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with the personage who had shared with him
for a long time in the grand business with
which so many, interests were connected, He*
set out for Paris about night-fall, mounted on
the horse that had drawn the car, after leaving


strict orders to his groom to allow no one what-
ever to have access to his sister, from whom
his absence was concealed. The people of the
house imagined that he was only gone in order
to procure a doctor that lived in the neighbour-

Noirval alighted about ten o'clock at one of
the houses in the Faubourg St. Marceau ; it
was the abode of a foreign nurseryman, whose
address had been sent him. He knocked at
the door, and when it was at length opened, he
presented a card, on which were marked the
letters P. M. N. C, and was immediately ad-
mitted, and conducted to a green-house at the
foot of the garden. A parcel of frames piled
up on the floor of the building concealed the
'entrance to a cellar, the spiracles of which
opening into an old cart-shed, were covered
over by clematis and other creeping shrubs.


In this place a bed had been prepared for
him, and the gardener accosting him respect-
fully, told him that he was ready to execute
the orders that had been transmitted to him.

Next morning a carriage halted at the house
of the nurseryman, from which a lady, fol-
lowed by a servant in plain clothes, alighted.
She came to purchase flowers, which she often
did ; and one of the lads having informed the
gardener of her arrival, the latter ran hastily to
wait upon her. The lady visited along with him
a number of flower-plats ; selected some shrubs,
which she had conveyed to her carriage ; and,
as the day was fine, she ordered the servant to
mount and look after the pots, and bidding the
coach drive on, said she should return to town
on foot.

But this lady will act so important a part in
the whole of our history, that it is absolutely


necessary to enter into some details respecting
her person, her character, and her rank in life.

The Countess Stanislas Gradiska was a prin-
cess of the house of Sobiuska, and allied, in con-
sequence, to the most noble families in Poland
and Lithuania; nor did the elevation of her
mind belie the dignity of her birth. Inheriting
a vast fortune, she was forced by her parents
at a very early age to marry Count Gradiska,
palatine of Sendomir, a man twenty years
older than herself, and who, notwithstanding
her beauty, neglected her for the company of
an old mistress.

The youthful countess, irritated rather than
jealous, determined to quit his society for ever ;
and as the lapse of time produced no alteration
in her resolution, a few years after their sepa-
ration the pair by common consent took ad-
vantage of the singularly accommodating spirit


of the Polish Catholic church, and were re-
gularly divorced. The palatine took another
wife immediately, but the countess preserved
her independence for the rest of her life.

The first use she made of it was to visit Italy.
Admiration of the fine arts made her linger for
nearly a year at Rome, and for six months at
Florence; after which, from a curiosity of
another description, she came to visit Paris.
The language and the literature of France were
familiar to her; and she longed to inspect
narrowly a nation at once warlike and witty,
trifling and formidable, whose name, during
every period of history, has been famous
throughout the world, and which was then
making the continent tremble with the terror of
its arms : it was at the period of Napoleon's
marriage with Maria Louisa that she arrived in
the capital of France. The countess was then


in the splendour of her youth and beauty ; and
her understanding was not less excellent than
her figure was fascinating. The dignitary
who had in charge to arrange the household of
the new empress, offered her the situation of
lady in waiting, well assured that Bonaparte,
with whose views on Poland he was acquainted,
would approve of such a choice ; but she cut
short the negotiation by a reply not less proud
than dignified —

•* 1 am the wife and the daughter of a noble-
man — I will not become a servant."

This expression was not reported to the
emperor, who would not have passed it over.
He knew her personally, and he had displayed
a marked respect for her from the period of a
long conversation that he had had with her at
one of his drawing-rooms. It was after that


conversation that he was heard to observe —
" That fierce Sarmatian has the soul of a man :"
a high compliment from a prince who knew
nothing of gallantry, and who expressed on all
occasions, and without periphrasis, his opinion
of the comparative inferiority of the female sex.
The judgment formed by the countess of Bo-
naparte was so just and so concise, that its
express terms have not been forgotten. *' 'Tis
a pity," said she, ** that he lacks generosity ;
he would be a hero else." We are inclined to
believe that impartial posterity will come to
the same conclusion as the Countess Gradiska ;
but our object in giving it here is to elucidate
her character, not his. In her person the
countess was tall and elegantly formed; but
what specially distinguished her among her fair
countrywomen was the dignity of her presence ;


in respect of which, she might have been wor-
thily described in the words of Virgil, Incessu
patuit dea.

The sentiment that her appearance generally
inspired, was admiration mingled with respect.
The regularity of her features left nothing to
be desired ; and yet the statuary would rather
have taken her for a model than the painter for
a study. The expression of her countenance
was pensive and thoughtful ; and an attentive
observer might have marked in the slight, but
distinctly defined depression between her eye-
brows, the traces of habitual reflection. The
natural expression of her eyes was sweet
merely ; but when she became animated, they
flashed with all the lightning of genius.

Nature, by a special favour, had granted her
an exception from the failings of her sex :
she was neither vain, envious, nor giddy ; and,


what is even more extraordinary, she was
indifferent to dress, and despised coquetry as
a girlish amusement unworthy of a woman of
understanding. The victories to which she
aspired were indeed of a more elevated cha-
racter ; and wholly occupied with high poli-
tical interests, and seeking to influence the
destinies of nations, she aimed less at touching
hearts than ruling minds.

The energy of her soul was not less remark-
able than her understanding was comprehen-
sive : her resolutions were strong and steady ;
and having once pledged her word, no sacri-
fice ever kept her from redeeming it. Natu-
rally generous and beneficent, she despised
money ; and she had contracted a taste for
magnificence, from the almost eastern habits
of the great lords of her native country ; but she
was far, like many of them, from allowing it to


draw her into wasteful or ridiculous expenses,
that could only terminate in the abandonment
of character : her pride not less than her pru-
dence made her an economist. To those who
observed the air of indifference with which the
countess contemplated occurrences to which
the common run of people attach so much
importance, she appeared cold even to insensi-
bility ; but the change that the recital of a
generous or noble action operated on her coun-
tenance was miraculous. Her eye sparkled
with heavenly fire; her cheek flushed, and her
whole soul seemed filled with the sentiments
that had prompted the act which she was
admiring. Once, and once only, she yielded to
the influence of love. During her first resi-
dence at Rome, among the host of adorers
whose homage her beauty attracted, she had
singled out a young Swede of superior under-


standing and splendid courage ; but the instant
she discovered that the dignity of his senti-
ments did not correspond to the nobleness of
his figure, her nascent afifection passed away,
without leaving any more trace of its existence
* than the flame that is severed by the sword
^ does on the polish of the steel. Soon after
this, indeed, another passion, the love of her
country, absorbed the whole faculties of her
soul ; and Poland, her native land, trampled
under foot and parcelled out among strangers,
was thenceforth the constant subject of her

" Alas !" exclaimed she, with a republican
eloquence worthy of a matron of Sparta or
of Rome ; ** is it then true that the descend-
ants of the fierce Sarmatians, of those warriors
by whom Vienna was saved and Moscow con-
quered, now bend under the yoke of Austria


and of Russia? And, to fill up the measure of
our humiliation, has Prussia, our vassal, a pro-
vince dependant on our crown, taken a part
in the bloody spoliations of our conquerors ?
Save that of the dispersed and expatriated Jews,
there exists not in the world a fate so forlorn
as ours ! Had the chances of war compelled
us to submit to the arms of a victorious enemy,
a general and spontaneous insurrection might
have burst our chains. The history of the
Genoese, and their expulsion of the Austrians,
may show us what, in such circumstances, a
small and weak people can effect. But they
retained their integrity as a state ! What can
our now disunited and disintegrated fragments
effect? Their most energetic movements are
but the convulsive throes that the galvanic
pile excites in the members of an inanimate
corpse !"


Such were the patriotic complaints of the
countess : but her character was not one that
exhausts itself in sterile wishes ; for while
there remained the slightest shadow of success,
resignation appeared in her eyes an inexcusable
act of cowardice. Feeble therefore as were her
hopes, she had never renounced them. It is
true she did not participate in the illusion of
many of her countrymen when, seduced by Ihe
fallacious promises of Napoleon, they imagined
that they beheld in him the restorer of their
independence ; and when he fell, she ap-
plauded the dispensation as a just punishment
of his unmeasured ambition and heartless per-
fidy. At the restoration of the monarchy she
indulged a hope that the deliverance of Eu-
rope would bring with it the deliverance of her
country ; but that hope was speedily abandoned.
The Holy Alliance, even while proscribing


future partitions, confirmed by their sanction
those that had already taken place ; and they
went farther in their contempt of sacred rights,
"when, despite of the lawful appeals of an
alarmed people, they offered up the republic
of Genoa as a living sacrifice to a chimerical
balance of power, the nature of which it
was impossible for the most acute to dis-

After such an abuse of their power, how was
it possible to expect the re-establishment of
Poland from the generosity of the allied sove-
reigns ? It was evident that there remained no
chance for that unhappy country, but in such a
universal rising as should shake the thrones
and rouse up the nations of Europe, and once
more put all their interests on the hazard of the
throw. But what were to be the disorders !
what the wars ! what the calamities of every


kind that must infallibly result from such a
moral earthquake ! Humanity shuddered at
the bare contemplation of them. But no consi-
deration of such probable mischiefs could check
the countess ; who beholding in the whole
world but one subject worthy of regard, and
that subject her country, was resolved to brave
all chances for the purpose of serving it. She
did not shut her eyes to the difficulties nor the
dangers of the task ; but she was determined
to risk her fortune, her repose, her life, if
called on ; and the greatness of the sacrifice
that she was prepared to make silenced every
scruple that she might otherwise have felt in
respect to the morality of its object : — an error,
by-the-bye, which is extremely common to
persons of bold and enterprising disposition,
who are constantly disposed to imagine that
the dangers which accompany their projects can


bestow legality even on those that common
justice disavows.

As soon as the Countess Gradiska had taken
this extreme resolution, she began to look on
herself as in a position of hostility with all
established governments ; and bending her mo-
rality to her inclinations, she bestowed on her-
self, if we may so express it, general letters of
marque against them, from the idea that any
thing was allowable provided it annoyed the
enemy. She began by a rigid examination of
the elements of discord and revolution that
existed in different countries of Europe; and
she did not fail to discover that, in spite of the
longing for repose which is generally percep-
tible after agitations so long continued, there
were every where to be found a number of
individuals whose interests or whose hopes had
suffered by its creation, and who ardently


wished for the destruction of the existing order
of things. These she perceived to exist in dif-
ferent proportions in different countries, and
she saw that they were no where more nume-
rous than in Italy, where, as every information
tended to show, they were ripe for revolution.
It was in Italy that the countess had passed
the first two or three years which succeeded
the congress of Vienna. She visited first
Venice, then Milan, Rome, and Naples ; in all
of which cities the result of her observations was
uniform, — that in that fine country the govern-
ments of the various states were not tyrannical,
and therefore were not hated ; but that of the
whole of them the administration was weak and
lightly esteemed, in consequence of the ultra
notions of liberty unfortunately cherished by
the very small proportion of the community that
had either skill or means to judge of them.


In the north the leaden sceptre of Cim-
bria weighed down the Lombards ; and the
harshness of her Teutonic forms seemed so
much the more intolerable, that the ame-
nity of the French had in some measure
atoned for their injuries : but apart from this
local feeling-, the general sentiment that per-
vaded the peninsula was a longing for inde-
pendence, and a desire to shake off the yoke
imposed on it by foreigners. The re-establish-
ment of the integrity of Italy once presented
to the imagination, along with all that train of
glorious recollections which the grandeur and
power of ancient Rome inspired, it may be
easily conceived how such a noble but chimeri-
cal anticipation might seduce the hearts of the
generous, and convert the most peacefully dis-
posed into the boldest of innovators. But
were it to be truly inferred from this general


concurrence of opinion, and from the small
energy of the Italian governments, that the
latter were destined to crumble at the first
shock, it would by no means follow that the
revolution which was then contemplated was to
be either solid or permanent in its results. The
Italian character is violent and irascible to
madness ; but it is as easy to quench as to kindle
its fury. Though bold and hardy in a mere
tumult, they are soon subdued by the appear-
ance of a disciplined corps ; and those who
sport with stilettoes tremble at a bayonet.
Lastly, which is the most fatal circumstance
in the prospects of Italian independence, the
regular army of the interior are not less capa-
ble of withstanding a foreign force than their
unarmed countrymen are of withstanding them.
Events )iave proved this ; and such events did
not astonish the Countess Gradiska, nor those


who, like the Countess Gradiska, had a thorough
knowledge of Italy. A considerable time pre-
vious to the Neapolitan revolt she had de-
termined to recross the Alps, convinced that it
was in France only there was a chance of find-
ing suflScient intellect and energy, and such a
nursery of soldiers, as was requisite for the
renovation of Europe.

It was in vain that the patriots of Naples,
with whom she had been connected, endea-
voured to retain her among them. " Archi-
medes," said she, one day, in that figurative
but uninflated style which marks for the most
part an elevated mind, "asked for a fixed point
from which to move the world : the point is
found — it is at Paris. There must be placed
the fulcrum of the lever that is to work the
changes we call for ; here, the ground is not
solid enough : traversed in every direction by vol-


canoes, it contains within it sufficient seeds of
combustion, but we walk upon an abyss the
while. Should some sudden and terrible shock
cast down all that at present stands fast, what
fruit would the present generation of men de-
rive from the work of destruction ? They would
be swallowed up or ruined ; and how many
ages must pass away until the lava stream be-
came fit for vegetation, or a crop covered its
surface ?"

On her arrival in Paris, the countess adopted
a judicious plan of conduct, and one in perfect
accordance with the dignity of her character.
Steering a middle course between the extremes
of imprudence and dissimulation, she refused
to meet, unless in secret, the members of com-
mittee, the director, or the heads of the liberals,
to whom she had letters ; but at the same time^
even in high society, instead of applauding


declamation in favour of arbitrary power, which
was then so much the fashion among persons of
the court and of fashionable life, she used to
ask with an air of wonder, how it had hap-
pened that the ancient regimey so much boasted
of and so deeply regretted, had not strength,
suflScient strength, to maintain its position.

One circumstance gave her great facilities in
preserving that kind of seeming neutrality,
which concealed the most active measures of
hostility against the government. She happened
to be resident in Warsaw when Louis XVIII.
was there in 1801. She was then very young
(she was not quite eighteen); but she was
already distinguished by her beauty and her
wit, and was considered one of the principal
ornaments of the capital of Poland. The little
French court testified their gratitude towards
her, for the lively and open indignation that


she .manifested on v the occasion of a cowardly
attempt, which had nearly, succeeded, to poison
the august exile. The prince also knew the
countess ipersonally; he had often met her at
the table of her aunt, the Lady Grand-Marshal
of Lithuania; and he had been affected by the
marked deference that she paid to him, com-
pared with the habitual boldness of her manners
and languag-e. The homage which she felt a
pride in rendering to the venerable chief of the
Bourbons sprung out of the feeling of com-
miseration naturally excited in a noble mind by
the misfortunes of royalty ; but it was easy for
Loiiis to confound that exalted sentiment with
the attachment of party, which so many strangers
displayed towards his cause ; and she was in-
debted to this mistaken notion for the kindness
that the emigrants constantly showed her, both
during the exile or after the restoration: a


kindness which protected her moreover from the
suspicions, to which the connexions that she
had formed in Italy with men whose opinions
were more than suspected might have sub-
jected her.. When her conduct was casually
blamedy she was invariably excused on the
ground of her attachment to the arts and lite-
rature ; for it was a fatal singularity of the
times, that the most forward of the advocates
of revolutionary novelty were the artists, the
scholars, the wits, — in a word, the whole of the
intellectual men of the peninsula.

In France, her interviews with those persons
who in mutual concord with her were labour-
ing to overthrow the government, were con-
ducted with the utmost secrecy ; and they
generally took place at the nursery to which
we adverted at the commencement of this
chapter, and of which a Polish gardener was


the proprietor. This man's name was Riuski ;
he was born on the lands of the family of So-
biuski, and was the son of the head gardener of
the chateau. At a very early age, the uncle
of the countess, having found him an intelligent
lad, took him into his service, and made him
his attendant during his travels. Riuski ever
after continued attached to the count's house-
hold. With him he boldly shared all the
dangers of the civil war that followed the
famous confederation of Bar : of which patriotic
league, worthy of more success than it met
with, the Count Sobiuski was one of the chiefs.
When it was put down, the latter, with many
of his companions in misfortune, came to Paris,
where he sought, in the bustling life of a vo-
luptuous capital, to find relief against the
melancholy thoughts which the subjection of
his country inspired. The sacred fire of liberty


was not however quenched in his noble soul,
and he was on the eve of rejoining the illus-
trious Kosciusko, when a mortal disease seized
his frame. He was not forgetful in his last
will of his faithful servant : he left Riuski a
considerable sum, which he laid out in the
purchase of a bit of marsh-ground in the Fau-
bourg St. Marceau, on which he again betook
himself to the occupation of his fathers ; and his
business was in a prosperous condition when
the countess arrived at Paris. That lady took
a strong interest in the brave man who, in more
than one rencontre, had hazarded his life to
defend that of her kinsman ; and, with her
wonted generosity, she advanced to him funds
to purchase a piece of land that was required
to enlarge his garden. This service affected
Riuski deeply ; but had she wished to command
his utmost services, or to dispose of his life,


she needed not the tie of personal gratitude for
that purpose. He entertained towards her, or
more properly, towards her family, that kind of
humble devotedness, of which the traces have
ceased to be perceptible in the western states
of Europe ever since the destruction of the
feudal system, unless perhaps amongst the
mountain clans in the Highlands of Scotland,
or among the slaves of an indulgent master
in the Antilles. The sort of dependence to
which we allude is absolute, and the submis-
sion it inculcates is blind ; and yet the yoke
which might appear so heavy, is not the less
ardently cherished.

There can be no question that this senti-
ment, which is one of great force and of abso-
lute permanency, springs out of the servile
condition of those who entertain it ; yet, not-
withstanding the baseness of its origin, it is


impossible not to acknowledge that its elements
are both noble and interesting. Far from being
inspired by fear or by interest, it inspires into
its possessors a courage that despises all sacri-
fices, that braves all dangers, and that not
unfrequently participates of genuine heroism.

The countess disposed of the house ofRiuski
as its absolute mistress ; she did not even deem
it necessary to inform him of the motives that
induced her to do so ; she merely commanded
him to be secret as to what passed there, well
knowing that she would be mere faithfully
served in that respect by her old servant, than
if she had committed her important charge to
the keeping of the most illustrious hands,
though influenced both by the principles of
honour and the feelings of friendship.



The young man, whom the Countess Gra-
diska had come to the mansion of the nursery-
man for the purpose of visiting, has as yet
been known to our readers under the name of
Noirval ; but it is now time to inform them of
what they must ere this have suspected, that
he had assumed a fictitious name only to escape
from the inquiries of which he was the object.
Hitherto appearances have presented him
under rather a disagreeable aspect ; but, before


proceeding to his condemnation, it is but just
to make due allowance for the extraordinary
circumstances that decided his fate. They are
not devoid of interest, insomuch as they con-
nect themselves with events of no mean import-
ance. In giving an account of them, we shall

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Online LibraryPierre-Marc-Gaston LévisThe Carbonaro : a Piedmontese tale (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 12)