Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) Staël.

Ten years' exile; online

. (page 13 of 18)
Online LibraryMadame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) StaëlTen years' exile; → online text (page 13 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

they do every thing.


Passage through Poland

I ARRIVED in the beginning of July at the chief
town of the circle, in which Lanzut is situated ; my
carriage stopped before the post-house, and my
son went, as usual, to have my passport examined.
I was astonished, at the end of a quarter of an hour,
not to see him return, and I requested M. Schlegel
to go and ascertain the cause of his delay. They
both came back immediately, followed by a man

200 TEN years' exile.

whose countenance I shall never, during my lile,
forget : an affected smile, upon the most stupid
features, gave the most disagreeable expression to
his countenance. My son, almost beside himself,
informed me that the captain of the circle had
declared to him that I could not remain more than
eight hours at lianzut, and that to secure my obe-
dience to this order, one of his commissaries should
follow me to the castle, should enter into it with me,
and should not quit me until 1 had left it. My son
had represented to this captain, that overcome as
1 was with fatigue, 1 required more than eight
hours to repose myself, and that the sight of a
commissary of police, in ray weak state, might
give me a very fatal shock. To all these represen-
tations the captain replied with a brutality which
is quite peculiar to German subalterns; no where
also do yoa meet with that obsequious respect for
power which immediately succeeds to arrogance to-
ward the weak. The mental movements of these
men resemble the evolutions of a review day ; they
make a half turn to the right, and a half turn to
the left, according to the word of command which is
given to them.

The commissary intrusted with the inspection of
me, fatigued himself in bowing to the very ground,
but would not in the least modify his charge. He
got into a caleche, the horses of which followed me
so close that they touched the hind wheels of my
berline. The idea of entering, escorted in this
manner, into the residence of an old friend, into a
paradise of delight, where 1 had been feasting my
ideas by anticipation, with spending several days ,
this idea I say made me so ill, that I could not get
the better of it ; joined to that also was, I believe,
the irritation of finding at my heels this insolent spy.

TEN years' exile. 201

a very fit subject, certainly, to outwit, if I had had
the desire, but who did his duty with an intolerable
mixure of pedantry and rigor :^ 1 was seized
with a nervous attack in the middle of the
road, and they were obliged to lift me out
of my carriage, and lay nie down on the side
of the ditch. This wretched commissary fan-
cied that this was an occasion to take com-
passion on me, and without getting out of his
carriage himself, he sent his servant to find me a
glass of water. I cannot express bow angry I
felt with myself for the weakness of my nerves ;
the compassion of this man was a last insuh,
which 1 woukl at least have wished to spare my-
self. He set off again at the same time that 1 did,

^ To explain liovv strong and well-founded was the anguish
which my mother experienced at this point of her journey, I
ought to mention that the attention of the Austrian police was
not then confined to her only. The description of M. Rocca had
been sent all along the road, with an order to arrest him in
quality of his being a French officer ; and although he had resign-
ed his commission, and his wounds had incapacitated him from
continuing his military service, there is no doubt, that if he had
been delivered up lo France, the forfeiture of his life would have
been the consequence. He had therefore travelled alone, and
under a borrowed name, and it was at Lanzut that he had givea
my mother the rendezvous. Having arrived there before her,
and not in the least suspecting that she would be escorted by a
commissary of police, he came out to meet her, full of joy and
confidence. The danger to which he was thus, insensibly, expo-
sing himself, transfixed my mother with terror, and siie had
barely time to give him a signal to return back ; and had it not
been for the generous presence of mind of a Polish geiitlernan,
who supplied M. Rocca with the means of escaping, he would
infallibly have been recognized and arrested by the commis-

Ignorant of what might be the fate of her manuscript, and un-
der what circumstances, public or private, she might ever publish-
it, my mother felt herself under the necessity of entirely suppress-
ing these details, to which I am at present allowed to give puh*
licity. {.Yote oftheEdUor.)


262 TEN years' exile.

and I made ray entry, along with him, into the
court yard of the castle of Lanzat. Prince
Henry, not in the least suspecting any thing of
the kind, came to meet me with the most amiable
gayety ; he was at first frightened with the pale-
ness of my looks, but when I told him, which I
did immediately, what sort of guest I had brought
with me, from that moment his coolness, firmness,
and friendship for me, did not belie themselves
for a moment. But can one conceive a state of
things in which a commissary of police should
plant himself at the table of a great nobleman
like prince Henry, or rather at that of any person
whatever, without his consent ? After supper
this commissary came up to my son, and said to
him, with that coaxing tone of voice which I par-
ticularly dislike, when it is used to say cutting
words, '* I ought, according to my orders, to pass
the night in your mother's apartment, in order tc
be certain that she has no communication with
any one ; but from regard to her, 1 will not do it."
-' You may add also,'' said my son, " from re-
gard to yourself, for if you should dare to put
vour foot in my mother's apartment during the
, night, I will throw ycu out of the window.", " Ah !
Monsieur le Baron,'' replied the commissary,
bowing lower than usual, because his threat had
a false air of power which did not fail to affect
him. He went to lay down, and the next day at
breakfast, the prince's secretary managed him so
well, by giving him plenty to eat and drink, that
I might, I believe, have remained several hours
longer, but I was ashamed at having been the
occasion of such a scene in the house of my ami-
able host. I did not even allow aiyself time to
examine those beautiful gardens, which remind

TEN tears' exile. 20^3

US of the southern climate, whose productions
they offer, nor that house, which has been the
asylum oi persecuted French emigrants, and where
the artists have seat the tribute of their talents in
return for the services rendered them by the lady
of the castle. The contrast between such de-
lightful and striking impressions, and the grief
and indignation I feit, was intolerable ; the recol-
lection of Lanzut, which I have so many reasons
for loving, even now makes me shudder, when I
think of it.

I took my departure then from this residence,
shedding bitter tears, and not knowing what else
was in store for me during the fifty leagues I had
yet to travel in the Austrian territory. The com-
missary accompanied me to the borders of his
circle, and when he took his leave, asked me if 1
was satisfied with him ; the stupidity of the fellow
quite disarmed my resentment. A peculiar fea-
ture in ail this persecution, which formerly never
entered into ?,he character of the Austrian £o-
vernment, is, that it is executed by its agents with
as much rudeness as awkwardness | these ci-de-
vant honest people carry into the base commis-
sions with which they are entrusted, the same
scrupulous exactness that ihev formerly did into
the good ones, and their limited conception of this
new method of government, which was not known
to them, makes them commit a hundred blunders,
either from want of skill or clumsiness. It is
like taking the club of Hercules to kill a fly, and
during this useless exertion the most important
matters may escape them.

On leaving the circle of Lanzut, I still found
as far as Leopoli the capital of Gallicia, grena-
diers placed from post to post to make sure of


^04 TEN years' exile.

my progress. I should have felt regret at making
thcise brave fellows thus lose their time, had it
not been for the thought that they were much
belter there, than with the unfortunate army de-
livered by Austria to Napoleon. On arriving at
Leopol, I found again ancient Austria in the go-
vernor and commandant of the province, who
both received me with the greatest politeness,
and gave me, what 1 wished above every thing,
an order for passing from Austria into Russia.
Such was the end of my residence in this mo-
narchy, which I had formerly seen powerful, just
and upright. Her alliance with Napoleon while
it lasted, degraded her to the lowest rank among
nations. History will, doubtless, not forget that
she has shown herself very warlike in her long
wars against France, and that her last effort to
resist Bonaparte was inspired by a national en-
thusiasm worthy of all praise ; but the sovereigr*
of this country, by yielding to his counsellors ra-
ther than to bis own character, has destroyed for
ever that enthusiasm, by checking its ebullition.
The unfortunate men who perished on the plains
of Essling and VVagram, that there might slill be
an Austrian monarchy and a German people,
could have hardly expected that their companions
in arms would be fighting three years afterwards
for the extension of Bonaparte's empire to the
borders ol Asia, and that there might not be in
the whole of Europe, even a desert, where the
objects of his proscription, from kings to subjects,
might find an asylum ; for such is the object, and
the sole object of the war excited by France
against Russia.


Arrival in Russia,

One bad hardly been accustomed to consider
Russia as the most free state in Europe ; but
such is the weight of the yoke which the Emperor
of France has imposed upon all the Continental
states, that on arriving at last in a country where
his tyranny can no longer make itself felt, you
fancy yourself in a republic. It was on the 14th
of July that I made my entrance into Russia ; this
coincidence with the anniversary of the first day
of the Revolution particularly struck me ; and
thus closed for me the circle of the history of
France, which had commenced on the 14th of
July, 1789.* When the barrier which separates
Austria from Russia was opened to let me pass,
I made an oath never to set my foot in a country
subjected in any degree to the emperor Napole-
on. Will this oath ever allow me to revisit beau-
tiful France?

The first person who received roe in Russia
was a Frenchman, who had formerly been a clerk
in my father's bureaux; he talked to me of him
with tears in his eyes_, and that name thus pro-
nounced, appeared to me of happy augury. In
fact, in that Russian empire, so falsely termed

* It was on the 14th of July, 1817, that my mother wa& taken
from us, and received into the bosom of God. What mind is
there that would not be affected with religious emotion on me-
ditating on the mysterious coincidences which the destiny of the
human race presents ! (JYote of ike Editor.)

206 TEN years' exile.

barbarous, I have experienced none but noble and
delightful impressions : may my gratitude draw
down additional blessings on this people and their
sovereign ! I entered Russia at the moment when
the French army had already penetrated a consi-
derable distance into the Russian territory, and
yet no restraint or vexation of any kind impeded
for a moment the progress of a foreign traveller ;
neither I, nor my companions, knew a syllable of
Russian ; we only spoke Frence, the language of
the enemies who were ravaging the. empire: I
had not even with me, by a succession of disa-
greeable chances, a single servant who could
speak Russian, and had it not been for a German
physician, (Dr. Renner,) who in the most hand-
some manner volunteered his services as our in-
terpreter as far as Moscow, we should have justly
merited the epithet of deaf and Ji<m6, applied by
the Russians to persons unacquainted with their
language. Well! even in this state, our journey
would have been quite safe and easy, so great is
the hospitality of the nobles and the people of
Russia ! On our first entrance, we learned that
the direct road to Petersburg was already occu-
pied by the armies, and that we must go to Mos-
cow in order to get the means of conveyance
there. This was another round of 200 leagues |
but we had already made 1500, and I now seem
pleased at having seen Moscow.

The first province we had to cross, Volhynia,
forms a part of Russian Poland ; it is a fertile
country, overrun with Jews, like Gallicia, but
much less miserable. I stopped at the chateau
of a Polish nobleman to whom I had been recom-
mended, who advised me to hasten my journey,
as the French were marching upon Volhyniaj and


might easily enter it in eigbt days. The Poles,
in general, like the Russians much better than
they do the Austrians ; the Russians and Poles
are both of Sclavonian origin . they have been
enemies, but respect each other mutually, while
the Germans, who are further advanced in Euro-
pean civilization than the Sclavonians, have not
learned to do them justice in other respects. It
was easy to see that the Poles in Volhynia were
not at all afraid of the entrance of the French ;
but although their opinions were known, they
were not in the least subjected to that petty per-
secution which only excites hatred without re-
straining it. The spectacle, however, of one na-
tion subjected by another, is always a painful
one ; — centuries must elapse before the union is
sufficiently esfabiished to make the names of vic-
tor and vanquished be forgotten.

At Gitomir, the chief town of Volhynia, I was
told that the Russian minister of police had been
sent 10 Wilna, to learn the motive of the emperor
Napoleon's aggression, and to make a formal pro-
test against his entry into the Russian territory.
One can hardly credit the numberless sacrifices
made by the emperor Alexander, in order to pre-
serve peace. And in fact, far from Napoleon
having it in his power to accuse the emperor
Alexander of violating the treaty of Tilsit, the
latter might have been reproached with a too
scrupulous fidelity to that fatal treaty ; and it was
rather he who had the right of declaring war
against Napoleon, as having first violated it. The
€m()eror of France in his conversation with M.
Bajasheff, the minister of police, gave himself up
to those inconceivable indiscretions which might
be taken for abandon, if we did not know that it

208 TEN years' exile.

suits him to increase the terror which he inspires
by exhibiting himself as superior to all kinds of
calculation. '' Do you think,'' said he to M.
Balasheff, " that I care a straw for these Polish
jacobins ?'' And I have been really assurer! that
there is in existence a letter, addressed several
years since to M. de Romanzoff by one of Napo-
leon's ministers, in which it was proposed to strike
out the name of Poland and the Poles from all
European acts. How unfortunate for this nation
that the emperor Alexander had not taken the title
of king of Poland, and thereby associated the
cause of this oppressed people with that of all
generous minds! Napoleon asked one of his gene-
rals, in the presence of M. de Balasheff, if he had
ever been at Moscow, and what sort of city it
was. The general replied that it had appeared
to him to be rather a large village than a capital.
And how many churches are there in it? conti-
nued the emperor. About sixteen hundred, was
the reply. That is quite inconceivable, rejoined
Napoleon, at a time when the world has ceased to
be religious. Pardon me, sire, said M. de Bala-
sheff, the Russians and Spaniards are so still. Ad-
mirable reply ! and which presaged, one would-
hope, that the Russians would be the Caslilians
of the norih.

Nevertheless, the French army made rapid
progress, and one has been so accustomed to see
the French triumphing over every thing abroad,
although at home they know not how to resist any
sort of yoke, that I had some reason to apprehend
meeting them already on the road to Moscow.
What a capricious destiny, for me to flee at first
from the French, among whom 1 was born, and
who had carried my father in triumph, and now

TEN years' exile. 209

to flee from them even to the borders of Asia!
But, in short, what destiny is there, great or Httle,
which the man selected to humble man does not
overthrow? I thought I should be obliged to go to
Odessa, a city which had become prosperous un-
der the enlightened administration of the Duke of
Richelieu, and from thence I might have gone to
Constantinople and into Greece ; I consoled my-
self for this long voyage by the idea of a poem on
Richard Cceur-de-Lion, which I have the intention
of writing, if life and health are spared me. This
poem is designed to paint the manners and cha-
racter of the East, and to consecrate a grand
epoch in the English history, that when the en-
thusiasm of the Crusades gave place to the enthu-
siasm of liberty. But as we cannot paint what
we have not seen, no more than we can express
properly what we have not felt, it was necessary
for me to go to Constantinople, into Syria, and
into Sicily, there to follow the steps of Richard.
My travelling companions, better acquainted with
my strength than I was myself, dissuaded me from
such an undertaking, and assured me that by using
expedition, I could travel post much quicker than
an army. It will be seen that i had not in fact a
great deal of time to spare.



Determined to continue my journey through
Russia, I proceeded toward Kiow, the principal
city of the Ukraine, and formerly of all Russia, for


210 TEN tears' exile.

this empire began by fixing its capital in the Soulb.
The Russians had then conthiual communication
with the Greeks established at Constantinople, and
in general with the people of the East, whose habits
they have adopted in a variety of instances. The
Ukraine is a very fertile country, but by no means
agreeable ; you see large plains of wheat which ap-
pear to be cultivated by invisible hands, the habita-
tions and inhabitants are so rare. You must not
expect, in approaching Kiow^, or the greater part
of what are called cities in Russia, to find any thing
resembling the cities of the West ; the roads are
not better kept, nor do country houses indicate
more numerous population. On my arrival at Kiow,
the first object that met my eyes was a cemetery,
and this was the first indication to me of being near
k place where men were collected. The houses at
Kiow generally resemble tents, and at a distance,
the city appears like a camp ; I could not help fan-
cying that the moveable residences of the Tartars
had furnished models for the construction of those
wooden houses, which have not a much greater
appearance of solidity. A few days are sufficient
for building them ; they are very often consumed by
fire^ and an order is sent to the forest for a house,
as you would send to market to lay in your winter
stock of provisions. In the middle of these huts,
however, palaces have been erected, and a number
of churches, whose green and gilt cupolas singu-
larly draw the attention. When toward the even-
ing the sun darts his rays on these brilliant domes,
you would fancy that h was rather an illumination
for a festival, than a durable edifice.

The Russians never pass a church without mak-
ing a sign of the cross, and their long beards add
greatly to the religious expression of their physl-


ognomy. Thej^ generally wear a large blue robe,
fastened round the waist by a scarlet band : the
dresses of the women have also something Asiatic
in them; and one remarks that taste for lively
colours which we derive from the East, where the
sun is so beautiful, that one likes to make his eclat
more conspicuous by the objects which he shines
upon. I speedily contracted such a partiality to
these oriental dresses, that I could not bear to see
Russians dressed like other Europeans : they seem-
ed to me then entering into that great regularity
of the despotism of Napoleon, which first makes all
nations a present of the conscription, then of the
war-taxes, and lastly, of the Code Napoleon, in or-
der to govern in the same manner, nations of totally
different characters.

The Dnieper, which the ancients called Bo-
rysthenes, passes by Kiow, and the old tradition
of the country affirms, that it was a boatman, who
in crossing it found ils~ waters so pure that he was
led to found a town on its banks. In fact, the
rivers are the most beautiful natural objects in
Russia. It would be difficult to find any small
streams, their course would be so much obstruct-
ed by the sand. There is scarcely any variety
of trees; the melancholy birch is incessantly re-
curring in this uninventive nature ; even the want
of stones might be almost regretted, so much is
the eye sometimes fatigued with meeting neither
hill nor valley, and to be always making progress
without encountering new objects. The rivers
relieve the imagination from this fatigue ; the
priests, therefore, bestow their benedictions on
these rivers. The emperor, empress, and the
whole court, attend the ceremony of the bene-
diction of the Neva, at the moment of the se-

212 TEN years' exile.

verest cold of winter. It is said that Waldimir,
at the commencement of the eleventh century,
df:clared, that all ihe waters of the Borysthenes
were holy, and that plunging in them was suffi-
cient to make a man a christian ; the baptism of
the Greeks being performed by immersion, mil-
lions of men went into this river to abjure their
idolatry. It was this same Waldimir who sent
deputies to different countries, to learn which of
all the religions it best suited him to adopt ; he
decided for the Greek ritual, on account of the
pomp of its ceremonies. Perhaps, also, he pre-
ferred it for more important, reasons ; in fact, the
Greek faith, by excluding the papal power,
gives the sovereign of Russia the spiritual and
temporal power united.

The Greek religion is necessarily less intole-
rant than the Roman Catholic ; for being itself
reproached as a schism, it can hardly complain of
heretics ; all rtiigions therefore are admitted
into Russia, and fi'oai the borders of the Don to
th:se oi the JNt^va, the fraternity of country
Uiiiies men, even though their theological opi-
nions may separate them. The Greek priests
are allowed to maiTv, and scarcely any gentle-
man enibraces this profession : it follows that the
clergy has \ery little political ascendancy ; it acts
u[.)on the people, bai it is very submissive lo the

The ceremonies of the Greek worship are at
least as beautiful as those of the catholics ; the
church music is heavenly : every thing in this
worship leads to meditation; it has something of
poetry 8nd feeling about it, but it appears better
adapted to captivate the imagination than to regu-
late tlie conduct. When the priest comes out

TEN years' exile, 2IS

of the sanctuary, in which he remains shut up
while he comnounicates, you would say that you
saw the gates of hght opening; the cloud of in-
cense which surrounds him, the gold and silver,
and precious stones, which glitter on his robes
and in the church, seem to come from countries
where the sun is an object of adoration. The
devout sentiments which are inspired by Gothic
architecture in Germany, France, and England,
cannot be at all compared with the effect of the
Greek churches ; they rather remind us of the
minarets of the Turks and Arabs than of our
churches. As liftle must we expect to find, as
in Italy, the splendour of (he fine arts ; their most
remarkable ornaments are virgins and saints
crowned with rubies and diamonds. Magnificence
is the character of every thing one sees in Rus-
sia; neither the genius of man nor the gifts of
nature constitute its beauties.

The ceremonies of marriage, of baptism, and
of burial, are noble and affecting; we find in
them some ancient customs of Grecian idolatry,
but only those which, having no connection with
doctrine, can add to the impression of the three
great scenes of life, birth, marriage, and death.
The Russian peasants siill continue the custom
of addressmg the dead previous to a final separa-
tion from his remains. Why is it, say they, that
thou hast abandoned us ? Wert thou then un-
happy on this earth? Was not thy wife fair

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryMadame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) StaëlTen years' exile; → online text (page 13 of 18)