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Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
The First Step

(originally written, in Russian, as the Preface to the Russian translation of The Ethics of Diet by Howard Williams, first published 1883, Russian version from 1892.)


If a man is not making a pretence of work, but is working in order to accomplish the matter he has in hand, his actions will necessarily follow one another in a certain sequence determined by the nature of the work. If he postpones to a later time what from the nature of the work should be done first, or if he altogether omits some essential part, he is certainly not working seriously, but only pretending. 'This rule holds unalterably true whether the work be physical or not. As one cannot seriously wish to bake bread unless one first kneads the flour and then heats the brick-oven, sweeps out the ashes, and so on, so also one cannot seriously wish to lead a good life without adopting a certain order of succession in the attainment of the necessary qualities.

With reference to right living this rule is especially important ; for whereas in the case of physical work, such as making bread, it is easy to discover by the result whether a man is seriously engaged in work or is only pretending, with reference to goodness of life no such verification is possible. If people, without kneading the dough or heating the oven, only pretend to make bread—as they do in the theatre—then from the result (the absence of bread) it becomes evident that they were only pretending ; but when a man pretends to be leading a good life we have no such direct indications that he is not striving seriously but only pretending, for not only are the results of a good life not always evident and palpable to those around, but very often such results even appear to them harmful. Respect for a man's activity, and the acknowledgment of its utility and pleasantness by his contemporaries, furnish no proof of the real goodness of his life.

Therefore, to distinguish the reality from the mere appearance of a good life, the indication given by a regular order of succession in the acquirement of the essential qualities is especially valuable. And this indication is valuable, not so much to enable us to discover the seriousness of other men's strivings after goodness as to test this sincerity in ourselves, for in this respect we are liable to deceive ourselves even more than we deceive others.

A correct order of succession in the attainment of virtues is an indispensable condition of advance towards a good life, and consequently the teachers of mankind have always prescribed a certain invariable order for their attainment.

All moral teachings set up that ladder which, as the Chinese wisdom has it, reaches from earth to heaven, and the ascent of which can only be accomplished by starting from the lowest step. As in the teaching of the Brahmins, Buddhists, Confucians, so also in the teaching of the Greek sages, steps were fixed, and a superior step could not be attained without the lower one having been previously taken. All the moral teachers of mankind, religious and non-religious alike, have admitted the necessity of a definite order of succession in the attainment of the qualities essential to a righteous life. The necessity for this sequence lies in the very essence of things, and therefore, it would seem, ought to be recognised by everyone.

But, strange to say, from the time Church-Christianity spread widely, the consciousness of this necessary order appears to have been more and more lost, and is now retained only among ascetics and monks. Among worldly Christians it is taken for granted that the higher virtues may be attained not only in the absence of the lower ones, which are a necessary condition of the higher, but even in company with the greatest vices ; and consequently the very conception of what it is that constitutes a good life, has reached, in the minds of the majority of worldly people to-day, a state of the greatest confusion.


In our times people have quite lost the consciousness of the necessity of a sequence in the qualities a man must have to enable him to live a good life, and, as a consequence, they have lost the very conception of what constitutes a good life. This, it seems to me, has come about in the following way.

When Christianity replaced heathenism it put forth moral demands superior to the heathen ones, and at the same time (as was also the case with heathen morality) it necessarily laid down one indispensable order for the attainment of virtues—certain steps to the attainment of a righteous life.

Plato's virtues, beginning with self-control, advanced through courage and wisdom to justice ; the Christian virtues, commencing with self-renunciation, rise through devotion to the will of God, to love. Those who accepted Christianity seriously and strove to live righteous Christian lives, thus understood Christianity, and always began living rightly by renouncing their lusts ; which renunciation included the self-control of the pagans.

But let it not be supposed that Christianity in this matter was only echoing the teachings of paganism ; let me not be accused of degrading Christianity from its lofty place to the level of heathenism. Such an accusation would be unjust, for I regard the Christian teaching as the highest the world has known, and as quite different from heathenism. Christian teaching replaced pagan teaching simply because the former was different from, and superior to, the latter. But both Christian and pagan teaching alike, lead men toward truth and goodness ; and as these are always the same, the way to them must also be the same, and the first steps on this way must inevitably be the same for Christian as for heathen.

The difference between the Christian and pagan teaching of goodness lies in this : that the heathen teaching is one of final perfection, while the Christian is one of infinite perfecting. Every heathen, non-Christian, teaching sets before men a model of final perfection ; but the Christian teaching sets before them a model of infinite perfection. Plato, for instance, makes justice the model of perfection, whereas Christ's model is the infinite perfection of love. 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.' In this lies the difference, and from this results the different relation of pagan and Christian teaching toward different grades of virtue. According to the former, the attainment of the highest virtue was possible, and each step toward this attainment had its comparative merit—the higher the step the greater the merit ; so that from the pagan point of view men may be divided into moral and immoral, into more or less immoral—whereas, according to the Christian teaching, which sets up the ideal of infinite perfection, this division is impossible. There can be neither higher nor lower grades. In the Christian teaching, which shows the infinity of perfection, all steps are equal in relation to the infinite ideal.

Among the heathens the plane of virtue attained by a man constituted his merit ; in Christianity merit consists only in the process of attaining, in the greater or lesser speed of attainment. From the heathen point of view, a man who possessed the virtue of reasonableness stood morally higher than one deficient in that virtue ; a man who, in addition to reasonableness, possessed courage stood higher still ; a man who to reasonableness and courage added justice stood yet higher. But one Christian cannot be regarded as morally either higher or lower than another. A man is more or less of a Christian only in proportion to the speed with which he advances towards infinite perfection,, irrespective of the stage he may have reached at a given moment. Hence the stationary righteousness of the Pharisee was worth less than the progress of the repentant thief on the cross.

Such is the difference between the Christian and the heathen teachings. Consequently the stages of virtue, as, for instance, self-control and courage, which in paganism constitute merit, constitute none whatever in Christianity. In this respect the teachings differ. But with regard to the fact that there can be no advance toward virtue, toward perfection, except by mounting the lowest steps, paganism and Christianity are alike : here there can be no difference.

The Christian, like the heathen, must commence the work of perfecting himself from the beginning — i.e., at the step at which the heathen begins it, namely, self control; just as a man who wishes to ascend a flight of stairs cannot avoid beginning at the first step. The only difference is that for the pagan, self-control itself constitutes a virtue ; whereas for the Christian, it is only part of that self-abnegation which is itself but an indispensable condition of all aspiration after perfection. Therefore the manifestation of true Christianity could not but follow the same path that had been indicated and followed by paganism.

But not all men have understood Christianity as an aspiration towards the perfection of the heavenly Father, the majority of people have regarded it as a teaching about salvation — i.e., deliverance from sin by grace transmitted through the Church, according to Catholics and Greek Orthodox ; by faith in the Redemption, according to Protestants, the Reformed Church, and Calvinists ; or, according to some, by means of the two combined.

And it is precisely this teaching that has destroyed the sincerity and seriousness of men's relation to the moral teaching of Christianity. However much the representatives of these faiths may preach that these means of salvation do not hinder man in his aspiration after a righteous life, but on the contrary contribute toward it—still, from certain assertions certain deductions necessarily follow, and no arguments can prevent men from making these deductions, when once they have accepted the assertions from which they flow. If a man believe that he can be saved through grace transmitted by the Church, or through the sacrifice of the Redemption, it is natural for him to think that efforts of his own to live a right life are unnecessary—the more so when he is told that even the hope that his efforts will make him better is a sin. Consequently a man who believes that there are means other than personal effort by which he may escape sin or its results, cannot strive with the same energy and seriousness as the man who knows no other means. And not striving with perfect seriousness, and knowing of other means besides personal effort, a man will inevitably neglect the unalterable order of succession for the attainment of the good qualities necessary to a good life. And this has happened with the majority of those who profess Christianity.


The doctrine that personal effort is not necessary for the attainment of spiritual perfection by man, but that there are other means for its acquirement, caused a relaxation of efforts to live a good life and a neglect of the consecutiveness indispensable for such a life.

The great mass of those who accepted Christianity, accepting it only externally, took advantage of the substitution of Christianity for paganism to rid themselves of the demands of the heathen virtues—no longer necessary for a Christian—and to free themselves from all conflict with their animal nature.

The same thing happens with those who cease to believe in the teaching of the Church, they are like the before-mentioned believers, only they put forward —instead of grace, bestowed by the Church or through Redemption—some imaginary good work, approved of by the majority of men, such as the service of science, art, or humanity ; and in the name of this imaginary good work they liberate themselves from the consecutive attainment of the qualities necessary for a good life, and are satisfied, like men on the stage, with pretending to live a good life.

Those who fell away from paganism without embracing Christianity in its true significance, began to preach love for God and man apart from self-renunciation, and justice without self-control ; that is to say, they preached the higher virtues omitting the lower ones : i.e., not the virtues themselves, but the semblance. Some preach love to God and man without self renunciation, and others humaneness, the service of humanity, without self-control. And as this teaching, while pretending to introduce man into higher moral regions, encourages his animal nature by liberating him from the most elementary demands of morality—long ago acknowledged by the heathens, and not only not rejected but strengthened by true Christianity— it was readily accepted both by believers and unbelievers.

Only the other day the Pope's Encyclical (1) on Socialism was published, in which, after a pretended refutation of the Socialist view of the wrongfulness of private property, it was plainly said : 'No one in commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own necessities and those of his household ; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life ; for no one ought to live unbecomingly.' (This is from St. Thomas Aquinas, who says, Nullus enim inconvenienter vivere debet.) ' But when necessity has been fairly supplied, and one's position fairly considered, it is a duty to give to the indigent out of that which is over. That which remaineth give alms.'

Thus now preaches the head of the most wide-spread Church. Thus have preached all the Church teachers, who considered salvation by works as insufficient. And together with this teaching of selfishness, which prescribes that you shall give to your neighbours only what you do not want yourself, they preach love, and recall with pathos the celebrated words of Paul in the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, about love.

Notwithstanding that the Gospels overflow with demands for self-renunciation, with indications that self-renunciation is the first condition of Christian perfection ; notwithstanding such dear expressions as : 'Whosoever will not take up his cross ..." 'Whosoever hath not forsaken father and mother . . .'Whosoever shall lose his life . . .'—people assure themselves and others that it is possible to love men without renouncing that to which one is accustomed, or even what one ceases to consider becoming for one's self.

So speak the Church people ; and those who reject not only the Church but also the Christian teaching (Freethinkers) think, speak, write, and act, in just the same way. These men assure themselves and others that without in the least diminishing their needs, without overcoming their lusts, they can serve mankind —i.e., lead a good life.

Men have thrown aside the heathen sequence of virtues; but, not assimilating the Christian teaching in its true significance, they have not accepted the Christian sequence, and are left quite without guidance.


In olden times, when there was no Christian teaching, all the teachers of life, beginning with Socrates, regarded as the first virtue of life, self-control — [greek] or [greek] ; and it was understood that every virtue must begin with and pass through this one. It was clear that a man who had no self-control, who had developed an immense number of desires and had yielded himself up to them, could not lead a good life. It was evident that before a man could even think of disinterestedness, justice —to say nothing of generosity or love—he must learn to exercise control over himself. According to our ideas now, nothing of the sort is necessary. We are convinced that a man who has developed his desires to the climax reached in our society, a man who cannot live without satisfying the hundred unnecessary habits that enslave him, can yet lead an altogether moral and good life. Looked at from any point of view : the lowest, utilitarian ; the higher, pagan, which demands justice ; but especially from the highest. Christian, which demands love—it should surely he clear to every one that a man who uses for his own pleasure (which he might easily forego) the labour, often the painful labour, of others, behaves wrongly ; and that this is the very first wrong he must cease to commit if he wishes to live a good life.

From the utilitarian point of view such conduct is bad, because as long as he forces others to work for him a man is always in an unstable position ; he accustoms himself to the satisfaction of his desires and becomes enslaved by them, while those who work for him do so with hatred and envy, and only await an opportunity to free themselves from the necessity of so working. Consequently such a man is always in danger of being left with deeply rooted habits which create demands he cannot satisfy.

From the point of view of justice such conduct is bad, because it is not well to employ for one's own pleasure the labour of other men who themselves cannot afford a hundredth part of the pleasures enjoyed by him for whom they labour.

From the point of view of Christian love it can hardly be necessary to prove that a man who loves others will give them his own labour rather than take from them, for his own pleasure, the fruit of their labour.

But these demands of utility, justice, and love, are altogether ignored by our modern society. With us the effort to limit one's desires is regarded as neither the first, nor even the last, but as an altogether unnecessary, condition of a good life.

On the contrary, according to the prevailing: and most widely spread teaching of life to-day, the augmentation of one's wants is regarded as a desirable condition ; as a sign of development, civilization, culture, and perfection. So-called educated people regard habits of comfort, that is, of effeminacy, as not only harmless, but even good, indicating a certain moral elevation—as almost a virtue.

It is thought that the more the wants, and the more refined these wants, the better.

Nothing shows this more clearly than the descriptive poetry, and especially the novels, of the last two centuries.

How are the heroes and heroines who represent the ideals of virtue portrayed ?

In most cases the men who are meant to represent something noble and lofty—from Childe Harold down to the latest heroes of Feuillet, Trollope, or Maupassant —are simply depraved sluggards, consuming in luxury the labour of thousands, and themselves doing nothing useful for anybody; The heroines are the mistresses who in one way or another afford more or less delight to these men, are as idle as they, and are equally ready to consume the labour of others by their luxury.

I do not refer to the representations of really abstemious and industrious people one occasionally meets with in literature. I am speaking of the usual type that serves as an ideal to the masses : of the character that the majority of men and women are trying to resemble. I remember the difficulty (inexplicable to me at the time) that I experienced when I wrote novels, a difficulty with which I contended and with which 1 know all novelists now contend who have even the dimmest conception of what constitutes real moral beauty—the difficulty of portraying a type taken from the upper classes as ideally good and kind, and at the same time true to life. To be true to life, a description of a man or woman of the upper, educated classes must show him in his usual surroundings—that is, in luxury, physical idleness, and demanding much.

From a moral point of view such a person is undoubtedly objectionable. But it is necessary to represent this person in such a way that he may appear attractive. And novelists try so to represent him. I also tried. And strange to say, such a representation, making an immoral fornicator and murderer (duellist or soldier), an utterly useless, idly drifting, fashionable buffoon, appear attractive, does not require much art or effort. The readers of novels are, for the most part, exactly such men, and therefore readily believe that these Childe Harolds, Onegins, Monsieurs de Camors,(2) etc., are very excellent people.


Clear proof that the men of our time really do not admit pagan self-control and Christian self-renunciation to be good and desirable qualities, but, on the contrary, regard the augmentation of wants as good and elevated, is to be found in the education given to the vast majority of children in our society. Not only are they not trained to self-control, as among the pagans, or to the self-renunciation proper to Christians, but they are deliberately inoculated with habits of effeminacy, physical idleness, and luxury.

I have long wished to write a fairy-tale of this kind : A woman, wishing to revenge herself on one who has injured her, carries off her enemy's child, and, going to a sorcerer, asks him to teach her how she can most cruelly wreak her vengeance on the stolen infant, the only child of her enemy. The sorcerer bids her carry the child to a place he indicates, and assures her that a most terrible vengeance will result. the wicked woman follows his advice ; but, keeping an eye upon the child is astonished to see that it is found and adopted by a wealthy, childless man. She goes to the sorcerer and reproaches him, but he bids her wait. The child grows up in luxury and effeminacy. The woman is perplexed, but again the sorcerer bids her wait. And at length the time comes when the wicked woman is not only satisfied, but has even to pity her victim. He grows up in the effeminacy and dissoluteness of wealth, and owing to his good nature is ruined. Then begins a sequence of physical sufferings, poverty, and humiliation, to which he is especially sensitive and against which he knows not how to contend. Aspirations toward a moral life— and the weakness of his effeminate body accustomed to luxury and idleness ; vain struggles ; lower and still lower decline ; drunkenness to drown thought, then crime and insanity or suicide.

And, indeed, one cannot regard without terror the education of the children of the wealthy class in our day. Only the cruellest foe could, one would think, inoculate a child with those defects and vices which are now instilled into him by his parents, especially by mothers. One is awestruck at the sight, and still more at the results of this, if only one knows how to discern what is taking place in the souls of the best of these children, so carefully ruined by their parents. Habits of effeminacy are instilled into them at a time when they do not yet understand their moral significance. Not only is the habit of temperance and self-control neglected, but, contrary to the educational practice of Sparta and of the ancient world in general, this quality is altogether atrophied. Not only is man not trained to work, and to all the qualities essential to fruitful labour—concentration of mind, strenuousness, endurance, enthusiasm for work, ability to repair what is spoiled, familiarity with fatigue, joy in attainment— but he is habituated to idleness, and to contempt for all the products of labour : is taught to spoil, throw away, and again procure for money anything he fancies, without a thought of how things are made. Man is deprived of the power of acquiring the primary virtue of reasonableness, indispensable for the attainment of all the others, and is let loose in a world where people preach, and praise, the lofty virtues of justice, the service of man, and love.

It is well if the youth be endowed with a morally feeble and obtuse nature, which does not detect the difference between make-believe and genuine goodness of life, and is satisfied with the prevailing mutual deception. If this be the case all goes apparently well, and such a man will sometimes quietly live on with his moral consciousness unawakened till death.

But it is not always thus, especially of late, now that the consciousness of the immorality of such life fills the air, and penetrates the heart unsought. Frequently, and ever more frequently, it happens that there awakens a demand for real, unfeigned morality ; and then begin a painful inner struggle and suffering which end but rarely in the triumph of the moral sentiment.

A man feels that his life is bad, that he must reform it from the very roots, and he tries to do so ; but he is then attacked on all sides by those who have passed through a similar struggle and have been vanquished. They endeavour by every means to convince him that this reform is quite unnecessary : that goodness does not at all depend upon self-control and self-renunciation, that it is possible, while addicting himself to gluttony, personal adornment, physical idleness, and even fornication, to be a perfectly good and useful man. And the struggle, inmost cases, terminates lamentably. Either the man, overcome by his weakness, yields to the general opinion, stifles the voice of conscience, distorts his reason to justify himself, and continues to lead the old dissipated life, assuring himself that it is redeemed by faith in the Redemption or the Sacraments, or by service to science, to the State, or to art or else he struggles, suffers, and finally becomes insane or shoots himself.

It seldom happens, amid all the temptations that surround him, that a man of our society understands what was thousands of years ago, and still is, an elementary truth for all reasonable people : namely, that for the attainment of a good life it is necessary, first of all, to cease to live an evil life ; that for the attainment of the higher virtues it is needful, first of all, to acquire the virtue of abstinence or self-control, as the pagans called it, or of self-renunciation, as Christianity has it, and therefore it seldom happens that, by gradual efforts, he succeeds in attaining this primary virtue.


I have just been reading the letters of one of our highly educated and advanced men of the 'forties, the exile Ogaryóf, to another yet more highly educated and gifted man, Herzen. In these letters Ogaryóf gives expression to his sincere thoughts and highest aspirations, and one cannot fail to see that—as was natural to a young man—he rather shows off before his friend. He talks of self-perfecting, of sacred friendship, love, the service of science, of humanity, and the like. And at the same time he calmly writes that he often irritates the companion of his life by, as he expresses it, 'returning home in an unsober state, or disappearing for many hours with a fallen, but dear creature. . . .'

Evidently it never even occurred to this remarkably kind-hearted, talented, and well-educated man that there was anything at all objectionable in the fact that he, a married man, awaiting the confinement of his wife (in his next letter he writes that his wife has given birth to a child), returned home intoxicated, and disappeared with dissolute women. It did not enter his head that until he had commenced the struggle, and had, at least to some extent, conquered his inclination to drunkenness and fornication, he could not think of friendship and love, and still less of serving any one or any thing. But he not only did not struggle against these vices—he evidently thought there was something very nice in them, and that they did not in the least hinder the struggle for perfection ; and, therefore, instead of hiding them from the friend in whose eyes he wishes to appear in a good light, he exhibits them.

Thus it was half a century ago. I was contemporary with such men, I knew Ogaryóf and Herzen themselves, and others of that stamp, and men educated in the same traditions. There was a remarkable absence of consistency in the lives of all these men. Together with a sincere and ardent wish for good, there was an utter looseness of personal desire, which, they thought, could not hinder the living of a good life, nor the performance of good, and even great, deeds. They put unkneaded loaves into a cold oven, and believed that bread would be baked. And then, when with advancing years they began to remark that the bread did not bake—i.e., that no good came of their lives—they saw in this something peculiarly tragic.

And the tragedy of such lives is indeed terrible. And this same tragedy apparent in the lives of Herzen, Ogaryóf, and others of their time, exists to-day in the lives of very many so-called educated people who hold the same views. A man desires to lead a good life, but the consecutiveness which is indispensable for this is lost in the society in which he lives. As fifty years ago Ogaryóf, Herzen, and others, so also the majority of men of the present day are persuaded that to lead an effeminate life, to eat sweet and fat dishes, to delight one's self in every way and satisfy all one's desires, does not hinder one from living a good life, but as it is evident that a good life in their case does not result, they give themselves up to pessimism, and say, 'Such is the tragedy of human life.'

What is also strange in the case is that these people know that the distribution of pleasures among men is unequal, and regard this inequality as an evil, and wish to correct it, yet do not cease to strive to augment their own pleasures — i.e., to augment inequality in the distribution of pleasures. In acting thus, these people are like men who being the first to enter an orchard hasten to gather all the fruit they can lay their hands on, and yet wish to organize a more equal distribution of the fruit of the orchard between themselves and later comers, while they continue to pluck all the fruit they can reach.


The delusion that men while addicting themselves to their desires and regarding this life of desire as good, can yet lead a good, useful, just and loving life, is so astonishing, that men of later generations will, I should think, simply fail to understand what the men of our time meant by the words 'good life,' when they said that the gluttons—the effeminate, lustful sluggards—of our wealthy classes led good lives. Indeed, one need only put aside for a moment the customary view of the life of our wealthy classes, and look at it, I do not say from the Christian point of view, but from the pagan standpoint, from the standpoint of the very lowest demands of justice, to be convinced that, living amidst the violation of the plainest laws of justice or fairness, such as even children in their games think it wrong to violate, we, men of the wealthy classes, have no right even to talk about a good life.

Any man of our society who would, I do not say begin a good life, but even begin to make some little approach towards it, must first of all cease to lead a bad life, must begin to destroy those conditions of an evil life with which he finds himself surrounded.

How often one hears, as an excuse for not reforming our lives, the argument that any act that is contrary to the usual mode of life would be unnatural, ludicrous—would look like a desire to show off, and would therefore not be a good action. This argument seems expressly framed to prevent people from ever changing their evil lives. If all our life were good, just, kind, then and only then would an action in conformity with the usual mode of life be good. If half our life were good and the other half bad, then there would be as much chance of an action not in conformity with the usual mode of life being good as of its being bad. But when life is altogether bad and wrong, as is the case in our upper classes, then a man cannot perform a single good action without disturbing the usual current of life. He can do a bad action without disturbing this current, but not a good one.

A man accustomed to the life of our well-to-do classes cannot lead a righteous life without first coming out of those conditions of evil in which he is immersed—he cannot begin to do good until he has ceased to do evil. It is impossible for a man living in luxury to lead a righteous life. All his efforts after goodness will be in vain until he changes his life, until he performs that work which stands first in sequence before him. A good life according to the pagan view, and still more according to the Christian view, is, and can be, measured in no other way than by the mathematical relation between love for self and love for others. The less there is of love for self with all the ensuing care about self and the selfish demands made upon the labour of others, and the more there is of love for others, with the resultant care for and labour bestowed upon others, the better is the life.

Thus has goodness of life been understood by all the sages of the world and by all true Christians, and in exactly the same way do all plain men understand it now. The more a man gives to others and the less he demands for himself, the better he is : the less he gives to others and the more he demands for himself, the worse he is.

And not only does a man become morally better the more love he has for others and the less for himself, but the less he loves himself the easier it becomes for him to be better, and contrariwise. The more a man loves himself, and, consequently, the more he demands labour from others, the less possibility is there for him to love and to work for others, and less not only in as many times as his love for himself has increased, but in some enormously greater degree less, as happens if we move the fulcrum of a lever from the long end to the short one : this will not only lengthen the long arm, but will also shorten the short one. So, also, if a man, possessing a certain faculty, love, augment his love and care for himself, he will thereby diminish his power of loving and caring for others, not only in proportion to the love he has transferred to himself, but in a much greater degree. Instead of feeding others a man eats too much himself; by so doing he not only diminishes the possibility of giving away the surplus, but, by overeating, he deprives himself of power to help others.

In order to love others in reality and not in word only, one must cease to love one's self also in reality and not merely in word. In most cases it happens thus : we think we love others, we assure ourselves and others that it is so, but we love them only in words, while ourselves we love in reality. Others we forget to feed and put to bed, ourselves—never. Therefore, in order really to love others in deed, we must learn not to love ourselves in deed, learn to forget to feed ourselves and put ourselves to bed, exactly as we forget to do these things for others.

We say of a self-indulgent person accustomed to lead a luxurious life, that he is a 'good man' and 'leads a good life.' but such a person—whether man or woman—although he may possess the most amiable traits of character, meekness, good nature, etc., cannot be good and lead a good life, any more than a knife of the very best workmanship and steel can be sharp and cut well unless it is sharpened. To be good and lead a good life means to give to others more than one takes from them. But a self-indulgent man accustomed to a luxurious life cannot do this, first because he himself is always in want of much (and this not on account of his selfishness, but because he is accustomed to luxury and it is painful for him to be deprived of that to which he is accustomed) ; and secondly, because by consuming all that he receives from others he weakens himself and renders himself unfit to labour, and therefore unfit to serve others. A self-indulgent man who sleeps long upon a soft bed, eats and drinks abundance of fat, sweet food, who is always dressed cleanly and suitably to the temperature, who has never accustomed himself to the effort of laborious work, can do very little.

We are so accustomed to our own lies and the lies of others, and it is so convenient for us not to see through the lies of others, that they may not see through ours, that we are not in the least astonished at, and do not doubt the truth of, the assertion of the virtuousness, sometimes even the sanctity, of people who are leading a perfectly unrestrained life.

A person, man or woman, sleeps on a spring bed with two mattresses, and two smooth, clean sheets, and feather pillows in pillow cases. By the bedside is a rug, that the feet may not get cold on stepping out of bed, though slippers also lie near. Here also are the necessary utensils, so that he need not leave the house—whatever uncleanliness he may produce will be carried away and all made tidy. The windows are covered with curtains that the daylight may not awaken him, and he sleeps as long as he is inclined. Besides all this, measures are taken that the room may be warm in winter and cool in summer, and that he may not be disturbed by the noise of flies or other insects, while he sleeps, water, hot and cold, for his ablutions, sometimes baths and preparations for shaving, are provided. Tea and coffee are also prepared, stimulating drinks to be taken immediately upon rising. Boots, shoes, galoshes—several pairs dirtied the previous day—are already being cleaned and made to shine like glass freed from every speck of dust. Similarly are cleaned various garments, soiled on the preceding day, differing in texture to suit not only summer and winter, but also spring, autumn, rainy, damp, and warm weather. Clean linen, washed, starched, and ironed, is being made ready with studs, shirt buttons, buttonholes, all carefully inspected by specially appointed people.

If the person be active he rises early— at seven o'clock— i.e., still a couple of hours later than those who are making all these preparations for him. Besides clothes for the day and covering for the night, there is also .1 costume and foot-gear for the time of dressing —dressing-gown and slippers ; and now he undertakes his washing, cleaning, brushing, for which several kinds of brushes are used, as well as soap and a great quantity of water. (Many English men and women, for some reason or other, are specially proud of using a great deal of soap and pouring a large quantity of water over themselves.) Then he dresses, brushes his hair before a special kind of looking-glass (different from those that hang in almost every room in the house), takes the things he needs, such as spectacles or eyeglasses, and then distributes in different pockets a clean pocket-handkerchief to blow his nose on ; a watch with a chain, though in almost every room he goes to there will be a clock ; money of various kinds, small change (often in a specially contrived case which saves him the trouble of looking for the required coin) and bank-notes ; also visiting cards on which his name is printed (saving him the trouble of saying or writing it) ; pocket-book and pencil. In the case of women, the toilet is still more complicated : corsets, arranging of long hair, adornments, laces, elastics, ribbons, ties, hairpins, pins, brooches.

But at last all is complete and the day commences, generally with eating: tea and coffee are drunk with a great quantity of sugar ; bread made of the finest white flour is eaten with large quantities of butter, and sometimes the flesh of pigs. The men for the most part smoke cigars or cigarettes meanwhile, and read fresh papers, which have just been brought. Then, leaving to others the task of setting right the soiled and disordered room, they go to their office or business, or drive in carriages produced specially to move such people about. Then comes a luncheon of slain beasts, birds, and fish, followed by a dinner consisting, if it be very modest, of three courses, dessert, and coffee. Then playing at cards and playing music— or the theatre, reading, and conversation, in soft spring armchairs, by the intensified and shaded light of candles, gas, or electricity. After this, again tea, again eating—supper—and again to bed, shaken up and prepared with clean linen, and with washed utensils to be again made foul.

Thus pass the days of a man of modest life, of whom, if he is good-natured and does not possess any habits specially obnoxious to those about him, it is said that he leads a good and virtuous life.

But a good life is the life of a man who does good to others ; and can a man accustomed to live thus do good to others? Before he can do good to men he must cease to do evil. Reckon up all the harm such a man, often unconsciously, does to others, and you will see that he is far indeed from doing good ; he would have to perform many acts of heroism to redeem the evil he commits, hut he is too much enfeebled by his life full of desires to perform any such acts. He might sleep with more advantage, both physical and moral, lying on the floor wrapped in his cloak, as Marcus Aurelius did ; and thus he might save all the labour and trouble involved in the manufacture of mattresses, springs, and pillows, as also the daily labour of the laundress—one of the weaker sex burdened by the bearing and nursing of children—who washes linen for this strong man. By going to bed earlier and getting up earlier he might save window-curtains and the evening lamp. He might sleep in the same shirt he wears during the day, might step barefooted upon the floor, and go out into the yard ; he might wash at the pump—in a word, he might live like those who work for him, and might thus save all this work that is done for him. He might save all the labour expended upon his clothing, his refined food, his recreations. And he knows under what conditions all these labours are performed : how in performing them men perish, suffer, and often hate those who take advantage of their poverty to force them to do it.

How, then, is such a man to do good to others and lead a righteous life, without abandoning this self-indulgent, luxurious life?

But we need not speak of how other people appear in our eyes—every one must see and feel this concerning himself.

I cannot but repeat this same thing again and again, notwithstanding the cold and hostile silence with which my words are received. A moral man, living a life of comfort, a man even of the middle class (I will not speak of the upper classes, who daily consume to satisfy their caprices the results of hundreds of working days), cannot live quietly, knowing that all that he is using is produced by the labour and crushed lives of working people, who are dying without hope—ignorant, drunken, dissolute, half-savage creatures employed in mines, factories, and at agricultural labour, producing the articles that he uses.

At the present moment I who am writing this and you who will read it, whoever you may he—both you and I have wholesome, sufficient, perhaps abundant and luxurious food, pure, warm air to breathe, winter and summer clothing, various recreations, and, most important of all, we have leisure by day and undisturbed repose at night. And here, by our side, live the working people, who have neither wholesome food, nor healthy lodgings, nor sufficient clothing, nor recreations, and who, above all, are deprived not only of leisure but even of rest : old men, children, women, worn out by labour, by sleepless nights, by disease, who spend their whole lives providing for us those articles of comfort and luxury which they do not possess, and which are for us not necessaries but superfluities. Therefore, a moral man, I do not say a Christian, but simply a man professing humane views or merely esteeming justice, cannot but wish to change his life and to cease to use articles of luxury produced under such conditions.

If a man really pities those who manufacture tobacco, then the first thing he will naturally do will be to cease smoking, because by continuing to buy and smoke tobacco he encourages the preparation of tobacco, by which men's health is destroyed. And so with every other article of luxury. If a man can still continue to eat bread notwithstanding the hard work by which it is produced, this is because he cannot forego what is indispensable while waiting for the present conditions of labour to be altered. But with regard to things which are not only unnecessary but are even superfluous, there can be no other conclusion than this : that if I pity men engaged in the manufacture of certain articles, then I must on no account accustom myself to require such articles.

But nowadays men argue otherwise. They invent the most various and intricate arguments, but never say what naturally occurs to every plain man. According to them, it is not at all necessary to abstain from luxuries. One can sympathize with the condition of the working men, deliver speeches and write books on their behalf, and at the same time continue to profit by the labour that one sees to be ruinous to them.

According to one argument, I may profit by labour that is harmful to the workers, because if I do not another will, which is something like the argument that I must drink wine that is injurious to me, because it has been bought, and if I do not drink it others will do so.

According to another argument, it is even beneficial to the workers to be allowed to produce luxuries, as in this way we provide them with money—i.e., with the means of subsistence : as if we could not provide them with the means of subsistence in any other way than by making them produce articles injurious to them and superfluous to us.

But according to a third argument, now most popular, it seems that, since there is such a thing as division of labour, any work upon which a man is engaged— whether he be a Government official, priest, landowner, manufacturer, or merchant—is so useful that it fully compensates for the labour of the working classes by which he profits. One serves the State, another the Church, a third science, a fourth art, and a fifth serves those who serve the State, science, and art ; and all are firmly convinced that what they give to mankind certainly compensates for all they take. And it is astonishing how, while continually augmenting their luxurious requirements without increasing their activity, these people continue to be certain that their activity compensates for all they consume.

Whereas, if you listen to these people's judgment of one another, it appears that each individual is far from being worth what he consumes. Government officials say that the work of the landlords is not worth what they spend, landlords say the same about merchants, and merchants about Government officials, and so on. But this does not disconcert them, and they continue to assure people that they (each of them) profit by the labours of others exactly in proportion to the service they render to others. So that the payment is not determined by the work, but the value of the imaginary work is determined by the payment. Thus they assure one another, but they know perfectly well in the depth of their souls that all their arguments do not justify them ; that they are not necessary to the working men, and that they profit by the labour of these men, not on account of any division of labour, but simply because they have the power to do so, and because they are so spoiled that they cannot do without it.

And all this arises from people imagining that it is possible to lead a good life without first acquiring the primary quality necessary for a good life. And this first quality is self-control.


There never has been, and cannot be, a good life without self-control. Apart from self-control, no good life is imaginable. The attainment of goodness must begin with that.

There is a scale of virtues, and it is necessary, if one would mount the higher steps, to begin with the lowest ; and the first virtue a man must acquire if he wishes to acquire the others, is that which the ancients called [greek] or [greek] — i.e., self-control or moderation.

If, in the Christian teaching, self-control was included in the conception of self-renunciation, still the order of succession remained the same, and the acquirement of no Christian virtue is possible without self-control— and this not because such a rule has been invented by any one, but because such is the essential nature of the case.

But even self-control, the first step in every righteous life, is not attainable all at once, but only by degrees.

Self-control is the liberation of man from desires their subordination to moderation, [greek]. But a man's desires are many and various, and in order successfully to contend with them he must begin with the fundamental ones—those upon which the more complex ones have grown up—and not with those complex lusts which have grown up upon the fundamental ones. There are complex lusts, like that of the adornment of the body, sports, amusements, idle talk, inquisitiveness, and many others ; and there are also fundamental lusts—gluttony, idleness, sexual love. And one must begin to contend with these lusts from the beginning : not with the complex, but with the fundamental ones, and that also in a definite order. And this order is determined both by the nature of things and by the tradition of human wisdom.

A man who eats too much cannot strive against laziness, while a gluttonous and idle man will never he able to contend with sexual lust. Therefore, according to all moral teachings, the effort towards self-control commences with a struggle against the lust of gluttony—commences with fasting. In our time, however, every serious relation to the attainment of a good life has been so long and so completely lost, that not only is the very first virtue—self-control—without which the others are unattainable, regarded as superfluous, hut the order of succession necessary for the attainment of this first virtue is also disregarded, and fasting is quite forgotten, or is looked upon as a silly superstition, utterly unnecessary.

And yet, just as the first condition of a good life is self-control, so the first condition of a life of self-control is fasting.

One may wish to be good, one may dream of goodness, without fasting ; but to be good without fasting is as impossible as it is to advance without getting up on to one's feet.

Fasting is an indispensable condition of a good life, whereas gluttony is, and always has been, the first sign of the opposite—a bad life ; and, unfortunately, this vice is in the highest degree characteristic of the life of the majority of the men of our time.

Look at the faces and figures of the men of our circle and day— on all those faces with pendent cheeks and chins, those corpulent limbs and prominent stomachs, lies the indelible seal of a dissolute life. Nor can it be otherwise. Consider our life and the actuating motive of the majority of men in our society, and then ask yourself, what is the chief interest of this majority. And, strange as it may appear to us who are accustomed to hide our real interests and to profess false, artificial ones, you will find that the chief interest of their life is the satisfaction of the palate, the pleasure of eating— gluttony. From the poorest to the richest, eating is, I think, the chief aim, the chief pleasure, of our life. Poor working people form an exception, but only inasmuch as want prevents their addicting themselves to this passion. No sooner have they the time and the means, than, in imitation of the higher classes, they procure what is most tasty and sweet, and eat and drink as much as they can. The more they eat, the more do they deem themselves, not only happy, but also strong and healthy. And in this conviction they are encouraged by the upper classes, who regard food in precisely the same way. The educated classes (following the medical men who assure them that the most expensive food, flesh, is the most wholesome) imagine that happiness and health consist in tasty, nourishing, easily digested food—in gorging ; though they try to conceal this.

Look at rich people's lives, listen to their conversation. What lofty subjects seem to occupy them : philosophy, science, art, poetry, the distribution of wealth, the welfare of the people, and the education of the young ; but all this is, for the immense majority, a sham,—all this occupies them in the intervals of business, real business : between lunch and dinner, while the stomach is full and it is impossible to eat more. The only real living interest of the majority both of men and women, especially after early youth, is eating—How to eat, what to eat, where and when to eat?

No solemnity, no rejoicing, no consecration, no opening of anything, can dispense with eating.

Watch people travelling. In their case the thing is specially evident. ' Museums, libraries, Parliament - how very interesting! But where shall we dine? Where is one best fed?' Look at people when they come together for dinner, dressed up, perfumed, around a table decorated with flowers—how joyfully they rub their hands and smile !

If we could look into the hearts of the majority of people, what should we find they most desire? Appetite for breakfast and for dinner. What is the severest punishment from infancy upwards? To be put on bread and water. What artisans get the highest wages ? Cooks. What is the chief interest of the mistress of the house? To what subject does the conversation of middle-class housewives generally tend? If the conversation of the members of the higher classes does not tend in the same direction, it is not because they are better educated or are occupied with higher interests, but simply because they have a house-keeper or a steward who relieves them of all anxiety about their dinner. But once deprive them of this convenience, and you will see what causes them most anxiety. It all comes round to the subject of eating : the price of grouse, the best way of making coffee, of baking sweet cakes, etc. People come together - whatever the occasion : a christening, a funeral, a wedding, the consecration of a church, the departure or arrival of a friend, the consecration of regimental colours, the celebration of a memorable day, the death or birth of a great scientist, philosopher, or teacher of morality—men come together as if occupied by the most lofty interests. So they say ; but it is only a pretence : they all know that there will be eating —good tasty food—and drinking, and it is chiefly this that brings them together. For several days before, to this end, animals have been slaughtered, baskets of provisions brought from gastronomic shops ; cooks and their helpers, kitchen boys and maids, specially attired in clean, starched frocks and caps, have been 'at work.' Chefs, receiving- £50 a month and more, have been occupied in giving directions. Cooks have been chopping, kneading, roasting, arranging, adorning. With like solemnity and importance a master of the ceremonies has been working, calculating, pondering, adjusting with his eye, like an artist. A gardener has been employed upon the flowers. Scullery-maids. . . . An army of men has been at work, the result of thousands of working days are being: swallowed up, and all this that people may come together to talk about some great teacher of science or morality, or to recall the memory of a deceased friend, or to greet a young couple just entering upon a new life.

In the middle and lower classes it is perfectly evident that every festivity, every funeral or wedding, means gluttony. There the matter is so understood. To such an extent is gluttony the motive of the assembly that in Greek and in French the same word means both 'wedding' and 'feast.' But in the upper classes of the rich, especially among the refined, who have long possessed wealth, great skill is used to conceal this, and to make it appear that eating is a secondary matter, necessary only for appearance. And this pretence is easy, as in the majority of cases the guests are satiated in the true sense of the word—they are never hungry.

They pretend that dinner, eating, is not necessary to them, is even a burden ; but this a lie. Try giving them—instead of the refined dishes they expect, I do not say bread and water, but—porridge or gruel or something of that kind, and see what a storm it will call forth, and how evident will become the real truth, namely, that the chief interest of the assembly is, not the ostensible one, but—gluttony.

Look at what men sell ; go through a town and see what men buy—articles of adornment and things to devour. And indeed this must be so, it cannot be otherwise. It is only possible not to think about eating, to keep this lust under control, when a man does not eat except in obedience to necessity ; but if a man ceases to eat only in obedience to necessity— i.e., when the stomach is full—then the state of things cannot but be what it actually is. If men love the pleasure of eating, if they allow themselves to love this pleasure, if they find it good (as is the case with the vast majority of men in our time, and with educated men quite as much as with uneducated, although they pretend that it is not so), there is no limit to the augmentation of this pleasure, no limit beyond which it may not grow. The satisfaction of a need has limits, but pleasure has none. For the satisfaction of our needs it is necessary and sufficient to eat bread, porridge, or rice ; for the augmentation of pleasure there is no end to the possible flavourings and seasonings.

Bread is a necessary and sufficient food. (This is proved by the millions of men who are strong, active, healthy, and hard-working on rye bread alone.) But it is pleasanter to eat bread with some flavouring. It is well to soak the bread in water boiled with meat. Still better to put into this water some vegetable or, better yet, several vegetables. It is well to eat flesh. And flesh is better not stewed, but roasted ; and it is better still with butter, and underdone, and choosing out certain special parts of the meat. But add to this vegetables and mustard. And drink wine with it, red wine for preference. One does not need anymore, but one can yet eat some fish if it is well flavoured with sauces and swallowed down with white wine. It would seem as if one could get through nothing more, either rich or tasty, but a sweet dish can still be managed : in summer ices, in winter stewed fruits, preserves, etc. And thus we have a dinner, a modest dinner. The pleasure of such a dinner can be greatly augmented. And it is augmented, and there is no limit to this augmentation : stimulating snacks, hors-d'oeuvres before dinner, and entremets and desserts, and various combinations of tasty things, and flowers and decorations and music during dinner.

And, strange to say, men who daily overeat themselves at such dinners—in comparison with which the feast of Belshazzar, that evoked the prophetic warning, was nothing—are naively persuaded that they may yet be leading a moral life.


Fasting is an indispensable condition of a good life ; but in fasting, as in self-control in general, the question arises, with what shall we begin?'—How to fast, how often to eat, what to eat, what to avoid eating? And as we can do no work seriously without regarding the necessary order of sequence, so also we cannot fast without knowing where to begin—with what to commence self-control in food.

Fasting ! And even an analysis of how to fast, and where to begin ! The notion seems ridiculous and wild to the majority of men.

I remember how, with pride at his originality, an Evangelical preacher, who was attacking monastic asceticism, once said to me, 'Ours is not a Christianity of fasting and privations, but of beefsteaks.' Christianity, or virtue in general—and beefsteaks !

During a long period of darkness and lack of all guidance. Pagan or Christian, so many wild, immoral ideas have made their way into our life (especially into that lower region of the first steps toward a good life — our relation to food, to which no one paid any attention), that it is difficult for us even to understand the audacity and senselessness of upholding in our days, Christianity or virtue with beefsteaks.

We are not horrified by this association, solely because a strange thing has befallen us. We look and see not listen and hear not. There is no bad odour, no sound, no monstrosity, to which man cannot become so accustomed that he ceases to remark what would strike a man unaccustomed to it. Precisely so it is in the moral region. Christianity and morality with beefsteaks !

A few days ago I visited the slaughter-house in our town of Toúla. It is built on the new and improved system practised in large towns, with a view to causing the animals as little suffering as possible. It was on a Friday, two days before Trinity Sunday. There were many cattle there.

Long before this, when reading that excellent book. The Ethics of Diet, 1 had wished to visit a slaughter-house, in order to see with my own eyes the reality of the question raised when vegetarianism is discussed. But at first I felt ashamed to do so, as one is always ashamed of going to look at suffering which one knows is about to take place, but which one cannot avert ; and so I kept putting off my visit.

But a little while ago I met on the road a butcher returning to Toúla after a visit to his home. He is not yet an experienced butcher, and his duty is to stab with a knife. I asked him whether he did not feel sorry for the animals that he killed. He gave me the usual answer : 'Why should I feel sorry.? It is necessary.' But when I told him that eating flesh is not necessary, but is only a luxury, he agreed ; and then he admitted that he was sorry for the animals. 'But what can I do? I must earn my bread,' he said. 'At first I was afraid to kill. My father, he never even killed a chicken in all his life.' The majority of Russians cannot kill ; they feel pity, and express the feeling by the word 'fear.' This man had also been 'afraid,' but he was so no longer. He told me that most of the work was done on Fridays, when it continues until the evening.

Not long ago I also had a talk with a retired soldier, a butcher, and he, too, was surprised at my assertion that it was a pity to kill, and said the usual things about its being ordained ; but afterwards he agreed with me : 'Especially when they are quiet, tame cattle. They come, poor things ! trusting you. It is very pitiful.'

This is dreadful ! Not the suffering and death of the animals, but that man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity—that of sympathy and pity toward living creatures like himself—and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel. And how deeply seated in the human heart is the injunction not to take life !

Once, when walking; from Moscow, (3) I was offered a lift by some carters who were going from Sérpouhof to a neighbouring, forest to fetch wood. It was the Thursday before Easter. 1 was seated in the first cart, with a strong, red, coarse carman, who evidently drank. On entering a village we saw a well-fed, naked, pink pig being dragged out of the first yard to be slaughtered. It squealed in a dreadful voice, resembling the shriek of a man. Just as we were passing they began to kill it. A man gashed its throat with a knife. The pig squealed still more loudly and piercingly, broke away from the men, and ran off covered with blood. Being near-sighted I did not see all the details. I saw only the human-looking pink body of the pig and heard its desperate squeal ; but the carter saw all the details and watched closely. They caught the pig, knocked it down, and finished cutting: its throat. When its squeals ceased the carter sighed heavily. 'Do men really not have to answer for such things?' he said.

So strong is man's aversion to all killing. But by example, by encouraging greediness, by the assertion that God has allowed it, and, above all, by habit, people entirely lose this natural feeling.

On Friday I decided to go to Toúla, and, meeting a meek, kind acquaintance of mine, I invited him to accompany me.

'Yes, I have heard that the arrangements are good, and have been wishing to go and see it ; but if they are slaughtering I will not go in.'

'Why not? That's just what I want to see ! If we eat flesh it must be killed.'

'No, no, I cannot !'

It is worth remarking that this man is a sportsman and himself kills animals and birds.

So we went to the slaughter-house. Even at the entrance one noticed the heavy, disgusting, fetid smell, as of carpenter's glue, or paint on glue. The nearer we approached, the stronger became the smell. The building is of red brick, very large, with vaults and high chimneys. We entered the gates. To the right was a spacious enclosed yard, three-quarters of an acre in extent— twice a week cattle are driven in here for sale— and adjoining this enclosure was the porter's lodge. To the left were the chambers, as they are called— i.e., rooms with arched entrances, sloping asphalt floors, and contrivances for moving and hanging up the carcasses. On a bench against the wall of the porter's lodge were seated half a dozen butchers, in aprons covered with blood, their tucked-up sleeves disclosing their muscular arms also besmeared with blood. They had finished their work half an hour before, so that day we could only see the empty chambers. Though these chambers were open on both sides, there was an oppressive smell of warm blood ; the floor was brown and shining, with congealed black blood in the cavities.

One of the butchers described the process of slaughtering, and showed us the place where it was done. I did not quite understand him, and formed a wrong, but very horrible, idea of the way the animals are slaughtered ; and I fancied that, as is often the case, the reality would very likely produce upon me a weaker impression than the imagination, but in this I was mistaken.

The next time I visited the slaughter-house I went in good time. It was the Friday before Trinity— a warm day in June. The smell of glue and blood was even stronger and more penetrating than on my first visit. The work was at its height. The dusty yard was full of cattle, and animals had been driven into all the enclosures beside the chambers.

In the street, before the entrance, stood carts to which oxen, calves, and cows were tied. Other carts drawn by good horses and filled with live calves, whose heads hung down and swayed about, drew up and were unloaded ; and similar carts containing the carcasses of oxen, with trembling logs sticking out, with heads and bright red lungs and brown livers, drove away from the slaughter-house. By the fence stood the cattle dealers' horses. The dealers themselves, in their long coats, with their whips and knouts in their hands, were walking about the yard, either marking with tar cattle belonging to the same owner, or bargaining, or else guiding oxen and bulls from the great yard into the enclosures which lead into the chambers. These men were evidently all preoccupied with money matters and calculations, and any thought as to whether it was right or wrong to kill these animals was as far from their minds as were questions about the chemical composition of the blood that covered the floor of the chambers.

No butchers were to be seen in the yard ; they were all in the chambers at work. That day about a hundred head of cattle were slaughtered. I was on the point of entering one of the chambers, but stopped short at the door. I stopped both because the chamber was crowded with carcasses which were being moved about, and also because blood was flowing on the floor and dripping from above. All the butchers present were besmeared with blood, and had I entered I, too, should certainly have been covered with it. One suspended carcass was being taken down, another was being moved toward the door, a third, a slaughtered ox, was lying with its white legs raised, while a butcher with strong hand was ripping up its tight-stretched hide.

Through the door opposite the one at which I was standing, a big, red, well-fed ox was led in. Two men were dragging it, and hardly had it entered when I saw a butcher raise a knife above its neck and stab it. The ox, as if all four legs had suddenly given way, fell heavily upon its belly, immediately turned over on one side, and began to work its legs and all its hindquarters. Another butcher at once threw himself upon the ox from the side opposite to the twitching legs, caught its horns and twisted its head down to the ground, while another butcher cut its throat with a knife. From beneath the head there flowed a stream of blackish-red blood, which a besmeared boy caught in a tin basin. All the time this was going on the ox kept incessantly twitching its head as if trying to get up, and waved its four legs in the air. The basin was quickly filling, but the ox still lived, and, its stomach heaving heavily, both hind and fore legs worked so violently that the butchers held aloof. When one basin was full, the boy carried it away on his head to the albumen factory, while another boy placed a fresh basin, which also soon began to till up. But still the ox heaved its body and worked its hind legs.

When the blood ceased to flow the butcher raised the animal's head and began to skin it. The ox continued to writhe. The head, stripped of its skin, showed red with white veins, and kept the position given it by the butcher ; on both sides hung the skin. Still the animal did not cease to writhe. Then another butcher caught hold of one of the legs, broke it, and cut it off. In the remaining legs and the stomach the convulsions still continued. The other legs were cut off and thrown aside, together with those of other oxen belonging to the same owner. Then the carcass was dragged to the hoist and hung up, and the convulsions were over.

Thus I looked on from the door at the second, third, fourth ox. It was the same with each : the same cutting off of the head with bitten tongue, and the same convulsed members. The only difference was that the butcher did not always strike at once so as to cause the animal's fall. Sometimes he missed his aim, whereupon the ox leaped up, bellowed, and, covered with blood, tried to escape. But then his head was pulled under a bar, struck a second time, and he fell.

I afterwards entered by the door at which the oxen were led in. Here I saw the same thing, only nearer, and therefore more plainly. But chiefly I saw here, what I had not seen before, how the oxen were forced to enter this door. Each time an ox was seized in the enclosure and pulled forward by a rope tied to its horns, the animal, smelling blood, refused to advance, and sometimes bellowed and drew back. It would have been beyond the strength of two men to drag it in by force, so one of the butchers went round each time, grasped the animal's tail and twisted it so violently that the gristle crackled, and the ox advanced.

When they had finished with the cattle of one owner, they brought in those of another. The first animal of this next lot was not an ox, but a bull— a fine, well-bred creature, black, with white spots on its legs, young, muscular, full of energy. He was dragged forward, but he lowered his head and resisted sturdily. Then the butcher who followed behind seized the tail, like an engine-driver grasping the handle of a whistle, twisted it, the gristle crackled, and the bull rushed forward, upsetting; the men who held the rope. Then it stopped, looking sideways with its black eyes, the whites of which had filled with blood. But again the tail crackled, and the bull sprang forward and reached the required spot. The striker approached, took aim, and struck. But the blow missed the mark. The bull leaped up, shook his head, bellowed, and, covered with blood, broke free and rushed back. The men at the doorway all sprang aside ; but the experienced butchers, with the dash of men inured to danger, quickly caught the rope ; again the tail operation was repeated, and again the bull was in the chamber, where he was dragged under the bar, from which he did not again escape. The striker quickly took aim at the spot where the hair divides like a star, and, notwithstanding the blood, found it, struck, and the fine animal, full of life, collapsed, its head and legs writhing while it was bled and the head skinned.

'There, the cursed devil hasn't even fallen the right way !' grumbled the butcher as he cut the skin from the head.

Five minutes later the head was stuck up, red instead of black, without skin ; the eyes, that had shone with such splendid colour five minutes before, fixed and glassy.

Afterwards I went into the compartment where small animals are slaughtered—a very large chamber with asphalt floor, and tables with backs, on which sheep and calves are killed. Here the work was already finished ; in the long room, impregnated with the smell of blood, were only two butchers. One was blowing into the leg of a dead lamb and patting the swollen stomach with his hand ; the other, a young fellow in an apron besmeared with blood, was smoking a bent cigarette. There was no one else in the long, dark chamber, filled with a heavy smell. After me there entered a man, apparently an ex-soldier, bringing in a young yearling ram, black with a white mark on its neck, and its legs tied. This animal he placed upon one of the tables, as if upon a bed. The old soldier greeted the butchers, with whom he was evidently acquainted, and began to ask when their master allowed them leave. The fellow with the cigarette approached with a knife, sharpened it on the edge of the table, and answered that they were free on holidays. The live ram was lying as quietly as the dead inflated one, except that it was briskly wagging its short little tail and its sides were heaving more quickly than usual. The soldier pressed down its uplifted head gently, without effort; the butcher, still continuing the conversation, grasped with his left hand the head of the ram and cut its throat. The ram quivered, and the little tail stiffened and ceased to wave. The fellow, while waiting; for the blood to flow, began to relight his cigarette, which had gone out. The blood flowed and the ram began to writhe. The conversation continued without the slightest interruption. It was horribly revolting.

* * * * *

And how about those hens and chickens which daily, in thousands of kitchens, with heads cut off and streaming with blood, comically, dreadfully, flop about, jerking their wings ?

And see, a kind, refined lady will devour the carcasses of these animals with full assurance that she is doing right, at the same time asserting two contradictory propositions :

First, that she is, as her doctor assures her, so delicate that she cannot be sustained by vegetable food alone, and that for her feeble organism flesh is indispensable ; and, secondly, that she is so sensitive that she is unable, not only herself to inflict suffering on animals, but even to bear the sight of suffering.

Whereas the poor lady is weak precisely because she has been taught to live upon food unnatural to man ; and she cannot avoid causing suffering to animals—for she eats them.


We cannot pretend that we do not know this. We are not ostriches, and cannot believe that if we refuse to look at what we do not wish to see, it will not exist. This is especially the case when what we do not wish to see is what we wish to eat. If it were really indispensable, or, if not indispensable, at least in some way useful ! But it is quite unnecessary, (4) and only serves to develop animal feelings, to excite desire, and to promote fornication and drunkenness. And this is continually being confirmed by the fact that young, kind, undepraved people—especially women and girls —without knowing how it logically follows, feel that virtue is incompatible with beefsteaks, and, as soon as they wish to be good, give up eating flesh.

What, then, do I wish to say ? That in order to be moral people must cease to eat meat? Not at all.

I only wish to say that for a good life a certain order of good actions is indispensable ; that if a man's aspirations toward right living be serious they will inevitably follow one definite sequence ; and that in this sequence the first virtue a man will strive after will be self-control, self-restraint. And in seeking for self-control a man will inevitably follow one definite sequence, and in this sequence the first thing will be self-control in food—fasting. And in fasting, if he be really and seriously seeking to live a good life, the first thing from which he will abstain will always be the use of animal food, because, to say nothing of the excitation of the passions caused by such food, its use is simply immoral, as it involves the performance of an act which is contrary to the moral feeling— killing ; and is called forth only by greediness and the desire for tasty food.

The precise reason why abstinence from animal food will be the first act of fasting and of a moral life is admirably explained in the book, The Ethics of Diet ; and not by one man only, but by all mankind in the persons of its best representatives during all the conscious life of humanity.

But why, if the wrongfulness -i.e., the immorality — of animal food was known to humanity so long ago, have people not yet come to acknowledge this law? will be asked by those who are accustomed to be led by public opinion rather than by reason.

The answer to this question is, that the moral progress of humanity—which is the foundation of every other kind of progress—is always slow ; but that the sign of true, not casual, progress is its uninterruptedness and its continual acceleration.

And the progress of vegetarianism is of this kind. That progress, is expressed both in the words of the writers cited in the above-mentioned book and in the actual life of mankind, which from many causes is involuntarily passing metre and more from carnivorous habits to vegetable food, and is also deliberately following the same path in a movement which shows evident strength, and which is growing larger and larger—viz., vegetarianism, That movement has during the last ten years advanced more and more rapidly. More and more books and periodicals on this subject appear every year ; one meets more and more people who have given up meat ; and abroad, especially in Germany, England, and America, the number of vegetarian hotels and restaurants increases year by year.

This movement should cause especial joy to those whose life lies in the effort to bring about the kingdom of God on earth, not because vegetarianism is in itself an important step towards that kingdom (all true steps are both important and unimportant), but because it is a sign that the aspiration of mankind toward moral perfection is serious and sincere, for it has taken the one unalterable order of succession natural to it, beginning with the first step

One cannot fail to rejoice at this, as people could not fail to rejoice who, after striving to reach the upper story of a house by trying vainly and at random to climb the walls from different points, should at last assemble at the first step of the staircase and crowd towards it, convinced that there can be no way up except by mounting this first step of the stairs.


The above essay was written as Preface to a Russian translation of Howard Williams' The Ethics of Diet.


  1. This refers to the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII. In the passage quoted the official English translation of the Encyclical has been followed. See the Tablet, 1891.
  2. Onegin is the hero of a Russian poem by Poúshkin. M. de Gamers is the hero of a French novel by Octave Feuillet.
  3. When returning to Yasnaya Polyana in spring, after his winter's residence in Moscow, Tolstoy repeatedly chose to walk the distance (something over 130 miles) instead of going by rail. Sérpouhof is a town he had to pass on the way.
  4. Let those who doubt this read the numerous books upon the subject, written by scientists and doctors—such as Dr. A. Haig's little book, Diet and Food, or his larger scientific work on Uric Acid as a Factor in the Causation of Disease—in which it is proved that flesh is not necessary for the nourishment of man. And let them not listen to these old-fashioned doctors who defend the assertion that flesh is necessary, merely because it has long been so regarded by their predecessors and by themselves ; and who defend their opinion with tenacity and malevolence, as all that is old and traditional always is defended.—L. T.
    While this volume was in preparation, a letter was received from Tolstoy with instructions to include the above reference to Dr. Plain's works, which had not been mentioned in previous editions of this essay.