Leo Tolstoy Archive
Source: Original Text from Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021
This letter had not yet been presented to the Emperor when Barclay, one day at dinner, informed Bolkónski that the sovereign wished to see him personally, to question him about Turkey, and that Prince Andrew was to present himself at Bennigsen’s quarters at six that evening.
News was received at the Emperor’s quarters that very day of a fresh movement by Napoleon which might endanger the army—news subsequently found to be false. And that morning Colonel Michaud had ridden round the Drissa fortifications with the Emperor and had pointed out to him that this fortified camp constructed by Pfuel, and till then considered a chef-d’oeuvre of tactical science which would ensure Napoleon’s destruction, was an absurdity, threatening the destruction of the Russian army.
Prince Andrew arrived at Bennigsen’s quarters—a country gentleman’s house of moderate size, situated on the very banks of the river. Neither Bennigsen nor the Emperor was there, but Chernýshev, the Emperor’s aide-de-camp, received Bolkónski and informed him that the Emperor, accompanied by General Bennigsen and Marquis Paulucci, had gone a second time that day to inspect the fortifications of the Drissa camp, of the suitability of which serious doubts were beginning to be felt.
Chernýshev was sitting at a window in the first room with a French novel in his hand. This room had probably been a music room; there was still an organ in it on which some rugs were piled, and in one corner stood the folding bedstead of Bennigsen’s adjutant. This adjutant was also there and sat dozing on the rolled-up bedding, evidently exhausted by work or by feasting. Two doors led from the room, one straight on into what had been the drawing room, and another, on the right, to the study. Through the first door came the sound of voices conversing in German and occasionally in French. In that drawing room were gathered, by the Emperor’s wish, not a military council (the Emperor preferred indefiniteness), but certain persons whose opinions he wished to know in view of the impending difficulties. It was not a council of war, but, as it were, a council to elucidate certain questions for the Emperor personally. To this semicouncil had been invited the Swedish General Armfeldt, Adjutant General Wolzogen, Wintzingerode (whom Napoleon had referred to as a renegade French subject), Michaud, Toll, Count Stein who was not a military man at all, and Pfuel himself, who, as Prince Andrew had heard, was the mainspring of the whole affair. Prince Andrew had an opportunity of getting a good look at him, for Pfuel arrived soon after himself and, in passing through to the drawing room, stopped a minute to speak to Chernýshev.
At first sight, Pfuel, in his ill-made uniform of a Russian general, which fitted him badly like a fancy costume, seemed familiar to Prince Andrew, though he saw him now for the first time. There was about him something of Weyrother, Mac, and Schmidt, and many other German theorist-generals whom Prince Andrew had seen in 1805, but he was more typical than any of them. Prince Andrew had never yet seen a German theorist in whom all the characteristics of those others were united to such an extent.
Pfuel was short and very thin but broad-boned, of coarse, robust build, broad in the hips, and with prominent shoulder blades. His face was much wrinkled and his eyes deep set. His hair had evidently been hastily brushed smooth in front of the temples, but stuck up behind in quaint little tufts. He entered the room, looking restlessly and angrily around, as if afraid of everything in that large apartment. Awkwardly holding up his sword, he addressed Chernýshev and asked in German where the Emperor was. One could see that he wished to pass through the rooms as quickly as possible, finish with the bows and greetings, and sit down to business in front of a map, where he would feel at home. He nodded hurriedly in reply to Chernýshev, and smiled ironically on hearing that the sovereign was inspecting the fortifications that he, Pfuel, had planned in accord with his theory. He muttered something to himself abruptly and in a bass voice, as self-assured Germans do—it might have been “stupid fellow”... or “the whole affair will be ruined,” or “something absurd will come of it.”... Prince Andrew did not catch what he said and would have passed on, but Chernýshev introduced him to Pfuel, remarking that Prince Andrew was just back from Turkey where the war had terminated so fortunately. Pfuel barely glanced—not so much at Prince Andrew as past him—and said, with a laugh: “That must have been a fine tactical war”; and, laughing contemptuously, went on into the room from which the sound of voices was heard.
Pfuel, always inclined to be irritably sarcastic, was particularly disturbed that day, evidently by the fact that they had dared to inspect and criticize his camp in his absence. From this short interview with Pfuel, Prince Andrew, thanks to his Austerlitz experiences, was able to form a clear conception of the man. Pfuel was one of those hopelessly and immutably self-confident men, self-confident to the point of martyrdom as only Germans are, because only Germans are self-confident on the basis of an abstract notion—science, that is, the supposed knowledge of absolute truth. A Frenchman is self-assured because he regards himself personally, both in mind and body, as irresistibly attractive to men and women. An Englishman is self-assured, as being a citizen of the best-organized state in the world, and therefore as an Englishman always knows what he should do and knows that all he does as an Englishman is undoubtedly correct. An Italian is self-assured because he is excitable and easily forgets himself and other people. A Russian is self-assured just because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe that anything can be known. The German’s self-assurance is worst of all, stronger and more repulsive than any other, because he imagines that he knows the truth—science—which he himself has invented but which is for him the absolute truth.
Pfuel was evidently of that sort. He had a science—the theory of oblique movements deduced by him from the history of Frederick the Great’s wars, and all he came across in the history of more recent warfare seemed to him absurd and barbarous—monstrous collisions in which so many blunders were committed by both sides that these wars could not be called wars, they did not accord with the theory, and therefore could not serve as material for science.
In 1806 Pfuel had been one of those responsible, for the plan of campaign that ended in Jena and Auerstädt, but he did not see the least proof of the fallibility of his theory in the disasters of that war. On the contrary, the deviations made from his theory were, in his opinion, the sole cause of the whole disaster, and with characteristically gleeful sarcasm he would remark, “There, I said the whole affair would go to the devil!” Pfuel was one of those theoreticians who so love their theory that they lose sight of the theory’s object—its practical application. His love of theory made him hate everything practical, and he would not listen to it. He was even pleased by failures, for failures resulting from deviations in practice from the theory only proved to him the accuracy of his theory.
He said a few words to Prince Andrew and Chernýshev about the present war, with the air of a man who knows beforehand that all will go wrong, and who is not displeased that it should be so. The unbrushed tufts of hair sticking up behind and the hastily brushed hair on his temples expressed this most eloquently.
He passed into the next room, and the deep, querulous sounds of his voice were at once heard from there.