Here’s a rare recording of Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist, reading a passage from his book, ‘Wise Thoughts for Every Day’, in four languages: English, German, French and Russian.
‘Wise Thoughts For Every Day’ was Tolstoy’s last major work. It first appeared in 1903 as ‘The Thoughts of Wise Men’, and was revised and renamed several times before the author’s death in 1910. It was banned by the Soviet regime, only to reappear in 1995 as a bestseller in Russia. In 1997 it was translated into English by Peter Sekirin and published as A Calendar of Wisdom.
So what is it about? Well, its a collection of passages from a diverse group of thinkers ranging from Lao-Tzu to Ralph Waldo Emerson. As Tolstoy wrote in his diary;
I felt that I have been elevated to great spiritual and moral heights by communication with the best and wisest people whose books I read and whose thoughts I selected for my Circle of Reading
When he was older Tolstoy rejected his great works of fiction – War and Peace and Anna Karenina – believing that it was more important to give moral and spiritual guidance to the common people;
To create a book for the masses, for millions of people, is incomparably more important and fruitful than to compose a novel of the kind which diverts some members of the wealthy classes for a short time, and then is forever forgotten.
These audio recordings were made at the writer’s home in Yasnaya Polyana on October 31st, 1909 when he was 81 years old. He died just over a year later. Tolstoy apparently translated the passage himself. The English version sounds a bit like the King James Bible. The words are hard to make out in the recording, but he says:
That the object of life is self-perfection, the perfection of all immortal souls, that this is the only object of my life, is seen to be correct by the fact alone that every other object is essentially a new object. Therefore, the question whether thou hast done what thou shoudst have done is of immense importance, for the only meaning of thy life is in doing in this short term allowed thee, that which is desired of thee by He or That which has sent thee into life. Art thou doing the right thing?
As I was posting up this audio recording I thought I’d also show you the last ever video footage of the man himself – just before he died. Hope you enjoy both videos.
Via Open Culture
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