PRINCE ANDREY had hardly seen the last of Pfuhl when Count Bennigsen came hurrying into the room, and bestowing a nod on Bolkonsky, went straight through to the study, giving some instruction to his adjutant. The Tsar was following him, and Bennigsen had hurried on to prepare something, and to be in readiness to meet him. Tchernishev and Prince Andrey went out into the porch. The Tsar, looking tired out, was dismounting from his horse. Marchese Paulucci was saying something to him. Turning his head to the left, the Tsar was listening with a look of displeasure to Paulucci, who was speaking with peculiar warmth. The Tsar moved, evidently anxious to end the conversation; but the Italian, flushed and excited, followed him, still talking, and oblivious of etiquette.
“As for the man who has counselled the camp at Drissa,” Paulucci was saying just as the Tsar, mounting the steps and noticing Prince Andrey, was looking more intently at his unfamiliar face. “As for him, sire,” Paulucci persisted desperately, as though unable to restrain himself, “I see no alternative but the madhouse or the gallows.”
Not attending, and appearing not to hear the Italian, the Tsar recognised Bolkonsky and addressed him graciously:
“I am very glad to see you. Go in where they are meeting and wait for me.”
The Tsar passed on into the study. He was followed by Prince Pyotr Mihalovitch Volkonsky and Baron Stein, and the study door was closed after them. Prince Andrey, taking advantage of the Tsar's permission to do so, accompanied Paulucci, whom he had met in Turkey, into the drawing-room where the council had assembled.
Prince Pyotr Mihalovitch Volkonsky was performing the duties of a sort of informed head of the Tsar's staff. Volkonsky came out of the study and bringing out maps laid them on the table, and mentioned the questions on which he wished to hear the opinion of the gentlemen present. The important fact was that news (which afterwards proved to be false) had been received in the night of movements of the French with the object of making a circuit round the camp at Drissa.
The first to begin speaking was General Armfeldt, who unexpectedly proposed, as a means of avoiding the present difficulty, a quite new project, inexplicable except as a proof of his desire to show that he, too, had a suggestion of his own. His idea was that the army should move into a position away from the Petersburg and Moscow roads, and, united there, await the enemy.It was evident that this project had been formed by Armfeldt long before, and that he brought it forward now not so much with the object of meeting the present problem, to which it presented no solution, as of seizing the opportunity of explaining its merits. It was one of the millions of suggestions which might be made, one as reasonable as another, so long as no one had any idea what form the war would take. Some of those present attacked his idea, others supported it. The young Colonel Toll criticised the Swedish general's project with more heat than any one; and in the course of his remarks upon it drew out of a side pocket a manuscript, which he asked leave to read aloud. In this somewhat diffuse note, Toll proposed another plan of campaign—entirely opposed to Armfeldt's, and also to Pfuhl's plan. Paulucci, in raising objections to Toll's scheme, proposed a plan of direct advance and attack, which he declared to be the only means of extricating us from our present precarious position, and from the trap (so he called the Drissa camp) in which we were placed. During all this discussion, Pfuhl and his interpreter Woltzogen (who was his mouth-piece in the court world) were silent. Pfuhl merely snorted contemptuously and turned his back to indicate that he would never stoop to reply to the rubbish he was hearing. But when Prince Volkonsky, who presided over the debate, called upon him to give his opinion, he simply said: “Why ask me? General Armfeldt has proposed an excellent position with the rear exposed to the enemy. Or why not the attack suggested by this Italian gentleman? A fine idea! Or a retreat? Excellent, too. Why ask me?” said he. “You all know better than I do, it appears.”
But when Volkonsky, frowning, said that it was in the Tsar's name that he asked his opinion, Pfuhl rose, and growing suddenly excited, began to speak:
“You have muddled and spoilt it all. You would all know better than I, and now you come to me to ask how to set things right. There is nothing that needs setting right. The only thing is to carry out in exact detail the plan laid down by me,” he said, rapping his bony fingers on the table. “Where's the difficulty? It's nonsense; child's play!” He went up to the map, and began talking rapidly, pointing with his wrinkled finger about the map, and proving that no sort of contingency could affect the adaptability of the Drissa camp to every emergency, that every chance had been foreseen, and that if the enemy actually did make a circuit round it, then the enemy would infallibly be annihilated.
Paulucci, who did not know German, began to ask him questions in French. Woltzogen came to the assistance of his leader, who spoke French very badly, and began translating his utterances, hardly able to keep pace with Pfuhl, who was proceeding at a great rate to prove that everything, everything, not only what was happening, but everything that possibly could happen, had been provided for in his plan, and that if difficulties had arisen now, they were due simply to the failure to carry out that plan with perfect exactitude. He was continually giving vent to a sarcastic laugh as he went on proving, and at last scornfully abandoned all attempt to prove, his position, as a mathematician will refuse to establish by various different methods a problem he has once for all proved to be correctly solved. Woltzogen took his place, continuing to explain his views in French, and occasionally referring to Pfuhl himself: “Is that not true, your excellency?” But Pfuhl, as a man in the heat of the fray will belabour those of his own side, shouted angrily at his own follower—at Woltzogen, too.
“To be sure, what is there to explain in that?”
Paulucci and Michaud fell simultaneously on Woltzogen in French. Armfeldt addressed Pfuhl himself in German. Toll was interpreting to Prince Volkonsky in Russian. Prince Andrey listened and watched them in silence.
Of all these men the one for whom Prince Andrey felt most sympathy was the exasperated, determined, insanely conceited Pfuhl. He was the only one of all the persons present who was unmistakably seeking nothing for himself, and harbouring no personal grudge against anybody else. He desired one thing only—the adoption of his plan, in accordance with the theory that was the fruit of years of toil. He was ludicrous; he was disagreeable with his sarcasm, but yet he roused an involuntary feeling of respect from his boundless devotion to an idea.
Apart from this, with the single exception of Pfuhl, every speech of every person present had one common feature, which Prince Andrey had not seen at the council of war in 1805—that was, a panic dread of the genius of Napoleon, a dread which was involuntarily betrayed in every utterance now, in spite of all efforts to conceal it. Anything was assumed possible for Napoleon; he was expected from every quarter at once, and to invoke his terrible name was enough for them to condemn each other's suggestions. Pfuhl alone seemed to look on him too, even Napoleon, as a barbarian, like every other opponent of his theory; and Pfuhl roused a feeling of pity, too, as well as respect, in Prince Andrey. From the tone with which the courtiers addressed him, from what Paulucci had ventured to say to the Tsar, and above all from a certain despairing expression in Pfuhl himself, it was clear that others knew, and he himself, that his downfall was at hand. And for all his conceit and his German grumpy irony, he was pitiful with his flattened locks on his forehead and his wisps of uncombed hair sticking out behind. Though he tried to conceal it under a semblance of anger and contempt, he was visibly in despair that the sole chance left him of testing his theory on a vast scale and proving its infallibility to the whole world was slipping away from him.
The debate lasted a long while, and the longer it continued the hotter it became, passing into clamour and personalities, and the less possible it was to draw any sort of general conclusion from what was uttered. Prince Andrey simply wondered at what they were all saying as he listened to the confusion of different tongues, and the propositions, the plans, the shouts, and the objections. The idea which had long ago and often occurred to him during the period of his active service, that there was and could be no sort of military science, and that therefore there could not be such a thing as military genius, seemed to him now to be an absolutely obvious truth. “What theory and science can there be of a subject of which the conditions and circumstances are uncertain and can never be definitely known, in which the strength of the active forces engaged can be even less definitely measured? No one can, or possibly could, know the relative positions of our army and the enemy's in another twenty-four hours, and no one can gauge the force of this or the other detachment. Sometimes when there is no coward in front to cry, ‘We are cut off!' and to run, but a brave, spirited fellow leads the way, shouting ‘Hurrah!' a detachment of five thousand is as good as thirty thousand, as it was at Schöngraben, while at times fifty thousand will run from eight thousand, as they did at Austerlitz. How can there be a science of war in which, as in every practical matter, nothing can be definite and everything depends on countless conditions, the influence of which becomes manifest all in a moment, and no one can know when that moment is coming. Armfeldt declares that our army is cut off, while Paulucci maintains that we have caught the French army between two fires; Michaud asserts that the defect of the Drissa camp is having the river in its rear, while Pfuhl protests that that is what constitutes its strength; Toll proposes one plan, Armfeldt suggests another; and all are good and all are bad, and the suitability of any proposition can only be seen at the moment of trial. And why do they all talk of military genius? Is a man to be called a genius because he knows when to order biscuits to be given out, and when to march his troops to the right and when to the left? He is only called a genius because of the glamour and authority with which the military are invested, and because masses of sycophants are always ready to flatter power, and to ascribe to it qualities quite alien to it. The best generals I have known are, on the contrary, stupid or absent-minded men. The best of them is Bagration—Napoleon himself admitted it. And Bonaparte himself! I remember his fatuous and limited face on the field of Austerlitz. A good general has no need of genius, nor of any great qualities; on the contrary, he is the better for the absence of the finest and highest of human qualities—love, poetry, tenderness, philosophic and inquiring doubt. He should be limited, firmly convinced that what he is doing is of great importance (or he would never have patience to go through with it), and only then will he be a gallant general. God forbid he should be humane, should feel love and compassion, should pause to think what is right and wrong. It is perfectly comprehensible that the theory of their genius should have been elaborated long, long ago, for the simple reason that they are the representatives of power. The credit of success in battle is not by right theirs; for victory or defeat depends in reality on the soldier in the ranks who first shouts ‘Hurrah!' or ‘We are lost!' And it is only in the ranks that one can serve with perfect conviction, that one is of use!”
Such were Prince Andrey's reflections as he heard the discussion going on around him, and he was only roused from his musing when Paulucci called to him and the meeting was breaking up.
Next day at the review the Tsar asked Prince Andrey where he desired to serve; and Bolkonsky ruined his chances for ever in the court world by asking to be sent to the front, instead of begging for a post in attendance on the Tsar's person.