AFTER PRINCE ANDREY'S ENGAGEMENT to Natasha, Pierre suddenly, for no apparent reason, felt it impossible to go on living in the same way as before. Firm as his belief was in the truths revealed to him by his benefactor, the old freemason, and happy as he had been at first in the task of perfecting his inner spiritual self, to which he had devoted himself with such ardour, yet after Prince Andrey's engagement to Natasha, and the death of Osip Alexyevitch, the news of which reached him almost simultaneously, the whole zest of his religious life seemed to have suddenly vanished. Nothing but the skeleton of life remained: his house with his brilliant wife, now basking in the favours of a very grand personage indeed, the society of all Petersburg, and his service at court with its tedious formalities. And that life suddenly filled Pierre with unexpected loathing. He gave up keeping his diary, avoided the society of brother-masons, took to visiting the club again and to drinking a great deal; associated once more with gay bachelor companions, and began to lead a life so dissipated that Countess Elena Vassilyevna thought it necessary to make severe observations to him on the subject. Pierre felt that she was right; and to avoid compromising his wife he went away to Moscow.
In Moscow, as soon as he entered his huge house with the faded and fading princesses, his cousins, and the immense retinue of servants, as soon as, driving through the town, he saw the Iversky chapel with the lights of innumerable candles before the golden setting of the Madonna, the square of the Kremlin with its untrodden snow, the sledge-drivers, and the hovels of Sivtsev Vrazhok; saw the old Moscow gentlemen quietly going on with their daily round, without hurry or desire of change; saw the old Moscow ladies, the Moscow balls, and the English Club—he felt himself at home, in a quiet haven of rest. In Moscow he felt comfortable, warm, at home, and snugly dirty, as in an old dressing-gown.
All Moscow society, from the old ladies to the children, welcomed Pierre back like a long-expected guest, whose place was always ready for him, and had never been filled up. For the Moscow world, Pierre was the most delightful, kind-hearted, intellectual, good-humoured, and generous eccentric, and a heedless and genial Russian gentleman of the good old school. His purse was always empty, because it was always open to every one.
Benefit-entertainments, poor pictures and statues, benevolent societies, gypsy choruses, schools, subscription dinners, drinking parties, the masons, churches, and books—no one and nothing ever met with a refusal, and had it not been for two friends, who had borrowed large sums of money from Pierre and constituted themselves guardians of a sort over him, he would have parted with everything. Not a dinner, not a soirée took place at the club without him.
As soon as he was lolling in his place on the sofa, after a couple of bottles of Margaux, he was surrounded by a circle of friends, and arguments, disputes, and jokes sprang up round him. Where there were quarrels, his kindly smile and casually uttered jokes were enough to reconcile the antagonists. The masonic dining lodges were dull and dreary when he was absent.
When after a bachelor supper, with a weak and good-natured smile, he yielded to the entreaties of the festive party that he would drive off with them to share their revels, there were shouts of delight and triumph. At balls he danced if there were a lack of partners. Girls and young married ladies liked him, because he paid no special attention to any one, but was equally amiable to all, especially after supper. “He is charming; he is of no sex,” they used to say of him.
Pierre was just a kammerherr, retired to end his days in Moscow, like hundreds of others. How horrified he would have been if, seven years before, when he had just come home from abroad, any one had told him that there was no need for him to look about him and rack his brains, that the track had long ago been trodden, marked out from all eternity for him, and that, struggle as he would, he would be just such another as all men in his position. He could not have believed it then! Had he not longed with his whole heart to establish a republic in Russia; then to be himself a Napoleon; then to be a philosopher; and then a great strategist and the conqueror of Napoleon? Had he not passionately desired and believed in the regeneration of the sinful race of man and the schooling of himself to the highest point of perfect virtue? Had he not founded schools and hospitals and liberated his serfs?
But instead of all that, here he was the wealthy husband of a faithless wife, a retired kammerherr, fond of dining and drinking, fond, too, as he unbuttoned his waistcoat after dinner, of indulging in a little abuse of the government, a member of the Moscow English Club, and a universal favourite in Moscow society. For a long while he could not reconcile himself to the idea that he was precisely the retired Moscow kammerherr, the very type he had so profoundly scorned seven years before.
Sometimes he consoled himself by the reflection that it did not count, that he was only temporarily leading this life. But later on he was horrified by another reflection, that numbers of other men, with the same idea of its being temporary, had entered that life and that club with all their teeth and a thick head of hair, only to leave it when they were toothless and bald.
In moments of pride, when he was reviewing his position, it seemed to him that he was quite different, distinguished in some way from the retired kammerherrs he had looked upon with contempt in the past; that they were vulgar and stupid, at ease and satisfied with their position, “while I am even now still dissatisfied; I still long to do something for humanity,” he would assure himself in moments of pride. “But possibly all of them too, my fellows, struggled just as I do, tried after something new, sought a path in life for themselves, and have been brought to the same point as I have by the force of surroundings, of society, of family, that elemental force against which man is powerless,” he said to himself in moments of modesty. And after spending some time in Moscow he no longer scorned his companions in destiny, but began even to love them, respect them, and pity them like himself.
Pierre no longer suffered from moments of despair, melancholy, and loathing for life as he had done. But the same malady that had manifested itself in acute attacks in former days was driven inwards and never now left him for an instant. “What for? What's the use? What is it is going on in the world?” he asked himself in perplexity several times a day, instinctively beginning to sound the hidden significance in the phenomena of life. But knowing by experience that there was no answer to these questions, he made haste to try and turn away from them, took up a book, or hurried off to the club, or to Apollon Nikolaevitch's to chat over the scandals of the town.
“Elena Vassilyevna, who has never cared for anything but her own body, and is one of the stupidest women in the world,” Pierre thought, “is regarded by people as the acme of wit and refinement, and is the object of their homage. Napoleon Bonaparte was despised by every one while he was really great, and since he became a pitiful buffoon the Emperor Francis seeks to offer him his daughter in an illegal marriage. The Spaniards, through their Catholic Church, return thanks to God for their victory over the French on the 14th of June, and the French, through the same Catholic Church, return thanks to God for their victory over the Spaniards on the same 14th of June. My masonic brothers swear in blood that they are ready to sacrifice all for their neighbour, but they don't give as much as one rouble to the collections for the poor, and they intrigue between Astraea and the manna-seekers, and are in a ferment about the authentic Scottish rug, and an act, of which the man who wrote it did not know the meaning and no one has any need. We all profess the Christian law of forgiveness of sins and love for one's neighbour—the law, in honour of which we have raised forty times forty churches in Moscow—but yesterday we knouted to death a deserter; and the minister of that same law of love and forgiveness, the priest, gave the soldier the cross to kiss before his punishment.”
Such were Pierre's reflections, and all this universal deception recognised by all, used as he was to seeing it, was always astounding him, as though it were something new. “I understand this deceit and tangle of cross-purposes,” he thought, “but now am I to tell them all I understand? I have tried and always found that they understood it as I did, at the bottom of their hearts, but were only trying not to see it. So I suppose it must be so! But me—what refuge is there for me?” thought Pierre.
He suffered from an unlucky faculty—common to many men, especially Russians—the faculty of seeing and believing in the possibility of good and truth, and at the same time seeing too clearly the evil and falsity of life to be capable of taking a serious part in it. Every sphere of activity was in his eyes connected with evil and deception. Whatever he tried to be, whatever he took up, evil and falsity drove him back again and cut him off from every field of energy. And meanwhile he had to live, he had to be occupied. It was too awful to lie under the burden of those insoluble problems of life, and he abandoned himself to the first distraction that offered, simply to forget them. He visited every possible society, drank a great deal, went in for buying pictures, building, and above all reading.
He read and re-read everything he came across. On getting home he would take up a book, even while his valets were undressing him, and read himself to sleep; and from sleep turned at once to gossip in the drawing-rooms and the club; from gossip to carousals and women; from dissipation back again to gossip, reading, and wine. Wine was more and more becoming a physical necessity to him, and at the same time a moral necessity. Although the doctors told him that in view of his corpulence wine was injurious to him, he drank a very great deal. He never felt quite content except when he had, almost unconsciously, lifted several glasses of wine to his big mouth. Then he felt agreeably warm all over his body, amiably disposed towards all his fellows, and mentally ready to respond superficially to every idea, without going too deeply into it. It was only after drinking a bottle or two of wine that he felt vaguely that the terrible tangled skein of life which had terrified him so before was not so terrible as he had fancied. With a buzzing in his head, chatting, listening to talk or reading after dinner and supper, he invariably saw that tangled skein on some one of its sides. It was only under the influence of wine that he said to himself: “Never mind. I'll disentangle it all; here I have a solution all ready. But now's not the time. I'll go into all that later on!” But that later on never came.
In the morning, before breakfast, all the old questions looked as insoluble and fearful as ever, and Pierre hurriedly snatched up a book and rejoiced when any one came in to see him.
Sometimes Pierre remembered what he had been told of soldiers under fire in ambuscade when they have nothing to do, how they try hard to find occupation so as to bear their danger more easily. And Pierre pictured all men as such soldiers trying to find a refuge from life: some in ambition, some in cards, some in framing laws, some in women, some in playthings, some in horses, some in politics, some in sport, some in wine, some in the government service. “Nothing is trivial, nothing is important, everything is the same; only to escape from it as best one can,” thought Pierre. “Only not to see it, that terrible it.”