A Relationship Remembered
Mankind is a savage beast. The lightest reading in history or even the briefest of travels confirms we’ve failed to create much space between ourselves and the constituent lethality of our primate forebearers. In today’s chapter our custom of cruelty and habitude for holocaust is on full display. Yet, buried among the rubble, like so much charred Moscow cityscape, lies cause, however dim, for hope.
We begin with Pierre and the other prisoners as they are marched across town to appear before the feared marshal Davout. Along the way they survey the destruction of their city. Moscow is in ashes. Smoke rises from all sides above the ruined metropolis like the spectral ghosts of war dead. When they reach Davout’s quarters they are issued one by one into the house for their trial. Pierre is the sixth to enter.
Inside he is met by a merciless system of injustice wherein mere numbers substitute for the individual human and a cold calculation decides the fate of men. Pierre is sure he is going to die. Then that dim hope for humanity raises its bruised eye.
Davout looked up and gazed intently at him. For some seconds they looked at one another, and that looked saved Pierre. Apart from conditions of war and law, that look established human relations between the two men. At that moment an immense number of things passed dimly through both their minds, and they realized that they were both children of humanity and were brothers.
This, the hidden truth of cosmopolitanism, is the ameliorative balm that dulls the sharp edges of human barbarity. Let, then, Davout and Bezukhov serve as the first instructors of our exploration of how to conquer adversity. The lesson here is that no matter whether you find yourself as the imposer of violence, as Davout, or its unfortunate recipient, as Pierre, the first thing to recall is our common heritage.
And yet, in my opinion, the world is but one great family; originally it was so; what then is this narrow selfishness that reigns in us, but relationship remembered for relationship forgot?”
Clarissa Harlowe (Samuel Richardson), Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady