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

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w^as narrowing his supremacy to his own sepulchre.

Yet, this time of national gloom was the most
splendid period of the court. With the double
purpose of recovering his popularity, and concealing
his negotiations, Paul plunged into the most extra-
ordinary festivity. Balls, masquerades, and fetes,
succeeded each other with restless extravagance.
But the contrast of the saturnine Emperor, with the
sudden change of his court was too powerful. It
bore the look of desperation ; though, for what
purpose, was still a mystery to the million. I heard
many a whisper among the diplomatic circle, that
this whirl of life, this taste for fierce dissipation, was,
in all Russian reigns, the sure precursor of a catas-
trophe ; though none could yet venture to predict its
nature. It M^as like the furious and frenzied indul-
gence of a crew in a condemned ship ; breaking up
the chests and drinking the liquors ; in the conviction
that none could survive the gale.

Even I, with all my English disregard of the
speculative frivolities, which to the foreigner are
substance and facts, was startled by the increasing


glare of those hurried and feverish festivities. More
than once, as I entered the imperial saloon, crowded
with the civil and military uniforms of every court
of Europe, and exhibiting at once European taste
and Asiatic magnificence, I could scarcely suppress
the feeling that I was only entering the most stately
of theatres ; where, with all the temporary glitter of
the stage, the sounds of the orchestra, and the
passion and poetry of the characters — the fifth act
was preparing, and the curtain was to fall on the
death of nobles and kings.

The impression that evil was to come, already
seemed to be universal. Rumours of popular con-
spiracy, fresh discoveries by the police, and new
tales of imperial eccentricity, kept the public mind
in constant fretfulness. At length, I received the
formal communication of a " challenge " from the
Czar to my sovereign, along with all the other
crowned heads of Europe, to meet him in a champ-
clos, and, sword in hand, decide the quarrels of
nations. With this despatch came an invitation for
the whole diplomatic body to a masquerade! in
which all were commanded to appear as knights, in
armour — the Czar, as grand-master of the Order of
Malta, exhibiting himself in the panoply, in which he
was to settle the disputes of mankind.

Perplexities like those form a large share of the
trials of the foreign ambassador. To attend the
fete was embarrassing ; but to decline the invitation,
would have been equivalent to demanding my pass-
ports. And I must acknowledge, that if the eye



was to be gratified by the most superb, and the most
curious, of all displays, never was there an occasion
more fitted for its indulgence. All the armouries of
Europe, and of Asia, seemed to have been searched
for the arms and ornaments of this assemblage. The
Kremlin had given up its barbaric shields and caps
of bronze. We had the plate-mail of the Crusader ;
the gold, inlaid morions and cuirasses of France; the
silver chain-mail of the Circassian ; the steel corslet
of the German chivalry. Those, with a whole host of
the various and rich equipments of the Greek, the
Hungarian, the Moresco, and the Turkoman, made
the Winter palace a blaze of knighthood.

Yet, to me, after the first excitement, the whole
conveyed a deep impression of melancholy. It irre-
sistibly reminded me of the last ceremonial of dead
sovereigns, the " Chapelle Ardente." Even the cur-
tains which drooped round the throne, fringed with
jewels as they were, to me looked funereal. The im-
mense golden candelabra were to me the lights above
a bier. I almost imagined, that I could see the
sword and sceptre laid across the coffin, and all of
the Lord of Empire that remained, a corpse within.

I was aroused from my reluctant reverie, by the
approach of a group of masks, who came dancing
towards the recess where I had retii-ed, wearied
with the general glitter, and the tumult of the fete.
One of the casements opened into the famous Con-
servatory; and I sat, enjoying the scents of the
thousand flowers and shrubs of, perhaps, the finest
collection in the world. But, in the shade, the group


had evidently overlooked me; for they began to
speak of matters which they could not have designed
for a stranger's ear. The conduct of the Czar, the
wrongs of Russia, and the " necessity of coming to
a decision," were the topics. Suddenly, as if to
avert suspicion, one of the group struck up a po-
pular air on the little three- stringed guitar, which
throws the Russian crowd into such ecstasies ; and
they began a dance, accompanying it by a murmured
chorus, which soon convinced me of the dangerous
neighbourhood into which I had fallen. The words
became well known afterwards. No lano-uage excels
the Russian in energy ; but I must give them in the
weakness of a translation.

The Neva may rush

To its fountain again ;
The bill of a bird

Lake Ladoga may drain ;
The blast from the Pole

May be held in a chain ;
But the ci'y of a Nation

Was never in vain !

When the bones of our chiefs

Feed the wolf and the kite ;
When the spurs of our squadrons

Are bloody with flight ;
When the Black Eagle's banner

Is torn from its height ;
Then, dark -hearted dreamer !

Beware of the nigM !

I hear in the darkness

The tread of the bold ;
They stop not for iron,

They stop not for gold ;
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But the Sword has an edge,

And the Scarf has a fold.
Proud master of millions,

Thy tale has been told !

Now the chambers ai*e hush'd,

And the strangers are gone I
And the sire is no sire,

And the son is no son.
And the mightiest of Earth

Sleeps for ever alone,
The worm for his brother.

The clay for his throne !

My conviction was complete, when in the whirl of
the dance, a small roll of paper dropped from the
robe of one of the maskers, and fell at my feet. In
taking it up to return it to him, I saw that it was
a list of names, and, at the head, a name which, from
private information, I knew to be involved in dark
political purposes. The thought flashed across me, in
connexion with the chorus which I had just heard, that
the paper was of too much importance to be suffered
to leave my possession. — The life of the sovereign
might be involved. The group, who had been evidently
startled by my sudden appearance among them, now
surrounded me, and the loser of the paper insisted on
its instant surrender. The violence of his demand
only confirmed my resolution. He grew more agi-
tated still, and the group seized me. I laid my hand
upon my sword. This measure stopped them for the
moment. But in the next, I saw a knife brandished
in the air, and felt myself wounded in the arm. My
attempt to grasp the weapon had alone saved me from


its being buried in my heart. But the fracas now
attracted notice ; a crowd pressed towards us, and the
groxip suddenly scattered away, leaving me still in
possession of the paper.

My wound bled, and I felt faint, and desired to be
led into the open air. My mask was taken off; and
this was scarcely done, when I heard my name pro-
nounced, and saw the welcome countenance of my
friend Guiscard by my side. He had arrived but on
that day, on a mission from his court ; had, with his
usual eagerness of friendship, gone to enquire for me
at the hotel of the embassy ; and thus followed me to
the fete at the critical time. As he supported me to
my equipage, I communicated the circumstances of
the rencontre to his clear and generous heart ; and
he fully agreed with me on the duty, of instantly ap-
prising the Czar of his probable danger. As I was
unable to move through pain and feebleness, he
offered to take the list with him, and demand an in-
terview with the sovereign himself, if possible ; or, if
not, with the governor of the palace. The paper
contained not only names of individuals, all, long be-
fore, objects of public suspicion, but a sketch of the
imperial apartments, and, at the bottom, the words, —
"three hours after midnight." I looked at my watch,
it was already half-past two. This might, or might
not be, the appointed night for this dreadful business ;
but, if it were, there was but one half hour between
the throne and the grave.

Guiscard hurried oif, leaving me in the deepest
anxiety, but promising to return as speedily as in his
K 3


power. But he came not. My anxiety grew intole-
rable ; hour after hour passed away, while I reckoned
minute after minute, as if they were so much drained
from my own existence. Even, if I had been able to
move, it was impossible to know where to follow him.
His steps might have been watched. Doubtless the
conspirators were on the alert to prevent any ap-
proach to the palace. He might have fallen by the
pistol of some of those men, who had not scrupled
to conspire against their monarch. The most mise-
rable of nights at length wore away ; but it was only
to be succeeded by the most fearful of mornings.
The career of Paul was closed ! On the entrance of
the chamberlains into his sleeping apartment, the un-
happy Czar was found dead. There could be no
doubt that he had perished by treason. A scarf was
still drawn tight round his throat. He had been
strangled. The intelligence no sooner spread through
the capital, than it produced a burst of national sor-
row. All his errors were forgotten. All his good
qualities were remembered.

But where was my gallant and excellent friend —
Guiscard ? — Of him I heard nothing.

Another week of suspense, and he appeared. His
history was of the most singular kind. On the night
when I had last seen him, he had made his way
through all obstacles into the palace, and been pro-
mised a private interview with the Czar. ' But while
he urged that no time should be lost, he had suffi-
cient proof that there could be no chance of an inter-
view. A succession of apologies was made : the


* Czar was at supper' — ^he was engaged with the
minister ' — ' he had gone to rest.' In total hopeless-
ness of communicating his pressing intelHgence in
person, he at length consented to seal the roll, and
place it in the hands of one of the officers of rank in
the household. But that officer himself was in the
conspiracy. The paper was immediately destroyed ;
and the bearer of it was considered to be too danger-
ous to be sent back.

He was put under arrest in an apartment of the
palace, and told that his life depended on his silence.
He urged his diplomatic character in vain. The only
answer was the sword of the conspirator turned to
his throat. But within the week the revolution was
complete, and he was set at liberty. A new monarch,
a new government, a new feeling, followed this danger-
ous act. But the character of the young monarch
was made to be popular; the reign of caprice was at
an end. The empire felt relieved ; and Russia began
the most glorious period of her national history.

My mission was now at an end, for I refused to
hold the embassy under a rival cabinet ; but I car-
ried with me from St. Petersburg two trophies : — the
former was the treaty concluded by Paul with France
for the march of an army^ in conjunction with a
French column of 30,000 men, to invade India— a
document which had hitherto baffled all diplomatic
research ; the other was the pathetic and noble letter
of Alexander to the British sovereign, proposing a
restoration of the national friendship.

I took my leave of the Russian court with a most
K 4


gracious audience of its new monarch. I saw him long
afterwards, under different circumstances, struggling
with a tremendous war, pressed by every difficulty
which could beset the throne, and throwing the last
melancholy and doubtful cast for the independence of
Europe. But, both now and then, I saw him, what
nature had made him — a noble being. His stature
was tall and commanding; and he was one of the most
striking figures of his court when in the uniform of
his guards. But his manner was still superior — it
was at once affable and dignified ; he spoke of Euro-
pean interests with intelligence, of his own intentions
with dignity; and of England with a rational respect
for its spirit and institutions. Of his own country, he
expressed himself with candour. " I feel," said he,
*' that I have a great trust laid on me, and I am de-
termined to fulfil it. I shall not make the throne a bed
of roses. There is still much to be done, and I shall
do what I can. I have the advantage of a fine material
in the people. No being is at once more susceptible
of improvement, and more grateful for it, than the
Russian. He has quick faculties and an honest heart.
If the common hazards of empire should come, I
know that he will not desert me. In the last ex-
tremity of human fortunes, I shall not desert him."

Those generous declarations were gallantly realized
on both sides within a few years. I was not then
aware that the Imperial prediction would be soon
brought to the test. But it was gloriously fulfilled
in the flames of Moscow, and proudly registered on
the fallen throne of Napoleon.


Impatient as I was to reach England, I left St.
Petersburg with regret. Clotilde left it with those
feelings which belong to the finer fancy of woman.
She remembered it as the scene, where she had en-
joyed the most dazzling portion of her life ; where
every countenance had met her with smiles, and
every tongue was prodigal of praise ; where the day
rose on the promise of new enjoyments, and the
night descended on royal festivity. As we drove
along the banks of the Neva, she more than once
stopped the carriage, to give herself a parting glance
at the long vista of stately buildings, which she was
then to look upon, perhaps, for the last time.

The coup-d'ceiel was certainly of the most striking
order, for we had commenced our journey on the even-
ing of one of the national festivals ; and we thus had
the whole population, in all their holiday dresses,
giving animation to the general aspect of the massive
and gigantic architecture. The Neva was covered
with barges of the most graceful form ; the fronts
of the citizens' houses were hung with decorations ;
music sounded from a vast orchestra in front of the
palace ; and the air re-echoed with the voices of
thousands and tens of thousands, all evidently de-
termined to be happy for the time. We both gazed
in silence and admiration. The carriage had acci-
dentally drawn up in view of the little hut, which is
still preserved in the Neva as the dwelling of Peter.
I saw a tear glistening on the long eyelash of my
lovely fellow traveller.

" If I wanted a proof," said she, " of the intel-


lectual greatness of man, I should find it in this spot,
I may see in that hut the emblem of his mind. That
a Russian, two centuries ago — almost before the name
of Russia was known in Europe — while its court had
scarcely emerged from the feuds of barbarous fac-
tions, and its throne had been but just rescued from
the hands of the Tartar — should have conceived
the design of such an empire, and should have
crowned his design with such a capital, is to me the
most memorable effort of a ruling mind, within all
human recollection."

" Clotilde, I was not aware that you were inclined
to give the great Czar so tender a tribute," I said
laughingly, at her embarrassment in the discovery of
her emotion.

Truth was in her reply. " I agree in the common
censure of the darker portions of his course. But I
can now judge of him only by what I see. Who is
to know the truth of his private history ? What can
be more unsafe than to judge of the secret actions of
princes, from the interested or ignorant narratives of
a giddy court, or of foreign enemies ? But the evi-
dence round us allows of no deception. These piles of
marble are unanswerable ; — these are the vindications
of kings. The man who, sitting in that hut, in the
midst of the howling wilderness, imagined the exist-
ence of such a city rising round him and his line —
at once bringing his country into contact with Europe,
and erecting a monument of national greatness, to
which Europe itself, in its thousand years of pro-
gress, has no equal — must have had a nature made


for the highest tasks of human advancement. — Of
all the |3anegyrics of Imperial life, St. Petersburg is
the most Imperial."

We passed rapidly through the Russian provinces,
and, intending to embark in one of our frigates cruis-
ing the Baltic, felt all the delight of having at length
left the damp and dreary forests of Livonia far down
in the horizon, and again feeling the breezes blowing
from that ocean, which the Englishman instinctively
regards as a portion of his home. But, as we drove
along the smooth sands which line so many leagues
of the Baltic, and enjoyed with the full sense of
novelty the various contrast of sea and shore, we
were startled by the roar of guns from the ramparts
of Riga, followed by the peal of bells. What vic-
tory, what defeat, what great event, did those
announce ? The intelligence at length broke on us
at the gates ; and it was well worth all our~ interest.
" Peace with France." — The English ambassador had
arrived in Paris. — " War was at end, and the world
was to be at rest once more." I changed my route
immediately, and flew on the road to Paris.

My life was destined to be a succession of " scenes."
It had been thrown into a whirl of memorable inci-
dents, any one of which would have served for the
tumult of fifty years, and for the meditation of
the fifty after. But this was the period of powerful,
sometimes of terrible, vicissitudes. All ranks of
men were reached by them. Kings and statesmen
only felt them first : they penetrated to the peasant.
The Continent underwent a moral convulsion — an
K 6


outpouring of the general elements of society —
like that of some vast inundation, sweeping away
the landmarks, and uprooting the produce of the
soil ; until it subsided, leaving the soil in some places
irreparably stripped — in others, filled with a new

I found France in a state of the highest exulta-
tion. The national cry was, " that she had covered
herself with glory ;" and to earn that cry, probably,
no Frenchman who ever existed, would hesitate to
inarch to Timbuctoo, or swim across the Atlantic.
The name of "conquest" is a spell which no brain,
from Calais to Bayonne, has ever thought of resist-
ing. The same spell lives, masters, domineers over
the national mind, to this hour ; and will last, long
after Paris has dropped into the depths of its own
catacombs, and its fifteen fortresses are mouldered
into mounds, as shapeless as the towers of Babylon.

But, it will be impossible, to tell future ages the
scene which France then presented to the mind. If
objects are capable of record, impressions are beyond
the power of the pen. No image can be conveyed to
posterity, of the sensations which crowded on Europe
in the course of the French Revolution — the rapidity,
the startling lustre, and the deep despair ; as it went
forth crushing all that the earth had of solid or
sacred. It was now only in its midway. The pause
had come ; but it was only the pause in the hurri-
cane — the still heavier trial was at hand. Even as a
stranger, I could see that it was but a lull.

Every thing that met the eye in Paris was a pre-


parative for war. The soldier was every thing, and
every where. I looked in vain for the Republican
costumes, which I so fearfully remembered. They
had been flung aside for the uniform of the Imperial
Guard ; or were to be seen onlv on a few haggard
and desolate men, who came out in the twilight, or
sat in silence, and gloomy dreams of revenge, in
some suburb cafe. Where were the deadly tribunals,
with their drunken judges, their half-naked assassins,
and the eternal clank of the guillotines ? — all
vanished ; the whole sullen furniture of the Repub-
lican drama had been flung behind the scenes, and
the stage was filled with the song and the dance — the
pageant and the feast — with all France gazing and
delighted at the spectacle.

But, my still stronger curiosity was fixed on the
one man, who had been the soul of the transforma-
tion. I have before my eye at this moment his
slender and spirituel figure; his calm, but most
subtle glance ; and the incomparable expression of
his smile. His face was then classic — the ideal of
thought; and, when Canova afterwards transferred
it to marble, he could not have made it less like
flesh and blood. It was intensely pale — pure, pro-
found, Italian.


" Why, then, I do but dx'eam on Sovereignty,
Like one that stands upon a promontory,
And spies a far-off shore where he would tread,
Wishing his foot were equal with his eye,
And chides the sea that sunders him from thence.
Saying, he'll lade it dry, to have his way."


Change is the master-spirit of Europe, as per-
manency is of Asia. The contrast is in the nature
of things. However the caprice, the genius, or the
necessities of the sitter on the throne may attempt
to impress permanency on the habits of the West,
or mutability on those of the East, his success must
be but partial. In Europe, we have a perpetual
movement of minds, a moral ocean, to which tides
and currents are an operation of nature. But the
Caspian or the Euxine is not more defined by its
limits of rock and mountain, or more inexorably
separated from the general influx of the waters which
roll I'ound the world, than the Asiatic mind is from
following the free course, and sharing the bold and
stormy innovations, of Europe.


But the most rapid and total change within human
memory, was the one which was now before my eye.
I felt as some of the old alchymists might feel in
their laboratories, with all their crucibles heating,
all their alembics boiling, all their strange materials
in full effervescence ; and their eyes fixed, in doubt,
and perhaps in awe, on the powerful and hazardous
products about to result from combinations untried
before ; on amalgams which might shatter the roof
above their heads, or vapours, which might extinguish
their existence by a blast of poison.

I had left Paris a Democracy. I found it a
Despotism. I had left it a melancholy prey to the
multitude ; a startling theatre of alternate fury and
dejection ; of cries for revenge, and supplications for
bread ; of the tyranny of the mob, and the misery of
the nation. I now found it the most striking con-
trast to that scene of despair ; — Paris the head-
quarters of a military government ; the Tuileries the
palace of a conqueror ; every sound martial ; the
eye dazzled every where by the spoils of the German
and Italian sovereignties ; the nation flushed with
victory. Still, the public aspect exhibited peculiari-
ties, which interested me the more, that they could
never have appeared in older times, and probably
will never return.

In the midst of military splendour there was a
wild, haggard, and unhappy character stamped on all
things. The streets of the capital had not yet felt the
influence of that imperial taste which was to render it
an imperial city. I saw the same shattered suburbs,


the same deep, narrow, and winding streets, the same
dismal lanes ; in which I had witnessed so often the
gatherings of the armed multitude, and which seemed
made for popular commotion. Mingled with those
wild wrecks and gloomy places of refuge, rather
than dwellings ; I saw, with their ancient ornaments,
and even with their armorial bearings and gilded
shields not yet entirely defaced, the palaces of the
noblesse and blood-royal of France, the remnants
of ten centuries of a monarchy, which had been
powerful enough to reduce the bold tribes of the
Franks to a civilized slavery, and glittering enough
to make them in love with their chains.

If I could have imagined, in the nineteenth cen-
tury, a camp of banditti on its most showy scale — a
government of Condottieri, with its most famous
captain at its head — every where a compilation of
arms and spoils, the rude habits of the robber com-
bined with the pomp of military triumph— I should
have said, that the realization was before me.

The Palais Royal M'as still the chief scene of all
Parisian vitality. But the mob orators were to be
found there no more. The walks and cafes were

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Online LibraryGeorge CrolyMarston, or, The soldier and statesman (Volume 3) → online text (page 13 of 19)