Amid the Madness
Today’s reading is an absolute mess, a carnival of cacophony. Russian troops bottleneck on a bridge. Enemy shots fly overhead. Soldiers fight among themselves. Bayonets bang and tangle with each other. Horses and carts smash against the bridge railings. Insults and jokes fire about like so many bullets.
Amid all this madness is poor Prince Nesvitsky. He just wants to move everybody along so he can execute his orders to burn the bridge. He won’t find that to be so easy.
There is an interesting passage where Nesvitsky briefly contemplates the passing river Enns below him and then compares its stream to the undifferentiated waves of soldiers flowing over the bridge. It reminds me of yesterday’s reading and how often Tolstoy will compare and contrast nature’s vast and calm insouciance to human action.
Unfortunately, Nesvitsky doesn’t have much time to contemplate what this might mean. He has work to do. He has to get this mess on the move. The French are coming.
Though we’ll probably never find ourselves stuck on a bridge during a battle of the Napoleonic Wars — I’d say there’s only, I don’t know, a 15% chance of that happening —our own lives can be quite chaotic too. The demands of family, work, and friendship are pressing. City life in particular, I speak from experience, can be a vexing challenge. In such moments I like to recall Epictetus:
You ought, when you live alone, to call that peace and freedom, and compare yourself to the gods; and when you are in company, not to call it a crowd and tumult and a vexation, but a feast and festival, and thus accept all things with contentment.
Epictetus, The Discourses