BOOK FIFTEEN: 1812 --13
When seeing a dying animal a man feels a sense of horror: substance similar to his own is perishing before his eyes. But when it is a beloved and intimate human being that is dying, besides this horror at the extinction of life there is a severance, a spiritual wound, which like a physical wound is sometimes fatal and sometimes heals, but always aches and shrinks at any external irritating touch.
After Prince Andrew's death Natasha and Princess Mary alike felt this. Drooping in spirit and closing their eyes before the menacing cloud of death that overhung them, they dared not look life in the face. They carefully guarded their open wounds from any rough and painful contact. Everything: a carriage passing rapidly in the street, a summons to dinner, the maid's inquiry what dress to prepare, or worse still any word of insincere or feeble sympathy, seemed an insult, painfully irritated the wound, interrupting that necessary quiet in which they both tried to listen to the stern and dreadful choir that still resounded in their imagination, and hindered their gazing into those mysterious limitless vistas that for an instant had opened out before them.
Only when alone together were they free from such outrage and pain. They spoke little even to one another, and when they did it was of very unimportant matters.
Both avoided any allusion to the future. To admit the possibility of a future seemed to them to insult his memory. Still more carefully did they avoid anything relating to him who was dead. It seemed to them that what they had lived through and experienced could not be expressed in words, and that any reference to the details of his life infringed the majesty and sacredness of the mystery that had been accomplished before their eyes.
Continued abstention from speech, and constant avoidance of everything that might lead up to the subject--this halting on all sides at the boundary of what they might not mention--brought before their minds with still greater purity and clearness what they were both feeling.
But pure and complete sorrow is as impossible as pure and complete joy. Princess Mary, in her position as absolute and independent arbiter of her own fate and guardian and instructor of her nephew, was the first to be called back to life from that realm of sorrow in which she had dwelt for the first fortnight. She received letters from her relations to which she had to reply; the room in which little Nicholas had been put was damp and he began to cough; Alpatych came to Yaroslavl with reports on the state of their affairs and with advice and suggestions that they should return to Moscow to the house on the Vozdvizhenka Street, which had remained uninjured and needed only slight repairs. Life did not stand still and it was necessary to live. Hard as it was for Princess Mary to emerge from the realm of secluded contemplation in which she had lived till then, and sorry and almost ashamed as she felt to leave Natasha alone, yet the cares of life demanded her attention and she involuntarily yielded to them. She went through the accounts with Alpatych, conferred with Dessalles about her nephew, and gave orders and made preparations for the journey to Moscow.
Natasha remained alone and, from the time Princess Mary began making preparations for departure, held aloof from her too.
Princess Mary asked the countess to let Natasha go with her to Moscow, and both parents gladly accepted this offer, for they saw their daughter losing strength every day and thought that a change of scene and the advice of Moscow doctors would be good for her.
"I am not going anywhere," Natasha replied when this was proposed to her. "Do please just leave me alone!" And she ran out of the room, with difficulty refraining from tears of vexation and irritation rather than of sorrow.
After she felt herself deserted by Princes Mary and alone in her grief, Natasha spent most of the time in her room by herself, sitting huddled up feet and all in the corner of the sofa, tearing and twisting something with her slender nervous fingers and gazing intently and fixedly at whatever her eyes chanced to fall on. This solitude exhausted and tormented her but she was in absolute need of it. As soon as anyone entered she got up quickly, changed her position and expression, and picked up a book or some sewing, evidently waiting impatiently for the intruder to go.
She felt all the time as if she might at any moment penetrate that on which--with a terrible questioning too great for her strength- her spiritual gaze was fixed.
One day toward the end of December Natasha, pale and thin, dressed in a black woolen gown, her plaited hair negligently twisted into a knot, was crouched feet and all in the corner of her sofa, nervously crumpling and smoothing out the end of her sash while she looked at a corner of the door.
She was gazing in the direction in which he had gone--to the other side of life. And that other side of life, of which she had never before thought and which had formerly seemed to her so far away and improbable, was now nearer and more akin and more comprehensible than this side of life, where everything was either emptiness and desolation or suffering and indignity.
She was gazing where she knew him to be; but she could not imagine him otherwise than as he had been here. She now saw him again as he had been at Mytishchi, at Troitsa, and at Yaroslavl.
She saw his face, heard his voice, repeated his words and her own, and sometimes devised other words they might have spoken.
There he is lying back in an armchair in his velvet cloak, leaning his head on his thin pale hand. His chest is dreadfully hollow and his shoulders raised. His lips are firmly closed, his eyes glitter, and a wrinkle comes and goes on his pale forehead. One of his legs twitches just perceptibly, but rapidly. Natasha knows that he is struggling with terrible pain. "What is that pain like? Why does he have that pain? What does he feel? How does it hurt him?" thought Natasha. He noticed her watching him, raised his eyes, and began to speak seriously:
"One thing would be terrible," said he: "to bind oneself forever to a suffering man. It would be continual torture." And he looked searchingly at her. Natasha as usual answered before she had time to think what she would say. She said: "This can't go on--it won't. You will get well--quite well."
She now saw him from the commencement of that scene and relived what she had then felt. She recalled his long sad and severe look at those words and understood the meaning of the rebuke and despair in that protracted gaze.
"I agreed," Natasha now said to herself, "that it would be dreadful if he always continued to suffer. I said it then only because it would have been dreadful for him, but he understood it differently. He thought it would be dreadful for me. He then still wished to live and feared death. And I said it so awkwardly and stupidly! I did not say what I meant. I thought quite differently. Had I said what I thought, I should have said: even if he had to go on dying, to die continually before my eyes, I should have been happy compared with what I am now. Now there is nothing... nobody. Did he know that? No, he did not and never will know it. And now it will never, never be possible to put it right." And now he again seemed to be saying the same words to her, only in her imagination Natasha this time gave him a different answer. She stopped him and said: "Terrible for you, but not for me! You know that for me there is nothing in life but you, and to suffer with you is the greatest happiness for me," and he took her hand and pressed it as he had pressed it that terrible evening four days before his death. And in her imagination she said other tender and loving words which she might have said then but only spoke now: "I love thee!... thee! I love, love..." she said, convulsively pressing her hands and setting her teeth with a desperate effort...
She was overcome by sweet sorrow and tears were already rising in her eyes; then she suddenly asked herself to whom she was saying this. Again everything was shrouded in hard, dry perplexity, and again with a strained frown she peered toward the world where he was. And now, now it seemed to her she was penetrating the mystery.... But at the instant when it seemed that the incomprehensible was revealing itself to her a loud rattle of the door handle struck painfully on her ears. Dunyasha, her maid, entered the room quickly and abruptly with a frightened look on her face and showing no concern for her mistress.
"Come to your Papa at once, please!" said she with a strange, excited look. "A misfortune... about Peter Ilynich... a letter," she finished with a sob.
Besides a feeling of aloofness from everybody Natasha was feeling a special estrangement from the members of her own family. All of them--her father, mother, and Sonya--were so near to her, so familiar, so commonplace, that all their words and feelings seemed an insult to the world in which she had been living of late, and she felt not merely indifferent to them but regarded them with hostility. She heard Dunyasha's words about Peter Ilynich and a misfortune, but did not grasp them.
"What misfortune? What misfortune can happen to them? They just live their own old, quiet, and commonplace life," thought Natasha.
As she entered the ballroom her father was hurriedly coming out of her mother's room. His face was puckered up and wet with tears. He had evidently run out of that room to give vent to the sobs that were choking him. When he saw Natasha he waved his arms despairingly and burst into convulsively painful sobs that distorted his soft round face.
"Pe... Petya... Go, go, she... is calling..." and weeping like a child and quickly shuffling on his feeble legs to a chair, he almost fell into it, covering his face with his hands.
Suddenly an electric shock seemed to run through Natasha's whole being. Terrible anguish struck her heart, she felt a dreadful ache as if something was being torn inside her and she were dying. But the pain was immediately followed by a feeling of release from the oppressive constraint that had prevented her taking part in life. The sight of her father, the terribly wild cries of her mother that she heard through the door, made her immediately forget herself and her own grief.
She ran to her father, but he feebly waved his arm, pointing to her mother's door. Princess Mary, pale and with quivering chin, came out from that room and taking Natasha by the arm said something to her. Natasha neither saw nor heard her. She went in with rapid steps, pausing at the door for an instant as if struggling with herself, and then ran to her mother.
The countess was lying in an armchair in a strange and awkward position, stretching out and beating her head against the wall. Sonya and the maids were holding her arms.
"Natasha! Natasha!..." cried the countess. "It's not true... it's not true... He's lying... Natasha!" she shrieked, pushing those around her away. "Go away, all of you; it's not true! Killed!... ha, ha, ha!... It's not true!"
Natasha put one knee on the armchair, stooped over her mother, embraced her, and with unexpected strength raised her, turned her face toward herself, and clung to her.
"Mummy!... darling!... I am here, my dearest Mummy," she kept on whispering, not pausing an instant.
She did not let go of her mother but struggled tenderly with her, demanded a pillow and hot water, and unfastened and tore open her mother's dress.
"My dearest darling... Mummy, my precious!..." she whispered incessantly, kissing her head, her hands, her face, and feeling her own irrepressible and streaming tears tickling her nose and cheeks.
The countess pressed her daughter's hand, closed her eyes, and became quiet for a moment. Suddenly she sat up with unaccustomed swiftness, glanced vacantly around her, and seeing Natasha began to press her daughter's head with all her strength. Then she turned toward her daughter's face which was wincing with pain and gazed long at it.
"Natasha, you love me?" she said in a soft trustful whisper. "Natasha, you would not deceive me? You'll tell me the whole truth?"
Natasha looked at her with eyes full of tears and in her look there was nothing but love and an entreaty for forgiveness.
"My darling Mummy!" she repeated, straining all the power of her love to find some way of taking on herself the excess of grief that crushed her mother.
And again in a futile struggle with reality her mother, refusing to believe that she could live when her beloved boy was killed in the bloom of life, escaped from reality into a world of delirium.
Natasha did not remember how that day passed nor that night, nor the next day and night. She did not sleep and did not leave her mother. Her persevering and patient love seemed completely to surround the countess every moment, not explaining or consoling, but recalling her to life.
During the third night the countess kept very quiet for a few minutes, and Natasha rested her head on the arm of her chair and closed her eyes, but opened them again on hearing the bedstead creak. The countess was sitting up in bed and speaking softly.
"How glad I am you have come. You are tired. Won't you have some tea?" Natasha went up to her. "You have improved in looks and grown more manly," continued the countess, taking her daughter's hand.
"Mamma! What are you saying..."
"Natasha, he is no more, no more!"
And embracing her daughter, the countess began to weep for the first time.
Princess Mary postponed her departure. Sonya and the count tried to replace Natasha but could not. They saw that she alone was able to restrain her mother from unreasoning despair. For three weeks Natasha remained constantly at her mother's side, sleeping on a lounge chair in her room, making her eat and drink, and talking to her incessantly because the mere sound of her tender, caressing tones soothed her mother.
The mother's wounded spirit could not heal. Petya's death had torn from her half her life. When the news of Petya's death had come she had been a fresh and vigorous woman of fifty, but a month later she left her room a listless old woman taking no interest in life. But the same blow that almost killed the countess, this second blow, restored Natasha to life.
A spiritual wound produced by a rending of the spiritual body is like a physical wound and, strange as it may seem, just as a deep wound may heal and its edges join, physical and spiritual wounds alike can yet heal completely only as the result of a vital force from within.
Natasha's wound healed in that way. She thought her life was ended, but her love for her mother unexpectedly showed her that the essence of life--love--was still active within her. Love awoke and so did life.
Prince Andrew's last days had bound Princess Mary and Natasha together; this new sorrow brought them still closer to one another. Princess Mary put off her departure, and for three weeks looked after Natasha as if she had been a sick child. The last weeks passed in her mother's bedroom had strained Natasha's physical strength.
One afternoon noticing Natasha shivering with fever, Princess Mary took her to her own room and made her lie down on the bed. Natasha lay down, but when Princess Mary had drawn the blinds and was going away she called her back.
"I don't want to sleep, Mary, sit by me a little."
"You are tired--try to sleep."
"No, no. Why did you bring me away? She will be asking for me."
"She is much better. She spoke so well today," said Princess Mary.
Natasha lay on the bed and in the semidarkness of the room scanned Princess Mary's face.
"Is she like him?" thought Natasha. "Yes, like and yet not like. But she is quite original, strange, new, and unknown. And she loves me. What is in her heart? All that is good. But how? What is her mind like? What does she think about me? Yes, she is splendid!"
"Mary," she said timidly, drawing Princess Mary's hand to herself, "Mary, you mustn't think me wicked. No? Mary darling, how I love you! Let us be quite, quite friends."
And Natasha, embracing her, began kissing her face and hands, making Princess Mary feel shy but happy by this demonstration of her feelings.
From that day a tender and passionate friendship such as exists only between women was established between Princess Mary and Natasha. They were continually kissing and saying tender things to one another and spent most of their time together. When one went out the other became restless and hastened to rejoin her. Together they felt more in harmony with one another than either of them felt with herself when alone. A feeling stronger than friendship sprang up between them; an exclusive feeling of life being possible only in each other's presence.
Sometimes they were silent for hours; sometimes after they were already in bed they would begin talking and go on till morning. They spoke most of what was long past. Princess Mary spoke of her childhood, of her mother, her father, and her daydreams; and Natasha, who with a passive lack of understanding had formerly turned away from that life of devotion, submission, and the poetry of Christian self-sacrifice, now feeling herself bound to Princess Mary by affection, learned to love her past too and to understand a side of life previously incomprehensible to her. She did not think of applying submission and self-abnegation to her own life, for she was accustomed to seek other joys, but she understood and loved in another those previously incomprehensible virtues. For Princess Mary, listening to Natasha's tales of childhood and early youth, there also opened out a new and hitherto uncomprehended side of life: belief in life and its enjoyment.
Just as before, they never mentioned him so as not to lower (as they thought) their exalted feelings by words; but this silence about him had the effect of making them gradually begin to forget him without being conscious of it.
Natasha had grown thin and pale and physically so weak that they all talked about her health, and this pleased her. But sometimes she was suddenly overcome by fear not only of death but of sickness, weakness, and loss of good looks, and involuntarily she examined her bare arm carefully, surprised at its thinness, and in the morning noticed her drawn and, as it seemed to her, piteous face in her glass. It seemed to her that things must be so, and yet it was dreadfully sad.
One day she went quickly upstairs and found herself out of breath. Unconsciously she immediately invented a reason for going down, and then, testing her strength, ran upstairs again, observing the result.
Another time when she called Dunyasha her voice trembled, so she called again--though she could hear Dunyasha coming--called her in the deep chest tones in which she had been wont to sing, sing, and listened attentively to herself.
She did not know and would not have believed it, but beneath the layer of slime that covered her soul and seemed to her impenetrable, delicate young shoots of grass were already sprouting, which taking root would so cover with their living verdure the grief that weighed her down that it would soon no longer be seen or noticed. The wound had begun to heal from within.
At the end of January Princess Mary left for Moscow, and the count insisted on Natasha's going with her to consult the doctors.
After the encounter at Vyazma, where Kutuzov had been unable to hold back his troops in their anxiety to overwhelm and cut off the enemy and so on, the farther movement of the fleeing French, and of the Russians who pursued them, continued as far as Krasnoe without a battle. The flight was so rapid that the Russian army pursuing the French could not keep up with them; cavalry and artillery horses broke down, and the information received of the movements of the French was never reliable.
The men in the Russian army were so worn out by this continuous marching at the rate of twenty-seven miles a day that they could not go any faster.
To realize the degree of exhaustion of the Russian army it is only necessary to grasp clearly the meaning of the fact that, while not losing more than five thousand killed and wounded after Tarutino and less than a hundred prisoners, the Russian army which left that place a hundred thousand strong reached Krasnoe with only fifty thousand.
The rapidity of the Russian pursuit was just as destructive to our army as the flight of the French was to theirs. The only difference was that the Russian army moved voluntarily, with no such threat of destruction as hung over the French, and that the sick Frenchmen were left behind in enemy hands while the sick Russians left behind were among their own people. The chief cause of the wastage of Napoleon's army was the rapidity of its movement, and a convincing proof of this is the corresponding decrease of the Russian army.
Kutuzov as far as was in his power, instead of trying to check the movement of the French as was desired in Petersburg and by the Russian army generals, directed his whole activity here, as he had done at Tarutino and Vyazma, to hastening it on while easing the movement of our army.
But besides this, since the exhaustion and enormous diminution of the army caused by the rapidity of the advance had become evident, another reason for slackening the pace and delaying presented itself to Kutuzov. The aim of the Russian army was to pursue the French. The road the French would take was unknown, and so the closer our troops trod on their heels the greater distance they had to cover. Only by following at some distance could one cut across the zigzag path of the French. All the artful maneuvers suggested by our generals meant fresh movements of the army and a lengthening of its marches, whereas the only reasonable aim was to shorten those marches. To that end Kutuzov's activity was directed during the whole campaign from Moscow to Vilna--not casually or intermittently but so consistently that he never once deviated from it.
Kutuzov felt and knew--not by reasoning or science but with the whole of his Russian being--what every Russian soldier felt: that the French were beaten, that the enemy was flying and must be driven out; but at the same time he like the soldiers realized all the hardship of this march, the rapidity of which was unparalleled for such a time of the year.
But to the generals, especially the foreign ones in the Russian army, who wished to distinguish themselves, to astonish somebody, and for some reason to capture a king or a duke--it seemed that now- when any battle must be horrible and senseless--was the very time to fight and conquer somebody. Kutuzov merely shrugged his shoulders when one after another they presented projects of maneuvers to be made with those soldiers--ill-shod, insufficiently clad, and half starved--who within a month and without fighting a battle had dwindled to half their number, and who at the best if the flight continued would have to go a greater distance than they had already traversed, before they reached the frontier.
This longing to distinguish themselves, to maneuver, to overthrow, and to cut off showed itself particularly whenever the Russians stumbled on the French army.
So it was at Krasnoe, where they expected to find one of the three French columns and stumbled instead on Napoleon himself with sixteen thousand men. Despite all Kutuzov's efforts to avoid that ruinous encounter and to preserve his troops, the massacre of the broken mob of French soldiers by worn-out Russians continued at Krasnoe for three days.
Toll wrote a disposition: "The first column will march to so and so," etc. And as usual nothing happened in accord with the disposition. Prince Eugene of Wurttemberg fired from a hill over the French crowds that were running past, and demanded reinforcements which did not arrive. The French, avoiding the Russians, dispersed and hid themselves in the forest by night, making their way round as best they could, and continued their flight.
Miloradovich, who said he did not want to know anything about the commissariat affairs of his detachment, and could never be found when he was wanted--that chevalier sans peur et sans reproche* as he styled himself--who was fond of parleys with the French, sent envoys demanding their surrender, wasted time, and did not do what he was ordered to do.
*Knight without fear and without reproach.
"I give you that column, lads," he said, riding up to the troops and pointing out the French to the cavalry.
And the cavalry, with spurs and sabers urging on horses that could scarcely move, trotted with much effort to the column presented to them--that is to say, to a crowd of Frenchmen stark with cold, frost-bitten, and starving--and the column that had been presented to them threw down its arms and surrendered as it had long been anxious to do.
At Krasnoe they took twenty-six thousand prisoners, several hundred cannon, and a stick called a "marshal's staff," and disputed as to who had distinguished himself and were pleased with their achievement--though they much regretted not having taken Napoleon, or at least a marshal or a hero of some sort, and reproached one another and especially Kutuzov for having failed to do so.
These men, carried away by their passions, were but blind tools of the most melancholy law of necessity, but considered themselves heroes and imagined that they were accomplishing a most noble and honorable deed. They blamed Kutuzov and said that from the very beginning of the campaign he had prevented their vanquishing Napoleon, that he thought nothing but satisfying his passions and would not advance from the Linen Factories because he was comfortable there, that at Krasnoe he checked the advance because on learning that Napoleon was there he had quite lost his head, and that it was probable that he had an understanding with Napoleon and had been bribed by him, and so on, and so on.
Not only did his contemporaries, carried away by their passions, talk in this way, but posterity and history have acclaimed Napoleon as grand, while Kutuzov is described by foreigners as a crafty, dissolute, weak old courtier, and by Russians as something indefinite- a sort of puppet useful only because he had a Russian name.
In 1812 and 1813 Kutuzov was openly accused of blundering. The Emperor was dissatisfied with him. And in a history recently written by order of the Highest Authorities it is said that Kutuzov was a cunning court liar, frightened of the name of Napoleon, and that by his blunders at Krasnoe and the Berezina he deprived the Russian army of the glory of complete victory over the French.*
*History of the year 1812. The character of Kutuzov and reflections on the unsatisfactory results of the battles at Krasnoe, by Bogdanovich.
Such is the fate not of great men (grands hommes) whom the Russian mind does not acknowledge, but of those rare and always solitary individuals who, discerning the will of Providence, submit their personal will to it. The hatred and contempt of the crowd punish such men for discerning the higher laws.
For Russian historians, strange and terrible to say, Napoleon- that most insignificant tool of history who never anywhere, even in exile, showed human dignity--Napoleon is the object of adulation and enthusiasm; he is grand. But Kutuzov--the man who from the beginning to the end of his activity in 1812, never once swerving by word or deed from Borodino to Vilna, presented an example exceptional in history of self-sacrifice and a present consciousness of the future importance of what was happening--Kutuzov seems to them something indefinite and pitiful, and when speaking of him and of the year 1812 they always seem a little ashamed.
And yet it is difficult to imagine an historical character whose activity was so unswervingly directed to a single aim; and it would be difficult to imagine any aim more worthy or more consonant with the will of the whole people. Still more difficult would it be to find an instance in history of the aim of an historical personage being so completely accomplished as that to which all Kutuzov's efforts were directed in 1812.
Kutuzov never talked of "forty centuries looking down from the Pyramids," of the sacrifices he offered for the fatherland, or of what he intended to accomplish or had accomplished; in general he said nothing about himself, adopted no prose, always appeared to be the simplest and most ordinary of men, and said the simplest and most ordinary things. He wrote letters to his daughters and to Madame de Stael, read novels, liked the society of pretty women, jested with generals, officers, and soldiers, and never contradicted those who tried to prove anything to him. When Count Rostopchin at the Yauza bridge galloped up to Kutuzov with personal reproaches for having caused the destruction of Moscow, and said: "How was it you promised not to abandon Moscow without a battle?" Kutuzov replied: "And I shall not abandon Moscow without a battle," though Moscow was then already abandoned. When Arakcheev, coming to him from the Emperor, said that Ermolov ought to be appointed chief of the artillery, Kutuzov replied: "Yes, I was just saying so myself," though a moment before he had said quite the contrary. What did it matter to him--who then alone amid a senseless crowd understood the whole tremendous significance of what was happening--what did it matter to him whether Rostopchin attributed the calamities of Moscow to him or to himself? Still less could it matter to him who was appointed chief of the artillery.
Not merely in these cases but continually did that old man--who by experience of life had reached the conviction that thoughts and the words serving as their expression are not what move people--use quite meaningless words that happened to enter his head.
But that man, so heedless of his words, did not once during the whole time of his activity utter one word inconsistent with the single aim toward which he moved throughout the whole war. Obviously in spite of himself, in very diverse circumstances, he repeatedly expressed his real thoughts with the bitter conviction that he would not be understood. Beginning with the battle of Borodino, from which time his disagreement with those about him began, he alone said that the battle of Borodino was a victory, and repeated this both verbally and in his dispatches and reports up to the time of his death. He alone said that the loss of Moscow is not the loss of Russia. In reply to Lauriston's proposal of peace, he said: There can be no peace, for such is the people's will. He alone during the retreat of the French said that all our maneuvers are useless, everything is being accomplished of itself better than we could desire; that the enemy must be offered "a golden bridge"; that neither the Tarutino, the Vyazma, nor the Krasnoe battles were necessary; that we must keep some force to reach the frontier with, and that he would not sacrifice a single Russian for ten Frenchmen.
And this courtier, as he is described to us, who lies to Arakcheev to please the Emperor, he alone--incurring thereby the Emperor's displeasure--said in Vilna that to carry the war beyond the frontier is useless and harmful.
Nor do words alone prove that only he understood the meaning of the events. His actions--without the smallest deviation--were all directed to one and the same threefold end: (1) to brace all his strength for conflict with the French, (2) to defeat them, and (3) to drive them out of Russia, minimizing as far as possible the sufferings of our people and of our army.
This procrastinator Kutuzov, whose motto was "Patience and Time," this enemy of decisive action, gave battle at Borodino, investing the preparations for it with unparalleled solemnity. This Kutuzov who before the battle of Austerlitz began said that it would be lost, he alone, in contradiction to everyone else, declared till his death that Borodino was a victory, despite the assurance of generals that the battle was lost and despite the fact that for an army to have to retire after winning a battle was unprecedented. He alone during the whole retreat insisted that battles, which were useless then, should not be fought, and that a new war should not be begun nor the frontiers of Russia crossed.
It is easy now to understand the significance of these events--if only we abstain from attributing to the activity of the mass aims that existed only in the heads of a dozen individuals--for the events and results now lie before us.
But how did that old man, alone, in opposition to the general opinion, so truly discern the importance of the people's view of the events that in all his activity he was never once untrue to it?
The source of that extraordinary power of penetrating the meaning of the events then occuring lay in the national feeling which he possessed in full purity and strength.
Only the recognition of the fact that he possessed this feeling caused the people in so strange a manner, contrary to the Tsar's wish, to select him--an old man in disfavor--to be their representative in the national war. And only that feeling placed him on that highest human pedestal from which he, the commander in chief, devoted all his powers not to slaying and destroying men but to saving and showing pity on them.
That simple, modest, and therefore truly great, figure could not be cast in the false mold of a European hero--the supposed ruler of men--that history has invented.
To a lackey no man can be great, for a lackey has his own conception of greatness.