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Tolstoy Journal, June 30, 2017: “My, mine, ours.”

The featured image is of the title page of Volume XII of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi which I just finished reading tonight. Tomorrow I start Volume XIII. This blog is a ongoing record of my travel notes in the land of Tolstoy; books of criticism are my “travel books.” I finished “Kholstomer” or “Strider” tonight and have read up to page 74 of The Discovery of Peace by R. V. Sampson, which is about Tolstoy’s view of war and how he came to his views via his own experience and the work of four writers: de Maistre, Stendahl, Herzen, and Proudhon.

Here is the first passage I underlined in this book:

p. xii: “My plea is not that mankind can overnight change their customary behaviour; only that we should acknowledge that the principle, Resist not evil, is morally incontrovertible, as is demonstrated by the endlessly abortive attempts to refute it; and therefore that it is true and morally binding on us to strive to fulfil, however great the difficulties. We many not be capable of becoming heroes; but we are capable of honouring the truth, so plainly indicated by our intellect and heart, with our word. And the Word shall, we will find, suffice. The very depth of the resistance to admitting the truth is indicative of the suspicion that the Word is indeed powerful.”

I will later transcribe the rest of them here but for now I want to discuss “Strider” and then continue with passages from Wilson’s Tolstoy.

“Strider” is just a great moving story. It’s almost a version of “The Ugly Duckling” but from an ugly horse’s point of view. Strider is a piebald horse, considered ugly, but he is faster than all the other horses. Better built too. But because his appearance is considered ugly, he is mistreated, sent away because he has beat the master’s finest race horse. He is bought by a hussar, whom he adores because the hussar loves no one, is proud and haughty; this is pleasing to horses. The hussar eventually falls on hard times when his mistress leaves him and has to sell Strider. Then at the end of the story, this same hussar comes to where Strider now lives but does not recognize him:

“They [Strider’s master and his visitor, the hussar grown old] went out through the gate. The guest was glad that the exhibition [of horses] was over, and that he was going home, where he would eat, drink, smoke, and have a good time. As they went by Nester, who was sitting on the piebald and waiting for further orders, the guest struck his big fat hand on the horse’s side.

“‘Here’s good blood,’ said he. ‘He’s like the piebald horse, if you remember, that I told you about.’

“The master perceived that it was not of his horses that the guest was speaking; and he did not listen, but, looking around, continued to gaze at his stud.

“Suddenly, at his very ear, was heard a dull, weak, senile neigh. It was the piebald horse that began to neigh, but could not finish it. Becoming, as it were, confused, he broke off short.

“Neither the guest nor the master paid any attention to this neigh, but went home. Kholstomer had recognized in the wrinkled old man his beloved former master, the once brilliant, handsome, and wealthy Sierpukhovskoi.”

I would like to go into more detail about this story but don’t have time tonight. Suffice to say that the horses come off looking better than the humans. At one point Strider, while telling his story to the other horses, tells them about humans and their strange idea of me and mine.

“‘The meaning is this: Men rule in life, not by deeds, but by words. They love not so much the possibility of doing or not doing anything, as the possibility of talking about different objects in words agreed on between them. Such words, considered very important among them, are the words, mymine, ours, which they employ for various things, beings, and objects; even for the earth, people, and horses. In regard to any particular thing, they agree that only one person shall say, “It is mine.” And he who in this play, which they engage in, can say mine in regard to the greatest number of things, is considered the most fortunate among them. Why this is so, I know not; but it is so. Long before, I had tried to explain this to my satisfaction, by some direct advantage; but it seemed that I was wrong. . . . Afterward, as I widened the sphere of my experiences, I became convinced that the concept my, as applied not only to us horses, but to other things, has no other foundation than a low and animal, a human instinct, which they call the sentiment or right of property. . . . I am convinced now that herein lies the substantial difference between men and us. And, therefore, not speaking of other things where we are superior to men, we are able boldly to say that in this one respect at least we stand, in the scale of living beings,  higher than men. The activity of men–at all events, of those with whom I have had to do–is guided by words; ours, by deeds.'”

This is a bit wedged-in here but nevertheless demonstrated through the rest of his story, especially at the end when the house of the master and mistress of Strider is described as a house in which all things are new and plush but rather, somehow empty. “Everything breathed of newness, luxury, and rarity. Everything was extremely fine; but it all bore a peculiar impress of profusion, wealth, and an absence of intellectual interests.”

Well, I didn’t get to Wilson tonight but here are two passages from Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom:

“Instead of saving humanity, every person should save himself.–ALEXANDER HERZEN

“The more people believe that others can improve their lives, the slower any improvement will occur.”


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