Leo Tolstoy.

What to Do? online

. (page 18 of 19)
Online LibraryLeo TolstoyWhat to Do? → online text (page 18 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

always be a brother to everybody; that he will be intelligible to
everybody, and necessary, and good. And men looking on one, on ten such
madmen, will understand what they must all do in order to loose that
terrible knot in which the superstition regarding property has entangled
them, in order to free themselves from the unfortunate position in which
they are all now groaning with one voice, not knowing whence to find an
issue from it.

But what can one man do amid a throng which does not agree with him?
There is no argument which could more clearly demonstrate the terror of
those who make use of it than this. The _burlaki_ {260} drag their bark
against the current. There cannot be found a _burlak_ so stupid that he
will refuse to pull away at his towing-rope because he alone is not able
to drag the bark against the current. He who, in addition to his rights
to an animal life, to eat and sleep, recognizes any sort of human
obligation, knows very well in what that human obligation lies, just as
the boatman knows it when the tow-rope is attached to him. The boatman
knows very well that all he has to do is to pull at the rope, and proceed
in the given direction. He will seek what he is to do, and how he is to
do it, only when the tow-rope is removed from him. And as it is with
these boatmen and with all people who perform ordinary work, so it is
with the affairs of all humanity. All that each man needs is not to
remove the tow-rope, but to pull away on it in the direction which his
master orders. And, for this purpose, one sort of reason is bestowed on
all men, in order that the direction may be always the same. And this
direction has obviously been so plainly indicated, that both in the life
of all the people about us, and in the conscience of each individual man,
only he who does not wish to work can say that he does not see it. Then,
what is the outcome of this?

This: that one, perhaps two men, will pull; a third will look on, and
will join them; and in this manner the best people will unite until the
affair begins to start, and make progress, as though itself inspiring and
bidding thereto even those who do not understand what is being done, and
why it is being done. First, to the contingent of men who are
consciously laboring in order to comply with the law of God, there will
be added the people who only half understand and who only half confess
the faith; then a still greater number of people who admit the same
doctrine will join them, merely on the faith of the originators; and
finally the majority of mankind will recognize this, and then it will
come to pass, that men will cease to ruin themselves, and will find

This will happen, - and it will be very speedily, - when people of our set,
and after them a vast majority, shall cease to think it disgraceful to
pay visits in untanned boots, and not disgraceful to walk in overshoes
past people who have no shoes at all; that it is disgraceful not to
understand French, and not disgraceful to eat bread and not to know how
to set it; that it is disgraceful not to have a starched shirt and clean
clothes, and not disgraceful to go about in clean garments thereby
showing one's idleness; that it is disgraceful to have dirty hands, and
not disgraceful not to have hands with callouses.

All this will come to pass when the sense of the community shall demand
it. But the sense of the community will demand this when those delusions
in the imagination of men, which have concealed the truth from them,
shall have been abolished. Within my own recollection, great changes
have taken place in this respect. And these changes have taken place
only because the general opinion has undergone an alteration. Within my
memory, it has come to pass, that whereas it used to be disgraceful for
wealthy people not to drive out with four horses and two footmen, and not
to keep a valet or a maid to dress them, wash them, put on their shoes,
and so forth; it has now suddenly become discreditable for one not to put
on one's own clothes and shoes for one's self, and to drive with footmen.
Public opinion has effected all these changes. Are not the changes which
public opinion is now preparing clear?

All that was necessary five and twenty years ago was to abolish the
delusion which justified the right of serfdom, and public opinion as to
what was praiseworthy and what was discreditable changed, and life
changed also. All that is now requisite is to annihilate the delusion
which justifies the power of money over men, and public opinion will
undergo a change as to what is creditable and what is disgraceful, and
life will be changed also; and the annihilation of the delusion, of the
justification of the moneyed power, and the change in public opinion in
this respect, will be promptly accomplished. This delusion is already
flickering, and the truth will very shortly be disclosed. All that is
required is to gaze steadfastly, in order to perceive clearly that change
in public opinion which has already taken place, and which is simply not
recognized, not fitted with a word. The educated man of our day has but
to reflect ever so little on what will be the outcome of those views of
the world which he professes, in order to convince himself that the
estimate of good and bad, by which, by virtue of his inertia, he is
guided in life, directly contradict his views of the world.

All that the man of our century has to do is to break away for a moment
from the life which runs on by force of inertia, to survey it from the
one side, and subject it to that same standard which arises from his
whole view of the world, in order to be horrified at the definition of
his whole life, which follows from his views of the world. Let us take,
for instance, a young man (the energy of life is greater in the young,
and self-consciousness is more obscured). Let us take, for instance, a
young man belonging to the wealthy classes, whatever his tendencies may
chance to be.

Every good young man considers it disgraceful not to help an old man, a
child, or a woman; he thinks, in a general way, that it is a shame to
subject the life or health of another person to danger, or to shun it
himself. Every one considers that shameful and brutal which Schuyler
relates of the Kirghiz in times of tempest, - to send out the women and
the aged females to hold fast the corners of the _kibitka_ [tent] during
the storm, while they themselves continue to sit within the tent, over
their _kumis_ [fermented mare's-milk]. Every one thinks it shameful to
make a week man work for one; that it is still more disgraceful in time
of danger - on a burning ship, for example, - being strong, to be the first
to seat one's self in the lifeboat, - to thrust aside the weak and leave
them in danger, and so on.

All men regard this as disgraceful, and would not do it upon any account,
in certain exceptional circumstances; but in every-day life, the very
same actions, and others still worse, are concealed from them by
delusions, and they perpetrate them incessantly. The establishment of
this new view of life is the business of public opinion. Public opinion,
supporting such a view, will speedily be formed.

Women form public opinion, and women are especially powerful in our day.


As stated in the Bible, a law was given to the man and the woman, - to the
man, the law of labor; to the woman, the law of bearing children.
Although we, with our science, _avons change tout ca_, the law for the
man, as for woman, remains as unalterable as the liver in its place, and
departure from it is equally punished with inevitable death. The only
difference lies in this, that departure from the law, in the case of the
man, is punished so immediately in the future, that it may be designated
as present punishment; but departure from the law, in the case of the
woman, receives its chastisement in a more distant future.

The general departure of all men from the law exterminates people
immediately; the departure from it of all women annihilates it in the
succeeding generation. But the evasion by some men and some women does
not exterminate the human race, and only deprives those who evade it of
the rational nature of man. The departure of men from this law began long
ago, among those classes who were in a position to subject others, and,
constantly spreading, it has continued down to our own times; and in our
own day it has reached folly, the ideal consisting in evasion of the
law, - the ideal expressed by Prince Blokhin, and shared in by Renan and
by the whole cultivated world: "Machines will work, and people will be
bundles of nerves devoted to enjoyment."

There was hardly any departure from the law in the part of women, it was
expressed only in prostitution, and in the refusal to bear children - in
private cases. The women belonging to the wealthy classes fulfilled
their law, while the men did not comply with theirs; and therefore the
women became stronger, and continued to rule, and must rule, over men who
have evaded the law, and who have, therefore, lost their senses. It is
generally stated that woman (the woman of Paris in particular is
childless) has become so bewitching, through making use of all the means
of civilization, that she has gained the upper hand over man by this
fascination of hers. This is not only unjust, but precisely the reverse
of the truth. It is not the childless woman who has conquered man, but
the mother, that woman who has fulfilled her law, while the man has not
fulfilled his. That woman who deliberately remains childless, and who
entrances man with her shoulders and her locks, is not the woman who
rules over men, but the one who has been corrupted by man, who has
descended to his level, - to the level of the vicious man, - who has evaded
the law equally with himself, and who has lost, in company with him,
every rational idea of life.

From this error springs that remarkable piece of stupidity which is
called the rights of women. The formula of these rights of women is as
follows: "Here! you man," says the woman, "you have departed from your
law of real labor, and you want us to bear the burden of our real labor.
No, if this is to be so, we understand, as well as you do, how to perform
those semblances of labor which you exercise in banks, ministries,
universities, and academies; we desire, like yourselves, under the
pretext of the division of labor, to make use of the labor of others, and
to live for the gratification of our caprices alone." They say this, and
prove by their action that they understand no worse, if not better, than
men, how to exercise this semblance of labor.

This so-called woman question has come up, and could only come up, among
men who have departed from the law of actual labor. All that is required
is, to return to that, and this question cannot exist. Woman, having her
own inevitable task, will never demand the right to share the toil of men
in the mines and in the fields. She could only demand to share in the
fictitious labors of the men of the wealthy classes.

The woman of our circle has been, and still is, stronger than the man,
not by virtue of her fascinations, not through her cleverness in
performing the same pharisaical semblance of work as man, but because she
has not stepped out from under the law that she should undergo that real
labor, with danger to her life, with exertion to the last degree, from
which the man of the wealthy classes has excused herself.

But, within my memory, a departure from this law on the part of woman,
that is to say, her fall, has begun; and, within my memory, it has become
more and more the case. Woman, having lost the law, has acquired the
belief that her strength lies in the witchery of her charms, or in her
skill in pharisaical pretences at intellectual work. And both things are
bad for the children. And, within my memory, women of the wealthy
classes have come to refuse to bear children. And so mothers who hold
the power in their hands let it escape them, in order to make way for the
dissolute women, and to put themselves on a level with them. The evil is
already wide-spread, and is extending farther and farther every day; and
soon it will lay hold on all the women of the wealthy classes, and then
they will compare themselves with men: and in company with them, they
will lose the rational meaning of life. But there is still time.

If women would but comprehend their destiny, their power, and use it for
the salvation of their husbands, brothers, and children, - for the
salvation of all men!

Women of the wealthy classes who are mothers, the salvation of the men of
our world from the evils from which they are suffering, lies in your

Not those women who are occupied with their dainty figures, with their
bustles, their hair-dressing, and their attraction for men, and who bear
children against their will, with despair, and hand them over to nurses;
nor those who attend various courses of lectures, and discourse of
psychometric centres and differentiation, and who also endeavor to escape
bearing children, in order that it may not interfere with their folly
which they call culture: but those women and mothers, who, possessing the
power to refuse to bear children, consciously and in a straightforward
way submit to this eternal, unchangeable law, knowing that the burden and
the difficulty of such submission is their appointed lot in life, - these
are the women and mothers of our wealthy classes, in whose hands, more
than in those of any one else, lies the salvation of the men of our
sphere in society from the miseries that oppress them.

Ye women and mothers who deliberately submit yourselves to the law of
God, you alone in our wretched, deformed circle, which has lost the
semblance of humanity, you alone know the whole of the real meaning of
life, according to the law of God; and you alone, by your example, can
demonstrate to people that happiness in life, in submission to the will
of God, of which they are depriving themselves. You alone know those
raptures and those joys which invade the whole being, that bliss which is
appointed for the man who does not depart from the law of God. You know
the happiness of love for your husbands, - a happiness which does not come
to an end, which does not break off short, like all other forms of
happiness, and which constitutes the beginning of a new happiness, - of
love for your child. You alone, when you are simple and obedient to the
will of God, know not that farcical pretence of labor which the men of
our circle call work, and know that the labor imposed by God on men, and
know its true rewards, the bliss which it confers. You know this, when,
after the raptures of love, you await with emotion, fear, and terror that
torturing state of pregnancy which renders you ailing for nine months,
which brings you to the verge of death, and to intolerable suffering and
pain. You know the conditions of true labor, when, with joy, you await
the approach and the increase of the most terrible torture, after which
to you alone comes the bliss which you well know. You know this, when,
immediately after this torture, without respite, without a break, you
undertake another series of toils and sufferings, - nursing, - in which
process you at one and the same time deny yourselves, and subdue to your
feelings the very strongest human need, that of sleep, which, as the
proverb says, is dearer than father or mother; and for months and years
you never get a single sound, unbroken might's rest, and sometimes, nay,
often, you do not sleep at all for a period of several nights in
succession, but with failing arms you walk alone, punishing the sick
child who is breaking your heart. And when you do all this, applauded by
no one, and expecting no praises for it from any one, nor any
reward, - when you do this, not as an heroic deed, but like the laborer in
the Gospel when he came from the field, considering that you have done
only that which was your duty, then you know what the false, pretentious
labor of men performed for glory really is, and that true labor is
fulfilling the will of God, whose command you feel in your heart. You
know that if you are a true mother it makes no difference that no one has
seen your toil, that no one has praised you for it, but that it has only
been looked upon as what must needs be so, and that even those for whom
your have labored not only do not thank you, but often torture and
reproach you. And with the next child you do the same: again you suffer,
again you undergo the fearful, invisible labor; and again you expect no
reward from any one, and yet you feel the sane satisfaction.

If you are like this, you will not say after two children, or after
twenty, that you have done enough, just as the laboring man fifty years
of age will not say that he has worked enough, while he still continues
to eat and to sleep, and while his muscles still demand work; if you are
like this, your will not cast the task of nursing and care-taking upon
some other mother, just as a laboring man will not give another man the
work which he has begun, and almost completed, to finish: because into
this work you will throw your life. And therefore the more there is of
this work, the fuller and the happier is your life.

And when you are like this, for the good fortune of men, you will apply
that law of fulfilling God's will, by which you guide your life, to the
lives of your husband, of your children, and of those most nearly
connected with you. If your are like this, and know from your own
experience, that only self-sacrificing, unseen, unrewarded labor,
accompanied with danger to life and to the extreme bounds of endurance,
for the lives of others, is the appointed lot of man, which affords him
satisfaction, then you will announce these demands to others; you will
urge your husband to the same toil; and you will measure and value the
dignity of men acceding to this toil; and for this toil you will also
prepare your children.

Only that mother who looks upon children as a disagreeable accident, and
upon love, the comforts of life, costume, and society, as the object of
life, will rear her children in such a manner that they shall have as
much enjoyment as possible out of life, and that they shall make the
greatest possible use of it; only she will feed them luxuriously, deck
them out, amuse them artificially; only she will teach them, not that
which will fit them for self-sacrificing masculine or feminine labor with
danger of their lives, and to the last limits of endurance, but that
which will deliver them from this labor. Only such a woman, who has lost
the meaning of her life, will sympathize with that delusive and false
male labor, by means of which her husband, having rid himself of the
obligations of a man, is enabled to enjoy, in her company, the work of
others. Only such a woman will choose a similar man for the husband of
her daughter, and will estimate men, not by what they are personally, but
by that which is connected with them, - position, money, or their ability
to take advantage of the labor of others.

But the true mother, who actually knows the will of God, will fit her
children to fulfil it also. For such a mother, to see her child overfed,
enervated, decked out, will mean suffering; for all this, as she well
knows, will render difficult for him the fulfilment of the law of God in
which she has instructed him. Such a mother will teach, not that which
will enable her son and her daughter to rid themselves of labor, but that
which will help them to endure the toils of life. She will have no need
to inquire what she shall teach her children, for what she shall prepare
them. Such a woman will not only not encourage her husband to false and
delusive labor, which has but one object, that of using the labors of
others; but she will bear herself with disgust and horror towards such an
employment, which serves as a double temptation to her children. Such a
woman will not choose a husband for her daughter on account of the
whiteness of his hands and the refinement of manner; but, well aware that
labor and deceit will exist always and everywhere, she will, beginning
with her husband, respect and value in men, and will require from them,
real labor, with expenditure and risk of life, and she will despise that
deceptive labor which has for its object the ridding one's self of all
true toil.

Such a mother, who brings forth children and nurses them, and will
herself, rather than any other, feed her offspring and prepare their
food, and sew, and wash, and teach her children, and sleep and talk with
them, because in this she grounds the business of her life, - only such a
mother will not seek for her children external guaranties in the form of
her husband's money, and the children's diplomas; but she will rear them
to that same capacity for the self-sacrificing fulfilment of the will of
God which she is conscious of herself possessing, - a capacity for
enduring toil with expenditure and risk of life, - because she knows that
in this lies the sole guaranty, and the only well-being in life. Such a
mother will not ask other people what she ought to do; she will know
every thing, and will fear nothing.

If there can exist any doubt for the man and for the childless woman, as
to the path in which the fulfilment of the will of God lies, this path is
firmly and clearly defined for the woman who is a mother; and if she has
complied with it in submissiveness and in simplicity of spirit, she,
standing on that loftiest height of bliss which the human being is
permitted to attain, will become a guiding-star for all men who are
seeking good. Only the mother can calmly say before her death, to Him
who sent her into this world, and to Him whom she has served by bearing
and rearing children more dear than herself, - only she can say calmly,
having served Him who has imposed this service upon her: "Now lettest
thou thy servant depart in peace." And this is the highest perfection,
towards which, as towards the highest bliss, men are striving.

Such are the women, who, having fulfilled their destiny, reign over
powerful men; such are the women who prepare the new generations of
people, and fix public opinion: and, therefore, in the hands of these
women lies the highest power of saving men from the prevailing and
threatening evils of our times.

Yes, ye women and mothers, in your hands, more than in those of all
others, lies the salvation of the world!


{21a} The fine, tall members of a regiment, selected and placed together
to form a showy squad.

{21b} [] Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition printed in
Russia, in the set of Count Tolstoi's works.

{24a} Reaumur.

{24b} A drink made of water, honey, and laurel or salvia leaves, which
is drunk as tea, especially by the poorer classes.

{28} [] Omitted by the censor from the authorized edition published in
Russia in the set of count Tolstoi's works. The omission is indicated
thus . . .

{39} _Kalatch_, a kind of roll: _baranki_, cracknels of fine flour.

{59} An _arshin_ is twenty-eight inches.

{60} A _myeshchanin_, or citizen, who pays only poll-tax and not a guild

{62} Omitted in authorized edition.

{66} Omitted by the censor in the authorized edition.

{94} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{96} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{99} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{108} Omitted by the Censor from the authorized edition.

{111} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{113} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition

{116} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{122a} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{122b} A very complicated sort of whist.

{124} The whole of this chapter is omitted by the Censor in the
authorized edition, and is there represented by the following sentence:
"And I felt that in money, in money itself, in the possession of it,
there was something immoral; and I asked myself, What is money?"

{135} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{138} Omitted by the Censor in the authorized edition.

{139} The above passage is omitted in the authorized edition, and the
following is added: "I came to the simple and natural conclusion, that,
if I pity the tortured horse upon which I am riding, the first thing for
me to do is to alight, and to walk on my own feet."

{140} Omitted in the authorized edition.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18

Online LibraryLeo TolstoyWhat to Do? → online text (page 18 of 19)