War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Book Five: 1806-07
"I have the pleasure of addressing Count Bezukhov, if I am not mistaken," said the stranger in a deliberate and loud voice.
Pierre looked silently and inquiringly at him over his spectacles.
"I have heard of you, my dear sir, "continued the stranger, "and of your misfortune." He seemed to emphasize the last word, as if to say- "Yes, misfortune! Call it what you please, I know that what happened to you in Moscow was a misfortune."- "I regret it very much, my dear sir."
Pierre flushed and, hurriedly putting his legs down from the bed, bent forward toward the old man with a forced and timid smile.
"I have not referred to this out of curiosity, my dear sir, but for greater reasons."
He paused, his gaze still on Pierre, and moved aside on the sofa by way of inviting the other to take a seat beside him. Pierre felt reluctant to enter into conversation with this old man, but, submitting to him involuntarily, came up and sat down beside him.
"You are unhappy, my dear sir," the stranger continued. "You are young and I am old. I should like to help you as far as lies in my power."
"Oh, yes!" said Pierre, with a forced smile. "I am very grateful to you. Where are you traveling from?"
The stranger's face was not genial, it was even cold and severe, but in spite of this, both the face and words of his new acquaintance were irresistibly attractive to Pierre.
"But if for reason you don't feel inclined to talk to me," said the old man, "say so, my dear sir." And he suddenly smiled, in an unexpected and tenderly paternal way.
"Oh no, not at all! On the contrary, I am very glad to make your acquaintance," said Pierre. And again, glancing at the stranger's hands, he looked more closely at the ring, with its skull- a Masonic sign.
"Allow me to ask," he said, "are you a Mason?"
"Yes, I belong to the Brotherhood of the Freemasons," said the stranger, looking deeper and deeper into Pierre's eyes. "And in their name and my own I hold out a brotherly hand to you."
"I am afraid," said Pierre, smiling, and wavering between the confidence the personality of the Freemason inspired in him and his own habit of ridiculing the Masonic beliefs- "I am afraid I am very far from understanding- how am I to put it?- I am afraid my way of looking at the world is so opposed to yours that we shall not understand one another."
"I know your outlook," said the Mason, "and the view of life you mention, and which you think is the result of your own mental efforts, is the one held by the majority of people, and is the invariable fruit of pride, indolence, and ignorance. Forgive me, my dear sir, but if I had not known it I should not have addressed you. Your view of life is a regrettable delusion."
"Just as I may suppose you to be deluded," said Pierre, with a faint smile.
"I should never dare to say that I know the truth," said the Mason, whose words struck Pierre more and more by their precision and firmness. "No one can attain to truth by himself. Only by laying stone on stone with the cooperation of all, by the millions of generations from our forefather Adam to our own times, is that temple reared which is to be a worthy dwelling place of the Great God," he added, and closed his eyes.
"I ought to tell you that I do not believe... do not believe in God, said Pierre, regretfully and with an effort, feeling it essential to speak the whole truth.
The Mason looked intently at Pierre and smiled as a rich man with millions in hand might smile at a poor fellow who told him that he, poor man, had not the five rubles that would make him happy.
"Yes, you do not know Him, my dear sir," said the Mason. "You cannot know Him. You do not know Him and that is why you are unhappy."
"Yes, yes, I am unhappy," assented Pierre. "But what am I to do?"
"You know Him not, my dear sir, and so you are very unhappy. You do not know Him, but He is here, He is in me, He is in my words, He is in thee, and even in those blasphemous words thou hast just uttered!" pronounced the Mason in a stern and tremulous voice.
He paused and sighed, evidently trying to calm himself.
"If He were not," he said quietly, "you and I would not be speaking of Him, my dear sir. Of what, of whom, are we speaking? Whom hast thou denied?" he suddenly asked with exulting austerity and authority in his voice. "Who invented Him, if He did not exist? Whence came thy conception of the existence of such an incomprehensible Being? didst thou, and why did the whole world, conceive the idea of the existence of such an incomprehensible Being, a Being all-powerful, eternal, and infinite in all His attributes?..."
He stopped and remained silent for a long time.
Pierre could not and did not wish to break this silence.
"He exists, but to understand Him is hard," the Mason began again, looking not at Pierre but straight before him, and turning the leaves of his book with his old hands which from excitement he could not keep still. "If it were a man whose existence thou didst doubt I could bring him to thee, could take him by the hand and show him to thee. But how can I, an insignificant mortal, show His omnipotence, His infinity, and all His mercy to one who is blind, or who shuts his eyes that he may not see or understand Him and may not see or understand his own vileness and sinfulness?" He paused again. "Who art thou? Thou dreamest that thou art wise because thou couldst utter those blasphemous words," he went on, with a somber and scornful smile. "And thou art more foolish and unreasonable than a little child, who, playing with the parts of a skillfully made watch, dares to say that, as he does not understand its use, he does not believe in the master who made it. To know Him is hard.... For ages, from our forefather Adam to our own day, we labor to attain that knowledge and are still infinitely far from our aim; but in our lack of understanding we see only our weakness and His greatness...."
Pierre listened with swelling heart, gazing into the Mason's face with shining eyes, not interrupting or questioning him, but believing with his whole soul what the stranger said. Whether he accepted the wise reasoning contained in the Mason's words, or believed as a child believes, in the speaker's tone of conviction and earnestness, or the tremor of the speaker's voice- which sometimes almost broke- or those brilliant aged eyes grown old in this conviction, or the calm firmness and certainty of his vocation, which radiated from his whole being (and which struck Pierre especially by contrast with his own dejection and hopelessness)- at any rate, Pierre longed with his whole soul to believe and he did believe, and felt a joyful sense of comfort, regeneration, and return to life.
"He is not to be apprehended by reason, but by life," said the Mason.
"I do not understand," said Pierre, feeling with dismay doubts reawakening. He was afraid of any want of clearness, any weakness, in the Mason's arguments; he dreaded not to be able to believe in him. "I don't understand," he said, "how it is that the mind of man cannot attain the knowledge of which you speak."
The Mason smiled with his gentle fatherly smile.
"The highest wisdom and truth are like the purest liquid we may wish to imbibe," he said. "Can I receive that pure liquid into an impure vessel and judge of its purity? Only by the inner purification of myself can I retain in some degree of purity the liquid I receive."
"Yes, yes, that is so," said Pierre joyfully.
"The highest wisdom is not founded on reason alone, not on those worldly sciences of physics, history, chemistry, and the like, into which intellectual knowledge is divided. The highest wisdom is one. The highest wisdom has but one science- the science of the whole- the science explaining the whole creation and man's place in it. To receive that science it is necessary to purify and renew one's inner self, and so before one can know, it is necessary to believe and to perfect one's self. And to attain this end, we have the light called conscience that God has implanted in our souls."
"Yes, yes," assented Pierre.
"Look then at thy inner self with the eyes of the spirit, and ask thyself whether thou art content with thyself. What hast thou attained relying on reason only? What art thou? You are young, you are rich, you are clever, you are well educated. And what have you done with all these good gifts? Are you content with yourself and with your life?"
"No, I hate my life," Pierre muttered, wincing.
"Thou hatest it. Then change it, purify thyself; and as thou art purified, thou wilt gain wisdom. Look at your life, my dear sir. How have you spent it? In riotous orgies and debauchery, receiving everything from society and giving nothing in return. You have become the possessor of wealth. How have you used it? What have you done for your neighbor? Have you ever thought of your tens of thousands of slaves? Have you helped them physically and morally? No! You have profited by their toil to lead a profligate life. That is what you have done. Have you chosen a post in which you might be of service to your neighbor? No! You have spent your life in idleness. Then you married, my dear sir- took on yourself responsibility for the guidance of a young woman; and what have you done? You have not helped her to find the way of truth, my dear sir, but have thrust her into an abyss of deceit and misery. A man offended you and you shot him, and you say you do not know God and hate your life. There is nothing strange in that, my dear sir!"
After these words, the Mason, as if tired by his long discourse, again leaned his arms on the back of the sofa and closed his eyes. Pierre looked at that aged, stern, motionless, almost lifeless face and moved his lips without uttering a sound. He wished to say, "Yes, a vile, idle, vicious life!" but dared not break the silence.
The Mason cleared his throat huskily, as old men do, and called his servant.
"How about the horses?" he asked, without looking at Pierre.
"The exchange horses have just come," answered the servant. "Will you not rest here?"
"No, tell them to harness."
"Can he really be going away leaving me alone without having told me all, and without promising to help me?" thought Pierre, rising with downcast head; and he began to pace the room, glancing occasionally at the Mason. "Yes, I never thought of it, but I have led a contemptible and profligate life, though I did not like it and did not want to," thought Pierre. "But this man knows the truth and, if he wished to, could disclose it to me."
Pierre wished to say this to the Mason, but did not dare to. The traveler, having packed his things with his practiced hands, began fastening his coat. When he had finished, he turned to Bezukhov, and said in a tone of indifferent politeness:
"Where are you going to now, my dear sir?"
"I?... I'm going to Petersburg," answered Pierre, in a childlike, hesitating voice. "I thank you. I agree with all you have said. But do not suppose me to be so bad. With my whole soul I wish to be what you would have me be, but I have never had help from anyone.... But it is I, above all, who am to blame for everything. Help me, teach me, and perhaps I may..."
Pierre could not go on. He gulped and turned away.
The Mason remained silent for a long time, evidently considering.
"Help comes from God alone," he said, "but such measure of help as our Order can bestow it will render you, my dear sir. You are going to Petersburg. Hand this to Count Willarski" (he took out his notebook and wrote a few words on a large sheet of paper folded in four). "Allow me to give you a piece of advice. When you reach the capital, first of all devote some time to solitude and self-examination and do not resume your former way of life. And now I wish you a good journey, my dear sir," he added, seeing that his servant had entered... "and success."
The traveler was Joseph Alexeevich Bazdeev, as Pierre saw from the postmaster's book. Bazdeev had been one of the best-known Freemasons and Martinists, even in Novikov's time. For a long while after he had gone, Pierre did not go to bed or order horses but paced up and down the room, pondering over his vicious past, and with a rapturous sense of beginning anew pictured to himself the blissful, irreproachable, virtuous future that seemed to him so easy. It seemed to him that he had been vicious only because he had somehow forgotten how good it is to be virtuous. Not a trace of his former doubts remained in his soul. He firmly believed in the possibility of the brotherhood of men united in the aim of supporting one another in the path of virtue, and that is how Freemasonry presented itself to him.