Page images
PDF
EPUB

a nature to inspire encouragement, and strengthen him in the execution of a purpose to which his word was committed, and on the success of which so many serious interests depended.

When the dinner was over, the emperor withdrew with Sir Robert Wilson to his cabinet, where the conference commenced by Sir Robert Wilson glancing over the subject of his mission from Mr. Liston, the state of Turkey, the condi tion and movements of Admiral Tchichagow's army, and the details of the battle of Smolensk. The emperor, having satisfied himself on all these points, directed the conversation to the dissensions existing among the generals, observing that he had heard that the Hetman Platow had even said to General Barclay, on the evacuation of Smolensk, “You see I wear but a cloak; I will never put on again a Russian uniform, since it has become a disgrace.” These expressions having been used in Sir Robert Wilson's presence, he could not pretend ignorance of them. The emperor then asked “whether Sir Robert Wilson thought that Marshal Kutusow (who had been appointed commander-in-chief) would be able to restore subordination ?”

Sir Robert Wilson observed that Marshal Kutusow, whom he had met going to the army, was fully aware of the temper in which he would find the army ; that he had thought it his duty to communicate to the marshal the facts with which he was acquainted, and that the marshal had conjured him to conceal nothing from his imperial majesty; that he, Sir Robert Wilson, had undertaken a charge which his affection and gratitude towards his majesty had made a duty under all circumstances; that in incurring the chance of displeasure, he was devoting himself to the emperor's service, and for the protection of his dignity; and then, entering at once into the matter (carefully avoiding the designation of individuals who might be regarded as leaders), be concluded by earnestly im. ploring bis majesty to bear in mind the perilous state of the empire, which might justify patriotic alarm, and which alarm, from the gravity of its cause, extenuated a trespass on authority instigated by the purest motives, and intended for the permanent preservation of that authority itself; that the chiefs were animated by the most affectionate attachment to the emperor and his family ; and if they were but assured that his majesty would no longer give his confi. dence to advisers whose policy they mistrusted, they would testify their allegiance by exertions and sacrifices which would add splendour to the crown, and security to the throne under every adversity.

During this exposition the emperor's colour occasionally visited and left his cheek. When Sir Robert Wilson had terminated his appeal, there was a minute or two of pause, and his majesty drew towards the window, as if desirous of recovering an unembarrassed air before he replied. After a few struggles, however, he came up to Sir Robert Wilson, took him by the hand, and kissed him on the forehead and cheek, according to the Russian custom. “You are the only person,” then said his majesty, “from whom I could or would have heard such a communication. In the former war you proved your attachment towards me by your services, and you entitled yourself to my most intimate confidence; but you must be aware that you have placed me in a very distressing position. Moi! souverain de la Russie !-to hear such things from any one! But the army is mistaken in Romanzow: he really has not advised submission to the Emperor Napoleon; and I have a great respect for him, since he is almost the only one who never asked me in his life for anything on his own account, whereas every one else in my service has always been seeking honours, wealth, or some private object for himself and connexions. I am unwilling to sacrifice him without cause; but come again to-morrow-I must collect my thoughts before I despatch you with an answer. I know the generals and officers about them well; they mean, I am satisfied, to do their duty, and I have no fears of their baving any unavowed designs against my authority. But I am to be pitied, for I have few about me who have any sound education or fixed principles : my grandmother's court vitiated the whole education of the empire, confining it to the acquisition of the French language, French frivolities

and viees, particularly gaming. I have little, therefore, on which I can rely firmly; only impulses; I must not give way to them, if possible ; but I will think on all you have said.” His majesty then embraced Sir Robert Wilson again, and appointed the next day for his further attendance.

Sir Robert Wilson obeyed his majesty's commands, who renewed the subject almost immediately, by saying, “Well! Monsieur l'ambassadeur des rebelleshave reflected seriously during the whole night upon the conversation of yesterday, and I have not done you injustice. You shall carry back to the army pledges, of my determination to continue the war against Napoleon whilst a Frenchman is in arms on this side the frontier. I will not desert my engagements, come what may. I will abide the worst. I am ready to remove my fainily into the interior, and undergo every sacrifice; but I must not give way on the point of choosing my own ministers : that concession might induce other demands, still more inconvenient and indecorous for me to grant. Count Romanzow shall not be the means of any disunion or difference-everything will be done that can remove uneasiness on that head; but done so that I shall not appear to give way to menace, or have to reproach myself for injustice. This is a case where mueh depends on the manner of doing it. Give me a little time-all will be satisfactorily arranged."

During the stay of Sir Robert Wilson at S. Petersburg, his imperial majesty continued to heap distinctions on him, as if anxious to make more manifest through him his sentiments and feelings towards the parties whom he had represented ; and when the emperor sanctioned his return, his majesty, with the greatest solemnity, declared upon his honour, and directed him to repeat in the most formal manner the declaration, that his majesty would not enter into or permit any negotiation with Napoleon as long as an armed Frenchman remained in the territories of Russia. His imperial majesty said "he would sooner let his beard grow to his waist, and eat potatoes in Siberia." At the same time he specially authorised Sir Robert Wilson (who was to reside with the Russian army as British commissioner) to interpose, and intervene with all the power and influence he cauld exert, to protect the interests of the imperial crorone in conformity with that pledge, whenever he saw any disposition or design to contravene or prejudice them.

Each of the empresses, wlio at that time took an active part in the transactions that were passing to sustain the emperor in his resolution against subscribing to a peace, severally communicated to Sir Robert Wilson her positive confidence in the emperor's firm adherence to his word, and they directed him to give this their personal assurance to those influential chiefs of the army who had the honour of their confidence. (Pp. 112-119.)

A very important feature in Sir Robert Wilson's book is the light thrown upon the conduct of Kutusow, the Russian commander-in-chief, who was evidently the unwilling instrument of the defeat of Napoleon, and did everything in his power to favour his retreat. Whatever doubt we may have entertained hitherto, it is no longer possible to avoid the conviction that Kutusow was at heart a traitor to his country, as he was also in deeds as far as he dared. The following account of Napoleon's mission to Kutusow shortly after the burning of Moscow, and of the means by which the proposed treachery was averted, is of the deepest interest, and forms the natural sequel to the account already quoted of Sir Robert Wilson's interview with Alexander, and the charge given to him by the emperor on parting :

There was a general suspicion that Kutusow did not wish to push the enemy to such extremity; and a corresponding vigilance was exercised over his transactions.

The English General (Sir Robert Wilson) had gone on the preceding evening to Milaradowitch's bivouac, when early in the morning of the 4th of October a Cossack at speed brought him a summons from Beningsen, in his own name

and in those of others, "to return instantly to head-quarters, as the marshal had agreed, not merely proposed, but actually agreed in a written note, to meet Lauriston at midnight beyond the Russian advanced posts."

Having communicated with Milaradowitch, the English General hastened to Beningsen, whom he found with a dozen generals, anxiously awaiting his arrival.

They afforded him proof that Kutusow, in answer to a proposition made by Lauriston on behalf of Napoleon, had agreed to meet him this same night at a station several miles from his most advanced videttes, on the road to Moscow, there to confer on the terms of a convention "for the immediate retreat of the whole invading army, from the territories of Russia, which convention was also to serve as the basis of a peace, to which it was to be the preliminary."

They added that Napoleon himself might be expected at the interview, as Lauriston had stated that he would be accompanied by a friend. They therefore required from the English General that he would act as commissioner of the emperor under his delegated authority, and “as an English commissioner charged with the protection of the British and allied interests ;” adding the resolve of the chiefs, which would be sustained by the army, not to allow Kutu. Sow to return and resume the command if once he quitted it for this midnight interview in the enemy's camp. They declared that “they wished to avoid extreme measures, but that their minds were made up to dispossess the marshal of his authority if he should inflexibly persevere."

It was a critical commission to execute-perhaps more critical than the mission to the emperor himself, but the English General felt that he had a duty to perform from which he could not shrink with honour.

The marshal, on seeing him enter, looked already embarrassed, but asked " whether he had brought any news from the advanced guard ?" After some slight conversation on that subject, the English General intimated a wish to confer with the marshal alone.

An officer or two present having withdrawn, the English General said that "he had returned to head-quarters in consequence of a report, an idle one he trusted, which had reached him that morning." That “it was, however, a mis. chievous report, causing much excitement and uneasiness; and therefore that it was desirable at once to put an end, under the marshal's own authority, to the scandal.”

The marshal's countenance confirmed the allegation; but the English General proceeded with as much courtesy as possible to communicate the runiour, and afford opportunity for the voluntary cancel of the arrangement, without any humiliating or irritating éclaircissement.

The marshal was confused, but in a tone of some asperity replied that “he was commander-in-chief of the army, and knew best what the interests confided to him required; that it was true that he had agreed to give General Lauriston, at the request of the French emperor, an interview during that night, under the circumstances reported, in order to avoid notice, which might be accompanied with misrepresentation or misunderstanding of motives; that he should keep his engagement, hear the propositions which General Lauriston was empowered to offer, and determine his future proceedings according to their nature.”

He then added that "he would admit that he already knew those propositions to be of a pacific character, and perhaps they might lead to an arrangement satisfactory and honourable for Russia.”

The English General having patiently listened to all the explanations of the marshal, asked him “if such was his final determination ?" He said “Yes irrevocable ;” and he expressed his hope that the English General would, on reflection, acquiesce in its propriety; and after taking into due consideration the state of the empire, and the fact that although the Russian army was becoming numerous, it was still far from being efficient in proportion, that he would in this instance suffer his affection for the emperor and Russia to prevail over his wellknown hostile feelings to the Emperor of France.

These last expressions were uttered in a very sarcastic tone, and he seemed to think, or to desire, the conference terminated; but the English General was equally tenacious of his purpose, and commenced his reply by assurance of his deep regret at the discharge of a most painful duty which necessity imposed; but he had no alternative no means of evasion.

He then reminded the marshal of the Emperor Alexander's last words to himself, the marshal, on quitting S. Petersburg, relative to the rejection of all negotiation whilst an armed Frenchman was in the country; and of the renewal of that solemn pledge to him, the English General, with instructions to intervene when he saw that pledge and connecting interests endangered by any one, of whatsoever rank he might be.

He then said that “the time was now come when unfortunately his interven. tion, in conformity with that instruction, had become necessary."

That “his, the marshal's, project of meeting an enemy's general and envoy beyond his own advanced posts at midnight, was unheard of in the annals of war, except when illicit communications had been intended-s0 illicit as not to admit of a third person being employed; that the army would believe, and would be authorised to believe, that the marshal on quitting the Russian lines was about to make a treaty, or enter into some transaction with the enemy, in defiance and contravention of their emperor's promises and orders; that the interests of Russia and the honour of the imperial army would be compromised by any treaty, however speciously framed: that the destruction or capitulation of the enemy was the only point de mire' which should be enter. tained by the marshal.”

That “ he had under his command already a hundred thousand men and upwards, stationed on the enemy's principal lines of communication, of which force there were thirty thousand horse, with seven hundred pieces of cannon, perfectly equipped; whilst the enemy's army was scarcely equal in number, with a ruined cavalry and an inadequately horsed artillery, and both arms were daily becoming enfeebled from want of forage; that the whole force was in dismay at the prospect of a retreat through an exasperated and ruined country, with the hazards, difficulties, and terrors of an approaching wintry season. That under such circumstances the Russian generals and army (for he had been made acquainted with their feelings on the subject) might and would feel themselves under the terrible necessity of withdrawing his authority until the emperor's decision could be known; and that he, the English General, would be obliged to despatch instantly couriers to Constantinople, to Lord Walpole at Vienna, to London, and S. Petersburg, communicating these proceedings, which intelligence would have the most injurious effect by suspending all the succours in preparation, and breaking off the negotiations in progress.

That Russia might now have the glory and advantage of redeeming Europe by the capture or annihilation of Napoleon and his army; but, abusing this opportunity, that she herself in a short time would be replaced in her former jeopardy, and being justly abandoned by every friend, would be overwhelmed with discredit and self-reproach.

The marshal manifesting increasing pertinacity, the English General left him for a moment to call into his presence Duke Alexander of Würtemberg, the emperor's uncle ; the Duke of Oldenburg, brother-in-law to the emperor; and Prince Wolkonsky, aide-de-camp general to the emperor, who had just arrived from S. Petersburg with despatches, and who was to return the same evening : these personages had been previously selected to support the English General's remonstrance, as being most likely to exercise a salutary influence, and as being less liable to objection on the ground of subordination than any of the other chiefs under the marshal's orders.

The English General, on re-entering, stated that “ he felt it right in a transaction of such magnitude to make another appeal to the marshal, and endeavour to change his resolve. He had therefore requested these personages, so imme. diately connected with the emperor and acquainted with his most intimate feelings, to co-operate with him, as he trusted they would, in pressing his views and entreaties."

* He then recapitulated at large, and as nearly as possible word for word, " the admission of the marshal, his own remonstrances, and his declarations as to the course he must pursue.'

The Duke of Würtemberg with urbanity and tact expressed “his full confi. dence in the marshal's loyalty, patriotism, and judgment; but recommended, under the considerations urged and the suspicious temper of the army, to which he could testify, that the marshal should annul the proposed interview out of the Russian camp, and invite General Lauriston to one at his own head-quarters, as a more becoming and less disquieting proceeding.” The Duke of Oldenburg followed, and concurred. Prince Wolkonsky, resting his arguments chiefly on bis knowledge of the emperor's determination to carry out the pledge he had made, and which he had renewed in the proclamation published after the capture of Moscow, also recommended revocation of the appointment with Lauriston.

The inarshal, after much controversy and an expression of dissent which, however softened by phrases, conveyed strong disapprobation of the proposed counteraction of his measure, began to give way, but still argued the impossibility of breaking an arrangement to which his signature was affixed. The English General answered, "that it was better to break than keep such a promise; that in breaking it he committed no public wrong, whilst in keeping it he would render inevitable many and grave mischiefs.”

At length the marshal submitted, and a note was despatched to General Lauriston advising that “the marshal was unable to keep the appointment made, and inviting him to the marshal's head-quarters at ten that same night.”

General Lauriston wrote an urgent request that "the marshal would adhere to his original rendezvous, as the deviation would cause much disappointment and inconvenience;" but on the marshal's reply "that circumstances did not permit his acquiescence in that wish,” General Lauriston understood that some unforeseen and insurmountable obstacle, which the marshal could not control, had arisen.

On the arrival of General Lauriston, about eleven at night, and blindfolded, he was ushered into the marshal's hut, and introduced to a circle of Russian generals and the English General by name; when, as General Lauriston afterwards said, “he immediately comprehended from what quarter the obstacle bad come to the execution of the original agreement.”

After some general conversation every one withdrew,'and left the marshal and the envoy together, who before his departure placed a letter from Napoleon for the Emperor Alexander in the marshal's hands: a fact which the marshal did not communicate, but which he acknowledged when he found that the delivery had been seen.

In the relation given by the marsbal of such parts of the conversation as he judged it expedient to make public, he stated that “Lauriston had at first complained of the barbarity of the Russians to the French," to which he, the marshal, had replied, as he said, that “he could not civilise a nation in three months who regarded the enemy as worse than a marauding force of Tartars under Gingis Khan." Lauriston answered, “But there is at least some differ. ence.” “There may be,” returned the marshal, “but none in the eyes of the people; and I can only be responsible for the conduct of my troops."

Lauriston had no complaint to make against them; but adverting to an armistice, said, “Nature herself would in a short time oblige it.” The marshal told him that "he had no authority on that head.” Returning again to the subject of the armistice, Lauriston continued, “You must not think we wish it because our affairs are desperate. Our two armies are nearly equal in force. You are, it is true, nearer your supplies and reinforcements than we are, but we also receive reinforcements. Perhaps you have heard that our affairs are disastrous in Spain ?” “I have,” said the marshal, “from Sir Robert Wilson, whom you just saw leave me, and with whom I have daily interviews.”

“General Wilson may have reasons to exaggerate our reverses. We have, indeed, received a check by the bêtise of Marshal Marmont, and Madrid, en attendant, is occupied by the English, but they will soon be driven out; every.

« PreviousContinue »