Among the innumerable categories applicable to the phenomena of human life one may discriminate between those in which substance prevails and those in which form prevails. To the latter- as distinguished from village, country, provincial, or even Moscow life- we may allot Petersburg life, and especially the life of its salons. That life of the salons is unchanging. Since the year 1805 we had made peace and had again quarreled with Bonaparte and had made constitutions and unmade them again, but the salons of Anna Pavlovna Helene remained just as they had been- the one seven and the other five years before. At Anna Pavlovna's they talked with perplexity of Bonaparte's successes just as before and saw in them and in the subservience shown to him by the European sovereigns a malicious conspiracy, the sole object of which was to cause unpleasantness and anxiety to the court circle of which Anna Pavlovna was the representative. And in Helene's salon, which Rumyantsev himself honored with his visits, regarding Helene as a remarkably intelligent woman, they talked with the same ecstasy in 1812 as in 1808 of the "great nation" and the "great man," and regretted our rupture with France, a rupture which, according to them, ought to be promptly terminated by peace.
Of late, since the Emperor's return from the army, there had been some excitement in these conflicting salon circles and some demonstrations of hostility to one another, but each camp retained its own tendency. In Anna Pavlovna's circle only those Frenchmen were admitted who were deep-rooted legitimists, and patriotic views were expressed to the effect that one ought not to go to the French theater and that to maintain the French troupe was costing the government as much as a whole army corps. The progress of the war was eagerly followed, and only the reports most flattering to our army were circulated. In the French circle of Helene and Rumyantsev the reports of the cruelty of the enemy and of the war were contradicted and all Napoleon's attempts at conciliation were discussed. In that circle they discountenanced those who advised hurried preparations for a removal to Kazan of the court and the girls' educational establishments under the patronage of the Dowager Empress. In Helene's circle the war in general was regarded as a series of formal demonstrations which would very soon end in peace, and the view prevailed expressed by Bilibin- who now in Petersburg was quite at home in Helene's house, which every clever man was obliged to visit- that not by gunpowder but by those who invented it would matters be settled. In that circle the Moscow enthusiasm- news of which had reached Petersburg simultaneously with the Emperor's return- was ridiculed sarcastically and very cleverly, though with much caution.
Anna Pavlovna's circle on the contrary was enraptured by this enthusiasm and spoke of it as Plutarch speaks of the deeds of the ancients. Prince Vasili, who still occupied his former important posts, formed a connecting link between these two circles. He visited his "good friend Anna Pavlovna" as well as his daughter's "diplomatic salon," and often in his constant comings and goings between the two camps became confused and said at Helene's what he should have said at Anna Pavlovna's and vice versa.
Soon after the Emperor's return Prince Vasili in a conversation about the war at Anna Pavlovna's severely condemned Barclay de Tolly, but was undecided as to who ought to be appointed commander in chief. One of the visitors, usually spoken of as "a man of great merit," having described how he had that day seen Kutuzov, the newly chosen chief of the Petersburg militia, presiding over the enrollment of recruits at the Treasury, cautiously ventured to suggest that Kutuzov would be the man to satisfy all requirements.
Anna Pavlovna remarked with a melancholy smile that Kutuzov had done nothing but cause the Emperor annoyance.
"I have talked and talked at the Assembly of the Nobility," Prince Vasili interrupted, "but they did not listen to me. I told them his election as chief of the militia would not please the Emperor. They did not listen to me.
War and Peace -by- Leo Tolstoy