I won’t both doing a roll call any more. You’re either here or you’re not. However, I should say, I’m very satisfied with myself that I managed to get all the way through the first volume (out of four) of my little Garnett translation.
But seeing as I’m still a day behind, let me not gibber on endlessly about that . . .
This chapter begins with Pierre sitting in a post-station. I wasn’t exactly sure what this was, so I’ve done a bit (but only a small bit, mind you) of ferreting around in my Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (by Shorter, I mean two massive slabs that you wouldn’t want to carry anywhere).
Maybe someone else can fill in the blanks, but from what I understand, travelling by post was a little bit like getting a hire car. You pick up a horse at one post-station or post-house, ride it a certain distance until you reach the next post-house, and then you pick up a new horse to continue the journey.
In Pierre’s case, he’s arrived and there’s no horses currently available. So when the post-master says that he can have the courier horses, he’s probably offering him horses that were set aside particularly for mail delivery (or maybe even military messages).
All of this is a side note, however, to what is going on in Pierre’s head. What I find most amusing about this chapter is that it captures the very human tendency to only really think about the big questions when things are going pear-shaped.
For instance, have you noticed that amongst your friends and relatives who are all happily employed, life is going well – that nobody ever stops to talk much about what life means, is there a higher Power behind it all, the reality of death, etc?
In fact, if you do meet somebody who is obsessing over these questions (and is openly talking about them), it’s usually a sign that things aren’t so good somewhere else – they might be single, or recovering from a relationship break-up, work might be going badly.
The odd thing is that none of these questions are dumb questions, and it would make sense that we should sit down on a regular basis and think through the meaning of life, so we can work out whether we’re spending our days well or not. But it just seems to be a fact of modern life (and obviously back in the 1800s as well), that we often only stop to contemplate these things when life is not doing so well. Which is a shame, because we don’t the clear head that would be so useful in these discussions.
Anyway, Pierre’s head is about to get more complex (if my memory serves me correctly) with the arrival of the mysterious gentleman at the post-station.