Speranski told Kochubey he was sorry he had been unable to come sooner as he had been detained at the palace. He did not say that the Emperor had kept him, and Prince Andrew noticed this affectation of modesty. When Kochubey introduced Prince Andrew, Speranski slowly turned his eyes to Bolkonski with his customary smile and looked at him in silence.
"I am very glad to make your acquaintance. I had heard of you, as everyone has," he said after a pause.
Kochubey said a few words about the reception Arakcheev had given Bolkonski. Speranski smiled more markedly.
"The chairman of the Committee on Army Regulations is my good friend Monsieur Magnitski," he said, fully articulating every word and syllable, "and if you like I can put you in touch with him." He paused at the full stop. "I hope you will find him sympathetic and ready to co-operate in promoting all that is reasonable."
A circle soon formed round Speranski, and the old man who had talked about his subordinate Pryanichnikov addressed a question to him.
Prince Andrew without joining in the conversation watched every movement of Speranski's: this man, not long since an insignificant divinity student, who now, Bolkonski thought, held in his hands- those plump white hands- the fate of Russia. Prince Andrew was struck by the extraordinarily disdainful composure with which Speranski answered the old man. He appeared to address condescending words to him from an immeasurable height. When the old man began to speak too loud, Speranski smiled and said he could not judge of the advantage or disadvantage of what pleased the sovereign.
Having talked for a little while in the general circle, Speranski rose and coming up to Prince Andrew took him along to the other end of the room. It was clear that he thought it necessary to interest himself in Bolkonski.
"I had no chance to talk with you, Prince, during the animated conversation in which that venerable gentleman involved me," he said with a mildly contemptuous smile, as if intimating by that smile that he and Prince Andrew understood the insignificance of the people with whom he had just been talking. This flattered Prince Andrew. "I have known of you for a long time: first from your action with regard to your serfs, a first example, of which it is very desirable that there should be more imitators; and secondly because you are one of those gentlemen of the chamber who have not considered themselves offended by the new decree concerning the ranks allotted to courtiers, which is causing so much gossip and tittle-tattle."
"No," said Prince Andrew, "my father did not wish me to take advantage of the privilege. I began the service from the lower grade."
"Your father, a man of the last century, evidently stands above our contemporaries who so condemn this measure which merely reestablishes natural justice."
"I think, however, that these condemnations have some ground," returned Prince Andrew, trying to resist Speranski's influence, of which he began to be conscious. He did not like to agree with him in everything and felt a wish to contradict. Though he usually spoke easily and well, he felt a difficulty in expressing himself now while talking with Speranski. He was too much absorbed in observing the famous man's personality.
"Grounds of personal ambition maybe," Speranski put in quietly.
"And of state interest to some extent," said Prince Andrew.
"What do you mean?" asked Speranski quietly, lowering his eyes.
"I am an admirer of Montesquieu," replied Prince Andrew, "and his idea that le principe des monarchies est l'honneur me parait incontestable. Certains droits et privileges de la noblesse me paraissent etre des moyens de soutenir ce sentiment."*
*"The principle of monarchies is honor seems to me incontestable. Certain rights and privileges for the aristocracy appear to me a means of maintaining that sentiment."
The smile vanished from Speranski's white face, which was much improved by the change. Probably Prince Andrew's thought interested him.
"Si vous envisagez la question sous ce point de vue,"* he began, pronouncing French with evident difficulty, and speaking even slower than in Russian but quite calmly.
*"If you regard the question from that point of view."
Speranski went on to say that honor, l'honeur, cannot be upheld by privileges harmful to the service; that honor, l'honneur, is either a negative concept of not doing what is blameworthy or it is a source of emulation in pursuit of commendation and rewards, which recognize it. His arguments were concise, simple, and clear.
"An institution upholding honor, the source of emulation, is one similar to the Legion d'honneur of the great Emperor Napoleon, not harmful but helpful to the success of the service, but not a class or court privilege."
"I do not dispute that, but it cannot be denied that court privileges have attained the same end," returned Prince Andrew. "Every courtier considers himself bound to maintain his position worthily."
"Yet you do not care to avail yourself of the privilege, Prince," said Speranski, indicating by a smile that he wished to finish amiably an argument which was embarrassing for his companion. "If you will do me the honor of calling on me on Wednesday," he added, "I will, after talking with Magnitski, let you know what may interest you, and shall also have the pleasure of a more detailed chat with you."
Closing his eyes, he bowed a la francaise, without taking leave, and trying to attract as little attention as possible, he left the room.
War and Peace -by- Leo Tolstoy