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The Journal of Leo Tolstoy/Introduction


The ultimate meaning of the Russian Revolution which took place in March, 1917, can be best understood through the pages of the journal of Leo Tolstoi which is here printed. The spiritual qualities which make up the mind and personality of Tolstoi are the spiritual qualities which make up the new era among men which is being waged so painfully and so uncompromisingly at the present moment on the soil of Russia. One holds the key to the other, for no land but Russia could have produced a Tolstoi, and in no land but Russia could Tolstoi have been so embraced and so absorbed.

They are both flesh of each other’s flesh, and I place them equally in greatness against each other. Great and wonderful as is the Russian people, so Tolstoi was as great and wonderful as the Russian people. I say this knowing well the pain and impatience both felt for each other in the long eighty-two years of Tolstoi’s life here, but it was the pain and the impatience of great love and infinite understanding, of feeling and knowing each other’s pulse-beats, and not the misunderstanding of strangers. It was the wise father doubting the impatient methods of his children; it was the ardent children desiring and struggling to accomplish the wishes of the father and being lost in the maelstrom of an insistent reality.

The youth went faster than the father, and yet so infinite and universal were the words of the latter that when the last summings-up are made both stand together in total harmony and agreement. Tolstoi at thirty took no part in the great educational agrarian movement of the latter Fifties, and even had a fine scorn for their exponents which did not leave him in his later years—witness the phrase against Herzen and Chernishevsky, "raised to great men," he said, "and who ought to be grateful to the government and the censorship, without which they would have been the most unnoticed of sketch-writers." And yet it was Herzen and Chernishevsky and Dobrolubov, these "sketch-writers," who kept up the fire of agrarian reform and who practically forced the issue upon Alexander II. Tolstoi ignored the whole revolutionary movement of that time; even more than ignored it; threw himself seemingly into the opposite camp, leading the life of a gay fêted hero returned from the Crimean War. But his Morning of a Landed Proprietor shows that he was thinking deeply even at that time of the social problems around him, only he was thinking more slowly than the rest. He was just waking up to the fact that the peasant conditions needed improvement, at the time when all around him the youth had passed to the idea that it was not an improvement that they needed, but an absolute change in the fundamental ideas of property. It took him forty years to say, that you might as well ask him how to make use of the ownership, or the labour or the rent of a bonded slave as to ask him for advice as to the problem of owning of land. Here was no reformer speaking, but one who was united with the revolutionary thought around him.

But when the men of the Sixties were making that answer for themselves, and had won the first great step toward the change—the abolition of serfdom—Tolstoi was away altogether from his native land writing that great epoch of the War of 1812—War and Peace. It was because this great soul was undogmatic, and reached out into the world not by mass thinking, but marvellously enough entirely by himself, laying his roots far and deep, that he seemed so slow moving. Yet it was the direction and the end that counted, and the end finds him, like the race between the tortoise and the hare—that he is still ahead.

Even Russia will have far and long to travel to come to that kingdom of God on earth, to that conception of the manifestation of the will of God on earth, which is the spiritual ideal of Tolstoi, and toward which, express it in any materialistic or naturalistic terms it may, the Russian nation has with one mind been working with such marvellous self-consciousness.

Again, after the emancipation of the serfs, Tolstoi seemed to fail the New Russia, interesting himself only at this moment with the education of the youth and the need of reform ever the need of reform, when already for over a decade the cry of Russia was for new forms entirely, new land arrangements, new relations between man and man, and man and his property. The time had come, they said, for the Will of the People to be made manifest.

But before Tolstoi could decide on that, he had to decide on a more fundamental problem of what his relation was to God, as well as what his relation was to man. In other words, what were the true spiritual relations between man and man, not only the economic, political and social ones. And it is this attempt to solve the real fundamental meaning to all relationship, the very reason for the youth's outbursts against the economic, political and social injustices that existed, that kept him moving forward so slowly. For he moved whole worlds at a step.

The only reason for life, he said, is the universal desire for well being, which in man, whose reason has awakened, is expanded into a desire for universal welfare; in other words, for love. For he knows that he is not a separate being, but a part of a whole, and therefore it is meaningless to think that he can obtain anything for himself alone. It is only in struggling and attaining for the Whole that he can find his true life.

The Russian youth agreed with him entirely. To their logic, the struggle for universal welfare led to terrorism; to Tolstoi, to the absolute nonresistance to evil by violence. The youth said the will of God is being thwarted by a band of oppressors. If we do away with the oppressors we can get together in mutual love. Tolstoi said that he who thinks he can violate the will of God for an immediate good is only short-sighted. Never at any moment can the will of God be thwarted and the good attained.

For a while the Russian Government rather approved of the Tolstoyan attitude of non-resistance to evil. The one who used the greatest amount of violence and evil of all, was pleased to meet the philosophy which advised non-resistance to it. But Tolstoi grew and travelled in his long years and he had to change his conclusions, so that his logic led him to that most self-conscious and difficult of all revolutionary movements, passive-resistance. Take no part in violence, he said; therefore, pay no taxes that support a government which violates, and do not serve in the army which is an act of violence in itself. It was then that Tolstoi was looked upon with askance by the Russian authorities and formerly anathematised from the church. It was to his followers that the more drastic punishment of imprisonment and exile was meted out.

Toward the latter years of his life, his great human heart could not remain quite closed to the violence around him, and religious thinker that he was, he had to stop his meditations to cry out against the Kishineff massacres of the Jews and against the raising of the scaffolds and the tying of the "Stolypine's neck-ties," that most telling nickname of the Russian people for the noose, which was tied even for school children on the crossroads of Russia after the bitter failure of the revolution of 1905.

It was only in What Is Art? that the Russian people and Tolstoi were unanimously at one. Art is to serve the people, to be of the people, to be something understandable by all people. There were to be no dogmas for art, no German metaphysics for art. It was merely the means of expressing to his neighbour the mysteries that went on in the soul of the artist. There was no quarrel here between his fellow countrymen and the great thinker. Everything was to be for the people ; the spiritual manifestations of life as well as the material.

How to make clear that for all this seeming lack of harmony, there existed the greatest bond of all between this teacher and his children. Thousands in Russia took his life as an example and left the vainglories of the city with all its false standards and went to live among the people. They went not only to serve them but to be one of them, to live by the sweat of their brow as the masses did, because it was the only moral thing to do, and because the greatest happiness lay in the spiritual values of life, and because, as Tolstoi himself says, "It is good with them, but with us it is shameful."

I remember so well the deep-set eyes and the long shaggy eyebrows of that all-knowing seer, as he sat on the veranda of his home in Yasanaya Polyana one May afternoon in 1906, and told us that he was a religious thinker and not a political one but that to his mind the revolution in Russia would take fifty years to develop. And with that fine scorn for parliamentarism which would have rejoiced the heart of any syndicalist, he added that that which we were witnessing now, the assembling of the first Duma, was only the first scene of the first act of a five act drama and it was high comedy!

The second scene followed soon and turned out to be bitter tragedy, and before it was quite over Tolstoi wandered off on that last pilgrimage which ended in the little railway station of Ostopova. He succumbed at last to that "temptation" he speaks of so freely in his Journal, to leave his home conditions, negate himself entirely, and find himself again, merged and at one with the Whole. And the Great Deliverer came and offered him even a greater fusion with all, giving him that "other post," the "new appointment" he so ardently prayed for in life. When that happened he became at once clear and lucid even to those nearest him — who had criticised him the most. The Russian youth was disconsolate. Our spiritual guide is gone, they cried. Who will hold up the candle for us now? What black night is there in the world, and how to grope our way in it alone!

How lonely it was without that spiritual guide!

The first act of the March Revolution was to redecorate the grave of Tolstoi in the forest of Zakaz, to make the sacred pilgrimage to his resting place and tell the father of the good news the will of God is being established, reason is awakened in man. Love toward neighbour; nay, the greatest of all, love toward enemies, is being accomplished.

It is with a feeling of reverence that I bring this gift of the inner soul of Tolstoi to the English-speaking public. The very formlessness of the phrases of this Journal helps toward a sincerity of thought which shows itself pure by its nakedness. Tolstoi himself knew the value of these documents, for one man was to him as another, and the sincere gropings of a man's reason toward the understanding of the meaning of life was of value even if they were his own, and especially if they were of one who had lived much and thought much as he did. "It is especially disagreeable to me," he writes, "when people who have lived little and thought little do not believe me, and, not understanding me, argue with me about moral problems. It would be the same for which a veterinary surgeon would be hurt if people who were not familiar with his art would argue with him." And Tolstoi knew that he knew his art, he knew consciously, since the spiritual awakening that came to him in the Eighties, the great mission to which he dedicated his life — to find a moral justification of living — and it is therefore that he laid special stress in the disposal of these documents for the public after his death. The volume here printed is only four years of over sixty years of Journal which he kept since his early twenties. They are published first, because it is only with the Journal beginning 1890 that his editor and friend, V. G. Chertkov, has the copied manuscripts in their entirety — from that date up to Tolstoi's death in 1910.

Over and over again in his life, Tolstoi attempted to make special and legal provision for his journals and notebooks, as he calls them, that they be given and spread free to the public, and he designated his friend and follower, who has edited and published this volume in Russian, as the practical inheritor and executor of these manuscripts. He was to publish them in their entirety, except for certain revisions so that there should be preserved, as Tolstoi expressed it, that which ought to be preserved and there should be thrown out that which ought to be thrown out.

"I know," he wrote to Chertkov, February 8, 1900, "that no one bears such an esteem, respect and love for my spiritual life and its expression as you do. I always said it and now I write it in my notes which express my wishes after my death, asking you especially, and only you, to undertake the revision of my papers."

This Chertkov has done exceedingly well in the original Russian edition, giving in double brackets the number of the words he left out, which seemed to him necessary on account of their too intimate character. These places I have merely indicated by three points. Unfortunately the Russian volume was printed under the old régime and deletions had to be made on account of the censor, which, because of the difficulty of communication during the war, it was impossible to fill in. These places are also designated in this volume by three points, but in the Russian edition they are given in double parenthesis, also enclosing the number of the words left out. So that a record of all omissions have been kept.

The problem of disposing of these documents after his death according to his principles against copyrights, occupied Tolstoi for many years. The Russian law nullified any such disposal of property, for legally the inheritor had to be a fixed person "and works to be disposed of free to all" meant nothing. He therefore wrote many wills, defining and modifying his position in all possible ways so that his ideas might be carried out, and in such a form that they could not be frustrated by any one.

His plans were threefold:

1. That all his works written after 1881 as well as all his writings written before that year (the year that marks his spiritual regeneration) but not published until later or not published at all up to his death, should be no one's property, but be given free to the public for printing and translation.

2. That all his manuscripts and documents (among that number the journals, first drafts of books, letters, etc.,) which would remain after his death should be given over to V. G. Chertkov, who was to revise them and arrange them in suitable form for publication.

3. That the estate of Yasnaya Polyana should be given over to the peasants.

Tolstoi's first idea was that Chertkov should be one of the legal inheritors, together with the Countess Tolstoi, his wife. But Chertkov refused for various personal reasons, he says, but mainly because he thought that the arrangement for the transfer of property could be best facilitated and could be more delicately managed if some one member of the Tolstoi family was designated instead of an outsider. Tolstoi, therefore, designated as his legal inheritor his youngest daughter Alexandra, who stood in close sympathy with him in his spiritual ideas, and, in case of her death before his own, his eldest daughter Titiana. He hoped that his daughters, together with the Countess Tolstoi, would fulfil his requests concerning the disposal of his posthumous documents and the gift of the estate according to his wishes.

After Tolstoi's death the estate was given to the peasants by means of the sale of most of the posthumous documents which enabled his daughter Alexandra to buy back the estate from the family and give it to the peasants as directed by Tolstoi, but in the matter of the journals it was more difficult to arrange from the fact that the Countess Tolstoi placed all these journals and notebooks in the Moscow Historical Museum on the ground that they were a gift of Tolstoi to her during his lifetime and that therefore she had a right to dispose of them as she thought best. The matter would have taken only a legal process in the court to disentangle, a thing which the Countess Alexandra Tolstoi did not wish to undertake as being against the spirit of her father to use legal force to come to an agreement.

Chertkov, therefore, was forced to use only such copies of the original journals and notebooks which he happened to have in his possession. The present volume is made from a copy done by the hands of the Prince and Princess Obolensky, the son-in-law and daughter of Tolstoi, who also stood very near to Tolstoi spiritually, were conscientious in their fulfilment of such tasks for him, and who knew his handwriting very well. The original documents are still in the Moscow Historical Museum, but Chertkov has promised to publish the volumes and journals which he has from the years 1900 to 1910, and has already brought out a second volume of this series, which dates from Tolstoi's early years in the twenties.

Whatever value this volume has as a historical and exact transcript of Tolstoi's original jottings-down as they came to him, it has much more value as a transcript of the thoughts of a great Russian which have so permeated his people that they are now being rewritten on the pages of Russian history. It is because the blood of his brother calls to him from under the ground, that the Russian has undertaken to advance one step nearer to the fulfilment of the great law—to live together in harmony, to serve his brother and to do the one work—which is the one work for all, to love.

The hundred-years readiness for sacrifice for the common good, the willingness to go to exile and death of four generations of men and women, the red flag now flying over the Winter Palace in Petrograd with the letters of gold, "Proletarians of all Nation Unite," the insistent call to the peoples of the world to overthrow all oppressors and live together in mutual harmony, the trumpet calls of a democracy whose tones are so strange and new, that we across the borders seem not hear or understand them, all have their spiritual counterpart in the pages of this book. It is Russia that speaks here.

I must give my thanks to Mr. Alexander Gourevich who so carefully compared the original text and English translation, and to Mr. Joseph Peroshnikoff who patiently revised the notes and assisted in the compilation of the index.

Rose Strunsky.

New York, May, 1917.