Book Nine: 1812 - Chapter XXII
Two days later, on the fifteenth of July, an immense number of carriages were standing outside the Sloboda Palace.
The great halls were full. In the first were the nobility and gentry in their uniforms, in the second bearded merchants in full-skirted coats of blue cloth and wearing medals. In the noblemen's hall there was an incessant movement and buzz of voices. The chief magnates sat on high-backed chairs at a large table under the portrait of the Emperor, but most of the gentry were strolling about the room.
All these nobles, whom Pierre met every day at the Club or in their own houses, were in uniform--some in that of Catherine's day, others in that of Emperor Paul, others again in the new uniforms of Alexander's time or the ordinary uniform of the nobility, and the general characteristic of being in uniform imparted something strange and fantastic to these diverse and familiar personalities, both old and young. The old men, dim-eyed, toothless, bald, sallow, and bloated, or gaunt and wrinkled, were especially striking. For the most part they sat quietly in their places and were silent, or, if they walked about and talked, attached themselves to someone younger. On all these faces, as on the faces of the crowd Petya had seen in the Square, there was a striking contradiction: the general expectation of a solemn event, and at the same time the everyday interests in a boston card party, Peter the cook, Zinaida Dmitrievna's health, and so on.
Pierre was there too, buttoned up since early morning in a nobleman's uniform that had become too tight for him. He was agitated; this extraordinary gathering not only of nobles but also of the merchant-class--les etats generaux (States-General)--evoked in him a whole series of ideas he had long laid aside but which were deeply graven in his soul: thoughts of the Contrat social and the French Revolution. The words that had struck him in the Emperor's appealthat the sovereign was coming to the capital for consultation with his people--strengthened this idea. And imagining that in this direction something important which he had long awaited was drawing near, he strolled about watching and listening to conversations, but nowhere finding any confirmation of the ideas that occupied him.
The Emperor's manifesto was read, evoking enthusiasm, and then all moved about discussing it. Besides the ordinary topics of conversation, Pierre heard questions of where the marshals of the nobility were to stand when the Emperor entered, when a ball should be given in the Emperor's honor, whether they should group themselves by districts or by whole provinces... and so on; but as soon as the war was touched on, or what the nobility had been convened for, the talk became undecided and indefinite. Then all preferred listening to speaking.
A middle-aged man, handsome and virile, in the uniform of a retired naval officer, was speaking in one of the rooms, and a small crowd was pressing round him. Pierre went up to the circle that had formed round the speaker and listened. Count Ilya Rostov, in a military uniform of Catherine's time, was sauntering with a pleasant smile among the crowd, with all of whom he was acquainted. He too approached that group and listened with a kindly smile and nods of approval, as he always did, to what the speaker was saying. The retired naval man was speaking very boldly, as was evident from the expression on the faces of the listeners and from the fact that some people Pierre knew as the meekest and quietest of men walked away disapprovingly or expressed disagreement with him. Pierre pushed his way into the middle of the group, listened, and convinced himself that the man was indeed a liberal, but of views quite different from his own. The naval officer spoke in a particularly sonorous, musical, and aristocratic baritone voice, pleasantly swallowing his r's and generally slurring his consonants: the voice of a man calling out to his servant, "Heah! Bwing me my pipe!" It was indicative of dissipation and the exercise of authority.
"What if the Smolensk people have offahd to waise militia for the Empewah? Ah we to take Smolensk as our patte'n? If the noble awistocwacy of the pwovince of Moscow thinks fit, it can show its loyalty to our sov'weign the Empewah in other ways. Have we fo'gotten the waising of the militia in the yeah 'seven? All that did was to enwich the pwiests' sons and thieves and wobbahs...."
Count Ilya Rostov smiled blandly and nodded approval.
"And was our militia of any use to the Empia? Not at all! It only wuined our farming! Bettah have another conscwiption... o' ou' men will wetu'n neithah soldiers no' peasants, and we'll get only depwavity fwom them. The nobility don't gwudge theah lives--evewy one of us will go and bwing in more wecwuits, and the sov'weign" (that was the way he referred to the Emperor) "need only say the word and we'll all die fo' him!" added the orator with animation.
Count Rostov's mouth watered with pleasure and he nudged Pierre, but Pierre wanted to speak himself. He pushed forward, feeling stirred, but not yet sure what stirred him or what he would say. Scarcely had he opened his mouth when one of the senators, a man without a tooth in his head, with a shrewd though angry expression, standing near the first speaker, interrupted him. Evidently accustomed to managing debates and to maintaining an argument, he began in low but distinct tones:
"I imagine, sir," said he, mumbling with his toothless mouth, "that we have been summoned here not to discuss whether it's best for the empire at the present moment to adopt conscription or to call out the militia. We have been summoned to reply to the appeal with which our sovereign the Emperor has honored us. But to judge what is best--conscription or the militia--we can leave to the supreme authority...."
Pierre suddenly saw an outlet for his excitement. He hardened his heart against the senator who was introducing this set and narrow attitude into the deliberations of the nobility. Pierre stepped forward and interrupted him. He himself did not yet know what he would say, but he began to speak eagerly, occasionally lapsing into French or expressing himself in bookish Russian.
"Excuse me, your excellency," he began. (He was well acquainted with the senator, but thought it necessary on this occasion to address him formally.) "Though I don't agree with the gentleman..." (he hesitated: he wished to say, "Mon tres honorable preopinant"--"My very honorable opponent") "with the gentleman... whom I have not the honor of knowing, I suppose that the nobility have been summoned not merely to express their sympathy and enthusiasm but also to consider the means by which we can assist our Fatherland! I imagine," he went on, warming to his subject, "that the Emperor himself would not be satisfied to find in us merely owners of serfs whom we are willing to devote to his service, and chair a canon* we are ready to make of ourselves--and not to obtain from us any co-co-counsel."
*"Food for cannon."
Many persons withdrew from the circle, noticing the senator's sarcastic smile and the freedom of Pierre's remarks. Only Count Rostov was pleased with them as he had been pleased with those of the naval officer, the senator, and in general with whatever speech he had last heard.
"I think that before discussing these questions," Pierre continued, "we should ask the Emperor--most respectfully ask His Majesty--to let us know the number of our troops and the position in which our army and our forces now are, and then..."
But scarcely had Pierre uttered these words before he was attacked from three sides. The most vigorous attack came from an old acquaintance, a boston player who had always been well disposed toward him, Stepan Stepanovich Adraksin. Adraksin was in uniform, and whether as a result of the uniform or from some other cause Pierre saw before him quite a different man. With a sudden expression of malevolence on his aged face, Adraksin shouted at Pierre:
"In the first place, I tell you we have no right to question the Emperor about that, and secondly, if the Russian nobility had that right, the Emperor could not answer such a question. The troops are moved according to the enemy's movements and the number of men increases and decreases..."
Another voice, that of a nobleman of medium height and about forty years of age, whom Pierre had formerly met at the gypsies' and knew as a bad cardplayer, and who, also transformed by his uniform, came up to Pierre, interrupted Adraksin.
"Yes, and this is not a time for discussing," he continued, "but for acting: there is war in Russia! The enemy is advancing to destroy Russia, to desecrate the tombs of our fathers, to carry off our wives and children." The nobleman smote his breast. "We will all arise, every one of us will go, for our father the Tsar!" he shouted, rolling his bloodshot eyes. Several approving voices were heard in the crowd. "We are Russians and will not grudge our blood in defense of our faith, the throne, and the Fatherland! We must cease raving if we are sons of our Fatherland! We will show Europe how Russia rises to the defense of Russia!"
Pierre wished to reply, but could not get in a word. He felt that his words, apart from what meaning they conveyed, were less audible than the sound of his opponent's voice.
Count Rostov at the back of the crowd was expressing approval; several persons, briskly turning a shoulder to the orator at the end of a phrase, said:
"That's right, quite right! Just so!"
Pierre wished to say that he was ready to sacrifice his money, his serfs, or himself, only one ought to know the state of affairs in order to be able to improve it, but he was unable to speak. Many voices shouted and talked at the same time, so that Count Rostov had not time to signify his approval of them all, and the group increased, dispersed, re-formed, and then moved with a hum of talk into the largest hall and to the big table. Not only was Pierre's attempt to speak unsuccessful, but he was rudely interrupted, pushed aside, and people turned away from him as from a common enemy. This happened not because they were displeased by the substance of his speech, which had even been forgotten after the many subsequent speeches, but to animate it the crowd needed a tangible object to love and a tangible object to hate. Pierre became the latter. Many other orators spoke after the excited nobleman, and all in the same tone. Many spoke eloquently and with originality.
Glinka, the editor of the Russian Messenger, who was recognized (cries of "author! author!" were heard in the crowd), said that "hell must be repulsed by hell," and that he had seen a child smiling at lightning flashes and thunderclaps, but "we will not be that child."
"Yes, yes, at thunderclaps!" was repeated approvingly in the back rows of the crowd.
The crowd drew up to the large table, at which sat gray-haired or bald seventy-year-old magnates, uniformed and besashed almost all of whom Pierre had seen in their own homes with their buffoons, or playing boston at the clubs. With an incessant hum of voices the crowd advanced to the table. Pressed by the throng against the high backs of the chairs, the orators spoke one after another and sometimes two together. Those standing behind noticed what a speaker omitted to say and hastened to supply it. Others in that heat and crush racked their brains to find some thought and hastened to utter it. The old magnates, whom Pierre knew, sat and turned to look first at one and then at another, and their faces for the most part only expressed the fact that they found it very hot. Pierre, however, felt excited, and the general desire to show that they were ready to go to all lengths--which found expression in the tones and looks more than in the substance of the speeches--infected him too. He did not renounce his opinions, but felt himself in some way to blame and wished to justify himself.
"I only said that it would be more to the purpose to make sacrifices when we know what is needed!" said he, trying to be heard above the other voices.
One of the old men nearest to him looked round, but his attention was immediately diverted by an exclamation at the other side of the table.
"Yes, Moscow will be surrendered! She will be our expiation!" shouted one man.
"He is the enemy of mankind!" cried another. "Allow me to speak...." "Gentlemen, you are crushing me!..."