Conform To The Nature Of Which You Are A Part

Day 107 of A Year of War and Peace

Portrait of a winner. Not actually Prince Andrei though. This is Portrait of Baron Rene Hyacinthe Holstein by Jean-Baptiste Mauzaisse, 1818.

Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is a man who gets things done. This fact has placed him in a favorable position for his reentry into Petersburg society. The liberal reformers like him because he has freed his serfs and has a reputation of intelligence and wisdom. Even the elder party, the old guard who disapprove of such liberal reform, want to get to know him better because he is his father’s son. The women want his company because, well, he’s rich and single. In short, he’s desired not only due to his family ties but also because of his personal accomplishments.

This desirability gains him access to the highest nodes of the Petersburg court network. So much so that he gets to meet Mikhail Mikhailovich Speransky, close advisor to Emperor Alexander and the father of Russian liberalism. Most of today’s chapter is about Speransky. Prince Andrei is either observing him or talking to him.

What we see is typical Andrei: insightful, tough, and decisive. He notes the powerful presence Speransky presents and how everybody seems to defer to him. This impresses Andrei. He even engages in a little bit of it himself. But Prince Andrei, as we’ve noted, is a strong individual, not an obsequious sycophant. So, like we’ve all done at one party or another in order to establish our independence from a social superior, he engages Speransky, his conversation partner, in an argument over an obscure point in the political philosophy of Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu.

When I think about Prince Andrei Bolkonsky and what I like about him I find that it’s often his fierce, independent nature. Like today with Speransky he never seems to be fearful of acting according to what he feels is right. That’s an important, albeit rare, strength to have.


There is no one who hinders you from always doing and saying the things that conform to the nature of which you are a part.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

This is the one hundred and fourth installment in a daily, yearlong, chapter-by-chapter reading devotional and meditation on Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. For more information on this project please read the introduction to the series here.

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For my friends and family, love. For my enemies, durian fruit.

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