In 1809 the intimacy between “the world’s two arbiters,” as Napoleon and Alexander were called, was such that when Napoleon declared war on Austria a Russian corps crossed the frontier to co-operate with our old enemy Bonaparte against our old ally the Emperor of Austria, and in court circles the possibility of marriage between Napoleon and one of Alexander’s sisters was spoken of. But besides considerations of foreign policy, the attention of Russian society was at that time keenly directed on the internal changes that were being undertaken in all the departments of government.
Life meanwhile—real life, with its essential interests of health and sickness, toil and rest, and its intellectual interests in thought, science, poetry, music, love, friendship, hatred, and passions—went on as usual, independently of and apart from political friendship or enmity with Napoleon Bonaparte and from all the schemes of reconstruction.
BOOK SIX: 1808 - 10
Prince Andrew had spent two years continuously in the country.
All the plans Pierre had attempted on his estates—and constantly changing from one thing to another had never accomplished—were carried out by Prince Andrew without display and without perceptible difficulty.
He had in the highest degree a practical tenacity which Pierre lacked, and without fuss or strain on his part this set things going.
On one of his estates the three hundred serfs were liberated and became free agricultural laborers—this being one of the first examples of the kind in Russia. On other estates the serfs’ compulsory labor was commuted for a quitrent. A trained midwife was engaged for Boguchárovo at his expense, and a priest was paid to teach reading and writing to the children of the peasants and household serfs.
Prince Andrew spent half his time at Bald Hills with his father and his son, who was still in the care of nurses. The other half he spent in “Boguchárovo Cloister,” as his father called Prince Andrew’s estate. Despite the indifference to the affairs of the world he had expressed to Pierre, he diligently followed all that went on, received many books, and to his surprise noticed that when he or his father had visitors from Petersburg, the very vortex of life, these people lagged behind himself—who never left the country—in knowledge of what was happening in home and foreign affairs.
Besides being occupied with his estates and reading a great variety of books, Prince Andrew was at this time busy with a critical survey of our last two unfortunate campaigns, and with drawing up a proposal for a reform of the army rules and regulations.
In the spring of 1809 he went to visit the Ryazán estates which had been inherited by his son, whose guardian he was.
Warmed by the spring sunshine he sat in the calèche looking at the new grass, the first leaves on the birches, and the first puffs of white spring clouds floating across the clear blue sky. He was not thinking of anything, but looked absent-mindedly and cheerfully from side to side.
They crossed the ferry where he had talked with Pierre the year before. They went through the muddy village, past threshing floors and green fields of winter rye, downhill where snow still lodged near the bridge, uphill where the clay had been liquefied by the rain, past strips of stubble land and bushes touched with green here and there, and into a birch forest growing on both sides of the road. In the forest it was almost hot, no wind could be felt. The birches with their sticky green leaves were motionless, and lilac-colored flowers and the first blades of green grass were pushing up and lifting last year’s leaves. The coarse evergreen color of the small fir trees scattered here and there among the birches was an unpleasant reminder of winter. On entering the forest the horses began to snort and sweated visibly.
Peter the footman made some remark to the coachman; the latter assented. But apparently the coachman’s sympathy was not enough for Peter, and he turned on the box toward his master.
“How pleasant it is, your excellency!” he said with a respectful smile.
“It’s pleasant, your excellency!”
“What is he talking about?” thought Prince Andrew. “Oh, the spring, I suppose,” he thought as he turned round. “Yes, really everything is green already.... How early! The birches and cherry and alders too are coming out.... But the oaks show no sign yet. Ah, here is one oak!”
At the edge of the road stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birches that formed the forest, it was ten times as thick and twice as tall as they. It was an enormous tree, its girth twice as great as a man could embrace, and evidently long ago some of its branches had been broken off and its bark scarred. With its huge ungainly limbs sprawling unsymmetrically, and its gnarled hands and fingers, it stood an aged, stern, and scornful monster among the smiling birch trees. Only the dead-looking evergreen firs dotted about in the forest, and this oak, refused to yield to the charm of spring or notice either the spring or the sunshine.
“Spring, love, happiness!” this oak seemed to say. “Are you not weary of that stupid, meaningless, constantly repeated fraud? Always the same and always a fraud? There is no spring, no sun, no happiness! Look at those cramped dead firs, ever the same, and at me too, sticking out my broken and barked fingers just where they have grown, whether from my back or my sides: as they have grown so I stand, and I do not believe in your hopes and your lies.”
As he passed through the forest Prince Andrew turned several times to look at that oak, as if expecting something from it. Under the oak, too, were flowers and grass, but it stood among them scowling, rigid, misshapen, and grim as ever.
“Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right,” thought Prince Andrew. “Let others—the young—yield afresh to that fraud, but we know life, our life is finished!”
A whole sequence of new thoughts, hopeless but mournfully pleasant, rose in his soul in connection with that tree. During this journey he, as it were, considered his life afresh and arrived at his old conclusion, restful in its hopelessness: that it was not for him to begin anything anew—but that he must live out his life, content to do no harm, and not disturbing himself or desiring anything.
Prince Andrew had to see the Marshal of the Nobility for the district in connection with the affairs of the Ryazán estate of which he was trustee. This Marshal was Count Ilyá Rostóv, and in the middle of May Prince Andrew went to visit him.
It was now hot spring weather. The whole forest was already clothed in green. It was dusty and so hot that on passing near water one longed to bathe.
Prince Andrew, depressed and preoccupied with the business about which he had to speak to the Marshal, was driving up the avenue in the grounds of the Rostóvs’ house at Otrádnoe. He heard merry girlish cries behind some trees on the right and saw a group of girls running to cross the path of his calèche. Ahead of the rest and nearer to him ran a dark-haired, remarkably slim, pretty girl in a yellow chintz dress, with a white handkerchief on her head from under which loose locks of hair escaped. The girl was shouting something but, seeing that he was a stranger, ran back laughing without looking at him.
Suddenly, he did not know why, he felt a pang. The day was so beautiful, the sun so bright, everything around so gay, but that slim pretty girl did not know, or wish to know, of his existence and was contented and cheerful in her own separate—probably foolish—but bright and happy life. “What is she so glad about? What is she thinking of? Not of the military regulations or of the arrangement of the Ryazán serfs’ quitrents. Of what is she thinking? Why is she so happy?” Prince Andrew asked himself with instinctive curiosity.
In 1809 Count Ilyá Rostóv was living at Otrádnoe just as he had done in former years, that is, entertaining almost the whole province with hunts, theatricals, dinners, and music. He was glad to see Prince Andrew, as he was to see any new visitor, and insisted on his staying the night.
During the dull day, in the course of which he was entertained by his elderly hosts and by the more important of the visitors (the old count’s house was crowded on account of an approaching name day), Prince Andrew repeatedly glanced at Natásha, gay and laughing among the younger members of the company, and asked himself each time, “What is she thinking about? Why is she so glad?”
That night, alone in new surroundings, he was long unable to sleep. He read awhile and then put out his candle, but relit it. It was hot in the room, the inside shutters of which were closed. He was cross with the stupid old man (as he called Rostóv), who had made him stay by assuring him that some necessary documents had not yet arrived from town, and he was vexed with himself for having stayed.
He got up and went to the window to open it. As soon as he opened the shutters the moonlight, as if it had long been watching for this, burst into the room. He opened the casement. The night was fresh, bright, and very still. Just before the window was a row of pollard trees, looking black on one side and with a silvery light on the other. Beneath the trees grew some kind of lush, wet, bushy vegetation with silver-lit leaves and stems here and there. Farther back beyond the dark trees a roof glittered with dew, to the right was a leafy tree with brilliantly white trunk and branches, and above it shone the moon, nearly at its full, in a pale, almost starless, spring sky. Prince Andrew leaned his elbows on the window ledge and his eyes rested on that sky.
His room was on the first floor. Those in the rooms above were also awake. He heard female voices overhead.
“Just once more,” said a girlish voice above him which Prince Andrew recognized at once.
“But when are you coming to bed?” replied another voice.
“I won’t, I can’t sleep, what’s the use? Come now for the last time.”
Two girlish voices sang a musical passage—the end of some song.
“Oh, how lovely! Now go to sleep, and there’s an end of it.”
“You go to sleep, but I can’t,” said the first voice, coming nearer to the window. She was evidently leaning right out, for the rustle of her dress and even her breathing could be heard. Everything was stone-still, like the moon and its light and the shadows. Prince Andrew, too, dared not stir, for fear of betraying his unintentional presence.
“Sónya! Sónya!” he again heard the first speaker. “Oh, how can you sleep? Only look how glorious it is! Ah, how glorious! Do wake up, Sónya!” she said almost with tears in her voice. “There never, never was such a lovely night before!”
Sónya made some reluctant reply.
“Do just come and see what a moon!... Oh, how lovely! Come here.... Darling, sweetheart, come here! There, you see? I feel like sitting down on my heels, putting my arms round my knees like this, straining tight, as tight as possible, and flying away! Like this....”
“Take care, you’ll fall out.”
He heard the sound of a scuffle and Sónya’s disapproving voice: “It’s past one o’clock.”
“Oh, you only spoil things for me. All right, go, go!”
Again all was silent, but Prince Andrew knew she was still sitting there. From time to time he heard a soft rustle and at times a sigh.
“O God, O God! What does it mean?” she suddenly exclaimed. “To bed then, if it must be!” and she slammed the casement.
“For her I might as well not exist!” thought Prince Andrew while he listened to her voice, for some reason expecting yet fearing that she might say something about him. “There she is again! As if it were on purpose,” thought he.
In his soul there suddenly arose such an unexpected turmoil of youthful thoughts and hopes, contrary to the whole tenor of his life, that unable to explain his condition to himself he lay down and fell asleep at once.
Next morning, having taken leave of no one but the count, and not waiting for the ladies to appear, Prince Andrew set off for home.
It was already the beginning of June when on his return journey he drove into the birch forest where the gnarled old oak had made so strange and memorable an impression on him. In the forest the harness bells sounded yet more muffled than they had done six weeks before, for now all was thick, shady, and dense, and the young firs dotted about in the forest did not jar on the general beauty but, lending themselves to the mood around, were delicately green with fluffy young shoots.
The whole day had been hot. Somewhere a storm was gathering, but only a small cloud had scattered some raindrops lightly, sprinkling the road and the sappy leaves. The left side of the forest was dark in the shade, the right side glittered in the sunlight, wet and shiny and scarcely swayed by the breeze. Everything was in blossom, the nightingales trilled, and their voices reverberated now near, now far away.
“Yes, here in this forest was that oak with which I agreed,” thought Prince Andrew. “But where is it?” he again wondered, gazing at the left side of the road, and without recognizing it he looked with admiration at the very oak he sought. The old oak, quite transfigured, spreading out a canopy of sappy dark-green foliage, stood rapt and slightly trembling in the rays of the evening sun. Neither gnarled fingers nor old scars nor old doubts and sorrows were any of them in evidence now. Through the hard century-old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves had sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced.
“Yes, it is the same oak,” thought Prince Andrew, and all at once he was seized by an unreasoning springtime feeling of joy and renewal. All the best moments of his life suddenly rose to his memory. Austerlitz with the lofty heavens, his wife’s dead reproachful face, Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night itself and the moon, and... all this rushed suddenly to his mind.
“No, life is not over at thirty-one!” Prince Andrew suddenly decided finally and decisively. “It is not enough for me to know what I have in me—everyone must know it: Pierre, and that young girl who wanted to fly away into the sky, everyone must know me, so that my life may not be lived for myself alone while others live so apart from it, but so that it may be reflected in them all, and they and I may live in harmony!”
On reaching home Prince Andrew decided to go to Petersburg that autumn and found all sorts of reasons for this decision. A whole series of sensible and logical considerations showing it to be essential for him to go to Petersburg, and even to re-enter the service, kept springing up in his mind. He could not now understand how he could ever even have doubted the necessity of taking an active share in life, just as a month before he had not understood how the idea of leaving the quiet country could ever enter his head. It now seemed clear to him that all his experience of life must be senselessly wasted unless he applied it to some kind of work and again played an active part in life. He did not even remember how formerly, on the strength of similar wretched logical arguments, it had seemed obvious that he would be degrading himself if he now, after the lessons he had had in life, allowed himself to believe in the possibility of being useful and in the possibility of happiness or love. Now reason suggested quite the opposite. After that journey to Ryazán he found the country dull; his former pursuits no longer interested him, and often when sitting alone in his study he got up, went to the mirror, and gazed a long time at his own face. Then he would turn away to the portrait of his dead Lise, who with hair curled à la grecque looked tenderly and gaily at him out of the gilt frame. She did not now say those former terrible words to him, but looked simply, merrily, and inquisitively at him. And Prince Andrew, crossing his arms behind him, long paced the room, now frowning, now smiling, as he reflected on those irrational, inexpressible thoughts, secret as a crime, which altered his whole life and were connected with Pierre, with fame, with the girl at the window, the oak, and woman’s beauty and love. And if anyone came into his room at such moments he was particularly cold, stern, and above all unpleasantly logical.
“My dear,” Princess Mary entering at such a moment would say, “little Nicholas can’t go out today, it’s very cold.”
“If it were hot,” Prince Andrew would reply at such times very dryly to his sister, “he could go out in his smock, but as it is cold he must wear warm clothes, which were designed for that purpose. That is what follows from the fact that it is cold; and not that a child who needs fresh air should remain at home,” he would add with extreme logic, as if punishing someone for those secret illogical emotions that stirred within him.
At such moments Princess Mary would think how intellectual work dries men up.
Prince Andrew arrived in Petersburg in August, 1809. It was the time when the youthful Speránski was at the zenith of his fame and his reforms were being pushed forward with the greatest energy. That same August the Emperor was thrown from his calèche, injured his leg, and remained three weeks at Peterhof, receiving Speránski every day and no one else. At that time the two famous decrees were being prepared that so agitated society—abolishing court ranks and introducing examinations to qualify for the grades of Collegiate Assessor and State Councilor—and not merely these but a whole state constitution, intended to change the existing order of government in Russia: legal, administrative, and financial, from the Council of State down to the district tribunals. Now those vague liberal dreams with which the Emperor Alexander had ascended the throne, and which he had tried to put into effect with the aid of his associates, Czartorýski, Novosíltsev, Kochubéy, and Strógonov—whom he himself in jest had called his Comité de salut public—were taking shape and being realized.
Now all these men were replaced by Speránski on the civil side, and Arakchéev on the military. Soon after his arrival Prince Andrew, as a gentleman of the chamber, presented himself at court and at a levee. The Emperor, though he met him twice, did not favor him with a single word. It had always seemed to Prince Andrew before that he was antipathetic to the Emperor and that the latter disliked his face and personality generally, and in the cold, repellent glance the Emperor gave him, he now found further confirmation of this surmise. The courtiers explained the Emperor’s neglect of him by His Majesty’s displeasure at Bolkónski’s not having served since 1805.
“I know myself that one cannot help one’s sympathies and antipathies,” thought Prince Andrew, “so it will not do to present my proposal for the reform of the army regulations to the Emperor personally, but the project will speak for itself.”
He mentioned what he had written to an old field marshal, a friend of his father’s. The field marshal made an appointment to see him, received him graciously, and promised to inform the Emperor. A few days later Prince Andrew received notice that he was to go to see the Minister of War, Count Arakchéev.
On the appointed day Prince Andrew entered Count Arakchéev’s waiting room at nine in the morning.
He did not know Arakchéev personally, had never seen him, and all he had heard of him inspired him with but little respect for the man.
“He is Minister of War, a man trusted by the Emperor, and I need not concern myself about his personal qualities: he has been commissioned to consider my project, so he alone can get it adopted,” thought Prince Andrew as he waited among a number of important and unimportant people in Count Arakchéev’s waiting room.
During his service, chiefly as an adjutant, Prince Andrew had seen the anterooms of many important men, and the different types of such rooms were well known to him. Count Arakchéev’s anteroom had quite a special character. The faces of the unimportant people awaiting their turn for an audience showed embarrassment and servility; the faces of those of higher rank expressed a common feeling of awkwardness, covered by a mask of unconcern and ridicule of themselves, their situation, and the person for whom they were waiting. Some walked thoughtfully up and down, others whispered and laughed. Prince Andrew heard the nickname “Síla Andréevich” and the words, “Uncle will give it to us hot,” in reference to Count Arakchéev. One general (an important personage), evidently feeling offended at having to wait so long, sat crossing and uncrossing his legs and smiling contemptuously to himself.
But the moment the door opened one feeling alone appeared on all faces—that of fear. Prince Andrew for the second time asked the adjutant on duty to take in his name, but received an ironical look and was told that his turn would come in due course. After some others had been shown in and out of the minister’s room by the adjutant on duty, an officer who struck Prince Andrew by his humiliated and frightened air was admitted at that terrible door. This officer’s audience lasted a long time. Then suddenly the grating sound of a harsh voice was heard from the other side of the door, and the officer—with pale face and trembling lips—came out and passed through the waiting room, clutching his head.
After this Prince Andrew was conducted to the door and the officer on duty said in a whisper, “To the right, at the window.”
Prince Andrew entered a plain tidy room and saw at the table a man of forty with a long waist, a long closely cropped head, deep wrinkles, scowling brows above dull greenish-hazel eyes and an overhanging red nose. Arakchéev turned his head toward him without looking at him.
“What is your petition?” asked Arakchéev.
“I am not petitioning, your excellency,” returned Prince Andrew quietly.
Arakchéev’s eyes turned toward him.
“Sit down,” said he. “Prince Bolkónski?”
“I am not petitioning about anything. His Majesty the Emperor has deigned to send your excellency a project submitted by me...”
“You see, my dear sir, I have read your project,” interrupted Arakchéev, uttering only the first words amiably and then—again without looking at Prince Andrew—relapsing gradually into a tone of grumbling contempt. “You are proposing new military laws? There are many laws but no one to carry out the old ones. Nowadays everybody designs laws, it is easier writing than doing.”
“I came at His Majesty the Emperor’s wish to learn from your excellency how you propose to deal with the memorandum I have presented,” said Prince Andrew politely.
“I have endorsed a resolution on your memorandum and sent it to the committee. I do not approve of it,” said Arakchéev, rising and taking a paper from his writing table. “Here!” and he handed it to Prince Andrew.
Across the paper was scrawled in pencil, without capital letters, misspelled, and without punctuation: “Unsoundly constructed because resembles an imitation of the French military code and from the Articles of War needlessly deviating.”
“To what committee has the memorandum been referred?” inquired Prince Andrew.
“To the Committee on Army Regulations, and I have recommended that your honor should be appointed a member, but without a salary.”
Prince Andrew smiled.
“I don’t want one.”
“A member without salary,” repeated Arakchéev. “I have the honor... Eh! Call the next one! Who else is there?” he shouted, bowing to Prince Andrew.
While waiting for the announcement of his appointment to the committee Prince Andrew looked up his former acquaintances, particularly those he knew to be in power and whose aid he might need. In Petersburg he now experienced the same feeling he had had on the eve of a battle, when troubled by anxious curiosity and irresistibly attracted to the ruling circles where the future, on which the fate of millions depended, was being shaped. From the irritation of the older men, the curiosity of the uninitiated, the reserve of the initiated, the hurry and preoccupation of everyone, and the innumerable committees and commissions of whose existence he learned every day, he felt that now, in 1809, here in Petersburg a vast civil conflict was in preparation, the commander in chief of which was a mysterious person he did not know, but who was supposed to be a man of genius—Speránski. And this movement of reconstruction of which Prince Andrew had a vague idea, and Speránski its chief promoter, began to interest him so keenly that the question of the army regulations quickly receded to a secondary place in his consciousness.
Prince Andrew was most favorably placed to secure good reception in the highest and most diverse Petersburg circles of the day. The reforming party cordially welcomed and courted him, in the first place because he was reputed to be clever and very well read, and secondly because by liberating his serfs he had obtained the reputation of being a liberal. The party of the old and dissatisfied, who censured the innovations, turned to him expecting his sympathy in their disapproval of the reforms, simply because he was the son of his father. The feminine society world welcomed him gladly, because he was rich, distinguished, a good match, and almost a newcomer, with a halo of romance on account of his supposed death and the tragic loss of his wife. Besides this the general opinion of all who had known him previously was that he had greatly improved during these last five years, having softened and grown more manly, lost his former affectation, pride, and contemptuous irony, and acquired the serenity that comes with years. People talked about him, were interested in him, and wanted to meet him.
The day after his interview with Count Arakchéev, Prince Andrew spent the evening at Count Kochubéy’s. He told the count of his interview with Síla Andréevich (Kochubéy spoke of Arakchéev by that nickname with the same vague irony Prince Andrew had noticed in the Minister of War’s anteroom).
“Mon cher, even in this case you can’t do without Michael Mikháylovich Speránski. He manages everything. I’ll speak to him. He has promised to come this evening.”
“What has Speránski to do with the army regulations?” asked Prince Andrew.
Kochubéy shook his head smilingly, as if surprised at Bolkónski’s simplicity.
“We were talking to him about you a few days ago,” Kochubéy continued, “and about your freed plowmen.”
“Oh, is it you, Prince, who have freed your serfs?” said an old man of Catherine’s day, turning contemptuously toward Bolkónski.
“It was a small estate that brought in no profit,” replied Prince Andrew, trying to extenuate his action so as not to irritate the old man uselessly.
“Afraid of being late...” said the old man, looking at Kochubéy.
“There’s one thing I don’t understand,” he continued. “Who will plow the land if they are set free? It is easy to write laws, but difficult to rule.... Just the same as now—I ask you, Count—who will be heads of the departments when everybody has to pass examinations?”
“Those who pass the examinations, I suppose,” replied Kochubéy, crossing his legs and glancing round.
“Well, I have Pryánichnikov serving under me, a splendid man, a priceless man, but he’s sixty. Is he to go up for examination?”
“Yes, that’s a difficulty, as education is not at all general, but...”
Count Kochubéy did not finish. He rose, took Prince Andrew by the arm, and went to meet a tall, bald, fair man of about forty with a large open forehead and a long face of unusual and peculiar whiteness, who was just entering. The newcomer wore a blue swallow-tail coat with a cross suspended from his neck and a star on his left breast. It was Speránski. Prince Andrew recognized him at once, and felt a throb within him, as happens at critical moments of life. Whether it was from respect, envy, or anticipation, he did not know. Speránski’s whole figure was of a peculiar type that made him easily recognizable. In the society in which Prince Andrew lived he had never seen anyone who together with awkward and clumsy gestures possessed such calmness and self-assurance; he had never seen so resolute yet gentle an expression as that in those half-closed, rather humid eyes, or so firm a smile that expressed nothing; nor had he heard such a refined, smooth, soft voice; above all he had never seen such delicate whiteness of face or hands—hands which were broad, but very plump, soft, and white. Such whiteness and softness Prince Andrew had only seen on the faces of soldiers who had been long in hospital. This was Speránski, Secretary of State, reporter to the Emperor and his companion at Erfurt, where he had more than once met and talked with Napoleon.
Speránski did not shift his eyes from one face to another as people involuntarily do on entering a large company and was in no hurry to speak. He spoke slowly, with assurance that he would be listened to, and he looked only at the person with whom he was conversing.
Prince Andrew followed Speránski’s every word and movement with particular attention. As happens to some people, especially to men who judge those near to them severely, he always on meeting anyone new—especially anyone whom, like Speránski, he knew by reputation—expected to discover in him the perfection of human qualities.
Speránski told Kochubéy he was sorry he had been unable to come sooner as he had been detained at the palace. He did not say that the Emperor had kept him, and Prince Andrew noticed this affectation of modesty. When Kochubéy introduced Prince Andrew, Speránski slowly turned his eyes to Bolkónski with his customary smile and looked at him in silence.
“I am very glad to make your acquaintance. I had heard of you, as everyone has,” he said after a pause.
Kochubéy said a few words about the reception Arakchéev had given Bolkónski. Speránski smiled more markedly.
“The chairman of the Committee on Army Regulations is my good friend Monsieur Magnítski,” he said, fully articulating every word and syllable, “and if you like I can put you in touch with him.” He paused at the full stop. “I hope you will find him sympathetic and ready to co-operate in promoting all that is reasonable.”
A circle soon formed round Speránski, and the old man who had talked about his subordinate Pryánichnikov addressed a question to him.
Prince Andrew without joining in the conversation watched every movement of Speránski’s: this man, not long since an insignificant divinity student, who now, Bolkónski thought, held in his hands—those plump white hands—the fate of Russia. Prince Andrew was struck by the extraordinarily disdainful composure with which Speránski answered the old man. He appeared to address condescending words to him from an immeasurable height. When the old man began to speak too loud, Speránski smiled and said he could not judge of the advantage or disadvantage of what pleased the sovereign.
Having talked for a little while in the general circle, Speránski rose and coming up to Prince Andrew took him along to the other end of the room. It was clear that he thought it necessary to interest himself in Bolkónski.
“I had no chance to talk with you, Prince, during the animated conversation in which that venerable gentleman involved me,” he said with a mildly contemptuous smile, as if intimating by that smile that he and Prince Andrew understood the insignificance of the people with whom he had just been talking. This flattered Prince Andrew. “I have known of you for a long time: first from your action with regard to your serfs, a first example, of which it is very desirable that there should be more imitators; and secondly because you are one of those gentlemen of the chamber who have not considered themselves offended by the new decree concerning the ranks allotted to courtiers, which is causing so much gossip and tittle-tattle.”
“No,” said Prince Andrew, “my father did not wish me to take advantage of the privilege. I began the service from the lower grade.”
“Your father, a man of the last century, evidently stands above our contemporaries who so condemn this measure which merely re-establishes natural justice.”
“I think, however, that these condemnations have some ground,” returned Prince Andrew, trying to resist Speránski’s influence, of which he began to be conscious. He did not like to agree with him in everything and felt a wish to contradict. Though he usually spoke easily and well, he felt a difficulty in expressing himself now while talking with Speránski. He was too much absorbed in observing the famous man’s personality.
“Grounds of personal ambition maybe,” Speránski put in quietly.
“And of state interest to some extent,” said Prince Andrew.
“What do you mean?” asked Speránski quietly, lowering his eyes.
“I am an admirer of Montesquieu,” replied Prince Andrew, “and his idea that le principe des monarchies est l’honneur me paraît incontestable. Certains droits et privilèges de la noblesse me paraissent être des moyens de soutenir ce sentiment.” *
incontestable. Certain rights and privileges for the
aristocracy appear to me a means of maintaining that
The smile vanished from Speránski’s white face, which was much improved by the change. Probably Prince Andrew’s thought interested him.
“Si vous envisagez la question sous ce point de vue,” * he began, pronouncing French with evident difficulty, and speaking even slower than in Russian but quite calmly.
Speránski went on to say that honor, l’honneur, cannot be upheld by privileges harmful to the service; that honor, l’honneur, is either a negative concept of not doing what is blameworthy or it is a source of emulation in pursuit of commendation and rewards, which recognize it. His arguments were concise, simple, and clear.
“An institution upholding honor, the source of emulation, is one similar to the Légion d’honneur of the great Emperor Napoleon, not harmful but helpful to the success of the service, but not a class or court privilege.”
“I do not dispute that, but it cannot be denied that court privileges have attained the same end,” returned Prince Andrew. “Every courtier considers himself bound to maintain his position worthily.”
“Yet you do not care to avail yourself of the privilege, Prince,” said Speránski, indicating by a smile that he wished to finish amiably an argument which was embarrassing for his companion. “If you will do me the honor of calling on me on Wednesday,” he added, “I will, after talking with Magnítski, let you know what may interest you, and shall also have the pleasure of a more detailed chat with you.”
Closing his eyes, he bowed à la française, without taking leave, and trying to attract as little attention as possible, he left the room.
During the first weeks of his stay in Petersburg Prince Andrew felt the whole trend of thought he had formed during his life of seclusion quite overshadowed by the trifling cares that engrossed him in that city.
On returning home in the evening he would jot down in his notebook four or five necessary calls or appointments for certain hours. The mechanism of life, the arrangement of the day so as to be in time everywhere, absorbed the greater part of his vital energy. He did nothing, did not even think or find time to think, but only talked, and talked successfully, of what he had thought while in the country.
He sometimes noticed with dissatisfaction that he repeated the same remark on the same day in different circles. But he was so busy for whole days together that he had no time to notice that he was thinking of nothing.
As he had done on their first meeting at Kochubéy’s, Speránski produced a strong impression on Prince Andrew on the Wednesday, when he received him tête-à-tête at his own house and talked to him long and confidentially.
To Bolkónski so many people appeared contemptible and insignificant creatures, and he so longed to find in someone the living ideal of that perfection toward which he strove, that he readily believed that in Speránski he had found this ideal of a perfectly rational and virtuous man. Had Speránski sprung from the same class as himself and possessed the same breeding and traditions, Bolkónski would soon have discovered his weak, human, unheroic sides; but as it was, Speránski’s strange and logical turn of mind inspired him with respect all the more because he did not quite understand him. Moreover, Speránski, either because he appreciated the other’s capacity or because he considered it necessary to win him to his side, showed off his dispassionate calm reasonableness before Prince Andrew and flattered him with that subtle flattery which goes hand in hand with self-assurance and consists in a tacit assumption that one’s companion is the only man besides oneself capable of understanding the folly of the rest of mankind and the reasonableness and profundity of one’s own ideas.
During their long conversation on Wednesday evening, Speránski more than once remarked: “We regard everything that is above the common level of rooted custom...” or, with a smile: “But we want the wolves to be fed and the sheep to be safe...” or: “They cannot understand this...” and all in a way that seemed to say: “We, you and I, understand what they are and who we are.”
This first long conversation with Speránski only strengthened in Prince Andrew the feeling he had experienced toward him at their first meeting. He saw in him a remarkable, clear-thinking man of vast intellect who by his energy and persistence had attained power, which he was using solely for the welfare of Russia. In Prince Andrew’s eyes Speránski was the man he would himself have wished to be—one who explained all the facts of life reasonably, considered important only what was rational, and was capable of applying the standard of reason to everything. Everything seemed so simple and clear in Speránski’s exposition that Prince Andrew involuntarily agreed with him about everything. If he replied and argued, it was only because he wished to maintain his independence and not submit to Speránski’s opinions entirely. Everything was right and everything was as it should be: only one thing disconcerted Prince Andrew. This was Speránski’s cold, mirrorlike look, which did not allow one to penetrate to his soul, and his delicate white hands, which Prince Andrew involuntarily watched as one does watch the hands of those who possess power. This mirrorlike gaze and those delicate hands irritated Prince Andrew, he knew not why. He was unpleasantly struck, too, by the excessive contempt for others that he observed in Speránski, and by the diversity of lines of argument he used to support his opinions. He made use of every kind of mental device, except analogy, and passed too boldly, it seemed to Prince Andrew, from one to another. Now he would take up the position of a practical man and condemn dreamers; now that of a satirist, and laugh ironically at his opponents; now grow severely logical, or suddenly rise to the realm of metaphysics. (This last resource was one he very frequently employed.) He would transfer a question to metaphysical heights, pass on to definitions of space, time, and thought, and, having deduced the refutation he needed, would again descend to the level of the original discussion.
In general the trait of Speránski’s mentality which struck Prince Andrew most was his absolute and unshakable belief in the power and authority of reason. It was evident that the thought could never occur to him which to Prince Andrew seemed so natural, namely, that it is after all impossible to express all one thinks; and that he had never felt the doubt, “Is not all I think and believe nonsense?” And it was just this peculiarity of Speránski’s mind that particularly attracted Prince Andrew.
During the first period of their acquaintance Bolkónski felt a passionate admiration for him similar to that which he had once felt for Bonaparte. The fact that Speránski was the son of a village priest, and that stupid people might meanly despise him on account of his humble origin (as in fact many did), caused Prince Andrew to cherish his sentiment for him the more, and unconsciously to strengthen it.
On that first evening Bolkónski spent with him, having mentioned the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Laws, Speránski told him sarcastically that the Commission had existed for a hundred and fifty years, had cost millions, and had done nothing except that Rosenkampf had stuck labels on the corresponding paragraphs of the different codes.
“And that is all the state has for the millions it has spent,” said he. “We want to give the Senate new juridical powers, but we have no laws. That is why it is a sin for men like you, Prince, not to serve in these times!”
Prince Andrew said that for that work an education in jurisprudence was needed which he did not possess.
“But nobody possesses it, so what would you have? It is a vicious circle from which we must break a way out.”
A week later Prince Andrew was a member of the Committee on Army Regulations and—what he had not at all expected—was chairman of a section of the committee for the revision of the laws. At Speránski’s request he took the first part of the Civil Code that was being drawn up and, with the aid of the Code Napoléon and the Institutes of Justinian, he worked at formulating the section on Personal Rights.