Home » Library » Historical Library » Robert Ingersoll On Tolstoy

Historical Library Disclaimer

The Historical Library contains writings written before 1970, only. For material written during or after 1970, please refer to the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.

This Historical Library is provided for those doing research into the history of nontheism. It is not intended to be--and should not be used as--a source of modern, up-to-date information regarding atheistic issues. Those looking for modern critiques of theism should go to the Modern Documents section of the Secular Web Library.

All of the Historical Library authors are dead--and in many cases have been so for several decades. We will not reply to email addressed to dead authors, and therefore any email addressed to these authors will be ignored. Similarly, we do not reply to feedback regarding faulty scholarship on the part of dead authors, nor do we correct spelling errors and/or typographical errors (most of which result from the scanning and OCR process) in their articles.
This document has been made available by the Bank of Wisdom.

Robert Ingersoll On Tolstoy

Order books by and about Robert Ingersoll now.

On Tolstoy

Robert Green Ingersoll

11 page printout

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Contents of this file                           page

TOLSTOY AND "THE KREUTZER SONATA."                     1
SPAIN AND THE SPANIARD.                                9

****     ****

This file, its printout, or copies of either
are to be copied and given away, but NOT sold.

Bank of Wisdom, Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


****    ****


COUNT TOLSTOY is a man of genius. He is acquainted with
Russian life from the highest to the lowest -- that is to say, from
the worst to the best. He knows the vices of the rich and the
virtues of the poor. He is a Christian, a real believer in the Old
and New Testaments, an honest follower of the Peasant of Palestine.
He denounces luxury and ease, art and music; he regards a flower
with suspicion, believing that beneath every blossom lies a coiled
serpent. He agrees with Lazarus and denounces Dives and the tax-
gatherers. He is opposed, not only to doctors of divinity, but of

From the Mount of Olives he surveys the world.

He is not a Christian like the Pope in the Vatican, or a
cardinal in a palace, or a bishop with revenues and retainers, or
a millionaire who hires preachers to point out the wickedness of
the poor, or the director of a museum who closes the doors on
Sunday. He is a Christian something like Christ.

To him this life is but a breathing-spell between the verdict
And the execution; the sciences are simply sowers of the seeds of
pride, of arrogance and vice. Shocked by the cruelties and
unspeakable horrors of war, be became a non-resistant and averred
that he would not defend his own body or that of his daughter from
insult and outrage. In this he followed the command of his Master:
"Resist not evil." He passed, not simply from war to peace, but
from one extreme to the other, and advocated a doctrine that would
leave the basest of mankind the rulers of the world. This was and
is the error of a great and tender soul.

He did not accept all the teachings of Christ at once. His
progress has been, judging from his writings, somewhat gradual; but
by accepting one proposition he prepared himself for the acceptance
of another. He is not only a Christian, but has the courage of his
convictions, and goes without hesitation to the logical conclusion.
He has another exceedingly rare quality; he acts in accordance with
his belief. His creed is translated into deed. He opposes the
doctors of divinity, because they darken and deform the teachings

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


of the Master. He denounces the doctors of medicine, because he
depends on Providence and the promises of Jesus Christ. To him that
which is called progress is, in fact, a profanation, and property
is a something that the organized few have stolen from the
unorganized many. He believes in universal labor, which is good,
each working for himself. He also believes that each should have
only the necessaries of life -- which is bad. According to his
idea, the world ought to be filled with peasants. There should be
only arts enough to plough and sow and gather the harvest, to build
huts, to weave coarse cloth, to fashion clumsy and useful garments,
and to cook the simplest food. Men and women should not adorn their
bodies. They should not make themselves desirable or beautiful.

But even under such circumstances they might, like the
Quakers, be proud of humility and become arrogantly meek.

Tolstoy would change the entire. order of human development.
As a matter of fact, the savage who adorns himself or herself with
strings of shells, or with feathers, has taken the first step
towards civilization. The tattooed is somewhat in advance of the
unfrescoed. At the bottom of all this is the love of approbation,
of the admiration of their fellows, and this feeling, this love,
cannot be torn from the human heart. In spite of ourselves we are
attracted by what to us is beautiful, because beauty is associated
with pleasure, with enjoyment. The love of the well-formed, of the
beautiful, is prophetic of the perfection of the human race. It is
impossible to admire the deformed. They may be loved for their
goodness or genius, but never because of their deformity. There is
within us the love of proportion. There is a physical basis for the
appreciation of harmony, which is also a kind of proportion.

The love of the beautiful is shared with man by most animals.
The wings of the moth are painted by love, by desire. This is the
foundation of the bird's song. This love of approbation, this
desire to please, to be admired, to be loved, is in some way the
cause of all heroic, self-denying, and sublime actions.

Count Tolstoy, following parts of the New Testament, regards
love as essentially impure. He seems really to think that there is
a love superior to human love; that the love of man for woman, of
woman for man, is, after all, a kind of glittering degradation;
that it is better to love God than woman; better to love the
invisible phantoms of the skies than the children upon our knees --
in other words, that it is far better to love a heaven somewhere
else than to make one here. He seems to think that women adorn
themselves simply for the purpose of getting in their power the
innocent and unsuspecting men. He forgets that the best and purest
of human beings are controlled, for the most part unconsciously, by
the hidden, subtle tendencies of nature. He seems to forget the
great fact of "natural selection," and that the choice of one in
preference to all others is the result of forces beyond the control
of the individual. To him there seems to be no purity in love,
because men are influenced by forms, by the beauty of women; and
women, knowing this fact, according to him, act, and consequently
both are equally guilty. He endeavors to show that love is a
delusion; that at best it can last but for a few days, that it must
of necessity be succeeded by indifference, then by disgust, lastly

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


by hatred; that in every Garden of Eden is a serpent of jealousy,
and that the brightest days end with the yawn of ennui.

Of course he is driven to the conclusion that life in this
world is without value, that the race can be perpetuated only by
vice, and that the practice of the highest virtue would leave the
world without the form of man. Strange as it may sound to some,
this is the same conclusion reached by his Divine Master: "They did
eat, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until
the day that Noe entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed
them all."  "Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or
sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for
my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit
everlasting life."

According to Christianity, as it really is and really was, the
Christian should have no home in this world -- at least none until
the earth has been purified by fire. His affections should be given
to God; not to wife and children, not to friends or country. He is
here but for a time on a journey, waiting for the summons. This
life is a kind of dock running out into the sea of eternity, on
which he waits for transportation. Nothing here is of any
importance; the joys of life are frivolous and corrupting, and by
losing these few gleams of happiness in this world he will bask
forever in the unclouded rays of infinite joy. Why should a man
risk an eternity of perfect happiness for the sake of enjoying
himself a few days with his wife and children? Why should he become
an eternal outcast for the sake of having a home and fireside here?

The "Fathers" of the church had the same opinion of marriage.
They agreed with Saint Paul, and Tolstoy agrees with them. They had
the same contempt for wives and mothers, and uttered the same
blasphemies against that divine passion that has filled the world
with art and song.

All this is to my mind a kind of insanity; nature soured or
withered -- deformed so that celibacy is mistaken for virtue. The
imagination becomes polluted, and the poor wretch believes that he
is purer than his thoughts, holier than his desires, and that to
outrage nature is the highest form of religion. But nature
imprisoned, obstructed, tormented, always has sought for and has
always found revenge. Some of these victims, regarding the passions
as low and corrupting, feeling humiliated by hunger and thirst,
sought through maimings and mutilations the purification of the

Count Tolstoy in "The Kreutzer Sonata," has drawn, with a free
hand, one of the vilest and basest of men for his hero. He is
suspicious, jealous, cruel, infamous. The wife is infinitely too
good for such a wild unreasoning beast, and yet the writer of this
insane story seems to justify the assassin. If this is a true
picture of wedded life in Russia, no wonder that Count Tolstoy
looks forward with pleasure to the extinction of the human race.

Of all passions that can take possession of the heart or brain
jealousy is the worst. For many generations the chemists sought for
the secret by which all metals could be changed to gold, and

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


through which the basest could become the best. Jealousy seeks
exactly the opposite. It endeavors to transmute the very gold of
love into the dross of shame and crime.

The story of "The Kreutzer Sonata" seems to have been written
for the purpose of showing that woman is at fault; that she has no
right to be attractive, no right to be beautiful; and that she is
morally responsible for the contour of her throat, for the pose of
her body, for the symmetry of her limbs, for the red of her lips,
and for the dimples in her cheeks.

The opposite of this doctrine is nearer true. It would be far
better to hold people responsible for their ugliness than for their
beauty. It may be true that the soul, the mind, in some wondrous
way fashions the body, and that to that extent every individual is
responsible for his looks. It may be that the man or woman thinking
high thoughts will give, necessarily, a nobility to expression and
a beauty to outline.

It is not true that the sins of man can be laid justly at the
feet of woman. Women are better than men; they have greater
responsibilities; they bear even the burdens of joy. This is the
real reason why their faults are considered greater.

Men and women desire each other, and this desire is a
condition of civilization, progress, and happiness, and of
everything of real value. But there is this profound difference in
the sexes: in man this desire is the foundation of love, while in
woman love is the foundation of this desire.

Tolstoy seems to be a stranger to the heart of woman.

Is it not wonderful that one who holds self-denial in such
high esteem should say, "That life is embittered by the fear of
one's children, and not only on account of their real or imaginary
illnesses, but even by their very presence"?

Has the father no real love for the children? Is he not paid
a thousand times through their caresses, their sympathy, their
love? Is there no joy in seeing their minds unfold, their
affections develop? Of course, love and anxiety go together. That
which we love we wish to protect. The perpetual fear of death gives
love intensity and sacredness. Yet Count Tolstoy gives us the
feelings of a father incapable of natural affection; of one who
hates to have his children sick because the orderly course of his
wretched life is disturbed. So, too, we are told that modern
mothers think too much of their children, care too much for their
health, and refuse to be comforted when they die. Lest these words
may be thought libellous, the following extract is given:

"In old times women consoled themselves with the belief,
The Lord hath given, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be
the name of the Lord. They consoled themselves with the
thought that the soul of the departed had returned to him who
gave it; that it was better to die innocent than to live in
sin. If women nowadays had such a comfortable faith to support
them, they might take their misfortunes less hard."

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


The conclusion reached by the writer is that without faith in
God, woman's love grovels in the mire.

In this case the mire is made by the tears of mothers falling
on the clay that hides their babes.

The one thing constant, the one peak that rises above all
clouds, the one window in which the light forever burns, the one
star that darkness cannot quench, is woman's love.

This one fact justifies the existence and the perpetuation of
the human race. Again I say that women are better than men; their
hearts are more unreservedly given; in the web of their lives
sorrow is inextricably woven with the greatest joys; self-sacrifice
is a part of their nature, and at the behest of love and maternity
they walk willingly and joyously down to the very gates of death.

Is there nothing in this to excite the admiration, the
adoration, of a modern reformer? Are the monk and nun superior to
the father and mother?

The author of "The Kreutzer Sonata" is unconsciously the enemy
of mankind. He is filled with what might be called a merciless
pity, a sympathy almost malicious. Had he lived a few centuries
ago, he might have founded a religion; but the most he can now do
is, perhaps, to create the necessity for another asylum.

Count Tolstoy objects to music -- not the ordinary kind, but
to great music, the music that arouses the emotions, that
apparently carries us beyond the limitations of life, that for the
moment seems to break the great chain of cause and effect, and
leaves the soul soaring and free. "Emotion and duty," he declares,
"do not go hand in hand." All art touches and arouses the emotional
nature. The painter, the poet, the sculptor, the composer, the
orator, appeal to the emotions, to the passions, to the hopes and
fears. The commonplace is transfigured; the cold and angular facts
of existence take form and color; the blood quickens; the fancies
spread their wings; the intellect grows sympathetic; the river of
life flows full and free; and man becomes capable of the noblest
deeds. Take emotion from the heart of man and the idea of
obligation would be lost; right and wrong would lose their meaning,
and the word "ought" would never again be spoken. We are subject to
conditions, liable to disease, pain, and death. We are capable of
ecstasy. Of these conditions, of these possibilities, the emotions
are born.

Only the conditionless can be the emotionless.

We are conditioned beings; and if the conditions are changed,
the result may be pain or death or greater joy. We can only live
within certain degrees of heat. If the weather were a few degrees
hotter or a few degrees colder, we could not exist. We need food
and roof and raiment. Life and happiness depend on these
conditions. We do not certainly know what is to happen, and
consequently our hopes and fears are constantly active -- that is
to say, we are emotional beings. The generalization of Tolstoy,
that emotion never goes hand in hand with duty, is almost the

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


opposite of the truth. The idea of duty could not exist without
emotion. Think of men and women without love, without desires,
without passions? Think of a world without art or music -- a world
without beauty, without emotion.

And yet there are many writers busy pointing out the
loathsomeness of love and their own virtues. Only a little while
ago an article appeared in one of the magazines in which all women
who did not dress according to the provincial prudery of the writer
were denounced as impure. Millions of refined and virtuous wives
and mothers were described as dripping with pollution because they
enjoyed dancing and were so well formed that they were not obliged
to cover their arms and throats to avoid the pity of their
associates. And yet the article itself is far more indelicate than
any dance or any dress, or even lack of dress. What a curious
opinion dried apples have of fruit upon the tree!

Count Tolstoy is also the enemy of wealth, of luxury. In this
he follows the New Testament. "It is easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the
Kingdom of Heaven." He gathers his inspiration from the
commandment, "Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor.

Wealth is not a crime any more than health or bodily or
intellectual strength. The weak might denounce the strong, the
sickly might envy the healthy, just as the poor may denounce or
envy the rich. A man is not necessarily a criminal because he is
wealthy. He is to be judged, not by his wealth, but by the way he
uses his wealth. The strong man can use his strength, not only for
the benefit of himself, but for the good of others. So a man of
intelligence can be a benefactor of the human race. Intelligence is
often used to entrap the simple and to prey upon the unthinking,
but we do not wish to do away with intelligence. So strength is
often used to tyrannize over the weak, and in the same way wealth
may be used to the injury of mankind. To sell all that you have and
give to the poor is not a panacea for poverty. The man of wealth
should help the poor man to help himself. Men cannot receive
without giving some consideration, and if they have not labor or
property to give, they give their manhood, their self-respect.
Besides, if all should obey this injunction, "Sell what thou hast
and give to the poor," who would buy? We know that thousands and
millions of rich men lack generosity and have but little feeling
for their fellows. The fault is not in the money, not in the
wealth, but in the individuals. They would be just as bad were they
poor. The only difference is that they would have less power. The
good man should regard wealth as an instrumentality, as an
opportunity, and he should endeavor to benefit his fellow-men, not
by making them the recipients of his charity, but by assisting them
to assist themselves. The desire to clothe and feed, to educate and
protect, wives and children, is the principal reason for making
money -- one of the great springs of industry, prudence, and

Those who labor have a right to live, They have a right to
what they earn. He who works has a right to home and fire-side and
to the comforts of life. Those who waste the spring, the summer,
and the autumn of their lives must bear the winter when it comes.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Many of our institutions are absurdly unjust. Giving the land to
the few, making tenants of the many, is the worst possible form of
socialism -- of paternal government. In most of the nations of our
day the idlers and non-producers are either beggars or aristocrats,
paupers or princes, and the great middle laboring class support
them both. Rags and robes have a liking for each other. Beggars and
kings are in accord; they are all parasites, living on the same
blood, stealing the same labor -- one by beggary, the other by
force. And yet in all this there can be found no reason for
denouncing the man who has accumulated. One who wishes to tear down
his barns and build greater has laid aside something to keep the
wolf of want from the door of home when he is dead.

Even the beggars see the necessity of others working, and the
nobility see the same necessity with equal clearness. But it is
hardly reasonable to say that all should do the same kind of work,
for the reason that all have not the same aptitudes, the same
talents. Some can plough, others can paint; some can reap and mow,
while others can invent the instruments that save labor; some
navigate the seas; some work in mines; while others compose music
that elevates and refines the heart of the world.

But the worst thing in "The Kreutzer Sonata" is the
declaration that a husband can by force compel the wife to love and
obey him. Love is not the child of fear; it is not the result of
force. No one can love on compulsion. Even Jehovah found that it
was impossible to compel the Jews to love him. He issued his
command to that effect, coupled with threats of pain and death, but
his chosen people failed to respond.

Love is the perfume of the heart; it is not subject to the
will of husbands or kings or God.

Count Tolstoy would establish slavery in every house; he would
make every husband a tyrant and every wife a trembling serf, No
wonder that he regards such marriage as a failure. He is in exact
harmony with the curse of Jehovah when he said unto the woman: "I
will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou
shalt bring forth children, and thy desire shall be unto thy
husband, and he shall rule over thee."

This is the destruction of the family, the pollution of home,
the crucifixion of love.

Those who are truly married are neither masters nor servants.
The idea of obedience is lost in the desire for the happiness of
each. Love is not a convict, to be detained with bolts and chains.
Love is the highest expression of liberty. Love neither commands
nor obeys.

The curious thing is that the orthodox world insists that all
men and women should obey the injunctions of Christ; that they
should take him as the supreme example, and in all things follow
his teachings. This is preached from countless pulpits, and has
been for many centuries. And yet the man who does follow the
Savior, who insists that he will not resist evil, who sells what he
has and gives to the poor, who deserts his wife and children for
the love of God, is regarded as insane.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


Tolstoy, on most subjects, appears to be in accord with the
founder of Christianity, with the apostles, with the writers of the
New Testament, and with the Fathers of the church; and yet a
Christian teacher of a Sabbath school decides, in the capacity of
Postmaster-General, that "The Kreutzer Sonata" is unfit to be
carried in the mails.

Although I disagree with nearly every sentence in this book,
regard the story as brutal and absurd, the view of life presented
as cruel, vile, and false, yet I recognize the right of Count
Tolstoy to express his opinions on all subjects, and the right of
the men and women of America to read for themselves.

As to the sincerity of the author, there is not the slightest
doubt. He is willing to give all that he has for the good of his
fellow-men. He is a soldier in what he believes to be a sacred
cause, and he has the courage of his convictions. He is endeavoring
to organize society in accordance with the most radical utterances
that have been attributed to Jesus Christ. The philosophy of
Palestine is not adapted to an industrial and commercial age.
Christianity was born when the nation that produced it was dying.
It was a requiem -- a declaration that life was a failure, that the
world was about to end, and that the hopes of mankind should be
lifted to another sphere. Tolstoy stands with his back to the
sunrise and looks mournfully upon the shadow. He has uttered many
tender, noble, and inspiring words. There are many passages in his
works that must have been written when his eyes were filled with
tears. He has fixed his gaze so intently on the miseries and
agonies of life that he has been driven to the conclusion that
nothing could be better than the effacement of the human race.

Some men, looking only at the faults and tyrannies of
government, have said: "Anarchy is better." Others, looking at the
misfortunes, the poverty, the crimes, of men, have, in a kind of
pitying despair, reached the conclusion that the best of all is
death. These are the opinions of those who have dwelt in gloom --
of the self-imprisoned.

By comparing long periods of time, we see that, on the whole,
the race is advancing; that the world is growing steadily, and
surely, better; that each generation enjoys more and suffers less
than its predecessor. We find that our institutions have the faults
of individuals, Nations must be composed of men and women; and as
they have their faults, Nations cannot be perfect. The institution
of marriage is a failure to the extent, and only to the extent,
that the human race is a failure. Undoubtedly it is the best and
the most important institution that has been established by the
civilized world. If there is unhappiness in that relation, if there
is tyranny upon one side and misery upon the other, it is not the
fault of marriage. Take homes from the world and only wild beasts
are left.

We cannot cure the evils of our day and time by a return to
savagery. It is not necessary to become ignorant to increase our
happiness. The highway of civilization leads to the light. The time
will come when the human race will be truly enlightened, when labor
will receive its due reward, when the last institution begotten of

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


ignorance and savagery will disappear. The time will come when the
whole world will say that the love of man for woman, of woman for
man, of mother for child, is the highest, the noblest, the purest,
of which the heart is capable.

Love, human love, love of men and women, love of mothers,
fathers, and babes, is the perpetual and beneficent force. Not the
love of phantoms, the love that builds cathedrals and dungeons,
that trembles and prays, that kneels and curses; but the real love,
the love that felled the forests, navigated the seas, subdued the
earth, explored continents, built countless homes, and founded
nations -- the love that kindled the creative flame and wrought the
miracles of art, that gave us all there is of music, from the
cradle-song that gives to infancy its smiling sleep to the great
symphony that bears the soul away with wings of fire -- the real
love, mother of every virtue and of every joy.

North American Review, September, 1890.

all rights reserved

Bank of Wisdom

The Bank of Wisdom is run by Emmett Fields out of his home in Kentucky. He painstakingly scanned in these works and put them on disks for others to have available. Mr. Fields makes these disks available for only the cost of the media.

Files made available from the Bank of Wisdom may be freely reproduced and given away, but may not be sold.

Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.

Bank of Wisdom
Box 926
Louisville, KY 40201