Friday, January 02, 2009


From Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (R. Pevear & L. Volokhonsky trans.), at 823:
Every time I see the movement of a locomotive, I hear a whistling sound, I hear the opening of the valve and the movement of the wheels; but I have no right to conclude from this that the whistling and the movement of the wheels are the cause of the movement of the locomotive.

Peasants say that a cold wind blows in late spring because the leaf buds of the oak are sprouting, and indeed a cold blows every spring when the oak is sprouting. But though the cause of the cold wind that blows as the oak sprouts is unknown to me, I cannot agree with the peasants about the sprouting of the oak being the cause of the cold wind, if only because the force of the wind is beyond the influence of the leaf buds. I only see the coincidence of conditions that occurs in every phenomenon of life, and I see that however long and thoroughly I observe the hand of my watch, the valve and wheels of the locomotive, and the leaf buds, I will not learn the cause of bells ringing, the movement of the train, and the spring wind. For that I must change my point of observation completely, and study the laws of the movement of steam, bells and the wind. Historical science must do the same.
(read book in a beach chair; took four days.)


Anonymous said...

How would you rank it?

Carl said...

It's not really a novel, as Tolstoy says in an Appendix. It's half comedy of manners (Jane Austin goes to Russia), half polemic on the proper lessons to be drawn from Napoleon's 1812 campaign in Russia. It did dovetail with a recent book I read on the Congress of Vienna (1815), which filled in some historical gaps. And it does reinforce the idea that there's something inexplicably emotional in the Russian soul that Anglo-Americans will find odd (as I did).

On the whole, I don't recommend.

OBloodyHell said...

Tolstoy had some concept of Cause and Effect.