Returning from his journey through South Russia in the happiest state of mind, Pierre carried out an intention he had long had of visiting his friend Bolkónski, whom he had not seen for two years.
Boguchárovo lay in a flat uninteresting part of the country among fields and forests of fir and birch, which were partly cut down. The house lay behind a newly dug pond filled with water to the brink and with banks still bare of grass. It was at the end of a village that stretched along the highroad in the midst of a young copse in which were a few fir trees.
The homestead consisted of a threshing floor, outhouses, stables, a bathhouse, a lodge, and a large brick house with semicircular façade still in course of construction. Round the house was a garden newly laid out. The fences and gates were new and solid; two fire pumps and a water cart, painted green, stood in a shed; the paths were straight, the bridges were strong and had handrails. Everything bore an impress of tidiness and good management. Some domestic serfs Pierre met, in reply to inquiries as to where the prince lived, pointed out a small newly built lodge close to the pond. Antón, a man who had looked after Prince Andrew in his boyhood, helped Pierre out of his carriage, said that the prince was at home, and showed him into a clean little anteroom.
Pierre was struck by the modesty of the small though clean house after the brilliant surroundings in which he had last met his friend in Petersburg.
He quickly entered the small reception room with its still-unplastered wooden walls redolent of pine, and would have gone farther, but Antón ran ahead on tiptoe and knocked at a door.
“Well, what is it?” came a sharp, unpleasant voice.
“A visitor,” answered Antón.
“Ask him to wait,” and the sound was heard of a chair being pushed back.
Pierre went with rapid steps to the door and suddenly came face to face with Prince Andrew, who came out frowning and looking old. Pierre embraced him and lifting his spectacles kissed his friend on the cheek and looked at him closely.
“Well, I did not expect you, I am very glad,” said Prince Andrew.
Pierre said nothing; he looked fixedly at his friend with surprise. He was struck by the change in him. His words were kindly and there was a smile on his lips and face, but his eyes were dull and lifeless and in spite of his evident wish to do so he could not give them a joyous and glad sparkle. Prince Andrew had grown thinner, paler, and more manly-looking, but what amazed and estranged Pierre till he got used to it were his inertia and a wrinkle on his brow indicating prolonged concentration on some one thought.
As is usually the case with people meeting after a prolonged separation, it was long before their conversation could settle on anything. They put questions and gave brief replies about things they knew ought to be talked over at length. At last the conversation gradually settled on some of the topics at first lightly touched on: their past life, plans for the future, Pierre’s journeys and occupations, the war, and so on. The preoccupation and despondency which Pierre had noticed in his friend’s look was now still more clearly expressed in the smile with which he listened to Pierre, especially when he spoke with joyful animation of the past or the future. It was as if Prince Andrew would have liked to sympathize with what Pierre was saying, but could not. The latter began to feel that it was in bad taste to speak of his enthusiasms, dreams, and hopes of happiness or goodness, in Prince Andrew’s presence. He was ashamed to express his new Masonic views, which had been particularly revived and strengthened by his late tour. He checked himself, fearing to seem naïve, yet he felt an irresistible desire to show his friend as soon as possible that he was now a quite different, and better, Pierre than he had been in Petersburg.
“I can’t tell you how much I have lived through since then. I hardly know myself again.”
“Yes, we have altered much, very much, since then,” said Prince Andrew.
“Well, and you? What are your plans?”
“Plans!” repeated Prince Andrew ironically. “My plans?” he said, as if astonished at the word. “Well, you see, I’m building. I mean to settle here altogether next year....”
Pierre looked silently and searchingly into Prince Andrew’s face, which had grown much older.
“No, I meant to ask...” Pierre began, but Prince Andrew interrupted him.
“But why talk of me?... Talk to me, yes, tell me about your travels and all you have been doing on your estates.”
Pierre began describing what he had done on his estates, trying as far as possible to conceal his own part in the improvements that had been made. Prince Andrew several times prompted Pierre’s story of what he had been doing, as though it were all an old-time story, and he listened not only without interest but even as if ashamed of what Pierre was telling him.
Pierre felt uncomfortable and even depressed in his friend’s company and at last became silent.
“I’ll tell you what, my dear fellow,” said Prince Andrew, who evidently also felt depressed and constrained with his visitor, “I am only bivouacking here and have just come to look round. I am going back to my sister today. I will introduce you to her. But of course you know her already,” he said, evidently trying to entertain a visitor with whom he now found nothing in common. “We will go after dinner. And would you now like to look round my place?”
They went out and walked about till dinnertime, talking of the political news and common acquaintances like people who do not know each other intimately. Prince Andrew spoke with some animation and interest only of the new homestead he was constructing and its buildings, but even here, while on the scaffolding, in the midst of a talk explaining the future arrangements of the house, he interrupted himself:
“However, this is not at all interesting. Let us have dinner, and then we’ll set off.”
At dinner, conversation turned on Pierre’s marriage.
“I was very much surprised when I heard of it,” said Prince Andrew.
Pierre blushed, as he always did when it was mentioned, and said hurriedly: “I will tell you some time how it all happened. But you know it is all over, and forever.”
“Forever?” said Prince Andrew. “Nothing’s forever.”
“But you know how it all ended, don’t you? You heard of the duel?”
“And so you had to go through that too!”
“One thing I thank God for is that I did not kill that man,” said Pierre.
“Why so?” asked Prince Andrew. “To kill a vicious dog is a very good thing really.”
“No, to kill a man is bad—wrong.”
“Why is it wrong?” urged Prince Andrew. “It is not given to man to know what is right and what is wrong. Men always did and always will err, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.”
“What does harm to another is wrong,” said Pierre, feeling with pleasure that for the first time since his arrival Prince Andrew was roused, had begun to talk, and wanted to express what had brought him to his present state.
“And who has told you what is bad for another man?” he asked.
“Bad! Bad!” exclaimed Pierre. “We all know what is bad for ourselves.”
“Yes, we know that, but the harm I am conscious of in myself is something I cannot inflict on others,” said Prince Andrew, growing more and more animated and evidently wishing to express his new outlook to Pierre. He spoke in French. “I only know two very real evils in life: remorse and illness. The only good is the absence of those evils. To live for myself avoiding those two evils is my whole philosophy now.”
“And love of one’s neighbor, and self-sacrifice?” began Pierre. “No, I can’t agree with you! To live only so as not to do evil and not to have to repent is not enough. I lived like that, I lived for myself and ruined my life. And only now when I am living, or at least trying” (Pierre’s modesty made him correct himself) “to live for others, only now have I understood all the happiness of life. No, I shall not agree with you, and you do not really believe what you are saying.” Prince Andrew looked silently at Pierre with an ironic smile.
“When you see my sister, Princess Mary, you’ll get on with her,” he said. “Perhaps you are right for yourself,” he added after a short pause, “but everyone lives in his own way. You lived for yourself and say you nearly ruined your life and only found happiness when you began living for others. I experienced just the reverse. I lived for glory.—And after all what is glory? The same love of others, a desire to do something for them, a desire for their approval.—So I lived for others, and not almost, but quite, ruined my life. And I have become calmer since I began to live only for myself.”
“But what do you mean by living only for yourself?” asked Pierre, growing excited. “What about your son, your sister, and your father?”
“But that’s just the same as myself—they are not others,” explained Prince Andrew. “The others, one’s neighbors, le prochain, as you and Princess Mary call it, are the chief source of all error and evil. Le prochain—your Kiev peasants to whom you want to do good.”
And he looked at Pierre with a mocking, challenging expression. He evidently wished to draw him on.
“You are joking,” replied Pierre, growing more and more excited. “What error or evil can there be in my wishing to do good, and even doing a little—though I did very little and did it very badly? What evil can there be in it if unfortunate people, our serfs, people like ourselves, were growing up and dying with no idea of God and truth beyond ceremonies and meaningless prayers and are now instructed in a comforting belief in future life, retribution, recompense, and consolation? What evil and error are there in it, if people were dying of disease without help while material assistance could so easily be rendered, and I supplied them with a doctor, a hospital, and an asylum for the aged? And is it not a palpable, unquestionable good if a peasant, or a woman with a baby, has no rest day or night and I give them rest and leisure?” said Pierre, hurrying and lisping. “And I have done that though badly and to a small extent; but I have done something toward it and you cannot persuade me that it was not a good action, and more than that, you can’t make me believe that you do not think so yourself. And the main thing is,” he continued, “that I know, and know for certain, that the enjoyment of doing this good is the only sure happiness in life.”
“Yes, if you put it like that it’s quite a different matter,” said Prince Andrew. “I build a house and lay out a garden, and you build hospitals. The one and the other may serve as a pastime. But what’s right and what’s good must be judged by one who knows all, but not by us. Well, you want an argument,” he added, “come on then.”
They rose from the table and sat down in the entrance porch which served as a veranda.
“Come, let’s argue then,” said Prince Andrew, “You talk of schools,” he went on, crooking a finger, “education and so forth; that is, you want to raise him” (pointing to a peasant who passed by them taking off his cap) “from his animal condition and awaken in him spiritual needs, while it seems to me that animal happiness is the only happiness possible, and that is just what you want to deprive him of. I envy him, but you want to make him what I am, without giving him my means. Then you say, ‘lighten his toil.’ But as I see it, physical labor is as essential to him, as much a condition of his existence, as mental activity is to you or me. You can’t help thinking. I go to bed after two in the morning, thoughts come and I can’t sleep but toss about till dawn, because I think and can’t help thinking, just as he can’t help plowing and mowing; if he didn’t, he would go to the drink shop or fall ill. Just as I could not stand his terrible physical labor but should die of it in a week, so he could not stand my physical idleness, but would grow fat and die. The third thing—what else was it you talked about?” and Prince Andrew crooked a third finger. “Ah, yes, hospitals, medicine. He has a fit, he is dying, and you come and bleed him and patch him up. He will drag about as a cripple, a burden to everybody, for another ten years. It would be far easier and simpler for him to die. Others are being born and there are plenty of them as it is. It would be different if you grudged losing a laborer—that’s how I regard him—but you want to cure him from love of him. And he does not want that. And besides, what a notion that medicine ever cured anyone! Killed them, yes!” said he, frowning angrily and turning away from Pierre.
Prince Andrew expressed his ideas so clearly and distinctly that it was evident he had reflected on this subject more than once, and he spoke readily and rapidly like a man who has not talked for a long time. His glance became more animated as his conclusions became more hopeless.
“Oh, that is dreadful, dreadful!” said Pierre. “I don’t understand how one can live with such ideas. I had such moments myself not long ago, in Moscow and when traveling, but at such times I collapsed so that I don’t live at all—everything seems hateful to me... myself most of all. Then I don’t eat, don’t wash... and how is it with you?...”
“Why not wash? That is not cleanly,” said Prince Andrew; “on the contrary one must try to make one’s life as pleasant as possible. I’m alive, that is not my fault, so I must live out my life as best I can without hurting others.”
“But with such ideas what motive have you for living? One would sit without moving, undertaking nothing....”
“Life as it is leaves one no peace. I should be thankful to do nothing, but here on the one hand the local nobility have done me the honor to choose me to be their marshal; it was all I could do to get out of it. They could not understand that I have not the necessary qualifications for it—the kind of good-natured, fussy shallowness necessary for the position. Then there’s this house, which must be built in order to have a nook of one’s own in which to be quiet. And now there’s this recruiting.”
“Why aren’t you serving in the army?”
“After Austerlitz!” said Prince Andrew gloomily. “No, thank you very much! I have promised myself not to serve again in the active Russian army. And I won’t—not even if Bonaparte were here at Smolénsk threatening Bald Hills—even then I wouldn’t serve in the Russian army! Well, as I was saying,” he continued, recovering his composure, “now there’s this recruiting. My father is chief in command of the Third District, and my only way of avoiding active service is to serve under him.”
“Then you are serving?”
He paused a little while.
“And why do you serve?”
“Why, for this reason! My father is one of the most remarkable men of his time. But he is growing old, and though not exactly cruel he has too energetic a character. He is so accustomed to unlimited power that he is terrible, and now he has this authority of a commander in chief of the recruiting, granted by the Emperor. If I had been two hours late a fortnight ago he would have had a paymaster’s clerk at Yúkhnovna hanged,” said Prince Andrew with a smile. “So I am serving because I alone have any influence with my father, and now and then can save him from actions which would torment him afterwards.”
“Well, there you see!”
“Yes, but it is not as you imagine,” Prince Andrew continued. “I did not, and do not, in the least care about that scoundrel of a clerk who had stolen some boots from the recruits; I should even have been very glad to see him hanged, but I was sorry for my father—that again is for myself.”
Prince Andrew grew more and more animated. His eyes glittered feverishly while he tried to prove to Pierre that in his actions there was no desire to do good to his neighbor.
“There now, you wish to liberate your serfs,” he continued; “that is a very good thing, but not for you—I don’t suppose you ever had anyone flogged or sent to Siberia—and still less for your serfs. If they are beaten, flogged, or sent to Siberia, I don’t suppose they are any the worse off. In Siberia they lead the same animal life, and the stripes on their bodies heal, and they are happy as before. But it is a good thing for proprietors who perish morally, bring remorse upon themselves, stifle this remorse and grow callous, as a result of being able to inflict punishments justly and unjustly. It is those people I pity, and for their sake I should like to liberate the serfs. You may not have seen, but I have seen, how good men brought up in those traditions of unlimited power, in time when they grow more irritable, become cruel and harsh, are conscious of it, but cannot restrain themselves and grow more and more miserable.”
Prince Andrew spoke so earnestly that Pierre could not help thinking that these thoughts had been suggested to Prince Andrew by his father’s case.
He did not reply.
“So that’s what I’m sorry for—human dignity, peace of mind, purity, and not the serfs’ backs and foreheads, which, beat and shave as you may, always remain the same backs and foreheads.”
“No, no! A thousand times no! I shall never agree with you,” said Pierre.
Next page →