« PreviousContinue »
and if Men's Societies 'for the promotion of Woman Suffrage' have been already formed—as they have been formed in the north—we must call on men to form Associations of voters 'in opposition to Woman Suffrage.' ln short, we must fight—with good humor.
Nineteenth Century and After.
l hope, and with constant respect for those—often dear friends of our own— who differ from us, but with a determination to make our voice heard, and to save England, if we can, from a national disaster."
Mary A. Ward.
COUNT LYOF TOLSTOl.
The writer, who, perhaps more plausibly than any other, has concentrated his powers on a construction of the impressions which may precede violent and premature death, has now reached the confines of his eightieth year in physical and mental well-being. Alone among the eminent Russian authors of the last century, Tolstoi has reached positive old age. Lermontov died at 30 and Pouchkine at 38. Gogol was no more than 43 when his ecstatic vigils wore him to the grave. Dostoievsky scarcely lived to be 59, and even Tourgfnlev, whom not a few of us still remember standing like an oak in the forest, was felled at 65. Tolstoi alone, before whom the image of death has been perpetually present, defies it still in a green and vigorous maturity. ln these days to be very old and still distinguished for energy is to achieve a pre-eminence the honors and glory of which are almost excessive. The result of Tolstoi's permanence, added to his talent, is to lift his fame, at all events for the moment, to a prophetic height. We have seen the splendor of octogenarians soar up in the heavens before; we have seen Tennyson and Victor Hugo and lbsen blaze like meteors on the firmament, and to ordinary eyes darken the fame of all slightly younger contemporaries. ln the case of Tolstoi, the concentration of worship is almost more tremendous still. Such praise is a graceful and proper tribute to the crown of length of days,
but it is apt to disturb calm critical judgment. We may find the exact analysis of so forced a reputation difficult, yet we ought, at all events, to find the effort to obtain it interesting.
ln the case of Tolstoi the difficulty is unusual, because of the diverse attitudes which the subject of our inquiry has taken up towards life .and thought. The author of Anna Karenina is also the author of The Kingdom of God is Within You, and the student is agitated at the outset of his inquiry by the discovery that Tolstoi himself attributes vastly more importance to his utterances on social, political and religious questions than he does to his novels. ln this he is supported by a body of disciples which may be, in this country at least, not very numerous, but is extremely dictatorial and dogmatic. The artist is looked upon by this group of devotees as the unregenerate chrysalis out of whose nihilism the inspired Prophet has broken forth in evangelical beauty. Against this aspect of Tolstoi's career it is needful for any one who desires to examine his work rationally to appeal with firmness. Tolstoi himself declares, and the deep-mouthed priesthood round him deliriously repeat, that the novels and stories which he wrote before 1880,—and this includes everything of importance except the Kreutzer Sonata and Resurrection,—are evil in their tendency and negligible as literature. He himself has said that such books as War and Peace and Anna Karenina "sont ecrites dans mon ancienne manlere que je desapprouve aujourdhui" (July, 1898). If he were to endeavor to correct them, he assures us, his labor would never end, and the best he can hope for is that those books may be forgotten. If Count Tolstoi the prophet is to be taken as an authority on Count Tolstoi the novelist, we are lost from the outset .
The only possible way, therefore, in which we can make any useful examination of Tolstoi as a man of letters is to decline all dealing with the philosophical and ethical opinions which he has been pouring forth during the last quarter of a century. These are to be accounted for in many ways which may not be palatable to his extreme disciples, but which have to be accepted by any sensible student of comparative literature before the essential work of Tolstoi can be analyzed. His experiences as a Russian and in Russia, his personal temperament, his defective cultivation, his natural scepticism, moulded on a natural timidity of thought, his lack of reverence, his inordinate instinct of pity—all these have had their share in producing the flood of iconoclastic pamphlets with which his old age has done its best to drown the noble activities of his youth and middle age. In my humble opinion, a vast deal too much attention has been given to these outpourings about sex and religion and art, to these attacks on Shakespeare and glorifications of Guy de Maupassant, to the whole voluble medley of political and personal assumptions. That these discover a vigorous character and a generous temper is neither here nor there. intellectually they are a mere rechauffi of the views of the leading opponents of civilization from Rousseau downwards.
Tolstoi, indeed, is extremely like Rousseau in many of his characteris
tics, and where he dashes into paradox the likeness becomes caricature. What Michelet calls "the re-action of equity," the belated advent of the eternal principles of justice, has ruled Tolstoi's thoughts with an obsession, and now invades every province of his outlook upon life. He repeats the set doctrines of 1789, and we hear over again, in passionate Sclavonic accents, the ancient story of the Declaration of the Rights of Man. His insulting attitude towards all the proprieties of society, his wounding air of taking for granted that their sole purpose is to act as a varnish to vice, is merely the old pleading for a return to the state of nature, expressed in new terms, indeed, and. above all, more pletlstically. It was said of Lord Monboddo that his endeavor was to keep his mind wild and his body robust . Tolstoi's aim has been the same, and in persisting that civilized life is nothing but a theatre of debiliating vanities, he is engaged in keeping his mind as untamed as possible, as "wild," in fact, as that of a Tartar soothsayer. We shall have to return to one feature of his later propaganda, because it exhibits what has been from the outset a weakness in Tolstoi's imagination, but otherwise we need not allow it here to interfere with our contemplation of his genins. We turn from what he, so insistently, says about himself, to what, essentially, he is and will remain.
None of us can fail to recall the effect of a work which has been one of the most powerfully influential products of literary criticism in the nineteenth century. i mean of course, the "Roman Russe" of the Vicomte E. M. de Vogue. The publication of that book, in 1886, was a revelation of the most blazing order. Up to that time very little was known or conjectured in Western Europe about the mysterious soul of Russia. The labors of Ralston here, and of Leroy-Beaulleu and Rambaud in France, had, indeed, given us an opportunity of knowing something, but there were few who had availed themselves of it. Tourg£niev was faintly appreciated; Merlmee and Viardot had done good work in translation. lt would be personal ingratitude if the present writer forgot to acknowledge what we all owed to Devfely for his wonderful versions of Dostoievsky. But that which was known and seen was but dimly understood; it was not until the publication of M. de Vogue's marvellous monograph that the whole theme took focus, and the Russian spirit, in its consistent literature, stood revealed to us. ln such a rare book as "Le Roman Russe," criticism rises to its highest function and becomes a creative art.
in the first blush of revelation there is no doubt that the works of the Russians were taken without discrimination. Western readers were embarrassed by the wealth of authors, and in reading each were apt to attribute to him alone the qualities which belonged to his age and race. ln England, Tourgeniev and, later, Tolstoi were chiefly studied, and it was not easy to tell what, of the fascinating novelty and beauty which they supplied, was proper to themselves. The "Russian sentiment" was intensely admired, and presently it became disconcerting to discover it more amply and poignantly expressed by Dostoievsky than by either of his principal rivals. Certain tendencies followed by realistic observation were supposed to belong to one or other of these three writers, until they were found to exist also in the stories of Plsemski and of Gontcharof. All Russian novels seemed alike to eyes which had not become used to the vitreous and tenebrous atmosphere in which the whole school of these novelists worked, and it took us some time to learn that the celebrated analysis of otchaiantt was not the privi
lege of Tolstoi or of Dostoievsky, but was a commonplace of the Russian temperament.
ln speaking broadly, therefore, of the literary genins of Tolstoi, it is now necessary not merely to differentiate his from the individual talents of other Russians, but also to discount the disadvantage which comes from our having grown accustomed to the setting of his pictures. First of all, then, and without regard to any reserve as to minor matters upon which it may ultimately be necessary to dwell, we have to emphasize the fact that among all the extraordinary intellects which Russia has produced there are two, and perhaps not more than two, that are absolutely in the first class. These, of course, are Tolstoi and Dostoievsky. Without comparing these rivals too closely together, this at least has to be pointed out, that Tolstoi, in spite of all the wilful oddity of his later years, remains nearer to the European tradition, and therefore is easier for Western minds to understand, than the colossal genins, "un homme vaste, vaste comme sa terre, terriblement enclin fl. tout ce qui est fantastlque et desordonueY' to whom we owe Crime and Punishment; and also that it is from Dostoievsky, not from Tolstoi, that what is most vigorous in subsequent Russian literature descends. lt is difficult to believe that the books of Maxime Gorki and of this terrible new Leonide Andreleff, whose heartrending iScpt Pcndus has just appeared, owe anything in form or substance to Tolstoi. They continue to analyze in its extremest waywardness the painful morbid sensibility of the Russian nation, as it was first discovered by Dostoievsky. Tolstoi, in spite of his greatness, and in spite of the amazing vehemence of his personal character, stands alone as a literary force.
Somebody has said that Tolstoi possesses the spirit of an English chemist in the body of a Hindoo Buddhist . This formula, which is as crude and incomplete as most formulas are, does at least point out the principal strength and the most besetting weakness of this extraordinary mind. it might be expressed less picturesquely, but more exactly, by saying that Tolstoi is unsurpassed so long as he obeys the laws which should regulate the historian, and goes wrong only when mysticism, or, in other words, contempt of evidence, breaks in upon him and obscures his vision. We come, then, to his principal merit, which follows immediately on what has just been pointed out. if criticism is right in declaring "solidity of specification" to be the supreme virtue of a novelist, we are not wrong in making this the first halting-ground from which to court an inspection of Tolstoi. He certainly takes the art of the novelist as seriously as it is possible to take it, and, like Balzac, he founds it on an unwearying determination to place before the reader a series of exact statements. He is great among the greatest, precisely because no more strenuous effort was ever made by mortal man to represent the truth in a formal exposition of particulars.
it is surprising how rare this quality is, even among eminent romancewriters. ln its large sense, it has, perhaps, never been exhibited to the full except by Balzac, who owes to it his pre-eminence among all novelists. But it is also exhibited, of course, to a brilliant degree by Stendhal, Flaubert and Henry James, and by a large number of lesser writers. It has, unhappily, never been characteristic of English fiction. it is highly characteristic, and, indeed, forms the central feature, of the work of Tolstoi. His untiring watchfuiness to catch and weigh the movements of mankind has given the author of War and Peace a right to be considered, in spite of his invention of
incident, one of the most conscientious modern historians of the spirit of man. His method, when sentiment does not interfere to disturb it, is impeccable. He deals, by the aid of his superb resources of description, with the relation of causes, the linked succession of facts, and the inevitability of events. He explains the laws of humanity to us by history, and history by manners. ln the distribution of his subject Tolstoi is second only to Balzac, and second here only because he is less logical and of a spirit less completely under the control of impartiality. On one point, however, he seems to exceed even Balzac in his command of his material. lt is the misfortune of almost every novelist that owing to the narrowness of the field in which he works, or to his own lack of protean sensitiveness, the more vividly his characters are drawn, the more monotonous they are in their exhibition of temperament. The good man is not only always good, but he acts well, with the same kind of goodness, to all people and in all conditions. The shifty person is always shifty, the generous person is openhanded to everybody; while, as a matter of fact, the human being who is amiable, easy and unselfish in one set of conditions will not merely appear, but actually be, surly and mean in another. This pliability of human character, which gives its "patina" to experience, is beyond the reach of the ordinary skilful novelist, and to an absence of the sense of it is owing the unreality of most novels. lt is the glory of Tolstoi that he frequently seizes it. He seizes it, for instance, with extraordinary success in dealing with the characters of Nekhludov and Maslova in Resurrection; and. again, in that of Dologhow in War and Peace.
Having this historical sense so sensitively developed, we are prepared to find Tolstoi smothered by the vast complication of his subject. But one of the earliest reflections which we find ourselves making, as we review his imaginative writings from first to last, is surprise at the command which he holds over his subject. ln comparison with Balzac (and, indeed, at this juncture there is no escaping from the fact that there is no one but Balzac to compare him with), he has not quite the same passion for facts in themselves. He will dwell on facts even past the limit of our satiety, but he can drag himself away from them. He is, indeed, something more of an artist than Balzac, and it is just here, with this to illuminate his creative sense and his passion for exactitude, that he comes nearest to being the first novelist of the world. Unfortunately, as we shall presently see, his drawback is that he has not the impartiality even of StendhaL ln his earlier nihilistic days, in his later pletlstic ones, he has deliberately shut himself off from the very highest achievements by his dldatic habit of mind. As long as he patiently observes, there is no one above him, and perhaps no one equal to him. But from the opening chapter of The Cossacks to the final book of Resurrection, he has never been able to resist a temptation to illogical satin-.
When this insidious fault does not invade his talent, what force, what scope, what authority he displays! Although so careful a reporter, he is never the slave of his detail; at any moment he can lift his huge wings and assume with confidence the flight of a creator. lndeed, it is precisely when he is most classic—always in a romantic sense, of course!—that he is most successful; and lt ls when he pauses to take a wide view that we perceive how solid and how vlvl-1 is his broad conception of life. lt is worth while to observe Tolstoi's method in description. He usually begins with a scene, or scenes, which are labored, slow, and even in
coherent. His openings almost always drag, like Walter Scott's, and he affects none of the "snap-your-thread" surprises of the sensational story-teller. The opening book of War and Peace, which is in itself as long as a short novel, reveals the temper of the high society of St.- Petersburg in the summer of 1805, in a succession of scenes which are so humdrum as to be almost dull. The ingenuity of the conversations which fill these pages does not seem at first to excuse their essential triviality. Pierre, who has tied a policeman on to the back of a bear-cub and thrown them both into the river, does not produce an encouraging effect on the reader, who is most attracted, perhaps, by the social agony of the destitute princess, Anna Mikhiillovna. Here, then, is Tolstoi describing Russian court society, adapting his imagination to what he himself saw half a century later, when he came back from Sevastopol. But why is this necessary to a novel about war? What epic value has all this chatter round the samovar? We persevere with the complicated story, and the reason for everything becomes plain to us. The shadow of Bonaparte hangs over even these trivial scenes, as it does over the dismal marches and the vague horrible battles to come. All is needed for the final great effect. But this does not prevent a certain awkwardness in starting; the giant bird, in preparing for his huge flight, being visibly embarrassed by the length of his wings. The encyclopaedic panorama of War and Peace is too familiar to all cultivated readers to require praise, or even analysis, but it may be permitted to us to suggest that the publication of Mr. Hardy's Dynasts has given us a new point of view from which to regard an experiment on this colossal scale. The solemn brevity, the rapid and regular transitions, of the English poet offer a fresh mode of escaping from the trlv