Leo Tolstoy Archive
Source: Original Text from Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021
This book of mine, “What is Art?” appears now for the first time in its true form. More than one edition has already been issued in Russia, but in each case it has been so mutilated by the “Censor,” that I request all who are interested in my views on art only to judge of them by the work in its present shape. The causes which led to the publication of the book—with my name attached to it—in a mutilated form, were the following:—In accordance with a decision I arrived at long ago,—not to submit my writings to the “Censorship” (which I consider to be an immoral and irrational institution), but to print them only in the shape in which they were written,—I intended not to attempt to print this work in Russia. However, my good acquaintance Professor Grote, editor of a Moscow psychological magazine, having heard of the contents of my work, asked me to print it in his magazine, and promised me that he would get the book through the “Censor’s” office unmutilated if I would but agree to a few very unimportant alterations, merely toning down certain expressions. I was weak enough to agree to this, and it has resulted in a book appearing, under my name, from which not only have some essential thoughts been excluded, but into which the thoughts of other men—even thoughts utterly opposed to my own convictions—have been introduced.
xxxivThe thing occurred in this way. First, Grote softened my expressions, and in some cases weakened them. For instance, he replaced the words: always by sometimes, all by some, Church religion by Roman Catholic religion, “Mother of God” by Madonna, patriotism by pseudo-patriotism, palaces by palatii, etc., and I did not consider it necessary to protest. But when the book was already in type, the Censor required that whole sentences should be altered, and that instead of what I said about the evil of landed property, a remark should be substituted on the evils of a landless proletariat. I agreed to this also and to some further alterations. It seemed not worth while to upset the whole affair for the sake of one sentence, and when one alteration had been agreed to it seemed not worth while to protest against a second and a third. So, little by little, expressions crept into the book which altered the sense and attributed things to me that I could not have wished to say. So that by the time the book was printed it had been deprived of some part of its integrity and sincerity. But there was consolation in the thought that the book, even in this form, if it contains something that is good, would be of use to Russian readers whom it would otherwise not have reached. Things, however, xxxvturned out otherwise. Nous comptions sans noter hôte. After the legal term of four days had already elapsed, the book was seized, and, on instructions received from Petersburg, it was handed over to the “Spiritual Censor.” Then Grote declined all further participation in the affair, and the “Spiritual Censor” proceeded to do what he would with the book. The “Spiritual Censorship” is one of the most ignorant, venal, stupid, and despotic institutions in Russia. Books which disagree in any way with the recognized state religion of Russia, if once it gets hold of them, are almost always totally suppressed and burnt; which is what happened to all my religious works when attempts were made to print them in Russia. Probably a similar fate would have overtaken this work also, had not the editors of the magazine employed all means to save it. The result of their efforts was that the “Spiritual Censor,” a priest who probably understands art and is interested in art as much as I understand or am interested in church services, but who gets a good salary for destroying whatever is likely to displease his superiors, struck out all that seemed to him to endanger his position, and substituted his thoughts for mine wherever he considered it necessary to do so. For instance, where I speak of Christ going to the Cross for the sake of the truth He professed, the “Censor” substituted a statement that Christ died for mankind, i.e. he attributed to me an assertion of the dogma of the Redemption, which I consider to be one of the most untrue and harmful of Church dogmas. After correcting the book in this way, the “Spiritual Censor” allowed it to be printed.
To protest in Russia is impossible, no newspaper would publish such a protest, and to withdraw my book from the magazine and place the editor in an awkward position with the public was also not possible.
So the matter has remained. A book has appeared under xxxvimy name containing thoughts attributed to me which are not mine.
I was persuaded to give my article to a Russian magazine, in order that my thoughts, which may be useful, should become the possession of Russian readers; and the result has been that my name is affixed to a work from which it might be assumed that I quite arbitrarily assert things contrary to the general opinion, without adducing my reasons; that I only consider false patriotism bad, but patriotism in general a very good feeling; that I merely deny the absurdities of the Roman Catholic Church and disbelieve in the Madonna, but that I believe in the Orthodox Eastern faith and in the “Mother of God”; that I consider all the writings collected in the Bible to be holy books, and see the chief importance of Christ’s life in the Redemption of mankind by his death.
I have narrated all this in such detail because it strikingly illustrates the indubitable truth, that all compromise with institutions of which your conscience disapproves,—compromises which are usually made for the sake of the general good,—instead of producing the good you expected, inevitably lead you not only to acknowledge the institution you disapprove of, but also to participate in the evil that institution produces.
I am glad to be able by this statement at least to do something to correct the error into which I was led by my compromise.
I have also to mention that besides reinstating the parts excluded by the Censor from the Russian editions, other corrections and additions of importance have been made in this edition.
29th March 1898.