War and Peace
Part 33 out of 34
hand is just made for a baby's seat. Just look!"
"Only not for this..." Pierre suddenly exclaimed with a laugh, and
shifting the baby he gave him to the nurse.
As in every large household, there were at Bald Hills several
perfectly distinct worlds which merged into one harmonious whole,
though each retained its own peculiarities and made concessions to the
others. Every event, joyful or sad, that took place in that house
was important to all these worlds, but each had its own special
reasons to rejoice or grieve over that occurrence independently of the
For instance, Pierre's return was a joyful and important event and
they all felt it to be so.
The servants- the most reliable judges of their masters because they
judge not by their conversation or expressions of feeling but by their
acts and way of life- were glad of Pierre's return because they knew
that when he was there Count Nicholas would cease going every day
to attend to the estate, and would be in better spirits and temper,
and also because they would all receive handsome presents for the
The children and their governesses were glad of Pierre's return
because no one else drew them into the social life of the household as
he did. He alone could play on the clavichord that ecossaise (his only
piece) to which, as he said, all possible dances could be danced,
and they felt sure he had brought presents for them all.
Young Nicholas, now a slim lad of fifteen, delicate and intelligent,
with curly light-brown hair and beautiful eyes, was delighted
because Uncle Pierre as he called him was the object of his
rapturous and passionate affection. No one had instilled into him this
love for Pierre whom he saw only occasionally. Countess Mary who had
brought him up had done her utmost to make him love her husband as she
loved him, and little Nicholas did love his uncle, but loved him
with just a shade of contempt. Pierre, however, he adored. He did
not want to be an hussar or a Knight of St. George like his uncle
Nicholas; he wanted to be learned, wise, and kind like Pierre. In
Pierre's presence his face always shone with pleasure and he flushed
and was breathless when Pierre spoke to him. He did not miss a
single word he uttered, and would afterwards, with Dessalles or by
himself, recall and reconsider the meaning of everything Pierre had
said. Pierre's past life and his unhappiness prior to 1812 (of which
young Nicholas had formed a vague poetic picture from some words he
had overheard), his adventures in Moscow, his captivity, Platon
Karataev (of whom he had heard from Pierre), his love for Natasha
(of whom the lad was also particularly fond), and especially
Pierre's friendship with the father whom Nicholas could not
remember- all this made Pierre in his eyes a hero and a saint.
From broken remarks about Natasha and his father, from the emotion
with which Pierre spoke of that dead father, and from the careful,
reverent tenderness with which Natasha spoke of him, the boy, who
was only just beginning to guess what love is, derived the notion that
his father had loved Natasha and when dying had left her to his
friend. But the father whom the boy did not remember appeared to him a
divinity who could not be pictured, and of whom he never thought
without a swelling heart and tears of sadness and rapture. So the
boy also was happy that Pierre had arrived.
The guests welcomed Pierre because he always helped to enliven and
unite any company he was in.
The grown-up members of the family, not to mention his wife, were
pleased to have back a friend whose presence made life run more
smoothly and peacefully.
The old ladies were pleased with the presents he brought them, and
especially that Natasha would now be herself again.
Pierre felt the different outlooks of these various worlds and
made haste to satisfy all their expectations.
Though the most absent-minded and forgetful of men, Pierre, with the
aid of a list his wife drew up, had now bought everything, not
forgetting his mother- and brother-in-law's commissions, nor the dress
material for a present to Belova, nor toys for his wife's nephews.
In the early days of his marriage it had seemed strange to him that
his wife should expect him not to forget to procure all the things
he undertook to buy, and he had been taken aback by her serious
annoyance when on his first trip he forgot everything. But in time
he grew used to this demand. Knowing that Natasha asked nothing for
herself, and gave him commissions for others only when he himself
had offered to undertake them, he now found an unexpected and
childlike pleasure in this purchase of presents for everyone in the
house, and never forgot anything. If he now incurred Natasha's censure
it was only for buying too many and too expensive things. To her other
defects (as most people thought them, but which to Pierre were
qualities) of untidiness and neglect of herself, she now added
From the time that Pierre began life as a family man on a footing
entailing heavy expenditure, he had noticed to his surprise that he
spent only half as much as before, and that his affairs- which had
been in disorder of late, chiefly because of his first wife's debts-
had begun to improve.
Life was cheaper because it was circumscribed: that most expensive
luxury, the kind of life that can be changed at any moment, was no
longer his nor did he wish for it. He felt that his way of life had
now been settled once for all till death and that to change it was not
in his power, and so that way of life proved economical.
With a merry, smiling face Pierre was sorting his purchases.
"What do you think of this?" said he, unrolling a piece of stuff
like a shopman.
Natasha, who was sitting opposite to him with her eldest daughter on
her lap, turned her sparkling eyes swiftly from her husband to the
things he showed her.
"That's for Belova? Excellent!" She felt the quality of the
material. "It was a ruble an arshin, I suppose?"
Pierre told her the price.
"Too dear!" Natasha remarked. "How pleased the children will be
and Mamma too! Only you need not have bought me this," she added,
unable to suppress a smile as she gazed admiringly at a gold comb
set with pearls, of a kind then just coming into fashion.
"Adele tempted me: she kept on telling me to buy it," returned
"When am I to wear it?" and Natasha stuck it in her coil of hair.
"When I take little Masha into society? Perhaps they will be
fashionable again by then. Well, let's go now."
And collecting the presents they went first to the nursery and
then to the old countess' rooms.
The countess was sitting with her companion Belova, playing
grand-patience as usual, when Pierre and Natasha came into the drawing
room with parcels under their arms.
The countess was now over sixty, was quite gray, and wore a cap with
a frill that surrounded her face. Her face had shriveled, her upper
lip had sunk in, and her eyes were dim.
After the deaths of her son and husband in such rapid succession,
she felt herself a being accidentally forgotten in this world and left
without aim or object for her existence. She ate, drank, slept, or
kept awake, but did not live. Life gave her no new impressions. She
wanted nothing from life but tranquillity, and that tranquillity
only death could give her. But until death came she had to go on
living, that is, to use her vital forces. A peculiarity one sees in
very young children and very old people was particularly evident in
her. Her life had no external aims- only a need to exercise her
various functions and inclinations was apparent. She had to eat,
sleep, think, speak, weep, work, give vent to her anger, and so on,
merely because she had a stomach, a brain, muscles, nerves, and a
liver. She did these things not under any external impulse as people
in the full vigor of life do, when behind the purpose for which they
strive that of exercising their functions remains unnoticed. She
talked only because she physically needed to exercise her tongue and
lungs. She cried as a child does, because her nose had to be
cleared, and so on. What for people in their full vigor is an aim
was for her evidently merely a pretext.
Thus in the morning- especially if she had eaten anything rich the
day before- she felt a need of being angry and would choose as the
handiest pretext Belova's deafness.
She would begin to say something to her in a low tone from the other
end of the room.
"It seems a little warmer today, my dear," she would murmur.
And when Belova replied: "Oh yes, they've come," she would mutter
angrily: "O Lord! How stupid and deaf she is!"
Another pretext would be her snuff, which would seem too dry or
too damp or not rubbed fine enough. After these fits of irritability
her face would grow yellow, and her maids knew by infallible
symptoms when Belova would again be deaf, the snuff damp, and the
countess' face yellow. Just as she needed to work off her spleen so
she had sometimes to exercise her still-existing faculty of
thinking- and the pretext for that was a game of patience. When she
needed to cry, the deceased count would be the pretext. When she
wanted to be agitated, Nicholas and his health would be the pretext,
and when she felt a need to speak spitefully, the pretext would be
Countess Mary. When her vocal organs needed exercise, which was
usually toward seven o'clock when she had had an after-dinner rest
in a darkened room, the pretext would be the retelling of the same
stories over and over again to the same audience.
The old lady's condition was understood by the whole household
though no one ever spoke of it, and they all made every possible
effort to satisfy her needs. Only by a rare glance exchanged with a
sad smile between Nicholas, Pierre, Natasha, and Countess Mary was the
common understanding of her condition expressed.
But those glances expressed something more: they said that she had
played her part in life, that what they now saw was not her whole
self, that we must all become like her, and that they were glad to
yield to her, to restrain themselves for this once precious being
formerly as full of life as themselves, but now so much to be
pitied. "Memento mori," said these glances.
Only the really heartless, the stupid ones of that household, and
the little children failed to understand this and avoided her.
When Pierre and his wife entered the drawing room the countess was
in one of her customary states in which she needed the mental exertion
of playing patience, and so- though by force of habit she greeted
him with the words she always used when Pierre or her son returned
after an absence: "High time, my dear, high time! We were all weary of
waiting for you. Well, thank God!" and received her presents with
another customary remark: "It's not the gift that's precious, my dear,
but that you give it to me, an old woman..."- yet it was evident
that she was not pleased by Pierre's arrival at that moment when it
diverted her attention from the unfinished game.
She finished her game of patience and only then examined the
presents. They consisted of a box for cards, of splendid
workmanship, a bright-blue Sevres tea cup with shepherdesses
depicted on it and with a lid, and a gold snuffbox with the count's
portrait on the lid which Pierre had had done by a miniaturist in
Petersburg. The countess had long wished for such a box, but as she
did not want to cry just then she glanced indifferently at the
portrait and gave her attention chiefly to the box for cards.
"Thank you, my dear, you have cheered me up," said she as she always
did. "But best of all you have brought yourself back- for I never
saw anything like it, you ought to give your wife a scolding! What are
we to do with her? She is like a mad woman when you are away.
Doesn't see anything, doesn't remember anything," she went on,
repeating her usual phrases. "Look, Anna Timofeevna," she added to her
companion, "see what a box for cards my son has brought us!"
Belova admired the presents and was delighted with her dress
Though Pierre, Natasha, Nicholas, Countess Mary, and Denisov had
much to talk about that they could not discuss before the old
countess- not that anything was hidden from her, but because she had
dropped so far behindhand in many things that had they begun to
converse in her presence they would have had to answer inopportune
questions and to repeat what they had already told her many times:
that so-and-so was dead and so-and-so was married, which she would
again be unable to remember- yet they sat at tea round the samovar
in the drawing room from habit, and Pierre answered the countess'
questions as to whether Prince Vasili had aged and whether Countess
Mary Alexeevna had sent greetings and still thought of them, and other
matters that interested no one and to which she herself was
Conversation of this kind, interesting to no one yet unavoidable,
continued all through teatime. All the grown-up members of the
family were assembled near the round tea table at which Sonya presided
beside the samovar. The children with their tutors and governesses had
had tea and their voices were audible from the next room. At tea all
sat in their accustomed places: Nicholas beside the stove at a small
table where his tea was handed to him; Milka, the old gray borzoi
bitch (daughter of the first Milka), with a quite gray face and
large black eyes that seemed more prominent than ever, lay on the
armchair beside him; Denisov, whose curly hair, mustache, and whiskers
had turned half gray, sat beside countess Mary with his general's
tunic unbuttoned; Pierre sat between his wife and the old countess. He
spoke of what he knew might interest the old lady and that she could
understand. He told her of external social events and of the people
who had formed the circle of her contemporaries and had once been a
real, living, and distinct group, but who were now for the most part
scattered about the world and like herself were garnering the last
ears of the harvests they had sown in earlier years. But to the old
countess those contemporaries of hers seemed to be the only serious
and real society. Natasha saw by Pierre's animation that his visit had
been interesting and that he had much to tell them but dare not say it
before the old countess. Denisov, not being a member of the family,
did not understand Pierre's caution and being, as a malcontent, much
interested in what was occurring in Petersburg, kept urging Pierre
to tell them about what had happened in the Semenovsk regiment, then
about Arakcheev, and then about the Bible Society. Once or twice
Pierre was carried away and began to speak of these things, but
Nicholas and Natasha always brought him back to the health of Prince
Ivan and Countess Mary Alexeevna.
"Well, and all this idiocy- Gossner and Tatawinova?" Denisov
asked. "Is that weally still going on?"
"Going on?" Pierre exclaimed. "Why more than ever! The Bible Society
is the whole government now!"
"What is that, mon cher ami?" asked the countess, who had
finished her tea and evidently needed a pretext for being angry
after her meal. "What are you saying about the government? I don't
"Well, you know, Maman," Nicholas interposed, knowing how to
translate things into his mother's language, "Prince Alexander
Golitsyn has founded a society and in consequence has great influence,
"Arakcheev and Golitsyn," incautiously remarked Pierre, "are now the
whole government! And what a government! They see treason everywhere
and are afraid of everything."
"Well, and how is Prince Alexander to blame? He is a most
estimable man. I used to meet him at Mary Antonovna's," said the
countess in an offended tone; and still more offended that they all
remained silent, she went on: "Nowadays everyone finds fault. A Gospel
Society! Well, and what harm is there in that?" and she rose
(everybody else got up too) and with a severe expression sailed back
to her table in the sitting room.
The melancholy silence that followed was broken by the sounds of the
children's voices and laughter from the next room. Evidently some
jolly excitement was going on there.
"Finished, finished!" little Natasha's gleeful yell rose above
Pierre exchanged glances with Countess Mary and Nicholas (Natasha he
never lost sight of) and smiled happily.
"That's delightful music!" said he.
"It means that Anna Makarovna has finished her stocking," said
"Oh, I'll go and see," said Pierre, jumping up. "You know," he
added, stopping at the door, "why I'm especially fond of that music?
It is always the first thing that tells me all is well. When I was
driving here today, the nearer I got to the house the more anxious I
grew. As I entered the anteroom I heard Andrusha's peals of laughter
and that meant that all was well."
"I know! I know that feeling," said Nicholas. "But I mustn't go
there- those stockings are to be a surprise for me."
Pierre went to the children, and the shouting and laughter grew
"Come, Anna Makarovna," Pierre's voice was heard saying, "come
here into the middle of the room and at the word of command, 'One,
two,' and when I say 'three'... You stand here, and you in my arms-
well now! One, two!..." said Pierre, and a silence followed:
"three!" and a rapturously breathless cry of children's voices
filled the room. "Two, two!" they shouted.
This meant two stockings, which by a secret process known only to
herself Anna Makarovna used to knit at the same time on the same
needles, and which, when they were ready, she always triumphantly
drew, one out of the other, in the children's presence.
Soon after this the children came in to say good night. They
kissed everyone, the tutors and governesses made their bows, and
they went out. Only young Nicholas and his tutor remained. Dessalles
whispered to the boy to come downstairs.
"No, Monsieur Dessalles, I will ask my aunt to let me stay," replied
Nicholas Bolkonski also in a whisper.
"Ma tante, please let me stay," said he, going up to his aunt.
His face expressed entreaty, agitation, and ecstasy. Countess Mary
glanced at him and turned to Pierre.
"When you are here he can't tear himself away," she said.
"I will bring him to you directly, Monsieur Dessalles. Good
night!" said Pierre, giving his hand to the Swiss tutor, and he turned
to young Nicholas with a smile. "You and I haven't seen anything of
one another yet... How like he is growing, Mary!" he added, addressing
"Like my father?" asked the boy, flushing crimson and looking up
at Pierre with bright, ecstatic eyes.
Pierre nodded, and went on with what he had been saying when the
children had interrupted. Countess Mary sat down doing woolwork;
Natasha did not take her eyes off her husband. Nicholas and Denisov
rose, asked for their pipes, smoked, went to fetch more tea from
Sonya- who sat weary but resolute at the samovar- and questioned
Pierre. The curly-headed, delicate boy sat with shining eyes unnoticed
in a corner, starting every now and then and muttering something to
himself, and evidently experiencing a new and powerful emotion as he
turned his curly head, with his thin neck exposed by his turn-down
collar, toward the place where Pierre sat.
The conversation turned on the contemporary gossip about those in
power, in which most people see the chief interest of home politics.
Denisov, dissatisfied with the government on account of his own
disappointments in the service, heard with pleasure of the things done
in Petersburg which seemed to him stupid, and made forcible and
sharp comments on what Pierre told them.
"One used to have to be a German- now one must dance with Tatawinova
and Madame Kwudener, and wead Ecka'tshausen and the bwethwen. Oh, they
should let that fine fellow Bonaparte lose- he'd knock all this
nonsense out of them! Fancy giving the command of the Semenov wegiment
to a fellow like that Schwa'tz!" he cried.
Nicholas, though free from Denisov's readiness to find fault with
everything, also thought that discussion of the government was a
very serious and weighty matter, and the fact that A had been
appointed Minister of This and B Governor General of That, and that
the Emperor had said so-and-so and this minister so-and-so, seemed
to him very important. And so he thought it necessary to take an
interest in these things and to question Pierre. The questions put
by these two kept the conversation from changing its ordinary
character of gossip about the higher government circles.
But Natasha, knowing all her husband's ways and ideas, saw that he
had long been wishing but had been unable to divert the conversation
to another channel and express his own deeply felt idea for the sake
of which he had gone to Petersburg to consult with his new friend
Prince Theodore, and she helped him by asking how his affairs with
Prince Theodore had gone.
"What was it about?" asked Nicholas.
"Always the same thing," said Pierre, looking round at his
listeners. "Everybody sees that things are going so badly that they
cannot be allowed to go on so and that it is the duty of all decent
men to counteract it as far as they can."
"What can decent men do?" Nicholas inquired, frowning slightly.
"What can be done?"
"Come into my study," said Nicholas.
Natasha, who had long expected to be fetched to nurse her baby,
now heard the nurse calling her and went to the nursery. Countess Mary
followed her. The men went into the study and little Nicholas
Bolkonski followed them unnoticed by his uncle and sat down at the
writing table in a shady corner by the window.
"Well, what would you do?" asked Denisov.
"Always some fantastic schemes," said Nicholas.
"Why this," began Pierre, not sitting down but pacing the room,
sometimes stopping short, gesticulating, and lisping: "the position in
Petersburg is this: the Emperor does not look into anything. He has
abandoned himself altogether to this mysticism" (Pierre could not
tolerate mysticism in anyone now). "He seeks only for peace, and
only these people sans foi ni loi* can give it him- people who
recklessly hack at and strangle everything- Magnitski, Arakcheev,
and tutti quanti.... You will agree that if you did not look after
your estates yourself but only wanted a quiet life, the harsher your
steward was the more readily your object might be attained," he said
*Without faith or law.
"Well, what does that lead up to?" said Nicholas.
"Well, everything is going to ruin! Robbery in the law courts, in
the army nothing but flogging, drilling, and Military Settlements; the
people are tortured, enlightenment is suppressed. All that is young
and honest is crushed! Everyone sees that this cannot go on.
Everything is strained to such a degree that it will certainly break,"
said Pierre (as those who examine the actions of any government have
always said since governments began). "I told them just one thing in
"Well, you know whom," said Pierre, with a meaning glance from under
his brows. "Prince Theodore and all those. To encourage culture and
philanthropy is all very well of course. The aim is excellent but in
the present circumstances something else is needed."
At that moment Nicholas noticed the presence of his nephew. His face
darkened and he went up to the boy.
"Why are you here?"
"Why? Let him be," said Pierre, taking Nicholas by the arm and
continuing. "That is not enough, I told them. Something else is
needed. When you stand expecting the overstrained string to snap at
any moment, when everyone is expecting the inevitable catastrophe,
as many as possible must join hands as closely as they can to
withstand the general calamity. Everything that is young and strong is
being enticed away and depraved. One is lured by women, another by
honors, a third by ambition or money, and they go over to that camp.
No independent men, such as you or I, are left. What I say is widen
the scope of our society, let the mot d'ordre be not virtue alone
but independence and action as well!"
Nicholas, who had left his nephew, irritably pushed up an
armchair, sat down in it, and listened to Pierre, coughing
discontentedly and frowning more and more.
"But action with what aim?" he cried. "And what position will you
adopt toward the government?"
"Why, the position of assistants. The society need not be secret
if the government allows it. Not merely is it not hostile to
government, but it is a society of true conservatives- a society of
gentlemen in the full meaning of that word. It is only to prevent some
Pugachev or other from killing my children and yours, and Arakcheev
from sending me off to some Military Settlement. We join hands only
for the public welfare and the general safety."
"Yes, but it's a secret society and therefore a hostile and
harmful one which can only cause harm."
"Why? Did the Tugendbund which saved Europe" (they did not then
venture to suggest that Russia had saved Europe) "do any harm? The
Tugendbund is an alliance of virtue: it is love, mutual help... it
is what Christ preached on the Cross."
Natasha, who had come in during the conversation, looked joyfully at
her husband. It was not what he was saying that pleased her- that
did not even interest her, for it seemed to her that was all extremely
simple and that she had known it a long time (it seemed so to her
because she knew that it sprang from Pierre's whole soul), but it
was his animated and enthusiastic appearance that made her glad.
The boy with the thin neck stretching out from the turn-down collar-
whom everyone had forgotten- gazed at Pierre with even greater and
more rapturous joy. Every word of Pierre's burned into his heart,
and with a nervous movement of his fingers he unconsciously broke
the sealing wax and quill pens his hands came upon on his uncle's
"It is not at all what you suppose; but that is what the German
Tugendbund was, and what I am proposing."
"No, my fwiend! The Tugendbund is all vewy well for the sausage
eaters, but I don't understand it and can't even pwonounce it,"
interposed Denisov in a loud and resolute voice. "I agwee that
evewything here is wotten and howwible, but the Tugendbund I don't
understand. If we're not satisfied, let us have a bunt of our own.
That's all wight. Je suis vot'e homme!"*
*"I'm your man."
Pierre smiled, Natasha 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 Arakcheev 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. Natasha 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'
When they all got up to go in to supper, little Nicholas Bolkonski
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
"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. Denisov started these and Pierre was particularly agreeable
and amusing about them. The family separated on the most friendly
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
"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
It was in French.
December 4. Today when Andrusha (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:
Mitya 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 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
"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 Natasha didn't keep him in hand.... Have you any idea
why he went to Petersburg? They have formed..."
"Yes, I know," said Countess Mary. "Natasha 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- Denisov and Natasha... Natasha 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 Natasha 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 Natasha 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
"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
"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 Bolkonski 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
"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 Arakcheev 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
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 Mitrofanych" (this was his overseer)
"came back from the Tambov 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 Otradnoe 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
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.
Natasha 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. Natasha 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 Natasha 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
Natasha 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 Natasha 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 Natasha'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."
Natasha 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,
Mitya was naughty..."
"How like his father he is," Pierre interjected.
Natasha knew why he mentioned Mitya's likeness to Nicholas: the
recollection of his dispute with his brother-in-law was unpleasant and
he wanted to know what Natasha 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 Natasha 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
Natasha. "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 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
Sergey is a fine fellow and clever."
Natasha 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 Platon
"Do you know what I am thinking about?" she asked. "About Platon
Karataev. 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.
"Platon Karataev?" he repeated, and pondered, evidently sincerely
trying to imagine Karataev's opinion on the subject. "He would not
have understood... yet perhaps he would."
"I love you awfully!" Natasha 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..." Natasha 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," Natasha 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!" Natasha cried, and her eyes
glittered coldly and vindictively. "Did you see her?" she added, after
"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," Natasha 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, Natasha with a quiet, happy smile.
Having interrupted one another they both stopped to let the other
"No. What did you say? Go on, go on."
"No, you go on, I was talking nonsense," said Natasha.
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 Natasha, smilingly still more
brightly. "I only wanted to tell you about Petya: 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 Bolkonski'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 Vierge. 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 Arakcheev 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Stael, 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 Stael, and the others,
evidently does not equal the resultant, namely the phenomenon of
millions of Frenchmen submitting to the Bourbons. That
Chateaubriand, Madame de Stael, 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
A locomotive is moving. Someone asks: "What moves it?" A peasant
says the devil moves it. Another man says the locomotive moves because
its wheels go round. A third asserts that the cause of its movement
lies in the smoke which the wind carries away.
The peasant is irrefutable. He has devised a complete explanation.
To refute him someone would have to prove to him that there is no
devil, or another peasant would have to explain to him that it is
not the devil but a German, who moves the locomotive. Only then, as
a result of the contradiction, will they see that they are both wrong.
But the man who says that the movement of the wheels is the cause
refutes himself, for having once begun to analyze he ought to go on
and explain further why the wheels go round; and till he has reached
the ultimate cause of the movement of the locomotive in the pressure
of steam in the boiler, he has no right to stop in his search for
the cause. The man who explains the movement of the locomotive by
the smoke that is carried back has noticed that the wheels do not
supply an explanation and has taken the first sign that occurs to
him and in his turn has offered that as an explanation.
The only conception that can explain the movement of the
locomotive is that of a force commensurate with the movement observed.
The only conception that can explain the movement of the peoples
is that of some force commensurate with the whole movement of the
Yet to supply this conception various historians take forces of
different kinds, all of which are incommensurate with the movement
observed. Some see it as a force directly inherent in heroes, as the
peasant sees the devil in the locomotive; others as a force
resulting from several other forces, like the movement of the
wheels; others again as an intellectual influence, like the smoke that
is blown away.
So long as histories are written of separate individuals, whether
Caesars, Alexanders, Luthers, or Voltaires, and not the histories of
all, absolutely all those who take part in an event, it is quite
impossible to describe the movement of humanity without the conception
of a force compelling men to direct their activity toward a certain
end. And the only such conception known to historians is that of
This conception is the one handle by means of which the material
of history, as at present expounded, can be dealt with, and anyone who
breaks that handle off, as Buckle did, without finding some other
method of treating historical material, merely deprives himself of the
one possible way of dealing with it. The necessity of the conception
of power as an explanation of historical events is best demonstrated
by the universal historians and historians of culture themselves,
for they professedly reject that conception but inevitably have
recourse to it at every step.
In dealing with humanity's inquiry, the science of history up to now
is like money in circulation- paper money and coin. The biographies
and special national histories are like paper money. They can be
used and can circulate and fulfill their purpose without harm to
anyone and even advantageously, as long as no one asks what is the
security behind them. You need only forget to ask how the will of
heroes produces events, and such histories as Thiers' will be
interesting and instructive and may perhaps even possess a tinge of
poetry. But just as doubts of the real value of paper money arise
either because, being easy to make, too much of it gets made or
because people try to exchange it for gold, so also doubts
concerning the real value of such histories arise either because too
many of them are written or because in his simplicity of heart someone
inquires: by what force did Napoleon do this?- that is, wants to
exchange the current paper money for the real gold of actual
The writers of universal histories and of the history of culture are
like people who, recognizing the defects of paper money, decide to
substitute for it money made of metal that has not the specific
gravity of gold. It may indeed make jingling coin, but will do no more
than that. Paper money may deceive the ignorant, but nobody is
deceived by tokens of base metal that have no value but merely jingle.
As gold is gold only if it is serviceable not merely for exchange
but also for use, so universal historians will be valuable only when
they can reply to history's essential question: what is power? The
universal historians give contradictory replies to that question,
while the historians of culture evade it and answer something quite
different. And as counters of imitation gold can be used only among
a group of people who agree to accept them as gold, or among those who
do not know the nature of gold, so universal historians and historians
of culture, not answering humanity's essential question, serve as
currency for some purposes of their own, only in universities and
among the mass of readers who have a taste for what they call "serious
Having abandoned the conception of the ancients as to the divine
subjection of the will of a nation to some chosen man and the
subjection of that man's will to the Deity, history cannot without
contradictions take a single step till it has chosen one of two
things: either a return to the former belief in the direct
intervention of the Deity in human affairs or a definite explanation
of the meaning of the force producing historical events and termed
A return to the first is impossible, the belief has been
destroyed; and so it is essential to explain what is meant by power.
Napoleon ordered an army to be raised and go to war. We are so
accustomed to that idea and have become so used to it that the
question: why did six hundred thousand men go to fight when Napoleon
uttered certain words, seems to us senseless. He had the power and
so what he ordered was done.
This reply is quite satisfactory if we believe that the power was
given him by God. But as soon as we do not admit that, it becomes
essential to determine what is this power of one man over others.
It cannot be the direct physical power of a strong man over a weak
one- a domination based on the application or threat of physical
force, like the power of Hercules; nor can it be based on the effect
of moral force, as in their simplicity some historians think who say
that the leading figures in history are heroes, that is, men gifted
with a special strength of soul and mind called genius. This power
cannot be based on the predominance of moral strength, for, not to
mention heroes such as Napoleon about whose moral qualities opinions
differ widely, history shows us that neither a Louis XI nor a
Metternich, who ruled over millions of people, had any particular
moral qualities, but on the contrary were generally morally weaker
than any of the millions they ruled over.
If the source of power lies neither in the physical nor in the moral
qualities of him who possesses it, it must evidently be looked for
elsewhere- in the relation to the people of the man who wields the
And that is how power is understood by the science of jurisprudence,
that exchange bank of history which offers to exchange history's
understanding of power for true gold.
Power is the collective will of the people transferred, by expressed
or tacit consent, to their chosen rulers.
In the domain of jurisprudence, which consists of discussions of how
a state and power might be arranged were it possible for all that to
be arranged, it is all very clear; but when applied to history that
definition of power needs explanation.
The science of jurisprudence regards the state and power as the
ancients regarded fire- namely, as something existing absolutely.
But for history, the state and power are merely phenomena, just as for
modern physics fire is not an element but a phenomenon.
From this fundamental difference between the view held by history
and that held by jurisprudence, it follows that jurisprudence can tell
minutely how in its opinion power should be constituted and what
power- existing immutably outside time- is, but to history's questions
about the meaning of the mutations of power in time it can answer
If power be the collective will of the people transferred to their
ruler, was Pugachev a representative of the will of the people? If
not, then why was Napoleon I? Why was Napoleon III a criminal when
he was taken prisoner at Boulogne, and why, later on, were those
criminals whom he arrested?
Do palace revolutions- in which sometimes only two or three people
take part- transfer the will of the people to a new ruler? In
international relations, is the will of the people also transferred to
their conqueror? Was the will of the Confederation of the Rhine
transferred to Napoleon in 1806? Was the will of the Russian people
transferred to Napoleon in 1809, when our army in alliance with the
French went to fight the Austrians?
To these questions three answers are possible:
Either to assume (1) that the will of the people is always
unconditionally transferred to the ruler or rulers they have chosen,
and that therefore every emergence of a new power, every struggle
against the power once appointed, should be absolutely regarded as
an infringement of the real power; or (2) that the will of the
people is transferred to the rulers conditionally, under definite
and known conditions, and to show that all limitations, conflicts, and
even destructions of power result from a nonobservance by the rulers
of the conditions under which their power was entrusted to them; or
(3) that the will of the people is delegated to the rulers
conditionally, but that the conditions are unknown and indefinite, and
that the appearance of several authorities, their struggles and
their falls, result solely from the greater or lesser fulfillment by
the rulers of these unknown conditions on which the will of the people
is transferred from some people to others.
And these are the three ways in which the historians do explain
the relation of the people to their rulers.
Some historians- those biographical and specialist historians
already referred to- in their simplicity failing to understand the
question of the meaning of power, seem to consider that the collective
will of the people is unconditionally transferred to historical
persons, and therefore when describing some single state they assume
that particular power to be the one absolute and real power, and
that any other force opposing this is not a power but a violation of
power- mere violence.
Their theory, suitable for primitive and peaceful periods of
history, has the inconvenience- in application to complex and stormy
periods in the life of nations during which various powers arise
simultaneously and struggle with one another- that a Legitimist
historian will prove that the National Convention, the Directory,
and Bonaparte were mere infringers of the true power, while a
Republican and a Bonapartist will prove: the one that the Convention
and the other that the Empire was the real power, and that all the
others were violations of power. Evidently the explanations
furnished by these historians being mutually contradictory can only
satisfy young children.
Recognizing the falsity of this view of history, another set of
historians say that power rests on a conditional delegation of the
will of the people to their rulers, and that historical leaders have
power only conditionally on carrying out the program that the will
of the people has by tacit agreement prescribed to them. But what this
program consists in these historians do not say, or if they do they
continually contradict one another.
Each historian, according to his view of what constitutes a nation's
progress, looks for these conditions in the greatness, wealth,
freedom, or enlightenment of citizens of France or some other country.
But not to mention the historians' contradictions as to the nature
of this program- or even admitting that some one general program of
these conditions exists- the facts of history almost always contradict
that theory. If the conditions under which power is entrusted
consist in the wealth, freedom, and enlightenment of the people, how
is it that Louis XIV and Ivan the Terrible end their reigns
tranquilly, while Louis XVI and Charles I are executed by their
people? To this question historians reply that Louis XIV's activity,
contrary to the program, reacted on Louis XVI. But why did it not
react on Louis XIV or on Louis XV- why should it react just on Louis
XVI? And what is the time limit for such reactions? To these questions
there are and can be no answers. Equally little does this view explain
why for several centuries the collective will is not withdrawn from
certain rulers and their heirs, and then suddenly during a period of
fifty years is transferred to the Convention, to the Directory, to
Napoleon, to Alexander, to Louis XVIII, to Napoleon again, to
Charles X, to Louis Philippe, to a Republican government, and to
Napoleon III. When explaining these rapid transfers of the people's
will from from one individual to another, especially in view of
international relations, conquests, and alliances, the historians
are obliged to admit that some of these transfers are not normal
delegations of the people's will but are accidents dependent on
cunning, on mistakes, on craft, or on the weakness of a diplomatist, a
ruler, or a party leader. So that the greater part of the events of
history- civil wars, revolutions, and conquests- are presented by
these historians not as the results of free transferences of the
people's will, but as results of the ill-directed will of one or
more individuals, that is, once again, as usurpations of power. And so
these historians also see and admit historical events which are
exceptions to the theory.
These historians resemble a botanist who, having noticed that some
plants grow from seeds producing two cotyledons, should insist that
all that grows does so by sprouting into two leaves, and that the
palm, the mushroom, and even the oak, which blossom into full growth
and no longer resemble two leaves, are deviations from the theory.
Historians of the third class assume that the will of the people
is transferred to historic personages conditionally, but that the
conditions are unknown to us. They say that historical personages have
power only because they fulfill the will of the people which has
been delegated to them.
But in that case, if the force that moves nations lies not in the
historic leaders but in the nations themselves, what significance have
The leaders, these historians tell us, express the will of the
people: the activity of the leaders represents the activity of the
But in that case the question arises whether all the activity of the
leaders serves as an expression of the people's will or only some part
of it. If the whole activity of the leaders serves as the expression
of the people's will, as some historians suppose, then all the details
of the court scandals contained in the biographies of a Napoleon or
a Catherine serve to express the life of the nation, which is
evident nonsense; but if it is only some particular side of the
activity of an historical leader which serves to express the
people's life, as other so-called "philosophical" historians
believe, then to determine which side of the activity of a leader
expresses the nation's life, we have first of all to know in what
the nation's life consists.
Met by this difficulty historians of that class devise some most
obscure, impalpable, and general abstraction which can cover all
conceivable occurrences, and declare this abstraction to be the aim of
humanity's movement. The most usual generalizations adopted by
almost all the historians are: freedom, equality, enlightenment,
progress, civilization, and culture. Postulating some generalization
as the goal of the movement of humanity, the historians study the
men of whom the greatest number of monuments have remained: kings,
ministers, generals, authors, reformers, popes, and journalists, to
the extent to which in their opinion these persons have promoted or
hindered that abstraction. But as it is in no way proved that the
aim of humanity does consist in freedom, equality, enlightenment, or
civilization, and as the connection of the people with the rulers
and enlighteners of humanity is only based on the arbitrary assumption
that the collective will of the people is always transferred to the
men whom we have noticed, it happens that the activity of the millions
who migrate, burn houses, abandon agriculture, and destroy one another
never is expressed in the account of the activity of some dozen people
who did not burn houses, practice agriculture, or slay their fellow
History proves this at every turn. Is the ferment of the peoples
of the west at the end of the eighteenth century and their drive
eastward explained by the activity of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, their
mistresses and ministers, and by the lives of Napoleon, Rousseau,
Diderot, Beaumarchais, and others?
Is the movement of the Russian people eastward to Kazan and
Siberia expressed by details of the morbid character of Ivan the
Terrible and by his correspondence with Kurbski?
Is the movement of the peoples at the time of the Crusades explained
by the life and activity of the Godfreys and the Louis-es and their
ladies? For us that movement of the peoples from west to east, without
leaders, with a crowd of vagrants, and with Peter the Hermit,
remains incomprehensible. And yet more incomprehensible is the
cessation of that movement when a rational and sacred aim for the
Crusade- the deliverance of Jerusalem- had been clearly defined by
historic leaders. Popes, kings, and knights incited the peoples to
free the Holy Land; but the people did not go, for the unknown cause
which had previously impelled them to go no longer existed. The
history of the Godfreys and the Minnesingers can evidently not cover
the life of the peoples. And the history of the Godfreys and the
Minnesingers has remained the history of Godfreys and Minnesingers,
but the history of the life of the peoples and their impulses has
Still less does the history of authors and reformers explain to us
the life of the peoples.
The history of culture explains to us the impulses and conditions of
life and thought of a writer or a reformer. We learn that Luther had a
hot temper and said such and such things; we learn that Rousseau was
suspicious and wrote such and such books; but we do not learn why
after the Reformation the peoples massacred one another, nor why
during the French Revolution they guillotined one another.
If we unite both these kinds of history, as is done by the newest
historians, we shall have the history of monarchs and writers, but not
the history of the life of the peoples.
The life of the nations is not contained in the lives of a few
men, for the connection between those men and the nations has not been
found. The theory that this connection is based on the transference of
the collective will of a people to certain historical personages is an
hypothesis unconfirmed by the experience of history.
The theory of the transference of the collective will of the
people to historic persons may perhaps explain much in the domain of
jurisprudence and be essential for its purposes, but in its
application to history, as soon as revolutions, conquests, or civil
wars occur- that is, as soon as history begins- that theory explains
The theory seems irrefutable just because the act of transference of
the people's will cannot be verified, for it never occurred.
Whatever happens and whoever may stand at the head of affairs, the
theory can always say that such and such a person took the lead
because the collective will was transferred to him.
The replies this theory gives to historical questions are like the
replies of a man who, watching the movements of a herd of cattle and
paying no attention to the varying quality of the pasturage in
different parts of the field, or to the driving of the herdsman,
should attribute the direction the herd takes to what animal happens
to be at its head.
"The herd goes in that direction because the animal in front leads
it and the collective will of all the other animals is vested in
that leader." This is what historians of the first class say- those
who assume the unconditional transference of the people's will.
"If the animals leading the herd change, this happens because the
collective will of all the animals is transferred from one leader to
another, according to whether the animal is or is not leading them
in the direction selected by the whole herd." Such is the reply
historians who assume that the collective will of the people is
delegated to rulers under conditions which they regard as known. (With
this method of observation it often happens that the observer,
influenced by the direction he himself prefers, regards those as
leaders who, owing to the people's change of direction, are no
longer in front, but on one side, or even in the rear.)
"If the animals in front are continually changing and the
direction of the whole herd is constantly altered, this is because
in order to follow a given direction the animals transfer their will
to the animals that have attracted our attention, and to study the
movements of the herd we must watch the movements of all the prominent
animals moving on all sides of the herd." So say the third class of
historians who regard all historical persons, from monarchs to
journalists, as the expression of their age.
The theory of the transference of the will of the people to historic
persons is merely a paraphrase- a restatement of the question in other
What causes historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the
collective will of the people transferred to one person. Under what
condition is the will of the people delegated to one person? On
condition that that person expresses the will of the whole people.
That is, power is power: in other words, power is a word the meaning
of which we do not understand.
If the realm of human knowledge were confined to abstract reasoning,
then having subjected to criticism the explanation of "power" that
juridical science gives us, humanity would conclude that power is
merely a word and has no real existence. But to understand phenomena
man has, besides abstract reasoning, experience by which he verifies
his reflections. And experience tells us that power is not merely a
word but an actually existing phenomenon.
Not to speak of the fact that no description of the collective
activity of men can do without the conception of power, the
existence of power is proved both by history and by observing
Whenever an event occurs a man appears or men appear, by whose
will the event seems to have taken place. Napoleon III issues a decree
and the French go to Mexico. The King of Prussia and Bismarck issue
decrees and an army enters Bohemia. Napoleon I issues a decree and
an army enters Russia. Alexander I gives a command and the French
submit to the Bourbons. Experience shows us that whatever event occurs
it is always related to the will of one or of several men who have
The historians, in accord with the old habit of acknowledging divine
intervention in human affairs, want to see the cause of events in
the expression of the will of someone endowed with power, but that
supposition is not confirmed either by reason or by experience.
On the one side reflection shows that the expression of a man's
will- his words- are only part of the general activity expressed in an
event, as for instance in a war or a revolution, and so without
assuming an incomprehensible, supernatural force- a miracle- one
cannot admit that words can be the immediate cause of the movements of
millions of men. On the other hand, even if we admitted that words
could be the cause of events, history shows that the expression of the
will of historical personages does not in most cases produce any
effect, that is to say, their commands are often not executed, and
sometimes the very opposite of what they order occurs.
Without admitting divine intervention in the affairs of humanity
we cannot regard "power" as the cause of events.
Power, from the standpoint of experience, is merely the relation
that exists between the expression of someone's will and the execution
of that will by others.
To explain the conditions of that relationship we must first
establish a conception of the expression of will, referring it to
man and not to the Deity.
If the Deity issues a command, expresses His will, as ancient
history tells us, the expression of that will is independent of time
and is not caused by anything, for the Divinity is not controlled by
an event. But speaking of commands that are the expression of the will
of men acting in time and in relation to one another, to explain the
connection of commands with events we must restore: (1) the
condition of all that takes place: the continuity of movement in
time both of the events and of the person who commands, and (2) the
inevitability of the connection between the person commanding and
those who execute his command.
Only the expression of the will of the Deity, not dependent on time,
can relate to a whole series of events occurring over a period of
years or centuries, and only the Deity, independent of everything, can
by His sole will determine the direction of humanity's movement; but
man acts in time and himself takes part in what occurs.
Reinstating the first condition omitted, that of time, we see that
no command can be executed without some preceding order having been
given rendering the execution of the last command possible.
No command ever appears spontaneously, or itself covers a whole
series of occurrences; but each command follows from another, and
never refers to a whole series of events but always to one moment only
of an event.
When, for instance, we say that Napoleon ordered armies to go to
war, we combine in one simultaneous expression a whole series of
consecutive commands dependent one on another. Napoleon could not have
commanded an invasion of Russia and never did so. Today he ordered
such and such papers to be written to Vienna, to Berlin, and to
Petersburg; tomorrow such and such decrees and orders to the army, the
fleet, the commissariat, and so on and so on- millions of commands,
which formed a whole series corresponding to a series of events
which brought the French armies into Russia.
If throughout his reign Napoleon gave commands concerning an
invasion of England and expended on no other undertaking so much
time and effort, and yet during his whole reign never once attempted
to execute that design but undertook an expedition into Russia, with
which country he considered it desirable to be in alliance (a
conviction he repeatedly expressed)- this came about because his
commands did not correspond to the course of events in the first case,
but did so correspond in the latter.
For an order to be certainly executed, it is necessary that a man
should order what can be executed. But to know what can and what
cannot be executed is impossible, not only in the case of Napoleon's
invasion of Russia in which millions participated, but even in the
simplest event, for in either case millions of obstacles may arise
to prevent its execution. Every order executed is always one of an
immense number unexecuted. All the impossible orders inconsistent with
the course of events remain unexecuted. Only the possible ones get
linked up with a consecutive series of commands corresponding to a
series of events, and are executed.
Our false conception that an event is caused by a command which
precedes it is due to the fact that when the event has taken place and
out of thousands of others those few commands which were consistent
with that event have been executed, we forget about the others that
were not executed because they could not be. Apart from that, the
chief source of our error in this matter is due to the fact that in
the historical accounts a whole series of innumerable, diverse, and
petty events, such for instance as all those which led the French
armies to Russia, is generalized into one event in accord with the
result produced by that series of events, and corresponding with
this generalization the whole series of commands is also generalized
into a single expression of will.
We say that Napoleon wished to invade Russia and invaded it. In
reality in all Napoleon's activity we never find anything resembling
an expression of that wish, but find a series of orders, or
expressions of his will, very variously and indefinitely directed.
Amid a long series of unexecuted orders of Napoleon's one series,
for the campaign of 1812, was carried out- not because those orders
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