Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tolstoy’s Prophecy

THE story of Tolstoy’s Prophecy was a hoax of unknown original purpose, appropriated by the American or British governments of 1917. It may have been among the pamphlets and leaflets prepared by Harmsworth [Director of Propaganda to enemy countries in 1918] which were dropped over enemy lines to demoralize the German army. The story first emerged in the United States in 1913 and my account of its origins and the prophetic text [possibly altered to suit American propaganda purposes] is drawn from The Lawrence Journal of 15 May 1915.

As the story of its origin has it, shortly before his death in 1910 Tolstoy made the prophecy at the joint request of the Kaiser and the King of England, regarding future events on the continent. Accordingly, a few weeks before his death, Tolstoy dictated the prophecy to Countess Nastasia Tolstoy, “his favorite amanuensis. Tolstoy is said to have been in a condition of semi-trance at the time — a condition which overcame him when deep in literary composition.” 

Nastasia Tolstoy then passed the prophecy to the three monarchs, George, Wilhelm, and Nicholas. One of Tolstoy’s relatives leaked the story to the public through Associated Press Sunday Magazines, issued 23 Feb, 1913. If this is true the story was circulated well before the start of war in 1914. “This much is certain,” said the 1915 Lawrence Journal account, “that it has been in circulation in print for two years three months.” The so-called prophecies read:

“This is a revelation of events of a universal character, which must shortly come to pass. Their spiritual lifelines are now before my eyes. I see floating upon the surface of the sea of human fate the huge silhouette of a nude woman. She is with her beauty, her poise, her smile, her jewels – a super Venus. Nations rush madly after her, each of them eager to attract her specially. But she, like an eternal courtesan, flirts with all. 

In her hair ornament of diamonds and rubies is engraved her name: ‘Commercialism.’ As alluring and bewitching as she seems, much destruction and agony follow in her wake. Her breath, reeking of sordid transactions, her voice of metallic character, like gold, and her look of greed are so much poison to the nations who fall victim to her charms.

And behold, she has three gigantic arms with three torches of universal corruption in her hand. The first torch represents the flame of war that the beautiful courtesan carries from city to city and country to country. Patriotism answers with flashes of honest flame but the end is the roar of guns and musketry.

The second torch bears the flame of bigotry and hypocrisy. It lights the lamps only in temples and on the altars of sacred institutions. It carries the seed of falsity and fanaticism. It kindles the minds that are still in cradles and follows them to their graves.

The third torch is that of the law, that dangerous foundation of all unauthentic traditions, which first does its fatal work in the family then sweeps through the large worlds of literature, art and statesmanship.

The great conflagration will start about 1912, set by the torch of the first arm, in the countries of South-eastern Europe. It will develop into a destructive calamity in 1913. In that year I see all Europe in flames and bleeding. I hear the lamentations of huge battlefields. But about the year 1915 a strange figure from the North – a new Napoleon – enters the stage of the bloody drama. 

He is a man of little militaristic training, a writer or a journalist, but in his grip most of Europe will remain until 1925. The end of the great calamity will mark a new political era of the Old World. There will be left no empires or kingdoms but the world will form a federation of the United States of Nations. There will remain only four great giants – the Anglo-Saxon, the Latins, the Slavs, and the Mongolians.

After the year 1925 I see a change in religious sentiment. The second torch of the courtesan has brought about the fall of the Church. The ethical idea has almost vanished. Humanity is without moral feeling. But then a great reformer arises. He will clear the world of the relics of monotheism and lay the cornerstone of the temple of pantheism. God, soul, spirit and immortality will be molten in a new furnace, and I see the peaceful beginning of an ethical era. The man determined to this mission is a Mongolian Slav. He is already walking the earth – a man of active affairs. He himself does not now realize the mission assigned to him by a superior power.

And behold the flame of the third torch which has already begun to destroy our family relations, our standards of art and our morals. The relations between man and woman is accepted as a prosine (positive?) partnership of the sexes. Art has become realistic degeneracy. Political and religious disturbances have shaken the spiritual foundations of  all nations. The race wars of Africa have strangled progress for half a century. 

I see a hero of literature and art rising from the ranks of the Latins and purging the world of the tedious stuff of the obvious. It is the light of symbolism that shall outshine the light of the torch of commercialism. In place of the polygamy and monogamy of today there will become a poetgamy – a relation of the sexes based fundamentally upon poetic conceptions of life.

And I see the nations, growing wiser, and realizing that the alluring woman of their destinies is after all nothing but an illusion. There will be a time when the world will have no use for armies, hypocritical religions and degenerate art. Life is evolution, and evolution is development from the simple to the more complicated forms of the mind and the body. I see the passing show of the world drama in its present form, but how it fades like the glow of evening upon the mountains. One motion from the hand of commercialism and a new history begins.”

Count Lyoff Tolstoy drawing by George T. Tobin,
based on a photograph, from The Century,
February 1911.
A strange and badly written farrago to pin on one of the giants of literature is it not? 

The hoax had actually been exposed on 15 December 1914 in a letter to the New York Times by Vladimir Tchertkoff, Tolstoy’s literary representative, who wrote that the article appeared first in a Swedish newspaper under the title “A World-Wide Prophecy,” then was reprinted in English American and Russian newspapers. “I feel it my duty to state that Tolstoy never wrote anything of the kind, and that the attribution of this article to him is an absolute invention.” 

Whatever the fraud’s original purpose it was put to use on 2 January 1917 in the American Tacoma Times to associate Alfred Harmsworth, than visiting America, as “Tolstoy’s Man of Destiny.” There were other candidates for the “Man of the North.” Another article on 10 July 1917 in The Day (New London, Connecticut) asked “Is Kerensky Tolstoy’s “Strong Man from the North” who will end War?”

The hoax had wings and the flight was sustained through ‘prophecy’ letters to the newspaper editors in England, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

The Day, August 13, 1914.

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