Tasis ib world History – Year One (Taylor) Fall Semester 19th Century Russia – Reform and Reaction 2

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IB World History – Year One (Taylor)

Fall Semester
19th Century Russia – Reform and Reaction 2
Mikhail Speransky
Law Code 1833
Nikolai Gogol
Poland’s Organic Statute
Golden Age
Lovers of Wisdom

Lev Tolstoy, War and Peace, ch. 6 (excerpts)
DURING THE FIRST PART of his stay in Petersburg, Prince Andrey found all the

habits of thought he had formed in his solitary life completely obscured by the

trifling cares which engrossed him in Petersburg.

In the evening on returning home he noted down in his memorandum-book four or

five unavoidable visits or appointments for fixed hours. The mechanism of life,

the arrangement of his day, so as to be in time everywhere, absorbed the greater

part of his vital energy. He did nothing, thought of nothing even, and had no

time to think, but only talked, and talked successfully, of what he had had time

to think about in the past in the country.

He sometimes noticed with dissatisfaction that it happened to him to repeat

the same remarks on the same day to different audiences. But he was so busy for

whole days together that he had no time to reflect that he was thinking of

nothing. Just as at their first meeting at Kotchubey's, Speransky had a long and

confidential talk with Prince Andrey on Wednesday at his own home, where he

received Bolkonsky alone and made a great impression on him.

Prince Andrey regarded the immense mass of men as contemptible and worthless

creatures, and he had such a longing to find in some other man the living

pattern of that perfection after which he strove himself, that he was ready to

believe that in Speransky he had found this ideal of a perfectly rational and

virtuous man. Had Speransky belonged to the same world as Prince Andrey, had he

been of the same breeding and moral traditions, Bolkonsky would soon have

detected the weak, human, unheroic sides of his character; but this logical turn

of mind was strange to him and inspired him with the more respect from his not

fully understanding it. Besides this, Speransky, either because he appreciated

Prince Andrey's abilities or because he thought it as well to secure his

adherence, showed off his calm, impartial sagacity before Prince Andrey, and

flattered him with that delicate flattery that goes hand in hand with conceit,

and consists in a tacit assumption that one's companion and oneself are the only

people capable of understanding all the folly of the rest of the world and the

sagacity and profundity of their own ideas.

In the course of their long conversation on Wednesday evening Speransky said

more than once: “Among us everything that is out of the common rut of

tradition is looked at,” … or with a smile: “But we want the wolves to be

well fed and the sheep to be unhurt.” … or: “They can't grasp that” … and

always with an expression that said. “We, you and I, we understand what

they are and who we are.”

This first long conversation with Speransky only strengthened the feeling

with which Prince Andrey had seen him for the first time. He saw in him a man of

vast intellect and sober, accurate judgment, who had attained power by energy

and persistence, and was using it for the good of Russia only. In Prince

Andrey's eyes Speransky was precisely the man—finding a rational explanation for

all the phenomena of life, recognising as of importance only what was rational

and capable of applying the standard of reason to everything—that he would have

liked to be himself. Everything took a form so simple, so clear in Speransky's

exposition of it that Prince Andrey could not help agreeing with him on every

subject. If he argued and raised objections it was simply with the express

object of being independent and not being entirely swayed by Speransky's ideas.

Everything was right, everything was as it should be, yet one thing disconcerted

Prince Andrey. That was the cold, mirror-like eye of Speransky, which seemed to

refuse all admittance to his soul, and his flabby, white hand, at which Prince

Andrey instinctively looked, as one usually does look at the hands of men who

have power. That mirror-like eye and that flabby hand vaguely irritated Prince

Andrey. He was disagreeably struck too by the excessive contempt for other

people that he observed in Speransky, and by the variety of the lines of

argument he employed in support of his views. He made use of every possible

weapon of thought, except analogy, and his transitions from one line of defence

to another seemed to Prince Andrey too violent. At one time he took his stand as

a practical man and found fault with idealists, then he took a satirical line

and jeered sarcastically at his opponents, then maintained a strictly logical

position, or flew off into the domain of metaphysics. (This last resource was

one he was particularly fond of using in argument.) He raised the question into

the loftiest region of metaphysics, passed to definitions of space, of time, and

of thought, and carrying off arguments to confute his opponent, descended again

to the plane of the original discussion. What impressed Prince Andrey as the

leading characteristic of Speransky's mind was his unhesitating, unmovable faith

in the power and authority of the reason. It was plain that Speransky's brain

could never admit the idea—so common with Prince Andrey—that one can never after

all express all one thinks. It had never occurred to him to doubt whether all he

thought and all he believed might not be meaningless nonsense. And that

peculiarity of Speransky's mind was what attracted Prince Andrey most.

During the first period of his acquaintance with Speransky, Prince Andrey had

a passionate and enthusiastic admiration for him, akin to what he had once felt

for Bonaparte. The very fact that Speransky was the son of a priest, which

enabled many foolish persons to regard him with vulgar contempt, as a member of

a despised class, made Prince Andrey peculiarly delicate in dealing with his own

feeling for Speransky and unconsciously strengthened it in him.

On that first evening that Bolkonsky spent with him, they talked of the

commission for the revision of the legal code; and Speransky described

ironically to Prince Andrey how the commission had been sitting for one hundred

and fifty years, had cost millions, and had done nothing, and how Rosenkampf had

pasted labels on all the various legislative codes.

“And that's all the state has got for the millions it has spent!” said he.

“We want to give new judicial powers to the Senate, and we have no laws. That's

why it is a sin for men like you, prince, not to be in the government.”

Prince Andrey observed that some education in jurisprudence was necessary for

such work, and that he had none.

“But no one has, so what would you have? It's a circulus viciosus,

which one must force some way out of.”

Within a week Prince Andrey was a member of the committee for the

reconstruction of the army regulations, and—a thing he would never have

expected—he was also chairman of a section of the commission for the revision of

the legal code. At Speransky's request he took the first part of the civil code

under revision; and with the help of the Napoleonic Code and the Code of

Justinian he worked at the revision of the section on Personal Rights.

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