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100 YEARS SINCE L.N. TOLSTOY'S passing - his "Address to Americans"

Early in 1890 Tolstoy described America as "the country most sympathetic to me," suggesting sustained interest and understanding on both sides. [1] Tolstoy's most direct knowledge of America came from personal letters, occasional visitors, books by Americans, and subscriptions to several periodicals. The constant flow of letters from America often concerned religious and moral topics. Ordinary citizens as well as religious thinkers gave Tolstoy warm support for his new Christianity, which had dominated his thinking and writing for the previous decade. Ten years later he received a request for his views of America from the English author and critic, Edward Garnett (1868-1937), whose wife Constance had visited Tolstoy and was an important translator of his works. An American magazine had asked for an article on Tolstoy's novel Resurrection, which Garnett agreed to write if Tolstoy would provide some statement about the U.S. Assuming that Tolstoy held a negative attitude (not without reason, given the recent victory of militarism over pacifism in the Spanish-American War), Garnett suggested he address the topic of hypocrisy. Unexpectedly, Tolstoy responded with the same sympathy of a decade ago, now combined with gratitude, and qualified only by a note of disappointment. On the Fourth of July, 1900, [2] he wrote what has been called his "Address to Americans":

Letter 1: to Edward Garnett (July 4, 1900) [3]

Yasnaya Polyana


4-7 1900

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your letter of June 6th. When I read it, it seemed to me impossible that I could send any message to the American people.

But, thinking over it at night, it came to me that, if I had to address the American people, I should like to thank them for the great help I have received from their writers who flourished about the fifties. I would mention Garrison, Parker, Emerson, Ballou and Thoreau, not as the greatest, but as those who, I think, specially influenced me. Other names are--Channing, Whittier, Lowell, Walt Whitman--a bright constellation, such as is rarely to be found in the literatures of the world.

And I should like to ask the American people why they do not pay more attention to these voices (hardly to be replaced by those of Gould, Rockefeller, Carnegie, or Admiral Dewey) and continue the good work in which they made such hopeful progress.

My kind regards to your wife--and I take this opportunity of once more thanking her for her excellent translation of "The Kingdom of God is Within You."

Yours truly,

Leo Tolstoy.

Tolstoy came to write The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1893), the last major work in a series of religious and moral tracts, largely because of his correspondence with the sons of Garrison and with Adin Ballou, both preachers of non-resistance. Surprisingly, most of those who provided "great help"--and many of this "bright constellation"--were religious writers, several of whose names were already unfamiliar. Tolstoy's correspondence with these preachers as well as with a number of other American religious, philosophical, and political thinkers testifies to the breadth of their mutual sympathy.

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Comment by Arthur Bogomil Burton on May 26, 2017 at 17:32

A DIRECT INDICTMENT OF THE SO CALLED 'Christian' World - MORE THAN TWO THOUSAND YEARS SINCE THE BIRTH OF THE ONE 'worshipped' AS Christ, Lord, Son OF G-D - imperialism, militarism, weapons manufacturing and trade, poisoning and destruction of the Earth-Mother, murder and death as prime business of the day!
KILLING CANNOT BE WITH CHRIST - THE TRUTH THAT EXPOSES ALL human governments, armies, corporations, industrial institutions, politicians, soldiers, military men and women, racists, etc. AS WHAT they ARE: evil, satanic, sinful - DESPITE ALL media propaganda, patriotic speeches, Hollywood movies, military parades, kissing babies, etc. TO THE CONTRARY!...

Comment by Aunty Kamala on November 22, 2010 at 14:54
Tolstoy has made an important point of observation - the 1850's is perhaps where and when the search for Truth in the humanities was left, and the quest for expression, particularly self-expression of a self-centered myopic reality stepped in. Perhaps this point can even be traced to Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, when he was acquitted for his writings which until then, the land of Voltaire, held to be potentially corrupting of societal moral strength.
Flaubert's 'victory' heralded the expression of sarcasm, cynicsm, and a host of other uses of speech, as being 'reality'. From this point, the school of 'realism' sprung up, which was not realism, but a self-centered expression....without self restraint, consideration, respect or regard for purposes of life, nor care for the development of youth.
Taking these thoughts further into license, we have the unbridled and corrupting media of today, which is making it very hard for people to have clarity or clear perception of pure ideals.
This is part of the underlying reason that the humanities have lost social value, for they no longer serve truth, but individualism.
When this happened, the humanities began to decline in veracity and social value, to the point now that they are considered 'soft sciences' as they no longer concern themselves with Truth, expressing a view of Truth, which all science, to be valid, must do.
Aunty Kamala

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