War And Peace

CHAPTER X

Chinese

THIS LETTER had not yet been given to the Tsar, when Barclay, at dinner one day, informed Bolkonsky that his majesty would be graciously pleased to see Prince Andrey in person, to ask him some questions about Turkey, and that Prince Andrey was to present himself at Bennigsen's quarters at six o'clock in the evening.

That day news had reached the Tsar's quarters of a fresh advance on Napoleon's part that might be regarded as menacing the army—news that turned out in the sequel to be false. And that morning Colonel Michaud had accompanied the Tsar on a tour of inspection about the Drissa fortifications; and had tried to convince the Tsar that the fortified camp, constructed on Pfuhl's theory, and hitherto regarded as the chef d'œuvre of tactical science, destined to overthrow Napoleon—that that camp was a senseless absurdity that would lead to the destruction of the Russian army.

Prince Andrey arrived at Bennigsen's quarters, a small manor-house on the very bank of the river. Neither Bennigsen nor the Tsar was there; but Tchernishev, the Tsar's aide-de-camp, received Bolkonsky, and informed him that the Tsar had set off with General Bennigsen and Marchese Paulucci to make his second inspection that day of the fortifications of the Drissa camp, of the utility of which they were beginning to entertain grave doubts.

Tchernishev sat in the window of the outer room with a French novel. This room had once probably been the main hall; there was still an organ in it, on which were piled rugs of some sort, and in the corner of the room was a folding bedstead belonging to Bennigsen's adjutant. The owner of the bedstead, too, was there. Apparently exhausted by work or festivities, he sat dozing on the folded bed. Two doors led from the room: one straight in front opening into the drawing-room, another on the right opening into the study. From the first door came the sound of voices speaking German and occasionally French. In the drawing-room there was being held, by the Tsar's desire, not a military council—the Tsar loved to have things vague—but a meeting of a few persons, whose opinions he wished to hear in the present difficult position. It was not a military council, but a sort of council for the elucidation of certain questions for the benefit of the Tsar personally. To this sort of semi-council had been bidden the Swedish general, Armfeldt, the general on the staff Woltzogen, Wintzengerode (whom Napoleon had called a renegade French subject), Michaud, Toll, Count Stein—by no means a military man—and finally Pfuhl, who was, so Prince Andrey had heard, la cheville ouvrière of everything. Prince Andrey had the opportunity of getting a good view of him, as Pfuhl came in shortly after his arrival and stopped for a minute to say a few words to Tchernishev before going on into the drawing-room.

At the first glance Pfuhl, in his badly cut uniform of a Russian general, which looked out of keeping, like some fancy dress costume on him, seemed to Prince Andrey like a familiar figure, though he had never seen him before. He was of the same order as Weierother, and Mack, and Schmidt, and many other German generals, men of theory, whom Prince Andrey had seen in the war of 1808; but he was a more perfect type of the class than any of them. Such a typical German theorist, combining in himself all the characteristics of those other Germans, Prince Andrey had never seen before.

Pfuhl was short and very thin, but broad-boned, of a coarsely robust build, with broad hips and projecting shoulder-blades. His face was wrinkled; he had deep-set eyes; his hair had obviously been hastily brushed smooth in front, but stuck out behind in quaint wisps. Looking nervously and irritably about him, he walked in as though he were afraid of everything in the great room he had entered. With a clumsy gesture, holding his sword, he turned to Tchernishev, asking him where the Tsar was. He was unmistakably eager to get through the rooms, to get the bows and greetings over as quickly as possible, and to sit down to work at a map, where he would feel at home. He gave a hurried nod in response to Tchernishev's words, and smiled ironically on hearing that the Tsar was inspecting the fortifications that he, Pfuhl, had planned in accordance with his theory. He muttered something in the jerky bass, in which conceited Germans often speak, “silly fool…” or “damn the whole business…” or “some idiocy's sure to come of that.” Prince Andrey did not catch his words, and would have passed on, but Tchernishev introduced him to Pfuhl, observing that he had just come from Turkey, where the war had been so successfully concluded. Pfuhl barely glanced, not at, but across Prince Andrey, and commented, laughing: “A model that war must have been of every principle of tactics!” And, laughing contemptuously, he went on into the room, from which the sound of voices came.

It was evident that Pfuhl—disposed at all times to be irritable and sarcastic—was that day particularly irritated at their having dared to inspect his camp and to criticise it without him. Thanks to his Austerlitz experiences, Prince Andrey could from this one brief interview form a clear idea of the man's character. Pfuhl was one of those hopelessly, immutably conceited men, ready to face martyrdom for their own ideas, conceited as only Germans can be, just because it is only a German's conceit that is based on an abstract idea—science, that is, the supposed possession of absolute truth. The Frenchman is conceited from supposing himself mentally and physically to be inordinately fascinating both to men and to women. An Englishman is conceited on the ground of being a citizen of the best-constituted state in the world, and also because he as an Englishman always knows what is the correct thing to do, and knows that everything that he, as an Englishman, does do is indisputably the correct thing. An Italian is conceited from being excitable and easily forgetting himself and other people. A Russian is conceited precisely because he knows nothing and cares to know nothing, since he does not believe it possible to know anything fully. A conceited German is the worst of them all, and the most hardened of all, and the most repulsive of all; for he imagines that he possesses the truth in a science of his own invention, which is to him absolute truth.

Pfuhl was evidently one of these men. He had a science—the theory of the oblique attack—which he had deduced from the wars of Frederick the Great; and everything he came across in more recent military history seemed to him imbecility, barbarism, crude struggles in which so many blunders were committed on both sides that those wars could not be called war at all. They had no place in his theory and could not be made a subject for science at all.

In 1806 Pfuhl had been one of those responsible for the plan of campaign that ended in Jena and Auerstadt. But in the failure of that war he did not see the slightest evidence of the weakness of his theory. On the contrary, the whole failure was to his thinking entirely due to the departures that had been made from his theory, and he used to say with his characteristic gleeful sarcasm: “Didn't I always say the whole thing was going to the devil?” Pfuhl was one of those theorists who so love their theory that they lose sight of the object of the theory—its application to practice. His love for his theory led him to hate all practical considerations, and he would not hear of them. He positively rejoiced in failure, for failure, being due to some departure in practice from the purity of the abstract theory, only convinced him of the correctness of his theory.

He said a few words about the present war to Prince Andrey and Tchernishev with the expression of a man who knows beforehand that everything will go wrong, and is not, indeed, displeased at this being so. The uncombed wisps of hairs sticking out straight from his head behind, and the hurriedly brushed locks in front, seemed to suggest this with a peculiar eloquence.

He went on into the next room, and the querulous bass notes of his voice were at once audible there.

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