Part I, Chapter 12
LESSONS OF TIMES PAST REPEATED ON THE PRESENT
Thus spoke the Genius. Struck with the justice and coherence of his discourse, assailed
with a crowd of ideas, repugnant to my habits yet convincing to my reason, I remained
absorbed in profound silence. At length, while with serious and pensive mien, I kept my
eyes fixed on Asia, suddenly in the north, on the shores of the Black sea, and in the fields
of the Crimea, clouds of smoke and flame attracted my attention. They appeared to rise at
the same time from all parts of the peninsula; and passing by the isthmus into the
continent, they ran, as if driven by a westerly wind, along the oozy lake of Azof, and
disappeared in the grassy plains of Couban; and following more attentively the course of
these clouds, I observed that they were preceded or followed by swarms of moving
creatures, which, like ants or grasshoppers disturbed by the foot of a passenger, agitated
themselves with vivacity. Sometimes these swarms appeared to advance and rush against
each other; and numbers, after the concussion, remained motionless. While disquieted at
this spectacle, I strained my sight to distinguish the objects.
Do you see, said the Genius, those flames which spread over the earth, and do you
comprehend their causes and effects?
Oh! Genius, I answered, I see those columns of flame and smoke, and something like
insects, accompanying them; but, when I can scarcely discern the great masses of cities
and monuments, how should I discover, such little creatures? I can just perceive that
these insects mimic battle, for they advance, retreat, attack and pursue.
It is no mimicry, said the Genius, these are real battles.
And what, said I, are those mad animalculae, which destroy each other? Beings of a day!
will they not perish soon enough?
Then the Genius, touching my sight and hearing, again directed my eyes towards the
same object. Look, said he, and listen!
Ah! wretches, cried I, oppressed with grief, these columns of flame! these insects! oh!
Genius, they are men. These are the ravages of war! These torrents of flame rise from
towns and villages! I see the squadrons who kindle them, and who, sword in hand
overrun the country: they drive before them crowds of old men, women, and children,
fugitive and desolate: I perceive other horsemen, who with shouldered lances, accompany
and guide them. I even recognize them to be Tartars by their led horses,* their kalpacks,
and tufts of hair: and, doubtless, they who pursue, in triangular hats and green uniforms,
are Muscovites. Ah! I now comprehend, a war is kindled between the empire of the Czars
and that of the Sultans.