WAR, PROGRESS, AND THE END OF HISTORY, INCLUDING A SHORT STORY OF THE ANTI-CHRIST: THREE DISCUSSIONS
BY the early death of Vladimir Soloviev in 1900 Russia lost her most original and essentially Slavonic thinker. A deep sympathy with mysticism, united to the power of fearlessly probing human consciousness, gave him eminence not only among the philosophers of Russia, but of Europe.
Born in 1853, Soloviev entered upon life in an atmosphere charged with the elements of change. The emancipation of the serfs opened an era of political experiments, and the ordeal of the Crimean War braced and stimulated the national spirit. It was a time of high aspirations struggling against an undercurrent of philosophic doubt, which exercised an abiding influence upon the sensitive and inquiring mind of Soloviev.
He was happy in his parentage; his father, Serge Soloviev, being a historian of high reputation, and his mother a woman of character and mental attainments. She belonged to a noble family of Little Russia, and numbered among her ancestors a great-uncle who had won consideration as a philosophic writer; from this source possibly Soloviev derived the bent of his intellect.
The period of his education in a school at Moscow was marked by a series of brilliant successes, and at its conclusion he was presented with the rare distinction of a gold medal. His university career was no less remarkable.
The faculty of Natural Sciences soon proving less congenial than the study of history and philosophy, he devoted himself to the latter, and passed his candidate's examination (practically equivalent to our B.A.) in 1873.
The tendency of Soloviev's mind now became apparent. At the age of twenty he abandoned his secular studies and entered upon a twelve months' course in the theological college of Moscow. After a year chiefly devoted to the consideration of religious questions, he went up to the University of St. Petersburg and took out his degree of M.A., for which he wrote the thesis, "The Crisis in Western Philosophy." Very shortly afterwards he was appointed assistant professor (Privat-docent) in the University of Moscow, a position which he did not hold for long, being of a character to which freedom of action was essential.
Two subsequent years were spent in foreign travel, when he visited England. Upon his return he was appointed a member of the committee of popular education.
His activity as a lecturer dates from that appointment, and for the next four or five years Soloviev was engaged in lecturing on various philosophical and literary topics, such as "the Science of Religion" and "the Literary Movement of the Nineteenth Century." His most notable work, "The Criticism of Abstract Ideas," and his memorable address in condemnation of capital punishment both belong to this period.
In 1882, however, Soloviev relinquished the burden of a public career and gave up lecturing in order to devote himself wholly to literature and science. His restless and moody disposition, aggravated by habits of personal negligence and asceticism, made fixity of all kinds irksome, and he became a wanderer, residing sometimes in Moscow, sometimes in St. Petersburg, roaming from one country estate to another seeking by change of scene and companionship to keep despondency at bay.
Monasticism appealed strongly to Soloviev. The physical aspects of human existence aroused his contempt and aversion, and material comforts and pleasures were at all times matters of indifference to him. For months together he would lead the life of a recluse, cutting himself off entirely from the outside world. At such times he spent whole nights in writing and meditation, depriving himself of sleep and nourishment. Unhappily, his body was not slow to retaliate and assert its right to consideration. The greatest of Russian philosophers died on the thirty-first of July, 1900, at the premature age of forty-seven.
The full scope of Soloviev's philosophy cannot be traced within the limits of a prefatory note, but his life-work may be summed up in his own words as "a free inquiry into the foundations of human knowledge, life, and activity." At the same time, a close study of his writings reveals him as an idealist, a theologian, and a mystic. His ideal was the Christian one of love and self-denial, of universal brotherhood as against Slavophilism. Of patriotism in the narrow sense he became the violent opponent, attacking the Slavophile writer, Danilevsky, with impassioned eloquence, though, on the other hand, he felt unable to accept the doctrine of Tolstoy, which preaches the non-resistance of evil. To refute that doctrine, and emphasise the imminence of the struggle which he foresaw between East and West, Soloviev wrote the "Three Discussions," which were published in 1899 and 1903. This work is now for the first time brought to the attention of the English reading public. It forms an excellent example of the author's irony and humour, of his dialectic and power of self-expression.
Soloviev was the author of many volumes dealing with the Christian religion, the best known being "The Religious Foundations of Life" (1884). "The History and Future of Theocracy," and "The Dogmatic Development of the Church" (1886), in which he discusses the differences dividing the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches and the necessity for their union.
His philosophical works include a "History of Materialism" (1894), a "History of Ethics" (1896-8), and "The Justification of Good" (1897), which is one of his finest achievements.
Soloviev was also the author of poems, which breathe the true Slav spirit and are remarkable for their self-revelations. In them, more than in any other of his writings, we gain an insight into the character and feelings of a man whose life, in the words of Prince Trubetzkoy, was "full of yearning to justify his faith, to justify the good in which he believed; the life of a wrestler ever seeking to overcome the dark forces of evil heaving in his breast." The cause of religion was dearer to him than the arid domain of pure logic. He avows his task to be "to justify the faith of our fathers, carrying it upward to a new plane of intellectual consciousness, and making manifest the oneness of that ancient faith with eternal and universal truth when it has been set free from the chains of dogma and temporal pride."
Soloviev was a true patriot. He loved his fellow-countrymen and he welcomed any personal sacrifice for the general good. He realised that education was the peasants' first and greatest need. Though a nationalist, he had a broad and tolerant mind, and championed the cause of religious freedom in a striking series of articles (1893 and 1894). His crowning merit lies in this, that, at a time when indifference to religion and spiritual thought pervaded the ranks of education and culture, he re-opened "the windows to eternal things."
The name of Soloviev may not be a household word in so wide a sense as the name of Tolstoy, but he holds a higher place as a thinker among the intellectual classes of Russia.
C. HAGBERG WRIGHT.