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Tolstoy Journal, May 24, 2017: The Contagion of Newspapers

Last night during my holy hour I read up to page 76 of The Gospel in Tolstoy. And I was surprised to find, reading a selection from Master and Man, that the ending was not as unrealistic as I thought, not as sentimental. I have to withhold final judgement because I did not read the story as a whole–maybe that’s when it doesn’t work–but just reading that final section was very moving and seemed very real to me. Before I had thought it was a masterpiece up until the end when the Master suddenly turns saintly, but now I see how his fear of dying has changed him, how the human qualities that help him be a good businessman, now help him to save his servant’s life.

I also read “Three Questions” and “Where Love Is, God Is.” There was a good paragraph in the former that I copied down into my journal: “Remember then: there is only one time that is important–now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power. The most necessary man is he with whom you are, for no man knows whether he will ever have dealings with anyone else: and the most important affair is to do him good, because for that purpose alone was man sent into this life.”

I am up to page 177 of Volume X of the Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi, or Chapter XIX of Boyhood. If all goes well, I will finish Boyhood tonight and start Youth tomorrow. I also read up to page 30 of A Sentimental Journey, and found it rather hard to understand; it’s been a while since I’ve read Sterne.

The pages I read from Boyhood describe a couple of days during which the narrator seems driven to get into as much trouble as possible, first with his lessons, then with being too boisterous during dancing time, and finally, when asked by his father to fetch some things from his office, he tries to open his father’s portfolio and breaks the key in the lock. He is put in solitary in the garret for a while then Grandmama withers him with stares and words. His father finally puts him to bed:

“Papa took me in his arms [after he yells and screams about how he hates the new French tutor and goes into convulsions], and carried me into the bedroom. I fell asleep. A single candle was burning near my bed, and our family doctor, Mimi, and Liubotchka were sitting in the room. It was evident from their faces that they feared for my health; but I felt so well and light after my twelve hours’ sleep, that I could have leaped from the bed, had it not been disagreeable for me to disturb their belief in my severe illness.”

Here are some more passages from Talks With Tolstoy:

p. 56: “‘I understand a Muhammad preaching his doctrine,–mediaeval Christianity, the Crusades. Whatever the convictions of those people may have been, they did it in the belief that they knew the truth and were giving that knowledge to others. But now there is nothing! Everything is done for the sake of profit!'”

Which reminds me of Chesterton’s saying, if you can’t fight about religion, what can you fight about? That is, religion is the most important thing in the world, because it is the most basic thing, what you believe about the nature of the universe. Then again, almost all religions preach peace but when push comes to shove they bless the armies of their respective countries to kill the others.

pp. 57-58: “‘I am always saying that a work of art is either so good that there is no standard by which to define its qualities–that is, real art,–or it is quite bad. Now, I am happy to have found a real work of art. I cannot read it without tears. I know it by heart. Listen, I’ll read it to you.’

“Tolstoi began in a voice broken with tears:

“‘The dove-coloured shadows melted together. . . . ‘

“When I am on my death-bed I shall not forget the impression then produced on me by Tolstoi. He lay on  his back, convulsively twisting the edge of his blanket with his fingers and trying in vain to restrain the tears that choked him. He broke down several times and began again. But at last, when he read the end of the stanza, ‘Everything is in me, and I in everything,’ his voice gave way.'”

This was when Tolstoy was reading the poet, Tyutchev.

p 60: “‘Science, in so far as it describes and clarifies the real state of things, does a useful and necessary work. But as soon as it starts laying down programmes for the future, it becomes useless. All these ideas about an eight-hour working day, etc., only increase and legalize the evil. Labour must be free, not slavish, and that is all.'”

p. 63: “The Russian people, speaking impartially, is perhaps the most Christian of all in its moral character. It is partly to be explained by the fact that the Gospels have been read by the Russian people for nine hundred years; Catholics don’t now the Gospels even now, and other races came to know the Gospel only after the Reformation.'”

Tolstoy sounds like Dostoevsky here. I see Tolstoy’s point; it may have been true then but after Communism, the opposite was the case.

p. 65: “The conversation turned on Chekhov and Gorky. Tolstoi as usual praised Chekhov’s artistic gift very highly. The lack of a definite world conception grieves him in Chekhov; and in this respect Tolstoi prefers Gorky.”

p. 70: “‘At present the newspaper infection has reached its ultimate limits. All the questions of the day are artificially puffed up by the newspapers. The worst danger is that the newspapers present everything ready made, without making people stop to think about anything. A liberal Kuzminsky, or even a Koni, takes his fresh newspaper with his morning coffee, reads it, goes to his court, where he meets others who have just read the very same newspaper, and the contagion is spread?'”

What would he think of the Internet?


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