صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

formulated faith was essential; and Tolstoy began to search the Scriptures. He learned from the teachings of Jesus Christ that he must not only not kill, but he must not hate or despise other men; he must not only keep himself chaste, but he must keep his thoughts from unchastity ; he must not only not forswear himself, but he must not swear at all; he must not only not do evil, but he must not resist evil. If his own practice had been the negation of these principles, he could not therefore deny their righteousness; if all civilization, as we see it now, was the negation of these principles, civilization - in so far as it was founded upon war, and pride, and luxury, and oaths, and judgments, and punishments — was wrong and false. The sciences, so far as they failed to better the lot of common men, seemed to him futile; the fine arts, so far as they appealed to the passions, seemed worse than futile; the mechanic arts, with their manifold inventions, were senseless things in the sight of this seer, who sought the kingdom of God. Titles, honors, riches; courts, judges, executioners ; nationalities, armies, battles ; culture, pleasure, amusement, - he counted these all evil or vain.

The philosophy of Tolstoy is neither more nor less than the doctrine of the Gospels, chiefly as he found it in the words of Jesus. Some of us whose lives it accused, have accused him of going beyond Christ in his practice of Christ's precepts. We say that having himself led a worldly, sensual, and violent life, he naturally wished to atone for it by making every one also lead a poor, dull, and ugly life. It is no part of my business to defend him, or to justify him ; but as against this anger against him, I cannot do less than remind the reader that Tolstoy, in confessing himself so freely and fully to the world, and preaching the truth as he feels it, claims nothing like infallibility. He compels no man's conscience, he shapes no man's conduct. If the truth which he has learned from the teachings of Jesus, and those other saviors and sages whom he follows less derotedly, compels the conscience and shapes the conduct of the reader, that is because this reader's soul cannot deny it. If the soul rejects it, that is no more than men have been doing ever since saviors and sages came into the world ; and Tolstoy is neither to praise nor to blame.

No sincere person, I believe, will deny his sincerity, which is his authority outside of the gospel's: if any man will speak simply and truly to us, he masters us; and this and nothing else is what makes us helpless before the spirit of such books as “ My Confession,” “My Religion,” “Life,” “What to Do,” and before the ethical quality of Tolstoy's fictions. We can remind ourselves that he is no more final than he pretends to be; that on so vital a point as the question of a life hereafter, he seems of late to incline to a belief in it, though at first be held such a belief to be a barbarous superstition. We can justly say that he does not lead a life of true poverty if his wife holds the means of keeping him from want, and from that fear of want which is the sorest burden of poverty. We can point out that his labor in making shoes is a worse than useless travesty, since it may deprive some wretched cobbler of his chance to earn his living by making and selling the shoes which Count Tolstoy makes and gives away. In these things we should have a certain truth on our side; though we should have to own that it was not his fault that he had not really declassed himself, and was constrained to the economic safety in which he dwells. We should have to confess that in this the great matter is the will; and that if benevolence stopped to take account of the harm it might work, there could be no such thing as charity in the world. We should have to ask ourselves whether Tolstoy's conversion to a belief in immortality is not an effect of his unselfish labor; whether his former doubt of immortality was not a lingering effect of the ambition, vanity, and luxury he has renounced. It had not indeed remained for him to discover that whenever we love, the truth is added unto us; but possibly it had remained for him to live the fact, to realize that unselfish labor gives so much meaning to human life that its significance cannot be limited to mortality.

However this may be, Tolstoy's purpose is mainly to make others realize that religion, that Christ, is for this actual world here, and not for some potential world elsewhere. If this is what renders him so hateful to those who postpone the Divine justice to another state of being, they may console themselves with the reflection that his counsel to unselfish labor is almost universally despised. There is so small danger that the kingdom of heaven will come by virtue of his example, that none of all who pray for it need be the least afraid of its coming. In any event his endeavor for a right life cannot be forgotten. Even as a pose, if we are to think so meanly of it as that, it is by far the most impressive spectacle of the century. All that he has said has been the law of Christianity open to any who would read, from the beginning; and he has not differed from most other Christians except in the attempt literally to do the will of Christ. Yet even in this he is not the first. Others have lived the life of labor voluntarily, and have abhorred war, and have suffered evil. But no man so gloriously gifted and so splendidly placed has bowed his neck and taken the yoke upon it. We must recognize Tolstoy as one of the greatest men of all time, before we can measure the extent of his renunciation. He was gifted, noble, rich, famous, honored, courted; and he has done his utmost to become plebeian, poor, obscure, neglected. He has truly endeavored to cast his lot with the lowliest, and he has counted it all joy so far as he has succeeded. His scruple against constraining the will of others suffers their will to make his self-sacrifice finally histrionic; but this seems to me not the least part of his self-sacrifice, which it gives a supreme touch of pathos. It is something that in fiction he alone could have imagined, and is akin to the experience of his own Karénin, who in a crucial moment forgives when he perceives that he cannot forgive without being ridiculous. Tolstoy, in allowing his family to keep his wealth, for fear of compelling them to the righteousness which they do not choose, becomes absurd in his inalienable safety and superiority ; but we cannot say that he ought not to suffer this indignity. There is perhaps a lesson in his fate which we ought not to refuse, if we can learn from it that in our time men are bound together so indissolubly that every advance must include the whole of society, and that even selfrenunciation must not accomplish itself at the cost of others' free choice.

It is usual to speak of the ethical and the æsthetical principles as if they were something separable; but they are hardly even divergent in any artist, and in Tolstoy they have converged from the first. He began to write at a time when realistic fiction was so thoroughly established in Russia that there was no question there of any other. Gogol had found the way out of the mists of romanticism into the open day, and Turguénief had so perfected the realistic methods that the subtlest analysis of character had become the essence of drama. Then Tolstoy arrived, and it was no longer a question of methods. In Turguénief, when the effect sought and produced is most ethical, the process is so splendidly æsthetical that the sense of its perfection is uppermost. In Tolstoy the meaning of the thing is so supreme that the delight imparted by the truth is qualified by no consciousness of the art. Up to his time fiction had been part of the pride of life, and had been governed by the criterions of the world which it amused. But he replaced the artistic conscience by the human conscience. Great as my wonder was at the truth in Tolstoy's work, my wonder at the love in it was greater yet. Here for the first time, I found the most faithful pictures of life set in the light of that human conscience which I had falsely taught myself was to be ignored in questions of art, as something inadequate and inappropriate. In the august presence of the masterpieces, I had been afraid and ashamed of the highest instincts of my nature as something philistine and provincial. But here I stood in the presence of a master, who told me not to be afraid or ashamed of them, but to judge his work by them, since he had himself wrought in honor of them. I found the tests of conduct which I had used in secret with myself, applied as the rules of universal justice, condemning and acquitting in motive and action, and admitting none of those lawyers' pleas which baffle our own consciousness of right and wrong.

Often in Tolstoy's ethics I feel a hardness, almost an arrogance (the word says too much); but in his æsthetics I have never felt this. He has transmuted the atmosphere of a realm hitherto supposed unmoral into the very air of heaven. I found nowhere in his work those base and cruel lies which cheat us into the belief that wrong may sometimes be right through passion, or genius, or heroism. There was everywhere the grave noble face of the truth that had looked me in the eyes all my life, and that I knew I must confront when I came to die. But there was something more than this, - infinitely

There was that love which is before even the truth, without which there is no truth, and which, if there is any last day, must appear the Divine justice.

It is Tolstoy's humanity which is the grace beyond the reach of art in his imaginative work. It does not reach merely the poor and the suffering: it extends to the prosperous and the proud, and does not deny itself to the guilty. There had been many stories of adultery before “Anna Karenina,” — nearly all the great novels outside of English are framed upon that argument, - but in “Anna Karenina” for the first time the whole truth was told about it. Tolstoy has said of the fiction of Maupassant that the truth can never be immoral; and in his own work I have felt that it could never be anything but moral. In the “Kreuzer Sonata,” which gave a bad conscience to

more.

Christendom, there was not a moment of indecency or horror that was not purifying and wholesome. It was not the logic of that tremendous drama that marriage was wrong, - though Tolstoy himself pushed on to some such conclusion, — but only that lustful marriage, provoked through appetite and fostered in idleness and luxury, was wrong. We may not have had the last word from him concerning the matter: he may yet see marriage, as he has seen immortality, to be the inevitable deduction from the human postulate. But whatever his mind about it may finally be, his comment on that novel seems to me his one great mistake, and a discord in the harmony of his philosophy.

It jars the more because what you feel most in Tolstoy is this harmony, — this sense of unity. He cannot admit in his arraignment of civilization the plea of a divided responsibility: he will not suffer the prince, or the judge, or the soldier, personally to shirk the consequences of what he officially does; and he refuses to allow in himself the division of the artist from the man. As I have already more than once said, his ethics and ästhetics are inseparably at one; and this is what gives a vital warmth to all his art. It is never that heartless skill which exists for its own sake, and is content to dazzle with the brilliancy of its triumphs. It seeks always the truth in the love to which alone the truth unveils itself. If Tolstoy is the greatest imaginative writer who ever lived, it is because, beyond all others, he has written in the spirit of kindness, and not denied his own personal complicity with his art.

As for the scope of his work, it would not be easy to measure it; for it seems to include all motives and actions, in good and bad, in high and low, and not to leave life untouched at any point as it shows itself in his vast Russian world. Its chief themes are the old themes of art always, – they are love, passion, death; but they are treated with such a sincerity, such a simplicity, that they seem almost new to art, and as effectively his as if they had not been touched before.

Until we read “The Cossacks," and witness the impulses of kindness in Olenin, we do not realize how much love has been despised by fiction, and neglected for passion. It is with a sort of fear and trembling that we find ourselves in the presence of this wish to do good to others, as if it might be some sort of mawkish sentimentality. But it appears again and again in the cycle of Tolstoy's work: in the vague aspirations

« السابقةمتابعة »