War and Peace

By Leo Tolstoy; Louise Maude et al. | Go to book overview

PART ONE

1

IN Petersburg at that time a complicated struggle was being carried on with greater heat than ever in the highest circles, between the parties of Rumyantsev, the French, Maria Fëdorovna, the Tsarevich, and others, drowned as usual by the buzzing of the Court drones. But the calm luxurious life of Petersburg, concerned only about phantoms and reflections of real life, went on in its old way, and made it hard, except by a great effort, to realize the danger and the difficult position of the Russian people. There were the same receptions and balls, the same French theatre, the same Court interests and service interests and intrigues as usual. Only in the very highest circles were attempts made to keep in mind the difficulties of the actual position. Stories were whispered of how differently the two Empresses* behaved in these difficult circumstances. The Empress Maria, concerned for the welfare of the charitable and educational institutions under her patronage, had given directions that they should all be removed to Kazan, and the things belonging to these institutions had already been packed up. The Empress Elisabeth, however, when asked what instructions she would be pleased to give -- with her characteristic Russian patriotism had replied that she could give no directions about State institutions, for that was the affair of the Sovereign, but as far as she personally was concerned she would be the last to quit Petersburg.

At Anna Pavlovna's on the 26th of August, the very day of the battle of Borodino, there was a soirée, the chief feature of which was to be the reading of a letter from his Lordship the Bishop when sending the Emperor an icon of the Venerable Sergius. It was regarded as a model of ecclesiastical, patriotic eloquence. Prince Vasili himself, famed for his elocution, was to read it. (He used to read at the Empress's.) The art of his reading was supposed to lie in rolling out the words, quite independently of their meaning, in a loud and sing-song voice alternating between a despairing wail and a tender murmur, so that the wail fell quite at random on one word and the murmur on another. This reading, as was always

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