Aspiration is often so many autumnal leaves. Napoleon knows this now. Just yesterday he stood as the master of Moscow, lording his plans for progress and the proclamations necessary to effectuate them over the populace as if he were the world’s legislator. It’s easy to see how he convinced himself he had the potency to fill that seat of power. His personal history, after all, what with all the conquest and everything, seemed to direct him to that position. Just as easy as leaves bud and grow, however, so too do they fall.
Pretty much all of Napoleon’s plans fall apart today. “All these measures, efforts, and plans” Tolstoy writes, “which were not at all worse than others issued in similar circumstances — did not affect the essence of the matter but, like the hands of a clock detached from the mechanism, swung about in an arbitrary and aimless way without engaging the cogwheels.”
This failure provokes Napoleon and fills him with a bilious desire to punish the Russians for their recalcitrance. He withdraws from Moscow to pursue the Russian army. The withdrawal is so hasty Tolstoy compares the movements of the French from this moment forward as to the dying leaps and shudders of a dying animal.
It’s clear Tolstoy wants us to compare Napoleon and Kutuzov. Kutuzov is the consummate Buddha warrior, accepting the flow of time and events and tacking his action to them undesirously. Napoleon, on the other hand, desires to command the flow of time and events himself. Soon he’ll meet the disappointment born of that desire.
Remember that following desire promises the attainment of that of which you are desirous; and aversion promises the avoiding that to which you are averse. However, he who fails to obtain the object of his desire is disappointed, and he who incurs the object of his aversion wretched. If, then, you confine your aversion to those objects only which are contrary to the natural use of your faculties, which you have in your own control, you will never incur anything to which you are averse. […] Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation.