Chapter 4

WHILE HALF of Russia was conquered, and the inhabitants of Moscow were fleeing to remote provinces, and one levy of militia after another was being raised for the defence of the country, we, not living at the time, cannot help imagining that all the people in Russia, great and small alike, were engaged in doing nothing else but making sacrifices, saving their country, or weeping over its downfall. The tales and descriptions of that period without exception tell us of nothing but the self-sacrifice, the patriotism, the despair, the grief, and the heroism of the Russians. In reality, it was not at all like that. It seems so to us, because we see out of the past only the general historical interest of that period, and we do not see all the personal human interests of the men of that time. And yet in reality these personal interests of the immediate present are of so much greater importance than public interests, that they prevent the public interest from ever being felt—from being noticed at all, indeed. The majority of the people of that period took no heed of the general progress of public affairs, and were only influenced by their immediate personal interests. And those very people played the most useful part in the work of the time.

Those who were striving to grasp the general course of events, and trying by self-sacrifice and heroism to take a hand in it, were the most useless members of society; they saw everything upside down, and all that they did with the best intentions turned out to be useless folly, like Pierre’s regiment, and Mamonov’s, that spent their time pillaging the Russian villages, like the lint scraped by the ladies, that never reached the wounded, and so on. Even those who, being fond of talking on intellectual subjects and expressing their feelings, discussed the position of Russia, unconsciously imported into their talk a shade of hypocrisy or falsity or else of useless fault-finding and bitterness against persons, whom they blamed for what could be nobody’s fault.

In historical events we see more plainly than ever the law that forbids us to taste of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. It is only unselfconscious activity that bears fruit, and the man who plays a part in an historical drama never understands its significance. If he strives to comprehend it, he is stricken with barrenness

The significance of the drama taking place in Russia at that time was the less easy to grasp, the closer the share a man was taking in it. In Petersburg, and in the provinces remote from Moscow, ladies and gentlemen in volunteer uniforms bewailed the fate of Russia and the ancient capital, and talked of self- sacrifice, and so on. But in the army, which had retreated behind Moscow, men scarcely talked or thought at all about Moscow, and, gazing at the burning city, no one swore to be avenged on the French, but every one was thinking of the next quarter’s pay due to him, of the next halting-place, of Matryoshka the canteen-woman, and so on.

Nikolay Rostov, without any idea of self-sacrifice, simply because the war had happened to break out before he left the service, took an immediate and continuous part in the defence of his country, and consequently he looked upon what was happening in Russia without despair or gloomy prognostications. If he had been asked what he thought of the present position of Russia, he would have said that it was not his business to think about it, that that was what Kutuzov and the rest of them were for, but that he had heard that the regiments were being filled up to their full complements, and that they must therefore be going to fight for a good time longer, and that under the present circumstances he might pretty easily obtain the command of a regiment within a couple of years.

Since this was his point of view, it was with no regret at taking no part in the approaching battle, but with the greatest satisfaction—which he did not conceal, and his comrades fully understood—that he received the news of his appointment to go to Voronezh to purchase remounts for his division.

A few days before the battle of Borodino, Nikolay received the sums of money and official warrants required, and, sending some hussars on before him, he drove with posting-horses to Voronezh.

Only one who has had the same experience—that is, has spent several months continuously in the atmosphere of an army in the field—can imagine the delight Nikolay felt when he got out of the region overspread by

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