Prince Andrew's eyes were still following Pfuel out of the room when
Count Bennigsen entered hurriedly, and nodding to Bolkonski, but not
pausing, went into the study, giving instructions to his adjutant as
he went. The Emperor was following him, and Bennigsen had hastened
on to make some preparations and to be ready to receive the sovereign.
Chernyshev and Prince Andrew went out into the porch, where the
Emperor, who looked fatigued, was dismounting. Marquis Paulucci was
talking to him with particular warmth and the Emperor, with his head
bent to the left, was listening with a dissatisfied air. The Emperor
moved forward evidently wishing to end the conversation, but the
flushed and excited Italian, oblivious of decorum, followed him and
continued to speak.
"And as for the man who advised forming this camp--the Drissa camp,"
said Paulucci, as the Emperor mounted the steps and noticing Prince
Andrew scanned his unfamiliar face, "as to that person, sire..."
continued Paulucci, desperately, apparently unable to restrain
himself, "the man who advised the Drissa camp--I see no alternative
but the lunatic asylum or the gallows!"
Without heeding the end of the Italian's remarks, and as though
not hearing them, the Emperor, recognizing Bolkonski, addressed him
"I am very glad to see you! Go in there where they are meeting,
and wait for me."
The Emperor went into the study. He was followed by Prince Peter
Mikhaylovich Volkonski and Baron Stein, and the door closed behind
them. Prince Andrew, taking advantage of the Emperor's permission,
accompanied Paulucci, whom he had known in Turkey, into the drawing
room where the council was assembled.
Prince Peter Mikhaylovich Volkonski occupied the position, as it
were, of chief of the Emperor's staff. He came out of the study into
the drawing room with some maps which he spread on a table, and put
questions on which he wished to hear the opinion of the gentlemen
present. What had happened was that news (which afterwards proved to
be false) had been received during the night of a movement by the
French to outflank the Drissa camp.
The first to speak was General Armfeldt who, to meet the difficulty
that presented itself, unexpectedly proposed a perfectly new position
away from the Petersburg and Moscow roads. The reason for this was
inexplicable (unless he wished to show that he, too, could have an
opinion), but he urged that at this point the army should unite and
there await the enemy. It was plain that Armfeldt had thought out that
plan long ago and now expounded it not so much to answer the questions
put--which, in fact, his plan did not answer--as to avail himself of
the opportunity to air it. It was one of the millions of proposals,
one as good as another, that could be made as long as it was quite
unknown what character the war would take. Some disputed his
arguments, others defended them. Young Count Toll objected to the
Swedish general's views more warmly than anyone else, and in the
course of the dispute drew from his side pocket a well-filled
notebook, which he asked permission to read to them. In these
voluminous notes Toll suggested another scheme, totally different from
Armfeldt's or Pfuel's plan of campaign. In answer to Toll, Paulucci
suggested an advance and an attack, which, he urged, could alone
extricate us from the present uncertainty and from the trap (as he
called the Drissa camp) in which we were situated.
During all these discussions Pfuel and his interpreter, Wolzogen
(his "bridge" in court relations), were silent. Pfuel only snorted
contemptuously and turned away, to show that he would never demean
himself by replying to such nonsense as he was now hearing. So when
Prince Volkonski, who was in the chair, called on him to give his
opinion, he merely said:
"Why ask me? General Armfeldt has proposed a splendid position
with an exposed rear, or why not this Italian gentleman's attack--very
fine, or a retreat, also good! Why ask me?" said he. "Why, you
yourselves know everything better than I do."
But when Volkonski said, with a frown, that it was in the
Emperor's name that he asked his opinion, Pfuel rose and, suddenly
growing animated, began to speak:
"Everything has been spoiled, everything muddled, everybody
thought they knew better than I did, and now you come to me! How
mend matters? There is nothing to mend! The principles laid down by me
must be strictly adhered to," said he, drumming on the table with
his bony fingers. "What is the difficulty? Nonsense, childishness!"
He went up to the map and speaking rapidly began proving that no
eventuality could alter the efficiency of the Drissa camp, that
everything had been foreseen, and that if the enemy were really
going to outflank it, the enemy would inevitably be destroyed.
Paulucci, who did not know German, began questioning him in
French. Wolzogen came to the assistance of his chief, who spoke French
badly, and began translating for him, hardly able to keep pace with
Pfuel, who was rapidly demonstrating that not only all that had
happened, but all that could happen, had been foreseen in his
scheme, and that if there were now any difficulties the whole fault
lay in the fact that his plan had not been precisely executed. He kept
laughing sarcastically, he demonstrated, and at last contemptuously
ceased to demonstrate, like a mathematician who ceases to prove in
various ways the accuracy of a problem that has already been proved.
Wolzogen took his place and continued to explain his views in
French, every now and then turning to Pfuel and saying, "Is it not so,
your excellency?" But Pfuel, like a man heated in a fight who
strikes those on his own side, shouted angrily at his own supporter,
"Well, of course, what more is there to explain?"
Paulucci and Michaud both attacked Wolzogen simultaneously in
French. Armfeldt addressed Pfuel in German. Toll explained to
Volkonski in Russian. Prince Andrew listened and observed in silence.
Of all these men Prince Andrew sympathized most with Pfuel, angry,
determined, and absurdly self-confident as he was. Of all those
present, evidently he alone was not seeking anything for himself,
nursed no hatred against anyone, and only desired that the plan,
formed on a theory arrived at by years of toil, should be carried out.
He was ridiculous, and unpleasantly sarcastic, but yet he inspired
involuntary respect by his boundless devotion to an idea. Besides
this, the remarks of all except Pfuel had one common trait that had
not been noticeable at the council of war in 1805: there was now a
panic fear of Napoleon's genius, which, though concealed, was
noticeable in every rejoinder. Everything was assumed to be possible
for Napoleon, they expected him from every side, and invoked his
terrible name to shatter each other's proposals. Pfuel alone seemed to
consider Napoleon a barbarian like everyone else who opposed his
theory. But besides this feeling of respect, Pfuel evoked pity in
Prince Andrew. From the tone in which the courtiers addressed him
and the way Paulucci had allowed himself to speak of him to the
Emperor, but above all from a certain desperation in Pfuel's own
expressions, it was clear that the others knew, and Pfuel himself
felt, that his fall was at hand. And despite his self-confidence and
grumpy German sarcasm he was pitiable, with his hair smoothly
brushed on the temples and sticking up in tufts behind. Though he
concealed the fact under a show of irritation and contempt, he was
evidently in despair that the sole remaining chance of verifying his
theory by a huge experiment and proving its soundness to the whole
world was slipping away from him.
The discussions continued a long time, and the longer they lasted
the more heated became the disputes, culminating in shouts and
personalities, and the less was it possible to arrive at any general
conclusion from all that had been said. Prince Andrew, listening to
this polyglot talk and to these surmises, plans, refutations, and
shouts, felt nothing but amazement at what they were saying. A thought
that had long since and often occurred to him during his military
activities--the idea that there is not and cannot be any science of
war, and that therefore there can be no such thing as a military
genius--now appeared to him an obvious truth. "What theory and science
is possible about a matter the conditions and circumstances of which
are unknown and cannot be defined, especially when the strength of the
acting forces cannot be ascertained? No one was or is able to
foresee in what condition our or the enemy's armies will be in a day's
time, and no one can gauge the force of this or that detachment.
Sometimes--when there is not a coward at the front to shout, 'We are
cut off!' and start running, but a brave and jolly lad who shouts,
'Hurrah!'--a detachment of five thousand is worth thirty thousand,
as at Schon Grabern, while at times fifty thousand run from eight
thousand, as at Austerlitz. What science can there be in a matter in
which, as in all practical matters, nothing can be defined and
everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of
which is determined at a particular moment which arrives no one
knows when? Armfeldt says our army is cut in half, and Paulucci says
we have got the French army between two fires; Michaud says that the
worthlessness of the Drissa camp lies in having the river behind it,
and Pfuel says that is what constitutes its strength; Toll proposes
one plan, Armfeldt another, and they are all good and all bad, and the
advantages of any suggestions can be seen only at the moment of trial.
And why do they all speak of a 'military genius'? Is a man a genius
who can order bread to be brought up at the right time and say who
is to go to the right and who to the left? It is only because military
men are invested with pomp and power and crowds of sychophants flatter
power, attributing to it qualities of genius it does not possess.
The best generals I have known were, on the contrary, stupid or
absent-minded men. Bagration was the best, Napoleon himself admitted
that. And of Bonaparte himself! I remember his limited, self-satisfied
face on the field of Austerlitz. Not only does a good army commander
not need any special qualities, on the contrary he needs the absence
of the highest and best human attributes--love, poetry, tenderness,
and philosophic inquiring doubt. He should be limited, firmly
convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he will
not have sufficient patience), and only then will he be a brave
leader. God forbid that he should be humane, should love, or pity,
or think of what is just and unjust. It is understandable that a
theory of their 'genius' was invented for them long ago because they
have power! The success of a military action depends not on them,
but on the man in the ranks who shouts, 'We are lost!' or who
shouts, 'Hurrah!' And only in the ranks can one serve with assurance
of being useful."
So thought Prince Andrew as he listened to the talking, and he
roused himself only when Paulucci called him and everyone was leaving.
At the review next day the Emperor asked Prince Andrew where he
would like to serve, and Prince Andrew lost his standing in court
circles forever by not asking to remain attached to the sovereign's
person, but for permission to serve in the army.