Leo Tolstoy’s Poignant Letter to Gandhi on the Laws of Love

For the occasion of Leo Tolstoy’s birthday¬†on¬†September 9th, 1828, we took a moment to brush (or shove) aside Anna Karenina and War and Peace to look at some of the renowned author’s first-person musings. Tolstoy’s correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi, which took place over the last two years of the Russian writer’s life, offers a bright crystallization of Tolstoy’s lifelong search for meaning and his resultant wish for peace. As Maria Popova wrote of Tolstoy’s letters, they are a “clarion call for nonviolent resistance,” a passionate plea for the belief in love over force.

I heard someone say recently, I can’t remember where, that the only way to summarize War and Peace is to hand someone a copy of War and Peace. You might say the same of the conversation between the author of some of the most revered novels ever published and an inspirational resistance leader who has inspired generations of nonviolent protest. (And at such a lower word count!) Still, Tolstoy’s final letter, written weeks before his death in 1910, contains a particular passage that is simple, intelligent, and precise enough to be, at least, worth illustrating.

So for Tolstoy’s birthday this year, we offer this handy, hand-drawn text of a short excerpt of Tolstoy’s clarion call.

tolstoy's letter to gandhi

The full letter from Tolstoy to Gandhi can be found for free here.