War And Peace

CHAPTER VIII

Chinese

AGAIN PIERRE was overtaken by that despondency he so dreaded. For three days after the delivery of his speech at the lodge he lay on a sofa at home, seeing no one, and going nowhere.

At this time he received a letter from his wife who besought him to see her, wrote of her unhappiness on his account, and her desire to devote her whole life to him.

At the end of the letter she informed him that in a day or two she would arrive in Petersburg from abroad.

The letter was followed up by one of the freemasons whom Pierre respected least bursting in upon his solitude. Turning the conversation upon Pierre's matrimonial affairs, he gave him, by way of brotherly counsel, his opinion that his severity to his wife was wrong, and that Pierre was departing from the first principles of freemasonry in not forgiving the penitent. At the same time his mother-in-law, Prince Vassily's wife, sent to him, beseeching him to visit her, if only for a few minutes, to discuss a matter of great importance. Pierre saw there was a conspiracy against him, that they meant to reconcile him with his wife, and he did not even dislike this in the mood in which he then was. Nothing mattered to him; Pierre regarded nothing in life as a matter of great consequence, and under the influence of the despondency which had taken possession of him, he attached no significance either to his own freedom or to having his own way be punishing his wife.

“No one is right, no one is to blame, and so she, too, is not to blame,” he thought. If Pierre did not at once give his consent to being reunited to his wife, it was simply because in the despondent state into which he had lapsed, he was incapable of taking any line of action. Had his wife come to him, he could not now have driven her away. Could it matter beside the questions that were absorbing Pierre, whether he live with his wife or not?

Without answering either his wife or his mother-in-law, Pierre at once set off late in the evening and drove to Moscow to see Osip Alexyevitch.

This is what Pierre wrote in his diary.

Moscow, November 17.—I have only just come from seeing my benefactor, and I hasten to note down all I have been feeling. Osip Alexyevitch lives in poverty, and has been for three years past suffering from a painful disease of the bladder. No one has ever heard from him a groan or a word of complaint. From morning till late at night, except at the times when he partakes of the very plainest food, he is working at science. He received me graciously, and made me sit down on the bed on which he was lying. I made him the sign of the Knights of the East and of Jerusalem; he responded with the same, and asked me with a gentle smile what I had learned and gained in the Prussian and Scottish lodges. I told him everything as best I could, repeating to him the principles of action I had proposed in our Petersburg lodge, and telling him of the unfavourable reception given me, and the rupture between me and the brothers. Osip Alexyevitch, after some silent thought, laid all his own views of the subject before me, which immediately threw light on all the past and all the course that lies before me. He surprised me by asking whether I remembered the threefold aim of the order—(1) the preservation and study of the holy mystery; (2) the purification and reformation of self for its reception; and (3) the improvement of the human race through striving for such purification. Which, he asked, was the first and greatest of those three aims? Undoubtedly self-reformation and self-purification. It is only towards that aim that we can always strive independently of all circumstances. But at the same time it is just that aim which requires of us the greatest effort, and therefore, led astray by pride, we let that aim drop, and either strive to penetrate to the mystery which we are unworthy in our impurity to receive, or seek after the reformation of the human race, while we are ourselves setting an example of vice and abomination. ‘Illuminism' is not a pure doctrine precisely because it is seduced by worldly activity and puffed up with pride. On this ground Osip Alexyevitch censured my speech and all I am doing. At the bottom of my heart I agreed with him. Talking of my domestic affairs, he said to me: ‘The first duty of a mason, as I have told you, is the perfection of himself. But often we imagine that by removing all the difficulties of our life, we may better attain this aim. It is quite the contrary, sir,' he said to me: ‘it is only in the midst of the cares of the world that we can reach the three great aims—(1) self-knowledge, for a man can know himself only by comparison; (2) greater perfection, which can only be obtained by conflict; and (3) the attainment of the chief virtue—love of death. Only the corruptions of life can show us all its vanity, and strengthen our innate love for death, or rather regeneration into new life.' These words were the more remarkable as Osip Alexyevitch, in spite of his grievous physical sufferings, is never weary of life, though he loves death, for which he does not, in spite of all the purity and loftiness of his inner man, yet feel himself prepared. Then my benefactor explained to me fully the significance of the great square of creation, and pointed out that the third and the seventh number are the basis of everything. He counselled me not to withdraw from co-operation with the Petersburg brothers, and while undertaking duties only of the second order in the lodge, to endeavour to draw the brothers away from the seductions of pride, and to turn them into the true path of self-knowledge and self-perfection. Moreover, for myself personally, he advised me first of all to keep a watch over myself, and with that aim he gave me a manuscript-book, the one in which I am writing now, and am to note down all my actions in the future.”

Petersburg, November 23.—I am reconciled with my wife. My mother-in-law came to me in tears, and said that Ellen was here, and that she besought me to hear her; that she was innocent, that she was miserable at my desertion of her, and a great deal more. I knew that if I once let myself see her, I should not be able to refuse to accede to her wishes. In my uncertainty, I did not know to whose help and advice to have recourse. If my benefactor had been here, he would have told me what to do. I retired to my own room, read over the letters of Osip Alexyevitch, recalled my conversations with him, and from all that I reached the conclusion that I ought not to refuse a suppliant, and ought to hold out a helping hand to every one, and, above all, to a person so closely connected with me, and that I must bear my cross. But if I forgive her for the sake of doing right, at least let my reunion with her have a spiritual end only. So I decided, and so I wrote to Osip Alexyevitch. I said to my wife that I begged her to forget all the past, that I begged her to forgive whatever wrong I might have done her, and that I had nothing to forgive her. It was a joy to me to tell her that. May she never know how painful it was to me to see her again! I have installed myself in the upper rooms in this great house, and I am conscious of a happy feeling of beginning anew.”

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