Tolstoy and the "Kreutzer Sonata"
Count Tolstoï is a man of genius, He is acquainted with Russian life from the highest to the lowest—that is to say, from the worst to the best. He knows the vices of the rich and the virtues of the poor. He is a Christian, a real believer in the Old and New Testaments, an honest follower of the Peasant of Palestine. He denounces luxury and ease, art and music; he regards a flower with suspicion, believing that beneath every blossom lies a coiled serpent. He agrees with Lazarus and denounces Dives and the tax-gatherers. He is opposed, not only to doctors of divinity, but of medicine.
From the Mount of Olives he surveys the world.
He is not a Christian like the Pope in the Vatican, or a cardinal in a palace, or a bishop with revenues and retainers, or a millionaire who hires preachers to point out the wickedness of the poor, or the director of a museum who closes the doors on Sunday. He is a Christian something like Christ.
To him this life is but a breathing-spell between the verdict and the execution; the sciences are simply sowers of the seeds of pride, of arrogance and vice. Shocked by the cruelties and unspeakable horrors of war, he became a non-resistant and averred that he would not defend his own body or that of his daughter from insult and outrage. ‘In this he followed the command of his Master: "Resist not evil." He passed, not simply from war to peace, but from one extreme to the other, and advocated a doctrine that would leave the basest of mankind the rulers of the world. This was and is the error of a great and tender soul.
He did not accept all the teachings of Christ at once. His progress has been, judging from his writings, somewhat gradual; but by accepting one proposition he prepared himself for the acceptance of another. He is not only a Christian, but has the courage of his convictions, and goes without hesitation to the logical conclusion. He has another exceedingly rare quality: he acts in accordance with his belief. His creed is translated into deed. He opposes the doctors of divinity, because they darken and deform the teachings of the Master. He denounces the doctors of medicine, because he depends on Providence and the promises of Jesus Christ. To him that which is called progress is, in fact, a profanation, and property is a something that the organized few have stolen from the unorganized many. He believes in universal labor, which is good, each working for himself. He also believes that each should have only the necessaries of life,—which is bad. According to his idea, the world ought to be filled with peasants. There should be only arts enough to plough and sow and gather the harvest, to build huts, to weave coarse cloth, to fashion clumsy and useful garments, and to cook the simplest food. Men and women should not adorn their bodies. They should not make themselves desirable or beautiful.
But even under such circumstances they might, like the Quakers, be proud of humility and become arrogantly meek.
Tolstoï would change the entire order of human development. As a matter of fact, the savage who adorns himself or herself with strings of shells, or with feathers, has taken the first step towards civilization. The tatooed is somewhat in advance of the unfrescoed. At the bottom of all this is the love of approbation, of the admiration of their fellows, and this feeling, this love, cannot be torn from the human heart. In spite of ourselves we are attracted by what to us is beautiful, because beauty is associated with pleasure, with enjoyment. The love of the well-formed, of the beautiful, is prophetic of the perfection of the human race. It is impossible to admire the deformed. They may be loved for their goodness or genius, but never because of their deformity. There is within us the love of proportion. There is a physical basis for the appreciation of harmony, which is also a kind of proportion.
The love of the beautiful is shared with man by most animals. The wings of the moth are painted by love, by desire. This is the foundation of the bird’s song. This love of approbation, this desire to please, to be admired, to be loved, is in some way the cause of all heroic, self-denying, and sublime actions.
Count Tolstoï, following parts of the New Testament, regards love as essentially impure. He seems really to think that there is a love superior to human love; that the love of man for woman, of woman for man, is, after all, a kind of glittering degradation; that it is better to love God than woman; better to love the invisible phantoms of the skies than the children upon our knees—in other words, that it is far better to love a heaven somewhere else than to make one here. He seems to think that women adorn themselves simply for the purpose of getting in their power the innocent and unsuspecting men. He forgets that the best and purest of human beings are controlled, for the most part unconsciously, by the hidden, subtile tendencies of nature. He seems to forget the great fact of "natural selection," and that the choice of one in preference to all others is the result of forces beyond the control of the individual. To him there seems to be no purity in love, because men are influenced by forms, by the beauty of women; and women, knowing this fact, according to him, act, and consequently both are equally guilty. He endeavors to show that love is a delusion; that at best it can last but for a few days; that it must of necessity be succeeded by indifference, then by disgust, lastly by hatred; that in every Garden of Eden is a serpent of jealousy, and that the brightest days end with the yawn of ennui.
Of course he is driven to the conclusion that life in this world is without value, that the race can be perpetuated only by vice, and that the practice of the highest virtue would leave the world without the form of man. Strange as it may sound to some, this is the same conclusion reached by his Divine Master: "They did eat, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all." "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life."