TWO YEARS BEFORE, at the beginning of 1808, Pierre had returned to Petersburg from his visits to his estates, and by no design of his own had taken a leading position among the freemasons in Petersburg. He organised dining and funeral lodges, enrolled new members, took an active part in the formation of different lodges, and the acquisition of authentic acts. He spent his money on the construction of temples, and, to the best of his powers, made up the arrears of alms, a matter in which the majority of members were niggardly and irregular. At his own expense, almost unaided, he maintained the poorhouse built by the order in Petersburg.
Meanwhile his life ran on in the old way, yielding to the same temptations and the same laxity. He liked a good dinner and he liked strong drink; and, though he thought it immoral and degrading to yield to them, he was unable to resist the temptations of the bachelor society in which he moved.
Yet even in the whirl of his active work and his dissipations, Pierre began, after the lapse of a year, to feel more and more as though the ground of freemasonry on which he had taken his stand was slipping away under his feet the more firmly he tried to rest on it. At the same time he felt that the further the ground slipped from under his feet, the more close was his bondage to the order. When he had entered the brotherhood he had felt like a man who confidently puts his foot down on the smooth surface of a bog. Having put one foot down, he had sunk in; and to convince himself of the firmness of the ground on which he stood, he had put the other foot down on it too, and had sunk in further, had stuck in the mud, and now was against his own will struggling knee-deep in the bog.
Osip Alexyevitch was not in Petersburg. (He had withdrawn from all participation in the affairs of the Petersburg lodge, and now never left Moscow.) All the brothers who were members of the lodge were people Pierre knew in daily life, and it was difficult for him to see in them simply brothers in freemasonry, and not Prince B., nor Ivan Vasilyevitch D., whom he knew in private life mostly as persons of weak and worthless character. Under their masonic aprons and emblems he could not help seeing the uniforms and the decorations they were striving after in mundane life. Often after collecting the alms and reckoning up twenty to thirty roubles promised—and for the most part left owing—from some ten members, of whom half were as well-off as Pierre himself, he thought of the masonic vow by which every brother promised to give up all his belongings for his neighbour; and doubts stirred in his soul from which he tried to escape.
He divided all the brothers he knew into four classes. In the first class he reckoned brothers who took no active interest in the affairs of the lodges nor in the service of humanity, but were occupied exclusively with the scientific secrets of the order, with questions relating to the threefold designation of God, or the three first elements of things—sulphur, mercury, and salt—or the significance of the square and all the figures of the Temple of Solomon. Pierre respected this class of masons, to which the elder brothers principally belonged—in it Pierre reckoned Osip Alexyevitch—but he did not share their interests. His heart wasn't in the mystic side of freemasonry.
In the second class Pierre included himself, and brothers like himself, wavering, seeking, and not yet finding in freemasonry a straight and fully understood path for themselves, but still hoping to find it.
In the third class he reckoned brothers—they formed the majority—who saw in freemasonry nothing but an external form and ceremonial, and valued the strict performance of that external form without troubling themselves about its import or significance. Such were Villarsky and the Grand Master of the lodge indeed.
The fourth class, too, included a great number of the brothers especially among those who had entered the brotherhood of late. These were men who, as far as Pierre could observe, had no belief in anything, nor desire of anything, but had entered the brotherhood simply for the sake of getting into touch with the wealthy young men, powerful through their connections or their rank, who were numerous in the lodge.
Pierre began to feel dissatisfied with what he was doing. Freemasonry, at least as he knew it here, seemed to him sometimes to rest simply upon formal observances. He never dreamed of doubting of freemasonry itself, but began to suspect that Russian freemasonry had got on to a false track, and was deviating from its original course. And so towards the end of the year Pierre went abroad to devote himself to the higher mysteries of the order.
It was in the summer of 1809 that Pierre returned to Petersburg. From the correspondence that passed between freemasons in Russia and abroad, it was known that Bezuhov had succeeded in gaining the confidence of many persons in high positions abroad; that he had been initiated into many mysteries, had been raised to a higher grade, and was bringing back with him much that would conduce to the progress of freemasonry in Russia. The Petersburg freemasons all came to see him, tried to ingratiate themselves with him, and all fancied that he had something in reserve that he was preparing for them.
A solemn assembly of the lodge of the second order was arranged, at which Pierre promised to communicate the message he had to give the Petersburg brothers from the highest leaders of the order abroad. The assembly was a full one. After the usual ceremonies Pierre got up and began to speak:
“Dear brothers,” he began, blushing and hesitating, with a written speech in his hand, “it is not enough to guard our secrets in the seclusion of the lodge,—what is needed is to act … to act. … We are falling into slumber, and we need to act.”
Pierre opened his manuscript and began to read.
“For the propagation of the pure truth and the attainment of virtue,” he read, “we must purify men from prejudice, diffuse principles in harmony with the spirit of the times, undertake the education of the younger generation, ally ourselves by indissoluble ties with the most enlightened men, boldly, and at the same time prudently, overcome superstition, infidelity, and folly, and form of those devoted to us men linked together by a common aim and possessed of power and authority.
“For the attainment of this aim we must secure to virtue the preponderance over vice; we must strive that the honest man may obtain his eternal reward even in this world. But in those great projects we are very gravely hindered by existing political institutions. What is to be done in the existing state of affairs? Are we to welcome revolutions, to overthrow everything, to repel violence by violence? … No, we are very far from that. Every reform by violence is to be deprecated, because it does little to correct the evil while men remain as they are, and because wisdom has no need of violence.
“The whole plan of our order should be founded on the training of men of character and virtue, bound together by unity of conviction and aim,—the aim of suppressing vice and folly everywhere by every means, and protecting talent and virtue, raising deserving persons out of the dust and enrolling them in our brotherhood. Only then will our order obtain the power insensibly to tie the hands of the promoters of disorder, and to control them without their being aware of it. In a word, we want to found a form of government holding universal sway, which should be diffused over the whole world without encroaching on civil obligations; under which all other governments could continue in their ordinary course and do all, except what hinders the great aim of our order, that is, the triumph of virtue over vice. This aim is that of Christianity itself. It has taught men to be holy and good, and for their own profit to follow the precept and example of better and wiser men.
“In times when all was plunged in darkness, exhortation alone was of course enough; the novelty of truth gave it peculiar force, but nowadays far more powerful means are necessary for us. Now a man guided by his senses needs to find in virtue a charm palpable to the senses. The passions cannot be uprooted; we must only attempt to direct them to a noble object, and so every one should be able to find satisfaction for his passions within the bounds of virtue, and our order should provide means to that end. As soon as we have a certain number of capable men in every state, each of them training again two others, and all keeping in close cooperation, then everything will be possible for our order, which has already done much in secret for the good of humanity.”
This speech did not merely make a great impression, it produced a thrill of excitement in the lodge. The majority of the brothers, seeing in this speech dangerous projects of “illuminism,” to Pierre's surprise received it coldly. The Grand Master began to raise objections to it; Pierre began to expound his own views with greater and greater heat. It was long since there had been so stormy a meeting. The lodge split up into parties; one party opposed Pierre, accusing him of “illuminism”; the other supported him. Pierre was for the first time at this meeting impressed by the endless multiplicity of men's minds, which leads to no truth being ever seen by two persons alike.
Even those among the members who seemed to be on his side interpreted him in their own way, with limitations and variations, to which he could not agree. What Pierre chiefly desired was always to transmit his thought to another exactly as he conceived it himself.
At the conclusion of the sitting, the Grand Master spoke with ill-will and irony to Bezuhov of his hasty temper; and observed that it was not love of virtue alone, but a passion for strife, that had guided him in the discussion.
Pierre made him no reply, but briefly inquired whether his proposal would be accepted. He was told that it would not be; and without waiting for the usual formalities, he left the lodge and went home.