Leo Tolstoy

September 9, 1828 - November 20, 1910

 

Source: Wikipedia

 

Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time.

Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, he is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), often cited as pinnacles of realistfiction. He first achieved literary acclaim in his twenties with his semi-autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth (1852–1856), and Sevastopol Sketches (1855), based upon his experiences in theCrimean War. Tolstoy's fiction includes dozens of short stories and several novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Family Happiness, and Hadji Murad. He also wroteplays and numerous philosophical essays.

In the 1870s Tolstoy experienced a profound moral crisis, followed by what he regarded as an equally profound spiritual awakening, as outlined in his non-fiction work A Confession. His literal interpretation of the ethical teachings of Jesus, centering on the Sermon on the Mount, caused him to become a fervent Christian anarchist and pacifist. Tolstoy's ideas on nonviolent resistance, expressed in such works as The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were to have a profound impact on such pivotal 20th-century figures as Mohandas Gandhi,Martin Luther King, Jr.,and James Bevel. Tolstoy also became a dedicated advocate of Georgism, the economic philosophy of Henry George, which he incorporated into his writing, particularly Resurrection.

Life and career

Tolstoy at age 20, 1848

Tolstoy was born at Yasnaya Polyana, a family estate 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) southwest of Tula, Russia and 200 kilometers (120 mi) south of Moscow. The Tolstoys were a well-known family of old Russian nobility, tracing their ancestry to a mythical Lithuanian noble Indris.He was the fourth of five children of Count Nikolai Ilyich Tolstoy, a veteran of the Patriotic War of 1812, and Countess Mariya Tolstaya (Volkonskaya). Tolstoy's parents died when he was young, so he and his siblings were brought up by relatives. In 1844, he began studying law and oriental languages at Kazan University. His teachers described him as "both unable and unwilling to learn."Tolstoy left the university in the middle of his studies, returned to Yasnaya Polyana and then spent much of his time in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In 1851, after running up heavy gambling debts, he went with his older brother to the Caucasus and joined the army. It was about this time that he started writing.

His conversion from a dissolute and privileged society author to the non-violent and spiritual anarchist of his latter days was brought about by his experience in the army as well as two trips around Europe in 1857 and 1860–61. Others who followed the same path were Alexander Herzen, Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. During his 1857 visit, Tolstoy witnessed a public execution in Paris, a traumatic experience that would mark the rest of his life. Writing in a letter to his friend Vasily Botkin: "The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens ... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere."

His European trip in 1860–61 shaped both his political and literary development when he met Victor Hugo, whose literary talents Tolstoy praised after reading Hugo's newly finished Les Misérables. The similar evocation of battle scenes in Hugo's novel and Tolstoy's War and Peace indicates this influence. Tolstoy's political philosophy was also influenced by a March 1861 visit to French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, then living in exile under an assumed name in Brussels. Apart from reviewing Proudhon's forthcoming publication, La Guerre et la Paix (War and Peace in French), whose title Tolstoy would borrow for his masterpiece, the two men discussed education, as Tolstoy wrote in his educational notebooks: "If I recount this conversation with Proudhon, it is to show that, in my personal experience, he was the only man who understood the significance of education and of the printing press in our time."

Fired by enthusiasm, Tolstoy returned to Yasnaya Polyana and founded 13 schools for children of Russia's peasants, who had just been emancipated from serfdom in 1861. Tolstoy described the school's principles in his 1862 essay "The School at Yasnaya Polyana".Tolstoy's educational experiments were short-lived, partly due to harassment by the Tsarist secret police. However, as a direct forerunner to A. S. Neill's Summerhill School, the school at Yasnaya Polyanacan justifiably be claimed the first example of a coherent theory of democratic education.

Death

Tolstoy's grave with flowers at Yasnaya Polyana

Tolstoy died in 1910, at the age of 82. Just prior to his death, his health had been a concern of his family, who were actively engaged in his care on a daily basis. During his last few days, he had spoken and written about dying. Renouncing his aristocratic lifestyle, he had finally gathered the nerve to separate from his wife, and left home in the middle of winter, in the dead of night.His secretive departure was an apparent attempt to escape unannounced from Sophia's jealous tirades. She was outspokenly opposed to many of his teachings, and in recent years had grown envious of the attention which it seemed to her Tolstoy lavished upon his Tolstoyan "disciples".

Tolstoy died of pneumoniaat Astapovo train station, after a day's rail journey south.The station master took Tolstoy to his apartment, and his personal doctors were called to the scene. He was given injections of morphine and camphor.

The police tried to limit access to his funeral procession, but thousands of peasants lined the streets. Still, some were heard to say that, other than knowing that "some nobleman had died", they knew little else about Tolstoy.

According to some sources, Tolstoy spent the last hours of his life preaching love, nonviolence, and Georgism to his fellow passengers on the train.

 

Personal life

On September 23, 1862, Tolstoy married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, who was 16 years his junior and the daughter of a court physician. She was called Sonya, the Russian diminutive of Sofia, by her family and friends.They had 13 children, eight of whom survived childhood:

Tolstoy's wife Sophia and their daughter Alexandra

The marriage was marked from the outset by sexual passion and emotional insensitivity when Tolstoy, on the eve of their marriage, gave her his diaries detailing his extensive sexual past and the fact that one of the serfs on his estate had borne him a son.Even so, their early married life was happy and allowed Tolstoy much freedom to compose War and Peace and Anna Karenina with Sonya acting as his secretary, proofreader and financial manager.

However, their later life together has been described by A. N. Wilson as one of the unhappiest in literary history. Tolstoy's relationship with his wife deteriorated as his beliefs became increasingly radical. This saw him seeking to reject his inherited and earned wealth, including the renunciation of the copyrights on his earlier works.

The Tolstoy family left Russia in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the Soviet Union, and Leo Tolstoy's relatives and descendants today live in Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States. Among them are Swedish singer Viktoria Tolstoy and Swedish landowner Christopher Paus, Herresta.

Religious and political beliefs

Tolstoy dressed in peasant clothing, by Ilya Repin (1901)

After reading Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation, Tolstoy gradually became converted to the ascetic morality upheld in that work as the proper spiritual path for the upper classes: "Do you know what this summer has meant for me? Constant raptures over Schopenhauer and a whole series of spiritual delights which I've never experienced before. ... no student has ever studied so much on his course, and learned so much, as I have this summer"

In Chapter VI of A Confession, Tolstoy quoted the final paragraph of Schopenhauer's work. It explained how the nothingness that results from complete denial of self is only a relative nothingness, and is not to be feared. The novelist was struck by the description of Christian, Buddhist, and Hinduascetic renunciation as being the path to holiness. After reading passages such as the following, which abound in Schopenhauer's ethical chapters, the Russian nobleman chose poverty and formal denial of the will:

But this very necessity of involuntary suffering (by poor people) foreternal salvation is also expressed by that utterance of the Savior (Matthew 19:24): "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." Therefore those who were greatly in earnest about their eternal salvation, chose voluntary poverty when fate had denied this to them and they had been born in wealth. Thus Buddha Sakyamuniwas born a prince, but voluntarily took to the mendicant's staff; and Francis of Assisi, the founder of the mendicant orders who, as a youngster at a ball, where the daughters of all the notabilities were sitting together, was asked: "Now Francis, will you not soon make your choice from these beauties?" and who replied: "I have made a far more beautiful choice!" "Whom?" "La povertà (poverty)": whereupon he abandoned every thing shortly afterwards and wandered through the land as a mendicant.

In 1884, Tolstoy wrote a book called "What I Believe", in which he openly confessed his Christian beliefs. He affirmed his belief in Jesus Christ's teachings and was particularly influenced by the Sermon on the Mount, and the injunction to turn the other cheek, which he understood as a "commandment of non-resistance to evil by force" and a doctrine of pacifism and nonviolence. In his work The Kingdom of God Is Within You, he explains that he considered mistaken the Church's doctrine because they had made a "perversion" of Christ's teachings. Tolstoy also received letters from American Quakers who introduced him to the non-violence writings of Quaker Christians such as George Fox, William Penn and Jonathan Dymond. Tolstoy believed being a Christian required him to be a pacifist; the consequences of being a pacifist, and the apparently inevitable waging of war by government, are the reason why he is considered a philosophical anarchist.

Later, various versions of "Tolstoy's Bible" would be published, indicating the passages Tolstoy most relied on, specifically, the reported words of Jesus himself.

Mohandas K. Gandhi and other residents of Tolstoy Farm, South Africa, 1910

Tolstoy believed that a true Christian could find lasting happiness by striving for inner self-perfection through following the Great Commandment of loving one's neighbor and God rather than looking outward to the Church or state for guidance. His belief in nonresistance when faced by conflict is another distinct attribute of his philosophy based on Christ's teachings. By directly influencing Mahatma Gandhi with this idea through his work The Kingdom of God Is Within You (full text of English translation available on Wikisource), Tolstoy's profound influence on the nonviolent resistance movement reverberates to this day. He believed that the aristocracy were a burden on the poor, and that the only solution to how we live together is through anarchism.
He also opposed private property in land ownershipand the institution of marriage and valued the ideals of chastity and sexual abstinence (discussed in Father Sergius and his preface to The Kreutzer Sonata), ideals also held by the young Gandhi. Tolstoy's later work derives a passion and verve from the depth of his austere moral views.The sequence of the temptation of Sergius in Father Sergius, for example, is among his later triumphs. Gorky relates how Tolstoy once read this passage before himself and Chekhov and that Tolstoy was moved to tears by the end of the reading. Other later passages of rare power include the personal crises that were faced by the protagonists of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and of Master and Man, where the main character in the former or the reader in the latter are made aware of the foolishness of the protagonists' lives.

Tolstoy had a profound influence on the development of Christian anarchist thought.The Tolstoyans were a small Christian anarchist group formed by Tolstoy's companion, Vladimir Chertkov (1854–1936), to spread Tolstoy's religious teachings. Philosopher Peter Kropotkin wrote of Tolstoy in the article on anarchism in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica:

Without naming himself an anarchist, Leo Tolstoy, like his predecessors in the popular religious movements of the 15th and 16th centuries, Chojecki, Denk and many others, took the anarchist position as regards the state and property rights, deducing his conclusions from the general spirit of the teachings of Jesus and from the necessary dictates of reason. With all the might of his talent, Tolstoy made (especially in The Kingdom of God Is Within You) a powerful criticism of the church, the state and law altogether, and especially of the present property laws. He describes the state as the domination of the wicked ones, supported by brutal force. Robbers, he says, are far less dangerous than a well-organized government. He makes a searching criticism of the prejudices which are current now concerning the benefits conferred upon men by the church, the state, and the existing distribution of property, and from the teachings of Jesus he deduces the rule of non-resistance and the absolute condemnation of all wars. His religious arguments are, however, so well combined with arguments borrowed from a dispassionate observation of the present evils, that the anarchist portions of his works appeal to the religious and the non-religious reader alike.

During the Boxer Rebellion in China, Tolstoy praised the Boxers. He was harshly critical of the atrocities committed by the Russians, Germans, and other western troops. He accused them of engaging in slaughter when he heard about the lootings, rapes, and murders, in what he saw as Christian brutality. Tolstoy also named the two monarchs most responsible for the atrocities; Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany.Tolstoy, a famous sinophile, also read the works of Chinese thinker and philosopher, Confucius.Tolstoy corresponded with the Chinese intellectual Gu Hongming and recommended that China remain an agrarian nation and warned against reform like what Japan implemented.

In hundreds of essays over the last 20 years of his life, Tolstoy reiterated the anarchist critique of the state and recommended books by Kropotkin and Proudhon to his readers, whilst rejecting anarchism's espousal of violent revolutionary means. In the 1900 essay, "On Anarchy", he wrote; "The Anarchists are right in everything; in the negation of the existing order, and in the assertion that, without Authority, there could not be worse violence than that of Authority under existing conditions. They are mistaken only in thinking that Anarchy can be instituted by a revolution. But it will be instituted only by there being more and more people who do not require the protection of governmental power ... There can be only one permanent revolution—a moral one: the regeneration of the inner man." Despite his misgivings about anarchist violence, Tolstoy took risks to circulate the prohibited publications of anarchist thinkers in Russia, and corrected the proofs of Kropotkin's "Words of a Rebel", illegally published in St Petersburg in 1906.

 

Tolstoy in his study in 1908

Tolstoy was enthused by the economic thinking of Henry George, incorporating it approvingly into later works such as Resurrection (1899), the book that played a major factor in his excommunication.

In 1908, Tolstoy wrote A Letter to a Hinduoutlining his belief in non-violence as a means for India to gain independence from British colonial rule. In 1909, a copy of the letter was read by Gandhi, who was working as a lawyer in South Africa at the time and just becoming an activist. Tolstoy's letter was significant for Gandhi, who wrote Tolstoy seeking proof that he was the real author, leading to further correspondence between them.

Reading Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God Is Within You also convinced Gandhi to avoid violence and espouse nonviolent resistance, a debt Gandhi acknowledged in his autobiography, calling Tolstoy "the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced". The correspondence between Tolstoy and Gandhi would only last a year, from October 1909 until Tolstoy's death in November 1910, but led Gandhi to give the name Tolstoy Colony to his second ashram in South Africa.Besides nonviolent resistance, the two men shared a common belief in the merits of vegetarianism, the subject of several of Tolstoy's essays.

Tolstoy also became a major supporter of the Esperanto movement. Tolstoy was impressed by the pacifist beliefs of the Doukhobors and brought their persecution to the attention of the international community, after they burned their weapons in peaceful protest in 1895. He aided the Doukhobors in migrating to Canada.In 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War, Tolstoy condemned the war and wrote to the Japanese Buddhist priest Soyen Shaku in a failed attempt to make a joint pacifist statement.

Towards the end of his life, Tolstoy become more and more occupied with the economic theory and social philosophy of Georgism.He spoke of great admiration of Henry George, stating once that "People do not argue with the teaching of George; they simply do not know it. And it is impossible to do otherwise with his teaching, for he who becomes acquainted with it cannot but agree."He also wrote a preface to George's Social Problems.Tolstoy and George both rejected private property in land (the most important source of income of the passive Russian aristocracy that Tolstoy so heavily criticized) whilst simultaneously both rejecting a centrally planned socialist economy. Some assume that this development in Tolstoy's thinking was a move away from his anarchist views, since Georgism requires a central administration to collect land rent and spend it on infrastructure. However, anarchist versions of Georgism have also been proposed since.Tolstoy's 1899 novel Resurrection explores his thoughts on Georgism in more detail and hints that Tolstoy indeed had such a view. It suggests the possibility of small communities with some form of local governance to manage the collective land rents for common goods; whilst still heavily criticising institutions of the state such as the justice system.

 

 

Selected Quotes by Leo Tolstoy

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“If you look for perfection, you'll never be content.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata

 

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

 

“If you want to be happy, be.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. ” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking...” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“Be bad, but at least don't be a liar, a deceiver!” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, A Confession

 

“If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

“Boredom: the desire for desires.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

“Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“it's much better to do good in a way that no one knows anything about it.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“But I'm glad you'll see me as I am. Above all, I wouldn't want people to think that I want to prove anything. I don't want to prove anything, I just want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself. I have that right, haven't I?” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“It's not given to people to judge what's right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

“I often think that men don't understand what is noble and what is ignorant, though they always talk about it.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator, the smaller the fraction.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“Every lie is a poison; there are no harmless lies. Only the truth is safe. Only the truth gives me consolation - it is the one unbreakable diamond.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“I'm like a starving man who has been given food. Maybe he's cold, and his clothes are torn, and he's ashamed, but he's not unhappy.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs. If there was no suffering, man would not know his limits, would not know himself. ” 
 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

“Music is the shorthand of emotion” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“Instead of going to Paris to attend lectures, go to the public library, and you won't come out for twenty years, if you really wish to learn.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“How can one be well...when one suffers morally?” 
 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

“There are no conditions to which a person cannot grow accustomed, especially if he sees that everyone around him lives in the same way.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

 

“Historians are like deaf people who go on answering questions that no one has asked them.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“My principal sin is doubt. I doubt everything, and am in doubt most of the time.” 
 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina Notes

 

“The Kingdom of God is Within You,” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“Here I am alive, and it's not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“There is something in the human spirit that will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light burning in the heart of man that will not go out no matter how dark the world becomes.” 
 Leo Tolstoy

 

“In the best, the friendliest and simplest relations flattery or praise is necessary, just as grease is necessary to keep wheels turning. ” 
 Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

Quote source: goodreads

Books and Other Writings by Leo Tolstoy

Photo: Unsplash / Joao Silas / CC0

  • War and Peace

  • Anna Karenina

  • The Kindom of God Is Within You
    (with Constance Garnett)

  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich

  • Great Short Stories of Leo Tolstoy
    (with Nathan Haskell Dole)

  • A Confession and Other Religious Writings
    (with Jane Kentish)

  • Resurrection

  • A Calendar of Wisdom
    (with Peter Sekirin)

  • Hadji Mura

  • Wise Thoughts for Every Day
    (with Peter Sekirin)

  • What to Do
    (with Isabel Florence Hapgood)

  • Family Happiness

  • The Awakening - The Resurrection
    (with William E. Smith)

  • Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth

  • The Light Shines in Darkness
    (with Aylmer Maude)

  • The Cossacks
    (with Cynthia Ozick)

  • What Men Live By and Other Tales
    (with Louise Shanks Maude)

  • What is Art?
    (with Aylmer Maude)

  • The Gospel in Brief

  • My Religion
    (with Huntington Smith)

  • The Power of Darkness
    (with Aylmer Maude)

  • Walk in the Light and Twenty-Three Tales

  • Ahha Kapehnha

  • Fruits of Culture
    (with Aylmer Maude)

  • Last Steps
    (with Jay Parini)

  • How Much Land Does a Man Need?
    (with Ronald Wilks)

  • The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories
    (with Nathan Haskell Dole)

  • Master and Man
    (with Louise Shanks Maude)

  • Bethink Yourselves!
    (with V. G. Chertkov)

  • On the Significance of Science and Art
    (with Isabel Florence Hapgood)

  • Youth
    (with C. J. Hogarth)

  • Father Sergius
    (with Louise Shanks Maude)

  • The Forged Coupon

  • The First Distiller
    (with Louise Shanks Maude)

  • The Cause of it All
    (Aylmer Maude)

  • Census in Moscow
    (with Isabel Florence Hapgood)

  • The Sebastopol Sketches

  • Fable for Children, Stories for Children, Natural Science Stories, Popular Education, Decembrists, Moral Tales

  • Three Questions

  • The Live Corpse
    (with Aylmer Maude)

  • Redemption and two other plays

  • The Devil

  • The Law of Love and the Law of Violence

  • What Shall We Do?
    (with Isabella Fyvie Mayo)

  • Where Love Is, There Is God Also

  • Ivan the Fool: A Literacy Fairy Tale

  • A Letter toa Hindu, The Complete Original Classic
    (with Mahatma Ghandi)

  • Tolstoy on Shakespeare

  • On Life

  • Boyhood

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