Madame de (Anne-Louise-Germaine) Staël.

Ten years' exile; online

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equally indifferent to war and to power, and only
survived his son a few months. This revolt of
an old despot against the progress of time, has

TEN years' exile. ^71

in it something grand and solemn, and the melt-
i[)g tenderness which succeeds to the paroxysm
of rage in that ferocious soul, represents man as
he comes from the hand of nature, now irritated
by selfishness, and again restrained by afTection,

A law of Russia inflicted the same punishment
on the person who lamed a man in the arm as on
one who killed him. In fact, man in Russia is
principally valuable by his military strength; alt
other kinds of energy are adapted to manners and
institutions which the present state of Russia has
iiot yet developed. The females at Petersburg,
however, seemed to be penetrated with that pa-
triotic honour which constitutes the moral power
of a state* The Princess Dolgorouki, the baro-
ness Strogonofi, and several others equally of the
first rank, already knew that a part of their for-
tunes had suffered greatly by the ravaging of the
province of Smolensko, and they appeared not
to think of it otherwise than to encourage their
equals to sacrifice every thing like them. The
princess Dolgorouki related to me that an old
long-bearded Russian^ seated on an eminence
overlooking Smolensko, thus, in tears, addressed
his little grandson, whom he held upon his knees :
" Formerly, my child, the Russians went to gain
victories at the extremity of Europe ; now, stran-
gers come to attack them in their own homes,"
The grief of this old man was not vain, and we
shall soon see how dearly his tears have been pur-

Departure for Sweden. — Passage through Finland^

The emperor quitted Petersburg, and I learned
that he was gone to Abo, where he was to meet
General Bernadotle, Prince Royal of Sweden.
This news left no farther doubt about the deter-
mination of that prince to take part in the present
war, and nothing could be more important at that
moment for the salvation of Russia, and conse-
quently for that of Europe. We shall see the in-
fluence of it developed in the sequel of this narra-
tive. The news of the entrance of the French into
Smolensko arrived during the conferences of the
prince of Sweden wiih the emperor of Russia ;
and it was there that Alexander contracted the
engagement with himself and the Prince Ro^al,
his ally, never to sign a treaty of peace. " Should
Petersburg be taken/' said he, " I will retire into
Siberia. I will there resume our ancient customs,
and like our long-bearded ancestors, we will re-
turn anew to conquer the empire." " This reso-
lution will liberate Europe," exclaimed the Prince
Royal, and his prediction begins to be accom-

I saw the Emperor Alexander a second time
upon his return from Abo, and the conversation I
had the honour of holding with him, satisfied me
to that degree of the firmness of his determination,
that in spite cf the capture of Moscow, and all the
reports which followed it, I firmly believed that
he would never yield. He was so good as to tell

T^N YEAflS* FXILE. 273

me, that after the capture of Smolensko, Marshal
Bcrthier had written to the Russian commander
in chief respecting some miHlary matters, and ter-
minated his letter by saying that the Emperor
Napoleon always preserved the tenderest friend-
ship for the Emperor Alexander, a stale mystifi-
cation which the emperor of Russia received as it
deserved. Napoleon had given him some lessons
in poliiics, and lessons in war, abandoning himself
in the first to the quackery of vice, and In the
second to the pleasure of exhibiting a disdainful
carelessness. He was deceived in the emperor
Alexander; he had mistaken the nobleness of his
character for dupery ; he had not been able to
perceive that if the emperor of Russia had allow-
ed himself to go too far in his enthusiasm for him,
it was because he believed him a partizan of the
first principles of the French revolution, which
agreed with his own opinions; but never had x41ex-
ander the idea of associating with Napoleon to re-
duce Europe to slavery. Napoleon thought ia
that, as well as in all other circumstances, to suc-
ceed in blinding a man by a false representation
of his interest; but he encountered conscience,
and his calculations were entirely batHed; for that
is an element, of the strength of which he knows
nothing, and which he never allows to enter into
his combinations.

Although General Barclay de Tolly was a mili-
tary man of great reputation, yet as he had ^net
with reverses at the beginning of the campaign,
the general opinion designated as his successor, a
general of great renown. Prince Kutusow ; he
look the command fifteen days before the entry of
the French into Moscow, but he got to the army
only six days before the great battle which took


274 TEN years' exile.

place almost at the gates of that city, at Borodino.
I went to see him the day before his departure ;
he was an old man of the most graceful manners,
and lively physiognomy, altho^jgh he had lost an
eye by one of the numerous wounds he had recei-
ved in the course of a fifty years' service. On
looking at him, I was afraid that he had not suffi-
cient strength to struggle with the rough young
men who were pouncing upon Russia from all cor-
ners of Europe : but the Russian courtiers at
Petersburg become Tartars at the army ; and we
have seen by Suwarow that neither age nor honours
can enervate their physical and moral energy. I
was moved at taking leave of this illustrious Mar-
shal Kutusow ; I knew not whether I was embra-
cing a conqueror or a martyr, but I saw that he
had the fullest sense of the grandeur of the cause
in which he was employed. It was for the defence,
or rather for the restoration of all the moral vir-
tues which man owes to Christianity, of all the dig-
nity he derives from God, of all the independence
which he is allowed by nature ; it was for the res-
cuing of all these advantages from the clutches of
one man, for the French are as little to be accused
as the Germans and Italians who followed his
train, of the crimes of his armies. Before his de-
parture, Marshal Kufusovv went to offer up prayers
in the church of our Lady of Casan, and all the
people who followed his steps, called out to him
io be the saviour of Russia. What a moment for
a mortal being! His age gave him no hope of sur-
viving the fatigues of the campaign ; but there are
moments when man has a wish to die for the
saiisfaction of his soul.

Certain of the generous opinions and of the no-
ble conduct of the Prince of Sweden, I was more


than ever confirmed in the resolution of going to
Stockholm, previous to embarking for England;
toward the end of September I quitted Petersburg
to repair to Sweden through Finland. My new
friends, those whom a community of sentiment had
brought about me, came to bid me adieu; Sir Ro-
bert Wilson, who seeks every where an opportunity
of fighting, and inflaming his friends by his spirit:
M. de Stein, a man of antique character, who only
lived in the hope of seeing the deliverance of his
country ; the Spanish envoy ; and the English mi-
nister. Lord Tyrconnel ; the witty Admiral Ben-
tinck ; Alexis de Noailles, the only French emigrant
from the imperial tyranny, the only one who was
there, like me, to bear witness for France ; Colonel
Dornberg, that intrepid Hessian whom nothing has
turned from the object of his pursuit; and several
Russians, whose names have been since celebrated
by their exploits. Never was the fate of the world
exposed to greater dangers ; no one dared to say
so, but all knew it : I only, as a female, was not
exposed to it ; but I might reckon what I had suf-
fered as something. I knew not in bidding adieu
to these worthy knights of the human race, which
of them I should ever see again, and already two
of them are no longer in existence. When the pas-
sions of man rouse man against his fellows, when
nations attack each other with fury, we recognize,
with sorrow, human destiny in the miseries of hu-
manity ; but when a single being, similar to the
idols of tiie Laplanders, to whom the incense of
fear is offered up, spreads misery over the earth in
torrents, we experience a sort of superstitious fear
which leads us to consider all honourable persons
as his victims.

On entering into Finland, every thing indicates

276 TEN years' exile.

that you have passed into another country, and
that jou have to do with a very different race from
the Sclavonians. The Finns are said to come im-
mediately from the North of Asia; their language
also is said to have no resemblance to the Swedish,
which is an intermediate one between the English
and the German. The countenances of the Finns,
however, are generally perfectly German : their
fair hair, and white complexions, bear no resem-
blance to the vivacity of the Russian countenance;
but their manners are also much milder; the com-
mon people have a settled probity, the result of pro-
testant instruction, and purity of manners. On
Sundays, the young women are seen returning
from sermon on horseback, and the young men
following them. You will frequentlj^ receive hos-
pitality from the pastors of Finland, who regard it
as their duty to give a lodging to travellers, and
nothing can be more pure or delightful than the
reception you meet with in those families ; there
are scarcely any noblemens' seats in Finland, so
that the pastors are generally the most important
personages of the country. In several Finnish
songs, the young girls offer to their lovers to sa-
crifice the residence of the pastor, even if it was of-
fered to them to share. This reminds me of the
expression of a young shepherd, '' If I was a king,
I would keep my sheep on horseback." The ima-
gination itself scarcely goes beyond what is known.
The aspect of nature is very different in Fin-
land to what it is in Russia ; in place of the
marshes and plains which surround St. Peters-
burg, you find rocks, almost mountains, and
forests: but after a time, these mountains, and
those forests, composed of the same trees, the
fir and the birch, become monotonous. The

TEN years' exile. 277

enormous blocks of granite which are seen scatter-
ed through the country, and on the borders of the
high roads, give the country an air of vigour ; but
there is very Httle hfe around these great bones of
the earth, and vegetation begins to decrease from
the latitude of Finland to the last degree of the
animated world. We passed through a forest
half consumed by fire; the north winds which
add to the force of the flames, render these fires
very frequent, both in the towns and in the coun-
try. Man has, in all ways, great difficulty in
maintaining the struggle with nature in these
frozen climates. You meet with few towns in
Finland, and those few are very thinly peopled.
There is no centre, no emulation, nothing to say,
and very httle to do, in a northern Swedish or
Russian province, and during eight months of
the year, the whole of animated nature is asleep.
The Emperor Alexander possessed himself of
Finland after the treaty of Tilsit, and at a pe-
riod when the deranged intellects of the mo-
narch who then reigned in Sweden, Gustavus IV.,
rendered him incapable of defending his country.
The moral character of this prince was very es*
timable, but from his infancy, he had been sensi-
ble himself that he could not hold the reins of
government. The Swedes fought in Finland
with the greatest courage ; but without a warlike
chief on the throne, a nation which is not nume-
rous cannot triumph over a powerful enemy.
The Emperor Alexander ^ecame master of Fin-
land by conquest, and Jdi^ treaties founded on
force ;but we must do hin^^e justice to say, that
he treated this new provirre^'^very well, and re-
spected the libertiel^he enjoyed. He allowed
the Finns all their .privileges relative to the
raising of taxes and men; he sent very generous

278 TEN years' exile.

assistance to the towns which had been burnt,
and his favours compensated to a certain extent
what the Finns possessed as rights, if free men
can ever accede voluntarily to that sort of ex-
change. Finally, one of the prevailing ideas of
the nineteenth century, natural boundaries, ren-
dered Finland as necessary to Russia, as Norway
to Sweden ; and it must be admitted as a truth,
that wherever these natural limits have not ex-
isted, they have been the source of perpetual

I embarked at Abo, the capital of Finland.
There is an university in that cily, and they
make some attempts in it to cultivate the intel-
lect : but the vicinity of the bears and wolves
during the winter is so close, that all ideas are
absorbed in the necessity of insuring a tolerable
physical existence ; and the difficulty which is
felt in obtaining that in the countries of the north,
consumes a great part of the time which is else-
where consecrated to the enjoyment of the intel-
lectual arts. As some compensation, however,
it may be said that the very difficulties with
which nature surrounds men give greater firm-
ness to their character, and prevent the admis-
sion into their mind of all the disorders occa-
sioned by idleness. I could not help, however,
every moment regretting those rays of the south
which had penetrated to my very soul.

The mythological ideas of the inhabitants of
the North are constantly representing to them
ghosts and phantoms; day is there equa41y h-
vourable to apparitions as night ; something pale
and cloudy seems to summon the dead to return
to the earth, to breathe the cold air, as the tomb
with which the living are surrounded. In these
countries the two extremities are generally more

TEN years' exile. 279

conspicuous than the intermediate ones ; where
men are entirely occupied with conquering their
existence from nature, mental labours very easily
become mystical, because man draws entirely
from himself, and is in no degree inspired by ex-
ternal objects.

Since I have been so cruelly persecuted by the
Emperor, I have lost all kind of confidence in des-
tiny ; I have however a stronger belief in the pro-
tection of Providence, but it is not in the form of
happiness on this earth. The result is, that all re-
solutions terrify me, and yet exile obliges me fre-
quently to adopt some. I dreaded the sea, although
every one said, all the world makes this passage,
and no harm happens to any one. Such is the
language which encourages almost all travellers :
but the imagiiaation does not allow itself to be
chained by this kind of consolation, and that abyss,
from which so slight an obstacle separates you, is
always tormenting to the mind. Mr. Schlegel
saw the terror 1 felt about the frail vessel which
was to carry us to Stockholm. He showed me,
near Abo, the prison in which one of the most un-
fortunate kings of Sweden, Eric XIV. had been
confined, some time before he died in another prison
near Gripsholm. " If you were confined there,"
he said to me,^ *' how much would you envy the
passage of this sea, which at present so terrifies
you." This just reflection speedily gave another
turn to my ideas, and the first days of our voyage
were sufficiently pleasant. We passed between the
islands, and although there was more danger close
to the land than in the open sea, one never feels the
same terror which the sight of the waves appearing
to touch the sky makes one experience. I made
them show me the land in the horizon, as far as I
could perceive it 5 infinity is as fearful to the sight

280 TEN years' exile.

as it is pleasant to the soul. We passed by the isle
of Aland, where the plenipotentiaries ofPeter I. and
Charles XII. negociated a peace, and endeavoured
to fix boundaries to their ambition in this frozen
part of the world, which the blood of their subjects
alone had been able to thaw for a moment. We
hoped to reach Stockholm the following day, but a
decidedly contrary wind obliged us to cast anchor
by the side of an island entirely covered with rocks
interspersed with trees, which hardly grew higher
than the stones which surrounded them. We hasten-
ed, however, to take a walk on this island, in order
to feel the earth under our feet.

I have always been very subject to ennui, and far
from knowing how to occupy myself at those mo-
ments of entire leisure which seem destined for study

Here the manuscript breaks off.

After a passage which was not without danger, my
mother was landed safely at Stockholm. She was re-
ceived in Sweden with the greatest kindness, and spent
eight months there, and it was there she wrote the
present journal. Shortly after, she departed for Lon-
don, and there published her work on Germany^ which
the Imperial police had suppressed. But her health,
already cruelly affected by Bonaparte's persecutions,
having suffered from the fatigues of along voyage, she
felt herself obliged without farther delay to undertake
the history of the political life of her father, and to
adjourn to a future period all other labours, until she
had finished that which her filial affection made her
regard as a duty. She then conceived the plan of her
Considerations on the French Revolution. That work
even she was not spared to finish, and the manuscript
of her Ten Years'" Exile remained in her portfolio in
the state in which 1 now publish it.

{Note by the Editor.)

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