Henryk Sienkiewicz.

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* * *

Historical Romances.

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With Fire And Sword, 1 vol.
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[Illustration: Henryk Sienkiewicz and his Children.]
Copyright, 1898, by Little, Brown, and Company.



An Historical Novel










_Copyright, 1890, 1898_,

By Jeremiah Curtin.

_All rights reserved_.

University Press:
John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.






Washington, D.C.,
April 7, 1890.


Henryk Sienkiewicz and his Children.
From a photograph.

Map of the Polish Commonwealth.

"The falcon began to draw the hands together."
Drawn by J. Wagrez.

Vladislav IV., King of Poland.
From an engraving by Moncornet.

"He raised his eyes and began to pray aloud".
Drawn by J. Wagrez.

Bogdan Hmelnitski.
From an old engraving.

"The little knight, having discovered the whole power of his
opponent, pushed on him briskly".
Drawn by Evert Van Muyden.

Yerzy Ossolinski, Chancellor of Poland.
From an engraving by Moncornet.

"Before them stood a kind of frightful-looking man, or rather an
Drawn by Evert Van Muyden.

[Illustration: Map of the Polish Commonwealth.]


The history of the origin and career of the two Slav States, Poland and
Russia, is interesting not merely because it contains a vast number of
surprising scenes and marvellous pictures of life, not merely because
it gives us a kaleidoscope as it were of the acts of men, but because
these acts in all their variety fall into groups which may be referred
each to its proper source and origin, and each group contains facts
that concern the most serious problems of history and political

The history of these two States should be studied as one, or rather as
two parts of one history, if we are to discover and grasp the meaning
of either part fully. When studied as a whole, this history gives us
the life story of the greater portion of the Slav race placed between
two hostile forces, - the Germans on the west, the Mongols and Tartars
on the east.

The advance of the Germans on the Slav tribes and later on Poland
presents, perhaps, the best example in history of the methods of
European civilization. The entire Baltic coast from Lubeck eastward was
converted to Christianity by the Germans at the point of the sword. The
duty of rescuing these people from the errors of paganism formed the
moral pretext for conquering them and taking their lands. The warrior
was accompanied by the missionary, followed by the political colonist.
The people of the country deprived of their lands were reduced to
slavery; and if any escaped this lot, they were men from the higher
classes who joined the conqueror in the capacity of assistant
oppressors. The work was long and doubtful. The Germans made many
failures, for their management was often very bad. The Slavs west of
the Oder were stubborn, and under good leadership might have been
invincible; but the leadership did not come, and to the Germans at last
came the Hohenzollerns.

For the serious student there is no richer field of labor than the
history of Poland and the Slavs of the Baltic, which is inseparable
from the history of Mark Brandenburg and the two military orders, the
Teutonic Knights and the Knights of the Sword.

The conquest of Russia by the Mongols, the subjection of Europeans to
Asiatics, - not Asiatics of the south, but warriors from cold regions
led by men of genius; for such were Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, and the
lieutenants sent to the west, - was an affair of incomparably greater
magnitude than the German wars on the Baltic.

The physical grip of the Mongol on Russia was irresistible. There was
nothing for the Russian princes to do but submit if they wished to
preserve their people from dissolution. They had to bow down to every
whim of the conqueror; suffer indignity, insult, death, - that is, death
of individuals. The Russians endured for a long time without apparent
result. But they were studying their conquerors, mastering their
policy; and they mastered it so well that finally the Prince of Moscow
made use of the Mongols to complete the union of eastern Russia and
reduce all the provincial princes of the country, his own relatives, to
the position of ordinary landholders subject to himself.

The difference between the Poles and Russians seems to be this, - that
the Russians saw through the policy of their enemies, and then overcame
them; while the Poles either did not understand the Germans, or if they
did, did not overcome them, though they had the power.

This Slav history is interesting to the man of science, it is
interesting also to the practical statesman, because there is no
country in the Eastern hemisphere whose future may be considered
outside of Russian influence, no country whose weal or woe may not
become connected in some way with Russia. At the same time there are no
states studied by so few and misunderstood by so many as the former
Commonwealth of Poland, - whose people, brave and brilliant but
politically unsuccessful, have received more sympathy than any other
within the circle of civilization, - and Russia, whose people in
strength of character and intellectual gifts are certainly among the
first of the Aryan race, though many men have felt free to describe
them in terms exceptionally harsh and frequently unjust.

The leading elements of this history on its western side are Poland,
the Catholic Church, Germany; on the eastern side they are Russia,
Eastern Orthodoxy, Northern Asia.

Now let us see what this western history was. In the middle of the
ninth century Slav tribes of various denominations occupied the entire
Baltic coast west of the Vistula; a line drawn from Lubeck to the Elbe,
ascending the river to Magdeburg, thence to the western ridge of the
Bohemian mountains, and passing on in a somewhat irregular course,
leaving Carinthia and Styria on the east, gives the boundary between
the Germans and the Slavs at that period. Very nearly in the centre of
the territory north of Bohemia and the Carpathians lived one of a
number of Slav tribes, the Polyane (or men of the plain), who occupied
the region afterwards called Great Poland by the Poles, and now called
South Prussia by the Germans. In this Great Poland political life among
the Northwestern Slavs began in the second half of the ninth century.
About the middle of the tenth, Mechislav (Mieczislaw), the ruler,
received Christianity, and the modest title of Count of the German
Empire. Boleslav the Brave, his son and successor, extended his
territory to the upper Elbe, from which region its boundary line passed
through or near Berlin, whence it followed the Oder to the sea. Before
his death, in 1025, Boleslav wished to be anointed king by the Pope.
The ceremony was denied him, therefore he had it performed by bishops
at home. About a century later the western boundary was pushed forward
by Boleslav Wry-mouth (1132-1139) to a point on the Baltic about
half-way between Stettin and Lubeck. This was the greatest extension of
Poland to the west. Between this line and the Elbe were Slav tribes;
but the region had already become marken (marches) where the intrusive
Germans were struggling for the lands and persons of the Slavs.

The eastern boundary of Poland at this period served also as the
western boundary of Russia from the head-waters of the western branch
of the river San in the Carpathian Mountains at a point west of Premysl
(in the Galicia of to-day) to Brest-Litovsk, from which point the
Russian boundary continued toward the northeast till it reached the
sea, leaving Pskoff considerably and Yurieff (now Dorpat) slightly to
the east, - that is, on Russian territory. Between Russia, north of
Brest-Litovsk and Poland, was the irregular triangle composing the
lands of Lithuanian and Finnish tribes. From the upper San the Russian
boundary southward coincided with the Carpathians, including the
territory between the Pruth to its mouth and the Carpathians. This
boundary between Poland and Russia, established at that period,
corresponds as nearly as possible with the line of demarcation between
the two peoples at the present day.

During the two centuries following 1139, Poland continued to lose on
the west and the north, and that process was fairly begun through which
the Germans finally excluded the Poles from the sea, and turned the
cradle of Poland into South Prussia, the name which it bears to-day.

At the end of the fourteenth century a step was taken by the Poles
through which it was hoped to win in other places far more than had
been lost on the west. Poland turned now to the east; but by leaving
her historical basis on the Baltic, by deserting her political
birthplace, the only ground where she had a genuine mission, Poland
entered upon a career which was certain to end in destruction, unless
she could win the Russian power by agreement, or bend it by conquest,
and then strengthened by this power, turn back and redeem the lost
lands of Pomerania and Prussia.

The first step in the new career was an alliance with Yagello (Yahailo)
of Lithuania, from which much was hoped. This event begins a new era in
Polish history; to this event we must now give attention, for it was
the first in a long series which ended in the great outburst described
in this book, - the revolt of the Russians against the Commonwealth.

To reach the motives of this famous agreement between the Lithuanian
prince and the nobles and clergy of Poland, - for these two estates had
become the only power in the land, - we must turn to Russia.

Lithuania of itself was small, and a prince of that country, if it
stood alone, would have received scant attention from Poland; but the
Lithuanian Grand Prince was ruler over all the lands of western Russia
as well as those of his own people.

What was Russia?

The definite appearance of Russia in history dates from 862, when Rurik
came to Novgorod, invited by the people to rule over them. Oleg, the
successor of this prince, transferred his capital from Novgorod to
Kieff on the Dnieper, which remained the chief city and capital for two
centuries and a half. Rurik's great-grandson, Vladimir, introduced
Christianity into Russia at the end of the tenth century. During his
long reign and that of his son Yaroslav the Lawgiver, the boundary was
fixed between Russia and Poland through the places described above, and
coincided very nearly with the watershed dividing the two river-systems
of the Dnieper and the Vistula, and serves to this day as the boundary
between the Russian and Polish languages and the Eastern and Catholic

In 1157 Kieff ceased to be the seat of the Grand Prince, the capital of
Russia. A new centre of activity and government was founded in the
north, - first at Suzdal, and then at Vladimir, to be transferred later
to Moscow.

In 1240 the conquest of Russia by the Tartars was complete. Half a
million or more of armed Asiatics had swept over the land, destroying
everything where they went. A part of this multitude advanced through
Poland, and were stopped in Silesia and Moravia only by the combined
efforts of central Europe. The Tartar dominion lasted about two hundred
and fifty years (1240-1490), and during this period great changes took
place. Russia before the Tartar conquest was a large country, whose
western boundary was the eastern boundary of Poland; liberated Russia
was a comparatively small country, with its capital at Moscow, and
having interposed between it and Poland a large state extending from
the Baltic to the Black Sea, - a state which was composed of two thirds
of that Russia which was ruled before the Tartar conquest by the
descendants of Rurik; a state which included Little, Red, Black, and
White Russia, more than two thirds of the best lands, and Kieff, with
the majority of the historic towns of pre-Tartar Russia.

How was this state founded?

This state was the Lithuanian Russian, - Litva í Rus (Lithuania and
Russia), as it is called by the Russians, - and it rose in the following
manner. In the irregular triangle on the Baltic, between Russia and
Poland of the twelfth century, lived tribes of Finnish and Lithuanian
stock, about a dozen in number. In the thirteenth and fourteenth
centuries these were all conquered, - the Prussian Lithuanians from the
Niemen to the Vistula, by the Teutonic Knights, aided by crusading
adventurers from western Europe; the others, Lithuanian and Finnish, by
the Knights of the Sword, - with the exception of two tribes, the
Lithuanians proper, on the upper waters of the Niemen and its
tributaries, and the Jmuds or Samogitians on the right bank of the same
river, lower down and between the Lithuanians and the sea. These two
small tribes were destined through their princes - remarkable men in the
fullest sense of the word - to play a great part in Russian and Polish
history. It is needless to say much of the Lithuanians, who are better
known to scholars than any people, perhaps, of similar numbers in
Europe. The main interest in them at present is confined to their
language, which, though very valuable to the philologist and beautiful
in itself, has never been used in government or law, and has but one
book considered as belonging to literature, - "The Four Seasons" by

Though small, the Lithuanian country, ruled by a number of petty
princes, was as much given to anarchy as larger aggregations of men.
United for a time under Mindog by reason of pressure from outside, the
Lithuanians rose first to prominence under Gedimin (1315-1340), who in
a quarter of a century was able to substitute himself for the petty
princes of western Russia and extend his power to the south of Kieff.
Gedimin was followed by Olgerd, who with his uncle Keistut ruled till
1377; during which time the domains of the Lithuanian prince were
extended to the Crimea, and included the whole basin of the Dnieper
with its tributaries, together with the upper Dvina. Gedimin and Olgerd
respected in all places the clergy of the Eastern Church, and thus
acquired rule over a great extent of country with comparative ease and

Olgerd, who had completed a great state, left it to his sons and his
brother Keistut. Yagello (Yahailo), one of these sons, had Keistut put
to death; his brothers and cousins fled; Yagello became sole master. At
this juncture the nobles and clergy of Poland effected an arrangement
by which Yagello, on condition of becoming a Catholic, introducing the
Catholic religion into Lithuania, and joining the state to Poland, was
to marry the Queen Yadviga (the last survivor of the royal house) and
be crowned king of Poland at Cracow. All these conditions were carried
out, and with the reign of Yagello Polish history assumes an entirely
new character.

With the establishment by Gedimin and Olgerd of the Lithuanian dynasty
and its conquests, there were two Russias instead of one, - Western
Russia, ruled by the house of Gedimin, and Eastern Russia, ruled by the
house of Rurik. It had become the ambition of the Lithuanian princes to
unite all Russia; it had long been the fixed purpose of the princes at
Moscow to recover their ancient patrimony, the lands of Vladimir and
Yaroslav; that is, all western Russia to the Polish frontier;
consequently all the lands added by the Lithuanian princes to their
little realm on the Niemen and its tributaries. This struggle between
the two houses was very bitter, and more than once it seemed as though
Moscow's day had come, and Vilna was to be the capital of reconstituted

When the question was at this stage, Yagello became King of Poland. The
union, purely personal at first, became more intimate later on by means
of the two elements of Polish influence, the Church and the nobility.
Catholicism was made the religion of the Lithuanians at once; and
twenty-seven years later, at Horodlo, it was settled that the
Lithuanian Catholics of the higher classes should receive the same
privileges as the Polish nobility, with whom they were joined by means
of heraldry, - a peculiar arrangement, through which a number of
Lithuanian families received the arms of some Polish house, and became
thus associated, as the original inhabitants of America are associated
under the same _totem_ by the process of adoption.

Without giving details, for which there is no space here, we state
merely the meaning of all the details. Lithuania struggled persistently
against anything more than a personal union, while Poland struggled
just as persistently for a complete union; but no matter how the
Lithuanians might gain at one time or another, the personal union under
a king influenced by Polish ideas joined to the great weight of the
clergy and nobility was too much for them, and the end of the whole
struggle was that under Sigismond Augustus, the last of the Yagellon
kings, a diet was held at Lublin in which a union between Poland and
Lithuania was proclaimed against the protest of a large number of the
Lithuanians who left the diet. The King, who was hereditary Grand
Duke of Lithuania, and childless, made a present to Poland of his
rights, - made Poland his heir. The petty nobility of Lithuania were
placed on the same legal footing as the princes and men of great
historic families. Lithuania was assimilated to Poland in institutions.

The northern part of West Russia was attached to Lithuania, and all
southern Russia merged directly in Poland. If the work of this diet had
been productive of concord, and therefore of strength, Poland might
have established herself firmly by the sea and won the first place in
eastern Europe; but the Commonwealth, either from choice or necessity,
was more occupied in struggling with Russians than in standing with
firm foot on the Baltic. Sound statesmanship would have taught the
Poles that for them it was a question of life and death to possess
Pomerania and Prussia, and make the Oder at least their western
boundary. They had the power to do that; they had the power to expel
the two military orders from the coast; but they did not exert it, - a
neglect which cost them dear in later times. Moscow would not have
escaped the Poles had they been masters of the Baltic, and had they,
instead of fighting with Cossacks and Russians, attached them to the
Commonwealth by toleration and justice.

The whole internal policy of Poland from the coronation of Yagello to
the reign of Vladislav IV. was to assimilate the nobility of Lithuania
and Russia to that of Poland in political rights and in religious
profession. The success was complete in the political sense, and
practically so in the religious. The Polish nobility, who were in fact
the state, possessed at the time of Yagello's coronation all the land,
and owned the labor of the people; later on they ceased to pay taxes of
any kind. It was a great bribe to the nobles of Lithuania and Russia to
occupy the same position. The Lithuanians became Catholics at the
accession of Yagello, or soon after; but in Russia, where all belonged
to the Orthodox Church, the process was slow, even if sure. The princes
Ostrorog and Dominik Zaslavski of this book were of Russian families
which held their faith for a long time. The parents of Prince Yeremi
Vishnyevetski were Orthodox, and his mother on her death-bed implored
him to be true to the faith of his ancestors.

All had been done that could be done with the nobility; but the great
mass of Russian people holding the same faith as the Russians of the
East, whose capital was at Moscow, were not considered reliable;
therefore a union of churches was effected, mainly through the formal
initiative of the King Sigismond III. and a few ecclesiastics, but
rejected by a great majority of the Russian clergy and people. This new
or united church, which retained the Slav language with Eastern customs
and liturgy, but recognized the supremacy of the Pope, was made the
state church of Russia.

From this rose all the religious trouble.

The Russians, when Hmelnitski appeared, were in the following
condition: Their land was gone; the power of life and death over them
resided in lords, either Poles or Polonized Russians, who generally
gave this power to agents or tenants, not infrequently Jews. All
justice, all administration, all power belonged to the lord or to
whomsoever he delegated his authority; there was no appeal. A people
with an active communal government of their own in former times were
now reduced to complete slavery. Such was the Russian complaint on the
material side. On the moral side it was that their masters were
filching their faith from them. Having stripped them of everything in
this life, they were trying to deprive them of life to come.

The outburst of popular rage against Poland was without example in
history for intensity and volume, and this would have made the revolt
remarkable whatever its motives or objects. But the Cossack war was of
world-wide importance in view of the issues. The triumph of Poland
would have brought the utter subjection of the Cossacks and the people,
with the extinction of Eastern Orthodoxy not only in Russia but in
other lands; for the triumph of Poland would have left no place for
Moscow on earth but a place of subjection. The triumph of the Cossacks
would have brought a mixed government, with religious toleration and a
king having means to curb the all-powerful nobles. This was what
Hmelnitski sought; this was the dream of Ossolinski the Chancellor;
this, if realized, might possibly have saved the Commonwealth, and made
it a constitutional government instead of an association of
irresponsible magnates.

It turned out that the Cossacks and the uprisen people were not a match
for the Poles, and it was not in the interest of the Tartars to give
the Cossacks the fruits of victory. It was the policy of the Tartars to
bring the Poles into trouble and then rescue them; they wished the
Poles to have the upper hand, but barely have it, and be in continual
danger of losing it.

Online LibraryHenryk SienkiewiczWith Fire and Sword: An Historical Novel of Poland and Russia → online text (page 1 of 71)