DURING THE FIRST PART of his stay in Petersburg, Prince Andrey found all the habits of thought he had formed in his solitary life completely obscured by the trifling cares which engrossed him in Petersburg.
In the evening on returning home he noted down in his memorandum-book four or five unavoidable visits or appointments for fixed hours. The mechanism of life, the arrangement of his day, so as to be in time everywhere, absorbed the greater part of his vital energy. He did nothing, thought of nothing even, and had no time to think, but only talked, and talked successfully, of what he had had time to think about in the past in the country.
He sometimes noticed with dissatisfaction that it happened to him to repeat the same remarks on the same day to different audiences. But he was so busy for whole days together that he had no time to reflect that he was thinking of nothing. Just as at their first meeting at Kotchubey's, Speransky had a long and confidential talk with Prince Andrey on Wednesday at his own home, where he received Bolkonsky alone and made a great impression on him.
Prince Andrey regarded the immense mass of men as contemptible and worthless creatures, and he had such a longing to find in some other man the living pattern of that perfection after which he strove himself, that he was ready to believe that in Speransky he had found this ideal of a perfectly rational and virtuous man. Had Speransky belonged to the same world as Prince Andrey, had he been of the same breeding and moral traditions, Bolkonsky would soon have detected the weak, human, unheroic sides of his character; but this logical turn of mind was strange to him and inspired him with the more respect from his not fully understanding it. Besides this, Speransky, either because he appreciated Prince Andrey's abilities or because he thought it as well to secure his adherence, showed off his calm, impartial sagacity before Prince Andrey, and flattered him with that delicate flattery that goes hand in hand with conceit, and consists in a tacit assumption that one's companion and oneself are the only people capable of understanding all the folly of the rest of the world and the sagacity and profundity of their own ideas.
In the course of their long conversation on Wednesday evening Speransky said more than once: “Among us everything that is out of the common rut of tradition is looked at,” … or with a smile: “But we want the wolves to be well fed and the sheep to be unhurt.” … or: “They can't grasp that” … and always with an expression that said. “We, you and I, we understand what they are and who we are.”
This first long conversation with Speransky only strengthened the feeling with which Prince Andrey had seen him for the first time. He saw in him a man of vast intellect and sober, accurate judgment, who had attained power by energy and persistence, and was using it for the good of Russia only. In Prince Andrey's eyes Speransky was precisely the man—finding a rational explanation for all the phenomena of life, recognising as of importance only what was rational and capable of applying the standard of reason to everything—that he would have liked to be himself. Everything took a form so simple, so clear in Speransky's exposition of it that Prince Andrey could not help agreeing with him on every subject. If he argued and raised objections it was simply with the express object of being independent and not being entirely swayed by Speransky's ideas. Everything was right, everything was as it should be, yet one thing disconcerted Prince Andrey. That was the cold, mirror-like eye of Speransky, which seemed to refuse all admittance to his soul, and his flabby, white hand, at which Prince Andrey instinctively looked, as one usually does look at the hands of men who have power. That mirror-like eye and that flabby hand vaguely irritated Prince Andrey. He was disagreeably struck too by the excessive contempt for other people that he observed in Speransky, and by the variety of the lines of argument he employed in support of his views. He made use of every possible weapon of thought, except analogy, and his transitions from one line of defence to another seemed to Prince Andrey too violent. At one time he took his stand as a practical man and found fault with idealists, then he took a satirical line and jeered sarcastically at his opponents, then maintained a strictly logical position, or flew off into the domain of metaphysics. (This last resource was one he was particularly fond of using in argument.) He raised the question into the loftiest region of metaphysics, passed to definitions of space, of time, and of thought, and carrying off arguments to confute his opponent, descended again to the plane of the original discussion. What impressed Prince Andrey as the leading characteristic of Speransky's mind was his unhesitating, unmovable faith in the power and authority of the reason. It was plain that Speransky's brain could never admit the idea—so common with Prince Andrey—that one can never after all express all one thinks. It had never occurred to him to doubt whether all he thought and all he believed might not be meaningless nonsense. And that peculiarity of Speransky's mind was what attracted Prince Andrey most.
During the first period of his acquaintance with Speransky, Prince Andrey had a passionate and enthusiastic admiration for him, akin to what he had once felt for Bonaparte. The very fact that Speransky was the son of a priest, which enabled many foolish persons to regard him with vulgar contempt, as a member of a despised class, made Prince Andrey peculiarly delicate in dealing with his own feeling for Speransky and unconsciously strengthened it in him.
On that first evening that Bolkonsky spent with him, they talked of the commission for the revision of the legal code; and Speransky described ironically to Prince Andrey how the commission had been sitting for one hundred and fifty years, had cost millions, and had done nothing, and how Rosenkampf had pasted labels on all the various legislative codes.
“And that's all the state has got for the millions it has spent!” said he. “We want to give new judicial powers to the Senate, and we have no laws. That's why it is a sin for men like you, prince, not to be in the government.”
Prince Andrey observed that some education in jurisprudence was necessary for such work, and that he had none.
“But no one has, so what would you have? It's a circulus viciosus, which one must force some way out of.”
Within a week Prince Andrey was a member of the committee for the reconstruction of the army regulations, and—a thing he would never have expected—he was also chairman of a section of the commission for the revision of the legal code. At Speransky's request he took the first part of the civil code under revision; and with the help of the Napoleonic Code and the Code of Justinian he worked at the revision of the section on Personal Rights.