Leo Tolstoy.

What to Do? online

. (page 7 of 19)
Online LibraryLeo TolstoyWhat to Do? → online text (page 7 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

temptations crop up; and by this road, or, if not, by some other, wealth
of the most varied description - vegetables, calves, cows, horses, pigs,
chickens, eggs, butter, hemp, flax, rye, oats, buckwheat, pease,
hempseed, and flaxseed - all passes into the hands of strangers, is
carried off to the towns, and thence to the capitals. The countryman is
obliged to surrender all this to satisfy the demands that are made upon
him, and temptations; and, having parted with his wealth, he is left with
an insufficiency, and he is forced to go whither his wealth has been
carried and there he tries, in part, to obtain the money which he
requires for his first needs in the country, and in part, being himself
led away by the blandishments of the city, he enjoys, in company with
others, the wealth that has there accumulated. Everywhere, throughout
the whole of Russia, - yes, and not in Russia alone, I think, but
throughout the whole world, - the same thing goes on. The wealth of the
rustic producers passes into the hands of traders, landed proprietors,
officials, and factory-owners; and the people who receive this wealth
wish to enjoy it. But it is only in the city that they can derive full
enjoyment from this wealth. In the country, in the first place, it is
difficult to satisfy all the requirements of rich people, on account of
the sparseness of the population; banks, shops, hotels, every sort of
artisan, and all sorts of social diversions, do not exist there. In the
second place, one of the chief pleasures procured by wealth - vanity, the
desire to astonish and outshine other people - is difficult to satisfy in
the country; and this, again, on account of the lack of inhabitants. In
the country, there is no one to appreciate elegance, no one to be
astonished. Whatever adornments in the way of pictures and bronzes the
dweller in the country may procure for his house, whatever equipages and
toilets he may provide, there is no one to see them and envy them, and
the peasants cannot judge of them. [And, in the third place, luxury is
even disagreeable and dangerous in the country for the man possessed of a
conscience and fear. It is an awkward and delicate matter, in the
country, to have baths of milk, or to feed your puppies on it, when
directly beside you there are children who have no milk; it is an awkward
and delicate matter to build pavilions and gardens in the midst of people
who live in cots banked up with dung, which they have no means of
warming. In the country there is no one to keep the stupid peasants in
order, and in their lack of cultivation they might disarrange all this.]

And accordingly rich people congregate, and join themselves to other rich
people with similar requirements, in the city, where the gratification of
every luxurious taste is carefully protected by a numerous police force.
Well-rooted inhabitants of the city of this sort, are the governmental
officials; every description of artisan and professional man has sprung
up around them, and with them the wealthy join their forces. All that a
rich man has to do there is to take a fancy to a thing, and he can get
it. It is also more agreeable for a rich man to live there, because
there he can gratify his vanity; there is some one with whom he can vie
in luxury; there is some one to astonish, and there is some one to
outshine. But the principal reason why it is more comfortable in the
city for a rich man is that formerly, in the country, his luxury made him
awkward and uneasy; while now, on the contrary, it would be awkward for
him not to live luxuriously, not to live like all his peers around him.
That which seemed dreadful and awkward in the country, here appears to be
just as it should be. [Rich people congregate in the city; and there,
under the protection of the authorities, they calmly demand every thing
that is brought thither from the country. And the countryman is, in some
measure, compelled to go thither, where this uninterrupted festival of
the wealthy which demands all that is taken from him is in progress, in
order to feed upon the crumbs which fall from the tables of the rich; and
partly, also, because, when he beholds the care-free, luxurious life,
approved and protected by everybody, he himself becomes desirous of
regulating his life in such a way as to work as little as possible, and
to make as much use as possible of the labors of others.

And so he betakes himself to the city, and finds employment about the
wealthy, endeavoring, by every means in his power, to entice from them
that which he is in need of, and conforming to all those conditions which
the wealthy impose upon him, he assists in the gratification of all their
whims; he serves the rich man in the bath and in the inn, and as
cab-driver and prostitute, and he makes for him equipages, toys, and
fashions; and he gradually learns from the rich man to live in the same
manner as the latter, not by labor, but by divers tricks, getting away
from others the wealth which they have heaped together; and he becomes
corrupt, and goes to destruction. And this colony, demoralized by city
wealth, constitutes that city pauperism which I desired to aid and could

All that is necessary, in fact, is for us to reflect on the condition of
these inhabitants of the country, who have removed to the city in order
to earn their bread or their taxes, - when they behold, everywhere around
them, thousands squandered madly, and hundreds won by the easiest
possible means; when they themselves are forced by heavy toil to earn
kopeks, - and we shall be amazed that all these people should remain
working people, and that they do not all of them take to an easier method
of getting gain, - by trading, peddling, acting as middlemen, begging,
vice, rascality, and even robbery. Why, we, the participants in that
never-ceasing orgy which goes on in town, can become so accustomed to our
life, that it seems to us perfectly natural to dwell alone in five huge
apartments, heated by a quantity of beech logs sufficient to cook the
food for and to warm twenty families; to drive half a verst with two
trotters and two men-servants; to cover the polished wood floor with
rugs; and to spend, I will not say, on a ball, five or ten thousand
rubles, and twenty-five thousand on a Christmas-tree. But a man who is
in need of ten rubles to buy bread for his family, or whose last sheep
has been seized for a tax-debt of seven rubles, and who cannot raise
those rubles by hard labor, cannot grow accustomed to this. We think
that all this appears natural to poor people there are even some
ingenuous persons who say in all seriousness, that the poor are very
grateful to us for supporting them by this luxury.] {96}

But poor people are not devoid of human understanding simply because they
are poor, and they judge precisely as we do. As the first thought that
occurs to us on hearing that such and such a man has gambled away or
squandered ten or twenty thousand rubles, is: "What a foolish and
worthless fellow he is to uselessly squander so much money! and what a
good use I could have made of that money in a building which I have long
been in need of, for the improvement of my estate, and so forth!" - just
so do the poor judge when they behold the wealth which they need, not for
caprices, but for the satisfaction of their actual necessities, of which
they are frequently deprived, flung madly away before their eyes. We
make a very great mistake when we think that the poor can judge thus,
reason thus, and look on indifferently at the luxury which surrounds

They never have acknowledged, and they never will acknowledge, that it
can be just for some people to live always in idleness, and for other
people to fast and toil incessantly; but at first they are amazed and
insulted by this; then they scrutinize it more attentively, and, seeing
that these arrangements are recognized as legitimate, they endeavor to
free themselves from toil, and to take part in the idleness. Some
succeed in this, and they become just such carousers themselves; others
gradually prepare themselves for this state; others still fail, and do
not attain their goal, and, having lost the habit of work, they fill up
the disorderly houses and the night-lodging houses.

Two years ago, we took from the country a peasant boy to wait on table.
For some reason, he did not get on well with the footman, and he was sent
away: he entered the service of a merchant, won the favor of his master,
and now he goes about with a vest and a watch-chain, and dandified boots.
In his place, we took another peasant, a married man: he became a
drunkard, and lost money. We took a third: he took to drunk, and, having
drank up every thing he had, he suffered for a long while from poverty in
the night-lodging house. An old man, the cook, took to drink and fell
sick. Last year a footman who had formerly been a hard drinker, but who
had refrained from liquor for five years in the country, while living in
Moscow without his wife who encouraged him, took to drink again, and
ruined his whole life. A young lad from our village lives with my
brother as a table-servant. His grandfather, a blind old man, came to me
during my sojourn in the country, and asked me to remind this grandson
that he was to send ten rubies for the taxes, otherwise it would be
necessary for him to sell his cow. "He keeps saying, I must dress
decently," said the old man: "well, he has had some shoes made, and
that's all right; but what does he want to set up a watch for?" said the
grandfather, expressing in these words the most senseless supposition
that it was possible to originate. The supposition really was senseless,
if we take into consideration that the old man throughout Lent had eaten
no butter, and that he had no split wood because he could not possibly
pay one ruble and twenty kopeks for it; but it turned out that the old
man's senseless jest was an actual fact. The young fellow came to see me
in a fine black coat, and shoes for which he had paid eight rubles. He
had recently borrowed ten rubles from my brother, and had spent them on
these shoes. And my children, who have known the lad from childhood,
told me that he really considers it indispensable to fit himself out with
a watch. He is a very good boy, but he thinks that people will laugh at
him so long as he has no watch; and a watch is necessary. During the
present year, a chambermaid, a girl of eighteen, entered into a
connection with the coachman in our house. She was discharged. An old
woman, the nurse, with whom I spoke in regard to the unfortunate girl,
reminded me of a girl whom I had forgotten. She too, ten yeans ago,
during a brief stay of ours in Moscow, had become connected with a
footman. She too had been discharged, and she had ended in a disorderly
house, and had died in the hospital before reaching the age of twenty. It
is only necessary to glance about one, to be struck with terror at the
pest which we disseminate directly by our luxurious life among the people
whom we afterwards wish to help, not to mention the factories and
establishments which serve our luxurious tastes.

[And thus, having penetrated into the peculiar character of city poverty,
which I was unable to remedy, I perceived that its prime cause is this,
that I take absolute necessaries from the dwellers in the country, and
carry them all to the city. The second cause is this, that by making use
here, in the city, of what I have collected in the country, I tempt and
lead astray, by my senseless luxury, those country people who come hither
because of me, in order in some way to get back what they have been
deprived of in the country.] {99}


I reached the same conclusion from a totally different point. On
recalling all my relations with the city poor during that time, I saw
that one of the reasons why I could not help the city poor was, that the
poor were disingenuous and untruthful with me. They all looked upon me,
not as a man, but as means. I could not get near them, and I thought
that perhaps I did not understand how to do it; but without uprightness,
no help was possible. How can one help a man who does not disclose his
whole condition? At first I blamed them for this (it is so natural to
blame some one else); but a remark from an observing man named Siutaeff,
who was visiting me at the time, explained this matter to me, and showed
me where the cause of my want of success lay. I remember that Siutaeff's
remark struck me very forcibly at the time; but I only understood its
full significance later on. It was at the height of my self-delusion. I
was sitting with my sister, and Siutaeff was there also at her house; and
my sister was questioning me about my undertaking. I told her about it,
and, as always happens when you have no faith in your course, I talked to
her with great enthusiasm and warmth, and at great length, of what I had
done, and of what might possibly come of it. I told her every thing, - how
we were going to keep track of pauperism in Moscow, how we were going to
keep an eye on the orphans and old people, how we were going to send away
all country people who had grown poor here, how we were going to smooth
the pathway to reform for the depraved; how, if only the matter could be
managed, there would not be a man left in Moscow, who could not obtain
assistance. My sister sympathized with me, and we discussed it. In the
middle of our conversation, I glanced at Siutaeff. As I was acquainted
with his Christian life, and with the significance which he attached to
charity, I expected his sympathy, and spoke so that he understood this; I
talked to my sister, but directed my remarks more at him. He sat
immovable in his dark tanned sheepskin jacket, - which he wore, like all
peasants, both out of doors and in the house, - and as though he did not
hear us, but were thinking of his own affairs. His small eyes did not
twinkle, and seemed to be turned inwards. Having finished what I had to
say, I turned to him with a query as to what he thought of it.

"It's all a foolish business," said he.


"Your whole society is foolish, and nothing good can come out of it," he
repeated with conviction.

"Why not? Why is it a stupid business to help thousands, at any rate
hundreds, of unfortunate beings? Is it a bad thing, according to the
Gospel, to clothe the naked, and feed the hungry?"

"I know, I know, but that is not what you are doing. Is it necessary to
render assistance in that way? You are walking along, and a man asks you
for twenty kopeks. You give them to him. Is that alms? Do you give
spiritual alms, - teach him. But what is it that you have given? It was
only for the sake of getting rid of him."

"No; and, besides, that is not what we are talking about. We want to
know about this need, and then to help by both money and deeds; and to
find work."

"You can do nothing with those people in that way."

"So they are to be allowed to die of hunger and cold?"

"Why should they die? Are there many of them there?"

"What, many of them?" said I, thinking that he looked at the matter so
lightly because he was not aware how vast was the number of these people.

"Why, do you know," said I, "I believe that there are twenty thousand of
these cold and hungry people in Moscow. And how about Petersburg and the
other cities?"

He smiled.

"Twenty thousand! And how many households are there in Russia alone, do
you think? Are there a million?"

"Well, what then?"

"What then?" and his eyes flashed, and he grew animated. "Come, let us
divide them among ourselves. I am not rich, I will take two persons on
the spot. There is the lad whom you took into your kitchen; I invited
him to come to my house, and he did not come. Were there ten times as
many, let us divide them among us. Do you take some, and I will take
some. We will work together. He will see how I work, and he will learn.
He will see how I live, and we will sit down at the same table together,
and he will hear my words and yours. This charity society of yours is

These simple words impressed me. I could not but admit their justice;
but it seemed to me at that time, that, in spite of their truth, still
that which I had planned might possibly prove of service. But the
further I carried this business, the more I associated with the poor, the
more frequently did this remark recur to my mind, and the greater was the
significance which it acquired for me.

I arrive in a costly fur coat, or with my horses; or the man who lacks
shoes sees my two-thousand-ruble apartments. He sees how, a little while
ago, I gave five rubles without begrudging them, merely because I took a
whim to do so. He surely knows that if I give away rubles in that
manner, it is only because I have hoarded up so many of them, that I have
a great many superfluous ones, which I not only have not given away, but
which I have easily taken from other people. [What else could he see in
me but one of those persons who have got possession of what belongs to
him? And what other feeling can he cherish towards me, than a desire to
obtain from me as many of those rubles, which have been stolen from him
and from others, as possible? I wish to get close to him, and I complain
that he is not frank; and here I am, afraid to sit down on his bed for
fear of getting lice, or catching something infectious; and I am afraid
to admit him to my room, and he, coming to me naked, waits, generally in
the vestibule, or, if very fortunate, in the ante-chamber. And yet I
declare that he is to blame because I cannot enter into intimate
relations with him, and because me is not frank.

Let the sternest man try the experiment of eating a dinner of five
courses in the midst of people who have had very little or nothing but
black bread to eat. Not a man will have the spirit to eat, and to watch
how the hungry lick their chops around him. Hence, then, in order to eat
daintily amid the famishing, the first indispensable requisite is to hide
from them, in order that they may not see it. This is the very thing,
and the first thing, that we do.

And I took a simpler view of our life, and perceived that an approach to
the poor is not difficult to us through accidental causes, but that we
deliberately arrange our lives in such a fashion so that this approach
may be rendered difficult.

Not only this; but, on taking a survey of our life, of the life of the
wealthy, I saw that every thing which is considered desirable in that
life consists in, or is inseparably bound up with, the idea of getting as
far away from the poor as possible. In fact, all the efforts of our well-
endowed life, beginning with our food, dress, houses, our cleanliness,
and even down to our education, - every thing has for its chief object,
the separation of ourselves from the poor. In procuring this seclusion
of ourselves by impassable barriers, we spend, to put it mildly, nine-
tenths of our wealth. The first thing that a man who was grown wealthy
does is to stop eating out of one bowl, and he sets up crockery, and fits
himself out with a kitchen and servants. And he feeds his servants high,
too, so that their mouths may not water over his dainty viands; and he
eats alone; and as eating in solitude is wearisome, he plans how he may
improve his food and deck his table; and the very manner of taking his
food (dinner) becomes a matter for pride and vain glory with him, and his
manner of taking his food becomes for him a means of sequestering himself
from other men. A rich man cannot think of such a thing as inviting a
poor man to his table. A man must know how to conduct ladies to table,
how to bow, to sit down, to eat, to rinse out the mouth; and only rich
people know all these things. The same thing occurs in the matter of
clothing. If a rich man were to wear ordinary clothing, simply for the
purpose of protecting his body from the cold, - a short jacket, a coat,
felt and leather boots, an under-jacket, trousers, shirt, - he would
require but very little, and he would not be unable, when he had two
coats, to give one of them to a man who had none. But the rich man
begins by procuring for himself clothing which consists entirely of
separate pieces, and which is fit only for separate occasions, and which
is, therefore, unsuited to the poor man. He has frock-coats, vests, pea-
jackets, lacquered boots, cloaks, shoes with French heels, garments that
are chopped up into bits to conform with the fashion, hunting-coats,
travelling-coats, and so on, which can only be used under conditions of
existence far removed from poverty. And his clothing also furnishes him
with a means of keeping at a distance from the poor. The same is the
case, and even more clearly, with his dwelling. In order that one may
live alone in ten rooms, it is indispensable that those who live ten in
one room should not see it. The richer a man is, the more difficult is
he of access; the more porters there are between him and people who are
not rich, the more impossible is it to conduct a poor man over rugs, and
seat him in a satin chair.

The case is the same with the means of locomotion. The peasant driving
in a cart, or a sledge, must be a very ill-tempered man when he will not
give a pedestrian a lift; and there is both room for this and a
possibility of doing it. But the richer the equipage, the farther is a
man from all possibility of giving a seat to any person whatsoever. It
is even said plainly, that the most stylish equipages are those meant to
hold only one person.

It is precisely the same thing with the manner of life which is expressed
by the word cleanliness.

Cleanliness! Who is there that does not know people, especially women,
who reckon this cleanliness in themselves as a great virtue? and who is
not acquainted with the devices of this cleanliness, which know no
bounds, when it can command the labor of others? Which of the people who
have become rich has not experienced in his own case, with what
difficulty he carefully trained himself to this cleanliness, which only
confirms the proverb, "Little white hands love other people's work"?

To-day cleanliness consists in changing your shirt once a day; to-morrow,
in changing it twice a day. To-day it means washing the face, and neck,
and hands daily; to-morrow, the feet; and day after to-morrow, washing
the whole body every day, and, in addition and in particular, a rubbing-
down. To-day the table-cloth is to serve for two days, to-morrow there
must be one each day, then two a day. To-day the footman's hands must be
clean; to-morrow he must wear gloves, and in his clean gloves he must
present a letter on a clean salver. And there are no limits to this
cleanliness, which is useless to everybody, and objectless, except for
the purpose of separating oneself from others, and of rendering
impossible all intercourse with them, when this cleanliness is attained
by the labors of others.

Moreover, when I studied the subject, I because convinced that even that
which is commonly called education is the very same thing.

The tongue does not deceive; it calls by its real name that which men
understand under this name. What the people call culture is fashionable
clothing, political conversation, clean hands, - a certain sort of
cleanliness. Of such a man, it is said, in contradistinction to others,
that he is an educated man. In a little higher circle, what they call
education means the same thing as with the people; only to the conditions
of education are added playing on the pianoforte, a knowledge of French,
the writing of Russian without orthographical errors, and a still greater
degree of external cleanliness. In a still more elevated sphere,
education means all this with the addition of the English language, and a
diploma from the highest educational institution. But education is
precisely the same thing in the first, the second, and the third case.
Education consists of those forms and acquirements which are calculated
to separate a man from his fellows. And its object is identical with
that of cleanliness, - to seclude us from the herd of poor, in order that
they, the poor, may not see how we feast. But it is impossible to hide
ourselves, and they do see us.

And accordingly I have become convinced that the cause of the inability
of us rich people to help the poor of the city lies in the impossibility
of our establishing intercourse with them; and that this impossibility of
intercourse is caused by ourselves, by the whole course of our lives, by

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryLeo TolstoyWhat to Do? → online text (page 7 of 19)