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Leo Tolstoy

Only color photograph of the novelist, shot at his Yasnaya Polyana estate in 1908 by Prokudin-Gorskii, a pioneer of color photography
Born September 9, 1828(1828-09-09)
Yasnaya Polyana, Russia
Died November 20, 1910 (aged 82)
Astapovo, Russia
Occupation Novelist
Genres Realist
Notable work(s) War and Peace
Anna Karenina
Signature

Leo Tolstoy, or Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: About this sound Лев Никола́евич Толсто́й​ , Russian pronunciation: [lʲɛv nʲɪkɐˈlaɪvʲɪtɕ tɐlˈstoj]; September 9 [O.S. August 28] 1828 – November 20 [O.S. November 7] 1910), was a Russian writer widely regarded as among the greatest of novelists. His masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina represent in their scope, breadth and vivid depiction of 19th-century Russian life and attitudes, the peak of realist fiction.[citation needed]

Tolstoy's further talents as essayist, dramatist, and educational reformer made him the most influential member of the aristocratic Tolstoy family. His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him in later life to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. His ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal twentieth-century figures as Gandhi[1] and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Contents

Early life

Tolstoy in military uniform, by Sergei Lvovich Levitsky, 1856

Tolstoy was born in Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate in the Tula region of Russia. The Tolstoys were a well-known family of old Russian nobility; he was connected to the grandest of Russian aristocracy.

He was the fourth of five children of Countess Mariya Tolstaya (Volkonskaya). Tolstoy's parents died when he was young, so he and his siblings were brought up by relatives. In 1844, he began studying law and oriental languages at Kazan University. His teachers described him as "both unable and unwilling to learn." Tolstoy left university in the middle of his studies, returned to Yasnaya Polyana and then spent much of his time in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1851, after running up heavy gambling debts, he went with his elder brother to the Caucasus and joined the army. Around this time, he started writing.

His conversion from a dissolute and privileged society author to the non-violent and spiritual anarchist of his latter days was brought about by two trips around Europe in 1857 and 1860–61, a period when many liberal-leaning Russian aristocrats escaped the stifling political repression in Russia; others who followed the same path were Alexander Herzen, Mikhail Bakunin, and Peter Kropotkin. During his 1857 visit, Tolstoy witnessed a public execution in Paris, a traumatic experience that would mark the rest of his life. Writing in a letter to his friend V. P. Botkin:

The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens ... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.

His European trip in 1860–61 shaped both his political and literary transformation when he met Victor Hugo, whose literary talents Tolstoy praised after reading Hugo's newly finished Les Miserables. A comparison of Hugo's novel and Tolstoy's War and Peace shows the influence of the evocation of its battle scenes. Tolstoy's political philosophy was also influenced by a March 1861 visit to French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, then living in exile under an assumed name in Brussels. Apart from reviewing Proudhon's forthcoming publication, La Guerre et la Paix, whose title Tolstoy would borrow for his masterpiece, the two men discussed education, as Tolstoy wrote in his educational notebooks:

A portrait of Tolstoy's wife Sophia and their daughter Alexandra

If I recount this conversation with Proudhon, it is to show that, in my personal experience, he was the only man who understood the significance of education and of the printing press in our time.

Fired by enthusiasm, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana and founded thirteen schools for his serfs' children, based on ground-breaking libertarian principles Tolstoy described in his 1862 essay "The School at Yasnaya Polyana". Tolstoy's educational experiments were short-lived due to harassment by the Tsarist secret police, but as a direct forerunner to A. S. Neill's Summerhill School, the school at Yasnaya Polyana can justifiably be claimed to be the first example of a coherent theory of libertarian education.

On 23 September 1862, Tolstoy married Sophia Andreevna Bers, the daughter of a court physician, who was 16 years his junior. (Sonya, the Russian dimunitive of Sofya, is the name that was used by her family and friends)[2] They had thirteen children, five of whom died during childhood.[3] The marriage was marked from the outset by sexual passion and emotional insensitivity when Tolstoy, on the eve of their marriage, gave her his diaries detailing his extensive sexual past and the fact that one of the serfs on his estate had borne him a son. [2] Even so, their early married life was ostensibly happy and allowed Tolstoy much freedom to compose the literary masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina with Sonya acting as his secretary, proof-reader and financial manager. [2] However, their later life together has been described by A. N. Wilson as one of the unhappiest in literary history. His relationship with his wife deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical and he sought to reject his inherited and earned wealth, including the renunciation of the copyrights on his earlier works.

Novels and fictional works

Tolstoy is one of the giants of Russian literature. His most famous works include the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina and novellas such as Hadji Murad and The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

His contemporaries paid him lofty tributes. Dostoevsky thought him the greatest of all living novelists, while Flaubert exclaimed, "What an artist and what a psychologist!". Chekhov, who often visited Tolstoy at his country estate, wrote, "When literature possesses a Tolstoy, it is easy and pleasant to be a writer; even when you know you have achieved nothing yourself and are still achieving nothing, this is not as terrible as it might otherwise be, because Tolstoy achieves for everyone. What he does serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature."

Later critics and novelists continue to bear testament to Tolstoy's art. Virginia Woolf declared him the greatest of all novelists. James Joyce noted that, "He is never dull, never stupid, never tired, never pedantic, never theatrical!". Thomas Mann wrote of Tolstoy's seemingly guileless artistry: "Seldom did art work so much like nature". Such sentiments were shared by the likes of Proust, Faulkner and Nabokov. The latter heaped superlatives upon The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Anna Karenina; he questioned, however, the reputation of War and Peace, and sharply criticized Resurrection and The Kreutzer Sonata.

Tolstoy's earliest works, the autobiographical novels Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–1856), tell of a rich landowner's son and his slow realization of the chasm between himself and his peasants. Though he later rejected them as sentimental, a great deal of Tolstoy's own life is revealed. They retain their relevance as accounts of the universal story of growing up.

Tolstoy served as a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment during the Crimean War, recounted in his Sevastapol Sketches. His experiences in battle helped stir his subsequent pacifism and gave him material for realistic depiction of war's horrors in his later work.[citation needed].

His fiction consistently attempts to convey realistically the Russian society in which he lived.[citation needed]. The Cossacks (1863) describes the Cossack life and people through a story of a Russian aristocrat in love with a Cossack girl. Anna Karenina (1877) tells parallel stories of an adulterous woman trapped by the conventions and falsities of society and of a philosophical landowner (much like Tolstoy), who works alongside the peasants in the fields and seeks to reform their lives.

Tolstoy not only drew from his experience of life but created characters in his own image, such as Pierre Bezukhov and Prince Andrei in War and Peace, Levin in Anna Karenina and to some extent, Prince Nekhlyudov in Resurrection.

An undated photograph of the novelist dressed for the Russian weather

War and Peace is generally thought to be one of the greatest novels ever written, remarkable for its breadth and unity. Its vast canvas includes 580 characters, many historical, others fictional. The story moves from family life to the headquarters of Napoleon, from the court of Alexander I of Russia to the battlefields of Austerlitz and Borodino. Tolstoy's original idea for the novel was to investigate the causes of the Decembrist revolt, to which it refers only in the last chapters, from which can be deduced that Andrei Bolkonski's son will become one of the Decembrists. The novel explores Tolstoy's theory of history, and in particular the insignificance of individuals such as Napoleon and Alexander. Somewhat surprisingly, Tolstoy did not consider War and Peace to be a novel (nor did he consider many of the great Russian fictions written at that time to be novels). This view becomes less surprising if one considers that Tolstoy was a novelist of the realist school who considered the novel to be a framework for the examination of social and political issues in nineteenth-century life.[citation needed]. War and Peace (which is to Tolstoy really an epic in prose) therefore did not qualify. Tolstoy thought that Anna Karenina was his first true novel.[citation needed].

After Anna Karenina, Tolstoy concentrated on Christian themes, and his later novels such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886) and What Is to Be Done? develop a radical anarcho-pacifist Christian philosophy which led to his excommunication from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901.[citation needed]

For all the praise showered on Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Tolstoy rejected the two works later in his life as something not as true of reality.[citation needed]. Such an argument is supported in The Death of Ivan Ilyich, whose main character continually battles with his family and servants, demanding honesty above the water and food needed to sustain him.

Religious and political beliefs

After reading Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, Tolstoy gradually became converted to the ascetic morality upheld in that work as the proper spiritual path for the upper classes:

Do you know what this summer has meant for me? Constant raptures over Schopenhauer and a whole series of spiritual delights which I've never experienced before. ... no student has ever studied so much on his course, and learned so much, as I have this summer.

Tolstoy's Letter to A.A. Fet, August 30, 1869

In Chapter VI of A Confession, Tolstoy quoted the final paragraph of Schopenhauer's work. It explained how the nothingness that results from complete denial of self is only a relative nothingness, and is not to be feared. The novelist was struck by the description of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu ascetic renunciation as being the path to holiness. After reading passages such as the following, which abound in Schopenhauer's ethical chapters, the Russian nobleman chose poverty and formal denial of the will:

But this very necessity of involuntary suffering (by poor people) for eternal salvation is also expressed by that utterance of the Savior (Matthew 19:24): "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Therefore those who were greatly in earnest about their eternal salvation, chose voluntary poverty when fate had denied this to them and they had been born in wealth. Thus Buddha Sakyamuni was born a prince, but voluntarily took to the mendicant's staff; and Francis of Assisi, the founder of the mendicant orders who, as a youngster at a ball, where the daughters of all the notabilities were sitting together, was asked: "Now Francis, will you not soon make your choice from these beauties?" and who replied: "I have made a far more beautiful choice!" "Whom?" "La poverta (poverty)": whereupon he abandoned every thing shortly afterwards and wandered through the land as a mendicant.

Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. II, §170

Tolstoy's Christian beliefs centered on the Sermon on the Mount, particularly the injunction to turn the other cheek, which he saw as a justification for pacifism, nonviolence and nonresistance. Various versions of "Tolstoy's Bible" have been published, indicating the passages Tolstoy most relied on, specifically, the reported words of Jesus himself.[4] Tolstoy believed being a Christian required him to be a pacifist; the consequences of being a pacifist, and the apparently inevitable waging of war by government, made him a philosophical anarchist.

Portrait of Tolstoy in 1887, by Ilya Repin

Tolstoy believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner self-perfection through following the Great Commandment of loving one's neighbor and God rather than looking outward to the Church or state for guidance and meaning.[citation needed] His belief in nonresistance (nonviolence) when faced by conflict is another distinct attribute of his philosophy based on Christ's teachings.[citation needed] By directly influencing Mahatma Gandhi with this idea through his work The Kingdom of God is Within You (full text of English translation available on Wikisource), Tolstoy has had a huge influence on the nonviolent resistance movement to this day. He believed that the aristocracy were a burden on the poor, and that the only solution to how we live together is through anarchism.[citation needed] He also opposed private property[citation needed] and the institution of marriage and valued the ideals of chastity and sexual abstinence (discussed in Father Sergius and his preface to The Kreutzer Sonata), ideals also held by the young Gandhi. Tolstoy's later work is often criticised as being overly didactic and patchily written,[citation needed] but derives a passion and verve from the depth of his austere moral views.[5] The sequence of the temptation of Sergius in Father Sergius, for example, is among his later triumphs. Gorky relates how Tolstoy once read this passage before himself and Chekhov and that Tolstoy was moved to tears by the end of the reading. Other later passages of rare power include the crises of self faced by the protagonists of The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Master and Man, where the main character in the former or the reader in the latter is made aware of the foolishness of the protagonists' lives.

Tolstoy had a profound influence on the development of anarchist thought. The Tolstoyans were a small Christian anarchist group formed by Tolstoy's companion, Vladimir Chertkov (1854–1936), in order to spread Tolstoy's religious teachings. Prince Peter Kropotkin wrote of Tolstoy in the article on anarchism in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica:

Without naming himself an anarchist, Leo Tolstoy, like his predecessors in the popular religious movements of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Chojecki, Denk and many others, took the anarchist position as regards the state and property rights, deducing his conclusions from the general spirit of the teachings of Jesus and from the necessary dictates of reason. With all the might of his talent he made (especially in The Kingdom of God is Within You) a powerful criticism of the church, the state and law altogether, and especially of the present property laws. He describes the state as the domination of the wicked ones, supported by brutal force. Robbers, he says, are far less dangerous than a well-organized government. He makes a searching criticism of the prejudices which are current now concerning the benefits conferred upon men by the church, the state and the existing distribution of property, and from the teachings of Jesus he deduces the rule of non-resistance and the absolute condemnation of all wars. His religious arguments are, however, so well combined with arguments borrowed from a dispassionate observation of the present evils, that the anarchist portions of his works appeal to the religious and the non-religious reader alike.

In hundreds of essays over the last twenty years of his life, Tolstoy reiterated the anarchist critique of the State and recommended books by Kropotkin and Proudhon to his readers, whilst rejecting anarchism's espousal of violent revolutionary means, writing in the 1900 essay, "On Anarchy":

The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without Authority, there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power ... There can be only one permanent revolution – a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man.

Despite his misgivings about anarchist violence, Tolstoy took risks to circulate the prohibited publications of anarchist thinkers in Russia, and corrected the proofs of Kropotkin's "Words of a Rebel", illegally published in St Petersburg in 1906.[citation needed]

A letter Tolstoy wrote in 1908 to an Indian newspaper entitled "A Letter to a Hindu" resulted in intense correspondence with Mohandas Gandhi,[citation needed] who was in South Africa at the time and was beginning to become an activist. Reading The Kingdom of God is Within You had convinced Gandhi to abandon violence and espouse nonviolent resistance, a debt Gandhi acknowledged in his autobiography, calling Tolstoy "the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced". The correspondence between Tolstoy and Gandhi would only last a year, from October 1909 until Tolstoy's death in November 1910, but led Gandhi to give the name the Tolstoy Colony to his second ashram in South Africa.[citation needed] Besides non-violent resistance, the two men shared a common belief in the merits of vegetarianism, the subject of several of Tolstoy's essays.[6] Along with his growing idealism, Tolstoy also became a major supporter of the Esperanto movement. Tolstoy was impressed by the pacifist beliefs of the Doukhobors and brought their persecution to the attention of the international community, after they burned their weapons in peaceful protest in 1895. He aided the Doukhobors in migrating to Canada.[citation needed]

Tolstoy's house at Yasnaya Polyana, today a museum which includes his library of 22,000 volumes

In 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War, Tolstoy condemned the war and wrote to the Japanese Buddhist priest Soyen Shaku in a failed attempt to make a joint pacifist statement.

Tolstoy was a wealthy member of the Russian nobility. He came to believe that he was undeserving of his inherited wealth, and was renowned among the peasantry for his generosity. He would frequently return to his country estate with vagrants whom he felt needed a helping hand, and would often dispense large sums of money to street beggars while on trips to the city, much to his wife's chagrin.[citation needed]

Death

Tolstoy died of pneumonia[citation needed] at Astapovo station in 1910 after leaving home in the middle of winter at the age of 82. His death came only days after gathering the nerve to abandon his family and wealth[citation needed] and take up the path of a wandering ascetic;[citation needed] a path that he had agonized over pursuing for decades. He had not been at the peak of health before leaving home, his wife and daughters were all actively engaged in caring for him daily. He had been speaking and writing of his own death in the days preceding his departure from home, but fell ill at the train station not far from home. The station master took Tolstoy to his apartment, where his personal doctors were called to the scene. He was given injections of morphine and camphor. The police tried to limit access to his funeral procession, but thousands of peasants lined the streets at his funeral. Still, some peasants were heard to say that, other than knowing that "some nobleman had died," they knew little else about Tolstoy.[7]

Tolstoy as an extremist

On September 11, 2009, the Rostov District Court pronounced the expression of Leo Tolstoy, : “I convinced myself that the doctrine of the [Russian Orthodox] church was in theory a cunning and harmful deceit, and in practice a collection of the grossest superstitions and sorcery, which completely conceals the whole meaning of the Christian teaching.” [8] as an expression forming negative relation to the Russian Orthodox Church [9] and, based on this, the article in Awake! magazine (February 22, 2000), including this expression, was pronounced as an “extremist material”.[10][11][12]

The experts pronounced Tolstoy “an opponent of the Russian Orthodoxy”.

On December 8, 2009, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation considered the appeal of a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and upheld the Rostov District Court ruling to pronounce this piece of educational religious literature “extremist.” The Supreme Court dismissed the congregation’s appeal[13].

Tolstoy on Shakespeare

During his life, Tolstoy came to the conclusion that William Shakespeare was a bad dramatist and not a true artist at all. Tolstoy explained his views in a critical essay on Shakespeare written in 1903.

I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: "King Lear", "Romeo and Juliet", "Hamlet" and "Macbeth," not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium...

Several times I read the dramas and the comedies and historical plays, and I invariably underwent the same feelings: repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. At the present time, before writing this preface, being desirous once more to test myself, I have, as an old man of seventy-five, again read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the "Henrys," "Troilus and Cressida," the "Tempest," "Cymbeline," and I have felt, with even greater force, the same feelings,—this time, however, not of bewilderment, but of firm, indubitable conviction that the unquestionable glory of a great genius which Shakespeare enjoys, and which compels writers of our time to imitate him and readers and spectators to discover in him non-existent merits,—thereby distorting their esthetic and ethical understanding,—is a great evil, as is every untruth.
Tolstoy on Shakespeare. 1906.

Understanding that his conclusions contradict popular opinion, Tolstoy supported his opinion by detailed analysis of King Lear.

George Orwell wrote a well-known response to this: Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool.

Films

A 2010 movie based on Tolstoy's final year, The Last Station, was made by director Michael Hoffman with Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy and Helen Mirren as Sofya Tolstoya. They have been nominated for Oscars for their roles respectfully. There have been other films about the writer, including Departure of a Grand Old Man, made in 1912 just two years after his death, How Fine, How Fresh the Roses Were (1913), and Leo Tolstoy, directed by and starring Sergei Gerasimov in 1984.

Bibliography

Ivan Mozzhukhin in a 1917 screen version of Tolstoy's short story, Father Sergius
Tolstoy commemorated on a Soviet stamp issued in 1978
Novels and novellas
Short stories
Plays
Non-fiction

See also

References

  1. ^ Martin E. Hellman, Resist Not Evil in World Without Violence (Arun Gandhi ed.), M.K. Gandhi Institute, 1994, retrieved on 14 December 2006]
  2. ^ a b c Susan Jacoby, "The Wife of the Genius" (April 19, 1981) The New York Times
  3. ^ Feuer,Kathryn B. Tolstoy and the Genesis of War and Peace, Cornell University Press, 1996, ISBN 0801419026
  4. ^ Orwin, Donna T. The Cambridge Companion to Tolstoy. Cambridge University Press, 2002
  5. ^ Sommers, Aaron (2009) Why Leo Tolsto Wouldn't Supersize It.[1]
  6. ^ Leo Tolstoy, The First Step, Preface to the Russian translation of Howard William’s The Ethics of Diet, 1892.
  7. ^ Tolstaya, S.A. The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, Book Sales, 1987; Chertkov, V. "The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy," http://www.linguadex.com/tolstoy/index.html, translated by Benjamin Scher
  8. ^ Full text: Ответ Синоду.
  9. ^ ЗАКЛЮЧЕНИЕ ЭКСПЕРТОВ по комиссионной комплексной судебной экспертизе по гражданскому делу № 3-35/08 по заявлению Прокурора Ростовской области о ликвидации местной религиозной организации Свидетели Иеговы «Таганрог». «15» июля 2009 г. № 5679/12.1-4, 6101/09-2
  10. ^ Преследования Свидетелей Иеговы в Таганроге
  11. ^ Russian Supreme Court to hear controversial case examining internationally recognized publications
  12. ^ Roman Lunkin. All protestants threatened by actions against Jehovah's Witnesses. COMMENTARY: PROGRAM FOR LIQUIDATION OF WITNESSES: It seems the modernization of Russia has begun with the struggle against those who think differently. — For Portal-credo.ru, 9 December 2009
  13. ^ Russian Supreme Court rules against Jehovah’s Witnesses and religious freedom

Further reading

Universal and museum websites on Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy's biography and critique

E-texts of works by Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy in the media



Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love...
The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the power of my soul, whom I have tried to portray in all his beauty, who has been, is, and will be beautiful, is Truth.

Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoy [Ле́в Никола́евич Толсто́й] (9 September 182820 November 1910) was a Russian writer, philosopher and social activist; his name is usually rendered into English as Leo Tolstoy, and sometimes Tolstoi.

Contents

Sourced

Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Saviour had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.
The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.
God is that infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part.
God alone exists truly. Man manifests Him in time, space and matter.
  • The hero of my tale, whom I love with all the power of my soul, whom I have tried to portray in all his beauty, who has been, is, and will be beautiful, is Truth.
    • Sevastopol in May 1855 (1855)
  • Error is the force that welds men together; truth is communicated to men only by deeds of truth.
    • My Religion, Ch. 12 (1885)
  • Martin's soul grew glad. He crossed himself put on his spectacles, and began reading the Gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read: I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in. And at the bottom of the page he read: Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me (Matt. xxv). And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Saviour had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.
  • Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.
  • Ivan Ilych saw that he was dying, and he was in continual despair. In the depth of his heart he knew he was dying, but not only was he not accustomed to the thought, he simply did not and could not grasp it. The syllogism he had learnt from Kiesewetter's Logic: "Caius is a man, men are mortal, therefore Caius is mortal," had always seemed to him correct as applied to Caius, but certainly not as applied to himself. That Caius — man in the abstract — was mortal, was perfectly correct, but he was not Caius, not an abstract man, but a creature quite, quite separate from all others.
    • The Death of Ivan Ilych, Ch. VI
  • A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.
    • Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence (1886)
  • I sit on a man's back, choking him, and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by any means possible, except getting off his back.
    • Writings on Civil Disobedience and Nonviolence (1886)
  • The happiness of men consists in life. And life is in labor.
    • What Is To Be Done? (1886) Chap. XXXVIII, as translated in The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoï (1902) edited by Nathan Haskell Dole, p. 259
  • The vocation of every man and woman is to serve other people.
    • What Is To Be Done? (1886) Chap. XL, as translated in The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoï (1902) edited by Nathan Haskell Dole, p. 281
  • If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.
    • The First Step (1892)
  • The more is given the less the people will work for themselves, and the less they work the more their poverty will increase.
    • Help for the Starving, Pt. III (January 1892)
We acknowledge God only when we are conscious of His manifestation in us.
  • God is the infinite ALL. Man is only a finite manifestation of Him.
    Or better yet:
    God is that infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part.
    God alone exists truly. Man manifests Him in time, space and matter. The more God's manifestation in man (life) unites with the manifestations (lives) of other beings, the more man exists. This union with the lives of other beings is accomplished through love.
    God is not love, but the more there is of love, the more man manifests God, and the more he truly exists...
    We acknowledge God only when we are conscious of His manifestation in us.
    All conclusions and guidelines based on this consciousness should fully satisfy both our desire to know God as such as well as our desire to live a life based on this recognition.
  • Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
    • Variant: Everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.
    • Appears in latter form in Pamphlets. Translated from the Russian (1900) Leo Tolstoy, Free Age Press, Maldon, Essex, p. 29.

War and Peace (1865-1869)

Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.
Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait.
The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.
  • "What's this? Am I falling? My legs are giving way under me," he thought, and fell on his back. He opened his eyes, hoping to see how the struggle of the French soldiers with the artilleryman was ending, and eager to know whether the red-haired gunner artilleryman was killed or not, whether the cannons had been taken or saved. But he saw nothing of all that. Above him there was nothing but the sky — the lofty sky, not clear, but still immeasurably lofty, with gray clouds creeping quietly over it.
    • Bk. III, ch. 16
  • Three days later the little princess was buried, and Prince Andrew went up the steps to where the coffin stood, to give her the farewell kiss. And there in the coffin was the same face, though with closed eyes. "Ah, what have you done to me?" it still seemed to say, and Prince Andrew felt that something gave way in his soul and that he was guilty of a sin he could neither remedy nor forget.
    • Bk. IV, ch. 9
  • Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.
    • Book IV, ch. 11
  • You will die — and it will all be over. You will die and find out everything — or cease asking.
    • Bk. V, ch. 1
  • In historical events great men — so-called — are but labels serving to give a name to the event, and like labels they have the least possible connection with the event itself. Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own free will, is in an historical sense not free at all, but in bondage to the whole course of previous history, and predestined from all eternity.
    • Bk. IX, ch. 1
  • A king is history's slave.
    • Bk. IX, ch. 1
  • A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German's self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth — science — which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.
    • Bk. IX, ch. 10
  • Everything comes in time to him who knows how to wait.
    • Bk. X, ch. 16
  • The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.
    • Bk. X, ch. 16
  • At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man's power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second.
    • Bk. X, ch. 17
History is the life of nations and of humanity. To seize and put into words, to describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appears impossible.
  • He did not, and could not, understand the meaning of words apart from their context. Every word and action of his was the manifestation of an activity unknown to him, which was his life.
    • About Platon Karataev in Bk. XII, ch. 13
  • Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.
    • Thoughts of Prince Andrew Bk XIII, Ch. 16
  • While imprisoned in the shed Pierre had learned not with his intellect but with his whole being, by life itself, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfaction of simple human needs, and that all unhappiness arises not from privation but from superfluity. And now during these last three weeks of the march he had learned still another new, consolatory truth- that nothing in this world is terrible. He had learned that as there is no condition in which man can be happy and entirely free, so there is no condition in which he need be unhappy and lack freedom. He learned that suffering and freedom have their limits and that those limits are very near together....
    • Bk. XIV, ch. 12
  • To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love this life in one's sufferings, in undeserved sufferings.
    • Bk. XIV, ch. 15
  • For us, with the rule of right and wrong given us by Christ, there is nothing for which we have no standard. And there is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.
    • Bk. XIV, ch. 18
  • Pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy.
    • Bk. XV, ch. 1
  • History is the life of nations and of humanity. To seize and put into words, to describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appears impossible.
  • Modern history, like a deaf man, answers questions no one has asked.
    If the purpose of history be to give a description of the movement of humanity and of the peoples, the first question — in the absence of a reply to which all the rest will be incomprehensible — is: what is the power that moves peoples? To this, modern history laboriously replies either that Napoleon was a great genius, or that Louis XIV was very proud, or that certain writers wrote certain books.
    All that may be so and mankind is ready to agree with it, but it is not what was asked.
    • Epilogue II, ch. 1

Anna Karenina (1875–1877)

All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • Vengeance is mine; I will repay.
    • Epigraph
  • All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1
    • Variant translations: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
      All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  • He knew she was there by the joy and fear that overwhelmed his heart.
    • Pt. I, ch. 9
  • He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.
    • Pt. I, ch. 9
  • Vronsky, meanwhile, in spite of the complete realization of what he had so long desired, was not perfectly happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires. For a time after joining his life to hers, and putting on civilian dress, he had felt all the delight of freedom in general, of which he had known nothing before, and of freedom in his love — and he was content, but not for long. He was soon aware that there was springing up in his heart a desire for desires — longing. Without conscious intention he began to clutch at every passing caprice, taking it for a desire and an object.
  • There is one evident, indubitable manifestation of the Divinity, and that is the laws of right which are made known to the world through Revelation.
    • Pt. VII, ch. 19
  • One can insult an honest man or an honest woman, but to tell a thief that he is a thief is merely la constation d'un fait [The establishing of a fact.]
    • Pt. IV, ch. 4

What Men Live By (1881)

Learn What dwells in man, What is not given to man, and What men live by. When thou hast learnt these things, thou shalt return to heaven.
I have now understood that though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live. He who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love.
Full text online
  • Go — take the mother's soul, and learn three truths: Learn What dwells in man, What is not given to man, and What men live by. When thou hast learnt these things, thou shalt return to heaven.
    • Ch. IV
  • I thought: "I am perishing of cold and hunger, and here is a man thinking only of how to clothe himself and his wife, and how to get bread for themselves. He cannot help me. When the man saw me he frowned and became still more terrible, and passed me by on the other side. I despaired, but suddenly I heard him coming back. I looked up, and did not recognize the same man: before, I had seen death in his face; but now he was alive, and I recognized in him the presence of God.
  • Then I remembered the first lesson God had set me: "Learn what dwells in man." And I understood that in man dwells Love! I was glad that God had already begun to show me what He had promised, and I smiled for the first time.
    • Ch. XI
  • The man is making preparations for a year, and does not know that he will die before evening. And I remembered God's second saying, "Learn what is not given to man."
    'What dwells in man" I already knew. Now I learnt what is not given him. It is not given to man to know his own needs.
    • Ch. XI
  • When the woman showed her love for the children that were not her own, and wept over them, I saw in her the living God, and understood What men live by.
    • Ch. XI
  • And the angel's body was bared, and he was clothed in light so that eye could not look on him; and his voice grew louder, as though it came not from him but from heaven above. And the angel said:
    I have learnt that all men live not by care for themselves, but by love.
    It was not given to the mother to know what her children needed for their life. Nor was it given to the rich man to know what he himself needed. Nor is it given to any man to know whether, when evening comes, he will need boots for his body or slippers for his corpse.
    I remained alive when I was a man, not by care of myself, but because love was present in a passer-by, and because he and his wife pitied and loved me. The orphans remained alive, not because of their mother's care, but because there was love in the heart of a woman a stranger to them, who pitied and loved them. And all men live not by the thought they spend on their own welfare, but because love exists in man.
    I knew before that God gave life to men and desires that they should live; now I understood more than that.
    I understood that God does not wish men to live apart, and therefore he does not reveal to them what each one needs for himself; but he wishes them to live united, and therefore reveals to each of them what is necessary for all.
    I have now understood that though it seems to men that they live by care for themselves, in truth it is love alone by which they live. He who has love, is in God, and God is in him, for God is love.
    • Ch. XII

Confession (1882)

I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain.
  • Quite often a man goes on for years imagining that the religious teaching that had been imparted to him since childhood is still intact, while all the time there is not a trace of it left in him.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1
  • I cannot recall those years without horror, loathing, and heart-rending pain. I killed people in war, challenged men to duels with the purpose of killing them, and lost at cards; I squandered the fruits of the peasants' toil and then had them executed; I was a fornicator and a cheat. Lying, stealing, promiscuity of every kind, drunkenness, violence, murder — there was not a crime I did not commit... Thus I lived for ten years.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2
  • Several times I asked myself, "Can it be that I have overlooked something, that there is something which I have failed to understand? Is it not possible that this state of despair is common to everyone?" And I searched for an answer to my questions in every area of knowledge acquired by man. For a long time I carried on my painstaking search; I did not search casually, out of mere curiosity, but painfully, persistently, day and night, like a dying man seeking salvation. I found nothing.
    • Pt. I, ch. 5

The Kingdom of God is Within You (1894)

The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God; and this can be done only by means of the acknowledgment and profession of the truth by each one of us.
  • The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.
    • Ch. III
  • The only significance of life consists in helping to establish the kingdom of God; and this can be done only by means of the acknowledgment and profession of the truth by each one of us.
    • Ch. 12
    • Variant translation: The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the kingdom of God, which can only be done by the recognition and profession of the truth by every man.
  • The Quakers sent me books, from which I learnt how they had, years ago, established beyond doubt the duty for a Christian of fulfilling the command of non-resistance to evil by force, and had exposed the error of the Church's teaching in allowing war and capital punishment.
  • Further acquaintance with the labors of the Quakers and their works — with Fox, Penn, and especially the work of Dymond (published in 1827) — showed me not only that the impossibility of reconciling Christianity with force and war had been recognized long, long ago, but that this irreconcilability had been long ago proved so clearly and so indubitably that one could only wonder how this impossible reconciliation of Christian teaching with the use of force, which has been, and is still, preached in the churches, could have been maintained in spite of it.
  • William Lloyd Garrison took part in a discussion on the means of suppressing war in the Society for the Establishment of Peace among Men, which existed in 1838 in America. He came to the conclusion that the establishment of universal peace can only be founded on the open profession of the doctrine of non-resistance to evil by violence (Matt. v. 39), in its full significance, as understood by the Quakers, with whom Garrison happened to be on friendly relations. Having come to this conclusion, Garrison thereupon composed and laid before the society a declaration, which was signed at the time — in 1838 — by many members.
  • The error arises from the learned jurists deceiving themselves and others, by asserting that government is not what it really is, one set of men banded together to oppress another set of men, but, as shown by science, is the representation of the citizens in their collective capacity.
    • Variant: Government is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us.
  • Armies are necessary, before all things, for the defense of governments from their own oppressed and enslaved subjects.

What is Art? (1896)

Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.
By words one transmits thoughts to another, by means of art, one transmits feelings.
The activity of art is... as important as the activity of language itself, and as universal.
Humanity unceasingly strives forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of life to one more general and more lucid.
The Christianity of the first centuries recognized as productions of good art, only legends, lives of saints, sermons, prayers, and hymn-singing evoking love of Christ...
The good is the everlasting, the pinnacle of our life. ... life is striving towards the good, toward God. The good is the most basic idea ... an idea not definable by reason ... yet is the postulate from which all else follows.
Spiritual beauty or the good, generally not only does not coincide with the typical meaning of beauty, it is its opposite.
I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic, problems — can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.
  • Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.
    • Ch. 8
  • The assertion that art may be good art and at the same time incomprehensible to a great number of people is extremely unjust, and its consequences are ruinous to art itself...it is the same as saying some kind of food is good but most people can't eat it.
  • People understand the meaning of eating lies in the nourishment of the body only when they cease to consider that the object of that activity is pleasure. ...People understand the meaning of art only when they cease to consider that the aim of that activity is beauty, i.e., pleasure.
  • In spite the mountains of books written about art, no precise definition of art has been constructed. And the reason for this is that the conception of art has been based on the conception of beauty.
  • In order to correctly define art, it is necessary, first of all, to cease to consider it as a means to pleasure and consider it as one of the conditions of human life. ...Reflecting on it in this way, we cannot fail to observe that art is one of the means of affective communication between people.
  • By words one transmits thoughts to another, by means of art, one transmits feelings.
  • To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced, and having evoked it in oneself, then by means of movements, lines, colors, sounds, or forms expressed through words, so to convey this so that others may experience the same feeling — this is the activity of art.
  • Art is a human activity consisting in this, that one consciously, by means of certain external symbols, conveys to others the feelings one has experienced, whereby people so infected by these feelings, also experience them.
  • Art is not, as the metaphysicians say, the manifestation of some mysterious Idea of beauty or God; it is not, as the aesthetical physiologists say, [play or] a game in which one releases surplus energy, ...not the production of pleasing objects, and is above all, not pleasure itself, but it is the means of union among mankind, joining them in the same feelings, and necessary for the life and progress toward the good of the individual and of humanity.
  • The activity of art is... as important as the activity of language itself, and as universal.
  • Some teachers of mankind — as Plato... the first Christians, the orthodox Muslims, and the Buddhists — have gone so far as to repudiate art. ...[They consider it] so highly dangerous in its power to infect people against their wills, that mankind will lose far less by banishing all art than by tolerating each and every art. ...such people were wrong in repudiating all art, for they denied that which cannot be denied — one of the indispensable means of communication, without which mankind could not exist. ...Now there is only fear, lest we should be deprived of any pleasures art can afford, so any type of art is patronized. And I think the last error is much grosser than the first and that its consequences are far more harmful.
  • The appreciation of the merits of art (of the emotions it conveys) depends upon an understanding of the meaning of life, what is seen as good and evil. Good and evil are defined by religions.
  • Humanity unceasingly strives forward from a lower, more partial and obscure understanding of life to one more general and more lucid. And in this, as in every movement, there are leaders — those who have understood the meaning of life more clearly than others — and of those advanced men there is always one who has in his words and life, manifested this meaning more clearly, accessibly, and strongly than others. This man's expression ... with those superstitions, traditions, and ceremonies which usually form around the memory of such a man, is what is called a religion. Religions are the exponents of the highest comprehension of life ... within a given age in a given society ... a basis for evaluating human sentiments. If feelings bring people nearer to the religion's ideal ... they are good, if these estrange them from it, and oppose it, they are bad.
  • The Christianity of the first centuries recognized as productions of good art, only legends, lives of saints, sermons, prayers, and hymn-singing evoking love of Christ, emotion at his life, desire to follow his example, renunciation of worldly life, humility, and the love of others; all productions transmitting feelings of personal enjoyment they considered to be bad, and therefore rejected ... This was so among the Christians of the first centuries who accepted Christ teachings, if not quite in its true form, at least not yet in the perverted, paganized form in which it was accepted subsequently.
    But besides this Christianity, from the time of the wholesale conversion of whole nations by order of the authorities, as in the days of Constantine, Charlemagne and Vladimir, there appeared another , a Church Christianity, which was nearer to paganism than to Christ's teaching. And this Church Christianity ... did not acknowledge the fundamental and essential positions of true Christianity — the direct relationship of each individual to the Father, the consequent brotherhood and equality of all people, and the substitution of humility and love in place of every kind of violence — but, on the contrary, having founded a heavenly hierarchy similar to the pagan mythology, and having introduced the worship of Christ, of the Virgin, of angels, of apostles, of saints, and of martyrs, but not only of these divinities themselves but of their images, it made blind faith in its ordinances an essential point of its teachings.
    However foreign this teaching may have been to true Christianity, however degraded, not only in comparison with true Christianity, but even with the life-conception of the Romans such as Julian and others, it was for all that, to the barbarians who accepted it, a higher doctrine than their former adoration of gods, heroes, and good and bad spirits. And therefore this teaching was a religion to them, and on the basis of that religion the art of the time was assessed. And art transmitting pious adoration of the Virgin, Jesus, the saints, and the angels, a blind faith in and submission to the Church, fear of torments and hope of blessedness in a life beyond the grave, was considered good; all art opposed to this was considered bad.
  • In the upper, rich, more educated classes of European society doubt arose as to the truth of that understanding of life which was expressed by Church Christianity. When, after the Crusades and the maximum development of papal power and its abuses, people of the rich classes became acquainted with the wisdom of the classics and saw, on the one hand, the reasonable lucidity of the teachings of the ancient sages, and on the other hand, the incompatibility of the Church doctrine with the teaching of Christ, they found it impossible to continue to believe the Church teaching.
  • No longer able to believe in the Church religion, whose falsehood they had detected, and incapable of accepting true Christian teaching, which denounced their whole manner of life, these rich and powerful people, stranded without any religious conception of life, involuntarily returned to that pagan view of things which places life's meaning in personal enjoyment. And then among the upper classes what is called the "Renaissance of science and art" took place, which was really not only a denial of every religion, but also an assertion that religion was unnecessary.
  • So the majority of the highest classes of that age, even the popes and ecclesiastics, really believed in nothing at all. They did not believe in the Church doctrine, for they saw its insolvency; but neither could they follow Francis of Assisi, Kelchitsky, and most of the sectarians in acknowledging the moral, social teaching of Christ, for that undermined their social position. And so these people remained without any religious view of life. And, having none, they could have no standard with which to estimate what was good and what was bad art, but that of personal enjoyment.
  • Having acknowledged the measure of the good to be pleasure, i.e., beauty, the European upper classes went back in their comprehension of art to the gross conception of the primitive Greeks which Plato had already condemned. And with this understanding of life, a theory of art was formulated.
  • The partisans of aesthetic theory denied that it was their own invention, and professed that it existed in the nature of things and even that it was recognized by the ancient Greeks. But... among the ancient Greeks, due to their low grade (compared to the Christian) moral ideal, their conception of the good was not yet sharply distinguished from their conception of the beautiful. That highest conception of goodness (not identical with beauty and for the most part, contrasting with it) discerned by the Jews even in the time of Isaiah and fully expressed by Christianity, was unknown to the Greeks. It is true that the Greek's foremost thinkers — Socrates, Plato, Aristotle — felt that goodness may not coincide with beauty. ...But notwithstanding all this, they could not quite dismiss the notion that beauty and goodness coincide. And consequently in the language of that period a compound word (καλο-κάγαθια, beauty-goodness) came into use to express that notion. Evidently the Greek sages began to draw close to the perception of goodness which is expressed in Buddhism and in Christianity, but they got entangled in defining the relationship between goodness and beauty. And it was just this confusion of ideas that those Europeans of a later age ... tried to elevate into law. ... On this misunderstanding the new science of aesthetics was built.
  • After Plotinus, says Schassler, fifteen centuries passed without the slightest scientific interest for the world of beauty and art. ...In reality, nothing of the kind happened. The science of aesthetics ... neither did nor could vanish, because it never existed. ... the Greeks were so little developed that goodness and beauty seemed to coincide. On that obsolete Greek view of life the science of aesthetics was invented by men of the eighteenth century, and especially shaped and mounted in Baumgarten's theory. The Greeks (as anyone may read in Bénard's book on Aristotle and Walter's work on Plato) never had a science of aesthetics.
  • Aesthetic theories arose one hundred fifty years ago among the wealthy classes of the Christian European world. ...And notwithstanding its obvious insolidity, nobody else's theory so pleased the cultured crowd or was accepted so readily and with such absence of criticism. It so suited the people of the upper classes that to this day, notwithstanding its entirely fantastic character and the arbitrary nature of its assertions, it is repeated by the educated and uneducated as though it were something indubitable and self-evident.
  • Such ... was the theory (an outgrowth of Malthusian) of the selection and struggle for existence as the basis of human progress. Such again, is Marx's theory, with regard to the gradual destruction of small private production by large capitalistic production... as an inevitable decree of fate. However unfounded such theories are, however contrary to all that is known and confessed by humanity, and however obviously immoral these may be, they are accepted with credulity, pass uncriticized, and are preached ... To this class belongs this astonishing theory of the Baungarten trinity — Goodness, Beauty and Truth — according to which it appears that the very best that can be done by the art of nations after 1900 years of Christian teaching is to choose as the ideal of their life that which was held by a small, semi-savage, slaveholding people who lived 2000 years ago, who imitated the nude human body extremely well, and erected buildings pleasing to the eye. Educated people write long, nebulous treatises on beauty as a member of the aesthetic trinity of beauty, truth, and goodness... and they all think that by pronouncing these sacrosanct words, they speak of something quite definite and solid... on which they can base their opinions. ... only for the purpose of justifying the false importance we attribute to an art that conveys every feeling, provided those feelings give us pleasure.
  • The good is the everlasting, the pinnacle of our life. ... life is striving towards the good, toward God. The good is the most basic idea ... an idea not definable by reason ... yet is the postulate from which all else follows. But the beautiful ... is just that which is pleasing. The idea of beauty is not an alignment to the good, but is its opposite, because for most part, the good aids in our victory over our predilections, while beauty is the motive of our predilections. The more we succumb to beauty, the further we are displaced from the good. ...the usual response is that there exists a moral and spiritual beauty ... we mean simply the good. Spiritual beauty or the good, generally not only does not coincide with the typical meaning of beauty, it is its opposite.
  • Truth is ... one approach to the attainment of the good, but in and of itself, it is neither the good nor the beautiful ... Socrates, Pascal, and others regarded knowledge of the truth with regard to purposeless objects as incongruous with the good ... [by] exposing deception, truth destroys illusion, which is the principle attribute of beauty.
  • And so the arbitrary union of three incommensurate, mutually disconnected concepts became the basis of a bewildering theory... [by which] one of the lowest renderings of art, art for mere pleasure — against which all of the master teachers warned — was idealized as the ultimate in art.
  • I know that most men — not only those considered clever, but even those who are very clever and capable of understanding most difficult scientific, mathematical, or philosophic, problems — can seldom discern even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as obliges them to admit the falsity of conclusions they have formed, perhaps with much difficulty — conclusions of which they are proud, which they have taught to others, and on which they have built their lives.
    • Opening to Ch 14. Translation from: What Is Art and Essays on Art (Oxford University Press, 1930, trans. Aylmer Maude)
    • Variant: I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.
    • As quoted by physicist Joseph Ford in Chaotic Dynamics and Fractals (1985) edited by Michael Fielding Barnsley and Stephen G. Demko

A Letter to a Hindu (1908)

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Amid this life based on coercion, one and the same thought constantly emerged among different nations, namely, that in every individual a spiritual element is manifested that gives life to all that exists, and that this spiritual element strives to unite with everything of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love.
A commercial company enslaved a nation comprising two hundred millions. Tell this to a man free from superstition and he will fail to grasp what these words mean.
As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence — as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual.
What is now happening to the people of the East as of the West is like what happens to every individual when he passes from childhood to adolescence and from youth to manhood
The law of love is in accord with the nature of man. But men can only recognize this truth to its full extent when they have completely freed themselves from all religious and scientific superstitions and from all the consequent misrepresentations and sophistical distortions by which its recognition has been hindered for centuries.
If people only … freed themselves from all this harmful, stupefying ballast — the simple law of love, natural to man, accessible to all and solving all questions and perplexities, would of itself become clear and obligatory.
One thing only is needful: the knowledge of the simple and clear truth which finds place in every soul that is not stupefied by religious and scientific superstitions — the truth that for our life one law is valid — the law of love, which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind.
The indubitable, eternal truth inherent in man, which is one and the same in all the great religions of the world. It will in due time emerge and make its way to general recognition, and the nonsense that has obscured it will disappear of itself, and with it will go the evil from which humanity now suffers.
  • The oppression of a majority by a minority, and the demoralization inevitably resulting from it, is a phenomenon that has always occupied me and has done so most particularly of late.
    • I
  • The reason for the astonishing fact that a majority of working people submit to a handful of idlers who control their labour and their very lives is always and everywhere the same — whether the oppressors and oppressed are of one race or whether, as in India and elsewhere, the oppressors are of a different nation. This phenomenon seems particularly strange in India, for there more than two hundred million people, highly gifted both physically and mentally, find themselves in the power of a small group of people quite alien to them in thought, and immeasurably inferior to them in religious morality. ... the reason lies in the lack of a reasonable religious teaching which, by explaining the meaning of life would supply a supreme law for the guidance of conduct, and would replace the more than dubious precepts of pseudo­religion and pseudo­science and the immoral conclusions deduced from them, commonly called "civilization."
    • I
  • Amid this life based on coercion, one and the same thought constantly emerged among different nations, namely, that in every individual a spiritual element is manifested that gives life to all that exists, and that this spiritual element strives to unite with everything of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love.
    • II
  • The recognition that love represents the highest morality was nowhere denied or contradicted, but this truth was so interwoven everywhere with all kinds of falsehoods which distorted it, that finally nothing of it remained but words. It was taught that this highest morality was only applicable to private life — for home use, as it were — but that in public life all forms of violence — such as imprisonment, executions, and wars — might be used for the protection of the majority against a minority of evildoers, though such means were diametrically opposed to any vestige of love.
    • III
  • People continued — regardless of all that leads man forward — to try to unite the incompatibles : the virtue of love, and what is opposed to love, namely, the restraining of evil by violence. And such a teaching, despite its inner contradiction, was so firmly established that the very people who recognize love as a virtue accept as lawful at the same time an order of life based on violence and allowing men not merely to torture but even to kill one another.
    • III
  • In former times the chief method of justifying the use of violence and thereby infringing the law of love was by claiming a divine right for the rulers: the Tsars, Sultans, Rajahs, Shahs, and other heads of states. But the longer humanity lived the weaker grew the belief in this peculiar, God-given right of the ruler. That belief withered in the same way and almost simultaneously in the Christian and the Brahman world, as well as in Buddhist and Confucian spheres, and in recent times it has so faded away as to prevail no longer against man's reasonable understanding and the true religious feeling. People saw more and more clearly, and now the majority see quite clearly, the senselessness and immorality of subordinating their wills to those of other people just like themselves, when they are bidden to do what is contrary not only to their interests but also to their moral sense.
    • III
  • Unfortunately not only were the rulers, who were considered supernatural beings, benefited by having the peoples in subjection, but as a result of the belief in, and during the rule of, these pseudodivine beings, ever larger and larger circles of people grouped and established themselves around them, and under an appearance of governing took advantage of the people. And when the old deception of a supernatural and God-appointed authority had dwindled away these men were only concerned to devise a new one which like its predecessor should make it possible to hold the people in bondage to a limited number of rulers.
    • III
  • These new justifications are termed "scientific". But by the term "scientific" is understood just what was formerly understood by the term "religious": just as formerly everything called "religious" was held to be unquestionable simply because it was called religious, so now all that is called "scientific" is held to be unquestionable. In the present case the obsolete religious justification of violence which consisted in the recognition of the supernatural personality of the God-ordained ruler ("there is no power but of God") has been superseded by the "scientific" justification which puts forward, first, the assertion that because the coercion of man by man has existed in all ages, it follows that such coercion must continue to exist. This assertion that people should continue to live as they have done throughout past ages rather than as their reason and conscience indicate, is what "science" calls "the historic law". A further "scientific" justification lies in the statement that as among plants and wild beasts there is a constant struggle for existence which always results in the survival of the fittest, a similar struggle should be carried on among human­beings, that is, who are gifted with intelligence and love; faculties lacking in the creatures subject to the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. Such is the second "scientific" justification. The third, most important, and unfortunately most widespread justification is, at bottom, the age-old religious one just a little altered: that in public life the suppression of some for the protection of the majority cannot be avoided — so that coercion is unavoidable however desirable reliance on love alone might be in human intercourse. The only difference in this justification by pseudo-science consists in the fact that, to the question why such and such people and not others have the right to decide against whom violence may and must be used, pseudo-science now gives a different reply to that given by religion — which declared that the right to decide was valid because it was pronounced by persons possessed of divine power. "Science" says that these decisions represent the will of the people, which under a constitutional form of government is supposed to find expression in all the decisions and actions of those who are at the helm at the moment. Such are the scientific justifications of the principle of coercion. They are not merely weak but absolutely invalid, yet they are so much needed by those who occupy privileged positions that they believe in them as blindly as they formerly believed in the immaculate conception, and propagate them just as confidently. And the unfortunate majority of men bound to toil is so dazzled by the pomp with which these "scientific truths" are presented, that under this new influence it accepts these scientific stupidities for holy truth, just as it formerly accepted the pseudo-religious justifications; and it continues to submit to the present holders of power who are just as hard-hearted but rather more numerous than before.
    • IV
  • A commercial company enslaved a nation comprising two hundred millions. Tell this to a man free from superstition and he will fail to grasp what these words mean. What does it mean that thirty thousand men, not athletes but rather weak and ordinary people, have subdued two hundred million vigorous, clever, capable, and freedom-loving people? Do not the figures make it clear that it is not the English who have enslaved the Indians, but the Indians who have enslaved themselves?
    • V
  • When the Indians complain that the English have enslaved them it is as if drunkards complained that the spirit-dealers who have settled among them have enslaved them. You tell them that they might give up drinking, but they reply that they are so accustomed to it that they cannot abstain, and that they must have alcohol to keep up their energy. Is it not the same thing with the millions of people who submit to thousands or even to hundreds, of others — of their own or other nations? If the people of India are enslaved by violence it is only because they themselves live and have lived by violence, and do not recognize the eternal law of love inherent in humanity.
    • V
  • As soon as men live entirely in accord with the law of love natural to their hearts and now revealed to them, which excludes all resistance by violence, and therefore hold aloof from all participation in violence — as soon as this happens, not only will hundreds be unable to enslave millions, but not even millions will be able to enslave a single individual.
    • V
  • Do not resist the evil-doer and take no part in doing so, either in the violent deeds of the administration, in the law courts, the collection of taxes, or above all in soldiering, and no one in the world will be able to enslave you.
    • V
  • What is now happening to the people of the East as of the West is like what happens to every individual when he passes from childhood to adolescence and from youth to manhood. He loses what had hitherto guided his life and lives without direction, not having found a new standard suitable to his age, and so he invents all sorts of occupations, cares, distractions, and stupefactions to divert his attention from the misery and senselessness of his life. Such a condition may last a long time.
    • VI
  • When an individual passes from one period of life to another a time comes when he cannot go on in senseless activity and excitement as before, but has to understand that although he has out-grown what before used to direct him, this does not mean that he must live without any reasonable guidance, but rather that he must formulate for himself an understanding of life corresponding to his age, and having elucidated it must be guided by it. And in the same way a similar time must come in the growth and development of humanity.
    • VI
  • The inherent contradiction of human life has now reached an extreme degree of tension: on the one side there is the consciousness of the beneficence of the law of love, and on the other the existing order of life which has for centuries occasioned an empty, anxious, restless, and troubled mode of life, conflicting as it does with the law of love and built on the use of violence. This contradiction must be faced, and the solution will evidently not be favourable to the outlived law of violence, but to the truth which has dwelt in the hearts of men from remote antiquity: the truth that the law of love is in accord with the nature of man. But men can only recognize this truth to its full extent when they have completely freed themselves from all religious and scientific superstitions and from all the consequent misrepresentations and sophistical distortions by which its recognition has been hindered for centuries.
    • VI
  • In order that men should embrace the truth — not in the vague way they did in childhood, nor in the one-sided and perverted way presented to them by their religious and scientific teachers, but embrace it as their highest law the complete liberation of this truth from all and every superstition (both pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific) by which it is still obscured is essential: not a partial, timid attempt, reckoning with traditions sanctified by age and with the habits of the people — not such as was effected in the religious sphere by Guru Nanak, the founder of the sect of the Sikhs, and in the Christian world by Luther, and by similar reformers in other religions — but a fundamental cleansing of religious consciousness from all ancient religious and modern scientific superstitions.
    • VI
  • If only people freed themselves from their beliefs in all kinds of Ormuzds, Brahmas, Sabbaoths, and their incarnation as Krishnas and Christs, from beliefs in Paradises and Hells, in reincarnations and resurrections, from belief in the interference of the Gods in the external affairs of the universe, and above all, if they freed themselves from belief in the infallibility of all the various Vedas, Bibles, Gospels, Tripitakas, Korans, and the like, and also freed themselves from blind belief in a variety of scientific teachings about infinitely small atoms and molecules and in all the infinitely great and infinitely remote worlds, their movements and origin, as well as from faith in the infallibility of the scientific law to which humanity is at present subjected: the historic law, the economic laws, the law of struggle and survival, and so on, — if people only freed themselves from this terrible accumulation of futile exercises of our lower capacities of mind and memory called the "Sciences", and from the innumerable divisions of all sorts of histories, anthropologies, homiletics, bacteriologics, jurisprudences, cosmographies, strategies — their name is legion — and freed themselves from all this harmful, stupefying ballast — the simple law of love, natural to man, accessible to all and solving all questions and perplexities, would of itself become clear and obligatory.
    • VI
  • In the spiritual realm nothing is indifferent: what is not useful is harmful.
    • VII
  • What are wanted for the Indian as for the Englishman, the Frenchman, the German, and the Russian, are not Constitutions and Revolutions, nor all sorts of Conferences and Congresses, nor the many ingenious devices for submarine navigation and aerial navigation, nor powerful explosives, nor all sorts of conveniences to add to the enjoyment of the rich, ruling classes; nor new schools and universities with innumerable faculties of science, nor an augmentation of papers and books, nor gramophones and cinematographs, nor those childish and for the most part corrupt stupidities termed art — but one thing only is needful: the knowledge of the simple and clear truth which finds place in every soul that is not stupefied by religious and scientific superstitions — the truth that for our life one law is valid — the law of love, which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind. Free your minds from those overgrown, mountainous imbecilities which hinder your recognition of it, and at once the truth will emerge from amid the pseudo-religious nonsense that has been smothering it: the indubitable, eternal truth inherent in man, which is one and the same in all the great religions of the world. It will in due time emerge and make its way to general recognition, and the nonsense that has obscured it will disappear of itself, and with it will go the evil from which humanity now suffers.

Disputed

  • If you want to be happy, be.
    • As quoted in Wisdom for the Soul : Five Millennia of Prescriptions for Spiritual Healing (2006) by Larry Chang, p. 352; this statement appears in late 20th century inspirational books, but with no known citation to original material by Tolstoy.

Quotes about Tolstoy

Tolstoy's life has been devoted to replacing the method of violence for removing tyranny or securing reform by the method of non­resistance to evil. He would meet hatred expressed in violence by love expressed in self­suffering. ~ Mahatma Gandhi
My first reading of Tolstoy affected me as a revelation from heaven, as the trumpet of the judgment... ~ Ellen Glasgow
He was a revolutionary in his thinking and later in life he was an activist and reformer; he was best known as Russia's greatest moral authority, and his teachings on civil disobedience have inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others. He was, and still is, an author to be reckoned with.
  • I fear Tolstoy's death. His death would leave a large empty space in my life. First, I have loved no man the way I have loved him. I am not a believer, but of all beliefs I consider his the closest to mine and most suitable for me. Second, when literature has a Tolstoy, it is easy and gratifying to be a writer. Even if you are aware that you have never accomplished anything, you don't feel so bad, because Tolstoy accomplishes enough for everyone. His activities provide justification for the hopes and aspirations that are usually placed on literature. Third, Tolstoy stands firm, his authority is enormous, and as long as he is alive bad taste in literature, all vulgarity in its brazen-faced or lachrymose varieties, all bristly and resentful vanity will remain far in the background. His moral authority alone is enough to maintain what we think of as literary trends and schools at a certain minimal level. If not for him, literature would be a flock without a shepherd or an unfathomable jumble.
  • The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic. ...The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.
  • People try so hard to believe in leaders now, pitifully hard. But we no sooner get a popular reformer or politician or soldier or writer or philosopher — a Roosevelt, a Tolstoy, a Wood, a Shaw, a Nietzsche, than the cross-currents of criticism wash him away. My Lord, no man can stand prominence these days. It's the surest path to obscurity.
  • Tolstoy's life has been devoted to replacing the method of violence for removing tyranny or securing reform by the method of non­resistance to evil. He would meet hatred expressed in violence by love expressed in self­suffering. He admits of no exception to whittle down this great and divine law of love. He applies it to all the problems that trouble mankind.
  • I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I’ve fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody’s going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I’m crazy or I keep getting better.
  • My first reading of Tolstoy affected me as a revelation from heaven, as the trumpet of the judgment. What he made me feel was not the desire to imitate, but the conviction that imitation was futile.
    • Ellen Glasgow The Woman Within (Written in 1944; published in 1954)
  • It has been said that a careful reading of Anna Karenina, if it teaches you nothing else, will teach you how to make strawberry jam.
  • Even beyond their deaths, the two novelists stand in contrariety. Tolstoy, the foremost heir to the traditions of the epic; Dostoevsky, one of the major dramatic tempers after Shakespeare; Tolstoy, the mind intoxicated with reason and fact; Dostoevsky, the condemner of rationalism, the great lover of paradox; Tolstoy, the poet of the land, of the rural setting and pastoral mood; Dostoevsky, the arch-citizen, the master-builder of the modern metropolis in the province of language; Tolstoy, thirsting for the truth, destroying himself and those about him in excessive pursuit of it; Dostoevsky, rather against the truth than against Christ, suspicious of total understanding and on the side of mystery; Tolstoy, "keeping at all times," in Coleridge's phrase, "in the high road of life"; Dostoevsky, advancing into the labyrinth of the unnatural, into the cellarage and morass of the soul; Tolstoy, like a colossus bestriding the palpable earth, evoking the realness, the tangibility, the sensible entirety of concrete experience; Dostoevsky, always on the verge of the hallucinatory, of the spectral, always vulnerable to daemonic intrusions into what might prove, in the end, to have been merely a tissue of dreams; Tolstoy, the embodiment of health and Olympian vitality; Dostoevsky, the sum of energies charged with illness and possession.
    • George Steiner in Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism (1959)
  • It is to Tolstoy whom Mahatma Gandhi gave credit for his own first understanding of nonviolent resistance to oppression, and there is an unbroken lineage from Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King.
  • He was a revolutionary in his thinking and later in life he was an activist and reformer; he was best known as Russia's greatest moral authority, and his teachings on civil disobedience have inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others. He was, and still is, an author to be reckoned with.

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Simple English

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian novelist and anarchist, famous for writing the books War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, the family estate in the region of Tula, Russia and he married Sofia Andreevna Bers.

He was a Christian and believed in non-violence. His work The Kingdom of God is Within You has influenced people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He died of pneumonia at Astapovo station in 1910 at the age of 82.








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