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Marston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) online

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be olir most essential policy, to bring Russia into full
collision with France. She is now the only rival :
and I shall scarcely regret the fall of the German
sovereignties ; if it clears the field, to bring face to
face the two great powers which hold at their sword's
point the fate of the Continent."

A month passed, of perpetual difficulty in the
cabinet, of ill news from abroad, and of violent dis-
contents among the people. A deficient harvest had
come, to increase the national murmurs ; a season of
peculiar inclemency had added its share to the public
vexations; and I fully experienced the insufficiency
of office, and of the showy honours of courts, to
constitute happiness. But a new scene was reserved
for me. Casual as had been my conversation with
the secretary of state, it was not forgotten : it had
been related to the minister ; and it so far coincided
with the conceptions of a mind, which seemed
to comprehend every chance of human things, that
I was shortly sent for, to enter into the necessary
explanations. The result was, the offer of a mission
to St. Petersburg. The proposal was so unexpected,
that I required time for my answer. — I must abandon
high employment at home, for a temporary distinction
abroad ; my knowledge of Russia was slight ; the
character of the Czar was eccentric ; and the success
of an embassy, dependent on the most capricious of
mankind, was obviously so uncertain ; that the result
might strip me of whatever credit I already possessed.

I 4


Butj there was one authority, to which I always
appealed. I placed the proposal in the hands of
Clotilde ; and she settled all my doubts at once, by
declaring " that it was the appointment which, if she
had been suffered to choose, she w^ould have selected,
in preference to all others, for its honour and its
services." I had no power to resist such pleadings —
seconded as they were by the rosiest smiles, and the
most beaming eyes. But Clotilde was still the
woman, and I only valued her the more for it ; her
sincerity had not a thought to hide ; and she acknow-
ledged her delight, at the prospect of once more
treading the soil of the Continent ; at gazing even
on the borders of her native land, excluded as she
might be from its entrance; at the enjoyment of
continental life in the brilliant animation of its
greatest court ; and at mingling with the scene, in a
rank which entitled her to its first distinctions.

" But, Clotilde, how will you reconcile your tastes
to the wild habits of Russia, and even to the solemn
formalities of a northern court?"

"They both present themselves to me, with
the charm at once of novelty and recollection.
From my nursery days, the names of Peter, Ca-
tharine, and their marvellous city, rang in the
ears of all Paris. Romance had taken refuge at
the pole ; Voltaire, Buffon, D'Alembert — all the wit,
and all the philosophy of France — satirized the
French court under the disguise of Russian pane-
gyric; and St. Petersburg was to us the modern
Babylon — a something compounded of the wildness


of a Scythian desert, and the lustre of a Turkish

The ministerial note had been headed " most secret
and confidential," and as such I had regarded it.
But I soon saw the difficulty of keeping a "state
secret." I had scarcely sent in my acceptance of
the appointment, when I found a letter on my table
from my old Israelite friend, Mordecai, congratulat-
ing me on "my decision." It was in his usual
abrupt style —

" I was aware of the minister's offer to you, within
twelve hours after it was made. I should have writ-
ten at once, urging its acceptance; but I preferred
leaving your own judgment to settle the question.
Still, I can give you some personal knowledge on the
subject of Russia. I have been there during the last
six months. My daughter — for what purpose I have-
never been able to ascertain — took a sudden whim of
hating Switzerland, and loving the snows and deserts
of the North. But I have known the sex too long,
ever to think of combating their wills by argument.
— The only chance of success is to give way to them.
Mariamne, sick of hills and valleys, and unable to
breathe in the purest air of the globe, determined to
try the exhalations from the marshes of the Neva.
But, she is my child, after all — the only being for
whom I live — and I was peculiarly grateful, that she
had not fixed on Siberia, or taken a resolution to live
and die at Pekin. — I do not regret my journey. It
has thrown a new light on me. I must acknowledge
to you, that I was astonished at Russia. I had
I 5


known it in early life, and thought that I knew it
well. But it is singularly changed. The spirit of
the people — the country — the throne itself — have
undergone the most remarkable of silent revolutions,
and the most effective of all. — Russia is now Russia
no longer ; she is Greece, Germany, France ; and
she will yet be England. Her politics and her
faculties, alike, embrace the civilized world. She is
Greece in her subtlety, Germany in her intelligence,
and France in her ambition. St. Petersburg is less
the capital of her empire, though of all capitals the
most magnificent, than an emblem of her mind. I
have often stood on the banks of the Neva, and, look-
ing round me on their mass of palaces, involuntarily
asked myself — Could all this have been the work of
a single mind ? Other capitals have been the work
of necessity, of chance, of national defence, of the
mere happiness of location. But, this was founded
in ambition alone ; founded by the sovereign will of
one who felt, that in it he was erecting an empire of
conquest ; and that from this spot, in after-ages, was
to pour forth the force, that was to absorb every
other dominion of the world. Peter fixed on the site
of his city, to tell this to the world. I see in its
framer, and in its site, the living words — ' I fix my
future capital in a wilderness — in a swamp — in a
region of tempests — on the shores of an inhospitable
sea — in a climate of nine-months' winter — to show
that I am able to conquer all the obstacles of nature.
I might have fixed it on the shores of the Euxine —
in the most fertile regions of Asia — in the superb


plains of central Russia — or on the banks of the
Danube ; but I preferred fixing it in the extremity of
the North, to show, that the mind and power of Russia
dreaded no impediments, of either man or natvire.'

" I am now in London for a week. Come ; and
you will find me in my den."

I visited him "in his den;" and it deserved the
name as much as ever. Not a pane had been cleared
of its dinginess ; not a cobv/eb had been swept from
its ceiling ; nothing had been removed, except the
pair of living skeletons who once acted as his at-
tendants. They had been removed by the Remover
of all things ; and were succeeded by a pair, so
similar in raeagreness and oddity of appearance, that
I could not have known the change, except for its
mention by their master, congratulating himself on
being so " fortunate " in finding substitutes. I
found Mordecai immersed in day-books and ledgers,
and calculating the exchanges with as much anxiety
as if he were not worth a shilling. But his look was
more languid than before, and his powerful eye
seemed to have sunk deeper beneath his brow.

"You are probably suqjrised at seeing me here,"
said he ; " but 1 have more reason than ever to be
here. There is a time for all things, but not if we
throw it away. My last journey through Poland has
revived my zeal in behalf of my nation ; and, as years
advance on me, like the rest of the world ; I find that
I must only exert myself the more."

" But, Mordecai, you are opulent ; you can have
I 6


no necessity for abandoning the natural indulgences
of life. You will only shorten your days by this
toil. — At least why do you linger in this dungeon ? "

He smiled grimly, " It is a dungeon, and I only
value it the more. To this dungeon, as you call it,
come, day by day, some of the haughtiest names in
the land. If I lived in some west-end square, with
my drawing-room filled with Louis Quatorze gew-
gaws, and half-a-dozen idle fellows in livery to an-
nounce my visitors, I should not feel the hundredth
part of the sense of superiority, the contemptuous
triumph, the cool consciousness of the tyranny of
gold, which I feel when I see my shrinking suppli-
cants sitting down among my dusty boxes and ever-
lasting cobwebs. I shall not suffer a grain of dust
to be cleared away. It is my pride — it is my power
— it is my revenge."

His visage assumed so completely the expression,
which I had always imagined for Shylock ; that I
should scarcely have been surprised if I had seen
him produce the knife and the scales.

" You are surprised at all this," said he after a
pause, in which he fixed his searching eyes on me.
" I see by your countenance, that you think me a
Goth, a monster, a savage. But, I think myself none
of those things. I am a man ; and, if I am not much
deceived, I am also a philosopher. My life has
been a perpetual struggle through a world where
every one worships self. My nation are scorned,
and they struggle too. The Jew has been injured,
not by the individual alone, but by all mankind;


and has he not a right to his revenge ? — He has at
last found the means. He is now absorbing: the
wealth of all nations. With the wealth, he will have
the power ; and another half century will not elapse,
before all the grand questions of public council —
nay, of national existence — must depend on the will
of the persecuted sons of Abraham. — Who shall rise,
or who shall fall ; who shall make war, or who shall
obtain peace ; what republic shall be created, or
what monarchy shall be rent in pieces ; will hence-
forth be the questions, not of cabinets, but of the
^Change. — There are correspondences within this
escritoire, worth all the wisdom of all the ministers
on earth. There are commands at the point of this
pen, which the proudest statesmanship dares not
controvert. There is in the chests round you a
ruler more powerful than ever before held the
sceptre ; the dictator of the globe ; the true Despot

After this wild burst, he sank into silence ; until,
to change the fever of his thoughts, I enquired for
the health of his daughter. The father's heart over-
came him again.

"My world threatens to be a lonely one, Mr.
Marston," said he in a feeble voice. " You see a
heart-broken man. Forgive the bitterness with
which I have spoken. — Mariamne, I fear, is dying ;
and what is wealth now to me ? I have left her in
Poland among my people. She seemed to feel some
slight enjoyment in wandering from place to place;
but her last letter tells me, that she is wearied of


travellings and has made up her mind to live and
die where she may be surrounded by her unhappy
nation. I remain here only to wind up my affairs,
and in a week I quit England — and for ever."

But a new object caught my glance. Mordecai —
who, while he was thus speaking in paroxysms of
alternate indignation and sorrow, had never for a
moment ceased to turn over his books and boxes —
had accidentally shaken a pile of tin cases from its
pinnacle, and the whole rolled down at my feet. On
one of them I saw, but, with no very strong surprise,
the words — "Mortgage— Mortimer Castle." The
eyes of both glanced in the same direction.

" There/' said the Israelite, " you have your pa-
ternal acres in your hand ; your Plantagenet forests
and your Tudor castle, all in a cubic foot. On the
chair where you are now sitting, your lordly brother
sat yesterday ; gathering up his skirts from the touch
of every thing round him, and evidently suffering all
the torture of a man of fashion, forced to smile on
the holder of his last mortgage. — He is ruined, not
worth a sixpence ; Melton and Newmarket have
settled that question for him. But, do you recognize
this hand ?" He drew a letter from his portfolio. I
knew the writing: it was from my mother — on
whom, now old and feeble, this accomplished roue
had been urging the sale of her jointure. Helpless
and alone, she had consented to this fatal measure ;
and my noble brother's visit to the Israelite, had been ■
for the purpose of inducing him to make the


I started up ii> indignation ; declared that the
result must reduce my unfortunate parent to beggary ;
and demanded, by what means I could possibly pre-
vent what was " neither more nor less than an act of

" I see no means/' said Mordecai, coolly, " except
your making the purchase yourself, and thus securing
the jointure to her ladyship. — It is only ten thousand

" / make the purchase ! I have not the tenth
part of the money upon earth. I ask you, what is to
be done ?"

" Your brother has here the power of selling ;
and will sell, if the starvation of fifty mothers stood
in his way. Newmarket suffers no qualms of that
kind ; and, when his matters there are settled, his
coachmaker's bill for landaulets and britschkas will
make him a pedestrian for the rest of his life. But
/ have refused the purchase ; and, it was chiefly on
this subject, that I was induced to invite you to my
'dungeon,' as you not unjustly term it."

The picture of a mother, of whom I had always
thought with the tenderness of a child ; cast out in
her old age to poverty, with the added bitterness of
being thus cast out by her reliance on the honour of
a cruel and treacherous son ; rose so painfully before
my eyes, that I lost all power of suggesting the re-
medy ; and could only look the distress which I
felt. Mordecai gazed on me with an enquiring

" You love this mother, Mr. Marston. — You are


a good son. We Israelites, with all our faults, re-
spect the feelings which ' honour the father and the
mother.' It is a holy love, and well earned by the
cares and sorrows of parentage.'' He paused, and
covered his forehead with his gigantic hands. I
could hear him murmur the name of his daughter.
A loud knocking, which announced a fashionable
arrival at his door, startled him from his reverie.

Suddenly, again bustling among his papers, he
said — " This is the hour when your brother was to
call for my definitive answer. Now, listen to me.
The jointure must be purchased." I bit my lip ;
but he did not leave me long in suspense — " And
you shall be the purchaser." He wrote a cheque for
the amount, and placed it in my hand.

" Mordecai, you are a noble fellow ! But, how am
I to act upon this ? I am worth nothing. I might
as well attempt to repay millions."

*' Well, so be it, Mr. Marston. You are a man of
honour, and a good son. You will repay it when
you can. I exact but one condition : that you will
come and visit Mariamne and me in Poland."

The opening of the hall- door put an end to our

" That is your brother," said he. " You must
not see him, as I choose to keep the name of the
purchaser to myself. Take your mother's letter
with you ; and give her my best advice to write no
more — at least, to such correspondents as his lord-

I rose to take my leave. He followed me hastily j


and, holding me by the hand, said — "Another condi-
tion I have to make. — It is, that not a syllable of all
that has passed between us on this subject, shall be
suffered to transpire. I should make but a bad
figure on 'Change, if I were suspected of transactions
in that style. Remember, it must be a profound
secret to all the world."
" Even to my wife ?" I asked. "Is she included ?"
" No, no," he replied, with a faint laugh ; " I look
upon you as a mere mortal still. — All vows are void
in their nature, which require impossibilities in their
execution." We parted.

I told my little city tale to Clotilde. She wept
and smiled alternately, as I told it. Mordecai re-
ceived all his due praise ; and we pledged ourselves
to find out his Mariamne, in whatever corner of the
Lithuanian wilderness she might have hidden her
fantastic heart and head. But I had now another
duty. Within a few hours, we were on our way to
the jointure-house. It was a picturesque old build-
ing, the residence of the Father Abbot, in the times
before the insatiable hand of Somerset had fallen
upon the monasteries. We reached it in the twilight
of a gentle day, when all its shrubs and flowers were
filling the air with freshness and fragrance. I found
my mother less enfeebled than I had expected ; and
still affectionate and tender, as she had always been
to her long-absent son. She was still fully suscep-
tible of the honours which had now opened before
me. Clotilde almost knelt before her noble air and


venerable beauty. My mother could not grow
weary with gazing on the expressive countenance of
my beautiful wife. I had secured my parent's com-
fort for life ; and I, too, was happy.


** The star that rules thy destiny.
Was ruled, ere earth began, by me.
It was a world as fresh and fair,
As e'er revolved round sun, in air.
Its course was free and regular.
Space bosomed not a loveUer star.
The hour arrived, and it became
A wandering mass of shapeless flame,
A pathless comet, and a curse,
The menace of the universe." — Song of the Spirit.


My embassy, like all other embassies, had its
vexations ; but on the whole I had reason to con-
gratulate myself on its acceptance. My reception
at St. Petersburg was most distinguished ; 1 had
arrive^fi at a fortunate period. The French expedi-
tion to Egypt had alarmed the Russian councils for
Constantinople ; a possession to which every Russian
looks, in due time, as naturally as to the right of his
copecks and caftan. But the victory of Aboukir,
which had destroyed the French fleet, again raised
the popular exultation, and English heroism was the


topic of every tongue. The incomparable campaign
of the Russian army in Italy ; the recovery, in three
months, of all which it had cost the power of France,
and the genius of her greatest general, in two years
of pitched battles, sanguinary sieges, artful negotia-
tion, and incessant intrigue, to obtain ; excited the
nation to the highest degree of enthusiasm, and the
embassy basked in the broadest sunshine of popula-
rity. Fete now succeeded fete ; the standards taken
in Suwarrow's battles, the proudest trophies ever
won by Russian arms, were carried in procession to
the cathedral ; illuminations of the capital, balls in
the palaces, and public sports on the waters and banks
of the Neva, kept St. Petersburg in a perpetual
tumult of joy.

But, all was not sunshine : the character of the
sovereign in a despotism demands perpetual study ;
and Paul was freakish and headstrong beyond all
human calculation. No man was more misunder-
stood at a distance, nor less capable of being under-
stood near. He had some striking qualities. He
was generous, bold, and high-principled; but the
simplest accident would turn all those qualities into
their reverse. To-day he was ready to devote him-
self to the cause of Europe ; every soldier of Russia
must march : — but, when the morrow came, he re-
voked the order for his troops, and cashiered the
secretaries who had been rash enough to take him at
his word.

The secret was in his brain ; disease was gathering
on his intellect, and he was daily becoming more


dangerous to those nearest him. The result was long
foreseen. In Spain, Gil Bias recommends, that no
man who wishes for long life should quarrel with his
cook. In Russia, let no Czar arouse the suspicions
of his courtiers. As the Pagans hung chaplets on
the statues of their gods, in victory, and flogged
them in defeat ; the Russians, in every casualty of
their arms, turned a scowling eye upon their liege
lord : and the retreat of Suwarrow, the greatest of
Russian soldiers, from Switzerland, at once stripped
the Emperor of all his popularity.

My position now became doubly anxious. Even
despots love popularity, and the Czar was alternately
furious, and frightened, at its loss. — Guards were
planted in every part of the city, with orders to dis-
perse all groups. Every man who looked at the
Imperial equipage as it passed through the streets,
was in danger of being arrested as an assassin.
Nobles were suddenly exiled ; none knew why, or
where. The cloud was thickening round the palace.
It is a perilous thing, to be the one object on which
every eye involuntarily turns, as the source of public
evil. Rumours of conspiracy rose, and died, and
were heard again. In free governments public dis-
contents have room to escape, and they escape. In
despotisms they have no room to evaporate, and they
condense, until they explode. St. Petersburg at
length became a place of silence and solitude by
day, and of murmurs and meetings by night. It re-
minded one of Rome in the days of Nero ; and I


looked with perpetual alarm, for the catastrophe of

The Russian is a submissive man, and even
capable of strong attachment to the throne : but
there is no spot of the earth where national injury is
more deeply resented ; and Paul had been regarded
as tarnishing the fame of Russia. His abandonment
of Suwarrow — a warrior, of whom the annals of the
Russian army will bear record to the end of time —
had stung all classes. More than a soldier, Suwarrow
was a great military genius. He gained battles with-
out tactics, and in defiance of them. He had aston-
ished the German tacticians by the fierce rapidity of
his movements ; he had annihilated the French
armies in Italy by the desperate daring of his attacks.
Wherever Suwarrow came, he was conqueror. In
his whole career he had never been beaten. The
soldiery told numberless tales of his eccentricity ;
laughed at, mimicked, and adored him. The nation
honoured him as the national warrior.

But, the failure of some of his detached corps in
Switzerland had embarrassed the campaign ; and
Paul, capricious as the winds, hastily recalled him.
The popular indignation now burst forth in every
form of anger. Placards fixed at night on the palace
walls ; gipsy ballads sung in the streets ; maskers, at
the countless balls of the nobles ; satires in quaint
verse ; and national proverbs, showed the public re-
sentment to be universal. Every incident furnished
some contemptuous comment. — The Czar had lately


built a wing to one of the palaces of Catharine. The
addition wanted the stateliness of the original fabric.
This epigram was posted on the building, in angry
Slavonic : —

" One built a palace, one a stall.
One marble ; one a plaster wall.
One sure to stand ; one sure to fall.
So much for Catharine — and for Paul !"

In the midst of this growing perplexity, the En-
glish messenger arrived. His tidings had been lone-
anticipated, yet they came with the effect of a thun-
der-clap. The cabinet had resigned ! I of course
now waited only the order to return. But, in the
meantime, this event formidably increased the diffi-
culties of my position. Foreigners will never allow
themselves to comprehend the nature of any English
transaction whatever. They deal with them all, as if
they were scenes on a stage. In the incorrigible
absurdity of their theatrical souls, they imagine a
parliamentary defeat to be a revolution, and the
change of a ministry the fall of an empire.

Paul instantly cast off all his old partialities. He
pronounced England undone. — The star of France
was to be the light of the west ; he himself to be the
luminary of the east. The bold ambition of Catharine
was to be realized; however, without the system or the
sagacity of her imperial genius. But, Paul was soon
to learn the terrible lesson of a despotic government.
The throne, separated from the people, is the more in
peril the more widely that it is separated. — The people
vmuld not be carried along with their master to the


feet of his new political idol. The substantial virtues
of the national character resisted that French al-
liance, which must be begun at once by prostration
and ingratitude. France was their new taunter.
England was their old ally. They hated France for
its republican insolence ; they honoured England for
its resolute determination to fight out the battle, not
for its own sake alone, but for the cause of all
nations. — Paul, in the attempt to partition the globe,

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Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 12 of 19)