( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Born of noble family, living the careless and dissipated life of gilded youth, then raised to high honor in war and literature, Count Lyof Tolstoi forsook his early ways to devote himself to the instruction of the emancipated serfs. But his conversion was not complete until, after close study of the New Testament, he humbled himself to be-come himself a peasant in dress, work and mode of life. In this way he became not only a social reformer in Russia, but an oracle of the civilized world, the prophet of a new religion. Yet his dominion is still in literature, and he is thus the most prominent Russian at the close of the Nineteenth Century.
He was born in 1828 near Tula, and after his father's death was brought up on his mother's estate. For two years he attended the University of Kasan, but left his studies to lead a wild life, becoming a gambler and an idolater of individual force. In 1851 he entered the army and served in the Caucasus, and in the Crimean war took part in the defense of Sebastopol. Having 'attained the rank of Division Commander, he left the army and married the daughter of a German physician. After publishing "Military Sketches," describing the siege in which he had suffered, he wrote "The Cossacks," portraying the life and scenery of the Caucasus. His first novel, "War and Peace," related to Napoleon's invasion, but had for its chief theme a social complication, in which he showed his repugnance to divorce, even to end the miseries of marriage. Two years later the successful author began to devote himself to the instruction of the peasants, and wrote for them many educational text-books. His next long novel, "Anna Karenina" (1876), shows a growing dislike for Russian society and its conventions. Anna, a gay, impulsive lady, had married Alexei Karenina, an upright, reserved gentleman. The gallant young Baron Vronsky wins her affection, and forms a liaison. When Alexei discovers this he banishes his wife from his house, and seeks a divorce, but becoming aware of her abiding love of their son, he afterward refuses to consent to it. The guilty pair separate, and Anna commits suicide. On the other hand the same story contains an idyll of pure love in the wooing of Katia by Constantin Levin.
Tolstoi had begun to show his new views of the Gospel. He felt bound to adopt a literal interpretation of all the precepts of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. He formed on his own estate a community in which every one capable was bound to engage in manual labor. He himself dressed as a peasant and worked as a shoemaker. His religious views have been set forth in "My Confession" and "My Religion." They approach closely to those of the Quakers. He teaches non-resistance to evil and force, rejects ecclesiastical authority, but does not approve distenting sects, for he holds the spirit to be above all forms and organizations. He looks on his own past life with loathing and even regards his novels as monuments of misdirected energy. Yet, while occasionally issuing tracts such as "Life," "What to Do," he has still written some stories, and in the "Kreutzer Sonata" he shocked the world by seeming to make the institution of marriage a crime .and advocating universal celibacy. But his friends explain that it is only the abuse of subjecting woman to man's unstinted lust that is censured. For a time he appeared to have given up belief in the immortality of the soul, but afterward he regained it. He insists that the true remedy for the ills of humanity is work, and points to the peasants, who, even when working against their will, have peace of mind and soul, while idle nobles are driven to despair.
Whatever may be thought of Tolstoi's religious views and practice, it cannot be denied that he is the most forcible personage in Russian literature. He has carried on the realistic exhibition of Russian life, commenced by Gogol, and elaborated by Turgenieff. As Gogol depicted the owners of small farms, and Turgenieff portrayed the peasants and the Nihilists, Tolstoi has added representations of the higher classes and their selfish lives. His works reveal with the utmost effectiveness all the aspects of war, the glory of victory, the horrors of the battlefield, the monotony of sieges, the inspiration of patriotism, the alteration of the common man into the soldier, with his peculiar code of morals. He has set forth the evils of divorce and shown the blessing of pure marriage. Through all his works runs a strong sentiment of kindness and good will toward his fellow-men, and an intense hatred of sins which are lightly esteemed, because they are secret. His prophetic message has been boldly delivered not to Russia only, but to the world. He has called on every one to work out his own salvation. There he has stopped, for he insists on the right of every man to free will, to choose for himself the way of life or the way of death.