19 NOVEMBER 1910, Page 9


"Between the business of life and the day of death a space ought to be inter- posed."—GEoaas HERBERT, "Jacula Pradentium."

THE flight of Count Tolstoy from his borne, declaring that he will never return, and bidding his wife not to seek him out in his seclusion, dramatic though it is, is not startlingly out of keeping with his character. Countess Tolstoy has known already the pains and penalties of being the companion of genius, and she will not perhaps feel quite as other women might at being bidden to regard what is scarcely distinguishable from desertion as the response to some high promptings of conscience. From Count Tolstoy's point of view, it is only logical to end his days in the com- plete simplicity, not to say discomfort, which he has always preached, but for many years has been prevented from practising. His family, in fact, guarded and tended him too well, and he. has now flown from the gilded cage of his embarrassment. So far from being startling in its inappro- priateness, this flight of Count Tolstoy's appears to us to be as logical an expression of his curious opinions as any other act in his life. Half the actions in a life of tempestuous spiritual experience like his must seem to be out of accord with one another, but we suspect that they are not so really. At least they are all accounted for by the strange over- emphasis which has always marked his mind.

Count Tolstoy is the type of the heretic. Heretics were hardly ever " heretical " by intention. They generally insisted so earnestly on the recognition of some neglected aspect of doctrine that they emphasised that to the detri- ment or disparagement of others. So with Count Tolstoy. His later life is commonly supposed to have been a breaking away from his earlier life; his " conversion " in the "seven- ties" of last century is taken to mark the point of separation. But the later teaching is only a too logical development, we imagine, of his former sentiments and experiences. From the time that his heart poured itself out in sympathy with the soldiers in the trenches of Sebastopol, and from the time that he studied life in its full simplicity among the Bashkir nomads, he has recognised the immeasurable importance of men and women simply because they are men and women.

He has never sought cleverness in others and does not admire it. He finds the peasant's thoughts more interesting than

those of the Russian intelligentia because they are more

direct, less refracted by the lenses of social convention. Once embarked on his admiring search for simplicity, he emphasised the virtues of simplicity out of all reason. His doctrines became the play and parody of logic ; his rules of life so unpractical and critically so destructive that they suggest that he has forgotten that life, after all, is lived by the very men and women whom he has so long and so minutely studied.

To a mind such as his—conscientious and noble as its pro- cesses have always been—it must have been intolerable to experience the self-accusation that he was being held by his family in the bondage of physical comfort and social refine-

ment while words cried out against him. Accordingly he bursts forth at eighty-two years of ago. To the last he is

made of the stuff of heretics in the sense we have explained.

He satisfies his conscience in one respect at the cost of violating that domestic obligation which may seem to less passionate spirits much the more important matter.

But probably the gratification of logic is not the only motive at work. There is deeply implanted in mankind a desire for a little rest, a little folding of the hands to sleep, when the work of life is done and the gate of death has not yet to be passed. The animal conscious of failing strength often separates itself from the herd. The dying Hebrew King " turned his face to the wall," and was alone, we may suppose, with his thoughts and the record of his life. Some men are anchorites by nature ; but to most there comes an anchoretio impulse at some time of life,—at a time of sorrow, or, it may be, of triumph. Is there not a good deal to be said for the deliberate observance and cultivation of an interval between life and death, of a drawing apart and composing of oneself ? Matthew Arnold complained of the stampede of life which prevents men from ever once possessing their souls before they die. No doubt he bad something different in mind,—the possibility of a purposeful pausing now and again

in the rush of strong men about their business. Count Tolstoy retires when he feels that his work is done. The locus elassieus for the interval between life and death which we are thinking of is the example of Diocletian, who abdicated while his fame was undimmed. We quoted the passage hardly a year ago, yet it will bear quotation once more :— " Reason," says Gibbon, "had dictated, and content seems to have accompanied, his retreat, in which he enjoyed for a long time the respect of thoso princes to whom he had resigned the posses- sion of the world. It is seldom that minds long exercised in business have formed any habits of conversing with themselves, and in the loss of power they principally regret the want of occupation. The amusements of letters and of devotion, which afford so many resources in solitude, were incapable of fixing the attention of Diocletian; but he had preserved, or at least he soon recovered, a taste for the most innocent as well as natural pleasures, and his leisure hours were sufficiently employed in building, planting, and gardening. His answer to Maximian is deservedly celebrated. He was solicited by that restless old man to reassume the reins of government and the Imperial purple. He rejected the temptation with a smile of pity, calmly observing that, if he could show Maximian the cabbages which he had planted with his own hands at Salons, he should no longer be urged to relinquish the enjoyment of happiness for the pursuit of power."

The writer knows of the example of a man who, after a long and busy life, announced that he should spend his closing years in retirement. And this he did in perfect con. tentment, interested indeed in everything which happened in politics and art and letters, but never going into the world. He found the support of his declining strength in the company and the affection of his family. To some men, we know, this would be impossible. They must die in harness, or at all events retire by compulsion. The one essential condi- tion for the observance of the interval 'twist life and death, if

it is to be either dignified or profitable, is that it should be undertaken in sincerity. The mind which makes a pose of seclusion, or enters into seclusion in pique or despair or

lethargy, is of itself condemned. Charles V. abdicated because even his large measure of power was inadequate to his ambition. Much worse would be the case of him who entered on a composing period of quiet and reflection with a hollow

motive, or with a sense of leaving a task wilfully unperformed. A hermit must never be a poseur, nor a hermitage a stage or

a platform.