TOLSTOYS troubled, vacillating mind, obscured by the mists of Nihilism, is by a singular and not infrequent contradiction endowed with an unparalleled lucidity and penetration for the scientific study of the phenomena of life. He has a clear, analytical comprehension of everything upon the earths surface, of mans internal life as well as of his exterior nature: first of tangible realities, then the play of his passions, his most volatile motives to action, the slightest disturbances of his conscience. This author might be said to possess the skill of an English chemist with the soul of a Hindu Buddhist. Whoever will undertake to account for that strange combination will be capable of explaining Russia herself.
Tolstoy maintains a certain simplicity of nature in the society of his fellow-beings which seems to be impossible to the writers of our country; he observes, listens, takes in whatever he sees and hears, and for all time, with an exactness which we cannot but admire. Not content with describing the distinctive features of the general physiognomy of society, he resolves them into their original elements with the most assiduous care; always eager to know how and wherefore an act is produced; pursuing the original thought behind the visible act, he does not rest until he has laid it bare, tearing it from the heart with all its secret roots and fibres. Unfortunately, his curiosity will not let him stop here. Of those phenomena which offer him such a free field when he studies them by themselves, he wishes to know the origin, and to go back to the most remote and inaccessible causes which produced them. Then his clear vision grows dim, the intrepid explorer loses his foothold and falls into the abyss of philosophical contradictions. Within himself, and all around him he feels nothing but chaos and darkness; to fill this void and illuminate the darkness, the characters through which he speaks have recourse to the unsatisfactory explanations of metaphysics, and, finally, irritated by these pedantic sophistries, they suddenly steal away, and escape from their own explanations.
Gradually, as Tolstoy advances in life and in his work, he is more and more engulfed in doubt; he lavishes his coldest irony upon those children of his fancy who try to believe and to discover and apply a consistent system of morality. But under this apparent coldness you feel that his heart sobs out a longing for what he cannot find, and thirsts for things eternal. Finally, weary of doubt and of search, convinced that all the calculations of reason end only in mortifying failure, fascinated by the mysticism which had long lain in wait for his unsatisfied soul, the Nihilist suddenly throws himself at the feet of a Deityand of what a Deity we shall see hereafter.From Tolstoy, in The Russian Novelists, translated by J. L. Edmands (1887).