The dinner was as choice as the china, in which Stepan Arkadyevitch was a connoisseur. The soupe Marie-Louise was a splendid success; the tiny pies eaten with it melted in the mouth and were irreproachable. The two footmen and Matvey, in white cravats, did their duty with the dishes and wines unobtrusively, quietly, and swiftly. On the material side the dinner was a success; it was no less so on the immaterial. The conversation, at times general and at times between individuals, never paused, and towards the end the company was so lively that the men rose from the table, without stopping speaking, and even Alexey Alexandrovitch thawed.
Pestsov liked thrashing an argument out to the end, and was not satisfied with Sergey Ivanovitch’s words, especially as he felt the injustice of his view.
“I did not mean,” he said over the soup, addressing Alexey Alexandrovitch, “mere density of population alone, but in conjunction with fundamental ideas, and not by means of principles.”
“It seems to me,” Alexey Alexandrovitch said languidly, and with no haste, “that that’s the same thing. In my opinion, influence over another people is only possible to the people which has the higher development, which...”
“But that’s just the question,” Pestsov broke in in his bass.
He was always in a hurry to speak, and seemed always to put his whole soul into what he was saying. “In what are we to make higher development consist? The English, the French, the Germans, which is at the highest stage of development? Which of them will nationalize the other? We see the Rhine provinces have been turned French, but the Germans are not at a lower stage!” he shouted. “There is another law at work there.”
“I fancy that the greater influence is always on the side of true civilization,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch, slightly lifting his eyebrows.
“But what are we to lay down as the outward signs of true civilization?” said Pestsov.
“I imagine such signs are generally very well known,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch.
“But are they fully known?” Sergey Ivanovitch put in with a subtle smile. “It is the accepted view now that real culture must be purely classical; but we see most intense disputes on each side of the question, and there is no denying that the opposite camp has strong points in its favor.”
“You are for classics, Sergey Ivanovitch. Will you take red wine?” said Stepan Arkadyevitch.
“I am not expressing my own opinion of either form of culture,” Sergey Ivanovitch said, holding out his glass with a smile of condescension, as to a child. “I only say that both sides have strong arguments to support them,” he went on, addressing Alexey Alexandrovitch. “My sympathies are classical from education, but in this discussion I am personally unable to arrive at a conclusion. I see no distinct grounds for classical studies being given a preeminence over scientific studies.”