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Historical Memoirs


Emperor Alexander I.


The Court of Russia


Historical Memoirs

Emperor Alexander I.

The Court of Russia


Madame la Comtesse de Choiseul-Gouffier

Translated front the Original French

With an Introduction and Notes



Dryden House, 43 Gerrard Street, London, W.


C f^

Introductory Note


THE Comtesse de Choiseul-Gouffier, nee Comtesse
de Tisenhaus, was born at Vilna, in Russian
Poland, in the closing decade of the eighteenth cen-
tury. Her father was a wealthy landed proprietor of
Polish descent. Of the family history of the Com-
tesse de Tisenhaus we know but little apart from
what these pages reveal to us. Her family had been
intimate in the court circles of Catherine II. and
Paul I.; and Alexander I., upon his accession to the
throne of Russia, continued to honor the Comte de
Tisenhaus with his friendship. However, the comte
shared the hope of a large number of his countrymen
that Napoleon would recognize the rights of Poland
and give it once more an independent, united national
existence. To this end a delegation of Polish nobles
waited on Napoleon at Vilna, on the twenty-eighth
of June, 1812. He showed them but scant courtesy,
and gave them no hope that he would aid in the
realization of their wishes. Nevertheless, the Poles
continued to look to Bonaparte as their only friend.
It is stated on undoubted authority that besides the
sixty thousand Poles in the French army a hundred
thousand implored permission to raise the standard


Introductory Note

of independence and garrison Poland as the out'
post of Europe against Russian aggression.^ Among
those who thus deserted the Russian emperor was
the Comte de Tisenhaus. In this juncture it fell to
the lot of the author of these Memoirs to preserve
the family estates from sequestration. The comtesse,
up to the time of her first meeting with Alexander,
shared her father's distrust of the czar; but after
meeting him, she, in common with many others, was
impressed with Alexander's frankness, energy, and
nobility of character. This impression, upon a more
extended and more intimate acquaintance, deepened
into a loyal and devoted friendship on the part of
the subject, which was returned by the emperor.
Refined and delicate sympathy, combined with a
singularly engaging and open mind and a respectful
admiration of the personal qualities of Alexander,
gave to the friendship of Comtesse de Tisenhaus the
qualities most valued by the czar.

The political intrigues between Napoleon and the
Poles, and especially the requirement on the part of
Bonaparte that Alexander should carry out the Con-
tinental blockade against England, from which Russia
was suffering grievously, caused Alexander to ter-
minate the peace which had existed between Russia
and France since the signing of the treaty of Tilsit,
July seventh, 1807.^ To this end he massed his
troops on the western border of Russian Poland in
March, 181 2, and made his headquarters at Towiany.
Here, on April twenty-seventh. Mile, de Tisenhaus
^ Russia. Morfill.

Introductory Note

first met Alexander; and the volume before us tells
us the story of the friendship that existed between
them until his death at Taganrog, December first,

The comtesse married the French gentleman, M.
de Choiseul-Gouffier, and resided thenceforth in Paris.
This gentleman belonged to one of the first families
of France. His youth had been passed in various
European capitals, where his father, Comte Marie-
Gabriel-Florens-Auguste-de- Choiseul-Gouffier, had
held important positions ; notably that of ambas-
sador to Constantinople, where he had successfully
established the influence of France. While there
the comte declined the office of ambassador to the
Court of St. James, preferring to remain at Con-
stantinople. At the outbreak of the Revolution
he adhered to the king, and was proscribed by the
revolutionary government. He retired to Russia,
where he was a favorite with Paul I., who nomi-
nated him as Privy Councillor and Director of the
Academic des Beaux Arts, and of the Bibliotheque
Imp6riale. The comte returned to France in 1802,
and after the restoration Louis XVIII. appointed him
Minister of State and Peer of the Realm. Notwith-
standing the busy life he had lived, the comte found
opportunities for exercising his literary tastes, and is
remembered as the author of several important
treatises ; among others a magnificent work entitled
" A Picturesque Journey in Greece," elegantly illus-
trated, which won him an election to the Academy
of Inscriptions and the French Academy.


Introductory Note

A book, as well as a person, has a history, and it
is only to be regretted that the first has no means
of telling its story. We may imagine what obstacles
it encountered before it became a book and entered
its own world ; what vicissitudes it passed through
in that world ; how by some it was valued, and by
others laid on a dark shelf to be covered by dust
till, perchance, a stranger greeted it and recognized
its value, or picked it up only to cast it into some
other corner. So this volume has had its history.
Three years after the death of Alexander, Mme. de
Choiseul-Gouffier published in Paris her " Memoires
Historiques sur I'Empereur Alexandre et la Cour
de Russie." From the date of its publication this
work was recognized as an authority on the life
of Alexander I., and as a source of reliable and val-
uable information on the conditions and customs
prevailing in Russia at the time of Napoleon's in-
vasion. It was also prized for its descriptions of
St. Petersburg and Csarzko-S61o.

It was not long until the edition was exhausted;
but before that time arrived historical and biograph-
ical writers had made copious extracts from the
book, and had even based their articles on the facts
therein contained. Among others, M. de Lamartine
drew from it liberally in his " Histoire de Russie."
M. Dumas owned his indebtedness to it in his
" Maitre d'Armes." Not only did students of Russia
and her affairs turn to the pages of the Souvenir,
but readers eager for every detail of information
about Napoleon and his ill-fated campaign welcomed


Introductory Note

the comtesse's contribution. After the first edition
had been exhausted, numerous requests came to
her for a new issue of the work. She tells us in
the preface to the new edition that when she finally-
determined to accede to these requests she was un-
able to procure a copy of the first edition of the
book either in the Imperial libraries of France and
Russia, or to find one in the possession of her family.
As a result of its rarity the work itself has been little
known ; quoted and referred to it has been by many,
but chiefly at second-hand. This alone can account
for its not having been translated into English at an
earlier date, for it is surprisingly interesting, bright,
and companionable, and of unquestioned historical
accuracy. It gives a lively picture of the thought
and manner of a day separated from ours by nearly
a century. It tells of a nation's hopes rising to vig-
orous life only to be disappointed and ultimately

The translation here offered to English readers
has been made from the first edition as it came from
the author's hand. The first three chapters as now
published did not appear in the second edition
issued in 1862. The reason for this omission was
probably a twofold one. In the first place, the in-
formation they contained was not first-hand. The
account of the author's personal reminiscences be-
gins with Chapter IV., which, in the second edition,
is Chapter I. The second reason lay in the re-
monstrance of those persons who took exception
to the author's view that the conspirators led by


Introductory Note

Comte Pahlen had killed Paul I. For a consider-
able period of time after the sudden death of Em-
peror Alexander I., the nature of his father's death
was a matter of dispute. Emperor Paul's well-
known infirmity of mind, and consequent physical
debility, caused a party at court to affirm that
his death was the result of a stroke of apoplexy.
Defenders of this view quoted the certificate of
death issued by Alexander's surgeon, Dr. W'ylie,
who embalmed the body of the deceased emperor,
and stated that he died from the effects of apoplexy.
The surgeon is further quoted as saying that, allow-
ing for the injuries caused by the mode of death,
the state of his brain rendered it highly probable
that he would have soon died of apoplexy.^ At
this vv-riting the unanimous opinion of historians is
that Emperor Paul was assassinated, and that the
view of the case graphically narrated by the com-
tesse is historically correct.

The Publishers consider it a privilege to present
the first translation into the English language of these
remarkable Memoirs, and they do so with the con-
fident hope that the public will welcome the lively
and noble picture which is here given of one who
did not a little to deserve the title of " Restorer of
the Peace of Europe."

Chicago, February, 1900.

1 Life and Times of Ale.xander I. By C. Joyneville.

Publisher's Note


HISTORICAL memoirs have been the fashion
for about ten years. This has become a fixed
phenomenon, and a phenomenon the more remark-
able on account of the countless volumes which, to
use the expression of a modern writer, " show history
en deshabille,'' and are generally written on the same
plan, woven from the same material, produced by the
same passions, and, one might say, formed in the
same mould.

The long convalescence from that delirious fever
called the French Revolution ; the brilliant period of
military glory which followed the first years of a
restoration which has not given all it promised, —
such is the theme which a thousand writers of our day
have seen fit to amplify, almost always with talent,
but which they have often misrepresented without
scruple. These memoirs have been sought after and
devoured, because nearly all, with very few excep-
tions, were clever, and wit is a seasoning which will
always overcome satiety and nausea. The readers of
this kind of literature may well repeat from Parney:

" Nous rebrodons de vieux habits,
Dont I't^toffe est toujours la meme."

Publisher's Note

But the brilliancy of the embroidery is attractive;
and the publishers do not weary of selling the repe-
titions which the public are never tired of buying.
But here is the reverse, the other side of the medal,
which we print to-day.

The Memoirs of the Comtesse de Choiseul-Gouffier
are written in our language by a Polish hand. They
are not even our own inspirations. One feels that
this work is of a different stamp, that it gives other
opinions, reflects other manners, — in a word, it has
quite a different physiognomy. Not that the hyper-
borean influence of the forests of Lithuania is felt.
Madame de Choiseul has know^n how to find at Vilna
that delicate touch which distinguishes the produc-
tions of the fair sex under all latitudes. Her pictures
possess no less warmth than charm of originality.

The affection — perhaps we ought to say the ten-
derness — which the author of these Memoirs avows
for the Emperor Alexander is carried almost to ado-
ration. One might believe that Madame de Choiseul
in painting the Russian autocrat had drawn her ad-
miration from the same source from which M. de Las
Cases drew his colors for his panegyric on Napoleon.
To praise men thus, even when they have been
crowned, doubtless savors of exaggeration ; but in
the work which we present to the public we find
that praise is kept constantly subservient to the strict

The Emperor Alexander is kept constantly before
us, and by his own utterances he paints his own por-
trait in the Memoirs of which he is the hero. After
having read them one will retain an exact idea of the
character of this prince, whom the bold audacity of a

Publisher's Note

very illustrious man has placed in the very first rank
of modern celebrities.

This book of Madame de Choiseul-Gouffier's will
be read with avidity in the salons of the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, where one lives on old aristocratic
memories. Young France will, nevertheless, be satis-
fied with the concessions which the author has made
to new ideas, and especially with the romantic touch
happily imparted by her style.

Finally, history may gather many a fact thus far
unknown from these Memoirs which we publish.
They contain new details concerning the assassination
of Paul I. ; the conduct of Alexander during and
after the conspiracy which gave him the empire ;
what took place during the campaign of 1812; the
attitude of the Congress of Vienna when it learned
that in the month of March, 18 15, Napoleon had
escaped from the Island of Elba and returned to
France; and concerning the tragic death of Alex-
ander, which the author leaves covered with a
transparent veil.


Author's Preface

THREE years have hardly passed since that
event occurred which plunged Russia into
sorrow and mourning, and already two lives of the
Emperor Alexander have appeared.

Without pretending to attack the merit of those
works, I will take the liberty of saying that, being
devoted almost entirely to the description of political
events and of the memorable struggle between two
of the greatest powers of Europe, they have done
little to show the character of the monarch who played
so important a role in those events. They have given
only an imperfect view of Alexander, the august
adversary of a man who showed himself only in a
few respects greater than his virtuous rival.

In the first transport of grief with which I was
inspired by the death of my sovereign, that prince
whose noble and touching character I have had the
happiness to know and to admire, I attempted to
recall the virtues whose loss I deplore. But whether
an acute and recent sorrow excited my imagination
too much, or I was carried away by the grandeur of
the subject, I soon saw that the tone adopted in the
work could not be sustained by my feeble talents, and
would not even be suitable to the history.

Author's Preface

Abandoning this fruitless effort, how I wished that
the distinguished writer whose gifted pen alone is
worthy of interpreting the religion of kings would
undertake a subject so worthy of him ! Certain har-
monious accents which reached my ear gave me
hope that my prayers would be heard. But the voice
was stilled, and my desires were changed to regrets.

Still, in meditating, whether in the silence of soli-
tude or amid the commotion of cities and of courts,
upon the beautiful life of Alexander, I have felt that
I could render little justice to the eminent virtues of
that prince in supposing that great talent alone was
worthy of rendering homage to them and of making
them known to posterity. Facts speak for them-
selves ; and those which pertain to the fame of this
august personage have a charm so pathetic that a
grateful heart is pained in recording them. There-
fore I venture to flatter myself that sensitive minds
upon whom the cold influence of the times has not
exerted a blasting influence may read with interest
my recollections of the noble and generous qualities
of the sovereign who merited the love and gratitude,
not only of his own subjects, but of all Europe.


Table of Contents


Introductory Note to the American Translation v

Publishers' Note to the First French Edition . xi

Author's Preface xv

List of Illustrations xxi


I. The First Years of Alexander. — Con-
spiracy in the Palace. — Death of

Paul 1 23

II. Alexander's Ascension to the Throne of

Russia. — First Years of his Reign . . 43

III. Return of Alexander to St. Petersburg

TERVIEW AT Erfurt 60

IV. Events of the Campaign of 181 2 in Russia.

— Sojourn of Alexander in Lithuania.

— Anecdotes 66

V. Marbonne. — Festivities Given at Vilna

in Honor of Alexander. — Several

Episodes 84

VI. Entrance of the French Army into
Vilna.— Anecdotes. — The Situation in

Lithuania 96

VII. Presentation of Lithuanian Ladiks to
Napoleon : the Author is one of the
Number. — Conversation with that Sov-
ereign. — Festivities 106


Table of Contents

Chapter Pagb

VIII. The Emperor Alexander Leaves his Army.

— His ReturxV to St. Petersburg . . 113
IX. Terrors at St. Petersburg. — The Duke

OF Bassano at Vilna. — The Retreat

OF the French Army 116

X. Horrible Condition of the French Pris-
oners OF War. — Cossack Plunderers
IN A Friendly Country. — Anecdote . 126
XI. Return of the Emperor Alexander to
Vilna. — Conversations of this Prince
with the Author. — Festivities . . . 131
XII. Festival IN Honor of Alexander. — Bar-
barous Homage Declined by the Em-
peror 143

XIII. Solicitude of Alexander for the French

Prisoners. — The Emperor Leaves
Vilna 146

XIV. Particulars. — Vain Hopes of the Poles.

— Death of Kotousoff. — Military
Events 158

XV. Invasion of France, Entrance of the
Allies into Paris. — Generous Con-
duct of Alexander 164

XVI. Singular Proofs of Confidence Given to
Alexander by the Parisians. — Various

Particulars 170

XVII. Journey of Alexander to England and
Holland after the Treaty of 1814. —
Return to St. Petersburg. — Solem-
nities 181

XVIII. The Emperor Refuses the Surname of
the Blessed. — Honors and Rewards
TO THE Russian Soldiers and to the
Citizens. — Prudent Measures . . . 188
XIX. Congress of Vienna. — Diplomatic In-
trigues. — Amazement Caused by the
Return of Napoleon to Paris ... 193









Table of Contents

Campaign of 1815. — Secoxd Invasion of
France. — Alexander's Moderation

SELF THEIR Protector against the
Cupidity of the other Allies . . .

Alexander, King of Poland. — Festivities
AT Warsaw. — Return of the Emperor
TO his Capital

Expulsion of the Jesuits from the Rus-
sian Empire. — Example of Great
Severity against Pillage. — Journey
of Alexander to Warsaw. — Festiv-
ities. — Rejoicings and Particulars .

Sojourn at Warsaw. — Festivities. — Con-
versations OF the Emperor with the

Departure of the Author for France. —
Estimate of the French, — Fawning
Policy of the French Cabinet. —
Alexander's Opinion on the Situation
of France. — Divers Particulars . .

New Journey of Alexander to Vilna. —
Conversations with the Author. —
Political Views and Opinions of the
Emperor. — One Word Concerning the
Congress of Verona and the War
WITH Spain

Illness of the Emperor. — Journey of
the Author to St. Petersburg. — De-
scription OF that Capital and its

Princely Hospitality. — Renewed Inter-
views with the Emperor. — Alex-
ander's Occupations in the Coun-
try. — Portrait of the Emtress











Table of Contents






The Empress-Mother. — The Illustrious
Godfather. — The Emperor's Depres-
sion OF Spirits: its Principal Cause.
— Sad Presentiments. — Alexander's
Departure for Siberia 279

A few New Details regarding the
Empress-Mother : her Love for Lit-
erature and the Arts : her Institu-
tions 292

A Description of the Inundation of
St. Petersburg. — Alexander's Soli-
citude. — Journey of the Emperor
to Taganrog. — His Death. — Con-
clusion 299




List of Illustrations

Alexander I Frontispiece

Empress Elizabeth To face page 26

Count Bennigsen 56

General Kotousoff 124

Grand Duke Constantine 246







ALEXANDER was born in 1777. His early-
years rapidly developed in this young prince
the happy disposition which he had received from
nature. All seemed in harmony in the noble child,
who was destined to occupy one of the most important
thrones in Europe and a brilliant place in history.
The remarkable beauty of his person corresponded
with that of his mind and seemed to be an emana-
tion from it. The invariable sweetness of his char-
acter made him the object of universal adoration
from his tenderest infancy, and the dearest hopes
of that powerful empire of Russia were fixed upon

The Empress Catherine had such a strong affection
for her grandson that it is said she proposed to re-
move her own son, the unfortunate Paul Pctrowitz,
from the throne and to appoint Alexander as her
successor. At that time hereditary succession to the


Historical Memoirs of the

throne of Russia was not the invariable rule, the
law of primogeniture not having been established till
the following reign. Moreover, nothing could daunt
the genius of Catherine, accustomed to see every-
thing bend to her will. She even wished to preside
alone over the prince's education. If the rare quali-
ties which have been seen in Alexander could leave
anything more to be desired, it would have been
that the august grandmother of the prince had re-
tained the right to watch over the first impressions
of her grandson — in the midst of a court elegant
and polished indeed, but without morals — with that
vigilant sagacity, that clear firmness of principle, of
which she has given so many proofs.

It is difficult to say what power such lessons in
wisdom would have had over the mind of such a
youth, given by that incomparable princess who
consecrated her life to the welfare of humanity.

However, the choice which the empress made in
the person of Colonel de La Harpe ^ as preceptor of
the young duke, was calculated to calm maternal
solicitude and satisfy the expectations of the nation.
The wise instructor found in the august pupil con-
fided to his care the happiest natural gifts. To
perfect the work of nature and to accomplish the
task committed to him, he endeavored to cultivate
and develop the amiable and charming disposition
of his young pupil.

Possessed of a warm and affectionate heart, Alex-

1 Frederic Cesar de La Ilarpe (born in the Pays de Vaud 1754,
died 1838). From 1790 to iSoo he was the chief or most powerful
director of the Helvetic Republic. In 1814 Alexander gave him the
rank of general in his army. He wrote several treatises on Swiss


Emperor Alexander I.

ander conceived a devoted attachment for this esti-
mable man, who had consecrated his time and care
to him, and he always regarded his instructor as a
sure and faithful friend.

Alexander loved to learn. He had a remarkable
memory and quick, penetrating, and refined percep-
tions. In his early years he showed a taste for mili-
tary science, occupying himself zealously with what
he was pleased to call his service, following exactly
and observing punctiliously the strictest discipline and
subordination. He possessed in a high degree the
love of order and work. That which one could not
help most admiring in him was the perfect evenness
of his temper, a quality very rare and very valuable
in a sovereign, which had for its source the goodness
of his heart. Nothing could change the sweet ben-
evolence which showed itself in his face as well as in
his actions.

Alexander spoke several languages, especially
French, with elegance and fluency. His manners
were charming. A certain timidity was noticeable
in his early youth. No one ever possessed to a
greater degree the happ}'' gift of gaining all hearts ;
and no one, I am sure, could have seen Alexander
and heard him speak without saying to himself,
" How happy I should be to call this man my
friend ! "

When Alexander was scarcely more than a youth
the Empress Catherine, fearing for him that danger-
ous period of life, decided to put a curb on his pas-
sions by submitting him, still so young, to the sacred
ties of marriage, — an imprudence which influenced,
more than is generally known, the future and in-


Historical Memoirs of the

ward happiness of this prince and of his interesting

According to the usage established at the Rus-
sian court, three young German princesses were
brought and submitted to the critical scrutiny of

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Online LibrarySophie de Tisenhaus Choiseul-GouffierHistorical memoirs of the emperor Alexander I. and the court of Russia → online text (page 1 of 21)