Before I reached Vienna, as I waited for my second son, who was to rejoin me with my servants and baggage, I stopped a day at Molk, that celebrated abbey, placed upon an eminence, from which Napoleon had contemplated the various windings of the Danube, and praised the beauty of the country upon which he was going to pounce with his armies. He frequently amuses himself in this manner in making poetical pieces on the beauties of nature, which he is about to ravage, and upon the effects of war, with which he is going to overwhelm mankind. After all, he is in the right to amuse himself in all ways, at the expense of the human race, which tolerates his existence. Man is only arrested in the career of evil by obstacles or remorse; no one has yet opposed to Napoleon the one, and he has very easily rid himself of the other. For me, who, solitary, followed his footsteps on the terrace from which the country could be seen to a great distance, I admired its fertility, and felt astonished at seeing how soon the bounty of heaven repairs the disasters occasioned by man. It is only moral riches which disappear altogether, or are at least lost for centuries.
Residence at Vienna.
I arrived at Vienna on the 6th of June, very fortunately just two hours before the departure of a courier whom Count Stackelberg, the Russian ambassador, was dispatching to Wilna, where the emperor Alexander then was. M. de Stackelberg, who behaved to me with that noble delicacy which is so prominent a trait in his character, wrote by this courier for my passport, and assured me that within three weeks I might reckon on having an answer. It then became a question where I was to pass these three weeks; my Austrian friends, who had given me the most amiable reception, assured me that I might remain at Vienna without the least fear. The court was then at Dresden, at the great meeting of all the German princes, who came to present their homage to the emperor of France. Napoleon had stopped at Dresden under the pretext of still negociating there to avoid the war with Russia, in other words, to obtain by his policy the same result as he could by his arms. He would not at first admit the king of Prussia to his banquet at Dresden; he knew too well what repugnance the heart of that unfortunate monarch must have to what he conceives himself obliged to do. It is said that M. de Metternich obtained this humiliating favor for him. M. de Hardenberg, who accompanied him, made the remark to the emperor Napoleon, that Prussia had paid one third more than the promised contributions. The emperor turning his back to him, replied: "An apothecary's bill,"— for he has a secret pleasure in making use of vulgar expressions, the more to humble those who are the objects of it. He assumed a sufficient degree of coquetry in his way of living with the emperor and empress of Austria as it was of importance to him that the Austrian government should take an active part in his war with Russia. In a conversation with M. de Metternich, I have been assured that he said, "You see very well that I can never have the least interest in diminishing the power of Austria, as it now exists; for, first of all, it suits me that my father-in-law should be a prince of great consideration: besides, I have more confidence in the old than in the new dynasties. Has not General Bernadotte already taken the side of making peace with England?" And in fact, the Prince Royal of Sweden, as will be seen in the sequel, had courageously declared himself for the interests of the country which he governed.
The emperor of France having left Dresden to review his armies, the empress went to spend some time at Prague with her own family. Napoleon himself, at his departure, regulated the etiquette that was to subsist between the father and the daughter, and one may conjecture that it was not very easy, as he loves etiquette almost as much from suspicion as from vanity, in other words, as a means of isolating individuals among themselves, under the pretence of marking the distinction of their ranks.
The first ten days, which I passed at Vienna, passed unclouded, and I was delighted at thus finding myself again in a pleasing society, whose manner of thinking corresponded with my own; for the public opinion was unfavorable to the alliance with Napoleon, and the government had concluded it without being supported by the national assent. In fact, how could a war, the ostensible object of which was the re-establishment of Poland, be undertaken by the power which had contributed to the partition, and which still retained in its hands with greater obstinacy than ever the third of that same Poland? Thirty thousand men were sent by the Austrian government to restore the confederation of Poland at Warsaw, and nearly as many spies were attached to the movements of the Poles in Gallicia, who wished to have deputies at this confederation. The Austrian government was therefore obliged to speak against the Poles, at the very time that it was acting in their cause, and to say to her subjects of Gallicia: "I forbid you to be of the opinion which I support." What metaphysics! they would be found very intricate, if fear did not explain every thing.
The Poles are the only nation, of those which Bonaparte drags after him, that create any interest. I believe they know as well as we do, that they are only the pretence for the war, and that the emperor does not care a fig for their independence. He has not even been able to refrain from expressing several times to the emperor Alexander his disdain for Poland, solely because she wishes to be free: but it suits his purposes to put her in the van against Russia, and the Poles avail themselves of that circumstance to restore their national independence. I know not if they will succeed, for it is with difficulty that despotism ever gives liberty, and what they will regain in their own cause, if successful, they will lose in the cause of Europe. They will be Poles, but Poles as much enslaved as the three nations upon whom they will no longer depend. Be that as it may, the Poles are the only Europeans who can serve under the banners of Napoleon without blushing. The princes of the Rhenish Confederation think to find their interest in it by the loss of their honor; but Austria by a combination truly remarkable, at once sacrifices in it both her honor and her interest. The emperor Napoleon wished the archduke Charles to take the command of these thirty thousand men; but the archduke fortunately saved himself from this insult; and when I saw him walking alone in a brown coat, in the alleys of the Prater, I recovered all my old respect for him.
The same subaltern diplomatist who had so unworthily advised the abandonment of the Tyrolese, was entrusted, during the absence of Prince Metternich from Vienna, with the police of foreigners, and he acquitted himself as you shall see. The first few days he allowed me to remain undisturbed; I had formerly passed a winter at Vienna, and been very well received by the emperor and empress, and by the whole court: it was, therefore, rather awkward to tell me that this time I would not be received, because I was in disgrace with the emperor Napoleon; particularly as this disgrace was partly occasioned by the praises which I had bestowed in my book on the morality and literary genius of the Germans. But what was much more awkward was to run the risk of giving the least umbrage to a power, to which it must be confessed, they might very well sacrifice me, after all they had already done for it. I suppose, therefore, that after I had been some days at Vienna, the chief of the police received some more exact information of the nature of my situation with Bonaparte, and in consequence thought it necessary to watch me; and this was his method of inspection. He placed spies at my gate in the street, who followed me on foot, when my carriage drove slowly, and got into cabriolets in order not to lose sight of me, when I took an airing into the country. This method of exercising the police appeared to me to unite both the French machiavelism, and German clumsiness. The Austrians have persuaded themselves that they have been beat, because they had not so much wit as the French, and that the wit of the French consists In their police system; in consequence they have set about making a methodical espionage, organizing that ostensibly which should it all events be concealed; and although destined by nature to be very honest people, they have made it a kind of duty to imitate a state which unites the extremes of jacobinism and despotism.
I could not help, however, being uneasy at this espionnage, when the least common sense was sufficient to see that flight was now my only object. They tried to alarm me about the arrival of my Russian passport; they pretended that I might have to wait several months for it and that then the war would prevent me from passing. It was easy for me to judge that I could not remain at Vienna after the French ambassador returned to it; what would then become of me? I intreated M. de Stackelberg to give me some means of passing by Odessa, to repair to Constantinople. But Odessa being Russian, a passport from Petersburg was equally necessary to go there; there therefore remained no road open but the direct one to Turkey through Hungary; and this road passing on the borders of Servia was subject to a thousand dangers. I might still reach the port of Salonica by going across the interior of Greece; the archduke Francis had taken this road to get into Sardinia; but the archduke Francis is a good horseman, and of that I was scarcely capable: still less could I think of exposing so young a person as my daughter to such a journey. I was obliged, therefore, although the idea was most painful to me, to determine on parting with her, and sending her by the way of Denmark and Sweden in the charge of persons in whom I could confide. I concluded at all hazards an agreement with an Armenian to take me to Constantinople. From thence I proposed to pass by Greece, Sicily, Cadiz, and Lisbon, and however hazardous was this voyage, it offered a fine perspective to the imagination. I addressed the office for foreign affairs, directed by a subaltern during the absence of M. de Metternich, for a passport which would enable me to leave Austria by Hungary, or by Gallicia, according as I might go to Petersberg or to Constantinople. I was told that I must make my election; that they could not give me a passport to go by two different frontiers, and that even to go to Presburg, which is the first city of Hungary, only six leagues from Vienna, it was necessary to have an authority from the committee of the States. Certainly I could not help thinking that Europe, which was formerly so open to all travellers, is become, under the influence of the emperor Napoleon, like a great net, in which you get entangled at every step. How many restraints and shackles there are upon the slightest movements! And can it be conceived that the unhappy governments which France oppresses, console themselves for it by making the miserable remains of power which has been left them, fall heavy in a thousand ways upon their subjects!
Departure from Vienna.
Obliged to make my election, I decided at last for Gallicia, which would conduct me to the country I preferred, namely, to Russia. I flattered myself, that once at a distance from Vienna, all these vexations, excited no doubt by the French government, would cease; and that at all events, I might, if it was necessary, quit Gallicia, and regain Bucharest by Transylvania. The geography of Europe, such as Napoleon has constituted it, is but too well learned by misfortune; the turnings which I was obliged to take to avoid his power were already near two thousand leagues; and now at my departure even from Vienna I was constrained to borrow the Asiatic territory to escape from it. I departed, therefore, without having received my Russian passport, hoping thereby to quiet the uneasiness which the subaltern police of Vienna appeared to feel about the presence of a female who was in disgrace with the emperor Napoleon. I requested one of my friends to rejoin me, by travelling night and day, as soon as the answer from Russia arrived, and I proceeded on my road. I did very wrong in taking this step, for at Vienna I was protected by my friends and by public opinion; I could there easily address myself to the emperor or to his prime minister: but once confined to a provincial town, I had only to do with the stupid wickedness of a subaltern, who wished to make a merit with the French government, of his conduct towards me; this was the method he took.
I stopped for some days at Brunn, the capital of Moravia, where an English colonel, a Mr. Mills, was detained in exile; he was a man of the most perfect goodness and obliging manners, and according to the English expression, altogether inoffensive. He was made dreadfully miserable, without the least pretence or utility. But the Austrian ministry is apparently persuaded that it will derive an air of strength from turning persecutor; its counsellors are not mistaken; and as was said by a man of wit, their manner of governing in matters of police, resembles the sentinels placed upon the half destroyed citadel of Brunn,—they keep a strict guard round the ruins. Scarcely had I arrived at Brunn when all sorts of difficulties were started about my passports, and those of my companions. I asked permission to send my son to Vienna, to give the necessary explanations upon these points. I was told that neither myself nor my son would be allowed to go one league backwards. I know not if the emperor, or M. de Metternich were informed of all these absurd acts, but I encountered at Brunn, in the agents of government, a dread of compromising themselves which appeared to me quite worthy of the present French regime; and it must even be admitted that when the French are afraid, they are more excusable, for under the emperor Napoleon they run the risk of exile, imprisonment, or death.
The governor of Moravia, a man in other respects very estimable, informed me that I was ordered to go through Gallicia as quickly as possible, and that I was forbid stopping more than twenty-four hours at Lanzut, where I had the intention of going. Lanzut is the estate of the princess Lubomirska, the sister of prince Adam Czartorinski, marshal of the Polish Confederation, which the Austrian troops were going to support. The princess Lubomirska was herself generally respected from her personal character, and the liberal use which she made of her splendid fortune; besides, her attachment to the house of Austria was conspicuous, and although a Pole by birth, she had never participated in the spirit of opposition which has always been exhibited in Poland to the Austrian government. Her nephew and niece, Prince Henry and the princess Theresa, with whom I had the honor to be intimate, are both of them endowed with the most brilliant and amiable qualities; they might no doubt be supposed to entertain a strong attachment to their Polish country, but it was then rather difficult to make a crime of this opinion, when the prince of Schwarzenberg was sent at the head of thirty thousand men to fight for the restoration of Poland. To what miserable shifts are those princes reduced, who are constantly told that they must yield to circumstances? it is proposing to them to govern with every wind. The successes of Bonaparte excite the envy of the greater part of the governors of Germany; they persuade themselves that they were beat because they were too honest, whereas it was because they had not been honest enough. If the Germans had imitated the Spaniards, if they had said:—whatever be the consequences, we will not bear a foreign yoke: they would still be a nation, and their princes would not be dangling, I do not say in the anti-chambers of the emperor Napoleon, but in those of all the persons on whom a ray of his favor is fallen. The emperor of Austria and his intelligent companion certainly preserve as much dignity as they can in their situation; but this situation is so artificial in itself, that it is impossible to give lustre to it. None of the actions of the Austrian government in favor of French interests can be attributed to any thing but fear; and this new muse inspires very sorrowful strains.
I tried to represent to the governor of Moravia, that if I was thus hurried with so much politeness towards the frontier, I knew not what would become of me, having no Russian passport, and that I should be obliged, from inability to go either forward or backward, to pass my life at Brody, a frontier town between Russia and Austria, inhabited by Jews, who have settled there to carry on the trade of carrying from the one empire to the other. "What you say is very true," replied the governor, "but here is my order." For some time past governments have found the art of inculcating that a civil agent is subject to the same discipline as a military officer; with the latter reflection is altogether forbidden, or at least rarely finds a place; but one would have some difficulty in making men responsible in the eye of the law, such as are all the magistrates of England, comprehend, that they are not allowed to have an opinion upon the order that is given them. And what is the consequence of this servile obedience? If it had only the head of the state for its object, it might still be considered proper in an absolute monarchy; but during the absence of that head, or his representative, a subaltern may abuse at his pleasure those measures of police, the infernal inventions of arbitrary governments, and of which real greatness will never make use.
I departed for Gallicia, and this time, I confess, I was completely depressed; the phantom of tyranny followed me every where; I saw those Germans, whom I had known so upright, depraved by the fatal marriage, which seemed to have even altered the blood of the subjects, as it had done that of their sovereign. I thought that Europe existed only beyond the seas, or the Pyrenees, and I despaired of reaching an asylum to my inclination. The spectacle of Gallicia was not of a kind to revive any hopes of the destiny of the human race. The Austrians have not acquired the art of making themselves beloved by the foreign nations which are subject to them. During the period they were in possession of Venice, the first thing they did was to put down the Carnival, which had become in a manner an institution, so long a time had elapsed since the Venetian carnival was talked of. The rudest people of the monarchy were selected to govern that gay city; no wonder therefore that the nations of the south should almost prefer being pillaged by the French to being governed by the Austrians.
The Poles love their country as an unfortunate friend: the country is dull and monotonous, the people ignorant and lazy; they have always wished for liberty; they have never known how to acquire it. But the Poles think that they can and may govern Poland, and the feeling is very natural. The education however of the people is so much neglected, and all kind of industry is so foreign to them, that the Jews have possessed themselves of the entire trade, and make the peasants sell them for a quantity of brandy the whole harvest of the approaching year. The distance between the nobility and the peasantry is so immense, the contrast between the luxury of the one, and the frightful misery of the other is so shocking, that it is probable the Austrians have given them better laws than those which previously existed. But a proud people, and the Poles are so even in their misery, does not wish to be humbled, even when they are benefited, and in that point the Austrians have never failed. They have divided Gallicia into circles, each of which is commanded by a German functionary; sometimes a person of distinction accepts this employment, but it is much more frequently a kind of brute, taken from the subaltern ranks, and who in virtue of his office commands in the most despotic manner the greatest noblemen of Poland. The police, which in the present times has replaced the secret tribunal, authorizes the most oppressive measures. Now let us only imagine what the police can be, namely, the most subtle and arbitrary power in the government, entrusted to the rude hands of the captain of a circle. At every post-house in Gallicia there are to be seen three descriptions of persons who gather round travellers' carriages: the Jew traders, the Polish beggars, and the German spies. The country appears exclusively inhabited by these three classes of men. The beggars, with their long beards and ancient Sarmatian costume, excite deep commiseration; it is very true that if they would work they need not be in that state; but I know not whether it is pride or laziness which makes them disdain the culture of the enslaved earth.
You meet upon the high roads processions of men and women carrying the standard of the cross, and singing Psalms; a profound expression of melancholy reigns upon their countenance: I have seen them, when not money, but food of a better sort than they had been accustomed to was given them, turn up their eyes to heaven with astonishment, as if they considered themselves unfit to enjoy its bounty. The custom of the common people in Poland is to embrace the knees of the nobility when they meet them; you cannot stir a step in a village without having the women, children, and old men saluting you in this manner. In the midst of this spectacle of wretchedness you might see some men in shabby attire, who were spies upon misery: for that was the only object which could offer itself to their eyes. The captains of the circles refused passports to the Polish noblemen, for fear they should see one another, or lest they should go to Warsaw. They obliged these noblemen to appear before them every eight days, in order to certify their presence. The Austrians thus proclaimed in all manner of ways that they knew they were detested in Poland, and they separated their troops into two equal divisions: the first entrusted with supporting externally the interests of Poland, and the second employed in the interior to prevent the Poles from aiding the same cause. I do not believe that any country was ever more wretchedly governed than Gallicia was at that time, at least under political considerations; and it was apparently to conceal this spectacle from general observation that so many difficulties were made in allowing a stranger to reside in, or even to pass through the country.
I return to the manner in which the Austrian police behaved to me to hasten my journey. In this road it is necessary to have your passport examined by each captain of a circle; and every third post you found one of the chief towns of the circle. They had put up placards in the police offices of all these towns that a strict eye must be kept on me as I passed through. If it was not for the singular impertinence of treating a female in this manner, and that a female who had been persecuted for doing justice to Germany, one could not help laughing at the excess of stupidity which could publish in capital letters measures of police, the whole strength of which consists in their secrecy. It reminded me of M. de Sartines, who had formerly proposed to give spies a livery. It is not that the director of all these absurdities is, as some say, devoid of understanding: but he has such a strong desire to please the French government, that he even seeks to do himself honor by his meannesses, as publickly as possible. This proclaimed inspection was executed with as much ingenuity as it was conceived: a corporal, or a clerk, or perhaps both together, came to look at my carriage, smoking their pipes, and when they had gone the round of it, they went their way without even deigning to tell me if there was any thing the matter with it; if they had done that, they would have been at least good for something. I made very slow progress to wait for the Russian passport, now my only means of safety in the circumstances in which I was placed. One morning I turned out of my road to go and see a ruined castle, which belonged to the princess Lubomirska. To get to it, I had to go over roads, of which, without having travelled in Poland, it is impossible to form an idea. In the middle of a sort of desert which I was crossing alone with my son, a person on horseback saluted me in French; I wished to answer him, but he was already at a distance. I cannot express the effect which the sound of that dear language produced upon me, at a moment so cruel. Ah! if the French were but once free, how one would love them! they would then be the first themselves to despise their allies. I descended into the court yard of this castle, which was entirely in ruins. The keeper, with his wife and children, came to meet me, and embraced my knees. I caused them to be informed by a bad interpreter, that I knew the princess Lubomirska; that name was sufficient to inspire them with confidence; they had no doubt of the truth of what I said, although I travelled with a very shabby equipage. They introduced me into a sort of hall, which resembled a prison, and at the moment of my entrance, one of the women came into it to burn perfumes. They had neither white bread nor meat, but an exquisite Hungarian wine, and every where the wrecks of magnificence stood by the side of the greatest misery. This contrast is of frequent recurrence in Poland: there are no beds, even in houses fitted up with the most finished elegance. Every thing appears sketched in this country, and nothing terminated in it; but what one can never sufficiently praise is the goodness of the people, and the generosity of the great: both are easily excited by all that is good and beautiful, and the agents whom Austria sends there seem like wooden men in the midst of this flexible nation.
At last my Russian passport arrived, and I shall be grateful for it to the end of my life, so great was the pleasure it gave me. My friends at Vienna had succeeded at the same time in dissipating the malignant influence of those who thought to please France by tormenting me. This time I flattered myself with being entirely sheltered from any farther trouble; but I forgot that the circular order to the captains of the circles to keep me under inspection, was not yet revoked, and that it was only direct from the ministry that I had the promise of having these ridiculous torments put an end to. I thought, however, that I might venture to follow my first plan, and stop at Lanzut, that castle of the princess Lubomirska, so famous in Poland for the union of the most perfect taste and magnificence. I anticipated extreme pleasure from again seeing prince Henry Lubomirska, whose society, as well as that of his amiable lady, had made me pass at Geneva many agreeable moments. I proposed to myself to remain there two days, and to continue my journey with great speed, as news came from all quarters that war was declared between France and Russia. I don't quite see what there was in this plan of mine so dreadful to the tranquillity of Austria; it was a most singular idea to be jealous of my connection with the Poles, because they served under Bonaparte. No doubt, and I repeat it, the Poles cannot be confounded with the other nations who are tributary to France: it is frightful to be obliged to hope for liberty only from a despot, and to expect the independence of one's own nation only from the slavery of the rest of Europe. But finally, in this Polish cause, the Austrian ministry was more to be suspected than I was, for it furnished troops to support it, while I only consecrated my poor forces to proclaim the justice of the cause of Europe, then defended by Russia. Besides, the Austrian ministry, in common with all the governments in alliance with Bonaparte, has no longer any knowledge of what constitutes opinion, conscience, or affection: the one single idea which they retain, the inconsistency of their own conduct and the art with which Napoleon's diplomacy has entangled them, is that of mere brute force; and to please that they do every thing.
Passage through Poland.
I arrived in the beginning of July at the chief town of the circle, in which Lanzut is situated; my carriage stopped before the posthouse, and my son went, as usual, to have my passport examined. I was astonished, at the end of a quarter of an hour, not to see him return, and I requested M. Schlegel to go and ascertain the cause of his delay. They both came back immediately, followed by a man whose countenance I shall never, during my life, forget: an affected smile, upon the most stupid features, gave the most disagreeable expression to his countenance. My son, almost beside himself, informed me that the captain of the circle had declared to him that I could not remain more than eight hours at Lanzut, and that to secure my obedience to this order, one of his commissaries should follow me to the castle, should enter into it with me, and should not quit me until I had left it. My son had represented to this captain, that overcome as I was with fatigue, I required more than eight hours to repose myself, and that the sight of a commissary of police, in my weak state, might give me a very fatal shock. To all these representations the captain replied with a brutality which is quite peculiar to German subalterns; nowhere also do you meet with that obsequious respect for power which immediately succeeds to arrogance towards the weak. The mental movements of these men resemble the evolutions of a review day; they make a half turn to the right, and a half turn to the left, according to the word of command which is given to them.
The commissary intrusted with the inspection of me, fatigued himself in bowing to the very ground, but would not in the least modify his charge. He got into a caleche, the horses of which followed me so close that they touched the hind wheels of my berline. The idea of entering, escorted in this manner, into the residence of an old friend, into a paradise of delight, where I had been feasting my ideas by anticipation, with spending several days; this idea I say made me so ill, that I could not get the better of it; joined to that also was, I believe, the irritation of finding at my heels this insolent spy, a very fit subject, certainly, to outwit, if I had had the desire, but who did his duty with an intolerable mixture of pedantry and rigor*: I was seized with a nervous attack in the middle of the road, and they were obliged to lift me out of my carriage, and lay me down on the side of the ditch. This wretched commissary fancied that this was an occasion to take compassion on me, and without getting out of his carriage himself, he sent his servant to find me a glass of water. I cannot express how angry I felt with myself for the weakness of my nerves; the compassion of this man was a last insult, which I would at least have wished to spare myself. He set off again at the same time that I did, and I made my entry, along with him, into the court yard of the castle of Lanzut. Prince Henry, not in the least suspecting any thing of the kind, came to meet me with the most amiable gaiety; he was at first frightened at the paleness of my looks, but when I told him, which I did immediately, what sort of guest I had brought with me, from that moment his coolness, firmness, and friendship for me did not belie themselves for a moment. But can one conceive a state of things in which a commissary of police should plant himself at the table of a great nobleman like prince Henry, or rather at that of any person whatever, without his consent?
(Note of the Editor) * To explain how strong and well-founded was the anguish which my mother experienced at this point of her journey, I ought to mention that the attention of the Austrian police was not then confined to her only. The description of M. Rocca had been sent all along the road, with an order to arrest him in quality of his being a French officer; and although he had resigned his commission, and his wounds had incapacitated him from continuing his military service, there is no doubt, that if he had been delivered up to France, the forfeiture of his life would have been the consequence. He had therefore travelled alone, and under a borrowed name, and it was at Lanzut that he had given my mother the rendezvous. Having arrived there before her, and not in the least suspecting that she would be escorted by a commissary of police, he came out to meet her, full of joy and confidence. The danger to which he was thus, insensibly, exposing himself, transfixed my mother with terror, and she had barely time to give him a signal to return back; and had it not been for the generous presence of mind of a Polish gentleman, who supplied M. Rocca with the means of escaping, he would infallibly have been recognized and arrested by the commissary. Ignorant of what might be the fate of her manuscript, under what circumstances, public or private, she might ever publish it, my mother felt herself under the necessity of entirely suppressing these details, to which I am at present allowed to give publicity. (End of Note of the Editor.)
After supper this commissary came up to my son, and said to him, with that coaxing tone of voice which I particularly dislike, when it is used to say cutting words, "I ought, according to my orders, to pass the night in your mother's apartment, in order to be certain that she has no communication with any one; but from regard to her, I will not do it." "You may add also," said my son, "from regard to yourself, for if you should dare to put your foot in my mother's apartment during the night, I will throw you out of the window." "Ah! Monsieur le Baron," replied the commissary, bowing lower than usual, because this threat had a false air of power which did not fail to affect him. He went to lay down, and the next day at breakfast, the prince's secretary managed him so well, by giving him plenty to eat and drink, that I might, I believe, have remained several hours longer, but I was ashamed at having been the occasion of such a scene in the house of my amiable host. I did not even allow myself time to examine those beautiful gardens, which remind us of the southern climate whose productions they offer, nor that house, which has been the asylum of persecuted French emigrants, and where the artists have sent the tribute of their talents in return for the services rendered them by the lady of the castle. The contrast between such delightful and striking impressions and the grief and indignation I felt, was intolerable; the recollection of Lanzut, which I have so many reasons for loving, even now makes me shudder, when I think of it.
I took my departure then from this residence, shedding bitter tears, and not knowing what else was in store for me during the fifty leagues I had yet to travel in the Austrian territory. The commissary accompanied me to the borders of his circle, and when he took his leave, asked me if I was satisfied with him; the stupidity of the fellow quite disarmed my resentment. A peculiar feature in all this persecution, which formerly never entered into the character of the Austrian government, is, that it is executed by its agents with as much rudeness as awkwardness: these ci-devant honest people carry into the base commissions with which they are entrusted the same scrupulous exactness that they formerly did into the good ones, and their limited conception of this new method of government, which was not known to them, makes them commit a hundred blunders, either from want of skill or clumsiness. It is like taking the club of Hercules to kill a fly, and during this useless exertion the most important matters may escape them.
On leaving the circle of Lanzut, I still found as far as Leopol, the capital of Gallicia, grenadiers placed from post to post to make sure of my progress. I should have felt regret at making these brave fellows thus lose their time, had it not been for the thought that they were much better there, than with the unfortunate army delivered by Austria to Napoleon. On arriving at Leopol, I found again ancient Austria in the governor and commandant of the province, who both received me with the greatest politeness, and gave me, what I wished above every thing, an order for passing from Austria into Russia. Such was the end of my residence in this monarchy, which I had formerly seen powerful, just and upright. Her alliance with Napoleon while it lasted, degraded her to the lowest rank among nations. History will doubtless not forget that she has shown herself very warlike in her long wars against France, and that her last effort to resist Bonaparte was inspired by a national enthusiasm worthy of all praise; but the sovereign of this country, by yielding to his counsellors rather than to his own character, has destroyed for ever that enthusiasm, by checking its ebullition. The unfortunate men who perished on the plains of Essling and Wagram, that there might still be an Austrian monarchy and a German people, could have hardly expected that their companions in arms would be fighting three years afterwards for the extension of Bonaparte's empire to the borders of Asia, and that there might not be in the whole of Europe, even a desert, where the objects of his proscription, from kings to subjects, might find an asylum; for such is the object, and the sole object, of the war excited by France against Russia.
Arrival in Russia.
One had hardly been accustomed to consider Russia as the most free state in Europe; but such is the weight of the yoke which the Emperor of France has imposed upon all the Continental states, that on arriving at last in a country where his tyranny can no longer make itself felt, you fancy yourself in a republic. It was on the 14th of July that I made my entrance into Russia; this co-incidence with the anniversary of the first day of the Revolution particularly struck me; and thus closed for me the circle of the history of France which had commenced on the 14th of July 1789.* When the barrier which separates Austria from Russia was opened to let me pass, I made an oath never to set my foot in a country subjected in any degree to the emperor Napoleon. Will this oath ever allow me to revisit beautiful France?
* (Note by the Editor) It was on the 14th of July, 1817, that my mother was taken from us, and received into the bosom of God. What mind is there that would not be affected with religious emotion on meditating on the mysterious co-incidences which the destiny of the human race presents! (End of Note by the Editor.)
The first person who received me in Russia was a Frenchman, who had formerly been a clerk in my father's bureaux; he talked to me of him with tears in his eyes, and that name thus pronounced appeared to me of happy augury. In fact, in that Russian empire, so falsely termed barbarous, I have experienced none but noble and delightful impressions: may my gratitude draw down additional blessings on this people and their sovereign! I entered Russia at the moment when the French army had already penetrated a considerable distance into the Russian territory, and yet no restraint or vexation of any kind impeded for a moment the progress of a foreign traveller; neither I, nor my companions, knew a syllable of Russian; we only spoke French, the language of the enemies who were ravaging the empire: I had not even with me, by a succession of disagreeable chances, a single servant who could speak Russian, and had it not been for a German physician (Dr. Renner) who in the most handsome manner volunteered his services as our interpreter as far as Moscow, we should have justly merited the epithet of deaf and dumb, applied by the Russians to persons unacquainted with their language. Well! even in this state, our journey would have been quite safe and easy, so great is the hospitality of the nobles and the people of Russia! On our first entrance we learned that the direct road to Petersburg was already occupied by the armies, and that we must go to Moscow in order to get the means of conveyance there. This was another round of 200 leagues; but we had already made 1500, and I now feel pleased at having seen Moscow.
The first province we had to cross, Volhynia, forms a part of Russian Poland; it is a fertile country, over-run with Jews, like Gallicia, but much less miserable. I stopped at the chateau of a Polish nobleman to whom I had been recommended, who advised me to hasten my journey, as the French were marching upon Volhynia, and might easily enter it in eight days. The Poles, in general, like the Russians much better than they do the Austrians; the Russians and Poles are both of Sclavonian origin: they have been enemies, but respect each other mutually, while the Germans, who are further advanced in European civilization than the Sclavonians, have not learned to do them justice in other respects. It was easy to see that the Poles in Volhynia were not at all afraid of the entrance of the French; but although their opinions were known, they were not in the least subjected to that petty persecution which only excites hatred without restraining it. The spectacle, however, of one nation subjected by another, is always a painful one;—centuries must elapse before the union is sufficiently established to make the names of victor and vanquished be forgotten.
At Gitomir, the chief town of Volhynia, I was told that the Russian minister of police had been sent to Wilna, to learn the motive of the emperor Napoleon's aggression, and to make a formal protest against his entry into the Russian territory. One can hardly credit the numberless sacrifices made by the emperor Alexander, in order to preserve peace. And in fact, far from Napoleon having it in his power to accuse the emperor Alexander of violating the treaty of Tilsit, the latter might have been reproached with a too scrupulous fidelity to that fatal treaty; and it was rather he who had the right of declaring war against Napoleon, as having first violated it. The emperor of France in his conversation with M. Balasheff, the minister of police, gave himself up to those inconceivable indiscretions which might be taken for abandon, if we did not know that it suits him to increase the terror which he inspires by exhibiting himself as superior to all kinds of calculation. "Do you think," said he to M. Balasheff, "that I care a straw for these Polish jacobins?" And I have been really assured that there is in existence a letter, addressed several years since to M. de Romanzoff by one of Napoleon's ministers, in which it was proposed to strike out the name of Poland and the Poles from all European acts. How unfortunate for this nation that the emperor Alexander had not taken the title of king of Poland, and thereby associated the cause of this oppressed people with that of all generous minds! Napoleon asked one of his generals, in the presence of M. de Balasheff, if he had ever been at Moscow, and what sort of city it was. The general replied that it had appeared to him to be rather a large village than a capital. And how many churches are there in it?—continued the emperor. About sixteen hundred:—was the reply. That is quite inconceivable, rejoined Napoleon, at a time when the world has ceased to be religious. Pardon me, sire, said M. de Balashoff, the Russians and Spaniards are so still. Admirable reply! and which presaged, one would hope, that the Russians would be the Castilians of the North.
Nevertheless, the French army made rapid progress, and one has been so accustomed to see the French triumphing over every thing abroad, although at home they know not how to resist any sort of yoke, that I had some reason to apprehend meeting them already on the road to Moscow. What a capricious destiny, for me to flee at first from the French, among whom I was born, and who had carried my father in triumph, and now to flee from them even to the borders of Asia! But, in short, what destiny is there, great or little, which the man selected to humble man does not overthrow? I thought I should be obliged to go to Odessa, a city which had become prosperous under the enlightened administration of the Duke of Richelieu, and from thence I might have gone to Constantinople and into Greece; I consoled myself for this long voyage by the idea of a poem on Richard Coeur-de-Lion, which I have the intention of writing, if life and health are spared me. This poem is designed to paint the manners and character of the East, and to consecrate a grand epoch in the English history, that when the enthusiasm of the Crusades gave place to the enthusiasm of liberty. But as we cannot paint what we have not seen, no more than we can express properly what we have not felt, it was necessary for me to go to Constantinople, into Syria, and into Sicily, there to follow the steps of Richard. My travelling companions, better acquainted with my strength than I was myself, dissuaded me from such an undertaking, and assured me that by using expedition, I could travel post much quicker than an army. It will be seen that I had not in fact a great deal of time to spare.
Determined to continue my journey through Russia, I proceeded towards Kiow, the principal city of the Ukraine, and formerly of all Russia, for this empire began by fixing its capital in the South. The Russians had then continual communication with the Greeks established at Constantinople, and in general with the people of the East, whose habits they have adopted in a variety of instances. The Ukraine is a very fertile country, but by no means agreeable; you see large plains of wheat which appear to be cultivated by invisible hands, the habitations and inhabitants are so rare. You must not expect, in approaching Kiow, or the greater part of what are called cities in Russia, to find any thing resembling the cities of the West; the roads are not better kept, nor do country houses indicate a more numerous population. On my arrival at Kiow, the first object that met my eyes was a cemetery, and this was the first indication to me of being near a place where men were collected. The houses at Kiow generally resemble tents, and at a distance, the city appears like a camp; I could not help fancying that the moveable residences of the Tartars had furnished models for the construction of those wooden houses, which have not a much greater appearance of solidity. A few days are sufficient for building them; they are very often consumed by fire, and an order is sent to the forest for a house, as you would send to market to lay in your winter stock of provisions. In the middle of these huts, however, palaces have been erected, and a number of churches, whose green and gilt cupolas singularly draw the attention. When towards the evening the sun darts his rays on these brilliant domes, you would fancy that it was rather an illumination for a festival, than a durable edifice.
The Russians never pass a church without making the sign of the cross, and their longbeards add greatly to the religious expression of their physiognomy. They generally wear a large blue robe, fastened round the waist by a scarlet band: the dresses of the women have also something Asiatic in them: and one remarks that taste for lively colours which we derive from the East, where the sun is so beautiful, that one likes to make his eclat more conspicuous by the objects which he shines upon. I speedily contracted such a partiality to these oriental dresses, that I could not bear to see Russians dressed like other Europeans; they seemed to me then entering into that great regularity of the despotism of Napoleon, which first makes all nations a present of the conscription, then of the war-taxes, and lastly, of the Code Napoleon, in order to govern in the same manner, nations of totally different characters.
The Dnieper, which the ancients called Borysthenes, passes by Kiow, and the old tradition of the country affirms, that it was a boatman, who in crossing it found its waters so pure that he was led to found a town on its banks. In fact, the rivers are the most beautiful natural objects in Russia. It would be difficult to find any small streams, their course would be so much obstructed by the sand. There is scarcely any variety of trees; the melancholy birch is incessantly recurring in this uninventive nature; even the want of stones might be almost regretted, so much is the eye sometimes fatigued with meeting neither hill nor valley, and to be always making progress without encountering new objects. The rivers relieve the imagination from this fatigue; the priests, therefore, bestow their benedictions on these rivers. The emperor, empress, and the whole court attend the ceremony of the benediction of the Neva, at the moment of the severest cold of winter. It is said that Wladimir, at the commencement of the eleventh century, declared, that all the waters of the Borysthenes were holy, and that plunging in them was sufficient to make a man a Christian; the baptism of the Greeks being performed by immersion, millions of men went into this river to abjure their idolatry. It was this same Vladimir who sent deputies to different countries, to learn which of all the religions it best suited him to adopt; he decided for the Greek ritual, on account of the pomp of its ceremonies. Perhaps also he preferred it for more important reasons; in fact the Greek faith by excluding the papal power, gives the sovereign of Russia the spiritual and temporal power united.
The Greek religion is necessarily less intolerant than the Roman Catholic; for being itself reproached as a schism, it can hardly complain of heretics; all religions therefore are admitted into Russia, and from the borders of the Don to those of the Neva, the fraternity of country unites men, even though their theological opinions may separate them. The Greek priests are allowed to marry, and scarcely any gentleman embraces this profession: it follows that the clergy has very little political ascendancy; it acts upon the people, but it is very submissive to the emperor.
The ceremonies of the Greek worship are at least as beautiful as those of the catholics; the church music is heavenly; every thing in this worship leads to meditation; it has something of poetry and feeling about it, but it appears better adapted to captivate the imagination than to regulate the conduct. When the priest comes out of the sanctuary, in which he remains shut up while he communicates, you would say that you saw the gates of light opening; the cloud of incense which surrounds him, the gold and silver, and precious stones, which glitter on his robes and in the church, seem to come from countries where the sun is an object of adoration. The devout sentiments which are inspired by gothic architecture in Germany, France and England, cannot be at all compared with the effect of the Greek churches; they rather remind us of the minarets of the Turks and Arabs than of our churches. As little must we expect to find, as in Italy, the splendor of the fine arts; their most remarkable ornaments are virgins and saints crowned with rubies and diamonds. Magnificence is the character of every thing one sees in Russia; neither the genius of man nor the gifts of nature constitute its beauties.
The ceremonies of marriage, of baptism, and of burial, are noble and affecting; we find in them some ancient customs of Grecian idolatry, but only those which, having no connection with doctrine, can add to the impression of the three great scenes of life, birth, marriage and death. The Russian peasants still continue the custom of addressing the dead previous to a final separation from his remains. Why is it, say they, that thou hast abandoned us? Wert thou then unhappy on this earth? Was not thy wife fair and good? Why therefore hast thou left her? The dead replies not, but the value of existence is thus proclaimed in the presence of those who still preserve it.
At Kiow we were shown some catacombs which reminded us a little of those at Rome, and to which pilgrimages are made on foot from Casan and other cities bordering on Asia; but these pilgrimages cost less in Russia, than they would anywhere else, although the distances are much greater. It is in the character of the people to have no fear of fatigue or of any bodily suffering; in this nation there is both patience and activity, both gaiety and melancholy. You see united the most striking contrasts, and it is that which makes one predict great things of them; for generally it is only in beings of superior order that we find an union of opposite qualities; the mass is in general of a uniform color.
I made at Kiow the trial of Russian hospitality. The governor of the province, General Miloradowitsch, loaded me with the most amiable attentions; he had been an aide-de-camp of Suwarow, like him intrepid; he inspired me with greater confidence than I then had in the military successes of the Russians. Before this, I had only happened to meet some officers of the German school, who had entirely got rid of their Russian character. I saw in General Miloradowitsch a real Russian; brave, impetuous, confident, and wholly free from that spirit of imitation which sometimes entirely robs his countrymen even of their national character. He told me a number of anecdotes of Suwarow, which prove that that warrior studied a great deal, although he preserved the original instinct which is connected with the immediate knowledge of men and things. He carefully concealed his studies to strike with greater force the imagination of his troops, by assuming in all things an air of inspiration.
The Russians have, in my opinion, much greater resemblance to the people of the South, or rather of the East, than to those of the North. What is European in them belongs merely to the manners of the court, which are nearly the same in all countries; but their nature is eastern. General Miloradowitsch related to me that a regiment of Kalmucks had been put into garrison at Kiow, and that the prince of these Kalmucks came to him one day, to confess that he suffered very much from passing the winter cooped up in a town, and wished to obtain permission to encamp in the neighbouring forest. Such a cheap pleasure it was impossible to refuse him; he and all his regiment went in consequence, in the middle of the snow, to take up their abode in their chariots, which at the same time serve them for huts. The Russian soldiers bear nearly in the same degree the fatigues and privations of climate or of war, and the people of all classes exhibit a contempt of obstacles and of physical suffering, which will carry them successfully through the greatest undertakings. This Kalmuck prince, to whom wooden houses appeared a residence too delicate in the middle of winter, gave diamonds to the ladies who pleased him at a ball; and as he could not make himself understood by them, he substituted presents for compliments, in the manner practised in India and other silent countries of the East, where speech has less influence than with us. General Miloradowitsch invited me the very evening of my departure, to a ball at the house of a Moldavian princess, to which I regretted very much being unable to go. All these names of foreign countries and of nations which are scarcely any longer European, singularly awaken the imagination. You feel yourself in Russia at the gate of another earth, near to that East from which have proceeded so many religious creeds, and which still contains in its bosom incredible treasures of perseverance and reflection.
Road from Kiow to Moscow.
About nine hundred versts still separated Kiow from Moscow. My Russian coachmen drove me along like lightning, singing airs, the words of which I was told were compliments and encouragements to their horses, "Go along," they said, "my friends: we know one another: go quick." I have as yet seen nothing at all barbarous in this people; on the contrary their forms have an elegance and softness about them which you find no where else. Never does a Russian coachman pass a female, of whatever age or rank she may be, without saluting her, and the female returns it by an inclination of the head which is always noble and graceful. An old man who could not make himself understood by me, pointed to the earth, and then to the heaven, to signify to me, that the one would shortly be to him the road to the other. I know very well that the shocking barbarities which disfigure the history of Russia may be urged, reasonably, as evidence of a contrary character; but these I should rather lay to the charge of the boyars, the class which was depraved by the despotism which it exercised or submitted to, than to the nation itself. Besides, political dissentions, everywhere and at all times, distort national character, and there is nothing more deplorable than that succession of masters, whom crimes have elevated or overturned; but such is the fatal condition of absolute power on this earth. The civil servants of the government, of an inferior class, all those who look to make their fortune by their suppleness or intrigues, in no degree resemble the inhabitants of the country, and I can readily believe all the ill that has been and may be said of them; but to appreciate properly the character of a warlike nation, we must look to its soldiers, and the class from which its soldiers are taken, the peasantry.
Although I was driven along with great rapidity, it seemed to me that I did not advance a step, the country was so extremely monotonous. Plains of sand, forests of birch tree, and villages at a great distance from each other, composed of wooden houses all built upon the same plan: these were the only objects that my eyes encountered. I felt that sort of nightmare which sometimes seizes one during the night, when you think you are always marching and never advancing. The country appeared to me like the image of infinite space, and to require eternity to traverse it. Every instant you met couriers passing, who went along with incredible swiftness; they were seated on a wooden bench placed across a little cart drawn by two horses, and nothing stopped them for a moment. The jolting of their carriage sometimes made them spring two feet above it, but they fell with astonishing address, and made haste to call out in Russian, forward, with an energy similar to that of the French on a day of battle. The Sclavonian language is singularly echoing; I should almost say there is something metallic about it; you would think you heard a bell striking, when the Russians pronounce certain letters of their alphabet, quite different from those which compose the dialects of the West.
We saw passing some corps de reserve approaching by forced marches to the theatre of war; the Cossacks were repairing, one by one, to the army, without order or uniform, with a long lance in their hand, and a kind of grey dress, whose ample hood they put over their head. I had formed quite another idea of these people; they live behind the Dnieper; there their way of living is independent, in the manner of savages; but during war they allow themselves to be governed despotically. One is accustomed to see, in fine uniforms of brilliant colors, the most formidable armies. The dull colors of the Cossack dress excite another sort of fear; one might say that they are ghosts who pounce upon you.
Half way between Kiow and Moscow, as we were already in the vicinity of the armies, horses became more scarce. I began to be afraid of being detained in my journey, at the very moment when the necessity of speed became most urgent; and when I had to wait for five or six hours in front of a post-house, (as there was seldom an apartment into which I could enter) I thought with trembling of that army which might overtake me at the extremity of Europe, and render my situation at once tragical and ridiculous; for it is thus with the failure of an undertaking of this kind. The circumstances which compelled me to it not being generally known, I might have been asked why I quitted my own house, even although it had been made a prison to me, and there are good enough people who would not have failed to say, with an air of compunction, that it was very unlucky, but I should have done better to stay where I was. If tyranny had only its direct partisans on its side, it could never maintain itself; the astonishing thing, and which proves human misery more than all, is, that the greater part of mediocre people enlist themselves in the service of events: they have not the strength to think deeper than a fact, and when an oppressor has triumphed, and a victim has been destroyed, they hasten to justify, not exactly the tyrant, but the destiny whose instrument he is. Weakness of mind and character is no doubt the cause of this servility: but there is also in man a certain desire of finding destiny, whatever it may be, in the right, as if it was a way of living in peace with it.
I reached at last that part of my road which removed me from the theatre of war, and arrived in the governments of Orel and Toula, which have been so much talked of since, in the bulletins of the two armies. I was received in these solitary abodes, for so the provincial towns in Russia appear, with the most perfect hospitality. Several gentlemen of the neighbourhood came to my inn, to compliment me on my writings, and I confess having been flattered to find that my literary reputation had extended to this distance from my native country. The lady of the governor received me in the Asiatic style, with sherbet and roses; her apartment was elegantly furnished with musical instruments and pictures. In Europe you see every where the contrast of wealth and poverty; but in Russia it may be said that neither one nor the other makes itself remarked.
The people are not poor; the great know how to lead, when it is necessary, the same life as the people: it is the mixture of the hardest privations and of the most refined enjoyments which characterizes the country. These same noblemen, whose residence unites all that the luxury of different parts of the world has most attractive, live, while they are travelling, on much worse food than our French peasantry, and know how to bear, not only during war, but in various circumstances of life, a physical existence of the most disagreeable kind. The severity of the climate, the marshes, the forests, the deserts, of which a great part of the country is composed, place man in a continual struggle with nature. Fruits, and even flowers, only grow in hot-houses; vegetables are not generally cultivated; and there are no vines any where. The habitual mode of life of the French peasants could not be obtained in Russia but at a very great expense. There they have only necessaries by luxury: whence it happens that when luxury is unattainable, even necessaries are renounced. What the English call comforts are hardly to be met with in Russia. You will never find any thing sufficiently perfect to satisfy in all ways the imagination of the great Russian noblemen; but when this poetry of wealth fails them, they drink hydromel, sleep upon a board, and travel day and night in an open carriage, without regretting the luxury to which one would think they had been habituated. It is rather as magnificence that they love fortune, than from the pleasures they derive from it: resembling still in that point the Easterns, who exercise hospitality to strangers, load them with presents, and yet frequently neglect the every day comforts of their own life. This is one of the reasons which explains that noble courage with which the Russians have supported the ruin which has been occasioned them by the burning of Moscow. More accustomed to external pomp than to the care of themselves, they are not mollified by luxury, and the sacrifice of money satisfies their pride as much or more than the magnificence of their expenditure. What characterizes this people, is something gigantic of all kinds: ordinary dimensions are not at all applicable to it. I do not by that mean to say that neither real grandeur nor stability are to be met with in it: but the boldness and the imagination of the Russians know no bounds: with them every thing is colossal rather than well proportioned, audacious rather than reflective, and if they do not hit the mark, it is because they overshoot it.
Appearance of the Country.—Character of the Russians.
I was always advancing nearer to Moscow, but nothing yet indicated the approach to a capital. The wooden villages were equally distant from each other, we saw no greater movement upon the immense plains which are called high roads; you heard no more noise; the country houses were not more numerous: there is so much space in Russia that every thing is lost in it, even the chateaux, even the population. You might suppose you were travelling through a country from which the people had just taken their departure. The absence of birds adds to this silence; cattle also are rare, or at least they are placed at a great distance from the road. Extent makes every thing disappear, except extent itself, like certain ideas in metaphysics, of which the mind can never get rid, when it has once seized them.
On the eve of my arrival at Moscow, I stopped in the evening of a very hot day, in a pleasant meadow: the female peasants, in picturesque dresses, according to the custom of the country, were returning from their labour, singing those airs of the Ukraine, the words of which, in praise of love and liberty, breathe a sort of melancholy approaching to regret. I requested them to dance, and they consented. I know nothing more graceful than these dances of the country, which have all the originality which nature gives to the fine arts; a certain modest voluptuousness was remarkable in them; the Indian bayaderes should have something analogous to that mixture of indolence and vivacity which forms the charm of the Russian dance. This indolence and vivacity are indicative of reverie and passion, two elements of character which civilization has yet neither formed nor subdued. I was struck with the mild gaiety of these female peasants, as I had been, in different degrees, with that of the greater part of the common people with whom I had come in contact in Russia. I can readily believe that they are terrible when their passions are provoked; and as they have no; education, they know not how to curb their violence. As another result of this ignorance, they have few principles of morality, and theft is very frequent in Russia as well as hospitality; they give as they take, according as their imagination is acted upon by cunning or generosity, both of which excite the admiration of this people. In this mode of life there is a little resemblance to savages; but it strikes me that at present there are no European nations who have much vigor but those who are what is called barbarous, in other words, unenlightened, or those who are free: but the nations which have only acquired from civilization an indifference for this or that yoke, provided their own fire-side is not disturbed: those nations, which have only learned from civilization the art of explaining power and of reasoning servitude, are made to be vanquished. I frequently imagine to myself what may now be the situation of the places which I have seen so tranquil, of those amiable young girls, of those long bearded peasants, who followed so peaceably the lot which providence had traced for them; they have perished or fled, for not one of them entered into the service of the victor.
A thing worthy of remark, is the extent to which public spirit is displayed in Russia. The reputation of invincible which their multiplied successes have given to this nation, the natural pride of the nobility, the devotedness inherent in the character of the people, the profound influence of religion, the hatred of foreigners, which Peter I. endeavoured to destroy in order to enlighten and civilize his country, but which is not less settled in the blood of the Russians, and is occasionally roused, all these causes combined make them a most energetic people. Some bad anecdotes of the preceding reigns, some Russians who have contracted debts with the Parisian shopkeepers, and some bon-mots of Diderot, have put it into the heads of the French, that Russia consisted only of a corrupt court, military chamberlains, and a people of slaves. This is a great mistake. This nation it is true requires a long examination to know it thoroughly, but in the circumstances in which I observed it, every thing was salient, and a country can never be seen to greater advantage than at a period of misfortune and courage. It cannot be too often repeated, this nation is composed of the most striking contrasts. Perhaps the mixture of European civilization and of Asiatic character is the cause.
The manner of the Russians is so obliging that you might imagine yourself, the very first day, intimate with them, and probably at the end of ten years you would not be so!
The silence of a Russian is altogether extraordinary; this silence is solely occasioned by what he takes a deep interest in. In other respects, they talk as much as you will; but their conversation teaches you nothing but their politeness; it betrays neither their feelings nor opinions. They have been frequently compared to the French, in my opinion with the least justice in the world. The flexibility of their organs makes imitation in all things a matter of ease to them; they are English, French, or German in their manners, according to circumstances; but they never cease to be Russians, that is to say uniting impetuosity and reserve, more capable of passion than friendship, more bold than delicate, more devout than virtuous, more brave than chivalrous, and so violent in their desires that nothing can stop them, when their gratification is in question. They are much more hospitable than the French; but society does not with them, as with us, consist of a circle of clever people of both sexes, who take pleasure in talking together. They meet, as we go to a fete, to see a great deal of company, to have fruits and rare productions from Asia or Europe; to hear music, to play; in short to receive vivid emotions from external objects, rather than from the heart or understanding, both of which they reserve for actions and not for company. Besides, as they are in general very ignorant, they find very little pleasure in serious conversation, and do not at all pique themselves on shining by the wit they can exhibit in it. Poetry, eloquence and literature are not yet to be found in Russia; luxury, power, and courage are the principal objects of pride and ambition; all other methods of acquiring distinction appear as yet effeminate and vain to this nation.
But the people are slaves, it will be said: what character therefore can they be supposed to have? It is not certainly necessary for me to say that all enlightened people wish to see the Russian people freed from this state, and probably no one wishes it more strongly than the Emperor Alexander: but the Russian slavery has no resemblance in its effects to that of which we form the idea in the West; it is not as under the feudal system, victors who have imposed severe laws on the vanquished; the ties which connect the grandees with the people resemble rather what was called a family of slaves among the ancients, than the state of serfs among the moderns. There is no middling class in Russia, which is a great drawback on the progress of literature and the arts; for it is generally in that class that knowledge is developed: but the want of any intermedium between the nobility and the people creates a greater affection between them both. The distance between the two classes appears greater, because there are no steps between these two extremities, which in fact border very nearly on each other, not being separated by a middling class. This is a state of social organization quite unfavorable to the knowledge of the higher classes, but not so to the happiness of the lower. Besides, where there is no representative government, that is to say, in countries where the sovereign still promulgates the law which he is to execute, men are frequently more degraded by the very sacrifice of their reason and character, than they are in this vast empire, in which a few simple ideas of religion and country serve to lead the great mass under the guidance of a few heads. The immense extent of the Russian empire also prevents the despotism of the great from pressing heavily in detail upon the people; and finally, above all, the religious and military spirit is so predominant in the nation, that allowance may be made for a great many errors, in favor of those two great sources of noble actions. A person of fine intellect said, that Russia resembled the plays of Shakspeare, in which all that is not faulty is sublime, and all that is not sublime is faulty; an observation of remarkable justice. But in the great crisis in which Russia was placed when I passed through it, it was impossible not to admire the energetic resistance, and resignation to sacrifices exhibited by that nation; and one could not almost dare, at the contemplation of such virtues, to allow one's self even to notice what at other times one would have censured.
Gilded cupolas announced Moscow from afar; however, as the surrounding country is only a plain, as well as the whole of Russia, you may arrive in that great city without being struck with its extent. It has been well said by some one, that Moscow was rather a province than a city. In fact, you there see huts, houses, palaces, a bazaar as in the East, churches, public buildings, pieces of water, woods and parks. The variety of manners, and of the nations of which Russia is composed, are all exhibited in this immense residence. Will you, I was asked, buy some Cashmere shawls in the Tartar quarter? Have you seen the Chinese town? Asia and Europe are found united in this immense city. There is more liberty enjoyed in it than at Petersburg, where the court necessarily exercises great influence. The great nobility settled at Moscow were not ambitious of places; but they proved their patriotism by munificent gifts to the state, either for public establishments during peace, or as aids during the war. The colossal fortunes of the great Russian nobility are employed in making collections of all kinds, and in enterprises of which the Arabian Nights have given the models; these fortunes are also frequently lost by the unbridled passions of their possessors. When I arrived at Moscow, nothing was talked of but the sacrifices that were made on account of the war. A young Count de Momonoff raised a regiment for the state, and would only serve in it as a sublieutenant; a Countess Orloff, amiable and wealthy in the Asiatic style, gave the fourth of her income. As I was passing before these palaces surrounded by gardens, where space was thrown away in a city as elsewhere in the middle of the country, I was told that the possessor of this superb residence had given a thousand peasants to the state: and another, two hundred. I had some difficulty in accommodating myself to the expression, giving men, but the peasants themselves offered their services with ardor, and their lords were in this war only their interpreters.
As soon as a Russian becomes a soldier, his beard is cut off, and from that moment he is free. A desire was felt that all those who might have served in the militia should also be considered as free: but in that case the nation would have been entirely so, for it rose almost en masse. Let us hope that this so much desired emancipation may be effected without violence: but in the mean time one would wish to have the beards preserved, so much strength and dignity do they add to the physiognomy. The Russians with long beards never pass a church without making the sign of the cross, and their confidence in the visible images of religion is very affecting. Their churches bear the mark of that taste for luxury which they have from Asia: you see in them only ornaments of gold, and silver, and rubies. I was told that a Russian had proposed to form an alphabet with precious stones, and to write a Bible in that manner. He knew the best manner of interesting the imaginations of the Russians in what they read. This imagination however has not as yet manifested itself either in the fine arts or in poetry. They reach a certain point in all things very quickly, and do not go beyond that. Impulse makes them take the first steps: but the second belong to reflection, and these Russians, who have nothing in common with the people of the North, are as yet very little capable of meditation.
Several of the palaces of Moscow are of wood, in order that they may be built quicker, and that the natural inconstancy of the nation, in every thing unconnected with country or religion, may be satisfied by an easy change of residence. Several of these fine edifices have been constructed for an entertainment; they were destined to add to the eclat of a day, and the rich manner in which they were decorated has made them last up to this period of universal destruction. A great number of houses are painted green, yellow, or rose color, and are sculptured in detail like dessert ornaments. The citadel of the Kremlin, in which the emperors of Russia defended themselves against the Tartars, is surrounded by a high wall, embattled and flanked with turrets, which, by their odd shapes, remind one of a Turkish minaret rather than a fortress like those of the West of Europe. But although the external character of the buildings of the city be oriental, the impression of Christianity was found in that, multitude of churches so much venerated, and which attracted your notice at every step. One was reminded of Rome in seeing Moscow; certainly not from the monuments being of the same style, but because the mixture of solitary country and magnificent palaces, the grandeur of the city and the infinite number of its churches give the Asiatic Rome some points of resemblance to the European Rome.
It was about the beginning of August, that I was allowed to see the interior of the Kremlin; I got there by the same staircase which the emperor Alexander had ascended a few days preceding, surrounded by an immense people, who loaded him with their blessings, and promised him to defend his empire at all hazards. This people has kept its word. The halls were first thrown open to me in which the arms of the ancient warriors of Russia are contained; the arsenals of this kind, in other parts of Europe, are much more interesting. The Russians have taken no part in the times of chivalry; they never mingled in the Crusades. Constantly at war with the Tartars, Poles, and Turks, the military spirit has been formed among them in the midst of the atrocities of all kinds brought in the train of Asiatic nations, and of the tyrants who governed Russia. It is not therefore the generous bravery of the Bayards or the Percys, but the intrepidity of a fanatical courage which has been exhibited in this country for several centuries. The Russians, in the relations of society, which are so new to them, are not distinguished by the spirit of chivalry, such as the people of the West conceive it; but they have always shown themselves terrible to their enemies. So many massacres have taken place in the interior of Russia, up to the reign of Peter the Great, and even later, that the morality of the nation, and particularly that of the great nobility, must have suffered severely from them. These despotic governments, whose sole restraint is the assassination of the despot, overthrow all principles of honor and duty in the minds of men: but the love of their country and an attachment to their religious creed have been maintained in their full strength, amidst the wrecks of this bloody history, and the nation which preserves such virtues may yet astonish the world.
From the ancient arsenal I was conducted into the apartments formerly occupied by the czars, and in which the robes are preserved which they wore on the day of their coronation. These apartments have no sort of beauty, but they agreed very well with the hard life which the czars led and still lead. The greatest magnificence reigns in the palace of Alexander; but he himself sleeps upon the floor, and travels like a Cossack officer.
They exhibited in the Kremlin a divided throne, which was filled at first by Peter I. and Ivan his brother. The princess Sophia, their sister, placed herself behind the seat of Ivan, and dictated to him what to say; but this borrowed strength was not able to cope long with the native strength of Peter I. and he soon reigned alone. It is from the period of his reign that the czars have ceased to wear the Asiatic costume. The great wig of the age of Louis XIV. came in with Peter I. and without touching upon the admiration inspired by this great man, one cannot help feeling the disagreeable contrast between the ferocity of his genius and the ceremonious regularity of his dress. Was he in the right in doing away as much as he could, oriental manners from the bosom of his people? was it right to fix his capital in the north, and at the extremity of his empire? These are great questions which are not yet answered: centuries only can afford the proper commentaries upon such lofty ideas.
I ascended to the top of the cathedral steeple, called Ivan Veliki, which commands a view of the whole city; from thence I saw the palace of the czars, who conquered by their arms the crowns of Casan, Astracan, and Siberia. I heard the church music, in which the catholikos, prince of Georgia, officiated in the midst of the inhabitants of Moscow, and formed a Christian meeting between Asia and Europe. Fifteen hundred Churches attested the devotion of the Muscovite people.