The Journal of Leo Tolstoy
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"The ultimate meaning of the Russian Revolution which took place in March, 1917, can be best understood through the pages of the Journal of Leo Tolstoy ... The spiritual qualities which make up the mind and personality of Tolstoy are the spiritual qualities which make up the new era among men which is being waged so painfully and so uncompromisingly at the present moment on the soil of Russia."

The Journal of
Leo Tolstoy

(First Volume — 1895–1899)

Leo Tolstoy

Translated by Rose Strunsky

The Journal of Leo Tolstoy


The ultimate meaning of the Russian Revolution which took place in March, 1917, can be best understood through the pages of the Journal of Leo Tolstoy which is here printed. The spiritual qualities which make up the mind and personality of Tolstoy are the spiritual qualities which make up the new era among men which is being waged so painfully and so uncompromisingly at the present moment on the soil of Russia. One holds the key to the other, for no land but Russia could have produced a Tolstoy, and in no land but Russia could Tolstoy have been so embraced and so absorbed.

They are both flesh of each other’s flesh, and I place them equally in greatness against each other. Great and wonderful as is the Russian people, so Tolstoy was as great and wonderful as the Russian people. I say this knowing well the pain and impatience both felt for each other in the long eighty-two years of Tolstoy’s life here, but it was the pain and the impatience of great love and infinite understanding, of feeling and knowing each other’s pulse-beats, and not the misunderstanding of strangers. It was the wise father doubting the impatient methods of his children; it was the ardent children desiring and struggling to accomplish the wishes of the father and being lost in the maelstrom of an insistent reality.

The youth went faster than the father, and yet so infinite and universal were the words of the latter that when the last summings-up are made both stand together in total harmony and agreement. Tolstoy at thirty took no part in the great educational agrarian movement of the latter Fifties, and even had a fine scorn for their exponents which did not leave him in his later years — witness the phrase against Herzen and Chernishevsky, “raised to great men,” he said, “and who ought to be grateful to the government and the censorship, without which they would have been the most unnoticed of sketch-writers.” And yet it was Herzen and Chernishevsky and Dobrolubov, these “sketch-writers,” who kept up the fire of agrarian reform and who practically forced the issue upon Alexander II. Tolstoy ignored the whole revolutionary movement of that time; even more than ignored it; threw himself seemingly into the opposite camp, leading the life of a gay fêted hero returned from the Crimean War. But his Morning of a Landed Proprietor shows that he was thinking deeply even at that time of the social problems around him, only he was thinking more slowly than the rest. He was just waking up to the fact that the peasant conditions needed improvement, at the time when all around him the youth had passed to the idea that it was not an improvement that they needed, but an absolute change in the fundamental ideas of property. It took him forty years to say, that you might as well ask him how to make use of the ownership, or the labour or the rent of a bonded slave as to ask him for advice as to the problem of owning of land. Here was no reformer speaking, but one who was united with the revolutionary thought around him.

But when the men of the Sixties were making that answer for themselves, and had won the first great step toward the change — the abolition of serfdom — Tolstoy was away altogether from his native land writing that great epoch of the War of 1812 — War and Peace. It was because this great soul was undogmatic, and reached out into the world not by mass thinking, but marvellously enough entirely by himself, laying his roots far and deep, that he seemed so slow moving. Yet it was the direction and the end that counted, and the end finds him, like the race between the tortoise and the hare — that he is still ahead.

Even Russia will have far and long to travel to come to that kingdom of God on earth, to that conception of the manifestation of the will of God on earth, which is the spiritual ideal of Tolstoy, and toward which, express it in any materialistic or naturalistic terms it may, the Russian nation has with one mind been working with such marvellous self-consciousness.

Again, after the emancipation of the serfs, Tolstoy seemed to fail the New Russia, interesting himself only at this moment with the education of the youth and the need of reform — ever the need of reform, when already for over a decade the cry of Russia was for new forms entirely, new land arrangements, new relations between man and man, and man and his property. The time had come, they said, for the Will of the People to be made manifest.

But before Tolstoy could decide on that, he had to decide on a more fundamental problem of what his relation was to God, as well as what his relation was to man. In other words, what were the true spiritual relations between man and man, not only the economic, political and social ones. And it is this attempt to solve the real fundamental meaning to all relationship, the very reason for the youth’s outbursts against the economic, political and social injustices that existed, that kept him moving forward so slowly. For he moved whole worlds at a step.

The only reason for life, he said, is the universal desire for well being, which in man, whose reason has awakened, is expanded into a desire for universal welfare; in other words, for love. For he knows that he is not a separate being, but a part of a whole, and therefore it is meaningless to think that he can obtain anything for himself alone. It is only in struggling and attaining for the Whole that he can find his true life.

The Russian youth agreed with him entirely. To their logic, the struggle for universal welfare led to terrorism; to Tolstoy, to the absolute non-resistance to evil by violence. The youth said the will of God is being thwarted by a band of oppressors. If we do away with the oppressors we can get together in mutual love. Tolstoy said that he who thinks he can violate the will of God for an immediate good is only short-sighted. Never at any moment can the will of God be thwarted and the good attained.

For a while the Russian Government rather approved of the Tolstoyan attitude of non-resistance to evil. The one who used the greatest amount of violence and evil of all, was pleased to meet the philosophy which advised non-resistance to it. But Tolstoy grew and travelled in his long years and he had to change his conclusions, so that his logic led him to that most self-conscious and difficult of all revolutionary movements, passive-resistance. Take no part in violence, he said; therefore, pay no taxes that support a government which violates, and do not serve in the army which is an act of violence in itself. It was then that Tolstoy was looked upon with askance by the Russian authorities and formerly anathematised from the church. It was to his followers that the more drastic punishment of imprisonment and exile was meted out.

Toward the latter years of his life, his great human heart could not remain quite closed to the violence around him, and religious thinker that he was, he had to stop his meditations to cry out against the Kishineff massacres of the Jews and against the raising of the scaffolds and the tying of the “Stolypine’s neck-ties,” that most telling nick-name of the Russian people for the noose, which was tied even for school children on the crossroads of Russia after the bitter failure of the revolution of 1905.

It was only in What Is Art? that the Russian people and Tolstoy were unanimously at one. Art is to serve the people, to be of the people, to be something understandable by all people. There were to be no dogmas for art, no German metaphysics for art. It was merely the means of expressing to his neighbour the mysteries that went on in the soul of the artist. There was no quarrel here between his fellow countrymen and the great thinker. Everything was to be for the people; the spiritual manifestations of life as well as the material.

How to make clear that for all this seeming lack of harmony, there existed the greatest bond of all between this teacher and his children. Thousands in Russia took his life as an example and left the vainglories of the city with all its false standards and went to live among the people. They went not only to serve them but to be one of them, to live by the sweat of their brow as the masses did, because it was the only moral thing to do, and because the greatest happiness lay in the spiritual values of life, and because, as Tolstoy himself says, “It is good with them, but with us it is shameful.”

I remember so well the deep-set eyes and the long shaggy eyebrows of that all-knowing seer, as he sat on the veranda of his home in Yasnaya Polyana one May afternoon in 1906, and told us that he was a religious thinker and not a political one but that to his mind the revolution in Russia would take fifty years to develop. And with that fine scorn for parliamentarism which would have rejoiced the heart of any syndicalist, he added that that which we were witnessing now, the assembling of the first Duma, was only the first scene of the first act of a five act drama and it was high comedy!

The second scene followed soon and turned out to be bitter tragedy, and before it was quite over Tolstoy wandered off on that last pilgrimage which ended in the little railway station of Ostopova. He succumbed at last to that “temptation” he speaks of so freely in his Journal, to leave his home conditions, negate himself entirely, and find himself again, merged and at one with the Whole. And the Great Deliverer came and offered him even a greater fusion with all, giving him that “other post,” the “new appointment” he so ardently prayed for in life. When that happened he became at once clear and lucid even to those nearest him — who had criticised him the most. The Russian youth was disconsolate. Our spiritual guide is gone, they cried. Who will hold up the candle for us now? What black night is there in the world, and how to grope our way in it alone!

How lonely it was without that spiritual guide!

The first act of the March Revolution was to redecorate the grave of Tolstoy in the forest of Zakaz, to make the sacred pilgrimage to his resting place and tell the father of the good news — the will of God is being established, reason is awakened in man. Love toward neighbour; nay, the greatest of all, love toward enemies, is being accomplished.

It is with a feeling of reverence that I bring this gift of the inner soul of Tolstoy to the English-speaking public. The very formlessness of the phrases of this Journal helps toward a sincerity of thought which shows itself pure by its nakedness. Tolstoy himself knew the value of these documents, for one man was to him as another, and the sincere gropings of a man’s reason toward the understanding of the meaning of life was of value even if they were his own, and especially if they were of one who had lived much and thought much as he did. “It is especially disagreeable to me,” he writes, “when people who have lived little and thought little do not believe me, and, not understanding me, argue with me about moral problems. It would be the same for which a veterinary surgeon would be hurt if people who were not familiar with his art would argue with him.” And Tolstoy knew that he knew his art, he knew consciously, since the spiritual awakening that came to him in the Eighties, the great mission to which he dedicated his life — to find a moral justification of living — and it is therefore that he laid special stress in the disposal of these documents for the public after his death. The volume here printed is only four years of over sixty years of Journal which he kept since his early twenties. They are published first, because it is only with the Journal beginning 1890 that his editor and friend, V. G. Chertkov, has the copied manuscripts in their entirety — from that date up to Tolstoy’s death in 1910.

Over and over again in his life, Tolstoy attempted to make special and legal provision for his journals and notebooks, as he calls them, that they be given and spread free to the public, and he designated his friend and follower, who has edited and published this volume in Russian, as the practical inheritor and executor of these manuscripts. He was to publish them in their entirety, except for certain revisions so that there should be preserved, as Tolstoy expressed it, that which ought to be preserved and there should be thrown out that which ought to be thrown out.

“I know,” he wrote to Chertkov, February 8, 1900, “that no one bears such an esteem, respect and love for my spiritual life and its expression as you do. I always said it and now I write it in my notes which express my wishes after my death, asking you especially, and only you, to undertake the revision of my papers.”

This Chertkov has done exceedingly well in the original Russian edition, giving in double brackets the number of the words he left out, which seemed to him necessary on account of their too intimate character. These places I have merely indicated by three points. Unfortunately the Russian volume was printed under the old régime and deletions had to be made on account of the censor, which, because of the difficulty of communication during the war, it was impossible to fill in. These places are also designated in this volume by three points, but in the Russian edition they are given in double parenthesis, also enclosing the number of the words left out. So that a record of all omissions have been kept.

The problem of disposing of these documents after his death according to his principles against copyrights, occupied Tolstoy for many years. The Russian law nullified any such disposal of property, for legally the inheritor had to be a fixed person “and works to be disposed of free to all” meant nothing. He therefore wrote many wills, defining and modifying his position in all possible ways so that his ideas might be carried out, and in such a form that they could not be frustrated by any one.

His plans were threefold:

1. That all his works written after 1881 as well as all his writings written before that year (the year that marks his spiritual regeneration) but not published until later or not published at all up to his death, should be no one’s property, but be given free to the public for printing and translation.

2. That all his manuscripts and documents (among that number the journals, first drafts of books, letters, etc.,) which would remain after his death should be given over to V. G. Chertkov, who was to revise them and arrange them in suitable form for publication.

3. That the estate of Yasnaya Polyana should be given over to the peasants.

Tolstoy’s first idea was that Chertkov should be one of the legal inheritors, together with the Countess Tolstoy, his wife. But Chertkov refused for various personal reasons, he says, but mainly because he thought that the arrangement for the transfer of property could be best facilitated and could be more delicately managed if some one member of the Tolstoy family was designated instead of an outsider. Tolstoy, therefore, designated as his legal inheritor his youngest daughter Alexandra, who stood in close sympathy with him in his spiritual ideas, and, in case of her death before his own, his eldest daughter Tatiana. He hoped that his daughters, together with the Countess Tolstoy, would fulfil his requests concerning the disposal of his posthumous documents and the gift of the estate according to his wishes.

After Tolstoy’s death the estate was given to the peasants by means of the sale of most of the posthumous documents which enabled his daughter Alexandra to buy back the estate from the family and give it to the peasants as directed by Tolstoy, but in the matter of the journals it was more difficult to arrange from the fact that the Countess Tolstoy placed all these journals and notebooks in the Moscow Historical Museum on the ground that they were a gift of Tolstoy to her during his lifetime and that therefore she had a right to dispose of them as she thought best. The matter would have taken only a legal process in the court to disentangle, a thing which the Countess Alexandra Tolstoy did not wish to undertake as being against the spirit of her father to use legal force to come to an agreement.

Chertkov, therefore, was forced to use only such copies of the original journals and notebooks which he happened to have in his possession. The present volume is made from a copy done by the hands of the Prince and Princess Obolensky, the son-in-law and daughter of Tolstoy, who also stood very near to Tolstoy spiritually, were conscientious in their fulfilment of such tasks for him, and who knew his handwriting very well. The original documents are still in the Moscow Historical Museum, but Chertkov has promised to publish the volumes and journals which he has from the years 1900 to 1910, and has already brought out a second volume of this series, which dates from Tolstoy’s early years in the twenties.

Whatever value this volume has as a historical and exact transcript of Tolstoy’s original jottings-down as they came to him, it has much more value as a transcript of the thoughts of a great Russian which have so permeated his people that they are now being rewritten on the pages of Russian history. It is because the blood of his brother calls to him from under the ground, that the Russian has undertaken to advance one step nearer to the fulfilment of the great law — to live together in harmony, to serve his brother and to do the one work — which is the one work for all, to love.

The hundred-years readiness for sacrifice for the common good, the willingness to go to exile and death of four generations of men and women, the red flag now flying over the Winter Palace in Petrograd with the letters of gold, “Proletarians of all Nation Unite,” the insistent call to the peoples of the world to overthrow all oppressors and live together in mutual harmony, the trumpet calls of a democracy whose tones are so strange and new, that we across the borders seem not to hear or understand them, all have their spiritual counterpart in the pages of this book. It is Russia that speaks here.

I must give my thanks to Mr. Alexander Gourevich who so carefully compared the original text and English translation, and to Mr. Joseph Peroshnikoff who patiently revised the notes and assisted in the compilation of the index.

Rose Strunsky.
New York, May, 1917.

The Journal of Leo Tolstoy
October-December 1895

I continue October 28. Yasnaya Polyana.

Have been thinking:

Have been thinking one thing: that this life which we see around us is a movement of matter according to fixed, well-known laws; but that in us we feel the presence of an altogether different law, having nothing in common with the others and requiring from us the fulfilment of its demands. It can be said that we see and recognise all the other laws only because we have in us this law. If we did not recognise this law, we would not recognise the others.

This law is different from all the rest, principally in this, that those other laws are outside of us and forces us to obey them; but this law is in us — and more than in us; it is our very selves and therefore it does not force us when we obey it, but on the contrary frees us, because in following it we become ourselves. And for this reason we are drawn to fulfil this law and we sooner or later will inevitably fulfil it. In this then consists the freedom of the will. This freedom consists in this, that we should recognise that which is — namely that this inner law is ourselves.

This inner law is what we call reason, conscience, love, the good, God. These words have different meanings, but all from different angles mean one and the same thing. In our understanding of this inner law, the son of God, consists indeed the essence of the Christian doctrine.

The world can be looked upon in this way: a world exists governed by certain, well-known laws, and within this world are beings subject to the same laws, but who at the same time bear in themselves another law not in accord with the former laws of the world, a higher law, and this law must inevitably triumph within these beings and defeat the lower law. And in this struggle and in the gradual victory of the higher law over the lower, in this only is life for man and the whole world.

29. Yasnaya Polyana. If I live.

Nov. 5. Y. P.

I have skipped 6 days. It seems to me, I thought little during this time: I wrote a little, chopped wood and was indisposed — but lived through much. I lived through much, because in fulfilling a promise to S. , I read through all my journals for the past seven years.

It seems to me, I am approaching a simple and clear expression of that by which I live. How good that I didn’t finish the Catechism! I think I shall write it differently and better, if the Father wishes it. I understand why it is impossible to say it quickly. If it could be said all at once, by what then would we live in the realm of thought? It will never be given me to go farther than this task.

I just took a walk and understood clearly why I can’t make Resurrection go better: it was begun falsely. I understood this in thinking over again the story: Who is Right? (about children). I understood that one must begin with the life of the peasants, that they are the subject, they are positive, but that the other thing is shadow, the other thing is negative. And I understood the same thing about Resurrection. One must begin with her. I want to begin immediately.

During this time there were letters: from Kenworthy, a beautiful one from Shkarvan, and from a Dukhobor in Tiflis.

Have written to no one for a long time. General indisposition and no energy. The stage manager and the decorator were here, students from Kharkov against whom I think I did not sin, Ivan Ivanovich Bochkarev, Kolasha.

Nov. 6. Y. P. If I live.

November 7. Y. P.

I wrote a little these two days on the new Resurrection. My conscience hurts when I remember how trivially I began it. So far, I rejoice when I think of the work as I am beginning it.

I chopped a little. I went to Ovsiannikovo, had a good talk with Maria Alexandrovna and Ivan Ivanovich. Waltz’s assistant was here and a Frenchman with a poem….

November 8, 9. Y. P.

Have written little on Resurrection. I was not disappointed, but I was weak.

Yesterday Dunaev came. Chopped much yesterday, overtired myself. To-day I walked. I went to Constantine Bieli’s. He is very much to be pitied. Then I walked in the village. It is good with them, but with us it is shameful. Wrote letters. Wrote to Bazhenov and three others. Thought:

1. The confirmation of the fact, that reason liberates the latent love in man for justice is the proverb, “Comprendre c’est tout pardoner.” If you forgive a man, you will love him. To forgive means to cease to condemn and to hate.

2. If a man believes something at the word of another, he will lose his belief in that which he would have inevitably believed in, had he not trusted the other one. He who believes in… etc., ceases to believe in reason. They even say straight out, one ought not to believe in reason.

3. ...

A very interesting letter from Holland, about what a youth is to do who is called to military service, when he is the sole supporter of his mother.

November 10. Y. P.

Slept with difficulty. Weakness both physical and intellectual and — for which I am at fault — also moral. Rode horseback. Posha arrived…. A wonderful French pamphlet about war. Yes, 20 years are needed for that thought to become a general one. My head aches and seems to crackle and rumble. Father, help me when I am most weak that I may not fall morally. It is possible.

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