Tolstoy and Tagore

March 4 2009

The National manufactory

Tolstoy has a story of a little boy who, on being taken for the first time in his life to see a military review, was drawn by curiosity to venture close up to the troops and then came running back to his mother crying, “Mummy! Mummy! What do you think I have found out? These soldiers were once men.” Such robots wear the same appearance in Hindu as in Russian eyes. “In the West the national machinery of commerce and politics turns out neatly compressed bales of humanity which have their use and high market value; but they are bound in iron hoops, labelled and separated off with scientific care and precision. Obviously God made Men to be human, but this modern product has such marvellous square-cut finish, savouring of gigantic manufacture, that the Creator will find it difficult to recognise it as a thing of spirit and a creature made in His own divine image.” – Tagore, Sir R.: Nationalism (London 1917, Macmillan), p. 6.

Can anyone identify the Tolstoy quotation?


A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939 (footnote)

4 Responses to “Tolstoy and Tagore”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Wikipedia: “The word robot was introduced to the public by Czech writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which premiered in 1921. The word was also spelled ‘robotnik’. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, but they are closer to the modern ideas of androids and clones, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited, and the consequences of their treatment.

    “However, Karel Čapek himself did not coin the word; he wrote a short letter [to whom?] in reference to an etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary in which he named his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, as its actual originator. In an article in the Czech journal Lidové noviny in 1933, he explained that he had originally wanted to call the creatures laboři (from Latin labor, work). However, he did not like the word, and sought advice from his brother Josef, who suggested ‘roboti’. The word robota means literally work, labor or serf labor, and figuratively ‘drudgery’ or ‘hard work’ in Czech and many Slavic languages. Serfdom was outlawed in 1848 in Bohemia, so at the time Čapek wrote R.U.R., usage of the term robota had broadened to include various types of work, but the obsolete sense of ‘serfdom’ would still have been known.”

  2. […] ‘in the air’ – the realisation that the supremacy of the machine, which is rapidly making robots of humanity, must be faced. And the machine must be put in its place as a servant to do the servile […]

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