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Cr. 8vo, cloth. 3s. 6d. net

Contents. — The Religion of H. G. Wells —
The Alleged Indifference of Laymen to Religion
— Christ's Remedy for Fear : A Defence of the
Higher Anthropomorphism in Religion — The
Plenteous Harvest and the Scarcity of True
Labourers — Some Thoughts on The Scarlet

"While — as it seems to us — it does justice to Mr Wells,
it affords also a powerful and thoroughly modern defence
of a rational Christianity." — Inquirer.

" An earnest and ingenious effort to discover how far the
views of the novelist approximate to those of the Christian
philosopher ... As intellectual exercises, the book's whole
contents will appeal to thinking men and women." — Globe.

"His examination of Mr H. G. Wells's i^/Vi/ and Last
Things is an excellent piece of critical exposition, and
discovers the weak points of that interesting, if somewhat
impetuous, "confession of faith," particularly in regard
to Mr Wells's estimate of Jesus." — Literary World.

" The analysis is well done . . . His criticism, too, is
acute and cogent." — Christian Commonwealth.

"Extremely readable and full of the widest human
interest." — Manchester City News.





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Introduction ix

I. The Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy . 17

II. The Personality of God . . . 155

III. Tolstoy's Melancholy and Hopefulness 169

IV. Tolstoy's Views on Art . . . 177

VI 1



Count Leo Nikolaevitch Tolstoy was born in
the early autumn of the year 1828 at Yasnaya
Poly ana, near Moscow. His parents both be-
longed to the Russian aristocracy. His father
had been in the army. His childhood was not
altogether happy on account of his extremely sensi-
tive and passionate temperament. He was an
ideahst even in his youth. Even then he had a
great longing for God, and he appears even then
to have studied some of the greatest problems of
life and thought. At a very early age he was a
student at the university of Kazan, and afterwards
he was a student in the university of St Petersburg.
In the year 1851 he was for a time an officer in the
Caucasus, and he was greatly dehghted with the
mountains of that district, and was profoundly
and permanently impressed by them. He re-
mained in the Caucasus till the year 1853. In the



year 1854 we find him in active service as an officer
in the Crimean War. During that war he dis-
tinguished himself by his great bravery, and he saw
much of the horrors of war. They left on his mind
an abiding sense of the utter hatefulness of war.
In the hospitals he saw scenes which pierced and
sickened his heart, so that he became a fervent
and persistent advocate of peace.

At the close of the Crimean War, Tolstoy left
the army and took to society and Hterature, and
he also travelled a good deal. In the early autumn
of 1862 he was married. And then for many years
he lived at his country house, Yasnaya Polyana,
and spent his time in looking after his estates and
in writing. In the year 1878 he experienced what
is called his conversion ; and from that time till his
death his main interest was in religion. Before
his conversion he suffered agonies of spiritual un-
rest, and he very often thought of committing
suicide. Neither science nor philosophy could
satisfy him. His condition at this stage reminds
one of that of St Augustine during a similar time
of crisis. Both these great souls thirsted for God,


and could not be satisfied with anything else.
Tolstoy does not really tell us exactly how he
eventually found peace. So far as he indicates
the process at all, it seems to have consisted in a
sudden conviction that Christ's teaching, contained
in the Sermon on the Mount, was to be apphed
literally to every phase of human life. Hence-
forth he hved only for the propagation of the
Gospel which he had discovered. He cast himself
adrift from the churches, and thought out a re-
hgion for himself. He came to the conclusion that
simple people, like the peasants, really understood
the philosophy of hfe far better than the rich and
the cultivated. As Emerson would have said
concerning them, these intellectual babes were
" wiser than they knew."

enuring the later years of his life Tolstoy's re-
ligion was a kind of mixture of Sociahsm, asceti-
cism, and mysticism, with a sHght tincture of
stoicismy He wished to have no property of his
own; but he was obhged to be content vnth. making
over his possessions to his family. Personally he

hved a hfe of extreme simphcity, and he abhorred



all luxuries. He even condemned the habit of

His novels, as everyone knows, acquired a
world-wide fame, and they helped to induce a
considerable number of people to study his ethical
and religious books. He has exercised more influ-
ence over the world in general than any other
Russian has ever exercised. He has directed
men's attention to some extremely important,
though generally neglected, aspects of the religion
of Christ. He has transported that religion from
the academies of the learned and the cathedrals
of formal worship into the market-places of
ordinary life. He has constantly kept in his mind
the declaration of the Bible, that the common
people heard Christ gladly.

This great teacher has given us an ideal towards
which all true followers of Jesus ought to work.
He has woke us up from the deep slumber of self-
satisfied and Pharisaical conventionalism. He
has forced many of us to reaUze the truth that
ordinary ecclesiasticism is not the Christianity of

Christ. From the vain wrangHng of dogmatic



theologians he has led us back to the fountain-
head of practical goodness. He has made us think
more of the Sermon on the Mount and less of the
Athanasian creed.

The object of this httle book is to discuss the
rehgion of Tolstoy in a spirit of sympathy com-
bined with careful criticism, and also to compare
his ethical and spiritual ideas with those of other
well-known thinkers.

The death of this famous Russian occurred so
very recently — only a few weeks ago — that it is
scarcely necessary to give readers an account of it.
His wandering from his home appears to have been
the culmination of a long-cherished tendency to
seek a sort of monastic seclusion in which he might
meditate over the lessons of his life, and prepare his
soul for its migration to an unearthly condition
beyond time and space.

Ut March 1911.




The Religion and Ethics
of Tolstoy

Count Leo Tolstoy's extraordinary genius as
an artist and a novelist has perhaps tended to hide
from us his great merits and value as a religious
teacher. Yet many of the very same quaUties
which made him such a vivid and brilUant writer
of fiction also made him a great etliical and
spiritual guide. There was a real and vital con-
nection between his art and his rehgion. The
latter was not in any sense an abnegation of the
former. His intense sincerity his originaUty,
and his amazing knowledge of the secret recesses
of the souls of men and women, together with his
exceedingly picturesque and imaginative style, are

just as valuable in religion as in art or general
A 17

Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

literature. It is evident enough that in many
ways he belonged to the order of the true prophets.
His intense spiritual loneUness and his haunting
sense of the horrors of death show his abiding kin-
ship with spirits like those of the old Hebrew
moralists, and of Dante, Pascal, and Cardinal New-
man. His greatest novels were a kind of pre-
lude to his conversion. Like St Paul, when his
eyes were opened to discern the reahties of hfe and
death, he conferred not with flesh and blood, but
retired to the bleak steppes of Russia, even as the
Apostle to the Gentiles retired to the deserts of
Arabia. His reHgion was the outcome of personal
experience and intuition, and not of any sort of
tradition; nor did he approach God through an
avenue of books.

Hence came the universahty of his message
transcending all local hmits. Hence also a certain
wildness, as of the desert. He came to men, not
as an accredited agent of the churches, but as a
kind of stormy and revolutionary Elijah, as a con-
queror from the wastes of Edom with garments
rolled in blood. A profound melancholy, almost

like that of Dante, characterized his teaching as


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

to the world and its courses. He had fought
with innumerable devastating spiritual beasts or
monsters in his solitary vigils. A kind of habitual
gloom darkened all his deepest hfe.

Tolstoy had also a profound, passionate, and
thoroughly unsectarian human tenderness which
attracted men far more than the bitter scomful-
ness of a Dante or a Carlyle. In him was re-
incarnate the noble soul of Bunyan's Greatheart.
As his pitying spirit looked forth on the Avelter
and chaos of ordinary human hfe, especially as he
viewed the dumb, patient, and pathetic endurance
of Russianpeasantsand soldiers, this most Christian
heart for ever cried, " I have compassion upon the
multitude." Tolstoy was a veritable apostle to
the heavy-laden, the sorrowful, the down-trodden,
and the oppressed. In this respect he greatly re-
sembled Theodore Parker, one of the noblest of all
souls in modern times, whose large heart was
moved to deepest sympathy by the woes of the
slaves and outcasts of the world, and of whom the
best description ever given was that which de-
clared that he always seemed to be holding some-
one by the hand. Gazing into the warm recesses


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

of Tolstoy's capacious and hospitable heart, one
feels that the best description of his spiritual self
was given us in the touching and sublime words
of an old Hebrew prophet: " A man shall be as a
hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the
tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place, as the
shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

Tolstoy's keen-sighted, invincible, and loving
ethical hopefulness is one of our best preservatives
against the scornful and depressing pessimism and
violence of Carlyle. The hopefulness of the great
Russian, unHke the insecure optimism of Emerson,
was based on a prolonged and careful study of all
the facts of human nature and human Ufe. It
never sought to " heal our hurt sHghtly," and to
cry peace where there was no peace. This intre-
pid warrior spirit had been down into the lowest
depths of the universe, and had found God there
also, and had seen death and hell swallowed up in
the final victory of reason and love. To a sym-
pathetic soul living in Russia this glorious moral
confidence must have been specially difficult.
Even the most faint and shadowy outUnes of a
coming kingdom of God were scarcely perceptible


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

there. Noble minds there " looked for judgment,
and behold oppression, for righteousness, and
behold a cry! " Tolstoy knew well some of the
very worst hells on earth, the Russian prisons with
all their infernal cruelties. Yet his faith remained
invincible, as Browning's did when he gazed on
the dead bodies of men who had committed
suicide. He certainly " came out strong " in the
most unfavourable circumstances.

Even the exaggerations of this writer are sug-
gestive and stimulating. His rehgion was in-
tensely spiritual, like that of the best German
mystical writers. His whole soul was ever haunted
by that most significant and pregnant of all the
sayings of Jesus : " The Kingdom of God is within

From the churches Tolstoy expected httle or
nothing of any great value. His estimate of them
is despairing, though in great measure just. He
thought that they had hidden rather than re-
vealed the true teaching of Jesus Christ. They
must die, in order that genuine Christianity may
live. He wrote thus of them : " The Church carried
the hght of the teaching of Jesus for eighteen


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

centuries, and, wishing to hide it in her robes, was
herself burnt in the flame. The world abandoned
her and her institutions for the sake of those very
principles of Christianity which she herself had
unwilHngly preserved. Those principles live to-
day without her. This is a fact which it is now
impossible to conceal. . . . All churches, whether
CathoKc, Greek, or Protestant, are like sentinels
carefully guarding a prisoner who escaped long
ago, and who is now a free man attacking them."
He also said that the churches have been to man-
kind as a helmsman " who did not steer at all."
And he goes on to say that this would not signify,
except for the fact that men now float on without
any rudder or any helmsman, not knowing whither
they go.

This depreciating estimate of the churches
seems true to a very great extent. They appear
to have lost touch with the reahties of our pre-
sent human hfe. Probably very few men with
vivid natures and bold intellects care much, in
these days, for ordinary ecclesiastical teaching.
Men are now chiefly guided by their instincts to
some shght extent enlightened by science and


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

philosophy. Conventional preaching appeals
mostly to women and woraanirfh men.

Before discussing some of Tolstoy's funda-
mental ideas, it may be well to compare them with
those of other prominent teachers. His affinity to
Rousseau is so obvious that we need not point it out .

In the first place we find the views of the Russian
morahst in complete and violent antagonism with
those of that half -mad genius, Nietzsche. Tolstoy
in some respects exaggerated Christianity, whereas
Nietzsche scorned and abhorred it. The one guide
preached humifity, self-sacrifice or self-effacement,
and considerate tenderness for the weak; the
other preached a gospel of pride, hardness, self-
assertion, and tyranny over all the weaker portions
of humanity. The Grerman was perfectly wiUing
to devour men, if by so doing he could enlarge
his own personahty, whilst the Russian ever de-
sired to " give his life a ransom for many." Nietz-
sche wished to trample upon the weak, just as
Cotter Morison wished to exterminate the wicked.
Neither of these harsh spirits believed in the re-
deeming efficacy of pity and love. Perhaps some

very shght germs of Nietzsche's aristocratic self-


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

assertiveness may be found in Aristotle's concep-
tion of the " high-minded " man in his Ethics.

To most thinkers it is plain enough that the
religion of Christ and of his follower, Tolstoy, is
far wiser and more salutary, as well as far nobler,
than that of Nietzsche. But this wiser, more
human, and more attractive religion must not be
misunderstood or exaggerated, as it often has been
in former ages. The duty of self-sacrifice must not
be so interpreted as to preclude the best self -de-
velopment. Goethe really has something to teach us
which we could scarcely learn from Tolstoy. In
many cases the very best service which a man can
render to his race is to develop himself adequately.
In order to serve our fellow-men greatly, we must
sometimes decHne to serve them in a slight or
trivial way. If one man is to die for the people,
it must be in the deepest sense expedient that he
should so die. SeM-sacrifice without an adequate
object is neither admirable nor desirable. To lay
down one's hfe for a friend is noble; but to risk
the loss of a valuable human life, in order to save
one's neighbour's hat or umbrella, or even his cat
or his lap-dog, is decidedly rather foolish.


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

To a certain extent it is true that the higher
and greater natures ought often to resist the de-
mands of the lower. Concentration of aim in Hfe
is not selfishness, though it is often confused with
it. Those who have real work to do in the world
must often refuse to waste their time over trivial
matters, such as the tea-parties of women like a
" Rosamond Vincy " in Middlemarch.

One must, I think, also concede to writers Uke
Nietzsche that it is not desirable to encourage the
physically and mentally unfit to produce offspring,
though of course it is impossible in many cases
to prevent them from doing so.

We must also own that modern democracy
is often dangerous when demanding for the
ignorant and stupid an equal share with the wise in
determining legislation. An ideal form of govern-
ment would be one in which power was in pro-
portion to intelhgence. Some modern democracies
seem very fooUshly to interpret hterally St Paul's
bitterly ironical advice. " Set those to judge who
are least esteemed in the Church." It is quite
right that the greater natures should exercise real

influence over the lower. It is not true that all


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

men either are or can be really equal, John
Stuart Mill thought that it would be a real dis-
advantage to a nation to be given a thoroughly
democratic form of government before it was
adequately prepared for it. The Vox populi is by
no means always a veritable Vox Dei. There is
no tyranny so penetrating and injurious as that of
an untrained mob. The wise have a right to treat
the ignorant as children to a great extent, but they
ought to endeavour to educate them gradually,
and not merely to suppress or trample upon them,
as Nietzsche would do.

In his book called Beyond Good and Evil Nietz-
sche plainly declared that the higher or greater
natures have no duties towards the lower, and that
they may treat them just as they please. That
assuredly is an intolerable doctrine. Supposing
that the inhabitants of some other planet — say
Mars — are greatly superior to us, and supposing
that free intercourse were established between
them and us, would Nietzsche own that these
superior and more developed beings had a perfect
right to abuse and torture him, if, by so doing,

they could promote their own growth? Would


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

he say that God has a perfect right to torture His

creatures for ever, in order to enhance His own

happiness or welfare? Is the saying that Noblesse

oblige an entirely false one? Nietzsche's doctrine

on this subject seems to be a kind of Calvinism

which has discarded the last lingering elements of

Christianity. And it is not really in harmony

with modem evolutionary ethics, which trace

human morality to its primal source in sympathy.

It does not seem in the least degree likely that

savage selfishness will serve the world better than

thoughtful and discriminating benevolence. As

James Hinton clearly perceived, the wants and

weaknesses of others often give a real significance,

interest, and value to the dormant and neglected

gifts of higher and stronger natures. We can often

do for the sake of others what we could not do

from self-regard. Whatever impoverishes our social

nature, or narrows the range of its activities, seems

necessarily to impoverish our best ethical and

spiritual Hfe. In a very real and lasting sense

" It is more blessed to give than to receive." The

best greatness often comes to us tlirough service

to others.


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

It appears to be evident enough that the ethical
doctrine of Nietzsche is of the sort tersely de-
scribed as " penny wise, but pound fooHsh." He
does not reahze the profound truth that in the
moral and spiritual world lavish giving is often the
indispensable condition of still more lavish receiv-
ing, that to keep our life is often equivalent to
losing it, and that to lose it is often equivalent to
the best keeping and enlarging of it. Benefits
stolen or violently taken from others are far less
precious and valuable than benefits freely given
to us. No human fife can thrive without deep and
varied sympathy. In discarding self-sacrificing
sympathy Nietzsche would wither heroism down
to its very roots ; for heroism finds its chief sphere
for work amongst the unhappy, the unfortunate,
the suffering, the struggling, the oppressed, and
the weak. In bearing the burdens of others it
finds its own noblest crown of rejoicing. Then only
is its love made perfect; then only does it shine
with a truly god-hke splendour. In the end,
selfishness and unsympathizing tyranny would
assuredly bring their own punishment to any

spirit which retained any fingering traces of the


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

highest human qualities. For such a spirit the
glory of hfe would then have departed. There
would be almost nothing left to redeem it from
the commonplace. In the realms of entirely self-
seeking rapacity heroism and love could no longer
exist. And, in losing all the finer kinds of heroism,
human hfe would cease to be irradiated by the sub-
hme. A kind of depressing bhght would brood
over man's existence. The son of man would no
longer be a son of God. Having devoured or
banished or imprisoned all those weaker brethren
who afford a sphere for the development or exercise
of the noblest quahties of the strong, the vigorous
and selfish would find that they had inflicted an
irreparable injury on themselves. Their fate would
to some extent resemble that of him who wished
that everything that he touched should be turned
into gold. Their riches would be of very httle
value to their owners. Resting amongst the well-
stored bams of unscrupulous and violent greediness,
the half-stifled inner being of the rich and selfish
man might perhaps be eventually startled by the
inlierent irony of the universe crying, " Vanitas

Vanitatum," or by the voice of the divine wisdom


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

saying to him, in a sterner sense than that which
its words conveyed in the days of old: "Thou
fool, thy soul has already been required of thee.
What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the
whole world and lose his own soul? He that
keepeth his life shall lose it." Only Love never

The deepest Hfe of the soul cannot truly exist
without the heroic and the morally subHme, and
these would be effectually banished from a world
moulded after Nietzsche's plans.

Turning now to a thinker diametrically opposed
to Nietzsche, we find in James Hinton a spirit very
much akin to that of Tolstoy, as we may also find
one in Thomas a Kempis. In their vehement
demand for absolute disinterestedness and com-
plete self-effacement these three most Christian
souls had much in common. Modern altruism
bids us say to collective humanity what the author
of the Imitation of Christ said to Jesus : " Amem te
plus quam me. Ne amem me nisi propter te." It
must, I think, be owned that both Tolstoy and
Hinton used exaggerated language about seK-
sacrifice. They demanded that men should not


Religion and Ethics of Tolstoy

love themselves at all. They remind us of " Dinah
Morris," the preacher in Adam Bede, of wliom it
was said that, if she had only loved her neighbours
as herself, she would have thought that they might
very well manage with empty stomachs.

Both Tolstoy and Hinton seemed to have a
quarrel with personahty as such. The former
wished to starve it, whilst the latter wished to
destroy it. The Russian morahst sometimes owned
that in this life we cannot and ought not to get
rid of our individuahty ; but he wished to thrust
it entirely into the background, and he sometimes
talked of renouncing it as a positive duty. He did
not realize the truth that it is unwise to starve or
neglect our animal individuality.

Asceticism, in its desire to promote spirituality,
is very apt to neglect the care of that which is the
basis of all fruitful human hfe and activity. It

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Online LibraryAlexander Henry CraufurdThe religion and ethics of Tolstoy → online text (page 1 of 9)