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began speaking upon religion. He said that every man
is religious and has in him a religion of his own ; that re-
ligion results from the conception which a man forms of
his relations to his fellow-men, and to the principle which


in his opinion controls the universe ; that there are three
stages in religious development: first, the childhood of
nations, when man thinks of the whole universe as cre-
ated for him and centering in him ; secondly, the maturity
of nations, the time of national religions, when each
nation believes that all true religion centers in it, the
Jews and the English, he said, being striking examples;
and, finally, the perfected conception of nations, when
man has the idea of fulfilling the will of the Supreme
Power and considers himself an instrument for that pur-
pose. He went on to say that in every religion there are
two main elements, one of deception and one of devotion,
and he asked me about the Mormons, some of whose books
had interested him. He thought two thirds of their re-
ligion deception, but said that on the whole he preferred
a religion which professed to have dug its sacred books
out of the earth to one which pretended that they were
let down from heaven. On learning that I had visited
Salt Lake City two years before, he spoke of the good
reputation of the Mormons for chastity, and asked me to
explain the hold of their religion upon women. I an-
swered that Mormonism could hardly be judged by its
results at present ; that, as a whole, the Mormons are, no
doubt, the most laborious and decent people in the State of
Utah; but that this is their heroic period, when outside
pressure keeps them firmly together and arouses their de-
votion; that the true test will come later, when there is
less pressure and more knowledge, and when the young
men who are now arising begin to ask questions, quarrel
with each other, and split the whole body into sects and

This led to questions in regard to American women
generally, and he wished to know something of their con-
dition and prospects. I explained some features of wo-
man's condition among us, showing its evolution, first
through the betterment of her legal status, and next
through provision for her advanced education; but told
him that so far as political rights are concerned, there had


been very little practical advance in the entire East and
South of the country during the last fifty years, and that
even in the extreme Western States, where women have
been given political rights and duties to some extent, the
concessions have been wavering and doubtful.

At this, he took up his parable and said that women
ought to have all other rights except political; that they
are unfit to discharge political duties ; that, indeed, one of
the great difficulties of the world at present lies in their
possession of far more consideration and control than
they ought to have. "Go into the streets and bazaars,"
he said, "and you will see the vast majority of shops de-
voted to their necessities. In France everything centers
in women, and women have complete control of life : all
contemporary French literature shows this. Woman is
not man's equal in the highest qualities ; she is not so self-
sacrificing as man. Men will, at times, sacrifice their fami-
lies for an idea ; women will not. ' ' On my demurring to
this latter statement, he asked me if I ever knew a woman
who loved other people's children as much as her own. I
gladly answered in the negative, but cited Florence
Nightingale, Sister Dora, and others, expressing my sur-
prise at his assertion that women are incapable of making
as complete sacrifices for any good cause as men. I
pointed to the persecutions in the early church, when
women showed themselves superior to men in suffering
torture, degradation, and death in behalf of the new re-
ligion, and added similar instances from the history of
witchcraft. To this he answered that in spite of all such
history, women will not make sacrifices of their own in-
terest for a good cause which does not strikingly appeal
to their feelings, while men will do so; that he had
known but two or three really self-sacrificing women in
his life; and that these were unmarried. On my saying
that observation had led me to a very different conclu-
sion, his indictment took another form. He insisted that
woman hangs upon the past; that public opinion pro-
gresses, but that women are prone to act on the opinion


of yesterday or of last year; that women and womanish
men take naturally to old absurdities, among which he
mentioned the doctrines of the Trinity, "spiritism," and
homeopathy. At this I expressed a belief that if, instead
of educating women, as Bishop Dupanloup expressed it,
"in the lap of the church (sur les genoux de I'eglise),"
we educate them in the highest sense, in universities, they
will develop more and more intellectually, and so become
a controlling element in the formation of a better race;
that, as strong men generally have strong mothers, the
better education of woman physically, intellectually, and
morally is the true way of bettering the race in general.
In this idea he expressed his disbelief, and said that edu-
cation would not change women ; that women are illogical
by nature. At this I cited an example showing that wo-
men can be exceedingly logical and close in argument, but
he still adhered to his opinion. On my mentioning the
name of George Eliot, he expressed a liking for her.

On our next walk, he took me to the funeral of one of
his friends. He said that to look upon the dead should
rather give pleasure than pain; that memento mori is a
wise maxim, and looking upon the faces of the dead a good
way of putting it in practice. I asked him if he had
formed a theory as to a future life, and he said in sub-
stance that he had not ; but that, as we came at birth from
beyond the forms of space and time, so at death we re-
turned whence we came. I said, "You use the word
'forms' in the Kantian sense?" "Yes," he said, "space
and time have no reality."

We arrived just too late at the house of mourning.
The dead man had been taken away; but many of those
who had come to do him honor still lingered, and were
evidently enjoying the "funeral baked meats." There
were clear signs of a carousal. The friends who came
out to meet us had, most of them, flushed faces, and one
young man in military uniform, coming down the stairs,
staggered and seemed likely to break his neck.

Tolstoi refused to go in, and, as we turned away, ex-


pressed disgust at the whole system, saying, as well he
might, that it was utterly barbarous. He seemed de-
spondent over it, and I tried to cheer him by showing how
the same custom of drinking strong liquors at funerals
had, only a few generations since, prevailed in large dis-
tricts of England and America, but that better ideas of
living had swept it away.

On our way through the street, we passed a shrine at
which a mob of peasants were adoring a sacred picture.
He dwelt on the fetishism involved in this, and said that
Jesus Christ would be infinitely surprised and pained
were he to return to earth and see what men were wor-
shiping in his name. He added a story of a converted
pagan who, being asked how many gods he worshiped,
said : ' ' One, and I ate him this morning. ' ' At this I cited
Browning's lines put into the mouth of the bishop who
wished, from his tomb,

" To hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long."

I reminded him of his definition of religion given me
on one of our previous walks, and he repeated it, declaring
religion to be the feeling which man has regarding his
relation to the universe, including his fellow-men, and to
the power which governs all.

The afternoon was closed with a visit to a Raskolnik, or
Old Believer, and of all our experiences this turned
out to be the most curious. The Raskolniks, or Old Be-
lievers, compose that wide-spread sect which broke off
from the main body of the Russian Church when the pa-
triarch of Moscow, Nikon, in the seventeenth century
attempted to remove various textual errors from the Bible
and ceremonial books. These books had been copied and
recopied during centuries until their condition had be-
come monstrous. Through a mistake of some careless
transcriber, even the name of Jesus had been travestied
and had come to be spelled with two e's; the crudest ab-


surdities had been copied into the text; important parts
had become unintelligible ; and the time had evidently ar-
rived for a revision. Nikon saw this, and in good faith
summoned scholars from Constantinople to prepare more
correct editions; but these revised works met the fate
which attends such revisions generally. The great body
of the people were attached to the old forms; they pre-
ferred them, just as in these days the great body of Eng-
lish-speaking Protestants prefer the King James Bible
to the Revised Version, even though the latter may convey
to the reader more correctly what was dictated by the
Holy Spirit. The feeling of the monks, especially, against
Nikon's new version became virulent. They raised so
strong an opposition among the people that an army had
to be sent against them ; at the siege of the Solovetsk Mon-
astery the conflict was long and bloody, and as a result a
large body of people and clergy broke off from the church.
Of course the more these dissenters thought upon what
Nikon had done, the more utterly evil he seemed ; but this
was not all. A large part of Russian religious duty, so far
as the people are concerned, consists in making the sign
of the cross on all occasions. Before Nikon's time this
had been done rather carelessly, but, hoping to impress a
religious lesson, he ordered it to be made with three ex-
tended fingers, thus reminding the faithful of the Trinity.
At this the Raskolniks insisted that the sign of the cross
ought to be made with two fingers, and out of this differ-
ence arose more bitterness than from all other causes put
together. From that day to this the dissenters have in-
sisted on enjoying the privilege of reading the old version
with all its absurdities, of spelling the word Jesus with
two e's, of crossing themselves with two fingers, and of
cursing Nikon.

This particular Raskolnik, or Old Believer, to whom
Tolstoi took me, was a Muscovite merchant of great
wealth, living in a superb villa on the outskirts of the
city, with a large park about it; the apartments, for size
and beauty of decoration, fit for a royal palace the ceil-


ings covered with beautiful frescos, and the rooms full
of statues and pictures by eminent artists, mainly Russian
and French. He was a man of some education, possessed
a large library, loved to entertain scientific men and to aid
scientific effort, and managed to keep on good terms with
his more fanatical coreligionists on one side and with the
government on the other, so that in emergencies he was
an efficient peacemaker between them. We found him a
kindly, gentle old man, with long, white hair and beard,
and he showed us with evident pleasure the principal
statues and pictures, several of the former being by Anto-
kolski, the greatest contemporary Eussian sculptor. In
the sumptuous dining-room, in which perhaps a hundred
persons could sit at table, he drew our attention to some
fine pictures of Italian scenes by Smieradsky, and, after
passing through the other rooms, took us into a cabinet
furnished with the rarest things to be found in the Oriental
bazaars. Finally, he conducted us into his private chapel,
where, on the iconostas, the screen which, in accordance
with the Greek ritual, stands before the altar, the sacred
images of the Saviour and various saints were represented
somewhat differently from those in the Russo-Greek
Church, especially in that they extended two fingers in-
stead of three. To this difference I called his attention,
and he at once began explaining it. Soon he grew warm,
and finally fervid. Said he : " Why do we make the sign
of the cross f We do it to commemorate the crucifixion of
our blessed Lord. What is commemorated at the cruci-
fixion? The sacrifice of his two natures the divine and
the human. How do we make the sign ? We make it with
two fingers, thus" accompanied by a gesture. "What
does this represent? It represents what really occurred:
the sacrifice of the divine and the human nature of our
Lord. How do the Orthodox make it?" Here his voice
began to rise. "They make it with three fingers" and
now his indignation burst all bounds, and with a tremen-
dous gesture and almost a scream of wrath he declared:
"and every time they make it they crucify afresh every


one of the three persons of the holy and undivided

The old man 's voice, so gentle at first, had steadily risen
during this catechism of his, in which he propounded the
questions and recited the answers, until this last utterance
came with an outcry of horror. The beginning of this
catechism was given much after the manner of a boy re-
citing mechanically the pons asinorum, but the end was
like the testimony of an ancient prophet against the sins
which doomed Israel.

This last burst was evidently too much for Tolstoi.
He said not a word in reply, but seemed wrapped in over-
powering thought, and anxious to break away. We walked
out with the old Raskolnik, and at the door I thanked him
for his kindness ; but even there, and all the way down the
long walk through the park, Tolstoi remained silent. As
we came into the road he suddenly turned to me and said
almost fiercely, "That man is a hypocrite; he can't be-
lieve that; he is a shrewd, long-headed man; how can he
believe such trash? Impossible!" At this I reminded
him of Theodore Parker's distinction between men who
believe and men who "believe that they believe," and
said that possibly our Raskolnik was one of the latter.
This changed the subject. He said that he had read
Parker's biography, and liked it all save one thing, which
was that he gave a pistol to a fugitive slave and advised
him to defend himself. This Tolstoi condemned on the
ground that we are not to resist evil. I told him of the
advice I had given to Dobroluboff, a very winning Rus-
sian student at Cornell University, when he was return-
ing to Russia to practise his profession as an engineer.
That advice was that he should bear in mind Buckle 's idea
as to the agency of railways and telegraphs in extending
better civilization, and devote himself to his profession of
engineering, with the certainty that its ultimate result
would be to aid in the enlightenment of the empire; but
never, on any account, to conspire against the govern-
ment ; telling him that he might be sure that he could do far


more for the advancement of Russian thought by building
railways than by entering into any conspiracies whatever.
Tolstoi said the advice was good, but that he would also
have advised the young man to speak out his ideas, what-
ever they might be. He said that only in this way could
any advance ever be made ; that one main obstacle in hu-
man progress is the suppression of the real thoughts of
men. I answered that all this had a fine sound; that it
might do for Count Tolstoi; but that a young, scholarly
engineer following it would soon find himself in a place
where he could not promulgate his ideas, guarded by
Cossacks in some remote Siberian mine.

He spoke of young professors in the universities, of
their difficulties, and of the risk to their positions if they
spoke out at all. I asked him if there was any liberality or
breadth of thought in the Russo-Greek Church. He an-
swered that occasionally a priest had tried to unite
broader thought with orthodox dogma, but that every such
attempt had proved futile.

From Parker we passed to Lowell, and I again tried to
find if he really knew anything of Lowell's writings. He
evidently knew very little, and asked me what Lowell had
written. He then said that he had no liking for verse, and
he acquiesced in Carlyle's saying that nobody had ever
said anything in verse which could not have been better
said in prose.

A day or two later, on another of our walks, I asked
him how and when, in his opinion, a decided advance in
Russian liberty and civilization would be made. He an-
swered that he thought it would come soon, and with
great power. On my expressing the opinion that such
progress would be the result of a long evolutionary pro-
cess, with a series of actions and reactions, as heretofore
in Russian history, he dissented, and said that the change
for the better would come soon, suddenly, and with great

As we passed along the streets he was, as during our
previous walks, approached by many beggars, to each of


whom he gave as long as his money lasted. He said that
he was accustomed to take a provision of copper money
with him for this purpose on his walks, since he regarded
it as a duty to give when asked, and he went on to say that
he carried the idea so far that even if he knew the man
wanted the money to huy brandy he would give it to him ;
but he added that he would do all in his power to induce
the man to work and to cease drinking. I demurred
strongly to all this, and extended the argument which I
had made during our previous walk, telling him that by
such giving he did two wrongs : first, to the beggar him-
self, since it led him to cringe and lie in order to obtain
as a favor that which, if he did his duty in working, he
could claim as a right; and, secondly, to society by en-
couraging such a multitude to prey upon it who might be
giving it aid and strength ; and I again called his attention
to the hordes of sturdy beggars in Moscow. He answered
that the results of our actions in such cases are not the
main thing, but the cultivation of proper feelings in the
giver is first to be considered.

I then asked him about his manual labor. He said that
his habit was to rise early and read or write until noon,
then to take his luncheon and a short sleep, and after that
to work in his garden or fields. He thought this good for
him on every account, and herein we fully agreed.

On our return through the Kremlin, passing the heaps
and rows of cannon taken from the French in 1812, I
asked him if he still adhered to the low opinion of Napo-
leon expressed in "War and Peace." He said that he
did, and more than ever since he had recently read a book
on Napoleon's relations to women which showed that he
took the lowest possible view of womankind. I then asked
him if he still denied Napoleon 's military genius. He an-
swered that he certainly did ; that he did not believe in the
existence of any such thing as military genius; that he
had never been able to understand what is meant by the
term. I asked, "How then do you account for the amaz-
ing series of Napoleon 's successes ? ' ' He answered, * ' By


circumstances." I rejoined that such, an explanation had
the merit, at least, of being short and easy.

He then went on to say that battles are won by force
of circumstances, by chance, by luck; and he quoted Suva-
roil' to this effect. He liked Lanfrey's "History of Napo-
leon" and Taine's book on the Empire, evidently be-
cause both are denunciatory of men and things he
dislikes, but said that he did not believe in Thiers.

We came finally under the shade of the great tower and
into the gateway through which Napoleon entered the
Kremlin ; and there we parted with a hearty good-bye.

The question has been asked me, at various times since,
whether, in my opinion, Tolstoi is really sincere; and al-
lusion has been made to a book published by a lady who
claims to have been in close relations with his family,
which would seem to reveal a theatrical element in his
whole life. To this my answer has always been, and still
is, that I believe him to be one of the most sincere and de-
voted men alive, a man of great genius and, at the same
time, of very deep sympathy with his fellow-creatures.

Out of this character of his come his theories of art
and literature ; and, despite their faults, they seem to me
more profound and far-reaching than any put forth by
any other man in our time.

There is in them, for the current cant regarding art and
literature, a sound, sturdy, hearty contempt which braces
and strengthens one who reads or listens to him. It does
one good to hear his quiet sarcasms against the whole fin-
de-siecle business the "impressionism," the "sensation-
alism," the vague futilities of every sort, the "great
poets" wallowing in the mud of Paris, the "great musi-
cians" making night hideous in German concert-halls, the
' ' great painters ' ' of various countries mixing their colors
with as much filth as the police will allow. His keen
thrusts at these incarnations of folly and obscenity in the
last quarter of the nineteenth century, and especially at
those who seek to hide the poverty of their ideas in the
obscurity of their phrases, encourage one to think that in


the next generation the day of such pretenders will be
done. His prophesying against "art for art's sake"; his
denunciation of art which simply ministers to sensual
pleasure ; his ridicule of art which can be discerned only
by ' ' people of culture ' ' ; his love for art which has a sense,
not only of its power, but of its obligations, which puts
itself at the service of great and worthy ideas, which ap-
peals to men as men in this he is one of the best teachers
of his time and of future times.

Yet here come in his unfortunate limitations. From his
substitutions of assertion for inference, and from the in-
adequacy of his view regarding sundry growths in art,
literature, and science, arises endless confusion.

For who will not be skeptical as to the value of any
criticism by a man who pours contempt over the pictures
of Puvis de Chavannes, stigmatizes one of Beethoven's
purest creations as "corrupting," and calls Shakspere a

Nothing can be more genuine than his manner : there is
no posing, no orating, no phrase-making ; a quiet earnest-
ness pervades all his utterances. The great defect in him
arises, as I have already said, from a peculiarity in the
development of his opinions : namely, that during so large
a part of his life he has been wont to discuss sub-
jects with himself and not with other men; that he has,
therefore, come to worship idols of his own creation, and
often very unsubstantial idols, and to look with misgiving
and distrust on the ideas of others. Very rarely during
our conversations did I hear him speak with any real
enthusiasm regarding any human being: his nearest ap-
proach to it was with reference to the writings of the
Rev. Adin Ballou, when he declared him the foremost lit-
erary character that America has produced. A result of
all this is that when he is driven into a corner his logic be-
comes so subtle as to be imperceptible, and he is very
likely to take refuge in paradoxes.

At times, as we walked together, he would pour forth a
stream of reasoning so lucid, out of depths so profound.

II. 7


and reach conclusions so cogent, that he seemed fairly
inspired. At other times he would develop a line of argu-
ment so outworn, and arrive at conclusions so inane, that I
could not but look into his face closely to see if he could
be really in earnest ; but it always bore that same expres-
sionforbidding the slightest suspicion that he was utter-
ing anything save that which he believed, at least for the
time being.

As to the moral side, the stream of his thought was
usually limpid, but at times it became turbid and his better
ideas seemed to float on the surface as iridescent bubbles.

Had he lived in any other country, he would have been
a power mighty and permanent in influencing its thought
and in directing its policy; as it is, his thought will pass
mainly as the confused, incoherent wail and cry of a giant
struggling against the heavy adverse currents in that vast
ocean of Russian life :

" The cry of some strong swimmer in his agony."

The evolution of Tolstoi's ideas has evidently been
mainly determined by his environment. During two cen-

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 54)