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him. To which he answered that it was a question of duty.
To this I agreed, but remarked that beneath this lay the
question what this duty really was. It was a pleasure to
learn from another source that the countess took a differ-
ent view of it, and that she had in some way secured the
proceeds of his copyrights for their very large and in-
teresting family. Light. was thus thrown on Tolstoi's re-
mark, made afterward, that women are not so self-sacrifi-
cing as men; that a man would sometimes sacrifice his
family for an idea, but that a woman would not.

He then went on to express an interest in the Shakers,
and especially in Frederick Evans. He had evidently
formed an idea of them very unlike the reality; in fact,
the Shaker his imagination had developed was as differ-
ent from a Lebanon Shaker as an eagle from a duck, and
his notion of their influence on American society was

He spoke at some length regarding religion in Russia,
evidently believing that its present dominant form is soon
to pass away. I asked him how then he could account for
the fact that while in other countries women are greatly
in the majority at church services, in every Russian church
the majority are men ; and that during the thirty-five years
since my last visit to Moscow this tendency had apparent-
ly increased. He answered, "All this is on the surface;
there is much deeper thought below, and the great want
of Russia is liberty to utter it. ' ' He then gave some ex-
amples to show this, among them the case of a gentleman
and lady in St. Petersburg, whose children had been taken

from them and given to Princess , their grandmother,

because the latter is of the Orthodox Church and the
former are not. I answered that I had seen the children ;
that their grandmother had told me that their mother
was a screaming atheist with nihilistic tendencies, who
had left her husband and was bringing up the children in


a scandalous way, teaching them to abjure God and
curse the Czar ; that their father had thought it his duty
to give all his property away and work as a laborer ; that
therefore she the grandmother had secured an order
from the Emperor empowering her to take charge of the
children; that I had seen the children at their grand-
mother's house, and that they had seemed very happy.
Tolstoi insisted that this statement by the grandmother
was simply made to cover the fact that the children were
taken from the mother because her belief was not of the
orthodox pattern. My opinion is that Tolstoi was mis-
taken, at least as to the father ; and that the father had been
led to give away his property and work with his hands in
obedience to the ideas so eloquently advocated by Tolstoi
himself. Unlike his master, this gentleman appears not
to have had the advantage of a wife who mitigated his

Tolstoi also referred to the difficulties which trans-
lators had found in securing publishers for his most re-
cent book "The Kingdom of God." On my assuring
him that American publishers of high standing would
certainly be glad to take it, he said that he had supposed
the ideas in it so contrary to opinions dominant in Amer-
ica as to prevent its publication there.

Returning to the subject of religion in Russia, he re-
ferred to some curious incongruities ; as, for example, the
portrait of Socrates forming part of a religious picture
in the Annunciation Church at the Kremlin. He said that
evidently some monk, who had dipped into Plato, had
thus placed Socrates among the precursors of Christ. I
cited the reason assigned by Melanchthon for Christ 's de-
scent into hell namely, the desire of the Redeemer to
make himself known to Socrates, Plato, and the best of
the ancient philosophers; and I compared this with Lu-
ther 's idea, so characteristic of him, that Christ descended
into hell in order to have a hand-to-hand grapple and
wrestle with Satan. This led Tolstoi to give me a Rus-
sian legend of the descent into hell, which was that, when


Christ arrived there, he found Satan forging chains, but
that, at the approach of the Saviour, the walls of hell col-
lapsed, and Satan found himself entangled in his own
chains, and remained so for a thousand years.

In regard to the Jews, he said that he sympathized with
them, but that the statements regarding the persecution of
them were somewhat exaggerated. Kennan's statements
regarding the treatment of prisoners in Siberia he
thought overdrawn at times, but substantially true. He
expressed his surprise that certain leading men in the
empire, whom he named, could believe that persecution
and the forcible repression of thought would have any
permanent effect at the end of the nineteenth century.

He then dwelt upon sundry evil conditions in Russia, on
which my comment was that every country, of course, had
its own grievous shortcomings ; and I cited, as to America,
the proverb: "No one knows so well where the shoe
pinches as he who wears it." At this he asked me about
lynch law in the United States, and expressed his horror
of it. I showed him that it was the inevitable result of a
wretched laxity and sham humanity in the administration
of our criminal law, which had led great bodies of people,
more especially in the Southern and extreme Western
parts of the country, to revert to natural justice and take
the law into their own hands ; and I cited Goldwin Smith 's
profound remark that "some American lynchings are
proofs not so much of lawlessness as of a respect for

He asked me where, besides this, the shoe pinched in the
United States. I told him that it pinched in various
places, but that perhaps the worst pinch arises from the
premature admission to full political rights of men who
have been so benumbed and stunted intellectually and
morally in other countries that their exercise of political
rights in America is frequently an injury, not only to
others, but to themselves. In proof of this I cited the case
of the crowds whom I had seen some years before hud-
dled together in New York tenement-houses, preyed upon


by their liquor-selling landlords, their families perishing
of typhoid and smallpox on account of the negligence and
maladministration of the local politicians, but who, as a
rule, were almost if not quite re#dy to mob and murder
those of us who brought in a new health board and a bet-
ter order of things ; showing him that for years the very
class of people who suffered most from the old, vile state
of things did their best by their votes to keep in power the
men who maintained it.

We then passed to the subject of the trans-Siberian
Railway. In this he seemed interested, but in a vague way
which added nothing to my knowledge.

Asking me regarding my former visit to Moscow, and
learning that it was during the Crimean War, he said,
"At that time I was in Sebastopol, and continued there
as a soldier during the siege. ' '

As to his relations with the imperial government at
present, he said that he had been recently elected to a
learned society in Moscow, but that the St. Petersburg
government had interfered to stop the election; and he
added that every morning, when he awoke, he wondered
that he was not on his way to Siberia.

On my leaving him, both he and the countess invited me
to meet them next day at the Tretiakof Museum of Rus-
sian Pictures; and accordingly, on the following after-
noon, I met them at that greatest of all galleries devoted
purely to Russian art. They were accompanied by several
friends, among them a little knot of disciples young men
clad in simple peasant costume like that worn by the mas-
ter. It was evident that he was an acknowledged lion at
the old Russian capital, for as he led me about to see the
pictures which he liked best, he was followed and stared
at by many.

Pointing out to me some modern religious pictures in
Byzantine style painted for the Cathedral of Kieff, he said,
"They represent an effort as futile as trying to persuade
chickens to reenter the egg-shells from which they have
escaped. ' ' He next showed me two religious pictures ; the


first representing the meeting of Jesus and Pilate, when
the latter asked, "What is truth!" Pilate was depicted
as a rotund, jocose, cynical man of the world; Jesus, as a
street preacher in sordid garments, with unkempt hair
flowing over his haggard face, a peasant fanatic brought
in by the police. Tolstoi showed an especial interest in
this picture ; it seemed to reveal to him the real secret of
that famous question and its answer ; the question coming
from the mighty of the earth, and the answer from the
poor and oppressed.

The other picture represented the Crucifixion. It was
painted in the most realistic manner possible ; nothing was
idealized; it was even more vividly realistic than Geb-
hardt's picture of the Lord's Supper, at Berlin; so that
it at first repelled me, though it afterward exercised a
certain fascination. That Tolstoi was deeply interested
was clear. He stood for a time in silence, as if musing
upon all that the sacrifice on Calvary had brought to
the world. Other representations of similar scenes, in the
conventional style of the older masters, he had passed
without a glance ; but this spectacle of the young Galilean
peasant, with unattractive features, sordid garb, poverty-
stricken companions, and repulsive surroundings, tortured
to death for preaching the ' * kingdom of God ' ' to the poor
and down-trodden, seemed to hold him fast, and as he
pointed out various features in the picture it became even
more clear to me that sympathy with the peasant class,
and a yearning to enter into their cares and sorrows, form
the real groundwork of his life.

He then took me to a small picture of Jesus and his dis-
ciples leaving the upper room at Jerusalem after the Last
Supper. This, too, was painted in the most realistic man-
ner. The disciples, simple-minded fishermen, rude in
features and dress, were plodding homeward, while
Christ himself gazed at the stars and drew the attention of
his nearest companions to some of the brightest. Tolstoi
expressed especial admiration for this picture, saying that
at times it affected him like beautiful music, like music


which draws tears, one can hardly tell why. It was more
and more evident, as he lingered before this and other
pictures embodying similar ideas, that sympathy for those
struggling through poverty and want toward a better life
is his master passion.

Among the pictures, not to be classed as religious, be-
fore which he thus lingered were those representing the
arrest of a nihilist and the return of an exile from Si-
beria. Both were well painted, and both revealed the
same characteristic sympathy with the poor, even with

Some of the more famous historical pictures in the col-
lection he thought exaggerated; especially those repre-
senting the fury of the Grand Duchess Sophia in her mon-
astery prison, and the remorse of Ivan the Terrible after
murdering his son.

To my surprise, he agreed with me, and even went be-
yond me, in rating landscape infinitely below religious and
historical painting, saying that he cared for landscape-
painting only as accessory to pictures revealing human

Among genre pictures, we halted before one represent-
ing a peasant family grouped about the mother, who, with
a sacred picture laid upon her breast, after the Russian
manner, was dying of famine. This also seemed deeply
to impress him.

We stopped next before a picture of a lady of high birth
brought before the authorities in order to be sent, evi-
dently against her will, to a convent. I cited the similar
story from Manzoni's "Promessi Sposi"; but, to my
surprise, he seemed to know little of that most fascinating
of historical romances. This led to a discussion in which
he said he had once liked Walter Scott, but had not read
anything of his for many years ; and he seemed interested
in my statement that although always an especial admirer
of Scott, I had found it almost impossible to induce the
younger generation to read him.

Stopping before a picture of Peter the Great's fatal


conference with his son Alexis, in reply to my remark
upon the marvel that a prince of such genius as Peter
should have appeared at Moscow in the seventeenth cen-
tury, he said that he did not admire Peter, that he was
too cruel, administering torture and death at times with
his own hands.

We next halted before a picture representing the horri-
ble execution of the Strelitzes. I said that ' ' such pictures
prove that the world does, after all, progress slowly, in
spite of what pessimists say, and that in order to refute
pessimists one has only to refer to the improvements in
criminal law." To this he agreed cordially, and de-
clared the abolition of torture in procedure and penalty to
be one great gain, at any rate.

We spoke of the present condition of things in Europe,
and I told him that at St. Petersburg the opinion very
general among the more thoughtful members of the diplo-
matic corps was that war was not imminent; that the
Czar, having himself seen the cruelties of war during the
late struggle in the Balkans, had acquired an invincible
repugnance to it. He acquiesced in this, but said that it
seemed monstrous to him that the peace of the empire
and of Europe should depend upon so slender a thread as
the will of any one man.

Our next walk was taken across the river Moskwa, on
the ice, to and through the Kremlin, and as we walked the
conversation fell upon literature. As to French litera-
ture, he thought Maupassant the man of greatest talent,
by far, in recent days, but that he was depraved and
centered all his fiction in women. For Balzac, Tolstoi evi-
dently preserved admiration, but he cared little, appa-
rently, for Daudet, Zola, and their compeers.

As to American literature, he said that Tourgueneff had
once told him that there was nothing in it worth reading ;
nothing new or original; that it was simply a copy of
English literature. To this I replied that such criticism
seemed to me very shallow ; that American literature was,
of course, largely a growth out of the parent stock of Eng-

II. 6


lish literature, and must mainly be judged as such; that
to ask in the highest American literature something
absolutely different from English literature in general
was like looking for oranges upon an apple-tree; that
there had come new varieties in this growth, many of
them original, and some beautiful; but that there was
the same sap, the same life-current running through it
all; and I compared the treatment of woman in all
Anglo-Saxon literature, whether on one side of the At-
lantic or the other, from Chaucer to Mark Twain, with
the treatment of the same subject by French writers
from Rabelais to Zola. To this he answered that in his
opinion the strength of American literature arises from
the inherent Anglo-Saxon religious sentiment. He ex-
pressed a liking for Emerson, Hawthorne, and Whittier,
but he seemed to have read at random, not knowing at all
some of the best things. He spoke with admiration of
Theodore Parker's writings, and seemed interested in my
reminiscences of Parker and of his acquaintance with
Russian affairs. He also revered and admired the char-
acter and work of William Lloyd Garrison. He had read
Longfellow somewhat, but was evidently uncertain re-
garding Lowell, confusing him, apparently, with some
other author. Among contemporary writers he knew
some of Howells 's novels and liked them, but said : ' ' Lit-
erature in the United States at present seems to be in the
lowest trough of the sea between high waves. ' ' He dwelt
on the flippant tone of American newspapers, and told me
of an interviewer who came to him in behalf of an Ameri-
can journal, and wanted simply to know at what time he
went to bed and rose, what he ate, and the like. He
thought that people who cared to read such trivialities
must be very feeble-minded, but he said that the European
press is, on the whole, just as futile. On my attempting
to draw from him some statement as to what part of
American literature pleased him most, he said that he had
read some publications of the New York and Brooklyn
Society for Ethical Culture, and that he knew and liked


the writings of Felix Adler. I then asked who, in the
whole range of American literature, he thought the fore-
most. To this he made an answer which amazed me, as
it would have astonished my countrymen. Indeed, did the
eternal salvation of all our eighty millions depend upon
some one of them guessing the person he named, we
should all go to perdition together. That greatest of
American writers was Adin Ballou ! Evidently, some of
the philanthropic writings of that excellent Massachusetts
country clergyman and religious communist had pleased
him, and hence came the answer.

The next day he came over to my hotel and we went out
for a stroll. As we passed along the streets I noticed
especially what I had remarked during our previous
walks, that Tolstoi had a large quantity of small Rus-
sian coins in his pockets; that this was evidently
known to the swarms of beggars who infest the Kremlin
and the public places generally ; and that he always gave
to them.

On my speaking of this, he said he thought that any
one, when asked for money, ought to give it. Arguing
against this doctrine, I said that in the United States there
are virtually no beggars, and I might have gone on to
discuss the subject from the politico-economical point of
view, showing how such indiscriminate almsgiving in per-
petual driblets is sure to create the absurd and immoral
system which one sees throughout Russia, hordes of
men and women who are able to take care of themselves,
and who ought to be far above beggary, cringing and
whining to the passers-by for alms; but I had come to
know the man well enough to feel sure that a politico-
economical argument would slide off him like water from
a duck's back, so I attempted to take him upon another
side, and said: "In the United States there are virtually
no beggars, though my countrymen are, I really believe,
among the most charitable in the world." To this last
statement he assented, referring in a general way to our
shipments of provisions to aid the famine-stricken in Rus-


sia. ''But," I added, "it is not our custom to give to beg-
gars save in special emergencies." I then gave him an
account of certain American church organizations which
had established piles of fire-wood and therefore enabled
any able-bodied tramp, by sawing or cutting some of it,
to earn a good breakfast, a good dinner, and, if needed, a
good bed, and showed him that Americans considered
beggary not only a great source of pauperism, but as ab-
solutely debasing to the beggar himself, in that it puts him
in the attitude of a suppliant for that which, if he works
as he ought, he can claim as his right ; that to me the spec-
tacle of Count Tolstoi virtually posing as a superior
being, while his fellow-Russians came crouching and
whining to him, was not at all edifying. To this view of
the case he listened very civilly.

Incidentally I expressed wonder that he had not trav-
eled more. He then spoke with some disapprobation of
travel. He had lived abroad for a time, he said, and in
St. Petersburg a few years, but the rest of his life had
been spent mainly in Moscow and the interior of Russia.
The more we talked together, the more it became clear that
this last statement explained some of his main defects. Of
all distinguished men that I have ever met, Tolstoi seems
to me most in need of that enlargement of view and health-
ful modification of opinion which come from meeting
men and comparing views with them in different lands
and under different conditions. This need is all the
greater because in Russia there is no opportunity to dis-
cuss really important questions. Among the whole one
hundred and twenty millions of people there is no public
body in which the discussion of large public questions is
allowed; the press affords no real opportunity for dis-
cussion; indeed, it is more than doubtful whether such
discussion would be allowed to any effective extent even
in private correspondence or at one 's own fireside.

I remember well that during my former stay in St.
Petersburg, people who could talk English at their tables
generally did so in order that they might not betray them-


selves to any spy who might happen to be among their

Still worse, no one, unless a member of the diplomatic
corps or specially privileged, is allowed to read such
books or newspapers as he chooses, so that even this ac-
cess to the thoughts of others is denied to the very men
who most need it.

Like so many other men of genius in Russia, then, and
Russia is fertile in such, Tolstoi has had little opportu-
nity to take part in any real discussion of leading topics ;
and the result is that his opinions have been developed
without modification by any rational interchange of
thought with other men. Under such circumstances any
man, no matter how noble or gifted, having given birth to
striking ideas, coddles and pets them until they become the
full-grown, spoiled children of his brain. He can at last
see neither spot nor blemish in them, and comes virtually,
to believe himself infallible. This characteristic I found
in several other Russians of marked ability. Each had
developed his theories for himself until he had become in-
fatuated with them, and despised everything differing
from them.

This is a main cause why sundry ghastly creeds, doc-
trines, and sects religious, social, political, and philo-
sophic have been developed in Russia. One of these
religious creeds favors the murder of new-born children
in order to save their souls; another enjoins ghastly bod-
ily mutilations for a similar purpose; others still would
plunge the world in flames and blood for the difference
of a phrase in a creed, or a vowel in a name, or a finger
more or less in making the sign of the cross, or for this
garment in a ritual, or that gesture in a ceremony.

In social creeds they have developed nihilism, which
virtually assumes the right of an individual to sit in judg-
ment upon the whole human race and condemn to death
every other human being who may differ in opinion or
position from this self-constituted judge.

In political creeds they have conceived the monarch as


the all-powerful and irresponsible vicegerent of God, and
all the world outside Russia as given over to Satan, for
the reason that it has ''rejected the divine principle of
authority. ' '

In various branches of philosophy they have developed
doctrines which involve the rejection of the best to which
man has attained in science, literature, and art, and a
return to barbarism.

In the theory of life and duty they have devised a pes-
simistic process under which the human race would cease
to exist.

Every one of these theories is the outcome of some
original mind of more or less strength, discouraged, dis-
heartened, and overwhelmed by the sorrows of Russian
life ; developing its ideas logically and without any possi-
bility of adequate discussion with other men. This alone
explains a fact which struck me forcibly the fact that
all Tolstoi 's love of humanity, real though it certainly is,
seems accompanied by a depreciation of the ideas, state-
ments, and proposals of almost every other human being,
and by virtual intolerance of all thought which seems in
the slightest degree different from his own.

Arriving in the Kremlin, he took me to the Church of
the Annunciation to see the portrait of Socrates in the
religious picture of which he had spoken ; but we were too
late to enter, and so went to the Palace of the Synod,
where we looked at the picture of the Trinity, which, by a
device frequently used in street signs, represents, when
looked at from one side, the suffering Christ, from the
other the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove, and from the
front the Almighty as an old man with a white beard.
What Tolstoi thought of the doctrine thus illustrated
came out in a subsequent conversation.

The next day he came again to my rooms and at once

Online LibraryAndrew Dickson WhiteAutobiography of Andrew Dickson White (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 54)