Pierre smiled, Natásha began to laugh, but Nicholas knitted his brows still more and began proving to Pierre that there was no prospect of any great change and that all the danger he spoke of existed only in his imagination. Pierre maintained the contrary, and as his mental faculties were greater and more resourceful, Nicholas felt himself cornered. This made him still angrier, for he was fully convinced, not by reasoning but by something within him stronger than reason, of the justice of his opinion.
“I will tell you this,” he said, rising and trying with nervously twitching fingers to prop up his pipe in a corner, but finally abandoning the attempt. “I can’t prove it to you. You say that everything here is rotten and that an overthrow is coming: I don’t see it. But you also say that our oath of allegiance is a conditional matter, and to that I reply: ‘You are my best friend, as you know, but if you formed a secret society and began working against the government—be it what it may—I know it is my duty to obey the government. And if Arakchéev ordered me to lead a squadron against you and cut you down, I should not hesitate an instant, but should do it.’ And you may argue about that as you like!”
An awkward silence followed these words. Natásha was the first to speak, defending her husband and attacking her brother. Her defense was weak and inapt but she attained her object. The conversation was resumed, and no longer in the unpleasantly hostile tone of Nicholas’ last remark.
When they all got up to go in to supper, little Nicholas Bolkónski went up to Pierre, pale and with shining, radiant eyes.
“Uncle Pierre, you... no... If Papa were alive... would he agree with you?” he asked.
And Pierre suddenly realized what a special, independent, complex, and powerful process of thought and feeling must have been going on in this boy during that conversation, and remembering all he had said he regretted that the lad should have heard him. He had, however, to give him an answer.
“Yes, I think so,” he said reluctantly, and left the study.
The lad looked down and seemed now for the first time to notice what he had done to the things on the table. He flushed and went up to Nicholas.
“Uncle, forgive me, I did that... unintentionally,” he said, pointing to the broken sealing wax and pens.
Nicholas started angrily.
“All right, all right,” he said, throwing the bits under the table.
And evidently suppressing his vexation with difficulty, he turned away from the boy.
“You ought not to have been here at all,” he said.
The conversation at supper was not about politics or societies, but turned on the subject Nicholas liked best—recollections of 1812. Denísov started these and Pierre was particularly agreeable and amusing about them. The family separated on the most friendly terms.
After supper Nicholas, having undressed in his study and given instructions to the steward who had been waiting for him, went to the bedroom in his dressing gown, where he found his wife still at her table, writing.
“What are you writing, Mary?” Nicholas asked.
Countess Mary blushed. She was afraid that what she was writing would not be understood or approved by her husband.
She had wanted to conceal what she was writing from him, but at the same time was glad he had surprised her at it and that she would now have to tell him.
“A diary, Nicholas,” she replied, handing him a blue exercise book filled with her firm, bold writing.
“A diary?” Nicholas repeated with a shade of irony, and he took up the book.
It was in French.
December 4. Today when Andrúsha (her eldest boy) woke up he did not wish to dress and Mademoiselle Louise sent for me. He was naughty and obstinate. I tried threats, but he only grew angrier. Then I took the matter in hand: I left him alone and began with nurse’s help to get the other children up, telling him that I did not love him. For a long time he was silent, as if astonished, then he jumped out of bed, ran to me in his shirt, and sobbed so that I could not calm him for a long time. It was plain that what troubled him most was that he had grieved me. Afterwards in the evening when I gave him his ticket, he again began crying piteously and kissing me. One can do anything with him by tenderness.
“What is a ‘ticket’?” Nicholas inquired.
“I have begun giving the elder ones marks every evening, showing how they have behaved.”
Nicholas looked into the radiant eyes that were gazing at him, and continued to turn over the pages and read. In the diary was set down everything in the children’s lives that seemed noteworthy to their mother as showing their characters or suggesting general reflections on educational methods. They were for the most part quite insignificant trifles, but did not seem so to the mother or to the father either, now that he read this diary about his children for the first time.
Under the date “5” was entered:
Mítya was naughty at table. Papa said he was to have no pudding. He had none, but looked so unhappily and greedily at the others while they were eating! I think that punishment by depriving children of sweets only develops their greediness. Must tell Nicholas this.
Nicholas put down the book and looked at his wife. The radiant eyes gazed at him questioningly: would he approve or disapprove of her diary? There could be no doubt not only of his approval but also of his admiration for his wife.
Perhaps it need not be done so pedantically, thought Nicholas, or even done at all, but this untiring, continual spiritual effort of which the sole aim was the children’s moral welfare delighted him. Had Nicholas been able to analyze his feelings he would have found that his steady, tender, and proud love of his wife rested on his feeling of wonder at her spirituality and at the lofty moral world, almost beyond his reach, in which she had her being.
He was proud of her intelligence and goodness, recognized his own insignificance beside her in the spiritual world, and rejoiced all the more that she with such a soul not only belonged to him but was part of himself.
“I quite, quite approve, my dearest!” said he with a significant look, and after a short pause he added: “And I behaved badly today. You weren’t in the study. We began disputing—Pierre and I—and I lost my temper. But he is impossible: such a child! I don’t know what would become of him if Natásha didn’t keep him in hand.... Have you any idea why he went to Petersburg? They have formed...”
“Yes, I know,” said Countess Mary. “Natásha told me.”
“Well, then, you know,” Nicholas went on, growing hot at the mere recollection of their discussion, “he wanted to convince me that it is every honest man’s duty to go against the government, and that the oath of allegiance and duty... I am sorry you weren’t there. They all fell on me—Denísov and Natásha... Natásha is absurd. How she rules over him! And yet there need only be a discussion and she has no words of her own but only repeats his sayings...” added Nicholas, yielding to that irresistible inclination which tempts us to judge those nearest and dearest to us. He forgot that what he was saying about Natásha could have been applied word for word to himself in relation to his wife.
“Yes, I have noticed that,” said Countess Mary.
“When I told him that duty and the oath were above everything, he started proving goodness knows what! A pity you were not there—what would you have said?”
“As I see it you were quite right, and I told Natásha so. Pierre says everybody is suffering, tortured, and being corrupted, and that it is our duty to help our neighbor. Of course he is right there,” said Countess Mary, “but he forgets that we have other duties nearer to us, duties indicated to us by God Himself, and that though we might expose ourselves to risks we must not risk our children.”
“Yes, that’s it! That’s just what I said to him,” put in Nicholas, who fancied he really had said it. “But they insisted on their own view: love of one’s neighbor and Christianity—and all this in the presence of young Nicholas, who had gone into my study and broke all my things.”
“Ah, Nicholas, do you know I am often troubled about little Nicholas,” said Countess Mary. “He is such an exceptional boy. I am afraid I neglect him in favor of my own: we all have children and relations while he has no one. He is constantly alone with his thoughts.”
“Well, I don’t think you need reproach yourself on his account. All that the fondest mother could do for her son you have done and are doing for him, and of course I am glad of it. He is a fine lad, a fine lad! This evening he listened to Pierre in a sort of trance, and fancy—as we were going in to supper I looked and he had broken everything on my table to bits, and he told me of it himself at once! I never knew him to tell an untruth. A fine lad, a fine lad!” repeated Nicholas, who at heart was not fond of Nicholas Bolkónski but was always anxious to recognize that he was a fine lad.
“Still, I am not the same as his own mother,” said Countess Mary. “I feel I am not the same and it troubles me. A wonderful boy, but I am dreadfully afraid for him. It would be good for him to have companions.”
“Well it won’t be for long. Next summer I’ll take him to Petersburg,” said Nicholas. “Yes, Pierre always was a dreamer and always will be,” he continued, returning to the talk in the study which had evidently disturbed him. “Well, what business is it of mine what goes on there—whether Arakchéev is bad, and all that? What business was it of mine when I married and was so deep in debt that I was threatened with prison, and had a mother who could not see or understand it? And then there are you and the children and our affairs. Is it for my own pleasure that I am at the farm or in the office from morning to night? No, but I know I must work to comfort my mother, to repay you, and not to leave the children such beggars as I was.”
Countess Mary wanted to tell him that man does not live by bread alone and that he attached too much importance to these matters. But she knew she must not say this and that it would be useless to do so. She only took his hand and kissed it. He took this as a sign of approval and a confirmation of his thoughts, and after a few minutes’ reflection continued to think aloud.
“You know, Mary, today Elias Mitrofánych” (this was his overseer) “came back from the Tambóv estate and told me they are already offering eighty thousand rubles for the forest.”
And with an eager face Nicholas began to speak of the possibility of repurchasing Otrádnoe before long, and added: “Another ten years of life and I shall leave the children... in an excellent position.”
Countess Mary listened to her husband and understood all that he told her. She knew that when he thought aloud in this way he would sometimes ask her what he had been saying, and be vexed if he noticed that she had been thinking about something else. But she had to force herself to attend, for what he was saying did not interest her at all. She looked at him and did not think, but felt, about something different. She felt a submissive tender love for this man who would never understand all that she understood, and this seemed to make her love for him still stronger and added a touch of passionate tenderness. Besides this feeling which absorbed her altogether and hindered her from following the details of her husband’s plans, thoughts that had no connection with what he was saying flitted through her mind. She thought of her nephew. Her husband’s account of the boy’s agitation while Pierre was speaking struck her forcibly, and various traits of his gentle, sensitive character recurred to her mind; and while thinking of her nephew she thought also of her own children. She did not compare them with him, but compared her feeling for them with her feeling for him, and felt with regret that there was something lacking in her feeling for young Nicholas.
Sometimes it seemed to her that this difference arose from the difference in their ages, but she felt herself to blame toward him and promised in her heart to do better and to accomplish the impossible—in this life to love her husband, her children, little Nicholas, and all her neighbors, as Christ loved mankind. Countess Mary’s soul always strove toward the infinite, the eternal, and the absolute, and could therefore never be at peace. A stern expression of the lofty, secret suffering of a soul burdened by the body appeared on her face. Nicholas gazed at her. “O God! What will become of us if she dies, as I always fear when her face is like that?” thought he, and placing himself before the icon he began to say his evening prayers.
Natásha and Pierre, left alone, also began to talk as only a husband and wife can talk, that is, with extraordinary clearness and rapidity, understanding and expressing each other’s thoughts in ways contrary to all rules of logic, without premises, deductions, or conclusions, and in a quite peculiar way. Natásha was so used to this kind of talk with her husband that for her it was the surest sign of something being wrong between them if Pierre followed a line of logical reasoning. When he began proving anything, or talking argumentatively and calmly and she, led on by his example, began to do the same, she knew that they were on the verge of a quarrel.
From the moment they were alone and Natásha came up to him with wide-open happy eyes, and quickly seizing his head pressed it to her bosom, saying: “Now you are all mine, mine! You won’t escape!”—from that moment this conversation began, contrary to all the laws of logic and contrary to them because quite different subjects were talked about at one and the same time. This simultaneous discussion of many topics did not prevent a clear understanding but on the contrary was the surest sign that they fully understood one another.
Just as in a dream when all is uncertain, unreasoning, and contradictory, except the feeling that guides the dream, so in this intercourse contrary to all laws of reason, the words themselves were not consecutive and clear but only the feeling that prompted them.
Natásha spoke to Pierre about her brother’s life and doings, of how she had suffered and lacked life during his own absence, and of how she was fonder than ever of Mary, and how Mary was in every way better than herself. In saying this Natásha was sincere in acknowledging Mary’s superiority, but at the same time by saying it she made a demand on Pierre that he should, all the same, prefer her to Mary and to all other women, and that now, especially after having seen many women in Petersburg, he should tell her so afresh.
Pierre, answering Natásha’s words, told her how intolerable it had been for him to meet ladies at dinners and balls in Petersburg.
“I have quite lost the knack of talking to ladies,” he said. “It was simply dull. Besides, I was very busy.”
Natásha looked intently at him and went on:
“Mary is so splendid,” she said. “How she understands children! It is as if she saw straight into their souls. Yesterday, for instance, Mítya was naughty...”
“How like his father he is,” Pierre interjected.
Natásha knew why he mentioned Mítya’s likeness to Nicholas: the recollection of his dispute with his brother-in-law was unpleasant and he wanted to know what Natásha thought of it.
“Nicholas has the weakness of never agreeing with anything not generally accepted. But I understand that you value what opens up a fresh line,” said she, repeating words Pierre had once uttered.
“No, the chief point is that to Nicholas ideas and discussions are an amusement—almost a pastime,” said Pierre. “For instance, he is collecting a library and has made it a rule not to buy a new book till he has read what he had already bought—Sismondi and Rousseau and Montesquieu,” he added with a smile. “You know how much I...” he began to soften down what he had said; but Natásha interrupted him to show that this was unnecessary.
“So you say ideas are an amusement to him....”
“Yes, and for me nothing else is serious. All the time in Petersburg I saw everyone as in a dream. When I am taken up by a thought, all else is mere amusement.”
“Ah, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you met the children,” said Natásha. “Which was most delighted? Lisa, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” Pierre replied, and went on with what was in his mind. “Nicholas says we ought not to think. But I can’t help it. Besides, when I was in Petersburg I felt (I can say this to you) that the whole affair would go to pieces without me—everyone was pulling his own way. But I succeeded in uniting them all; and then my idea is so clear and simple. You see, I don’t say that we ought to oppose this and that. We may be mistaken. What I say is: ‘Join hands, you who love the right, and let there be but one banner—that of active virtue.’ Prince Sergéy is a fine fellow and clever.”
Natásha would have had no doubt as to the greatness of Pierre’s idea, but one thing disconcerted her. “Can a man so important and necessary to society be also my husband? How did this happen?” She wished to express this doubt to him. “Now who could decide whether he is really cleverer than all the others?” she asked herself, and passed in review all those whom Pierre most respected. Judging by what he had said there was no one he had respected so highly as Platón Karatáev.
“Do you know what I am thinking about?” she asked. “About Platón Karatáev. Would he have approved of you now, do you think?”
Pierre was not at all surprised at this question. He understood his wife’s line of thought.
“Platón Karatáev?” he repeated, and pondered, evidently sincerely trying to imagine Karatáev’s opinion on the subject. “He would not have understood... yet perhaps he would.”
“I love you awfully!” Natásha suddenly said. “Awfully, awfully!”
“No, he would not have approved,” said Pierre, after reflection. “What he would have approved of is our family life. He was always so anxious to find seemliness, happiness, and peace in everything, and I should have been proud to let him see us. There now—you talk of my absence, but you wouldn’t believe what a special feeling I have for you after a separation....”
“Yes, I should think...” Natásha began.
“No, it’s not that. I never leave off loving you. And one couldn’t love more, but this is something special.... Yes, of course—” he did not finish because their eyes meeting said the rest.
“What nonsense it is,” Natásha suddenly exclaimed, “about honeymoons, and that the greatest happiness is at first! On the contrary, now is the best of all. If only you did not go away! Do you remember how we quarreled? And it was always my fault. Always mine. And what we quarreled about—I don’t even remember!”
“Always about the same thing,” said Pierre with a smile. “Jealo...”
“Don’t say it! I can’t bear it!” Natásha cried, and her eyes glittered coldly and vindictively. “Did you see her?” she added, after a pause.
“No, and if I had I shouldn’t have recognized her.”
They were silent for a while.
“Oh, do you know? While you were talking in the study I was looking at you,” Natásha began, evidently anxious to disperse the cloud that had come over them. “You are as like him as two peas—like the boy.” (She meant her little son.) “Oh, it’s time to go to him.... The milk’s come.... But I’m sorry to leave you.”
They were silent for a few seconds. Then suddenly turning to one another at the same time they both began to speak. Pierre began with self-satisfaction and enthusiasm, Natásha with a quiet, happy smile. Having interrupted one another they both stopped to let the other continue.
“No. What did you say? Go on, go on.”
“No, you go on, I was talking nonsense,” said Natásha.
Pierre finished what he had begun. It was the sequel to his complacent reflections on his success in Petersburg. At that moment it seemed to him that he was chosen to give a new direction to the whole of Russian society and to the whole world.
“I only wished to say that ideas that have great results are always simple ones. My whole idea is that if vicious people are united and constitute a power, then honest folk must do the same. Now that’s simple enough.”
“And what were you going to say?”
“I? Only nonsense.”
“But all the same?”
“Oh nothing, only a trifle,” said Natásha, smiling still more brightly. “I only wanted to tell you about Pétya: today nurse was coming to take him from me, and he laughed, shut his eyes, and clung to me. I’m sure he thought he was hiding. Awfully sweet! There, now he’s crying. Well, good-by!” and she left the room.
Meanwhile downstairs in young Nicholas Bolkónski’s bedroom a little lamp was burning as usual. (The boy was afraid of the dark and they could not cure him of it.) Dessalles slept propped up on four pillows and his Roman nose emitted sounds of rhythmic snoring. Little Nicholas, who had just waked up in a cold perspiration, sat up in bed and gazed before him with wide-open eyes. He had awaked from a terrible dream. He had dreamed that he and Uncle Pierre, wearing helmets such as were depicted in his Plutarch, were leading a huge army. The army was made up of white slanting lines that filled the air like the cobwebs that float about in autumn and which Dessalles called les fils de la Vièrge. In front was Glory, which was similar to those threads but rather thicker. He and Pierre were borne along lightly and joyously, nearer and nearer to their goal. Suddenly the threads that moved them began to slacken and become entangled and it grew difficult to move. And Uncle Nicholas stood before them in a stern and threatening attitude.
“Have you done this?” he said, pointing to some broken sealing wax and pens. “I loved you, but I have orders from Arakchéev and will kill the first of you who moves forward.” Little Nicholas turned to look at Pierre but Pierre was no longer there. In his place was his father—Prince Andrew—and his father had neither shape nor form, but he existed, and when little Nicholas perceived him he grew faint with love: he felt himself powerless, limp, and formless. His father caressed and pitied him. But Uncle Nicholas came nearer and nearer to them. Terror seized young Nicholas and he awoke.
“My father!” he thought. (Though there were two good portraits of Prince Andrew in the house, Nicholas never imagined him in human form.) “My father has been with me and caressed me. He approved of me and of Uncle Pierre. Whatever he may tell me, I will do it. Mucius Scaevola burned his hand. Why should not the same sort of thing happen to me? I know they want me to learn. And I will learn. But someday I shall have finished learning, and then I will do something. I only pray God that something may happen to me such as happened to Plutarch’s men, and I will act as they did. I will do better. Everyone shall know me, love me, and be delighted with me!” And suddenly his bosom heaved with sobs and he began to cry.
“Are you ill?” he heard Dessalles’ voice asking.
“No,” answered Nicholas, and lay back on his pillow.
“He is good and kind and I am fond of him!” he thought of Dessalles. “But Uncle Pierre! Oh, what a wonderful man he is! And my father? Oh, Father, Father! Yes, I will do something with which even he would be satisfied....”
History is the life of nations and of humanity. To seize and put into words, to describe directly the life of humanity or even of a single nation, appears impossible.
The ancient historians all employed one and the same method to describe and seize the apparently elusive—the life of a people. They described the activity of individuals who ruled the people, and regarded the activity of those men as representing the activity of the whole nation.
The question: how did individuals make nations act as they wished and by what was the will of these individuals themselves guided? the ancients met by recognizing a divinity which subjected the nations to the will of a chosen man, and guided the will of that chosen man so as to accomplish ends that were predestined.
For the ancients these questions were solved by a belief in the direct participation of the Deity in human affairs.
Modern history, in theory, rejects both these principles.
It would seem that having rejected the belief of the ancients in man’s subjection to the Deity and in a predetermined aim toward which nations are led, modern history should study not the manifestations of power but the causes that produce it. But modern history has not done this. Having in theory rejected the view held by the ancients, it still follows them in practice.
Instead of men endowed with divine authority and directly guided by the will of God, modern history has given us either heroes endowed with extraordinary, superhuman capacities, or simply men of very various kinds, from monarchs to journalists, who lead the masses. Instead of the former divinely appointed aims of the Jewish, Greek, or Roman nations, which ancient historians regarded as representing the progress of humanity, modern history has postulated its own aims—the welfare of the French, German, or English people, or, in its highest abstraction, the welfare and civilization of humanity in general, by which is usually meant that of the peoples occupying a small northwesterly portion of a large continent.
Modern history has rejected the beliefs of the ancients without replacing them by a new conception, and the logic of the situation has obliged the historians, after they had apparently rejected the divine authority of the kings and the “fate” of the ancients, to reach the same conclusion by another road, that is, to recognize (1) nations guided by individual men, and (2) the existence of a known aim to which these nations and humanity at large are tending.
At the basis of the works of all the modern historians from Gibbon to Buckle, despite their seeming disagreements and the apparent novelty of their outlooks, lie those two old, unavoidable assumptions.
In the first place the historian describes the activity of individuals who in his opinion have directed humanity (one historian considers only monarchs, generals, and ministers as being such men, while another includes also orators, learned men, reformers, philosophers, and poets). Secondly, it is assumed that the goal toward which humanity is being led is known to the historians: to one of them this goal is the greatness of the Roman, Spanish, or French realm; to another it is liberty, equality, and a certain kind of civilization of a small corner of the world called Europe.
In 1789 a ferment arises in Paris; it grows, spreads, and is expressed by a movement of peoples from west to east. Several times it moves eastward and collides with a countermovement from the east westward. In 1812 it reaches its extreme limit, Moscow, and then, with remarkable symmetry, a countermovement occurs from east to west, attracting to it, as the first movement had done, the nations of middle Europe. The counter movement reaches the starting point of the first movement in the west—Paris—and subsides.
During that twenty-year period an immense number of fields were left untilled, houses were burned, trade changed its direction, millions of men migrated, were impoverished, or were enriched, and millions of Christian men professing the law of love of their fellows slew one another.
What does all this mean? Why did it happen? What made those people burn houses and slay their fellow men? What were the causes of these events? What force made men act so? These are the instinctive, plain, and most legitimate questions humanity asks itself when it encounters the monuments and tradition of that period.
For a reply to these questions the common sense of mankind turns to the science of history, whose aim is to enable nations and humanity to know themselves.
If history had retained the conception of the ancients it would have said that God, to reward or punish his people, gave Napoleon power and directed his will to the fulfillment of the divine ends, and that reply would have been clear and complete. One might believe or disbelieve in the divine significance of Napoleon, but for anyone believing in it there would have been nothing unintelligible in the history of that period, nor would there have been any contradictions.
But modern history cannot give that reply. Science does not admit the conception of the ancients as to the direct participation of the Deity in human affairs, and therefore history ought to give other answers.
Modern history replying to these questions says: you want to know what this movement means, what caused it, and what force produced these events? Then listen:
“Louis XIV was a very proud and self-confident man; he had such and such mistresses and such and such ministers and he ruled France badly. His descendants were weak men and they too ruled France badly. And they had such and such favorites and such and such mistresses. Moreover, certain men wrote some books at that time. At the end of the eighteenth century there were a couple of dozen men in Paris who began to talk about all men being free and equal. This caused people all over France to begin to slash at and drown one another. They killed the king and many other people. At that time there was in France a man of genius—Napoleon. He conquered everybody everywhere—that is, he killed many people because he was a great genius. And for some reason he went to kill Africans, and killed them so well and was so cunning and wise that when he returned to France he ordered everybody to obey him, and they all obeyed him. Having become an Emperor he again went out to kill people in Italy, Austria, and Prussia. And there too he killed a great many. In Russia there was an Emperor, Alexander, who decided to restore order in Europe and therefore fought against Napoleon. In 1807 he suddenly made friends with him, but in 1811 they again quarreled and again began killing many people. Napoleon led six hundred thousand men into Russia and captured Moscow; then he suddenly ran away from Moscow, and the Emperor Alexander, helped by the advice of Stein and others, united Europe to arm against the disturber of its peace. All Napoleon’s allies suddenly became his enemies and their forces advanced against the fresh forces he raised. The Allies defeated Napoleon, entered Paris, forced Napoleon to abdicate, and sent him to the island of Elba, not depriving him of the title of Emperor and showing him every respect, though five years before and one year later they all regarded him as an outlaw and a brigand. Then Louis XVIII, who till then had been the laughingstock both of the French and the Allies, began to reign. And Napoleon, shedding tears before his Old Guards, renounced the throne and went into exile. Then the skillful statesmen and diplomatists (especially Talleyrand, who managed to sit down in a particular chair before anyone else and thereby extended the frontiers of France) talked in Vienna and by these conversations made the nations happy or unhappy. Suddenly the diplomatists and monarchs nearly quarreled and were on the point of again ordering their armies to kill one another, but just then Napoleon arrived in France with a battalion, and the French, who had been hating him, immediately all submitted to him. But the Allied monarchs were angry at this and went to fight the French once more. And they defeated the genius Napoleon and, suddenly recognizing him as a brigand, sent him to the island of St. Helena. And the exile, separated from the beloved France so dear to his heart, died a lingering death on that rock and bequeathed his great deeds to posterity. But in Europe a reaction occurred and the sovereigns once again all began to oppress their subjects.”
It would be a mistake to think that this is ironic—a caricature of the historical accounts. On the contrary it is a very mild expression of the contradictory replies, not meeting the questions, which all the historians give, from the compilers of memoirs and the histories of separate states to the writers of general histories and the new histories of the culture of that period.
The strangeness and absurdity of these replies arise from the fact that modern history, like a deaf man, answers questions no one has asked.
If the purpose of history be to give a description of the movement of humanity and of the peoples, the first question—in the absence of a reply to which all the rest will be incomprehensible—is: what is the power that moves peoples? To this, modern history laboriously replies either that Napoleon was a great genius, or that Louis XIV was very proud, or that certain writers wrote certain books.
All that may be so and mankind is ready to agree with it, but it is not what was asked. All that would be interesting if we recognized a divine power based on itself and always consistently directing its nations through Napoleons, Louis-es, and writers; but we do not acknowledge such a power, and therefore before speaking about Napoleons, Louis-es, and authors, we ought to be shown the connection existing between these men and the movement of the nations.
If instead of a divine power some other force has appeared, it should be explained in what this new force consists, for the whole interest of history lies precisely in that force.
History seems to assume that this force is self-evident and known to everyone. But in spite of every desire to regard it as known, anyone reading many historical works cannot help doubting whether this new force, so variously understood by the historians themselves, is really quite well known to everybody.
What force moves the nations?
Biographical historians and historians of separate nations understand this force as a power inherent in heroes and rulers. In their narration events occur solely by the will of a Napoleon, and Alexander, or in general of the persons they describe. The answers given by this kind of historian to the question of what force causes events to happen are satisfactory only as long as there is but one historian to each event. As soon as historians of different nationalities and tendencies begin to describe the same event, the replies they give immediately lose all meaning, for this force is understood by them all not only differently but often in quite contradictory ways. One historian says that an event was produced by Napoleon’s power, another that it was produced by Alexander’s, a third that it was due to the power of some other person. Besides this, historians of that kind contradict each other even in their statement as to the force on which the authority of some particular person was based. Thiers, a Bonapartist, says that Napoleon’s power was based on his virtue and genius. Lanfrey, a Republican, says it was based on his trickery and deception of the people. So the historians of this class, by mutually destroying one another’s positions, destroy the understanding of the force which produces events, and furnish no reply to history’s essential question.
Writers of universal history who deal with all the nations seem to recognize how erroneous is the specialist historians’ view of the force which produces events. They do not recognize it as a power inherent in heroes and rulers, but as the resultant of a multiplicity of variously directed forces. In describing a war or the subjugation of a people, a general historian looks for the cause of the event not in the power of one man, but in the interaction of many persons connected with the event.
According to this view the power of historical personages, represented as the product of many forces, can no longer, it would seem, be regarded as a force that itself produces events. Yet in most cases universal historians still employ the conception of power as a force that itself produces events, and treat it as their cause. In their exposition, an historic character is first the product of his time, and his power only the resultant of various forces, and then his power is itself a force producing events. Gervinus, Schlosser, and others, for instance, at one time prove Napoleon to be a product of the Revolution, of the ideas of 1789 and so forth, and at another plainly say that the campaign of 1812 and other things they do not like were simply the product of Napoleon’s misdirected will, and that the very ideas of 1789 were arrested in their development by Napoleon’s caprice. The ideas of the Revolution and the general temper of the age produced Napoleon’s power. But Napoleon’s power suppressed the ideas of the Revolution and the general temper of the age.
This curious contradiction is not accidental. Not only does it occur at every step, but the universal historians’ accounts are all made up of a chain of such contradictions. This contradiction occurs because after entering the field of analysis the universal historians stop halfway.
To find component forces equal to the composite or resultant force, the sum of the components must equal the resultant. This condition is never observed by the universal historians, and so to explain the resultant forces they are obliged to admit, in addition to the insufficient components, another unexplained force affecting the resultant action.
Specialist historians describing the campaign of 1813 or the restoration of the Bourbons plainly assert that these events were produced by the will of Alexander. But the universal historian Gervinus, refuting this opinion of the specialist historian, tries to prove that the campaign of 1813 and the restoration of the Bourbons were due to other things beside Alexander’s will—such as the activity of Stein, Metternich, Madame de Staël, Talleyrand, Fichte, Chateaubriand, and others. The historian evidently decomposes Alexander’s power into the components: Talleyrand, Chateaubriand, and the rest—but the sum of the components, that is, the interactions of Chateaubriand, Talleyrand, Madame de Staël, and the others, evidently does not equal the resultant, namely the phenomenon of millions of Frenchmen submitting to the Bourbons. That Chateaubriand, Madame de Staël, and others spoke certain words to one another only affected their mutual relations but does not account for the submission of millions. And therefore to explain how from these relations of theirs the submission of millions of people resulted—that is, how component forces equal to one A gave a resultant equal to a thousand times A—the historian is again obliged to fall back on power—the force he had denied—and to recognize it as the resultant of the forces, that is, he has to admit an unexplained force acting on the resultant. And that is just what the universal historians do, and consequently they not only contradict the specialist historians but contradict themselves.
Peasants having no clear idea of the cause of rain, say, according to whether they want rain or fine weather: “The wind has blown the clouds away,” or, “The wind has brought up the clouds.” And in the same way the universal historians sometimes, when it pleases them and fits in with their theory, say that power is the result of events, and sometimes, when they want to prove something else, say that power produces events.
A third class of historians—the so-called historians of culture—following the path laid down by the universal historians who sometimes accept writers and ladies as forces producing events—again take that force to be something quite different. They see it in what is called culture—in mental activity.
The historians of culture are quite consistent in regard to their progenitors, the writers of universal histories, for if historical events may be explained by the fact that certain persons treated one another in such and such ways, why not explain them by the fact that such and such people wrote such and such books? Of the immense number of indications accompanying every vital phenomenon, these historians select the indication of intellectual activity and say that this indication is the cause. But despite their endeavors to prove that the cause of events lies in intellectual activity, only by a great stretch can one admit that there is any connection between intellectual activity and the movement of peoples, and in no case can one admit that intellectual activity controls people’s actions, for that view is not confirmed by such facts as the very cruel murders of the French Revolution resulting from the doctrine of the equality of man, or the very cruel wars and executions resulting from the preaching of love.
But even admitting as correct all the cunningly devised arguments with which these histories are filled—admitting that nations are governed by some undefined force called an idea—history’s essential question still remains unanswered, and to the former power of monarchs and to the influence of advisers and other people introduced by the universal historians, another, newer force—the idea—is added, the connection of which with the masses needs explanation. It is possible to understand that Napoleon had power and so events occurred; with some effort one may even conceive that Napoleon together with other influences was the cause of an event; but how a book, Le Contrat Social, had the effect of making Frenchmen begin to drown one another cannot be understood without an explanation of the causal nexus of this new force with the event.
Undoubtedly some relation exists between all who live contemporaneously, and so it is possible to find some connection between the intellectual activity of men and their historical movements, just as such a connection may be found between the movements of humanity and commerce, handicraft, gardening, or anything else you please. But why intellectual activity is considered by the historians of culture to be the cause or expression of the whole historical movement is hard to understand. Only the following considerations can have led the historians to such a conclusion: (1) that history is written by learned men, and so it is natural and agreeable for them to think that the activity of their class supplies the basis of the movement of all humanity, just as a similar belief is natural and agreeable to traders, agriculturists, and soldiers (if they do not express it, that is merely because traders and soldiers do not write history), and (2) that spiritual activity, enlightenment, civilization, culture, ideas, are all indistinct, indefinite conceptions under whose banner it is very easy to use words having a still less definite meaning, and which can therefore be readily introduced into any theory.
But not to speak of the intrinsic quality of histories of this kind (which may possibly even be of use to someone for something) the histories of culture, to which all general histories tend more and more to approximate, are significant from the fact that after seriously and minutely examining various religious, philosophic, and political doctrines as causes of events, as soon as they have to describe an actual historic event such as the campaign of 1812 for instance, they involuntarily describe it as resulting from an exercise of power—and say plainly that that was the result of Napoleon’s will. Speaking so, the historians of culture involuntarily contradict themselves, and show that the new force they have devised does not account for what happens in history, and that history can only be explained by introducing a power which they apparently do not recognize.