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I have received, and still continue to receive, numbers of letters from
persons who are perfect strangers to me, asking me to state in plain
and simple language my own views on the subject handled in the story
entitled "The Kreutzer Sonata." With this request I shall now endeavor
My views on the question may be succinctly stated as follows: Without
entering into details, it will be generally admitted that I am accurate
in saying that many people condone in young men a course of conduct with
regard to the other sex which is incompatible with strict morality,
and that this dissoluteness is pardoned generally. Both parents and
the government, in consequence of this view, may be said to wink at
profligacy, and even in the last resource to encourage its practice. I
am of opinion that this is not right.
It is not possible that the health of one class should necessitate the
ruin of another, and, in consequence, it is our first duty to turn a
deaf ear to such an essential immoral doctrine, no matter how strongly
society may have established or law protected it. Moreover, it needs to
be fully recognized that men are rightly to be held responsible for
the consequences of their own acts, and that these are no longer to be
visited on the woman alone. It follows from this that it is the duty of
men who do not wish to lead a life of infamy to practice such continence
in respect to all woman as they would were the female society in which
they move made up exclusively of their own mothers and sisters.
A more rational mode of life should be adopted which would include
abstinence from all alcoholic drinks, from excess in eating and from
flesh meat, on the one hand, and recourse to physical labor on the
other. I am not speaking of gymnastics, or of any of those occupations
which may be fitly described as playing at work; I mean the genuine toil
that fatigues. No one need go far in search of proofs that this kind of
abstemious living is not merely possible, but far less hurtful to health
than excess. Hundreds of instances are known to every one. This is my
In the second place, I think that of late years, through various reasons
which I need not enter, but among which the above-mentioned laxity
of opinion in society and the frequent idealization of the subject in
current literature and painting may be mentioned, conjugal infidelity
has become more common and is considered less reprehensible. I am of
opinion that this is not right. The origin of the evil is twofold. It is
due, in the first place, to a natural instinct, and, in the second, to
the elevation of this instinct to a place to which it does not rightly
belong. This being so, the evil can only be remedied by effecting a
change in the views now in vogue about "falling in love" and all that
this term implies, by educating men and women at home through family
influence and example, and abroad by means of healthy public opinion, to
practice that abstinence which morality and Christianity alike enjoin.
This is my second contention.
In the third place I am of opinion that another consequence of the false
light in which "falling in love," and what it leads to, are viewed
in our society, is that the birth of children has lost its pristine
significance, and that modern marriages are conceived less and less from
the point of view of the family. I am of opinion that this is not right.
This is my third contention.
In the fourth place, I am of opinion that the children (who in our
society are considered an obstacle to enjoyment--an unlucky accident, as
it were) are educated not with a view to the problem which they will be
one day called on to face and to solve, but solely with an eye to
the pleasure which they may be made to yield to their parents. The
consequence is, that the children of human beings are brought up for
all the world like the young of animals, the chief care of their parents
being not to train them to such work as is worthy of men and women, but
to increase their weight, or add a cubit to their stature, to make them
spruce, sleek, well-fed, and comely. They rig them out in all manner of
fantastic costumes, wash them, over-feed them, and refuse to make them
work. If the children of the lower orders differ in this last respect
from those of the well-to-do classes, the difference is merely formal;
they work from sheer necessity, and not because their parents recognize
work as a duty. And in over-fed children, as in over-fed animals,
sensuality is engendered unnaturally early.
Fashionable dress to-day, the course of reading, plays, music, dances,
luscious food, all the elements of our modern life, in a word, from the
pictures on the little boxes of sweetmeats up to the novel, the tale,
and the poem, contribute to fan this sensuality into a strong, consuming
flame, with the result that sexual vices and diseases have come to be
the normal conditions of the period of tender youth, and often continue
into the riper age of full-blown manhood. And I am of opinion that this
is not right.
It is high time it ceased. The children of human beings should not be
brought up as if they were animals; and we should set up as the object
and strive to maintain as the result of our labors something better and
nobler than a well-dressed body. This is my fourth contention.
In the fifth place, I am of opinion that, owing to the exaggerated and
erroneous significance attributed by our society to love and to the
idealized states that accompany and succeed it, the best energies of our
men and women are drawn forth and exhausted during the most promising
period of life; those of the men in the work of looking for, choosing,
and winning the most desirable objects of love, for which purpose lying
and fraud are held to be quite excusable; those of the women and girls
in alluring men and decoying them into liaisons or marriage by the most
questionable means conceivable, as an instance of which the present
fashions in evening dress may be cited. I am of opinion that this is not
The truth is, that the whole affair has been exalted by poets and
romancers to an undue importance, and that love in its various
developments is not a fitting object to consume the best energies of
men. People set it before them and strive after it, because their view
of life is as vulgar and brutish as is that other conception frequently
met with in the lower stages of development, which sees in luscious
and abundant food an end worthy of man's best efforts. Now, this is not
right and should not be done. And, in order to avoid doing it, it is
only needful to realize the fact that whatever truly deserves to be held
up as a worthy object of man's striving and working, whether it be the
service of humanity, of one's country, of science, of art, not to speak
of the service of God, is far above and beyond the sphere of personal
enjoyment. Hence, it follows that not only to form a liaison, but
even to contract marriage, is, from a Christian point of view, not a
progress, but a fall. Love, and all the states that accompany and follow
it, however we may try in prose and verse to prove the contrary, never
do and never can facilitate the attainment of an aim worthy of men, but
always make it more difficult. This is my fifth contention.
How about the human race? If we admit that celibacy is better and nobler
than marriage, evidently the human race will come to an end. But, if the
logical conclusion of the argument is that the human race will become
extinct, the whole reasoning is wrong.
To that I reply that the argument is not mine; I did not invent it. That
it is incumbent on mankind so to strive, and that celibacy is preferable
to marriage, are truths revealed by Christ 1,900 years ago, set forth in
our catechisms, and professed by us as followers of Christ.
Chastity and celibacy, it is urged, cannot constitute the ideal of
humanity, because chastity would annihilate the race which strove
to realize it, and humanity cannot set up as its ideal its own
annihilation. It may be pointed out in reply that only that is a true
ideal, which, being unattainable, admits of infinite gradation in
degrees of proximity. Such is the Christian ideal of the founding of
God's kingdom, the union of all living creatures by the bonds of love.
The conception of its attainment is incompatible with the conception
of the movement of life. What kind of life could subsist if all
living creatures were joined together by the bonds of love? None. Our
conception of life is inseparably bound up with the conception of a
continual striving after an unattainable ideal.
But even if we suppose the Christian ideal of perfect chastity realized,
what then? We should merely find ourselves face to face on the one hand
with the familiar teaching of religion, one of whose dogmas is that the
world will have an end; and on the other of so-called science, which
informs us that the sun is gradually losing its heat, the result of
which will in time be the extinction of the human race.
Now there is not and cannot be such an institution as Christian
marriage, just as there cannot be such a thing as a Christian liturgy
(Matt. vi. 5-12; John iv. 21), nor Christian teachers, nor church
fathers (Matt. xxiii. 8-10), nor Christian armies, Christian law courts,
nor Christian States. This is what was always taught and believed by
true Christians of the first and following centuries. A Christian's
ideal is not marriage, but love for God and for his neighbor.
Consequently in the eyes of a Christian relations in marriage not only
do not constitute a lawful, right, and happy state, as our society and
our churches maintain, but, on the contrary, are always a fall.
Such a thing as Christian marriage never was and never could be. Christ
did not marry, nor did he establish marriage; neither did his disciples
marry. But if Christian marriage cannot exist, there is such a thing as
a Christian view of marriage. And this is how it may be formulated: A
Christian (and by this term I understand not those who call themselves
Christians merely because they were baptized and still receive the
sacrament once a year, but those whose lives are shaped and regulated
by the teachings of Christ), I say, cannot view the marriage relation
otherwise than as a deviation from the doctrine of Christ,--as a sin.
This is clearly laid down in Matt. v. 28, and the ceremony called
Christian marriage does not alter its character one jot. A Christian
will never, therefore, desire marriage, but will always avoid it.
If the light of truth dawns upon a Christian when he is already married,
or if, being a Christian, from weakness he enters into marital relations
with the ceremonies of the church, or without them, he has no other
alternative than to abide with his wife (and the wife with her husband,
if it is she who is a Christian) and to aspire together with her to free
themselves of their sin. This is the Christian view of marriage; and
there cannot be any other for a man who honestly endeavors to shape his
life in accordance with the teachings of Christ.
To very many persons the thoughts I have uttered here and in "The
Kreutzer Sonata" will seem strange, vague, even contradictory. They
certainly do contradict, not each other, but the whole tenor of our
lives, and involuntarily a doubt arises, "on which side is truth,--on
the side of the thoughts which seem true and well-founded, or on the
side of the lives of others and myself?" I, too, was weighed down
by that same doubt when writing "The Kreutzer Sonata." I had not the
faintest presentiment that the train of thought I had started would lead
me whither it did. I was terrified by my own conclusion, and I was at
first disposed to reject it, but it was impossible not to hearken to the
voice of my reason and my conscience. And so, strange though they may
appear to many, opposed as they undoubtedly are to the trend and tenor
of our lives, and incompatible though they may prove with what I have
heretofore thought and uttered, I have no choice but to accept them.
"But man is weak," people will object. "His task should be regulated by
This is tantamount to saying, "My hand is weak. I cannot draw a straight
line,--that is, a line which will be the shortest line between two given
points,--and so, in order to make it more easy for myself, I, intending
to draw a straight, will choose for my model a crooked line."
The weaker my hand, the greater the need that my model should be
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