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through Podolia and the Ukraine. Perhaps the only
thing for which posterity can be grateful to Augustus
TIL is that he !aid the foundations of the Dresden
Picture Galkry. He died in that city on October 3,
1763, ano was buried there. Poland had now thirty
years more to exist as an independent nation.




The following year, after stormy scenes in the
diet, Stanislaus Augustus Poniatovvski was elected
king, a man of refined manners, but a mere puppet
in the hands of Russia, which power caused
him to be appointed, as "Warsaw was occupied by
Russian troops. Coxe the traveller thus speaks of
Stanislaus : " The King of Poland is handsome in his
person, with an expressive countenance, a dark com-
plexion, Roman nose, and penetrating eye ; he is
uncommonly pleasing in his address and manner, and
possesses great sweetness of condescension, tempered
with dignity."

The Empress of Russia was eager for the appoint-
ment of Poniatowski, and was against any plan for
continuing the royal power in the house of Saxony.
In this she was heartily seconded by Frederick the
Great, one of the most bitter and uncompromising
enemies of the country. One of their reasons for
wishing Poniatowski appointed is said to have been



that they thought he would become a more complete
tool in their hands. The brothers, Michael and
Augustus Czartoryski, the descendants of a celebrated
Lithuanian family, who were the uncles of the king,
were possessed of great influence in Poland at this
time, and used their opportunity to cause some im-
portant reforms to be introduced into the government
of the country. The system under which the great
officials of the realm were independent of each other
and of the king was abolished : ministers were now to
be nominated by the sovereign, and to be responsible
to the diet, and many other reforms were introduced.
A few words must be added concerning this celebrated
family, one of whose members was destined to play
such a great part in the subsequent history of Poland.
The two brothers were friendly to the patriotic move-
ment called the Confederation of Bar, which may be
said to have been the last great self-protecting effort
of Poland. But they did not long survive the first
partition of the country. Michael died in August,
1775 ; Augustus in 1782, leaving an only son, Adam
Casimir, to whom Catherine wished to give the Polish
throne, if it had not been accepted by Poniatowski.
Prince Adam Casimir married in 1761 the Countess
Isabella Fleming, daughter of a minister of Augustus
II., and one of their sons was the celebrated Adam
George Czartoryski, whom the Poles in the revolu-
tion of 1830 elected their dictator. The journals of
this illustrious man, who was brought up as a kind
of hostage at the Russian Court, where he lived on
familiar terms with Alexander, the son of Paul, both
while he was Grand Duke, and afterwards when


Emperor, have been edited by Mr. Gielgud. Count
D^bickifhas also published an account of the famous
seat of the family at Pulawy, situated on the road
between Warsaw and Sandomir. In this splendid
residence were gathered together some of the most
interesting historical and literary relics to be seen in
all Poland. They have now found a resting-place in
the fine Czartoryski Museum at Cracow, situated
near the picturesque Florian Gate.

To return, however, to the election of Stanislaus
Poniatowski. In the diet of 1764 he was chosen,
and signed ih^ pacta conveiita. At the same time the
liberum veto was abolished, for it was felt everywhere
that a radical change was necessary in the constitu-
tion. Nothing, however, w^as done for the Dissidents.
On the contrary, they were deprived of some of the
privileges which they had hitherto enjoyed, such as
the rights of possessing starosties and several other
offices. They began to betake themselves to Russia
for assistance, which she seemed disposed to offer.

In the year 1765 occurred the terrible massacres
of the Roman Catholics and Jews by the Cossacks
under Gonta — an outbreak said to have been fomented
by Russian agents ; proof however of this accusation
is wanting. In the year 1766 the liberum veto was
restored through the influence of the King of Prussia,
who was very anxious that the Poles should not re-
form themselves and so preserve their independence.
In 1768 some patriotic noblemen, the chief of whom
were Adam Krasinski, Bishop Kamienicki, Joseph
Pulawski, Michael Krasinski, and Joachim Potocki,
met at the little town of Bar in Podolia, and formed


what has been called the Convention of Bar, the
object of which was to free the country from foreigners.
They organised an army, and their military operations
extended over a great part of Poland, but the Russian
troops stationed round the capital prevented their
junction with the regular forces of the Republic.
Their number amounted to about eight thousand, and
they seemed, unfortunately, to have all the old Polish
animosity to the Dissidents. Their patriotic efforts
proved a failure, and an attempt to carry off the king,
perhaps assassinate him, on Nov. 3, 1771, headed by
Lukawski, Strawenski, and Kosinski, who had been
suborned for the purpose by Casimir Pulawski also
failed. The details of this attempt are so strange,
that perhaps they will be found interesting by our
readers. The heart and soul of the plot was the
Confederate Casimir Pulawski, and indeed the Con-
federates had never recognised the government of
Stanislaus, probably from the contempt they felt for
the weakness of his character. The conspirators, who
carried it into execution, were about forty in number,
but the men previously mentioned, were at the head.
At Czestochowa they took an oath to Pulawski,
either to deliver the king alive into his hands, or in
case that was impossible, to put him to death. The
three ringleaders and their assistants obtained admis-
sion into Warsaw disguised as peasants, who had come
to sell hay, and concealed their arms under the loads
which they brought in their waggons.

On Sunday night, the 3rd of September, 1771, a
few of these conspirators remained in the suburbs of
the town, and the others repaired to the place of


meeting, the street of the Capuchins, where the king
was expected to pass about the hour in which he
usually returned to the palace. He came on this
occasion between nine and ten o'clock in a carriage
with an aide-de-camp, and accompanied by fifteen or
sixteen attendants. He was attacked by the con-
spirators, who commanded the coachman to stop on
pain of instant death. They fired several shots into
the carriage, one of which passed through the body
of a heyduc, or attendant, who endeavoured to defend
his master from his assailants. Almost all the other
persons who accompanied the king fled ; the aide-de-
camp contrived to conceal himself Meanwhile the
king opened the door of his carriage, trusting to
escape in the dark. But he was seized by the con-
spirators, one of whom discharged a pistol at him,
and another cut him across the head with his sabre.
They then laid hold of Stanislaus by the collar, and,
mounting on horseback, dragged him along the
ground between their horses at full gallop for nearly
five hundred paces through the streets of Warsaw.
Meantime all was confusion at the palace, where the
attendants who had deserted their master had spread
the alarm. The guards ran immediately to the spot,
but only found the king's hat and travelling bag
covered with blood. Meanwhile the conspirators
were carrying off their prize, whom they set on horse-
back as he could not follow them on foot, and then
redoubled their speed for fear of being overtaken.
When they had crossed the ditch of the city of
Warsaw many of the confederates retired, probably
to notify the success of their enterprise and the king's


arrival as their prisoner. Only seven remained with
him, of whom Kosinski was the chief. The night
was very dark ; they were ignorant of the way, and
as the horses could not keep their legs they obliged
his Majesty to follow them on foot with only one
shoe, the other having been lost in the mud. They
continued to wander through the open fields, without
following any certain path, and without getting any
distance from Warsaw. They again mounted the
king on horseback, one of them holding him on each
side by the hand, and a third leading his horse by the
bridle. They at last found themselves in the wood
of Bielany, only a league distant from Warsaw. From
the time when they had passed the ditch they fre-
quently demanded of Kosinski, their chief, if it was
not yet time to put the king to death.

Meanwhile some of the nobility following the track
of the conspirators arrived at the place where Stanis-
laus had passed the ditch. There they found his
blood-stained overcoat, and concluded that he had
been killed. The number of conspirators with the
king now began to diminish ; on coming upon a
Russian patrol four of them disappeared, leaving him
with the other three, who compelled him to walk with
them. A quarter of an hour afterwards they were
challenged by another Russian guard. Two of the
conspirators then fled, and the king remained alone
with Kosinski, both on foot. Stanislaus, exhausted
with fatigue, entreated his conductor to stop for a
few moments, but Kosinski refused, and told him
that beyond the wood they would find a carriage.
They continued their walk till they came to the con-


vent of Bielany. Here the king, perceiving that
Kosinski was lost in thought, and wandered about
ignorant of the road, said to him : ** I see you do not
know your way. Let me go into the convent, and do
you provide for your own safety.'* " No," reph'ed
Kosinski, *' I have sworn." They proceeded till they
came to Mariemont, a small palace, not more than
half a league from Warsaw. Here, at the king's
renewed request, his captor allowed a pause. They
sat down upon the ground, and the king employed
the time in endeavouring to move the pity of
Kosinski, and to induce him to permit his escape.
Kosinski began to show signs of repentance. " But,"
said he, " if I should consent and re-conduct you to
Warsaw, what will be the consequence ? I shall be
taken and executed." " I give you my word,"
answered the king, " that you shall suffer no harm ;
but if you doubt my promise escape while there is
yet time. I can find my way to some place of
security, and I will certainly direct your pursuers to
take the contrary road to that which you have
chosen." Kosinski was moved by the generosity of
the king, and swore to protect him against any
enemy, relying entirely on his generosity for pardon
and security. They now made for a mill which was
close by. Kosinski knocked, but no answer was
given. The mill is described in a contemporary
account as a wretched hovel, at a distance from any
house. At last he broke a pane of glass and
entreated shelter for a nobleman who had been plun-
dered by robbers. The miller refused, believing them
to be banditti. But at length the king pleading also,


they were admitted. When he had entered he at
once wrote a note to General Coccei, colonel of the
foot guards. It was verbati7n as follows :*' Prt-r une
espece de miracle je siiis sauv/ des mains des assassins.
Je suis ici an petit moulin de Mariemont. Venez an
plutot me tirer dici. Je suis blesse, mais pas fort.'*
It was with the greatest difficulty, however, that the
king could persuade any one to carry this note to
Warsaw, as the people of the mill, imagining that he
was a nobleman who had just been plundered by
robbers, were afraid of falling in with the band.

On receiving the note Coccei instantly rode to the
mill, followed by a detachment of the guards. He
met Kosinski at the door with his sabre drawn, who
admitted him as soon as he knew him. The king,
overcome with fatigue, was sleeping on the ground,
covered with the miller's cloak. Great was the
astonishment of the miller and his family on finding
out who the guest was to whom they had given
shelter. The king returned to Warsaw in General
Coccei's carriage, and reached the palace about five
in the morning. His wound proved not dangerous,
and he soon recovered from the rough treatment to
which he had been subjected.

Lukawski and Strawenski were after a trial decapi-
tated ; according to a contemporary account they
showed the greatest fortitude. The former resolutely
refused to see the traitor Kosinski ; on the scaffold
he made a short speech to the multitude, but ex-
pressed no contrition whatever, nor did Strawenski.
They probably considered that in carrying off the
pusillanimous Stanislaus they were serving their


country, and in Poland there was little of the divinity
that " doth hed^e a king." Kosinski was sent by
Stanislaus out of Poland, and spent the rest of his
life in Semigallia, in Courland, enjoying a pension.
To the heyduc, who saved the king's life, a monument
was erected. Such was the end of this strange con-
spiracy, but the fates were preserving Stanislaus for
even greater indignities — to survive as a pensioner
the loss of his crown, and the annihilation of the
independence of his country. It is impossible, how-
ever, to justify the confederates in the matter, although
we may sympathise with them in their patriotic
struggles. They have to the present day remained
the favourite subjects of Polish eulogy. The subse-
quent fate of many of them was severe, as a large
number of them spent the rest of their days in
Siberia, or were interned in the eastern provinces of
Russia. Some of them seemed to have assisted
the robber chief Pugachev in his insurrection.

One of them was the strange adventurer, Count
Beniowski, the story of whose life has been drama-
tised by Kotzebue, and forms the subject of a long
poem by Slowacki. Although bearing a Slavonic
name, Beniowski was born in Hungary. He joined
the ranks of the confederates at an early stage,
and was present in some actions. Being taken pri-
soner by the Russians, he was sent to Siberia ; the
Governor of Kamchatka, named Khilov, appears to
have treated him with much kindness, and in order
to have the means of lightening his captivity
engaged him to teach French and German to his
children. Beniowski abused this generosity by


winning the affections of the daughter of the governor
named Afanasia, although he already had a wife.
By her connivance he effected his escape with a large
number of his companions. His subsequent adven-
tures can only be briefly described. He succeeded
in reaching the island of Formosa, and afterwards
Macao, where the too confiding Afanasia died.
Thence he proceeded to France, where he was em-
ployed by the Government, to which he furnished
some valuable information about Siberian matters.
The French sent him with some adventurers to form
a colony in the island of Madagascar, but the scheme
was only partially successful. In 1783 he returned
to France, and thence went to England and America,
and afterwards again visited the island of Madagas-
car, perhaps in the pay of the English ; at all events,
we find him fighting against the French, and in a
skirmish with them he was killed in that island in the
year 1785.

Casimir Pulawski left Poland after the attempt on
the king and went to America, where he joined the
forces of the colonies against England, and was
killed at the siege of Savannah.

The year 1772 was to witness the first dismember-
ment of Poland, which had been agreed upon between
Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The idea is said to have
originated with Frederick the Great, whose brother.
Prince Henry, when he visited St. Petersburg, sounded
Catherine on the subject. Prussia was eager to
acquire the towns of Thorn and Danzig, and the
lower basin of the Vistula, and the treatment of the
Dissidents by the Poles had given an opportunity for



interference. By the first dismemberment Prussia
took the palatinates of Marienburg, the Pomorze, or
district adjoining the sea, and Warmia (except Dan-
zig and Thorn), and a part of Great Poland. Austria
had Red Russia, or Galicia, with parts of Podolia and
Little Poland, and Russia the palatinates of Mscislaw
and Witepsk, with some other parts of palatinates
situated on the Dnieper.

In 1773 a kind of constitution was drawn up for
the Republic, but the mischievous libermn veto was
preserved in all its force, and in the following year
the privileges which had been granted to the Dissi-
dents since 1768 were diminished.

It was in the year 1778 that Coxe, the historian,
visited the country, of which he has left such a
graphic description. It is from his interesting narra-
tive that we are able to gain a picture of the Poland
of the eighteenth century. The Poles, in a diet held
at Grodno in 1778, were obliged to acquiesce in this
plundering of their country. A period of some years
of comparative tranquillity now supervened. A better
system of education was introduced, and the order of
Jesuits was suppressed. In 1788 a remarkable diet
was opened which lasted for the unprecedented period
of foi:r years. The condition of the burghers and
peasants was ameliorated ; the libermn veto was defi-
nitely suppressed and the throne declared hereditary.
The Elector of Saxony, son of Augustus III., was
appointed the successor of Stanislaus. The Roman
Catholic was declared to be the dominant religion,
but the Dissidents were to be tolerated. The
burghers were to send deputies to the diet on the


same footing as the nobles. This was a privilege
which had never been conceded before, and the
absence of it was one of the chief causes why politi-
cal life was so dwarfed in the country. The peasants
^vere not yet emancipated, but their condition was
improved. In order to explain more fully the new
constitution which was promulgated, we shall
shortly give a summary of its leading enactments.
Many writers have told of the universal enthusiasm
when the Bill was passed, and the procession of King
Stanislaus and the members of the parliament to the
cathedral of Cracow has formed the subject of a
splendid picture by the celebrated artist Matejko.
The party of reform was led by Ignatius Potocki, a
priest named Kollg.taj, and the Czartoryskis. But
adverse elements were at work. There were many
malcontents among the nobles, who did not like the
curtailment of their privileges. The chief of these
was Szcz^sny (Felix) Potocki, who together with
Francis Branicki and Severin Rzewuski formed in
1792 the confederation of Targowica, in the palatinate
of Braclaw, near Human, and at their instigation
fresh bodies of Russian troops invaded Poland.
The feeble king made no resistance ; he signed the
convention of Targowica, and the Russians entered
Warsaw. Stanislaus was now reduced to a mere
cypher, and the country was governed by the conven-
tion ; which appointed a supreme court at Br/esc,
called the generality, under the presidency of Felix
Potocki. And yet such vigorous measures had been
adopted by the celebrated Four Years Diet {Seym
czteroletni) as it has been called, that Poland seemed


almost to have received the eh'xir of a new hfe.
Some Polish authors, however, of modern times, and
among these especially Kalinka, are inclined to think
that the country was in a state too deeply demoralised
and gangrened to admit of a cure.

We are familiar with the immunity which aristo-
cratic criminals had enjoyed in the Republic, but a
change was to be brought about during this diet,
which ought to have had salutary effects upon the state.
In August, of the year 1790, Prince Poninski, grand
treasurer of the Crown, received the punishment of his
treasons. He was unfortunately a type of too many
of the Polish nobles. On the 8th of June, 1789, an
accusation was brought against him by Zaleski, the
deputy from Troki, in Lithuania, for high crimes and
misdemeanours, in having at that period betrayed,
from views of personal advantage, the interests of the
state. The commission chosen to try him consisted
of fourteen senators and twenty four deputies. To
prevent partiality, the names were chosen by ballot, and
although they were not those of persons very favour-
able to the prisoner, he found means to escape, as so
many noble criminals had done at earlier stages of the
history of the country. He was, however, retaken,
but for all that was not punished. While the diet sat
(lOth of August, 1790), the charge against Poninski
was suddenly revived, and many strong opinions were
uttered on the subject. The grand treasurer, seeing
what the result was likely to be, made a second
attempt to escape. Although he had been released on
bail and had given his word to remain, he left Warsaw
secretly on Sunday, the 29th, but unfortunately for



him he was met on the road by the same captain who
had secured him on his first escape. This officer
found him fifty leagues from Warsaw, and brought
him back. On the ist of September, before the tri-
bunal of the diet, he was declared a traitor to his
country, sentenced to lose his rank, honours, and em-
ployments ; he was ordered to leave Warsaw in twenty-
four hours, and the country in four weeks ; after which
time, if he were found in the territories of the Repub-
Hc, he was to be put to death.

Prince Poninski heard the judgment uttered at the
bar of the house, and was obliged to undergo the
mortification of having his sentence published in
front of the town hall, where the insignia of his
order was torn off, and whence he was led through
the principal streets, accompanied by the common
crier, who proclaimed, " It is thus that we punish
traitors to their country."

On the 30th of August, an Act called the Univer-
sal, was passed in the hall of the diet. In this docu-
ment mention was made for the first time of the
succession of the Elector of Saxony, the son of Augus-
tus, to the throne of Poland.

When this project had obtained the consent of the
diet, the king made a speech to the effect that he
would not bring forward such a proposal unless he
knew that it was agreeable to the whole nation, and
to ascertain this, it was necessary that the provincial
diets {sejmiki) should be convoked. Hereupon, many
members present offered their assistance in carrying
I his measure, but wished that the king's own nephew
should be chosen. To this, however, Stanislaus could


not agree. He considered, as he said, that the Elec-
tor of Saxony might greatly contribute to the dignity,
power, and advantage of the Republic. In conse-
quence of this resokition of the king, all the provin-
cial assemblies, except that of Volhynia, demanded
the Elector of Saxony as successor to the throne, and
though this latter sejmik was less positive than the
others in its declarations, yet every testimony was
given of its esteem for the person and qualities of the
Elector. In \\\q pacta conveitta it was stipulated that
no successor to the throne should be named during
the life of the reigning king. The first and most im-
portant step in opposition to this enactment was not
made by the king, but by the nation. Stanislaus
nobly discarded his own relations, and only looked to
the welfare of the state. The country was led to this
infringement of its ancient law from a general con-
viction that every interregnum caused a civil war, and
frequently led to a foreign war.

In the beginning of 1791, several meetings were
held respecting a reform in the constitution of Poland.
On the 3rd of May of that year, a number of patriots,
who had preconcerted the great objects which they
meant to accomplish in the sitting of the diet that
day, assembled in the king's chamber. There, in the
presence of the sovereign, they engaged to carry out
their resolutions, and they pledged themselves by a
solenrm engagement. The assembly was opened at
the usual hour The galleries were crowded with
spectators, and the house was surrounded by thou-
sands who could not gain admission. Instead of
the marshals, the king himself opened the session.


He spoke to the effect that, notwithstanding all
assurances to the contrary, there was an alarming

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Online LibraryWilliam Richard MorfillPoland → online text (page 13 of 23)