BOOK TEN: 1812
7. CHAPTER VII
While this was taking place in Petersburg the French had already
passed Smolensk and were drawing nearer and nearer to Moscow.
Napoleon's historian Thiers, like other of his historians, trying to
justify his hero says that he was drawn to the walls of Moscow against
his will. He is as right as other historians who look for the
explanation of historic events in the will of one man; he is as
right as the Russian historians who maintain that Napoleon was drawn
to Moscow by the skill of the Russian commanders. Here besides the law
of retrospection, which regards all the past as a preparation for
events that subsequently occur, the law of reciprocity comes in,
confusing the whole matter. A good chessplayer having lost a game is
sincerely convinced that his loss resulted from a mistake he made
and looks for that mistake in the opening, but forgets that at each
stage of the game there were similar mistakes and that none of his
moves were perfect. He only notices the mistake to which he pays
attention, because his opponent took advantage of it. How much more
complex than this is the game of war, which occurs under certain
limits of time, and where it is not one will that manipulates lifeless
objects, but everything results from innumerable conflicts of
After Smolensk Napoleon sought a battle beyond Dorogobuzh at Vyazma,
and then at Tsarevo-Zaymishche, but it happened that owing to a
conjunction of innumerable circumstances the Russians could not give
battle till they reached Borodino, seventy miles from Moscow. From
Vyazma Napoleon ordered a direct advance on Moscow.
Moscou, la capitale asiatique de ce grand empire, la ville sacree
des peuples d'Alexandre, Moscou avec ses innombrables eglises en forme
de pagodes chinoises,* this Moscow gave Napoleon's imagination no
rest. On the march from Vyazma to Tsarevo-Zaymishche he rode his light
bay bobtailed ambler accompanied by his Guards, his bodyguard, his
pages, and aides-de-camp. Berthier, his chief of staff, dropped behind
to question a Russian prisoner captured by the cavalry. Followed by
Lelorgne d'Ideville, an interpreter, he overtook Napoleon at a
gallop and reined in his horse with an amused expression.
*"Moscow, the Asiatic capital of this great empire, the sacred
city of Alexander's people, Moscow with its innumerable churches
shaped like Chinese pagodas."
"Well?" asked Napoleon.