Chapter 6

AMONG THE INNUMERABLE CATEGORIES into which it is possible to classify the phenomena of life, one may classify them all into such as are dominated by matter and such as are dominated by form. To the latter class one may refer the life of Petersburg, especially in its drawing-rooms, as distinguished from the life of the country, of the district, of the province, or even of Moscow. That life of the drawing- rooms is unchanging.

Between the years 1805 and 1812 we had made peace with Bonaparte and quarrelled with him again; we had made new constitutions and unmade them again, but the salons of Anna Pavlovna and of Ellen were precisely as they had been—the former seven, the latter five years—before. Anna Pavlovna’s circle were still speaking with incredulous wonder of Bonaparte’s successes; and saw in his successes, and in the submissive attitude of the sovereigns of Europe, a malicious conspiracy, the sole aim of which was to give annoyance and anxiety to the court circle of which Anna Pavlovna was the representative. The set that gathered about Ellen, whom no less a person than Rumyantsev condescended to visit, and looked on as a remarkably intelligent woman, talked in 1812 with the same enthusiasm as in 1808, of the “great nation,” and the “great man,” and regretted the breach with France, which must, they believed, shortly end in peace.

Of late after the Tsar’s return from the army, some increase of excitement was perceptible in these antagonistic salons, and they made something like demonstrations of hostility to one another, but the bias of each circle remained unaffected. Anna Pavlovna’s set refused to admit any French people but the most unimpeachable legitimists; and in her drawing-room the patriotic view found expression that the French theatre ought not to be patronised, and that the maintenance of the French company there cost as much as the maintenance of a whole army corps. The progress of the war was eagerly followed, and rumours greatly to the advantage of our army were circulated. In the circle of Ellen, of Rumyantsev, the French circle, the reports of the enemy’s cruelty and barbarous methods of warfare were discredited; and all sorts of conciliatory efforts on the part of Napoleon were discussed. This set discountenanced the premature counsels of those who advised preparations for the removal to Kazan of the court and the girls’ schools, that were under the protection of the empress mother. The whole war was in fact regarded in Ellen’s salon as a series of merely formal demonstrations, very shortly to be terminated by peace; and the view prevailed, expressed by Bilibin, who was now in Petersburg and constantly seen at Ellen’s, as every man of wit was sure to be, that the war would be ended not by gunpowder but by those who had invented it. The patriotic fervour of Moscow, of which tidings reached Petersburg with the Tsar, was in Ellen’s salon a subject of ironical, and very witty, though circumspect, raillery.

In Anna Pavlovna’s circle, on the contrary, these patriotic demonstrations roused the greatest enthusiasm, and were spoken of as Plutarch speaks of his ancient Romans. Prince Vassily, who still filled the same important positions, constituted the connecting link between the two circles. He used to visit “my good friend Anna Pavlovna,” and was also seen in the “diplomatic salon of my daughter”; and often was led into blunders from his frequent transitions from one to the other, and said in one drawing-room what should have been reserved for the other.

Soon after the Tsar’s arrival, Prince Vassily, in conversation about the progress of the war at Anna Pavlovna’s, severely criticised Barclay de Tolly, and expressed himself unable to decide who should be appointed commander-in-chief. One of the guests, usually spoken of as a “man of great abilities,” described how he had that day seen the newly elected commander of the Petersburg militia, Kutuzov, presiding over the enrolment of militiamen in the Court of Exchequer, and ventured discreetly to suggest that Kutuzov would be the man who might satisfy all requirements.

Anna Pavlovna smiled mournfully, and observed that Kutuzov had done nothing but cause the Tsar annoyance.

“I have said so over and over again in the assembly of nobility,” interposed Prince Vassily, “but they wouldn’t listen to me. I said that his election to the command of the militia would not be pleasing to his majesty. They wouldn’t listen to me. It’s all this mania for being in the opposition,” he went on. “And to what public are they playing, I should like to know. It’s all because we are trying to ape the silly enthusiasm of Moscow,”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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