WHILE AWAITING THE ANNOUNCEMENT of his name having been put on the committee, Prince Andrey looked up old acquaintances, especially among those persons whom he knew to be in power, and so able to be of use to him. He experienced now in Petersburg a sensation akin to what he had known on the eve of a battle, when he was fretted by restless curiosity and irresistibly attracted to those higher spheres, where the future was in preparation, that future on which hung the fate of millions. From the angry irritability of the elder generation, from the curiosity of the uninitiated and the reserve of the initiated, from the hurry and anxious absorption of every one, from the multiplicity of committees and commissions—he was learning of new ones every day—he felt that now, in the year 1809, there was in preparation here in Petersburg some vast political contest, and the commander-in-chief in it was a mysterious personage whom he did not know, but imagined to be a man of genius—Speransky.
And this movement of reform, of which he knew vaguely, and Speransky, the moving spirit of it, began to interest him so keenly that his proposed reform of the army regulations very soon fell into a subordinate position in his mind.
Prince Andrey happened to be most favourably placed for obtaining a good reception in the highest and most various circles of the Petersburg society of that day. The reforming party welcomed him warmly, and sought him out, in the first place, because he had the reputation of being clever and very well read, and secondly because he had already gained the reputation of being a liberal by the emancipation of his serfs. The party of the dissatisfied older generation welcomed him simply as the son of his father, and reckoned upon his sympathy in their disapproval of the reforms. The feminine world, society, received him cordially because he was a wealthy match of high rank, and a person almost new, encircled by a halo of romance from his narrow escape from death and the tragic loss of his young wife. Moreover the general verdict of all who had known him previously was that he had greatly changed for the better during the last five years, had grown softer and more manly, that he had lost his old affectation, pride, and sarcastic irony, and had gained the serenity that comes with years. People talked of him, were interested in him, and eager to see him
The day after his interview with Count Araktcheev, Prince Andrey was at a soirée at Count Kotchubey's. He described to the latter his interview with Sila Andreitch. (This was the name by which Kotchubey spoke of Araktcheev with that vague note of jeering in his voice which Prince Andrey had noticed in the anteroom of the minister of war.)
“Mon cher, even in this affair you can't do without Mihail Mihalovitch. He has a hand in everything. I'll speak to him. He promised to come in the evening…”
“But what has Speransky to do with the army regulations?” asked Prince Andrey.
Kotchubey shook his head, smiling, as though wondering at Bolkonsky's simplicity.
“We were talking to him about you the other day,” Kotchubey continued; “about your free cultivators…”
“Yes, so it was you, prince, who freed your serfs?” said an old gentleman of Catherine's court, turning disdainfully to Bolkonsky.
“The little estate brought me no income as it was,” answered Bolkonsky, trying to minimise what he had done to the old gentleman, to avoid irritating him needlessly.
“You are afraid of being late,” said the old gentleman, looking at Kotchubey.
“There's one thing I don't understand,” pursued the old gentleman. “Who is to till the land if they are set free? It's easy to pass laws, but hard work to govern. It's just the same as now; I ask you, count, who will preside over the courts when all have to pass examinations?”
“Those who pass the examinations, I suppose,” answered Kotchubey, crossing his legs and looking about him.
“Here I have Pryanitchnikov in my department, a capital man, a priceless man, but he is sixty; how is he to go in for examinations?…”
“Yes, that's a difficult question, considering that education is so restricted, but…”
Count Kotchubey did not finish his sentence; he got up, and taking Prince Andrey by the arm, went to meet a tall, bald, fair-haired man of forty, who had just come in. He had a large, open forehead, and his long face was of a strange, exceptional whiteness; he wore a blue frock coat and had a cross at his neck and a star on the left side of his breast. It was Speransky. Prince Andrey recognised him at once, and that thrill passed through him that comes at the great moments of one's life. Whether it was a thrill of respect, of envy, of anticipation, he did not know. Speransky's whole figure had a peculiar character by which he could be distinguished immediately. Never in any one of the circles in which Prince Andrey had moved had he seen such calm and self-confidence as was manifest in this man's heavy and ungainly movements. Never in any one had he seen a glance so resolute, and yet so soft, as now in those half-closed and moist-looking eyes; never had he seen such firmness as in that smile that meant nothing. Never had he heard a voice so delicate, smooth, and soft; but what struck him most of all was the tender whiteness of the face, and still more the hands, which were rather broad, but extremely plump, soft, and white. Such whiteness and softness Prince Andrey had seen only in the faces of soldiers who had been a long while in hospital.
This was Speransky, the secretary of state, the Tsar's confidential adviser, who had accompanied him to Erfurt, and there had more than once seen and talked with Napoleon. Speransky's eyes did not shift from one face to another, as one's eyes unconsciously do on first coming into a large company, and he was in no hurry to speak. He spoke slowly, with conviction that he would be listened to, and looked only at the person to whom he was speaking. Prince Andrey watched every word and gesture of Speransky's with peculiar intentness. As is often the case with men, particularly with those who criticise their fellows severely, Prince Andrey on meeting a new person, especially one like Speransky, whom he knew by reputation, had always a hope of finding in him a full perfection of human qualities.
Speransky said to Kotchubey that he was sorry that he had not been able to come earlier, because he had been detained at the palace. He did not say that the Tsar had kept him. And this affectation of modesty did not escape Prince Andrey. When Kotchubey mentioned Prince Andrey's name to him, Speransky slowly transferred his eyes to Bolkonsky, with the same smile on his face, and gazed for a moment at him in silence.
“I am very glad to make your acquaintance; I have heard of you, as every one has,” said he.
Kotchubey said a few words about the reception Araktcheev had given Bolkonsky. Speransky's smile broadened.
“The chairman of the Committee of Army Regulations is a friend of mine—M. Magnitsky,” he said, articulating fully every word and every syllable, “and, if you wish it, I can make you acquainted with him.” (He paused at the full stop.) “I expect that you would meet with sympathy in him and a desire to assist in anything reasonable.”
A circle formed at once round Speransky, and the same old gentleman, who had talked of his clerk, Pryanitchnikov, addressed a question to Speransky.
Taking no part in the conversation, Prince Andrey watched every gesture of Speransky—this man, only a little time before an insignificant divinity student, who now held in his hands—those plump white hands—the fate of Russia, as Bolkonsky thought. Prince Andrey was struck by the extraordinarily contemptuous composure with which Speransky answered the old gentleman. He seemed to drop him his condescending words from an immeasurable height above him. When the old gentleman began talking too loud, Speransky smiled and said that he could not judge of the advantage or disadvantage of what the Tsar saw fit to command.
After talking for a little while in the general circle, Speransky got up, and going to Prince Andrey, drew him away to the other end of the room. It was evident that he thought it well to interest himself in Bolkonsky.
“I have not had time for a word with you, prince, in the engrossing conversation into which I was dragged by that excellent old gentleman,” he said, with a smile of bland contempt, by which he seemed to take for granted that Prince Andrey and himself were at one in recognising the insignificance of the people with whom he had just been talking. This flattered Prince Andrey. “I have known you for a long while: first from your action with the serfs, the first instance of the kind among us, an example which one would desire to find many following; and, secondly, from your being one of those kammerherrs who have not considered themselves wronged by the new decree in regard to promotion by court favour, that has provoked so much criticism and censure.”
“Yes,” said Prince Andrey, “my father did not care for me to take advantage of that privilege; I began the service from the lower grades.”
“Your father, a man of the older generation, is undoubtedly above the level of our contemporaries, who condemn this measure, though it is simply an act of natural justice.”
“I imagine there is some basis though even for that condemnation,” said Prince Andrey, trying to resist the influence of Speransky, of which he began to be aware. He disliked agreeing with him in everything; he tried to oppose him. Prince Andrey, who usually spoke so well and so readily, felt a difficulty even in expressing himself as he talked with Speransky. He was too much occupied in observing the personality of the celebrated man.
“In the interests of personal ambition perhaps,” Speransky slowly put in his word.
“And to some extent in the interests of the state,” said Prince Andrey.
“How do you mean?…” said Speransky slowly, dropping his eyes.
“I am an admirer of Montesquieu,” said Prince Andrey. “And his theory that the principle of monarchies is honour seems to me incontestable. Certain rights and privileges of the nobility appear to me to be means of maintaining that sentiment.”
The smile vanished from Speransky's white face, and his countenance gained greatly by its absence. Probably Prince Andrey's idea seemed to him an interesting one.
“If you look at the question from that point of view,” he began, pronouncing French with obvious difficulty, and speaking even more deliberately than he had done when speaking Russian, but still with perfect composure. He said that honour, l'honneur, cannot be supported by privileges prejudicial to the working of the government; that honour, l'honneur, is either a negative concept of avoidance of reprehensible actions or a certain source of emulation in obtaining the commendation and rewards in which it finds expression.
His arguments were condensed, simple, and clear. “The institution that best maintains that honour, the source of emulation, is an institution akin to the Legion of Honour of the great Emperor Napoleon, which does not detract from but conduces to the successful working of the government service, and not a class or court privilege.”
“I do not dispute that, but there is no denying that the court privileges did attain the same object,” said Prince Andrey. “Every courtier thought himself bound to do credit to his position.”
“But you did not care to profit by it, prince,” said Speransky, showing with a smile that he wished to conclude with civility an argument embarrassing for his companion. “If you will do me the honour to call on Wednesday, then I shall have seen Magnitsky, and shall have something to tell you that may interest you, and besides I shall have the pleasure of more conversation with you.” Closing his eyes, he bowed, and trying to escape unnoticed, he went out of the drawing-room without saying good-bye, à la française.