The commercial establishments at Moscow had quite an Asiatic character; men in turbans, and others dressed in the different costumes of all the people of the East, exhibited the rarest merchandize: the furs of Siberia and the muslins of India there offered all the enjoyments of luxury to those great noblemen, whose imagination is equally pleased with the sables of the Samoiedes and with the rubies of the Persians. Here, the gardens and the palace Razoumowski contained the most beautiful collection of plants and minerals; there, was the fine library of the Count de Bouterlin, which he had spent thirty years of his life in collecting: among the books he possessed, there were several which contained manuscript notes in the hand-writing of Peter I. This great man never imagined that the same European civilization, of which he was so jealous, would come to destroy the establishments for public instruction which he had founded in the middle of his empire, with a view to form by study the impatient spirit of the Russians. Farther on, was the Foundling House, one of the most affecting institutions of Europe; hospitals for all classes of society might be remarked in the different quarters of the city: finally, the eye in its wanderings could rest upon nothing but wealth or benevolence, upon edifices of luxury or of charity; upon churches or on palaces, which diffused happiness or distinction upon a large portion of the human race. You saw the windings of the Moskwa, of that river, which, since the last invasion by the Tartars, had never rolled with blood in its waves: the day was delightful; the sun seemed to take a pleasure in shedding his rays upon these glittering cupolas. I was reminded of the old archbishop Plato, who had just written a pastoral letter to the emperor Alexander, the oriental style of which had extremely affected me: he sent the image of the Virgin from the borders of Europe, to drive far from Asia the man who wished to bear down upon the Russians with the whole weight of the nations chained to his steps. For a moment the thought struck me that Napoleon might yet set his foot upon this same tower from which I was admiring the city, which his presence was about to extinguish; for a moment I dreamed that he would glory in replacing, in the palace of the czars, the chief of the great horde, which had also once had possession of it: but the sky was so beautiful, that I repelled the apprehension. A month afterwards, this beautiful city was in ashes, in order that it should be said, that every country which had been in alliance with this man, should be destroyed by the fires which are at his disposal. But how gloriously have the Russians and their monarch redeemed this error! The misery of Moscow may be even said to have regenerated the empire, and this religious city has perished like a martyr, the shedding of whose blood gives new strength to the brethren who survive him.
The famous Count Rostopchin, with whose name the emperor's bulletins have been filled, came to see me, and invited me to dine with him. He had been minister for foreign affairs to Paul I., his conversation had something original about it, and you could easily perceive that his character would show itself in a very strong manner, if circumstances required it. The Countess Rostopchin was good enough to give me a book which she had written on the triumphs of religion, the style and morality of which were very pure. I went to visit her at her country-house, in the interior of Moscow. I was obliged to cross a lake and a wood in* order to reach it: it was to this house, one of the most agreeable residences in Russia, that Count Rostopchin himself set-fire, on the approach of the French army. Certainly an action of this kind was likely to excite a certain kind of admiration, even in enemies. The emperor Napoleon has, notwithstanding, compared Count Rostopchin to Marat, forgetting that the governor of Moscow sacrificed his own interests, while Marat set fire to the houses of others, which certainly makes a considerable difference. The only thing which Count Rostopchin could properly be reproached with, was his concealing too long the bad news from the armies, either from flattering himself, or believing it to be necessary to flatter others. The English, with that admirable rectitude which distinguishes all their actions, publish as faithful an account of their reverses as they do of their victories, and enthusiasm is with them sustained by the truth, whatever that may be. The Russians cannot yet reach that moral perfection, which is the result of a free constitution.
No civilized nation has so much in common with savages as the Russian people, and when their nobility possess energy, they participate also in the defects and good qualities of that unshackled nature. The expression of Diderot has been greatly vaunted: The Russians are rotten before they are ripe. I know nothing more false; their very vices, with some exceptions, are not those of corruption, but of violence. The desires of a Russian, said a very superior man, would blow up a city: fury and artifice take possession of them by turns, when they wish to accomplish any resolution, good or bad. Their nature is not at all changed by the rapid civilization which was given them by Peter I.; it has as yet only formed their manners: happily for them, they are always what we call barbarians, in other words, led by an instinct frequently generous, but always involuntary, which only admits of reflection in the choice of the means, and not in the examination of the end; I say happily for them, not that I wish to extol barbarism, but I designate by this name a certain primitive energy which can alone replace in nations the concentrated strength of liberty.
I saw at Moscow the most enlightened men in the career of science and literature; but there, as well as at Petersburg, the professors' chairs are almost entirely filled with Germans. There is in Russia a great scarcity of well-informed men in any branch; young people in general only go to the University to be enabled sooner to enter into the military profession. Civil employments in Russia confer a rank corresponding to a grade in the army; the spirit of the nation is turned entirely towards war: in every thing else, in administration, in political economy, in public instruction, &c. the other nations of Europe have hitherto borne away the palm from the Russians. They are making attempts, however, in literature; the softness and brilliancy of the sounds of their language are remarked even by those who do not understand it; and it should be very well adapted for poetry and music. But the Russians have, like so many other continental nations, the fault of imitating the French literature, which, even with all its beauties, is only fit for the French themselves. I think that the Russians ought rather to make their literary studies derive from the Greeks than from the Latins. The characters of the Russian alphabet, so similar to those of the Greeks, the ancient communication of the Russians with the Byzantine empire, their future destinies, which will probably lead them to the illustrious monuments of Athens and Sparta, all this ought to turn the Russians to the study of Greek: but it is above all necessary that their writers should draw their poetry from the deepest inspiration of their own soul. Their works, up to this time, have been composed, as one may say, by the lips, and never can a nation so vehement be stirred up by such shrill notes.
Road from Moscow to Petersburg.
I quitted Moscow with regret: I stopped a short time in a wood near the city, where on holidays the inhabitants go to dance, and celebrate the sun, whose splendor is of such short duration, even at Moscow. What is it then I see, in advancing towards the North? Even these eternal birch trees, which weary you with their monotony, become very rare, it is said, as you approach Archangel; they are preserved there, like orange trees in France. The country from Moscow to Petersburg is at first sandy, and afterwards all marsh: when it rains, the ground becomes black, and the high road becomes undistinguishable. The houses of the peasants, however, every where indicate a state of comfort; they are decorated with columns, and the windows are surrounded with arabesques carved in wood. Although it was summer when I passed through this country, I already felt the threatening winter which seemed to conceal itself behind the clouds: of the fruits which were offered to me, the flavor was bitter, because their ripening had been too much hastened; a rose excited emotion in me as a recollection of our fine countries, and the flowers themselves appeared to carry their heads with less pride, as if the icy hand of the North had been already prepared to pluck them.
I passed through Novogorod, which was, six centuries ago, a republic associated with the Hanse towns, and which has preserved for a long period a spirit of republican independence. Persons have been pleased to say that freedom was not reclaimed in Europe before the last century; on the contrary, it is rather despotism, which is a modern invention. Even in Russia the slavery of the peasants was only introduced in the sixteenth century. Up to the reign of Peter I. the form of all the ukases was: The boyars have advised, the czar will decree. Peter I. although in many ways he has done infinite good to Russia, humbled the grandees, and united in himself the temporal and spiritual power, in order to remove all obstacles to his designs. Richelieu acted in the same manner in France; Peter I. was therefore a great admirer of his. It will be recollected that on being shown his tomb at Paris, he exclaimed, "Great man! I would give one half of my empire to learn from thee how to govern the other." The czar on this occasion was a great deal too modest, for he had the advantage over Richelieu of being a great warrior, and what is more, the founder of the navy and commerce of his country; while Richelieu has done nothing but govern tyrannically at home, and craftily abroad. But to return to Novogorod. Ivan Vasilewitch possessed himself of it in 1470, and destroyed its liberties; he removed from it to the Kremlin at Moscow, the great bell called in Russian, Wetchevoy kolokol, at the sound of which the citizens had been accustomed to assemble at the market place, to deliberate on public matters. With the loss of liberty, Novogorod had the mortification to see the gradual disappearance of its population, its commerce, and its wealth: so withering and destructive is the breath of arbitrary power, says the best historian of Russia. Even at the present day the city of Novogorod presents an aspect of singular melancholy; avast inclosure indicates that it was formerly large and populous, and you see nothing in it but scattered houses, the inhabitants of which seem to be placed there like figures weeping over the tombs. The same spectacle is now probably offered by the beautiful city of Moscow; but the public spirit will rebuild it, as it has reconquered it.
From Novogorod to Petersburg, you see scarcely anything but marshes, and you arrive in one of the finest cities in the world, as if, with a magic wand, an enchanter had made all the wonders of Europe and Asia start up from the middle of the deserts. The foundation of Petersburg offers the greatest proof of that ardor of Russian will, which recognizes nothing as impossible: everything in the environs is humble; the city is built upon a marsh, and even the marble rests on piles; but you forget when looking at these superb edifices, their frail foundations, and cannot help meditating on the miracle of so fine a city being built in so short a time. This people which must always be described by contrasts, possesses an unheard of perseverance in its struggles with nature or with hostile armies. Necessity always found the Russians patient and invincible, but in the ordinary course of life they are very unsteady. The same men, the same masters, do not long inspire them with enthusiasm; reflection alone can guarantee the duration of feelings and opinions in the habitual quiet of life, and the Russians, like all people subject to despotism, are more capable of dissimulation than reflection.
On my arrival at Petersburg my first sentiment was to return thanks to heaven for being on the borders of the sea. I saw waving on the Neva the English flag, the symbol of liberty, and I felt that on committing myself to the ocean, I might return under the immediate power of the Deity; it is an illusion which one cannot help entertaining, to believe one's self more under the hand of Providence, when delivered to the elements than when depending on men, and especially on that man who appears to be a revelation of the evil principle on this earth.
Just facing the house which I inhabited at Petersburg was the statue of Peter I.; he is represented on horseback climbing a steep mountain, in the midst of serpents who try to stop the progress of his horse. These serpents, it is true, are put there to support the immense weight of the horse and his rider; but the idea is not a happy one: for in fact it is not envy which a sovereign can have to dread: neither are his adulators his enemies: and Peter I. especially had nothing to fear during his life, but from Russians who regretted the ancient customs of their country. The admiration of him, however, which is still preserved is the best proof of the good he did to Russia: for despots have no flatterers a hundred years after their death. On the pedestal of the statue is written: To Peter the First, Catherine the Second. This simple, yet proud, inscription has the merit of truth. These two great monarchs have elevated the Russian pride to the highest pitch; and to teach a nation to regard itself as invincible, is to make it such, at least within its own territory: for conquest is a chance which probably depends more upon the faults of the vanquished than upon the genius of the victor,
It is said, and properly, that you cannot, at Petersburg, say of a woman, that she is as old as the streets, the streets themselves are so modern. The buildings still possess a dazzling whiteness, and at night when they are lighted by the moon, they look like large white phantoms regarding, immoveable, the course of the Neva. I know not what there is particularly beautiful in this river, but the waves of no other I had yet seen ever appeared to me so limpid. A succession of granite quays, thirty versts in length, borders its course, and this magnificent labour of man is worthy of the transparent water which it adorns. Had Peter I. directed similar undertakings towards the South of his empire, he would not have obtained what he wished, a navy; but he would perhaps have better conformed to the character of his nation. The Russian inhabitants of Petersburg have the look of a people of the South condemned to live in the North, and making every effort to struggle with a climate at variance 'with their nature. The inhabitants of the North are generally very indolent, and dread the cold, precisely because he is their daily enemy. The lower classes of the Russians have none of these habits; the coachmen wait for ten hours at the gate, during winter, without complaining; they sleep upon the snow, under their carriage, and transport the manners of the Lazzaroni of Naples to the Sixtieth degree of latitude. You may see them laying on the steps of staircases, like the Germans in their down; sometimes they sleep standing, with their head reclined against the wall. By turns indolent and impetuous, they give themselves up alternately to sleep, or to the most fatiguing employments. Some of them get drunk, in which they differ from the people of the South, who are very sober; but the Russians are so also, and to an extent hardly credible, when the difficulties of war require it.
The great Russian noblemen also show, in their way, the tastes of inhabitants of the South. You must go and see the different country houses which they have built in the middle of an island formed by the Neva, in the centre of Petersburg. The plants of the South, the perfumes of the East, and the divans of Asia, embellish these residences. By immense hot houses, in which the fruits of all countries are ripened, an artificial climate is created. The possessors of these palaces endeavour not to lose the least ray of sun while he appears on their horizon; they treat him like a friend who is about to take his departure, whom they have known formerly in a more fortunate country.
The day after my arrival, I went to dine with one of the most considerable merchants of the city, who exercised hospitality a la Russe; that is to say, he placed a flag on the top of his house to signify that he dined at home, and this invitation was sufficient for all his friends. He made us dine in the open air, so much pleasure was felt from these poor days of summer, of which a few yet remained, to which we should have scarcely given the name in the South of Europe. The garden was very agreeable; it was embellished with trees and flowers; but at four paces from the house the deserts and the marshes were again to be seen. In the environs of Petersburg, nature has the look of an enemy who resumes his advantages, when man ceases for a moment to struggle with him.
The next morning I repaired to the church of Our Lady of Casan, built by Paul I. on the model of St. Peter's at Rome. The interior of this church, decorated with a great number of columns of granite is exceedingly beautiful; but the building itself displeases, precisely because it reminds us of St. Peter's: and because it differs from it so much the more, from the mere wish of imitation. It is impossible to create in two years what cost the labour of a century to the first artists of the universe. The Russians would by rapidity escape from time as they do from space: but time only preserves what it has founded, and the fine arts, of which inspiration seems the first source, cannot nevertheless dispense with reflection.
From Our Lady of Casan I went to the convent of St. Alexander Newski, a place consecrated to one of the sovereign heroes of Russia, who extended his conquests to the borders of the Neva. The empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter I. had a silver coffin made for him, upon which it is customary to put a piece of money, as a pledge of the vow which is recommended to the Saint. The tomb of Suwarow is in this convent of Alexander Newski, but his name is its only decoration; it is enough for him, but not for the Russians, to whom he rendered such important services. This nation, however, is so thoroughly military, that lofty achievements of that description excite less astonishment in it than other nations.
The greatest families of Russia have erected tombs to their relatives in the cemetery which belongs to the church of Newski, but none of these monuments are worthy of remark; they are not beautiful, regarded as objects of art, and no grand idea there strikes the imagination. It is certain that the idea of death produces little effect on the Russians; whether it is from courage, or from the inconstancy of their impressions, long regrets are hardly in their character; they are more susceptible of superstition than emotion: superstition attaches to this life, and religion to another; superstition is allied to fatality, and religion to virtue; it is from the vivacity of earthly desires that we become superstitious, and it is on the contrary by the sacrifice of these same desires, that we are religious.
M. de Romanzow, the minister of foreign affairs in Russia, loaded me with the most amiable attentions, and it was with regret that I considered him as so implicated in the system of the emperor Napoleon, that he must necessarily retire, like the English ministers, when that system was abandoned. Doubtless, in an absolute monarchy, the will of the master explains every thing; but the dignity of a prime minister perhaps requires that words of an opposite tendency should not proceed from the same mouth. The sovereign represents the state, and the state may change its system of politics whenever circumstances require it; but the minister is only a man, and a man, on questions of this nature, ought to have but one opinion in the course of his life. It is impossible to have better manners than Count Romanzow, or to receive strangers more nobly. I was at his house when the English envoy, Lord Tyrconnel, and Admiral Bentinck were announced, both of them men of remarkably fine appearance: they were the first English who had re-appeared on that continent, from which the tyranny of one man had banished them. After ten years of such fearful struggle, after ten years during which victories and disasters had always found the English true to the compass of their politics' conscience, they returned at last into the country which first emancipated itself from the universal monarchy. Their accent, their simplicity, their fierte, all awakened in the soul that sentiment of truth in all things, which Napoleon has discovered the art of obscuring in the eyes of those who have only read his journals, and listened to his agents. I do not even know if Napoleon's adversaries on the continent, constantly surrounded with a false opinion which never ceases to deafen them, can venture to trust themselves without apprehension to their own feelings. If I can judge of them by myself, I know that frequently, after having heard all the advices of prudence or meanness with which one is overwhelmed in the Bonapartist atmosphere, I scarcely knew what to think of my own opinion; my blood forbid me to renounce it, but my reason was not always sufficient to preserve me from so many sophisms. It was therefore with the most lively emotion that I heard once more the voice of that England, with which we are almost always sure to agree, when we endeavour to deserve our own esteem, and that of persons of integrity.
The following day, I was invited by Count Orloff to come and spend the day in the island which bears his name, and which is the most agreeable of all those formed by the Neva; oaks, a rare production in this country, overshadow the garden. The Count and Countess Orloff employ their fortune in receiving strangers with equal facility and magnificence; you are at your ease with them, as in a country retreat, and you enjoy there all the luxury of cities. Count Orloff is one of the most learned noblemen to be met with in Russia, and his love of his country bears a profound character, with which it is impossible to help being affected. The first day I passed at his house, peace had just been proclaimed with England; it was a Sunday; and in his garden, which was on that day opened to all comers, we saw a great number of these long-bearded merchants, who keep up in Russia the costume of the Moujiks, that is to say of the peasants. A number of them collected to hear the delightful band of music of Count Orloff; it gave us the English air of God save the King, which is the song of liberty in a country, of which the monarch is its first guardian. We were all much affected, and applauded this air, which is become national for all Europeans; for there are no longer but two kinds of men in Europe, those who serve tyranny, and those who have learned to hate it. Count Orloff went up to the Russian merchants, and told them that the peace between England and Russia was celebrating; they immediately made the sign of the cross, and thanked heaven that the sea was once more open to them.
The isle Orloff is in the centre of all those which the great noblemen of Petersburg, and the emperor and empress themselves, have selected for their residence during summer. Not far from it is the isle Strogonoff, the rich owner of which has brought from Greece antiquities of great value. His house was open every day during his life, and whoever had once been presented might return when they chose; he never invited any one to dinner or supper on a particular day; it was understood that once admitted, you were always welcome; he frequently knew not half the persons who dined at his table: but this luxurious hospitality pleased him like any other kind of magnificence. The same practice prevails in many other houses at Petersburg; it is natural to conclude from that, that what we call in France the pleasures of conversation cannot be there met with: the company is much too numerous to allow a conversation of any interest even to be kept up in it. In the best society the most perfect good manners prevail, but there is neither sufficient information among the nobility, nor sufficient confidence among persons living habitually under the influence of a despotic court and government, to allow them to know any thing of the charms of intimacy. The greater part of the great noblemen of Russia express themselves with so much elegance and propriety, that one frequently deceives one's self at the outset about the degree of wit and acquirements of those with whom you are conversing. The debut is almost always that of a gentleman or lady of fine understanding: but sometimes also, in the long run, you discover nothing but the debut. They are not accustomed in Russia to speak from the bottom of their heart or understanding; they had in former times such fear of their masters, that they have not yet been able to accustom themselves to that wise freedom, for which they are indebted to the character of Alexander.
Some Russian gentlemen have tried to distinguish themselves in literature, and have given proofs of considerable talent in this career; but knowledge is not yet sufficiently diffused to create a public judgment formed by individual opinions. The character of the Russians is too passionate to allow them to like ideas in the least degree abstract; it is by facts only that they are amused; they have not yet had time or inclination to reduce facts to general ideas. In addition, every significant idea is always more or less dangerous, in the midst of a court where mutual observation, and more frequently envy are the predominant feelings.
The silence of the East is here transformed into amiable words, but which generally never penetrate beyond the surface. One feels pleasure for a moment in this brilliant atmosphere, which is an agreeable dissipation of life; but in the long run no information is acquired in it, no faculties are developed in it, and men who pass their life in this manner never acquire any capacity for study or business. Far otherwise was it with the society of Paris; there we have seen men whose characters have been entirely formed by the lively or serious conversation to which the intercourse between the nobility and men of letters gave birth.
The Imperial Family.
I had at last the pleasure of seeing that monarch, equally absolute by law and custom, and so moderate from his own disposition. The empress Elizabeth, to whom I was at first presented, appeared to me the tutelary angel of Russia. Her manners are extremely reserved, but what she says is full of life, and it is from the focus of all generous ideas that her sentiments and opinions have derived strength and warmth. While I listened to her, I was affected by something inexpressible, which did not proceed from her grandeur, but from the harmony of her soul; so long was it since I had known an instance of concord between power and virtue. As I was conversing with the empress, the door opened, and the emperor Alexander did me the honor to come and talk to me. What first struck me in him was such an expression of goodness and dignity, that the two qualities appear inseparable, and in him to form only one. I was also very much affected with the noble simplicity with which he entered upon the great interests of Europe, almost among the first words he addressed to me. I have always regarded, as a proof of mediocrity, that apprehension of treating serious questions, with which the best part of the sovereigns of Europe have been inspired; they are afraid to pronounce a word to which any real meaning can be attached. The emperor Alexander on the contrary, conversed with me as statesmen in England would have done, who place their strength in themselves, and not in the barriers with which they are surrounded. The emperor Alexander, whom Napoleon has endeavoured to misrepresent, is a man of remarkable understanding and information, and I do not believe that in the whole extent of his empire he could find a minister better versed than himself in all that belongs to the judgment and direction of public affairs. He did not disguise from me his regret for the admiration to which he had surrendered himself in his intercourse with Napoleon. His grandfather had, in the same way, entertained a great enthusiasm for Frederic II. In these sort of illusions, produced by an extraordinary character, there is always a generous motive, whatever may be the errors that result from it. The emperor Alexander, however, described with great sagacity the effect produced upon him by these conversations with Bonaparte, in which he said the most opposite things, as if one must be astonished at each, without thinking of their being contradictory. He related to me also the lessons a la Machiavel which Napoleon had thought proper to give him: "You see," said he, "I am careful to keep my ministers and generals at variance among themselves, in order that each may reveal to me the faults of the other; I keep up around me a continual jealousy by the manner I treat those who are about me: one day one thinks himself the favorite, the next day another, so that no one is ever certain of my favor." What a vulgar and vicious theory! And will there never arise a man superior to this man, who will demonstrate its inutility? That which is wanting to the sacred cause of morality, is, that it should contribute in a very striking manner to great success in this world; he who feels all the dignity of this cause will sacrifice with pleasure every success, but it is still necessary to teach those presumptuous persons who imagine they discover depth of thinking in the vices of the soul, that if in immorality there is sometimes wit, in virtue there is genius. In obtaining the conviction of the good faith of the emperor Alexander, in his relations with Napoleon, I was at the same time persuaded that he would not imitate the example of the unfortunate sovereigns of Germany, and would sign no peace with him who is equally the enemy of people and kings. A noble soul cannot be twice deceived by the same person. Alexander gives and withdraws his confidence with the greatest reflection. His youth and personal advantages have alone, at the beginning of his reign, made him be suspected of levity; but he is serious, even as much so as a man may be who has known misfortune. Alexander expressed to me his regret at not being a great captain: I replied to this noble modesty, that a sovereign was much more rare than a general, and that the support of the public feelings of his people, by his example, was achieving the greatest victory, and the first of the kind which had ever been gained. The emperor talked to me with enthusiasm of his nation, and of all that it was capable of becoming. He expressed to me the desire, which all the world knows him to entertain, of ameliorating the state of the peasants still subject to slavery. "Sire," said I to him, "your character is a constitution for your empire, and your conscience is the guarantee of it." "Were that even the case," replied he, "I should only be a fortunate accident."* Noble words! The first of the kind, I believe, which an absolute monarch ever pronounced! How many virtues it requires, in a despot, properly to estimate despotism! and how many virtues also, never to abuse it, when the nation which he governs is almost astonished at such signal moderation. At Petersburg especially, the great nobility have less liberality in their principles than the emperor himself. Accustomed to be the absolute masters of their peasants, they wish the monarch, in his turn, to be omnipotent, for the purpose of maintaining the hierarchy of despotism. The state of citizens does not yet exist in Russia; it begins however to be forming; the sons of the clergy, those of the merchants, and some peasants who have obtained of their lords the liberty of becoming artists, may be considered as a third order in the state. The Russian nobility besides bears no resemblance to that of Germany or France; a man becomes noble in Russia, as soon as he obtains rank in the army. No doubt the great families, such as the Narischkins, the Dolgoroukis, the Gallitzins, &c. will always hold the first rank in the empire; but it is not less true that the advantages of the aristocracy belong to men, whom the monarch's pleasure has made noble in a day; and the whole ambition of the citizens is in consequence to have their sons made officers, in order that they may belong to the privileged class. The result of this is, that young men's education is finished at fifteen years of age; they are hurried into the army as soon as possible, and everything else is neglected. This is not the time certainly to blame an order of things, which has produced so noble a resistance; were tranquility restored, it might be truly said, that under civil considerations, there are great deficiencies in the internal administration of Russia. Energy and grandeur exist in the nation; but order and knowledge are still frequently wanting, both in the government, and in the private conduct of individuals. Peter I. by making Russia European, certainly bestowed upon her great advantages; but these advantages he more than counter-balanced by the establishment of a despotism prepared by his father, and consolidated by him; Catherine II. on the contrary tempered the use of absolute power, of which she was not the author. If the political state of Europe should ever be restored to peace: in other words if one man were no longer the dispenser of evil to the world, we should see Alexander solely occupied with the improvement of his country! and in attempting to establish laws which would guarantee to it that happiness, of which the duration is as yet only secured for the life of its present ruler.
* (Note by the Editor) * This expression has been already quoted in the third volume of the Considerations on the French Revolution; but it deserves to be repeated. All this, however, it must be remembered, was written at the end of 1812. (End of Note by the Editor.)
From the emperor's I went to his respectable mother's, that princess to whom calumny has never been able to impute a sentiment unconnected with the happiness of her husband, her children, or the family of unfortunate persons of whom she is the protectress. I shall relate, farther on, in what manner she governs that empire of charity, which she exercises in the midst of the omnipotent empire of her son. She lives in the palace of the Taurida, and to get to her apartments you have to cross a hall, built by prince Potemkin, of incomparable grandeur; a winter garden occupies a part of it, and you see the trees and plants through the pillars which surround the middle inclosure. Every thing in this residence is colossal; the conceptions of the prince who built it were fantastically gigantic. He had towns built in the Crimea, solely that the empress might see them on her passage; he ordered the assault of a fortress, to please a beautiful woman, the princess Dolgorouki, who had disdained his suit, The favor of his Sovereign mistress created him such as he showed himself; but there is remarkable, notwithstanding, in the characters of most of the great men of Russia, such as Menzikoff, Suwarow, Peter I. himself, and in yet older times Ivan Vasilievitch, something fantastical, violent, and ironical combined. Wit was with them rather an arm than an enjoyment, and it was by the imagination that they were led. Generosity, barbarity, unbridled passions, and religious superstition, all met in the same character. Even now civilization in Russia has not penetrated beyond the surface, even among the great nobility; externally they imitate other nations, but all are Russians at heart, and in that consists their strength and originality, the love of country being next to that of God, the noblest sentiment which men can feel. That country must certainly be exceedingly different from those which surround it to inspire a decided attachment; nations which are confounded with one another by slight shades of difference, or which are divided into several separate states, never devote themselves with real passion to the conventional association to which they have attached the name of country.
Manners of the Great Russian Nobility.
I went to spend a day at the country seat of prince Narischkin, great chamberlain of the court, an amiable, easy and polished man, but who cannot exist without a fete; it is at his house that you obtain a correct notion of that vivacity in their tastes, which explains the defects and qualities of the Russians. The house of M. de Narischkin is always open, and if there happen to be only twenty persons at his country seat, he begins to be weary of this philosophical retreat. Polite to strangers, always in movement, and yet perfectly capable of the reflection required to stand well at court: greedy of the enjoyments of imagination, but placing these only in things and not in books; impatient every where but at court, witty when it is to his advantage to be so, magnificent rather than ambitious, and seeking in everything for a certain Asiatic grandeur, in which fortune and rank are more conspicuous than personal advantages. His country seat is as agreeable as it is possible for a place of the kind to be, created by the hand of man: all the surrounding country is marshy and barren; so as to make this residence a perfect Oasis. On ascending the terrace, you see the gulph of Finland, and perceive in the distance, the palace which Peter I. built upon its borders; but the space which separates it from the sea and the palace is almost a waste, and the park of M. Narischkin alone charms the eye of the observer. We dined in the house of the Moldavians, that is to say, in a saloon built according to the taste of these people; it was arranged so as to protect from the heat of the sun, a precaution rather needless in Russia. However the imagination is impressed to that degree with the idea that you are living among a people who have only come into the North by accident, that it appears natural to find there the customs of the South, as if the Russians were some day or other to bring to Petersburg the climate of their old country. The table was covered with the fruits of all countries, according to the custom taken from the East, of only letting the fruits appear, while a crowd of servants carried round to each guest the dishes of meat and vegetables they required.
We were entertained with a concert of that horn music which is peculiar to Russia, and of which mention has been often made. Of twenty musicians, each plays only one and the same note, every time it returns; each of these men in consequence bears the name of the note which he is employed to execute. When one of them is seen going along, people say: that is the sol, that is the mi, or that is the re of M. Narischkin. The horns go on increasing from rank to rank, and this music has been by some one called, very properly, a living organ. At a distance the effect is very fine: the exactness and the purity of the harmony excite the most noble ideas; but when you come near to these poor performers, who are there like pipes, yielding only one sound, and quite unable to participate by their own emotions in the effect produced, the pleasure dies away: one does not like to see the fine arts transformed into mechanical arts, to be acquired by dint of strength like exercise.
Some of the inhabitants of the Ukraine, dressed in scarlet, came afterwards to sing to us some of the airs of their country, which are singularly pleasing: they are sometimes gay and sometimes melancholy, and sometimes both united. These airs sometimes break off abruptly in the midst of the melody, as if the imagination of the people was tired before finishing what at first pleased them, or found it more piquant to suspend the charm at the very moment its influence was greatest. It is thus that the Sultana of the Arabian Nights always breaks off her story, when its interest is at the height.
M. Narischkin in the midst of this variety of pleasures, proposed to us to drink a toast to the united arms of the Russians and English, and gave at the same moment a signal to his artillery, which gave almost as loud a salute as that of a sovereign. The inebriety of hope seized all the guests; as for me, I felt myself bathed in tears. Was it possible that a foreign tyrant should reduce me to wish that the French should be beat? I wish, said I then, for the fall of him, who is equally the oppressor of France and Europe; for the true French will triumph if he is repulsed. The English and the Russian guests, and particularly M. Narischkin, approved my idea, and the name of France, formerly like that of Armida in its effects, was once more heard with kindness by the knights of the east, and of the sea, who were going to fight against her. Calrnucks with flat features are still brought up in the houses of the Russian nobility, as if to preserve a specimen of those Tartars who were conquered by the Sclavonians. In the palace of Narischkin there were two or three of these half-savage Calmucks running about. They are agreeable enough in their infancy, but at the age of twenty they lose all the charms of youth: obstinate, though slaves, they amuse their masters by their resistance, like a squirrel fighting with the wires of his cage. It was painful to look at this specimen of the human race debased; I thought I saw, in the midst of all the pomp of luxury, an image of what man may become, when he derives no dignity either from religion or the laws, and this spectacle was calculated to humble the pride which the enjoyments of splendor may inspire.
Long carriages for promenade, drawn by the most beautiful horses, conducted us, after dinner, into the park. It was now the end of August, but the sun was pale, the grass of an almost artificial green, because it was only kept up by unremitting attention. The flowers themselves appeared to be an aristocratic enjoyment, so much expense was required to have them. No warbling of birds was heard in the woods, they did not trust themselves to this summer of a moment; neither were any cattle observable in the meadows: one could not dare to give them plants which had required such pains to cultivate. The water scarcely flowed, and only by the help of machines which brought it into the gardens, where the whole of this nature had the air of being a festival decoration, which would disappear when the guests retired. Our caliches stopped in front of a building in the garden, which represented a Tartar camp; there, all the musicians united began a new concert: the noise of horns and cymbals quite intoxicated the ideas. The better to complete this entire banishment of thinking, we had an imitation, during summer, of their sledges, the rapidity of which consoles the Russians for their winter; we rolled upon boards, from the top of a mountain in wood with the quickness of lightning. This amusement charmed the ladies as much as the gentlemen, and allowed them to participate a little in those pleasures of war, which consist in the emotion of danger, and in the animated promptitude of all the movements. Thus passed the time; for every day saw a renewal of what appeared to me to be a fete. With some slight differences, the greater part of the great houses of Petersburg lead the same kind of life: it is impossible, as one may readily see, for any kind of continued conversation to be kept up in it, and learning is of no utility in this kind of society; but where so much is done only from the desire of collecting in one's house a great multitude of persons, entertainments are after all the only means of preventing the ennui which a crowd in the saloons always creates.
In the midst of all this noise, is there any room for love? will be asked by the Italian ladies, who scarcely know any other interest in society than the pleasure of seeing the person by whom they wish to be beloved. I passed too short a time at Petersburg to obtain correct ideas of the interior arrangements of families; it appeared to me, however, that on one hand, there was more domestic virtue than was said to exist; but that on the other hand, sentimental love was very rarely known. The customs of Asia, which meet you at every step, prevent the females from interfering with the domestic cares of their establishment: all these are directed by the husband, and the wife only decorates herself with his gifts, and receives the persons whom he invites. The respect for morality is already much greater than it was at Petersburg in the time of those emperors and empresses who depraved opinion by their example. The two present empresses have made those virtues beloved, of which they are themselves the models. In this respect, however, as in a great many others, the principles of morality are not properly fixed in the minds of the Russians. The ascendancy of the master has always been so great over them, that from one reign to another* all maxims upon all subjects may be changed. The Russians, both men and women, generally carry into love their characteristic impetuosity, but their disposition to change makes them also easily renounce the objects of their choice. A certain irregularity in the imagination does not allow them to find happiness in what is durable. The cultivation of the understanding, which multiplies sentiment by poetry and the fine arts, is very rare among the Russians, and with these fantastic and vehement dispositions, love is rather a fete or a delirium than a profound and reflected affection. Good company in Russia is therefore a perpetual vortex, and perhaps the extreme prudence to which a despotic government accustoms people, may be the cause that the Russians are charmed at not being led, by the enticement of conversation, to speak upon subjects which may lead to any consequence whatever. To this reserve, which, under different reigns, has been but too necessary to them, we must attribute the want of truth of which they are accused. The refinements of civilization in all countries alter the sincerity of character, but when a sovereign possesses the unlimited power of exile, imprisonment, sending to Siberia, &c. &c. it is something too strong for human nature. We may meet with men independent enough to disdain favor, but heroism is required to brave persecution, and heroism cannot be an universal quality.
None of these reflections, we know, apply to the present government, its head being, as emperor, perfectly just, and as a man, singularly generous. But the subjects preserve the defects of slavery long after the sovereign himself would wish to remove them. We have seen, however, during the continuance of this war, how much virtue has been shown by Russians of all ranks, not even excepting the courtiers. While I was at Petersburg, scarcely any young men were to be seen in company; all had gone to the army. Married men, only sons, noblemen of immense fortunes, were serving in the capacity of simple volunteer, and the sight of their estates and houses ravaged, has never made them think of the losses in any other light than as motives of revenge, but never of capitulating with the enemy. Such qualities more than counterbalance all the abuses, disorders, and misfortunes which an administration still vicious, a civilization yet new, and despotic institutions, may have introduced.
Establishments for Public Education.—Institute of Saint Catherine.
We went to see the cabinet of natural history, which is remarkable by the productions of Siberia which it contains. The furs of that country have excited the cupidity of the Russians, as the Mexican gold mines did that of the Spaniards. There was a time in Russia, when the current money consisted of sable and squirrel skins, so universal was the desire of being provided with the means of guarding against the cold. The most curious thing in the museum at Petersburg, is a rich collection of bones of antediluvian animals, and particularly the remains of a gigantic Mammoth, which have been found almost whole among the ices of Siberia. It appears from geological observations, that the world has a much older history than that which we know: infinity is fearful in all things. At present, the inhabitants, and even the animals of this extremity of the inhabited globe are almost penetrated with the cold, which makes nature expire, a few leagues beyond their country; the color of the animals is confounded with that of the snow, and the Dearth seems to be lost in the ices and fogs which terminate this lower creation. I was struck with the countenances of the inhabitants of Kamstchatka, which are perfectly imitated in the museum at Petersburg. The priests of that country, called Shamanes, are a kind of improvisators; they wear, over their tunick of bark, a sort of steel net, to which some pieces of iron are attached, the noise of which is very great when the improvisator is agitated; he has moments of inspiration which a good deal resemble nervous attacks, and it is rather by sorcery, than talent, that he makes an impression on the people. The imagination, in such dreary countries, is scarcely remarkable but by fear, and the earth herself appears to repel man by the terror with which she inspires him. I afterwards saw the citadel, in the circumference of which is the church where the coffins of all the sovereigns, from the time of Peter the Great, are deposited: these coffins are not shut up in monuments; they are exposed in the same way as they were on the day of their funeral, and one might fancy one's self quite close to these corpses, from which a single board appears to separate us. When Paul I. came to the throne, he caused the remains of his father, Peter I. To be crowned, who not having received that honor during his life, could not be placed in the citadel. By the orders of Paul I. the ceremonial of interment for both his father and mother was recommenced. Both were exposed afresh: four chamberlains once more kept guard over the bodies, as if they had only died the day before; and the two coffins are now placed by the side of each other, compelled to live in pe*&ce under the empire of death. Among the sovereigns who have stayed the despotic power transmitted to them by Peter I. there are several whom a bloody conspiracy has cast from the throne. The same courtiers, who have not the strength to tell their master the least truth, know how to conspire against him, and the deepest dissimulation necessarily accompanies this kind of political revolution; for they must load, with the appearance of respect, the person whom they wish to assassinate. And yet, what would become of a country governed despotically, if a lawless tyrant had not to dread the edge of the poniard? Horrible alternative, and which is sufficient to show the nature of the institutions where crime must be reckoned as the balance of power.
I paid homage to Catherine II. by going to her country residence, Czarskozelo. This palace and garden are arranged with great art and magnificence; but the air was already very cold, although we Were only at the first of September, and it was a singular contrast to see the flowers of the South agitated by the winds of the North. All the traits which have been collected of Catherine II. penetrate one with admiration for her as a sovereign; and I know not whether the Russians are not more indebted to her than to Peter I. for that fortunate persuasion of their invincibility which has so much contributed to their victories, The charm of a female tempered the action of power, and mingled chivalrous gallantry with the successes, the homage of which was paid to her. Catherine II. had, in the highest degree, the good sense of government; a brilliant understanding than hers would less resembled genius, and her lofty reason inspired profound respect in the Russians, who distrust their own imagination, and wish to have it directed with wisdom. Close to Czarskozelo is the palace of Paul I., a charming residence, as the empress dowager and her daughters have there placed the chefs-d'oeuvrefc of their talents and good taste. This place reminds us of that admirable mother and her daughters, whom nothing has been able to turn aside from their domestic virtues.
I allowed myself to indulge in the pleasure excited by the novel objects of my daily visits, and I know not how, I had quite forgotten the war on which the fate of Europe depended; the pleasure I had in hearing expressed by all the world the sentiments which I had so long stifled in my soul, was so strong, that it appeared to me there was nothing more to dread, and that such truths were omnipotent as soon as they were known. Nevertheless a succession of reverses had taken place, without the public being informed of them. A man of wit said that all was mystery at Petersburg, although nothing was a secret; and in fact the truth is discovered in the end; but the habit of silence is such among the Russian courtiers, that they dissemble the day before what will be notorious the next, and are always unwilling to reveal what they know. A stranger told me that Smolensk was taken and Moscow in the greatest danger. Discouragement immediately seized me. I fancied that I already saw a repetition of the deplorable history of the Austrian and Prussian treaties of peace, the result of the conquest of their capitals. This was the third time the same game had been played, and it might again succeed. I did not perceive the public spirit; the apparent inconstancy of the impressions of the Russians prevented me from observing it. Despondency had frozen all minds, and I was ignorant, that with these men of vehement impressions, this despondency is the forerunner of a dreadful awakening. In the same way, you remark in the common people, an inconceivable idleness up to the very moment when their activity is roused; then it knows no obstacle, dreads no danger, and seems to triumph equally over the elements and men.
I had understood that the internal administration, that of war as well as of justice, frequently fell into the most venal hands, and that by the dilapidations which the subaltern agents allowed themselves, it was impossible to form any just idea either of the number of troops, or of the measures taken to provision them; for lying and theft are inseparable, and in a country of such recent civilization the intermediate class have neither the simplicity of the peasantry, nor the grandeur of the boyars; and no public opinion yet exists to keep in check this third class, whose existence is so recent, and which has lost the naivete of popular faith without having acquired the point of honor. A display of jealous feeling was also remarked between the military commanders. It is in the very nature of a despotic government to create, even in spite of itself, jealousy in those who surround it: the will of one man being able to change entirely the fortune of every individual, fear and hope have too much scope not to be constantly agitating this jealousy, which is also very much excited by another feeling, the hatred of foreigners. The general who commanded the Russian army, General Barclay de Tolly, although born on the territories of the empire, was not of the pure Sclavonian race, and that was enough to make him be considered incapable of leading the Russians to victory: he had, besides, turned his distinguished talents towards systems of encampment, positions, and manoeuvres, while the military art, which best suits the Russians, is attack. To make them fall back, even from a wise and well reasoned calculation, is to cool in them that impetuosity from which they derive all their strength. The prospects of the campaign were therefore the most inauspicious possible, and the silence which was maintained on that account was still more alarming. The English give in their public papers the most exact account, man by man, of the wounded, prisoners and killed in each action; noble candour of a government which is equally sincere towards the nation and its monarch, recognizing in both the same right to have a knowledge of what concerns the nation. I walked about with deep melancholy in that beautiful city of Petersburg which might become the prey of the conqueror. When I returned in the evening from the islands, and saw the gilded point of the citadel which seemed to spout out in the air like a ray of fire, while the Neva reflected the marble quays and the palaces which surround it, I represented to myself all these wonders faded by the arrogance of a man who would come to say, like Satan on the top of a mountain, "The kingdoms of the earth are mine." All that was beautiful and good at Petersburg appeared to me in the presence of approaching destruction, and I could not enjoy them without having these painful ideas constantly pursuing me.
I went to see the establishments for education, founded by the empress, and there, even more than in the palaces, my anxiety was redoubled; for the breath of Bonaparte's tyranny is sufficient, if it approach institutions tending to the improvement of the human race, to alter their purity. The institute of St. Catherine is formed of two houses, each containing two hundred and fifty young ladies of the nobility and citizens; they are educated under the inspection of the empress, with a degree of care that even exceeds what a rich family would pay to its own children. Order and elegance are remarkable in the most minute details of this institute, and the sentiment of the purest religion and morality there presides over all that the fine arts can develope. The Russian females have so much natural grace, that on entering the hall where all the young ladies saluted us, I did not observe one who did not give to this simple action all the politeness and modesty which it was capable of expressing. They were invited to exhibit us the different kinds of talent which distinguished them, and one of them, who knew by heart pieces of the best French authors, repeated to me several of the most eloquent pages of my father's Course of Religious Morals. This delicate attention probably came from the empress herself. I felt the most lively emotion in hearing that language uttered, which for so many years had had no asylum but in my heart. Beyond the empire of Bonaparte, in all countries posterity commences, and justice is shown towards those who even in the tomb, have felt the attack of his imperial calumnies. The young ladies of the institute of St. Catherine, before sitting down to table, sung psalms in chorus: this great number of voices, so pure and sweet, occasioned me an emotion of tender feeling mingled with bitterness. What would war do, in the midst of such peaceable establishments? Where could these doves fly to, from the arms of the conqueror? After this meal, the young ladies assembled in a superb hall, where they all danced together. There was nothing striking in their features as to beauty, but their gracefulness was extraordinary; these were daughters of the East, with all the decency which Christian manners have introduced among women. They first executed an old dance to the tune of Long live Henry the Fourth, Long live this valiant King! What a distance there was between the times which this tune reminded one of, and the present period! Two little chubby girls of ten years old finished the ballet by the Russian step: this dance sometimes assumes the voluptuous character of love, but executed by children, the innocence of that age was mingled with the' national originality. It is impossible to paint: the interest inspired by these amiable talents, cultivated by the delicate and generous hand of a female and a sovereign.
An establishment for the deaf and dumb, and another for the blind, are equally under the inspection of the empress. The emperor, on his side, pays great attention to the school of cadets, directed by a man of very superior understanding, General Klinger. All these establishments are truly useful, but they might be reproached with being too splendid. At least it would be desirable to found in different parts of the empire, not schools so superior, but establishments which would communicate elementary instruction to the people. Every thing has commenced in Russia by luxury, and the building has, it may be said, preceded the foundation. There are only two great cities in Russia, Petersburg and Moscow; the others scarcely deserve to be mentioned; they are besides separated at very great distances: even the chateaux of the nobility are at such distances from each other, that it is with difficulty the proprietors can communicate with each other. Finally, the inhabitants are so dispersed in this empire, that the knowledge of some can hardly be of use to others. The peasants can only reckon by means of a calculating machine, and the clerks of the post themselves follow the same method. The Greek popes have much less knowledge than the Catholic curates, or the Protestant ministers; so that the clergy in Russia are really not fit to instruct the people, as in the other countries of Europe. The great bond of the nation is in religion and patriotism; but there is in it no focus of knowledge, the rays of which might spread over all parts of the empire, and the two capitals have not yet learned to communicate to the provinces what they have collected in literature and the fine arts. If this country could have remained at peace, it would have experienced all sorts of improvement under the beneficent reign of Alexander. But who knows if the virtues which this war has developed, may not be exactly those which are likely to regenerate nations?
The Russians have not yet had, up to the present time, men of genius but for the military career; in all other arts they are only imitators; printing, however, has not been introduced among them more than one hundred and twenty years. The other nations of Europe have become civilized almost simultaneously, and have been able to mingle their natural genius with acquired knowledge; with the Russians this mixture has not yet operated. In the same manner as we see two rivers after their junction, flow in the same channel without confounding their waters, in the same manner nature and civilization are united among the Russians without identifying the one with the other: and according to circumstances the same man at one time presents himself to you as a European who seems only to exist in social forms, and at another time as a Sclavonian who only listens to the most furious passions. Genius will come to them in the fine arts, and particularly in literature, when they shall have found out the means of infusing their real disposition into language, as they show it in action.
I witnessed the performance of a Russian tragedy, the subject of which was the deliverance of the Muscovites, when they drove back the Tartars beyond Casan. The prince of Smolensko appeared in the ancient costume of the boyars, and the Tartar army was called the golden horde. This piece was written almost entirely according to the rules of the French drama; the rhythm of the verses, the declamation, and the division of the scenes, was entirely French; one situation only was peculiar to Russian manners, and that was the profound terror which the dread of her father's curse has inspired in a young female. Paternal authority is almost as strong among the Russians as among the Chinese, and it is always among the people that we must seek for the germ of national character. The good company of all countries resembles each other, and nothing is so unfit as that elegant world to furnish subjects for tragedy. Among all those which the history of Russia presents, there is one by which I was particularly struck. Ivan the Terrible, already old, was besieging Novorogod. The boyars seeing him very much enfeebled, asked him if he would not give the command of the assault to his son. His rage at this proposition was so great, that nothing could appease him; his son prostrated himself at his feet, but he repulsed him with a blow of such violence, that two days after the unfortunate prince died of it. The father, then reduced to despair, became equally indifferent to war and to power, and only survived his son a few months. This revolt of an old despot against the progress of time has in it something grand and solemn, and the melting tenderness which succeeds to the paroxysm of rage in that ferocious soul, represents man as he comes from the hand of nature, now irritated by selfishness, and again restrained by affection.
A law of Russia inflicted the same punishment on the person who lamed a man in the arm as on one who killed him. In fact, man in Russia is principally valuable by his military strength; all other kinds of energy are adapted to manners and institutions which the present state of Russia has not yet developed. The females at Petersburg, however, seemed to be penetrated with that patriotic honor which constitutes the moral power of a state. The princess Dolgoronki, the baroness Strogonoff, and several others equally of the first rank, already knew that a part of their fortunes had suffered greatly by the ravaging of the province of Smolensko, and they appeared not to think of it otherwise than to encourage their equals to sacrifice every thing like them. The princess Dolgorouki related to me that an old long-bearded Russian, seated on an eminence overlooking Smoleusko, thus, in tears, addressed his little grandson, whom he held upon his knees: "Formerly, my child, the Russians went to gain victories at the extremity of Europe; now, strangers come to attack them in their own homes." The grief of this old man was not vain, and we shall soon see how dearly his tears have been purchased.
Departure for Sweden.—Passage through Finland.
The emperor quitted Petersburg, and I learned that he was gone to Abo, where he was to meet General Bernadotte, Prince Royal of Sweden. This news left no farther doubt about the determination of that prince to take part in the present war, and nothing could be more important at that moment for the salvation of Russia, and consequently for that of Europe We shall see the influence of it developed in the sequel of this narrative. The news of the entrance of the French into Smolensko arrived during the conferences of the prince of Sweden with the emperor of Russia; and it was there that Alexander contracted the engagement with himself and the Prince Royal, his ally, never to sign a treaty of peace. "Should Petersburg be taken," said he, "I will retire into Siberia. I will there resume our ancient customs, and like our long-bearded ancestors, we will return anew to conquer the Empire." "This resolution will liberate Europe," exclaimed the Prince Royal, and his prediction begins to be accomplishing.
I saw the Emperor Alexander a second time upon his return from Abo, and the conversation I had the honor of holding with him, satisfied me to that degree of the firmness of his determination, that in spite of the capture of Moscow, and all the reports which followed it, I firmly believed that he would never yield. He was so good as to tell me, that after the capture of Smolensko, Marshal Berthier had written to the Russian commander in chief respecting some military matters, and terminated his letter by saying that the Emperor Napoleon always preserved the tenderest friendship for the Emperor Alexander, a stale mystification which the emperor of Russia received as it deserved. Napoleon had given him some lessons in politics, and lessons in war, abandoning himself in the first to the quackery of vice, and in the second to the pleasure of exhibiting a disdainful carelessness. He was deceived in the Emperor Alexander; he had mistaken the nobleness of his character for dupery; he had not been able to perceive that if the emperor of Russia had allowed himself to go too far in his enthusiasm for him, it was because he believed him a partizan of the first principles of the French revolution, which agreed with his own opinions; but never had Alexander the idea of associating with Napoleon to reduce Europe to slavery. Napoleon thought in that, as well as in all other circumstances, to succeed in blinding a man by a false representation of his interest; but he encountered conscience, and his calculations were entirely baffled; for that is an element, of the strength of which he knows nothing, and which he never allows to enter into his combinations.
Although General Barclay de Tolly was a military man of great reputation, yet as he had met with reverses at the beginning of the campaign, the general opinion designated as his successor, a general of great renown, Prince Kutusow; he took the command fifteen days before the entry of the French into Moscow, but he got to the army only six days before the great battle which took place almost at the gates of that city, at Borodino. I went to see him the day before his departure; he was an old man of the most graceful manners, and lively physiognomy, although he had lost an eye by one of the numerous wounds he had received in the course of a fifty years' service. On looking at him, I was afraid that he had not sufficient strength to struggle with the rough young men who were pouncing upon Russia from all corners of Europe: but the Russian courtiers at Petersburg become Tartars at the army: and we have seen by Suwarow that neither age nor honors can enervate their physical and moral energy. I was moved at taking leave of this illustrious Marshal Kutusow; I knew not whether I was embracing a conqueror or a martyr, but I saw that he had the fullest sense of the grandeur of the cause in which he was employed. It was for the defence, or rather for the restoration of all the moral virtues which man owes to Christianity, of all the dignity he derives from God, of all the independence which he is allowed by nature; it was for the rescuing of all these advantages from the clutches of one man, for the French are as little to be accused as the Germans and Italians who followed his train, of the crimes of his armies. Before his departure, Marshal Kutusow went to offer up prayers in the church of Our Lady of Casan, and all the people who followed his steps, called out to him to be the saviour of Russia. What a moment for a mortal being! His age gave him no hope of surviving the fatigues of the campaign; but there are moments when man has a wish to die for the satisfaction of his soul. Certain of the generous opinions and of the noble conduct of the Prince of Sweden, I was more than ever confirmed in the resolution of going to Stockholm, previous to embarking for England; towards the end of September I quitted Petersburg to repair to Sweden through Finland. My new friends, those whom a community of sentiment had brought about me, came to bid me adieu; Sir Robert Wilson, who seeks every where an opportunity of fighting, and inflaming his friends by his spirit: M. de Stein, a man of antique character, who only lived in the hope of seeing the deliverance of his country; the Spanish envoy; and the English minister, Lord Tyrconnel; the witty Admiral Bentinck; Alexis de Noailles, the only French emigrant from the imperial tyranny, the only one who was there, like me, to bear witness for France; Colonel Dornberg, that intrepid Hessian whom nothing has turned from the object of his pursuit; and several Russians, whose names have been since celebrated by their exploits. Never was the fate of the world exposed to greater dangers; no one dared to say so, but all knew it: I only, as a female, was not exposed to it; but I might reckon what I had suffered as something. I knew not in bidding adieu to these worthy knights of the human race, which of them I should ever see again, and already two of them are no longer in existence. When the passions of man rouse man against his fellows, when nations attack each other with fury, we recognize, with sorrow, human destiny in the miseries of humanity; but when a single being, similar to the idols of the Laplanders, to whom the incense of fear is offered up, spreads misery over the earth in torrents, we experience a sort of superstitious fear which leads us to consider all honorable persons as his victims.
On entering into Finland, every thing indicates that you have passed into another country, and that you have to do with a very different race from the Sclavonians. The Finns are said to come immediately from the North of Asia; their language also is said to have no resemblance to the Swedish, which is an intermediate one between the English and the German. The countenances of the Finns, however, are generally perfectly German: their fair hair, and white complexions, bear no resemblance to the vivacity of the Russian countenance; but their manners are also much milder; the common people have a settled probity, the result of protestant instruction, and purity of manners. On Sundays, the young women are seen returning from sermon on horseback, and the young men following them. You will frequently receive hospitality from the pastors of Finland, who regard it as their duty to give a lodging to travellers, and nothing can be more pure or delightful than the reception you meet with in those families; there are scarcely any noblemens' seats in Finland, so that the pastors are generally the most important personages of the country. In several Finnish songs, the young girls offer to their lovers to sacrifice the residence of the pastor, even if it was offered to them to share. This reminds me of the expression of a young shepherd, "If I was a king, I would keep my sheep on horseback." The imagination itself scarcely goes beyond what is known.
The aspect of nature is very different in Finland to what it is in Russia; in place of the marshes and plains which surround St. Petersburg, you find rocks, almost mountains, and forests: but after a time, these mountains, and those forests, composed of the same trees, the fir and the birch, become monotonous. The enormous blocks of granite which are seen scattered through the country, and on the borders of the high roads, give the country an air of vigor; but there is very little life around these great bones of the earth, and vegetation begins to decrease from the latitude of Finland to the last degree of the animated world. We passed through a forest half consumed by fire; the north winds which add to the force of the flames, render these fires very frequent, both in the towns and in the country. Man has in all ways great difficulty in maintaining the struggle with nature in these frozen climates. You meet with few towns in Finland, and those few are very thinly peopled. There is no centre, no emulation, nothing to say, and very little to do, in a northern Swedish or Russian province, and during eight months of the year, the whole of animated nature is asleep.
The Emperor Alexander possessed himself of Finland after the treaty of Tilsit, and at a period when the deranged intellects of the monarch who then reigned in Sweden, Gustavus IV., rendered him incapable of defending his country. The moral character of this prince was very estimable, but from his infancy, he had been sensible himself that he could not hold the reins of government. The Swedes fought in Finland with the greatest courage; but without a warlike chief on the throne, a nation which is not numerous cannot triumph over a powerful enemy. The Emperor Alexander became master of Finland by conquest, and by treaties founded on force; but we must do him the justice to say, that he treated this new province very well, and respected the liberties she enjoyed. He allowed the Finns all their privileges relative to the raising of taxes and men; he sent very generous assistance to the towns which had been burnt, and his favors compensated to a certain extent what the Finns possessed as rights, if free men can ever accede voluntarily to that sort of exchange. Finally, one of the prevailing ideas of the nineteenth century, natural boundaries, rendered Finland as necessary to Russia, as Norway to Sweden; and it must be admitted as a truth, that wherever these natural limits have not existed, they have been the source of perpetual wars.
I embarked at Abo, the capital of Finland. There is an university in that city, and they make some attempts in it to cultivate the intellect: but the vicinity of the bears and wolves during the winter is so close, that all ideas are absorbed in the necessity of ensuring a tolerable physical existence; and the difficulty which is felt in obtaining that in the countries of the north, consumes at great part of the time which' is elsewhere consecrated to the enjoyment of the intellectual arts. As some compensation, however, it may be said that the very difficulties with which nature surrounds men give greater firmness to their character, and prevent the admission into their mind of all the disorders occasioned by idleness. I could not help, however every moment regretting those rays of the South which had penetrated to my very soul.
The mythological ideas of the inhabitants of the North are constantly representing to them ghosts and phantoms; day is there equally favorable to apparitions as night; something pale and cloudy seems to summon the dead to return to the earth, to breathe the cold air, as the tomb with which the living are surrounded. In these countries the two extremities are generally more conspicuous than the intermediate ones; where men are entirely occupied with conquering their existence from nature, mental labors very easily become mystical, because man draws entirely from himself, and is in no degree inspired by external objects.
Since I have been so cruelly persecuted by the Emperor, I have lost all kind of confidence in destiny; I have however a stronger belief in the protection of providence, but it is not in the form of happiness on this earth. The result is, that all resolutions terrify me, and yet exile obliges me frequently to adopt some. I dreaded the sea, although every one said, all the world makes this passage, and no harm happens to any one. Such is the language which encourages almost all travellers: but the imagination does not allow itself to be chained by this kind of consolation, and that abyss, from which so slight an obstacle separates you, is always tormenting to the mind. Mr. Schlegel saw the terror I felt about the frail vessel which was to carry us to Stockholm. He showed me, near Abo, the prison in which one of the most unfortunate kings of Sweden, Eric XIV. had been confined some time before he died in another prison near Gripsholm. "If you were confined there," he said to me, "how much would you envy the passage of this sea, which at present so terrifies you." This just reflection speedily gave another turn to my ideas, and the first days of our voyage were sufficiently pleasant. We passed between the islands, and although there was more danger close to the land than in the open sea, one never feels the same terror which the sight of the waves appearing to touch the sky makes one experience. I made them show me the land in the horizon, as far as I could perceive it; infinity is as fearful to the sight as it is pleasant to the soul. We passed by the isle of Aland, where the plenipotentiaries of Peter I. and Charles XII. negociated a peace, and endeavored to fix boundaries to their ambition in this frozen part of the world, which the blood of their subjects alone had been able to thaw for a moment. We hoped to reach Stockholm the following day, but a decidedly contrary wind obliged us to cast anchor by the side of an island entirely covered with rocks interspersed with trees, which hardly grew higher than the stones which surrounded them. We hastened, however, to take a walk on this island, in order to feel the earth under our feet.
I have always been very subject to ennui, and far from knowing how to occupy myself at those moments of entire leisure which seem destined for study.
Here the manuscript breaks off.
After a passage which was not without danger, my mother was landed safely at Stockholm. She was received in Sweden with the greatest kindness, and spent eight months there, and it was there she wrote the present journal. Shortly after, she departed for London, and there published her work on Germany, which the Imperial police had suppressed. But her health, already cruelly affected by Bonaparte's persecutions, having suffered from the fatigues of a long voyage, she felt herself obliged without farther delay to undertake the history of the political life of her father, and to adjourn to a future period all other labors, until she had finished that which her filial affection made her regard as a duty. She then conceived the plan of her Considerations on the French Revolution. That work even she was not spared to finish, and the manuscript of her Ten Years' Exile remained in her portfolio in the state in which I now publish it.
(End of Note by the Editor.)