If bad company leads us to the gallows, as Machiavelli has it in The Mandrake Root, where does good company lead us?
Good company leads Pierre and Prince Andrei to a raft on a river crossing where they continue their philosophical discussion initiated in yesterday’s reading. Today Pierre attempts to save his friend from despair with uplifting talk of the brotherhood of man, equality, love, and the certainty of an afterlife. He discourses on the “kingdom of truth” and how he feels connected entirely to the “vast harmonious whole.” All of this, at least for Pierre, indicates beyond a doubt there there is life after death.
Prince Andrei isn’t biting. He just doesn’t really feel connected to anything except for “life and death.” In those two subjects alone, Prince Andrei feels, are the answers to the hard questions of existence. He shares with Pierre his experience of losing his wife: “When you go hand in hand with someone and all at once that person vanishes there, into nowhere, and you yourself are left facing the abyss, and look in. And I have looked in . . .”
Pierre, spotting an opportunity, attempts to draw Prince Andrei closer to his view by agreeing and saying that this answer, this thing Andrei speaks of, is God. He says that it is a man’s duty to start living not only for “this scrap of earth” but for God. To illustrate this point Pierre points to the sky.
Prince Andrei looks up to the sky and something moves in him. This is the first time since he lay dying at Austerlitz that he sees once again that great lofty sky of his. His soul is stirred. He feels a rush of joy and youthfulness. “Though outwardly,” Tolstoy writes, “he continued to live in the same old way, inwardly he began a new life.”
This is certainly one of the more heartwarming chapters of the novel. Every year when I read it I like to reflect for a few moments on the friends I have and how they help me in times of need just like Pierre does for Prince Andrei.
For the man who is suffering many a trouble there is no sure salvation except a good friend.
Diogenes the Cynic