and a bottle of wine were set out for the visitors. We ate the cutlets but left the wine untouched.
“I thank you very much for coming,” said the Count, as he shook hands and advised us to be careful of our horses.
“I wish you a pleasant journey to the Crimea,” said the Countess, “and a safe return to America.”
Russia is a country where fantastic religious ideas seem to find a congenial soil. The dwarfing of the people’s intellects in matters political, is productive of curious expansions in other directions. Between Moscow and Tula I stumbled upon a truly queer religious idea. None but a logical mind could, however, have conceived it. It is intended chiefly to comfort and console people of a doubting and skeptical turn of mind. People who are so unfortunately constituted that they don’t know whether or not to believe in the existence of a personal God, and are forever casting about for light on the subject, are instructed by the new religion to “pray to the power that is responsible for their existence:: By adopting this broad ground, all fears of missing the mark, so to speak, are done away with, and none need be afraid of going astray through ignorance or misconception.
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