There Are No Guilty People by Leo Tolstoy
MINE is a strange and wonderful lot! The chances are that there is
not a single wretched beggar suffering under the luxury and oppression
of the rich who feels anything like as keenly as I do either the
injustice, the cruelty, and the horror of their oppression of and
contempt for the poor; or the grinding humiliation and misery which
befall the great majority of the workers, the real producers of all
that makes life possible. I have felt this for a long time, and as the
years have passed by the feeling has grown and grown, until recently it
reached its climax. Although I feel all this so vividly, I still live
on amid the depravity and sins of rich society; and I cannot leave it,
because I have neither the knowledge nor the strength to do so. I
cannot. I do not know how to change my life so that my physical needs
--food, sleep, clothing, my going to and fro-- may be satisfied without
a sense of shame and wrongdoing in the position which I fill.
There was a time when I tried to change my position, which was not
in harmony with my conscience; but the conditions created by the past,
by my family and its claims upon me, were so complicated that they
would not let me out of their grasp, or rather, I did not know how to
free myself. I had not the strength. Now that I am over eighty and
have become feeble, I have given up trying to free myself; and, strange
to say, as my feebleness increases I realise more and more strongly the
wrongfulness of my position, and it grows more and more intolerable to
It has occurred to me that I do not occupy this position for
nothing: that Providence intended that I should lay bare the truth of
my feelings, so that I might atone for all that causes my suffering,
and might perhaps open the eyes of those--or at least of some of
those--who are still blind to what I see so clearly, and thus might
lighten the burden of that vast majority who, under existing
conditions, are subjected to bodily and spiritual suffering by those
who deceive them and also deceive themselves. Indeed, it may be that
the position which I occupy gives me special facilities for revealing
the artificial and criminal relations which exist between men--for
telling the whole truth in regard to that position without confusing
the issue by attempting to vindicate myself, and without rousing the
envy of the rich and feelings of oppression in the hearts of the poor
and down- trodden. I am so placed that I not only have no desire to
vindicate myself; but, on the contrary, I find it necessary to make an
effort lest I should exaggerate the wickedness of the great among whom
I live, of whose society I am ashamed, whose attitude towards their
fellow-men I detest with my whole soul, though I find it impossible to
separate my lot from theirs. But I must also avoid the error of those
democrats and others who, in defending the oppressed and the enslaved,
do not see their failings and mistakes, and who do not make sufficient
allowance for the difficulties created, the mistakes inherited from the
past, which in a degree lessens the responsibility of the upper
Free from desire for self-vindication, free from fear of an
emancipated people, free from that envy and hatred which the oppressed
feel for their oppressors, I am in the best possible position to see
the truth and to tell it. Perhaps that is why Providence placed me in
such a position. I will do my best to turn it to account.
Alexander Ivanovich Volgin, a bachelor and a clerk in a Moscow bank
at a salary of eight thousand roubles a year, a man much respected in
his own set, was staying in a country-house. His host was a wealthy
landowner, owning some twenty-five hundred acres, and had married his
guest's cousin. Volgin, tired after an evening spent in playing vint*
for small stakes with [* A game of cards similar to auction bridge.]
members of the family, went to his room and placed his watch, silver
cigarette-case, pocket-book, big leather purse, and pocket-brush and
comb on a small table covered with a white cloth, and then, taking off
his coat, waistcoat, shirt, trousers, and underclothes, his silk socks
and English boots, put on his nightshirt and dressing-gown. His watch
pointed to midnight. Volgin smoked a cigarette, lay on his face for
about five minutes reviewing the day's impressions; then, blowing out
his candle, he turned over on his side and fell asleep about one
o'clock, in spite of a good deal of rest- lessness. Awaking next
morning at eight he put on his slippers and dressing-gown, and rang the
The old butler, Stephen, the father of a
family and the grandfather of six grandchildren, who had served in
that house for thirty years, entered the room hurriedly, with bent
legs, carry- ing in the newly blackened boots which Volgin had taken
off the night before, a well-brushed suit, and a clean shirt. The
guest thanked him, and then asked what the weather was like (the blinds
were drawn so that the sun should not prevent any one from sleeping
till eleven o'clock if he were so inclined), and whether his hosts had
slept well. He glanced at his watch--it was still early-- and began to
wash and dress. His water was ready, and everything on the
washing-stand and dressing-table was ready for use and properly laid
out--his soap, his tooth and hair brushes, his nail scissors and files.
He washed his hands and face in a leisurely fashion, cleaned and
manicured his nails, pushed back the skin with the towel, and sponged
his stout white body from head to foot. Then he began to brush his
hair. Standing in front of the mirror, he first brushed his curly
beard, which was beginning to turn grey, with two English brushes,
parting it down the middle. Then he combed his hair, which was already
show- ing signs of getting thin, with a large tortoise- shell comb.
Putting on his underlinen, his socks, his boots, his trousers--which
were held up by elegant braces--and his waistcoat, he sat down coatless
in an easy chair to rest after dressing, lit a cigarette, and began to
think where he should go for a walk that morning--to the park or to
Lit- tleports (what a funny name for a wood!). He thought he would go
to Littleports. Then he must answer Simon Nicholaevich's letter; but
there was time enough for that. Getting up with an air of resolution,
he took out his watch. It was already five minutes to nine. He put
his watch into his waistcoat pocket, and his purse-- with all that was
left of the hundred and eighty roubles he had taken for his journey,
and for the incidental expenses of his fortnight's stay with his
cousin--and then he placed into his trouser pocket his cigarette-case
and electric cigarette- lighter, and two clean handkerchiefs into his
coat pockets, and went out of the room, leaving as usual the mess and
confusion which he had made to be cleared up by Stephen, an old man of
over fifty. Stephen expected Volgin to "remunerate" him, as he said,
being so accustomed to the work that he did not feel the slightest
repugnance for it. Glancing at a mirror, and feeling satisfied with
his appearance, Volgin went into the dining-room.
There, thanks to the efforts of the housekeeper, the footman, and
under-butler--the latter had risen at dawn in order to run home to
sharpen his son's scythe--breakfast was ready. On a spot- less white
cloth stood a boiling, shiny, silver samovar (at least it looked like
silver), a coffee- pot, hot milk, cream, butter, and all sorts of fancy
white bread and biscuits. The only persons at table were the second
son of the house, his tutor (a student), and the secretary. The host,
who was an active member of the Zemstvo and a great farmer, had already
left the house, having gone at eight o'clock to attend to his work.
Volgin, while drinking his coffee, talked to the student and the
secretary about the weather, and yester- day's vint, and discussed
Theodorite's peculiar be- haviour the night before, as he had been very
rude to his father without the slightest cause. Theodorite was the
grown-up son of the house, and a ne'er-do-well. His name was Theodore,
but some one had once called him Theodorite either as a joke or to
tease him; and, as it seemed funny, the name stuck to him, although his
doings were no longer in the least amusing. So it was now. He had
been to the university, but left it in his second year, and joined a
regiment of horse guards; but he gave that up also, and was now living
in the country, doing nothing, finding fault, and feeling discontented
with everything. Theo- dorite was still in bed: so were the other
members of the household--Anna Mikhailovna, its mis- tress; her sister,
the widow of a general; and a landscape painter who lived with the
Volgin took his panama hat from the hall table (it had cost twenty
roubles) and his cane with its carved ivory handle, and went out.
Crossing the veranda, gay with flowers, he walked through the flower
garden, in the centre of which was a raised round bed, with rings of
red, white, and blue flowers, and the initials of the mistress of the
house done in carpet bedding in the centre. Leaving the flower garden
Volgin entered the avenue of lime trees, hundreds of years old, which
peasant girls were tidying and sweeping with spades and brooms. The
gardener was busy measuring, and a boy was bringing something in a
cart. Passing these Volgin went into the park of at least a hundred
and twenty-five acres, filled with fine old trees, and intersected by a
network of well-kept walks. Smoking as he strolled Volgin took his
favourite path past the summer-house into the fields beyond. It was
pleasant in the park, but it was still nicer in the fields. On the
right some women who were dig- ging potatoes formed a mass of bright
red and white colour; on the left were wheat fields, mead- ows, and
grazing cattle; and in the foreground, slightly to the right, were the
dark, dark oaks of Littleports. Volgin took a deep breath, and felt
glad that he was alive, especially here in his cousin's home, where he
was so thoroughly en- joying the rest from his work at the bank.
"Lucky people to live in the country," he thought. "True, what
with his farming and his Zemstvo, the owner of the estate has very
little peace even in the country, but that is his own lookout " Volgin
shook his head, lit another cigarette, and, stepping out firmly with
his power- ful feet clad in his thick English boots, began to think of
the heavy winter's work in the bank that was in front of him. "I shall
be there every day from ten to two, sometimes even till five. And the
board meetings . . . And private inter- views with clients. . . .
Then the Duma. Whereas here. . . . It is delightful. It may be a
little dull, but it is not for long " He smiled. After a stroll in
Littleports he turned back, going straight across a fallow field which
was being ploughed. A herd of cows, calves, sheep, and pigs, which
belonged to the village community, was grazing there. The shortest way
to the park was to pass through the herd. He frightened the sheep,
which ran away one after another, and were followed by the pigs, of
which two little ones stared solemnly at him. The shepherd boy called
to the sheep and cracked his whip. "How far behind Europe we are,"
thought Volgin, recalling his frequent holidays abroad. "You would not
find a single cow like that anywhere in Europe " Then, wanting to find
out where the path which branched off from the one he was on led to and
who was the owner of the herd, he called to the boy.
"Whose herd is it?"
The boy was so filled with wonder, verging on terror, when he gazed
at the hat, the well-brushed beard, and above all the gold-rimmed
eyeglasses, that he could not reply at once. When Volgin repeated his
question the boy pulled himself to- gether, and said, "Ours." "But
whose is 'ours'?" said Volgin, shaking his head and smiling. The boy
was wearing shoes of plaited birch bark, bands of linen round his legs,
a dirty, unbleached shirt ragged at the shoulder, and a cap the peak of
which had been torn.
"Whose is 'ours'?"
"The Pirogov village herd."
"How old are you?
"I don't know."
"Can you read?"
"No, I can't."
"Didn't you go to school?"
"Yes, I did."
"Couldn't you learn to read?"
"Where does that path lead?"
The boy told him, and Volgin went on to- wards the house, thinking
how he would chaff Nicholas Petrovich about the deplorable condi- tion
of the village schools in spite of all his ef- forts.
On approaching the house Volgin looked at his watch, and saw that
it was already past eleven. He remembered that Nicholas Petrovich was
going to drive to the nearest town, and that he had meant to give him a
letter to post to Moscow; but the letter was not written. The letter
was a very important one to a friend, asking him to bid for him for a
picture of the Madonna which was to be offered for sale at an auction.
As he reached the house he saw at the door four big, well-fed,
well-groomed, thoroughbred horses har- nessed to a carriage, the black
lacquer of which glistened in the sun. The coachman was seated on the
box in a kaftan, with a silver belt, and the horses were jingling their
silver bells from time to time.
A bare-headed, bare-footed peasant in a ragged kaftan stood at the
front door. He bowed. Volgin asked what he wanted.
"I have come to see Nicholas Petrovich."
"Because I am in distress--my horse has died."
Volgin began to question him. The peasant told him how he was
situated. He had five chil- dren, and this had been his only horse.
Now it was gone. He wept.
"What are you going to do?"
"To beg " And he knelt down, and remained kneeling in spite of
"What is your name?"
"Mitri Sudarikov," answered the peasant, still kneeling.
Volgin took three roubles from his purse and gave them to the
peasant, who showed his grat- itude by touching the ground with his
forehead, and then went into the house. His host was standing in the
"Where is your letter?" he asked, approach- ing Volgin; "I am just
"I'm awfully sorry, I'll write it this minute, if you will let me.
I forgot all about it. It's so pleasant here that one can forget
"All right, but do be quick. The horses have already been standing
a quarter of an hour, and the flies are biting viciously. Can you
wait, Ar- senty?" he asked the coachman.
"Why not?" said the coachman, thinking to himself, "why do they
order the horses when they aren't ready? The rush the grooms and I
had--just to stand here and feed the flies."
"Directly, directly," Volgin went towards his room, but turned back
to ask Nicholas Petrovich about the begging peasant.
"Did you see him?--He's a drunkard, but still he is to be pitied.
Do be quick!"
Volgin got out his case, with all the requisites for writing, wrote
the letter, made out a cheque for a hundred and eighty roubles, and,
sealing down the envelope, took it to Nicholas Petrovich.
Volgin read the newspapers till luncheon. He only read the Liberal
papers: The Russian Gazette, Speech, sometimes The Russian Word --but
he would not touch The New Times, to which his host subscribed.
While he was scanning at his ease the political news, the Tsar's
doings, the doings of President, and ministers and decisions in the
Duma, and was just about to pass on to the general news, thea- tres,
science, murders and cholera, he heard the luncheon bell ring.
Thanks to the efforts of upwards of ten human beings--counting
laundresses, gardeners, cooks, kitchen-maids, butlers and footmen--the
table was sumptuously laid for eight, with silver water- jugs,
decanters, kvass, wine, mineral waters, cut glass, and fine table
linen, while two men-servants were continually hurrying to and fro,
bringing in and serving, and then clearing away the hors d'oeuvre and
the various hot and cold courses.
The hostess talked incessantly about every- thing that she had been
doing, thinking, and say- ing; and she evidently considered that
everything that she thought, said, or did was perfect, and that it
would please every one except those who were fools. Volgin felt and
knew that every- thing she said was stupid, but it would never do to
let it be seen, and so he kept up the conversa- tion. Theodorite was
glum and silent; the stu- dent occasionally exchanged a few words with
the widow. Now and again there was a pause in the conversation, and
then Theodorite interposed, and every one became miserably depressed.
At such moments the hostess ordered some dish that had not been
served, and the footman hurried off to the kitchen, or to the
housekeeper, and hur- ried back again. Nobody felt inclined either to
talk or to eat. But they all forced themselves to eat and to talk, and
so luncheon went on.
The peasant who had been begging because his horse had died was
named Mitri Sudarikov. He had spent the whole day before he went to
the squire over his dead horse. First of all he went to the knacker,
Sanin, who lived in a village near. The knacker was out, but he waited
for him, and it was dinner-time when he had finished bargain- ing over
the price of the skin. Then he bor- rowed a neighbour's horse to take
his own to a field to be buried, as it is forbidden to bury dead
animals near a village. Adrian would not lend his horse because he was
getting in his potatoes, but Stephen took pity on Mitri and gave way to
his persuasion. He even lent a hand in lifting the dead horse into the
cart. Mitri tore off the shoes from the forelegs and gave them to his
wife. One was broken, but the other one was whole. While he was
digging the grave with a spade which was very blunt, the knacker
appeared and took off the skin; and the carcass was then thrown into
the hole and covered up. Mitri felt tired, and went into Matrena's
hut, where he drank half a bottle of vodka with Sanin to con- sole
himself. Then he went home, quarrelled with his wife, and lay down to
sleep on the hay. He did not undress, but slept just as he was, with a
ragged coat for a coverlet. His wife was in the hut with the
girls--there were four of them, and the youngest was only five weeks
old. Mitri woke up before dawn as usual. He groaned as the memory of
the day before broke in upon him --how the horse had struggled and
struggled, and then fallen down. Now there was no horse, and all he
had was the price of the skin, four roubles and eighty kopeks. Getting
up he ar- ranged the linen bands on his legs, and went through the yard
into the hut. His wife was put- ting straw into the stove with one
hand, with the other she was holding a baby girl to her breast, which
was hanging out of her dirty chemise.
Mitri crossed himself three times, turning towards the corner in
which the ikons hung, and repeated some utterly meaningless words,
which he called prayers, to the Trinity and the Virgin, the Creed and
"Isn't there any water?"
"The girl's gone for it. I've got some tea. Will you go up to the
"Yes, I'd better " The smoke from the stove made him cough. He
took a rag off the wooden bench and went into the porch. The girl had
just come back with the water. Mitri filled his mouth with water from
the pail and squirted it out on his hands, took some more in his mouth
to wash his face, dried himself with the rag, then parted and smoothed
his curly hair with his fin- gers and went out. A little girl of about
ten, with nothing on but a dirty shirt, came towards him.
"Good-morning, Uncle Mitri," she said; "you are to come and thrash."
"All right, I'll come," replied Mitri. He understood that he was
expected to return the help given the week before by Kumushkir, a man
as poor as he was himself, when he was thrashing his own corn with a
"Tell them I'll come--I'll come at lunch time. I've got to go to
Ugrumi " Mitri went back to the hut, and changing his birch-bark shoes
and the linen bands on his legs, started off to see the squire. After
he had got three roubles from Volgin, and the same sum from Nicholas
Petro- vich, he returned to his house, gave the money to his wife, and
went to his neighbour's. The thrash- ing machine was humming, and the
driver was shouting. The lean horses were going slowly round him,
straining at their traces. The driver was shouting to them in a
monotone, "Now, there, my dears " Some women were unbinding sheaves,
others were raking up the scattered straw and ears, and others again
were gathering great armfuls of corn and handing them to the men to
feed the machine. The work was in full swing. In the kitchen garden,
which Mitri had to pass, a girl, clad only in a long shirt, was digging
potatoes which she put into a basket.
"Where's your grandfather?" asked Mitri. "He's in the barn " Mitri
went to the barn and set to work at once. The old man of eighty knew
of Mitri's trouble. After greeting him, he gave him his place to feed
Mitri took off his ragged coat, laid it out of the way near the
fence, and then began to work vig- orously, raking the corn together
and throwing it into the machine. The work went on without
interruption until the dinner-hour. The cocks had crowed two or three
times, but no one paid any attention to them; not because the workers
did not believe them, but because they were scarcely heard for the
noise of the work and the talk about it. At last the whistle of the
squire's steam thrasher sounded three miles away, and then the owner
came into the barn. He was a straight old man of eighty. "It's time
to stop," he said; "it's dinner-time " Those at work seemed to
redouble their efforts. In a moment the straw was cleared away; the
grain that had been thrashed was separated from the chaff and brought
in, and then the workers went into the hut.
The hut was smoke-begrimed, as its stove had no chimney, but it had
been tidied up, and benches stood round the table, making room for all
those who had been working, of whom there were nine, not counting the
owners. Bread, soup, boiled potatoes, and kvass were placed on the
An old one-armed beggar, with a bag slung over his shoulder, came
in with a crutch during the meal.
"Peace be to this house. A good appetite to you. For Christ's
sake give me something."
"God will give it to you," said the mistress, already an old woman,
and the daughter-in-law of the master. "Don't be angry with us " An
old man, who was still standing near the door, said, "Give him some
bread, Martha. How can you?"
"I am only wondering whether we shall have enough." "Oh, it is
wrong, Martha. God tells us to help the poor. Cut him a slice."
Martha obeyed. The beggar went away. The man in charge of the
thrashing-machine got up, said grace, thanked his hosts, and went away
Mitri did not lie down, but ran to the shop to buy some tobacco.
He was longing for a smoke. While he smoked he chatted to a man from
Demensk, asking the price of cattle, as he saw that he would not be
able to manage without sell- ing a cow. When he returned to the
others, they were already back at work again; and so it went on till
Among these downtrodden, duped, and de- frauded men, who are
becoming demoralised by overwork, and being gradually done to death by
underfeeding, there are men living who consider themselves Christians;
and others so enlightened that they feel no further need for
Christianity or for any religion, so superior do they appear in their
own esteem. And yet their hideous, lazy lives are supported by the
degrading, excessive labour of these slaves, not to mention the labour
of millions of other slaves, toiling in factories to produce samovars,
silver, carriages, machines, and the like for their use. They live
among these horrors, seeing them and yet not seeing them, although
often kind at heart--old men and women, young men and maidens, mothers
and children--poor children who are being viti- ated and trained into
Here is a bachelor grown old, the owner of thousands of acres, who
has lived a life of idle- ness, greed, and over-indulgence, who reads
The New Times, and is astonished that the govern- ment can be so unwise
as to permit Jews to enter the university. There is his guest,
formerly the governor of a province, now a senator with a big salary,
who reads with satisfaction that a congress of lawyers has passed a
resolution in favor of capital punishment. Their political enemy, N.
P., reads a liberal paper, and cannot understand the blindness of the
government in allowing the union of Russian men to exist.
Here is a kind, gentle mother of a little girl reading a story to
her about Fox, a dog that lamed some rabbits. And here is this little
girl. During her walks she sees other children, bare- footed, hungry,
hunting for green apples that have fallen from the trees; and, so
accustomed is she to the sight, that these children do not seem to her
to be children such as she is, but only part of the usual
surroundings--the familiar landscape.
Why is this?