FictionForest

PART EIGHT : Chapter 16

Leo TolstoyAug 26, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Sergey Ivanovitch, being practiced
in argument, did not reply, but at once turned the
conversation to another aspect of the subject.

“Oh, if you want to learn the
spirit of the people by arithmetical computation,
of course it’s very difficult to arrive at it. 
And voting has not been introduced among us and cannot
be introduced, for it does not express the will of
the people; but there are other ways of reaching that. 
It is felt in the air, it is felt by the heart. 
I won’t speak of those deep currents which
are astir in the still ocean of the people, and which
are evident to every unprejudiced man; let us look
at society in the narrow sense.  All the most
diverse sections of the educated public, hostile before,
are merged in one.  Every division is at an end,
all the public organs say the same thing over and over
again, all feel the mighty torrent that has overtaken
them and is carrying them in one direction.”

“Yes, all the newspapers do
say the same thing,” said the prince.  “That’s
true.  But so it is the same thing that all the
frogs croak before a storm.  One can hear nothing
for them.”

“Frogs or no frogs, I’m
not the editor of a paper and I don’t want to
defend them; but I am speaking of the unanimity in
the intellectual world,” said Sergey Ivanovitch,
addressing his brother.  Levin would have answered,
but the old prince interrupted him.

“Well, about that unanimity,
that’s another thing, one may say,” said
the prince.  “There’s my son-in-law,
Stepan Arkadyevitch, you know him.  He’s
got a place now on the committee of a commission and
something or other, I don’t remember.  Only
there’s nothing to do in it ­why, Dolly,
it’s no secret! ­and a salary of eight
thousand.  You try asking him whether his post
is of use, he’ll prove to you that it’s
most necessary.  And he’s a truthful man
too, but there’s no refusing to believe in the
utility of eight thousand roubles.”

“Yes, he asked me to give a
message to Darya Alexandrovna about the post,”
said Sergey Ivanovitch reluctantly, feeling the prince’s
remark to be ill-timed.

“So it is with the unanimity
of the press.  That’s been explained to
me:  as soon as there’s war their incomes
are doubled.  How can they help believing in
the destinies of the people and the Slavonic races…and
all that?”

“I don’t care for many
of the papers, but that’s unjust,” said
Sergey Ivanovitch.

“I would only make one condition,”
pursued the old prince.  “Alphonse Karr
said a capital thing before the war with Prussia: 
’You consider war to be inevitable?  Very
good.  Let everyone who advocates war be enrolled
in a special regiment of advance-guards, for the front
of every storm, of every attack, to lead them all!’”

“A nice lot the editors would
make!” said Katavasov, with a loud roar, as
he pictured the editors he knew in this picked legion.

“But they’d run,”
said Dolly, “they’d only be in the way.”

“Oh, if they ran away, then
we’d have grape-shot or Cossacks with whips
behind them,” said the prince.

“But that’s a joke, and
a poor one too, if you’ll excuse my saying so,
prince,” said Sergey Ivanovitch.

“I don’t see that it was
a joke, that…”  Levin was beginning, but
Sergey Ivanovitch interrupted him.

“Every member of society is
called upon to do his own special work,” said
he.  “And men of thought are doing their
work when they express public opinion.  And the
single-hearted and full expression of public opinion
is the service of the press and a phenomenon to rejoice
us at the same time.  Twenty years ago we should
have been silent, but now we have heard the voice of
the Russian people, which is ready to rise as one
man and ready to sacrifice itself for its oppressed
brethren; that is a great step and a proof of strength.”

“But it’s not only making
a sacrifice, but killing Turks,” said Levin
timidly.  “The people make sacrifices and
are ready to make sacrifices for their soul, but not
for murder,” he added, instinctively connecting
the conversation with the ideas that had been absorbing
his mind.

“For their soul?  That’s
a most puzzling expression for a natural science man,
do you understand?  What sort of thing is the
soul?” said Katavasov, smiling.

“Oh, you know!”

“No, by God, I haven’t
the faintest idea!” said Katavasov with a loud
roar of laughter.

“‘I bring not peace, but
a sword,’ says Christ,” Sergey Ivanovitch
rejoined for his part, quoting as simply as though
it were the easiest thing to understand the very passage
that had always puzzled Levin most.

“That’s so, no doubt,”
the old man repeated again.  He was standing
near them and responded to a chance glance turned in
his direction.

“Ah, my dear fellow, you’re
defeated, utterly defeated!” cried Katavasov
good-humoredly.

Levin reddened with vexation, not
at being defeated, but at having failed to control
himself and being drawn into argument.

“No, I can’t argue with
them,” he thought; “they wear impenetrable
armor, while I’m naked.”

He saw that it was impossible to convince
his brother and Katavasov, and he saw even less possibility
of himself agreeing with them.  What they advocated
was the very pride of intellect that had almost been
his ruin.  He could not admit that some dozens
of men, among them his brother, had the right, on the
ground of what they were told by some hundreds of glib
volunteers swarming to the capital, to say that they
and the newspapers were expressing the will and feeling
of the people, and a feeling which was expressed in
vengeance and murder.  He could not admit this,
because he neither saw the expression of such feelings
in the people among whom he was living, nor found
them in himself (and he could not but consider himself
one of the persons making up the Russian people),
and most of all because he, like the people, did not
know and could not know what is for the general good,
though he knew beyond a doubt that this general good
could be attained only by the strict observance of
that law of right and wrong which has been revealed
to every man, and therefore he could not wish for
war or advocate war for any general objects whatever. 
He said as Mihalitch did and the people, who had
expressed their feeling in the traditional invitations
of the Varyagi:  “Be princes and rule over
us.  Gladly we promise complete submission. 
All the labor, all humiliations, all sacrifices we
take upon ourselves; but we will not judge and decide.” 
And now, according to Sergey Ivanovitch’s account,
the people had foregone this privilege they had bought
at such a costly price.

He wanted to say too that if public
opinion were an infallible guide, then why were not
revolutions and the commune as lawful as the movement
in favor of the Slavonic peoples?  But these were
merely thoughts that could settle nothing.  One
thing could be seen beyond doubt ­that was
that at the actual moment the discussion was irritating
Sergey Ivanovitch, and so it was wrong to continue
it.  And Levin ceased speaking and then called
the attention of his guests to the fact that the storm
clouds were gathering, and that they had better be
going home before it rained.

 

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