By Leo Tolstoy
Translated From The Russian of Count Leo Tolstoi
By Constance Garnett
New York, 1894
The book I have had the privilege of translating is, undoubtedly, one of the most remarkable studies of the social and psychological condition of the modern world which has appeared in Europe for many years, and its influence is sure to be lasting and far reaching. Tolstoi's genius is beyond dispute. The verdict of the civilized world has pronounced him as perhaps the greatest novelist of our generation. But the philosophical and religious works of his later years have met with a somewhat indifferent reception. They have been much talked about, simply because they were his work, but, as Tolstoi himself complains, they have never been seriously discussed. I hardly think that he will have to repeat the complaint in regard to the present volume. One may disagree with his views, but no one can seriously deny the originality, boldness, and depth of the social conception which he develops with such powerful logic. The novelist has shown in this book the religious fervor and spiritual insight of the prophet; yet one is pleased to recognize that the artist is not wholly lost in the thinker. The subtle intuitive perception of the psychological basis of the social position, the analysis of the frame of mind of oppressors and oppressed, and of the intoxication of Authority and Servility, as well as the purely descriptive passages in the last chapter--these could only have come from the author of "War and Peace."
The book will surely give all classes of readers much to think of, and must call forth much criticism. It must be refuted by those who disapprove of its teaching, if they do not want it to have great influence.
One cannot of course anticipate that English people, slow as they are to be influenced by ideas, and instinctively distrustful of all that is logical, will take a leap in the dark and attempt to put Tolstoi's theory of life into practice. But one may at least be sure that his destructive criticism of the present social and political RÉGIME will become a powerful force in the work of disintegration and social reconstruction which is going on around us. Many earnest thinkers who, like Tolstoi, are struggling to find their way out of the contradictions of our social order will hail him as their spiritual guide. The individuality of the author is felt in every line of his work, and even the most prejudiced cannot resist the fascination of his genuineness, sincerity, and profound earnestness. Whatever comes from a heart such as his, swelling with anger and pity at the sufferings of humanity, cannot fail to reach the hearts of others. No reader can put down the book without feeling himself better and more truth-loving for having read it.
Many readers may be disappointed with the opening chapters of the book. Tolstoi disdains all attempt to captivate the reader. He begins by laying what he considers to be the logical foundation of his doctrines, stringing together quotations from little-known theological writers, and he keeps his own incisive logic for the later part of the book.
One word as to the translation. Tolstoi's style in his religious and philosophical works differs considerably from that of his novels. He no longer cares about the form of his work, and his style is often slipshod, involved, and diffuse. It has been my aim to give a faithful reproduction of the original.
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