Leo Tolstoy Archive

What is Art?
Appendix 4

Written: 1897
Source: Original Text from Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021

Leo Tolstoy


I adore thee as much as the vaults of night,

O vase full of grief, taciturnity great,

And I love thee the more because of thy flight.

It seemeth, my night’s beautifier, that you

Still heap up those leagues—yes! ironically heap!—

That divide from my arms the immensity blue.

I advance to attack, I climb to assault,

Like a choir of young worms at a corpse in the vault;

Thy coldness, oh cruel, implacable beast!

Yet heightens thy beauty, on which my eyes feast!



Two warriors come running, to fight they begin,

With gleaming and blood they bespatter the air;

These games, and this clatter of arms, is the din

Of youth that’s a prey to the surgings of love.

The rapiers are broken! and so is our youth,

But the dagger’s avenged, dear! and so is the sword,

By the nail that is steeled and the hardened tooth.

Oh, the fury of hearts aged and ulcered by love!

In the ditch, where the ounce and the pard have their lair,

Our heroes have rolled in an angry embrace;

Their skin blooms on brambles that erewhile were bare.

233That ravine is a friend-inhabited hell!

Then let us roll in, oh woman inhuman,

To immortalize hatred that nothing can quell!



Whom dost thou love best? say, enigmatical man—thy father, thy mother, thy brother, or thy sister?

“I have neither father, nor mother, nor sister, nor brother.”

Thy friends?

“You there use an expression the meaning of which till now remains unknown to me.”

Thy country?

“I ignore in what latitude it is situated.”


“I would gladly love her, goddess and immortal.”


“I hate it as you hate God.”

Then what do you love, extraordinary stranger?

“I love the clouds ... the clouds that pass ... there ... the marvelous clouds!”


My beloved little silly was giving me my dinner, and I was contemplating, through the open window of the dining-room, those moving architectures which God makes out of vapors, the marvelous constructions of the impalpable. And I said to myself, amid my contemplations, “All these phantasmagoria are almost as beautiful as the eyes of my beautiful beloved, the monstrous little silly with the green eyes.”

Suddenly I felt the violent blow of a fist on my back, and I heard a harsh, charming voice, an hysterical voice, as it were hoarse with brandy, the voice of my dear little well-beloved, saying, “Are you going to eat your soup soon, you d—— b—— of a dealer in clouds?”



As the carriage was passing through the forest, he ordered it to be stopped near a shooting-gallery, saying that he wished to shoot off a few bullets to kill Time. To kill this monster, is it not the most ordinary and the most legitimate occupation of everyone? And he gallantly offered his arm to his dear, delicious, and execrable wife—that mysterious woman to whom he owed so much pleasure, so much pain, and perhaps also a large part of his genius.

Several bullets struck far from the intended mark—one even penetrated the ceiling; and as the charming creature laughed madly, mocking her husband’s awkwardness, he turned abruptly towards her and said, “Look at that doll there on the right with the haughty mien and her nose in the air; well, dear angel, I imagine to myself that it is you!” And he closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. The doll was neatly decapitated.

Then, bowing towards his dear one, his delightful, execrable wife, his inevitable, pitiless muse, and kissing her hand respectfully, he added, “Ah! my dear angel, how I thank you for my skill!”

No. I.

“The wind in the plain

Suspends its breath.”—Favart.

’Tis ecstasy languishing,

Amorous fatigue,

Of woods all the shudderings

Embraced by the breeze,

’Tis the choir of small voices

Towards the gray trees.

Oh the frail and fresh murmuring!

The twitter and buzz,

The soft cry resembling

That’s expired by the grass ...

Oh, the roll of the pebbles

’Neath waters that pass!

235Oh, this soul that is groaning

In sleepy complaint!

In us is it moaning?

In me and in you?

Low anthem exhaling

While soft falls the dew.


In the unending

Dullness of this land,

Uncertain the snow

Is gleaming like sand.

No kind of brightness

In copper-hued sky,

The moon you might see

Now live and now die.

Gray float the oak trees—

Cloudlike they seem—

Of neighboring forests,

The mists in between.

Wolves hungry and lean,

And famishing crow,

What happens to you

When acid winds blow?

In the unending

Dullness of this land,

Uncertain the snow

Is gleaming like sand.


When he went away,

(Then I heard the door)

When he went away,

On her lips a smile there lay ...

236Back he came to her,

(Then I heard the lamp)

Back he came to her,

Someone else was there ...

It was death I met,

(And I heard her soul)

It was death I met,

For her he’s waiting yet ...

Someone came to say,

(Child, I am afraid)

Someone came to say

That he would go away ...

With my lamp alight,

(Child, I am afraid)

With my lamp alight,

Approached I in affright ...

To one door I came,

(Child, I am afraid)

To one door I came,

A shudder shook the flame ...

At the second door,

(Child, I am afraid)

At the second door

Forth words the flame did pour ...

To the third I came,

(Child, I am afraid)

To the third I came,

Then died the little flame ...

Should he one day return

Then what shall we say?

Waiting, tell him, one

And dying for him lay ...

If he asks for you,

Say what answer then?

Give him my gold ring

And answer not a thing ...

237Should he question me

Concerning the last hour?

Say I smiled for fear

That he should shed a tear ...

Should he question more

Without knowing me?

Like a sister speak;

Suffering he may be ...

Should he question why

Empty is the hall?

Show the gaping door,

The lamp alight no more ...



1.  Bolton Hall has recently published a little work, Life, and Love, and Death, with the object of making the philosophy contained in On Life more easily accessible in English.

2.  Tolstoy’s remarks on Church religion were re-worded so as to seem to relate only to the Western Church, and his disapproval of luxurious life was made to apply not, say, to Queen Victoria or Nicholas II., but to the Cæsars or the Pharaohs.—Trans.

3.  The Russian peasant is usually a member of a village commune, and has therefore a right to a share in the land belonging to the village. Tolstoy disapproves of the order of society which allows less land for the support of a whole village full of people than is sometimes owned by a single landed proprietor. The “Censor” will not allow disapproval of this state of things to be expressed, but is prepared to admit that the laws and customs, say, of England—where a yet more extreme form of landed property exists, and the men who actually labor on the land usually possess none of it—deserve criticism.—Trans.

4.  Only two, or at most three, senses are generally held worthy to supply matter for artistic treatment, but I think this opinion is only conditionally correct. I will not lay too much stress on the fact that our common speech recognizes many other arts, as, for instance, the art of cookery.

5.  And yet it is certainly an æsthetic achievement when the art of cooking succeeds in making of an animal’s corpse an object in all respects tasteful. The principle of the Art of Taste (which goes beyond the so-called Art of Cookery) is therefore this: All that is eatable should be treated as the symbol of some Idea, and always in harmony with the Idea to be expressed.

6.  If the sense of touch lacks color, it gives us, on the other hand, a notion which the eye alone cannot afford, and one of considerable æsthetic value, namely, that of softness, silkiness, polish. The beauty of velvet is characterized not less by its softness to the touch than by its luster. In the idea we form of a woman’s beauty, the softness of her skin enters as an essential element.

Each of us probably, with a little attention, can recall pleasures of taste which have been real æsthetic pleasures.

7.  M. Schasler, Kritische Geschichte der Aesthetik, 1872, vol. i. p. 13.

8.  There is no science which more than æsthetics has been handed over to the reveries of the metaphysicians. From Plato down to the received doctrines of our day, people have made of art a strange amalgam of quintessential fancies and transcendental mysteries, which find their supreme expression in the conception of an absolute ideal Beauty, immutable and divine prototype of actual things.

9.  See on this matter Benard’s admirable book, L’esthétique d’Aristote, also Walter’s Geschichte der Aesthetik im Altertum.

10.  Schasler, p. 361.

11.  Schasler, p. 369.

12.  Schasler, pp. 388-390.

13.  Knight, Philosophy of the Beautiful, i. pp. 165, 166.

14.  Schasler, p. 289. Knight, pp. 168, 169.

15.  R. Kralik, Weltschönheit, Versuch einer allgemeinen Aesthetik, pp. 304-306.

16.  Knight, p. 101.

17.  Schasler, p. 316.

18.  Knight, pp. 102-104.

19.  R. Kralik, p. 124.

20.  Spaletti, Schasler, p. 328.

21.  Schasler, pp. 331-333.

22.  Schasler, pp. 525-528.

23.  Knight, pp. 61-63.

24.  Schasler, pp. 740-743.

25.  Schasler, pp. 769-771.

26.  Schasler, pp. 786, 787.

27.  Kralik, p. 148.

28.  Kralik, p. 820.

29.  Schasler, pp. 828, 829, 834-841.

30.  Schasler, p. 891.

31.  Schasler, p. 917.

32.  Schasler, pp. 946, 1085, 984, 985, 990.

33.  Schasler, pp. 966, 655, 956.

34.  Schasler, p. 1017.

35.  Schasler, pp. 1065, 1066.

36.  Schasler, pp. 1097-1100.

37.  Schasler, pp. 1124, 1107.

38.  Knight, pp. 81, 82.

39.  Knight, p. 83.

40.  Schasler, p. 1121.

41.  Knight, pp. 85, 86.

42.  Knight, p. 88.

43.  Knight, p. 88.

44.  Knight, p. 112.

45.  Knight, p. 116.

46.  Knight, pp. 118, 119.

47.  Knight, pp. 123, 124.

48.  La philosophie en France, p. 232.

49.  Du fondement de l’induction.

50.  Philosophie de l’art, vol. i. 1893, p. 47.

51.  Knight, p. 139-141.

52.  Knight, pp. 134.

53.  L’esthétique, p. 106.

54.  Knight, p. 238.

55.  Knight, pp. 239, 240.

56.  Knight, pp. 240-243.

57.  Knight, pp. 250-252.

58.  Knight, pp. 258, 259.

59.  Knight, p. 243.

60.  “The foundling of Nuremberg,” found in the market-place of that town on 26th May 1828, apparently some sixteen years old. He spoke little, and was almost totally ignorant even of common objects. He subsequently explained that he had been brought up in confinement underground, and visited by only one man, whom he saw but seldom.—Trans.

61.  Eastern sects well known in early Church history, who rejected the Church’s rendering of Christ’s teaching and were cruelly persecuted.—Trans.

62.  Keltchitsky, a Bohemian of the fifteenth century, was the author of a remarkable book, The Net of Faith, directed against Church and State. It is mentioned in Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You.—Trans.

63.  Any one examining closely may see that the theory of beauty and that of art are quite separated in Aristotle as they are in Plato and in all their successors.

64.  Die Lücke von fünf Jahrhunderten, welche zwischen den Kunstphilosophischen Betrachtungen des Plato und Aristoteles und die des Plotins fällt, kann zwar auffällig erscheinen; dennoch kann man eigentlich nicht sagen, dass in dieser Zwischenzeit überhaupt von ästhetischen Dingen nicht die Rede gewesen; oder dass gar ein völliger Mangel an Zusammenhang zwischen den Kunst-anscliauungen des letztgenannten Philosophen und denen der ersteren existire. Freilich wurde die von Aristoteles begründete Wissenschaft in Nichts dadurch gefördert; immerhin aber zeigt sich in jener Zwischenzeit noch ein gewisses Interesse für ästhetische Fragen. Nach Plotin aber, die wenigen, ihm in der Zeit nahestehenden Philosophen, wie Longin, Augustin, u. s. f. kommen, wie wir gesehen, kaum in Betracht und schliessen sich übrigens in ihrer Anschauungsweise an ihn an,—vergehen nicht fünf, sondern fünfzehn Jahrhunderte, in denen von irgend einer wissenschaftlichen Interesse für die Welt des Schönen und der Kunst nichts zu spüern ist.

Diese anderthalbtausend Jahre, innerhalb deren der Weltgeist durch die mannigfachsten Kämpfe hindurch zu einer völlig neuen Gestaltung des Lebens sich durcharbeitete, sind für die Aesthetik, hinsichtlich des weiteren Ausbaus dieser Wissenschaft verloren.—Max Schasler.

65.  The contrast made is between the classes and the masses: between those who do not and those who do earn their bread by productive manual labor; the middle classes being taken as an offshoot of the upper classes.—Trans.

66.  Dueling is still customary among the higher circles in Russia, as in other Continental countries.—Trans.

67.  It is the weariness of life, contempt for the present epoch, regret for another age seen through the illusion of art, a taste for paradox, a desire to be singular, a sentimental aspiration after simplicity, an infantine adoration of the marvelous, a sickly tendency towards reverie, a shattered condition of nerves, and, above all, the exasperated demand of sensuality.


Music, music before all things

The eccentric still prefer,

Vague in air, and nothing weighty,

Soluble. Yet do not err,

Choosing words; still do it lightly,

Do it too with some contempt;

Dearest is the song that’s tipsy,

Clearness, dimness not exempt.

Music always, now and ever

Be thy verse the thing that flies

From a soul that’s gone, escaping,

Gone to other loves and skies.

Gone to other loves and regions,

Following fortunes that allure,

Mint and thyme and morning crispness ...

All the rest’s mere literature.

69.  I think there should be nothing but allusions. The contemplation of objects, the flying image of reveries evoked by them, are the song. The Parnassiens state the thing completely, and show it, and thereby lack mystery; they deprive the mind of that delicious joy of imagining that it creates. To name an object is to take three-quarters from the enjoyment of the poem, which consists in the happiness of guessing little by little: to suggest, that is the dream. It is the perfect use of this mystery that constitutes the symbol: little by little, to evoke an object in order to show a state of the soul; or inversely, to choose an object, and from it to disengage a state of the soul by a series of decipherings.

... If a being of mediocre intelligence and insufficient literary preparation chance to open a book made in this way and pretends to enjoy it, there is a misunderstanding—things must be returned to their places. There should always be an enigma in poetry, and the aim of literature—it has no other—is to evoke objects.

70.  It were time also to have done with this famous “theory of obscurity,” which the new school have practically raised to the height of a dogma.

71.  For translation, see Appendix IV.

72.  For translation, see Appendix IV.

73.  For translation, see Appendix IV.

74.  For translation, see Appendix IV.

75.  For translation, see Appendix IV.

76.  For translation, see Appendix IV.


I do not wish to think any more, except about my mother Mary,

Seat of wisdom and source of pardon,

Also Mother of France, from whom we

Steadfastly expect the honor of our country.

78.  This sonnet seems too unintelligible for translation.—Trans.

79.  For translation, see Appendix IV.

80.  The quicker it goes the longer it lasts.

81.  All styles are good except the wearisome style.

82.  All styles are good except that which is not understood, or which fails to produce its effect.

83.  An apparatus exists by means of which a very sensitive arrow, in dependence on the tension of a muscle of the arm, will indicate the physiological action of music on the nerves and muscles.

84.  There is in Moscow a magnificent “Cathedral of our Savior,” erected to commemorate the defeat of the French in the war of 1812.—Trans.

85.  “That they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.”

86.  In this picture the spectators in the Roman Amphitheater are turning down their thumbs to show that they wish the vanquished gladiator to be killed.—Trans.

87.  While offering as examples of art those that seem to me the best, I attach no special importance to my selection; for, besides being insufficiently informed in all branches of art, I belong to the class of people whose taste has, by false training, been perverted. And therefore my old, inured habits may cause me to err, and I may mistake for absolute merit the impression a work produced on me in my youth. My only purpose in mentioning examples of works of this or that class is to make my meaning clearer, and to show how, with my present views, I understand excellence in art in relation to its subject-matter. I must, moreover, mention that I consign my own artistic productions to the category of bad art, excepting the story God sees the Truth, which seeks a place in the first class, and The Prisoner of the Caucasus, which belongs to the second.

88.  In Russian it is customary to make a distinction between literate and illiterate people, i.e. between those who can and those who cannot read. Literate in this sense does not imply that the man would speak or write correctly.—Trans.

89.  The over-man (Uebermensch), in the Nietzschean philosophy, is that superior type of man whom the struggle for existence is to evolve, and who will seek only his own power and pleasure, will know nothing of pity, and will have the right, because he will possess the power, to make ordinary people serve him.—Trans.

90.  Stenka Razin was by origin a common Cossack. His brother was hung for a breach of military discipline, and to this event Stenka Razin’s hatred of the governing classes has been attributed. He formed a robber band, and subsequently headed a formidable rebellion, declaring himself in favor of freedom for the serfs, religious toleration, and the abolition of taxes. Like the Government he opposed, he relied on force, and, though he used it largely in defense of the poor against the rich, he still held to

“The good old rule, the simple plan,

That they should take who have the power,

And they should keep who can.”

Like Robin Hood he is favorably treated in popular legends.—Trans.

91.  Robert Macaire is a modern type of adroit and audacious rascality. He was the hero of a popular play produced in Paris in 1834.—Trans.

92.  The translations in Appendices I., II., and IV., are by Louise Maude. The aim of these renderings has been to keep as close to the originals as the obscurity of meaning allowed. The sense (or absence of sense) has therefore been more considered than the form of the verses.