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The Tolstoyans

The numerous admirers of Count Tolstoi will find in his writings some
derivations, whether conscious or unconscious, from the principles
elaborated by many of the Russian sects. The doctrine of
non-resistance, or inaction, the abolition of the army, vegetarianism,
the defiance of law, and of dogmatic Christianity, together with many
other conceptions which either scandalised or enraptured his readers,
were already widespread among the Russian peasantry; though Tolstoi was
able to give them new forms of expression and an original, if
disquieting, philosophic basis.

But even as the products of the earth which we consume return to earth
again, so do ideas and doctrines ever return to the source from which
they sprang. A great reformer usually gathers his ideas from his
environment, until, transformed by the workings of his brain, they
react once more upon those to whom they actually owed their origin.

Renan has traced very accurately the evolution of a religious leader,
and Tolstoi passed through all its logical phases, only stopping short
of the martyrdom necessary ere he could enter the ranks of the prophets.

Imbued with the hopes and dreams that flourished all around him, he
began, at a ripe age and in full possession of his faculties, to
express his philosophy in poetic and alluring parables, the hostility
of the government having only served to fire his enthusiasms and
embitter his individual opinions. After first declaring that the
masters of men are their equals, he taught later on that they are their
persecutors, and finally, in old age, arrived at the conclusion that
all who rule or direct others are simply criminals!

"You are not at all obliged to fulfil your duties," he wrote, in the
_Life and Death of Drojine_, 1895, dedicated to a Tolstoyan martyr.
"You could, if you wished, find another occupation, so that you would
no longer have to tyrannise over men. . . . You men of power, emperors
and kings, you are not Christians, and it is time you renounced the
name as well as the moral code upon which you depend in order to
dominate others."

It would be difficult to give a complete list either of the beliefs of
the Tolstoyans, or of their colonies, in many of which members of the
highest aristocracy were to be found.

"We have in Russia tens of thousands of men who have refused to swear
allegiance to the new Tsar," wrote Tolstoi, a couple of years before
his death, "and who consider military service merely a school for

We have no right to doubt his word--but did Tolstoi know all his
followers? Like all who have scattered seed, he was not in a position
to count it. But however that may be, he transformed the highest
aspirations of man's soul into a noble philosophy of human progress,
and attracted the uneducated as well as the cultured classes by his
genuine desire for equality and justice.

Early in June, 1895, several hundreds of _verigintzi_ (members of a
sect named after Veregine, their leader) came from the south of Russia
to the Karsk district. The government's suspicions were aroused, and
at Karsk the pilgrims were stopped, and punished for having attempted
to emigrate without special permission. Inquiries showed that all were
Tolstoyans, who practised the doctrine of non-resistance to evil on a
large scale. For their co-religionists in Elisabethpol suddenly
refused to bear arms, and nine soldiers also belonging to the sect
repeated without ceasing that "our heavenly Father has forbidden us to
kill our fellowmen." Those who were in the reserve sent in their
papers, saying that they wished to have nothing more to do with the

One section of the _verigintzi_ especially distinguished themselves by
the zeal with which they practised the Tolstoyan doctrines. They
reverenced their leader under the name of "General Tolstoi," gave up
sugar as well as meat, drank only tea and ate only bread. They were
called "the fasters," and their gentleness became proverbial. In the
village of Orlovka they were exposed to most cruel outrages, the
inhabitants having been stirred up against them by the priests and
officials. They were spat upon, flogged, and generally ill-treated,
but never ceased to pray, "O God, help us to bear our misery." Their
meekness at last melted the hearts of their persecutors, who, becoming
infected by their religious ardour, went down on their knees before
those whom they had struck with whips a few minutes before.

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