Quotes about Leo Tolstoy
78 Sourced Quotes
I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better.
Tolstoy, the Russian writer, said in War and Peace: I cannot conceive of a man not being free unless he is dead. While this statement sounds a bit exaggerated, it gets at a basic truth. What Tolstoy is saying in substance is that the absence of freedom is the presence of death. Any nation or government that deprives an individual of freedom is in that moment committing an act of moral and spiritual murder. Any individual who is not concerned about his freedom commits an act of moral and spiritual suicide.
Woman, I hold, is the personification of self-sacrifice, but unfortunately today she does not realize what a tremendous advantage she has over man. As Tolstoy used to say, they are laboring under the hypnotic influence of man. If they would realize the strength of non-violence they would not consent to be called the weaker sex.
The truth is that Tolstoy, with his immense genius, with his colossal faith, with his vast fearlessness and vast knowledge of life, is deficient in one faculty and one faculty alone. He is not a mystic; and therefore he has a tendency to go mad. Men talk of the extravagances and frenzies that have been produced by mysticism; they are a mere drop in the bucket. In the main, and from the beginning of time, mysticism has kept men sane. The thing that has driven them mad was logic.... The only thing that has kept the race of men from the mad extremes of the convent and the pirate-galley, the night-club and the lethal chamber, has been mysticism — the belief that logic is misleading, and that things are not what they seem.
Reading the very best writers—let us say Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoy—is not going to make us better citizens. Art is perfectly useless, according to the sublime Oscar Wilde, who was right about everything. He also told us that all bad poetry is sincere. Had I the power to do so, I would command that these words be engraved above every gate at every university, so that each student might ponder the splendor of the insight.
He [Tolstoy] turned upon those who are produced by its [the modern world's] wrongs and condemned socialists, revolutionists, trade unionists, feminists, coöperators, and all reformers and menders of the present order, including charity organizationists and almoners. The most hopeless one of all in the present day world is "the good man," who lives in comfort, helps the needy, attends service, and is utterly impervious to any real religion.
In a vacuum all photons travel at the same speed. They slow down when travelling through air or water or glass. Photons of different energies are slowed down at different rates. If Tolstoy had known this, would he have recognised the terrible untruth at the beginning of Anna Karenina? 'All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.' In fact it's the other way around. Happiness is a specific. Misery is a generalisation. People usually know exactly why they are happy. They very rarely know why they are miserable.
Can no way be found by which every man may be assured of what, let us remember, Tolstoy always had, a wife and children, a good bed, a safe and warm sheltering roof, proper clothes, some leisure and peace for the improvement of the mind, a few books and pictures, a little music, and best of all, no fear for his old age and no dread of want for himself or his loved ones?... Such a way was found in the communism of the early Christians.
War, as Rousseau pointed out long before Tolstoy took up the theme, only makes manifest events already determined by moral causes (Emile, Bk. IV). For this reason our main energies must be directed against the moral causes of war. Those moral causes lie within ourselves — and pacifists should not suppose for a moment that they are pure in heart in this respect.
His [Tolstoy's] interpretation of the Christian teaching is very similar to that which prevailed in nearly every peasant community in western Europe in the Middle Ages. Like doctrines gave rise to a peasant movement in Armenia in the ninth century, and in the fourteenth; a revolt of the peasants in England resulted from the teaching of the Lollards. The Anabaptists, the Hussites, and many other sects of Christian communists arose in the following centuries. There is a peculiar soil in which these doctrines take root. Wherever the chief economic problem is the unjust distribution of land, Christian communism seems to appeal to the masses.
All mankind—rich and poor, men, women, and children, stood like a rock against any spread of Tolstoy's theories. He was really alone, and although he seemed universally admired and much that he said wielded great influence, his practical program for the spread of Christianity was, curiously enough, inacceptable to every class and condition of society, not only in Russia, but everywhere.
Tolstoy deplored all the modern tendencies toward immense congregations of people in limited areas, on the ground that they were making more and more impossible the truly Christian life. In cities the rich find little restraint to their lusts, while the lusts of the poor are greater there than in the country, and they satisfy them up to the limit of their means. In the country, Tolstoy could still see the possibility of men living a Christian life; in the cities he saw no such possibility. Cities had therefore to be uprooted and destroyed. The people had to get back to the soil.
Among them exists an immense opportunity for the spread of views such as Tolstoy held, but instead of espousing their cause or seeking in any manner to organize the peasants for cooperative action, he [Tolstoy] invariably taught them submission, nonresistance to evil, loyalty to their masters, and the most extreme form of Christian humility and service.
The poor did not hear such doctrines gladly and they were not at all disposed to follow the teaching of Tolstoy.... such teaching was no more acceptable to the peasants than some of Tolstoy's other views were to his wife and to the Government.... The more enlightened of their leaders looked upon him as a reactionary, standing in the way of the people's progress.
Smoking is just a habit. 'Tolstoy', she said, mentioning someone I hadn't met, 'says that just as much pleasure can be got from twirling the fingers'. My impulse was to tell her Tolstoy was off his onion, but I choked down the heated words. For all I know, the man might be a bosom pal of hers and she might resent criticism of him, however justified.
In seeking what to do, Tolstoy was materially helped by a remarkable workingman, Basil Soutaieff, who was actually following as perfectly as he knew how, the example of Jesus.... When asked, "What is truth?" he answered with conviction, "Truth is love in a common life." When his devotion to the unfortunate, the hungry, and the needy became known to Tolstoy, it had a profound influence upon his thought and eventually worked an entire transformation in his manner of living.
Other causes contributed to Tolstoy's failure, but the most important of all the causes was this unmitigated individualism, which not only rendered impossible cooperation with other men, but even made the evolution of human society an obstacle which had to be overcome.... western progress is in nearly every manner socializing life; and in general the social and economic tendencies in the West seemed to Tolstoy to be fighting against his most cherished ideals.... He was living in a transitional age and watching Russia change from a peasant and handicraft society into an industrial regime based upon steam power and electricity About him multitudes of peasants were leaving the land to crowd into the factories.
Tolstoy, after all his search for truth, came to the conclusion that individual perfection is the thing to strive for. One must save one's own soul. Struggling apparently to annihilate self, Tolstoy pursued the circle of his philosophy until he came back to the point of deifying Self. In placing such emphasis upon individual regeneration, Tolstoy departed from the teaching of the gospels.
Thrift and foresight are among the chief teachings of all missionaries to the poor and the present day world has little sympathy for any parent—whether a Harold Skimpole, a Mrs. Jellyby, a Jean Jacques Rousseau, or a Leo Tolstoy—who for any cause whatsoever feels that he should give no thought for the morrow and that his children may live like the fowls of the air.