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By graf Leo Tolstoy
“Won’t you come over to the other table?” suggested Anna Pavlovna.
But Pierre continued his speech without heeding her.
“No,” cried he, becoming more and more eager, “Napoleon is great because he rose superior to the Revolution, suppressed its abuses, preserved all that was good in it–equality of citizenship and freedom of speech and of the press–and only for that reason did he obtain power.”
“Yes, if having obtained power, without availing himself of it to commit murder he had restored it to the rightful king, I should have called him a great man,” remarked the vicomte.
“He could not do that. The people only gave him power that he might rid them of the Bourbons and because they saw that he was a great man. The Revolution was a grand thing!” continued Monsieur Pierre, betraying by this desperate and provocative proposition his extreme youth and his wish to express all that was in his mind.
“What? Revolution and regicide a grand thing?... Well, after that... But won’t you come to this other table?” repeated Anna Pavlovna.
“Rousseau’s Contrat social,” said the vicomte with a tolerant smile.
“I am not speaking of regicide, I am speaking about ideas.”
“Yes: ideas of robbery, murder, and regicide,” again interjected an ironical voice.
“Those were extremes, no doubt, but they are not what is most important. What is important are the rights of man, emancipation from prejudices, and equality of citizenship, and all these ideas Napoleon has retained in full force.”
“Liberty and equality,” said the vicomte contemptuously, as if at last deciding seriously to prove to this youth how foolish his words were, “high—sounding words which have long been discredited. Who does not love liberty and equality? Even our Saviour preached liberty and equality. Have people since the Revolution become happier? On the contrary. We wanted liberty, but Buonaparte has destroyed it.”
Prince Andrew kept looking with an amused smile from Pierre to the vicomte and from the vicomte to their hostess. In the first moment of Pierre’s outburst Anna Pavlovna, despite her social experience, was horror—struck. But when she saw that Pierre’s sacrilegious words had not exasperated the vicomte, and had convinced herself that it was impossible to stop him, she rallied her forces and joined the vicomte in a vigorous attack on the orator.
“But, my dear Monsieur Pierre,” said she, “how do you explain the fact of a great man executing a duc–or even an ordinary man who–is innocent and untried?”
“I should like,” said the vicomte, “to ask how monsieur explains the 18th Brumaire; was not that an imposture? It was a swindle, and not at all like the conduct of a great man!”
“And the prisoners he killed in Africa? That was horrible!” said the little princess, shrugging her shoulders.
“He’s a low fellow, say what you will,” remarked Prince Hippolyte.
Pierre, not knowing whom to answer, looked at them all and smiled. His smile was unlike the half—smile of other people. When he smiled, his grave, even rather gloomy, look was instantaneously replaced by another–a childlike, kindly, even rather silly look, which seemed to ask forgiveness.
The vicomte who was meeting him for the first time saw clearly that this young Jacobin was not so terrible as his words suggested. All were silent.
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