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AN ACCOUNT OF THE PARTITION OF POLAND. * - Sir James Mackintosh, The Miscellaneous Works 
The Miscellaneous Works. Three Volumes, complete in One. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1871).
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AN ACCOUNT OF THE PARTITION OF POLAND.*
Little more than fifty years have passed since Poland occupied a high place among the Powers of Europe. Her natural means of wealth and force were inferior to those of few states of the second order. The surface of the country exceeded that of France; and the number of its inhabitants was estimated at fourteen millions,—a population probably exceeding that of the British Islands, or of the Spanish Peninsula, at that time. The elimate was nowhere unfriendly to health, or unfavourable to labour; the soil was fertile, the produce redundant: a large portion of the country, still uncleared, afforded ample scope for agricultural enterprise. Great rivers afforded easy means of opening an internal navigation from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. In addition to these natural advantages, there were many of those circumstances in the history and situation of Poland which render a people fond and proud of their country, and foster that national spirit which is the most effectual instrument either of defence or aggrandisement. Till the middle of the seventeenth century, she had been the predominating power of the North. With Hungary, and the maritime strength of Venice, she had formed the eastern defence of Christendom against the Turkish tyrants of Greece; and, on the north-east, she had been long its sole barrier against the more obscure barbarians of Muscovy. A nation which thus constituted a part of the vanguard of civilization, necessarily became martial, and gained all the renown in arms which could be acquired before war had become a science. The wars of the Poles, irregular, romantic, full of personal adventure, depending on individual courage and peculiar character, proceeding little from the policy of Cabinets, but deeply imbued by those sentiments of chivalry which may pervade a nation, chequered by extraordinary vicissitudes, and carried on against barbarous enemies in remote and wild provinces, were calculated to leave a deep impression on the feelings of the people, and to give every man the liveliest interest in the glories and dangers of his country. Whatever renders the members of a community more like each other, and unlike their neighbours, usually strengthens the bonds of attachment between them. The Poles were the only representatives of the Sarmatian race in the assembly of civilized nations. Their language and their national literature—those great sources of sympathy and objects of national pride—were cultivated with no small success. They contributed, in one instance, signally to the progress of science; and they took no ignoble part in those classical studies which composed the common literature of Europe. They were bound to their country by the peculiarities of its institutions and usages,—perhaps, also, by those dangerous privileges, and by that tumultuary independence which rendered their condition as much above that of the slaves of an absolute monarchy, as it was below the lot of those who inherit the blessings of legal and moral freedom. They had once another singularity, of which they might justly have been proud, if they had not abandoned it in times which ought to have been more enlightened. Soon after the Reformation, they had set the first example of that true religious liberty which equally admits the members of all sects to the privileges, the offices, and dignities of the commonwealth. For nearly a century they had afforded a secure asylum to those obnoxious sects of Anabaptists and Unitarians, whom all other states excluded from toleration; and the Hebrew nation, proscribed every where else, found a second country, with protection for their learned and religious establishments, in this hospitable and tolerant land. A body, amounting to about half a million, professing the equality of gentlemen amidst the utmost extremes of affluence and poverty, forming at once the legislature and the army, or rather constituting the commonwealth, were reproached, perhaps justly, with the parade, dissipation, and levity, which generally characterise the masters of slaves: but their faculties were roused by ambition; they felt the dignity of conscious independence; and they joined to the brilliant valour of their ancestors, an uncommon proportion of the accomplishments and manners of a polished age. Even in the days of her decline, Poland had still a part allotted to her in the European system. By her mere situation, without any activity on her own part, she in some measure prevented the collision, and preserved the balance, of the three greatest military powers of the Continent. She constituted an essential member of the federative system of France; and, by her vicinity to Turkey, and influence on the commerce of the Baltic, directly affected the general interest of Europe. Her preservation was one of the few parts of continental policy in which both France and England were concerned; and all Governments dreaded the aggrandisement of her neighbours. In these circumstances, it might have been thought that the dismemberment of the territory of a numerous, brave, ancient, and renowned people, passionately devoted to their native land, without colour of right or pretext of defence, in a period of profound peace, in defiance of the law of nations, and of the common interest of all states, was an event not much more probable, than that it should have been swallowed up by a convulsion of nature. Before that dismemberment, nations, though exposed to the evils of war and the chance of conquest, in peace placed some reliance on each other’s faith. The crime has, however, been triumphantly consummated. The principle of the balance of power has perished in the Partition of Poland.
The succession to the crown of Poland appears, in ancient times, to have been governed by that rude combination of inheritance and election which originally prevailed in most European monarchies, where there was a general inclination to respect hereditary claims, and even the occasional elections were confined to the members of the reigning family. Had not the male heirs of the House of Jagellon been extinct, or had the rule of female succession been introduced, it is probable that the Polish monarchy would have become strictly hereditary. The inconveniences of the elective principle were chiefly felt in the admission of powerful foreign princes as candidates for the crown: but that form of government proved rather injurious to the independence, than to the internal peace of the country. More than a century, indeed, elapsed before the mischief was felt. In spite of the ascendant acquired by Sweden in the affairs of the North, Poland still maintained her high rank. Her last great exertion, when John Sobieski, in 1683, drove the Turks from the gates of Vienna, was worthy of her ancient character as the guardian of Christendom.
His death, in 1696, first showed that the admission of such competition might lead to the introduction of foreign influence, and even arms. The contest which then occurred between the Prince of Conti and Augustus, Elector of Saxony, had been decided in favour of the latter by his own army, and by Russian influence, when Charles XII., before he had reached the age of twenty, having already compelled Denmark to submit, and defeated a great Russian army, entered Warsaw in triumph, deposed him as an usurper raised to the royal dignity by foreign force, and obliged him, by express treaty, to renounce his pretensions to the crown. Charles was doubtless impelled to these measures by the insolence of a youthful conqueror, and by resentment against the Elector; but he was also influenced by those rude conceptions of justice, sometimes degenerating into cruelty, which were blended with his irregular ambition. He had the generosity, however, to spare the territory of the republic, and the good sense to propose the son of the great Sobieski to fill the vacant throne;—a proposal which, had it been successful, might have banished foreign factions, by gradually conferring on a Polish family an hereditary claim to the crown. But the Saxons, foreseeing such a measure, carried away young Sobieski a prisoner. Charles then bestowed it on Stanislaus Leczinski, a Polish gentleman of worth and talent, but destitute of the genius and boldness which the public dangers required, and by the example of a second king enthroned by a foreign army, struck another blow at the independence of Poland. The treaty of Alt-Ranstadt was soon after annulled by the battle of Pultowa; and Augustus, renewing the pretensions which he had solemnly renounced, returned triumphantly to Warsaw. The ascendant of the Czar was for a moment suspended by the treaty of Pruth, in 1711, where the Turks compelled Peter to swear that he would withdraw his troops from Poland, and never to interfere in its internal affairs; but as soon as the Porte were engaged in a war with Austria, he marched an army into it; and the first example of a compromise between the King and the Diet, under the mediation of a Russian ambassador, and surrounded by Russian troops, was exhibited in 1717.
The death of Augustus, in 1733, had nearly occasioned a general war throughout Europe. The interest of Stanislaus, the deposed king, was espoused by France, partly perhaps because Louis XV. had married his daughter, but chiefly because the cause of the new Elector of Saxony, who was his competitor, was supported by Austria, the ally of England, and by Russia, then closely connected with Austria. The court of Petersburgh then set up the fatal pretext of a guarantee of the Polish constitution, founded on the transactions of 1717. A guarantee of the territories and rights of one independent state against others, is perfectly compatible with justice: but a guarantee of the institutions of a people against themselves, is but another name for its dependence on the foreign power which enforces it. In pursuance of this pretence, the country was invaded by sixty thousand Russians, who ravaged with fire and sword every district which opposed their progress; and a handful of gentlemen, some of them in chains, whom they brought together in a forest near Warsaw, were compelled to elect Augustus III.
Henceforward Russia treated Poland as a vassal. She indeed disappeared from the European system,—was the subject of wars and negotiations, but no longer a party engaged in them. Under Augustus III., she was almost as much without government at home as without influence abroad, slumbering for thirty years in a state of pacific anarchy, which is almost without example in history. The Diets were regularly assembled, conformably to the laws; but each one was dissolved, without adopting a single measure of legislation or government. This extraordinary suspension of public authority arose from the privilege which each nuncio possessed, of stopping any public measure, by declaring his dissent from it, in the well known form of the Liberum Veto. To give a satisfactory account of the origin and progress of this anomalous privilege, would probably require more industrious and critical research than were applied to the subject when Polish antiquaries and lawyers existed.* The absolute negative enjoyed by each member seems to have arisen from the principle, that the nuncios were not representatives, but ministers; that their power was limited by the imperative instructions of the provinces; that the constitution was rather a confederacy than a commonwealth; and that the Diet was not so much a deliberative assembly, as a meeting of delegates, whose whole duty consisted in declaring the determination of their respective constituents. Of such a state of things, unanimity seemed the natural consequence. But, as the sovereign power was really vested in the gentry, they were authorised, by the law, to interfere in public affairs, in a manner most inconvenient and hazardous, though rendered in some measure necessary by the unreasonable institution of unanimity. This interference was effected by that species of legal insurrection called a “confederation,” in which any number of gentlemen subscribing the alliance bound themselves to pursue, by force of arms, its avowed object, either of defending the country, or preserving the laws, or maintaining the privileges of any class of citizens. It was equally lawful for another body to associate themselves against the former; and the war between them was legitimate. In these confederations, the sovereign power released itself from the restraint of unanimity; and in order to obtain that liberty, the Diet sometimes resolved itself into a confederation, and lost little by being obliged to rely on the zeal of voluntary adherents, rather than on the legal obedience of citizens.
On the death of Augustus III., it pleased the Empress Catharine to appoint Stanislaus Poniatowski, a discarded lover, to the vacant throne,—a man who possessed many of the qualities and accomplishments which are attractive in private life; but who, when he was exposed to the tests of elevated station and public danger, proved to be utterly void of all dignity and energy. Several circumstances in the state of Europe enabled her to bestow the crown on him without resistance from foreign powers. France was unwilling to expose herself so early to the hazard of a new war, and was farther restrained by her recent alliance with Austria; and the unexpected death of the Elector of Saxony deprived the Courts of Versailles and Vienna of the competitor whom they could have supported with most hope of success against the influence of the Czarina. Frederic II., abandoned, or (as he himself with reason thought) betrayed by England,* found himself, at the general peace, without an ally, exposed to the deserved resentment of Austria, and no longer with any hope of aid from France, which had become the friend of his natural enemy. In this situation, he thought it necessary to court the friendship of Catharine, and in the beginning of the year 1764, concluded a defensive alliance with her, the stipulations of which with respect to Poland were, that they were to oppose every attempt either to make that crown hereditary or to strengthen the royal power; that they were to unite in securing the election of Stanislaus; and that they were to protect the Dissidents of the Greek and Protestant communions, who, since the year 1717, had been deprived of that equal admissibility to public office which was bestowed on them by the liberality of the ancient laws. The first of these stipulations was intended to perpetuate the confusions of Poland, and to insure her dependence on her neighbours; while the last would afford a specious pretext for constant interference. In a declaration delivered at Warsaw, Catharine asserted, “that she did nothing but in virtue of the right of vicinage, acknowledged by all nations;”† and, on another occasion, observed, “that justice and humanity were the sole rules of her conduct; and that her virtues alone had placed her on the throne:”‡ while Frederic declared, that “he should constantly labour to defend the states of the republic in their integrity;” and Maria Theresa, a sovereign celebrated for piety and justice, assured the Polish Government of “her resolution to maintain the republic in all her rights, prerogatives, and possessions.” Catharine again, when Poland, for the first time, acknowledged her title of Empress of all the Russias, granted to the republic a solemn guarantee of all its possessions!*
Though abandoned by their allies and distracted by divisions, the Poles made a gallant stand against the appointment of the discarded lover of a foreign princess to be their King. One party, at the head of which was the illustrious house of Czartorinski, by supporting the influence of Russia, and the election of Stanislaus, hoped to obtain the power of reforming the constitution, of abolishing the veto, and giving due strength to the crown. The other, more generous though less enlightened, spurned at foreign interference, and made the most vigorous efforts to assert independence, but were unhappily averse to reforms of the constitution, wedded to ancient abuses, and resolutely determined to exclude their fellow-citizens of different religions from equal privileges. The leaders of the latter party were General Branicki, a veteran of Roman dignity and intrepidity, and Prince Radzivil, a youth of almost regal revenue and dignity, who, by a singular combination of valour and generosity with violence and wildness, exhibited a striking picture of a Sarmatian grandee. The events which passed in the interregnum, as they are related by Rulhière, form one of the most interesting parts of modern history. The variety of character, the elevation of mind, and the vigour of talent exhibited in the fatal struggle which then began, afford a memorable proof of the superiority of the worst aristocracy over the best administered absolute monarchy. The most turbulent aristocracy, with all its disorders and insecurity, must contain a certain number of men who respect themselves, and who have some scope for the free exercise of genius and virtue.
In spite of all the efforts of generous patriotism, the Diet, surrounded by a Russian army, were compelled to elect Stanislaus. The Princes Czartorinski expected to reign under the name of their nephew. They had carried through their reforms so dexterously as to be almost unobserved; but Catharine had too deep an interest in the anarchy of Poland not to watch over its preservation. She availed herself of the prejudices of the party most adverse to her, and obliged the Diet to abrogate the reforms. Her ambassadors were her viceroys. Keyserling, a crafty and smooth German jurist, Saldern, a desperate adventurer, banished from Holstein for forgery, and Repnin, a haughty and brutal Muscovite, were selected, perhaps from the variety of their character, to suit the fluctuating circumstances of the country: but all of them spoke in that tone of authority which has ever since continued to distinguish Russian diplomacy. Prince Czartorinski was desirous not to be present in the Diet when his measures were repealed; but Repnin told him, that if he was not, his palaces should be burnt, and his estates laid waste. Understanding this system of Muscovite canvass, he submitted to the humiliation of proposing to abrogate those reformations which he thought essential to the existence of the republic.
In September of the same year, the Russian and Prussian ministers presented notes in favour of the Dissidents,* and afterwards urged the claims of that body more fully to the Diet of 1766, when they were seconded with honest intentions, though perhaps with a doubtful right of interference, by Great Britain, Denmark, and Sweden, as parties to, or as guarantees of, the Treaty of Oliva, the foundation of the political system of the north of Europe. The Diet, influenced by the unnatural union of an intolerant spirit with a generous indignation against foreign interference, rejected all these solicitations, though undoubtedly agreeable to the principle of the treaty, and though some of them proceeded from powers which could not be suspected of unfriendly intentions. The Dissidents were unhappily prevailed upon to enter into confederations for the recovery of their ancient rights, and thus furnished a pretext for the armed interference of Russia. Catharine now affected to espouse the cause of the Republicans, who had resisted the election of Stanislaus. A general confederation of malcontents was formed under the auspices of Prince Radzivil at Radom, but surrounded by Russian troops, and subject to the orders of the brutal Repnin. This capricious barbarian used his power with such insolence as soon to provoke general resistance. He prepared measures for assembling a more subservient Diet by the utmost excesses of military violence at the elections, and by threats of banishment to Siberia held out to every one whose opposition he dreaded.
This Diet, which met on the 4th of October, 1767, showed at first strong symptoms of independence,† but was at length intimidated; and Repnin obtained its consent to a treaty‡ stipulating for the equal admission of all religious sectaries to civil offices, containing a reciprocal guarantee “of the integrity of the territories of both powers in the most solemn and sacred manner,” confirming the constitution of Poland, especially the fatal law of unanimity, with a few alterations recently made by the Diet, and placing this “constitution, with the government, liberty, and rights of Poland, under the guarantee of her. Imperial Majesty, who most solemnly promises to preserve the republic for ever entire.” Thus, again, under the pretence of enforcing religious liberty, were the disorder and feebleness of Poland perpetuated; and by the principle of the foreign guarantee was her independence destroyed. Frederick II., an accomplice in these crimes, describes their immediate effect with the truth and coolness of an unconcerned spectator. “So many acts of sovereignty,” says he, “exercised by a foreign power on the territory of the republic, at length excited universal indignation: the offensive measures were not softened by the arrogance of Prince Repnin: enthusiasm seized the minds of all, and the grandees availed themselves of the fanaticism of their followers and serfs, to throw off a yoke which had become insupportable.” In this temper of the nation, the Diet rose on the 6th of March following, and with it expired the Confederation of Radom, which furnished the second example, within five years, of a Polish party so blind to experience as to become the dupes of Russia.
Another confederation was immediately formed at Bar, in Podolia, for the preservation of religion and liberty,* which, in a moment, spread over the whole kingdom. The Russian officers hesitated for a moment whether they could take a part in this intestine war. Repnin, by pronouncing the word “Siberia,” compelled those members of the Senate who were at Warsaw to claim the aid of Russia, notwithstanding the dissent of the Czartorinskis and their friends, who protested against that inglorious and ruinous determination. The war that followed presented, on the part of Russia, a series of acts of treachery, falsehood, rapacity, and cruelty, not unworthy of Cæsar Borgia. The resistance of the Poles, an undisciplined and almost unarmed people, betrayed by their King and Senate, in a country without fastnesses or fortifications, and in which the enemy had already established themselves at every important point, forms one of the most glorious, though the most unfortunate, of the struggles of mankind for their rights. The council of the confederation established themselves at Eperies, within the frontier of Hungary, with the connivance and secret favour of Austria. Some French officers, and aid in money from Versailles and Constantinople, added something to their strength, and more to their credit. Repnin entered into a negotiation with them, and proposed an armistice, till he could procure reinforcements. Old Pulaski, the first leader of the confederation, objected:—“There is no word,” said he, “in the Russian language for honour.” Repnin, as soon as he was reinforced, laughed at the armistice, fell upon the confederates, and laid waste the lands of all true Poles with fire and sword. The Cossacks brought to his house at Warsaw, Polish gentlemen tied to the tails of their horses, and dragged in this manner along the ground.† A Russian colonel, named Drewitz, seems to have surpassed all his comrades in ferocity. Not content with massacring the gentlemen to whom quarter had been given, he inflicted on them the punishments invented in Russia for slaves; sometimes tying them to trees as a mark for his soldiers to fire at; sometimes scorching certain parts of their skin, so as to represent the national dress of Poland; sometimes dispersing them over the provinces, after he had cut off their hands, arms, noses, or ears, as living examples of the punishment to be suffered by those who should love their country.* It is remarkable, that this ferocious monster, then the hero of the Muscovite army, was deficient in the common quality of military courage. Peter had not civilized the Russians; that was an undertaking beyond his genius, and inconsistent with his ferocious character: he had only armed a barbarous people with the arts of civilized war.
But no valour could have enabled the Confederates of Bar to resist the power of Russia for four years, if they had not been seconded by certain important changes in the political system of Europe, which at first raised a powerful diversion in their favour, but at length proved the immediate cause of the dismemberment of their country. These changes may be dated from the alliance of France with Austria in 1756, and still more certainly from the peace of 1762. On the day on which the Duke de Choiseul signed the preliminaries of peace at Fontainebleau, he entered into a secret convention with Spain, by which it was agreed, that the war should be renewed against England in eight years,—a time which was thought sufficient to repair the exhausted strength of the two Bourbon monarchies.† The hostility of the French Minister to England was at that time extreme. “If I was master,” said he, “we should act towards England as Spain did to the Moors. If we really adopted that system, England would, in thirty years, be reduced and destroyed.”‡ Soon after, however, his vigilance was directed to other quarters by projects which threatened to deprive France of her accustomed and due influence in the North and East of Europe. He was incensed with Catharine for not resuming the alliance with Austria, and the war which had been abruptly suspended by the caprice of her unfortunate husband. She, on the other hand, soon after she was seated on the throne, had formed one of those vast and apparently chimerical plans to which absolute power and immense territory have familiarised the minds of Russian sovereigns. She laboured to counteract the influence of France, which she considered as the chief obstacle to her ambition, on all the frontiers of her empire, in Sweden, Poland, and Turkey, by the formation of a great alliance of the North, to consist of England, Prussia, Sweden, Denmark, and Poland,—Russia being of course the head of the league.* Choiseul exerted himself in every quarter to defeat this project, or rather to be revenged on Catharine for attempts which were already defeated by their own extravagance. In Sweden his plan for reducing the Russian influence was successfully resisted; but the revolution accomplished by Gustavus III. in 1772, re-established the French ascendant in that kingdom. The Count de Vergennes, ambassador at Constantinople, opened the eyes of the Sultan to the ambitious projects of Catharine in Sweden, in Poland, and in the Crimea, and held out the strongest assurances of powerful aid, which, had Choiseul remained in power, would probably have been carried into effect. By all these means, Vergennes persuaded the Porte to declare war against Russia on the 30th of October, 1768.†
The Confederates of Bar, who had established themselves in the neighbourhood of the Turkish, as well as of the Austrian provinces, now received open assistance from the Turks. The Russian arms were fully occupied in the Turkish war; a Russian fleet entered the Mediterranean; and the agents of the Court of St. Petersburgh excited a revolt among the Greeks, whom they afterwards treacherously and cruelly abandoned to the vengeance of their Turkish tyrants. These events suspended the fate of Poland. French officers of distinguished merit and gallantry guided the valour of the undisciplined Confederates: Austria seemed to countenance, if not openly to support them. Supplies and reinforcements from France passed openly through Vienna into Poland; and Maria Theresa herself publicly declared, that there was no principle or honour in that country, but among the Confederates. But the Turkish war, which had raised up an important ally for the struggling Poles, was in the end destined to be the cause of their destruction.
The course of events had brought the Russian armies into the neighbourhood of the Austrian dominions, and began to fill the Court of Vienna with apprehensions for the security of Hungary. Frederic had no desire that his ally should become stronger; while both the great powers of Germany were averse to the extension of the Russian territories at the expense of Turkey. Frederic was restrained from opposing it forcibly by his treaty with Catharine, who continued to be his sole ally; but Kaunitz, who ruled the councils at Vienna, still adhered to the French alliance, seconding the French negotiations at Constantinople. Even so late as the month of July, 1771, he entered into a secret treaty with Turkey, by which Austria bound herself to recover from Russia, by negotiation or by force, all the conquests made by the latter from the Porte. But there is reason to think that Kaunitz, distrusting the power and the inclination of France under the feeble government of Louis XV., and still less disposed to rely on the councils of Versailles after the downfal of Choiseul in December, 1770, though he did not wish to dissolve the alliance, was desirous of loosening its ties, and became gradually disposed to adopt any expedient against the danger of Russian aggrandisement, which might relieve him from the necessity of engaging in a war, in which his chief confidence must necessarily have rested on so weak a stay as the French Government. Maria Theresa still entertained a rooted aversion for Frederic, whom she never forgave for robbing her of Silesia; and openly professed her abhorrence of the vices and crimes of Catharine, whom she never spoke of but in a tone of disgust, as “that woman.” Her son Joseph, however, affected to admire, and, as far as he had power, to imitate the King of Prussia; and in spite of his mother’s repugnance, found means to begin a personal intercourse with him. Their first interview occurred at Neiss, in Silesia, in August, 1769, where they entered into a secret engagement to prevent the Russians from retaining Moldavia and Wallachia. In September, 1770, a second took place at Neustadt in Moravia, where the principal subject seems also to have been the means of staying the progress of Russian conquest, and where despatches were received from Constantinople, desiring the mediation of both Courts in the negotiations for peace.* But these interviews, though lessening mutual jealousies, do not appear to have directly influenced their system respecting Poland.† The mediation, however, then solicited, ultimately gave rise to that fatal proposition.
Frederic had proposed a plan for the pacification of Poland, on condition of reasonable terms being made with the Confederates, and of the Dissidents being induced to moderate their demands. Austria had assented to this plan, and was willing that Russia should make an honourable peace, but insisted on the restitution of Moldavia and Wallachia, and declared, that if her mediation were slighted, she must at length yield to the instances of France, and take an active part for Poland and Turkey. These declarations Frederic communicated to the Court of Petersburgh;* and they alone seem sufficient to demonstrate that no plan of partition was then contemplated by that monarch. To these communications Catharine answered, in a confidential letter to the King, by a plan of peace, in which she insisted on the independence of the Crimea, the acquisition of a Greek island, and of a pretended independence for Moldavia and Wallachia, which should make her the mistress of these provinces. She spoke of Austria with great distrust and alienation; but, on the other hand, intimated her readiness to enter into a closer intimacy with that Court, if it were possible to disengage her from her present absurd system, and to make her enter into their views; by which means Germany would be restored to its natural state, and the House of Austria would be diverted, by other prospects, from those views on his Majesty’s possessions, which her present connections kept up.† This correspondence continued during January and February, 1771; Frederic objecting, in very friendly language, to the Russian demands, and Catharine adhering to them.‡ In January, Panin notified to the Court of Vienna his mistress’ acceptance of the good offices of Austria towards the pacification, though she declined a formal mediation. This despatch is chiefly remarkable for a declaration,§ “that the Empress had adopted, as an invariable maxim, never to desire any aggrandisement of her states.” When the Empress communicated her plan of peace to Kaunitz in May, that minister declared that his Court could not propose conditions of peace, which must be attended with ruin to the Porte, and with great danger to the Austrian monarchy.
In the summer of the year 1770, Maria Theresa had caused her troops to take possession of the county of Zipps, a district anciently appertaining to Hungary, but which had been enjoyed by Poland for about three hundred and sixty years, under a mortgage made by Sigismond, king of Hungary, on the strange condition that if it was not redeemed by a fixed time, it could only be so by payment of as many times the original sum as there had years elapsed since the appointed term. So unceremonious an adjudication to herself of this territory, in defiance of such an ancient possession, naturally produced a remonstrance even from the timid Stanislaus, which, however, she coolly overruled, in the critical state of Poland, it was impossible that such a measure should not excite observation; and an occasion soon occurred, when it seems to have contributed to produce the most important effects.
Frederic, embarrassed and alarmed by the difficulties of the pacification, resolved to send his brother Henry to Petersburgh, with no other instructions than to employ all his talents and address in bringing Catharine to such a temper as might preserve Prussia from a new war. Henry arrived in that capital on the 9th December; and it seems now to be certain, that the first open proposal of a dismemberment of Poland arose in his conversations with the Empress, and appeared to be suggested by the difficulty of making peace on such terms as would be adequate to the successes of Russia, without endangering the safety of her neighbours.* It would be difficult to guess who first spoke out in a conversation about such a matter between two persons of great adroitness, and who were, doubtless, both equally anxious to throw the blame on each other. Unscrupulous as both were, they were not so utterly shameless that each party would not use the utmost address to bring the dishonest plan out of the mouth of the other. A look, a smile, a hint, or a question were sufficiently intelligible. The best accounts agree, that in speaking of the entrance of the Austrian troops into Poland, and of a report that they had occupied the fortress of Czentokow, Catharine smiling, and casting down her eyes, said to Henry, “It seems that in Poland you have only to stoop and take;” that he seized on the expression; and that she then, resuming an air of indifference, turned the conversation to other subjects. At another time, speaking of the subsidy which Frederic paid to her by treaty, she said, “I fear he will be weary of this burden, and will leave me. I wish I could secure him by some equivalent advantage.” “Nothing,” replied Henry, “will be more easy. You have only to give him some territory to which he has pretensions, and which will facilitate the communication between his dominions.” Catharine, without appearing to understand a remark, the meaning of which could not be mistaken, adroitly rejoined, “that she would willingly consent, if the balance of Europe was not disturbed; and that she wished for nothing.”† In a conversation with Baron Saldern on the terms of peace, Henry suggested that a plan must be contrived which would detach Austria from Turkey, and by which the three powers would gain. “Very well,” replied the former, “provided that it is not at the expense of Poland;”—“as if,” said Henry afterwards, when he told the story, “there were any other country about which such plans could be formed.” Catharine, in one of the conferences in which she said to the Prince, “I will frighten Turkey and flatter England; it is your business to gain Austria, that she may lull France to sleep,” became so eager, that she dipped her finger into ink, and drew with it the lines of partition on a map of Poland which lay before them. “The Empress,” says Frederic, “indignant that any other troops than her own should give law to Poland, said to Prince Henry, that if the Court of Vienna wished to dismember Poland, the other neighbours had a right to do as much.”* Henry said that there were no other means of preventing a general war;—“Pour prévenir ce malheur il n’y a qu’un moyen,—de mettre trois têtes dans un bonnet; et cela ne peut pas se faire qu’aux depens d’un quart.” It is hard to settle the order and time of these fragments of conversation, which, in a more or less imperfect state, have found their way to the public. The probability seems to be, that Henry, who was not inferior in address, and who represented the weaker party, would avoid the first proposal in a case where, if it was rejected, the attempt might prove fatal to the objects of his mission. However that may be, it cannot be doubted that before he left Petersburg on the 30th of January, 1771, Catharine and he had agreed on the general outline to be proposed to his brother.
On his return to Berlin, he accordingly disclosed it to the King, who received it at first with displeasure, and even with indignation, as either an extravagant chimera, or a snare held out to him by his artful and dangerous ally. For twenty-four hours this anger lasted. It is natural to believe that a ray of conscience shot across so great a mind, during one honest day; or, if then too deeply tainted by habitual king-craft for sentiments worthy of his native superiority, that he shrunk for a moment from disgrace, and felt a transient, but bitter, foretaste of the lasting execration of mankind. On the next day, however, he embraced his brother, as if inspired, and declared that he was a second time the saviour of the monarchy.† He was still, however, not without apprehensions from the inconstant councils of a despotic government, influenced by so many various sorts of favourites, as that of Russia. Orlow, who still held the office of Catharine’s lover, was desirous of continuing the war. Panin desired peace, but opposed the Partition, which he probably considered as the division of a Russian province. But the great body of lovers and courtiers who had been enriched by grants of forfeited estates in Poland, were favourable to a project which would secure their former booty, and, by exciting civil war, lead to new and richer forfeitures. The Czernitcheffs were supposed not to confine their hopes to confiscation, but to aspire to a principality to be formed out of the ruins of the republic. It appears that Frederic, in his correspondence with Catharine, urged, perhaps sincerely, his apprehension of general censure: her reply was,—“I take all the blame upon myself.”*
The consent of the Court of Vienna, however, was still to be obtained; where the most formidable and insuperable obstacles were still to be expected in the French alliance, in resentment towards Prussia, and in the conscientious character of Maria Theresa. Prince Henry, on the day of his return to Berlin, in a conversation with Van Swieten the Austrian minister, assured him, on the part of Catharine, “that if Austria would favour her negotiations with Turkey, she would consent to a considerable augmentation of the Austrian territory.” On Van Swieten asking “where?” Henry replied, “You know as well as I do what your Court might take, and what it is in the power of Russia and Prussia to cede to her.” The cautious minister was silent; but it was impossible that he should either have mistaken the meaning of Henry, or have failed to impart such a declaration to his Court.† As soon as the Court of Petersburgh had vanquished the scruples or fears of Frederic, they required that he should sound that of Vienna, which he immediately did through Van Swieten.‡ The state of parties there was such, that Kaunitz thought it necessary to give an ambiguous answer. That celebrated coxcomb, who had grown old in the ceremonial of courts and the intrigues of cabinets, and of whom we are told that the death of his dearest friend never shortened his toilet nor retarded his dinner, still felt some regard to the treaty with France, which was his own work; and was divided between his habitual submission to the Empress Queen and the court which he paid to the young Emperor. It was a difficult task to minister to the ambition of Joseph, without alarming the conscience of Maria Theresa. That Princess had, since the death of her husband, “passed several hours of every day in a funeral apartment, adorned by crucifixes and death’s heads, and by a portrait of the late Emperor, painted when he had breathed his last, and by a picture of herself, as it was supposed she would appear, when the paleness and cold of death should take from her countenance the remains of that beauty which made her one of the finest women of her age.”* Had it been possible, in any case, to rely on the influence of the conscience of a sovereign over measures of state, it might be supposed that a princess, occupied in the practice of religious austerities, and in the exercise of domestic affections, advanced in years, loving peace, beloved by her subjects, respected in other countries, professing remorse for the bloodshed which her wars had occasioned, and with her children about to ascend the greatest thrones of Europe, would not have tarnished her name by cooperating with one monarch whom she detested, and another whom she scorned and disdained, in the most faithless and shameless measures which had ever dishonoured the Christian world. Unhappily, she was destined to be a signal example of the insecurity of such a reliance. But she could not instantly yield; and Kaunitz was obliged to temporize. On the one hand, he sent Prince Lobkowitz on an embassy to Petersburgh, where no minister of rank had of late represented Austria; while, on the other, he continued his negotiation for a defensive alliance with Turkey. After having first duly notified to Frederic that his Court disapproved the impracticable projects of Partition, and was ready to withdraw their troops from the district which they had occupied in virtue of an ancient claim,† he soon after proposed neutrality to him, in the event of a war between Austria and Russia. Fiederic answered, that he was bound by treaty to support Russia; but intimated that Russia might probably recede from her demand of Moldavia and Wallachia. Both parts of the answer seemed to have produced the expected effect on Kaunitz, who now saw his country placed between a formidable war and a profitable peace. Even then, probably, if he could have hoped for effectual aid from France, he might have chosen the road of honour. But the fall of the Duc de Choiseul, and the pusillanimous rather than pacific policy of his successors, destroyed all hope of French succour, and disposed Kaunitz to receive more favourably the advances of the Courts of Berlin and Petersburgh. He seems to have employed the time, from June to October, in surmounting the repugnance of his Court to the new system.
The first certain evidence of a favourable disposition at Vienna towards the plan of the two Powers, is in a despatch of Prince Galitzin at Vienna to Count Panin, on the 25th of October,* in which he gives an account of a conversation with Kaunitz on the day before. The manner of the Austrian minister was more gracious and cordial than formerly; and, after the usual discussions about the difficulties of the terms of peace, Galitzin at last asked him—“What equivalent do you propose for all that you refuse to allow us? It seems to me that there can be none.” Kaunitz, suddenly assuming an air of cheerfulness, pressed his hand, and said “Sir, since you point out the road, I will tell you,—but in such strict confidence, that it must be kept a profound secret at your Court; for if it were to transpire and be known even to the ally and friend of Russia, my Court would solemnly retract and disavow this communication.” He then proposed a moderate plan of peace, but added, that the Court of Vienna could not use its good offices to cause it to be adopted, unless the Court of Petersburgh would give the most positive assurances that she would not subject Poland to dismemberment for her own advantage, or for that of any other; provided always, that their Imperial Majesties were to retain the county of Zipps, but to evacuate every other part of the Polish territory which the Austrian troops might have occupied. Galitzin observed, that the occupation of Zipps had much the air of a dismemberment. This Kaunitz denied; but said, that his Court would co-operate with Russia in forcing the Poles to put an end to their dissensions. The former observed, that the plan of pacification showed the perfect disinterestedness of her Imperial Majesty towards Poland, and that no idea of dismemberment had ever entered into her mind, or into that of her ministers. “I am happy,” said Kaunitz, “to hear you say so.” Panin, in his answer, on the 16th of December,† to Galitzin, seems to have perfectly well understood the extraordinary artifice of the Austrian minister. “The Court of Vienna,” says he, “claims the thirteen towns, and disclaims dismemberment: but there is no state which does not keep claims open against its neighbours, and the right to enforce them when there is an opportunity; and there is none which does not feel the necessity of the balance of power to secure the possession of each. To be sincere, we must not conceal that Russia is also in a condition to produce well-grounded claims against Poland, and that we can with confidence say the same of our ally the King of Prussia; and if the Court of Vienna finds it expedient to enter into measures with us and our ally to compare and arrange our claims, we are ready to agree.” The fears of Kaunitz for the union of France and England were unhappily needless. These great Powers, alike deserters of the rights of nations, and betrayers of the liberties of Europe, saw the crime consummated without stretching forth an arm to prevent it.
In the midst of the conspiracy, a magnificent embassy from France arrived at Vienna early in January, 1772.* At the head of it was the Prince de Rohan, then appointed to grace the embassy by his high birth; while the business continued to be in the hands of M. Durand, a diplomatist of experience and ability. Contrary to all reasonable expectation, the young prince discovered the secret which had escaped the sagacity of the veteran minister. Durand, completely duped by Kaunitz, warned Rohan to hint no suspicions of Austria in his despatches to Versailles. About the end of February, Rohan received information of the treachery of the Austrian court so secretly,† that he was almost obliged to represent it as a discovery made by his own penetration. He complained to Kaunitz, that no assistance was given to the Polish confederates, who had at that moment brilliantly distinguished themselves by the capture of the Castle of Cracow. Kaunitz assured him, that “the Empress Queen never would suffer the balance of power to be disturbed by a dismemberment which would give too much preponderance to neighbouring and rival Courts.” The ambassador suspected the intentions that lurked beneath this equivocal and perfidious answer, and communicated them to his Court, in a despatch on the 2d of March, giving an account of the conference. But the Duc d’Aiguillon, either deceived, or unwilling to appear so, rebuked the Prince for his officiousness, observing, that “the ambassador’s conjectures being incompatible with the positive assurances of the Court of Vienna, constantly repeated by Count Mercy, the ambassador at Paris, and with the promises recently made to M. Durand, the thread which could only deceive must be quitted.” In a private letter to M. d’Aiguillon, to be shown only to the King, referring to a private audience with the Empress, he says:—“I have indeed seen Maria Theresa weep over the misfortunes of oppressed Poland; but that Princess, practised in the art of concealing her designs, has tears at command. With one hand she lifts her handkerchief to her eyes to wipe away tears; with the other she wields the sword for the Partition of Poland.”‡
In February and March, 1772, the three Powers exchanged declarations, binding themselves to adhere to the principle of equality in the Partition. In August following, the treaties of dismemberment were executed at Petersburgh; and in September, the demands and determinations of the combined Courts were made known at Warsaw. It is needless to characterize papers which have been universally regarded as carried to the extremity of human injustice and effrontery. An undisputed possession of centuries, a succession of treaties, to which all the European states were either parties or guarantees,—nay, the recent, solemn, and repeated engagements of the three Governments themselves, were considered as forming no title of dominion. In answer, the Empress Queen and the King of Prussia appealed to some pretensions of their predecessors in the thirteenth century: the Empress of Russia alleged only the evils suffered by neighbouring states from the anarchy of Poland.* The remonstrances of the Polish Government, and their appeals to all those states who were bound to protect them as guarantees of the Treaty of Olivia, were equally vain. When the Austrian ambassador announced the Partition at Versailles, the old King said, “If the other man (Choiseul) had been here, this would not have happened.”† But in truth, both France and Great Britain had, at that time, lost all influence in the affairs of Europe:—France, from the imbecility of her Government, and partly, in the case of Poland, from reliance on the Court of Vienna; Great Britain, in consequence of her own treachery to Prussia, but in a still greater degree from the unpopularity of her Government at home, and the approaches of a revolt in the noblest part of her colonies. Had there been a spark of spirit, or a ray of wise policy in the councils of England and France, they would have been immediately followed by all the secondary powers whose very existence depended on the general reverence for justice.
The Poles made a gallant stand. The Government was compelled to call a Diet; and the three Powers insisted on its unanimity in the most trivial act. In spite, however, of every species of corruption and violence, the Diet, surrounded as it was by foreign bayonets, gave powers to deputies to negotiate with the three Powers, by a majority of only one; and it was not till September, 1773, that it was compelled to cede, by a pretended treaty, some of her finest provinces, with nearly five millions of her population. The conspirators were resolved to deprive the remains of the Polish nation of all hope of re-establishing a vigorous government, or attaining domestic tranquillity; and the Liberum Veto, the elective monarchy, and all the other institutions which tended to perpetuate disorder, were again imposed.
Maria Theresa had the merit of confessing her fault. On the 19th of February, 1775, when M. de Breteuil, the ambassador of Louis XVI., had his first audience, after some embarrassed remarks on the subject of Poland, she at length exclaimed, in a tone of sorrow, “I know, Sir, that I have brought a deep stain on my reign, by what has been done in Poland; but I am sure that I should be forgiven, if it could be known what repugnance I had to it, and how many circumstances combined against my principles.”* The guilt of the three parties to the Partition was very unequal. Frederic, the weakest, had most to apprehend, both from a rupture with his ally, and from the accidents of a general war; while, on the other hand, some enlargement seemed requisite to the defence of his dominions. The House of Austria entered late and reluctantly into the conspiracy, which she probably might have escaped, if France had been under a more vigorous Government. Catharine was the great criminal. She had for eight years oppressed, betrayed, and ravaged Poland,—had imposed on her King,—had prevented all reformation of the government,—had fomented divisions among the nobility,—in a word, had created and maintained that anarchy, which she at length used as a pretence for the dismemberment. Her vast empire needed no accession of territory for defence, or, it might have been hoped, even for ambition. Yet, by her insatiable avidity, was occasioned the pretended necessity for the Partition. To prevent her from acquiring the Crimea, Moldavia, and Wallachia, the Courts of Vienna and Berlin agreed to allow her to commit an equivalent robbery on Poland. Whoever first proposed it, Catharine was the real cause and author of the whole monstrous transaction; and, should any historian,—dazzled by the splendour of her reign, or more excusably seduced by her genius, her love of letters, her efforts in legislation, and her real services to her subjects,—labour to palliate this great offence, he will only share her infamy in the vain attempt to extenuate her guilt.
The defects of the Polish government probably contributed to the loss of independence most directly by their influence on the military system. The body of the gentry retaining the power of the sword, as well as the authority of the state in their own hands, were too jealous of the Crown to strengthen the regular army; though even that body was more in the power of the great officers named by the Diet, than in that of the King. They continued to serve on horseback as in ancient times, and to regard the Pospolite, or general armament of the gentry, as the impenetrable bulwark of the commonwealth. Nor, indeed, unless they had armed their slaves, would it have been possible to have established a formidable native infantry. Their armed force was adequate to the short irruptions or sudden enterprises of ancient war; but a body of noble cavalry was altogether incapable of the discipline, which is of the essence of modern armies; and their military system was irreconcilable with the acquisition of the science of war. In war alone, the Polish nobility were barbarians; while war was the only part of civilization which the Russians had obtained. In one country, the sovereign nobility of half a million durst neither arm their slaves, nor trust a mercenary army: in the other, the Czar naturally employed a standing army, recruited, without fear, from the enslaved peasantry. To these military conscription was a reward, and the station of a private soldier a preferment; and they were fitted by their previous condition to be rendered, by military discipline, the most patient and obedient of soldiers,—without enterprise, but without fear, and equally inaccessible to discontent and attachment, passive and almost insensible members of the great military machine. There are many circumstances in the institutions and destiny of a people, which seem to arise from original peculiarities of national character, of which it is often impossible to explain the origin, or even to show the nature. Denmark and Sweden are countries situated in the same region of the globe, inhabited by nations of the same descent, language, and religion, and very similar in their manners, their ancient institutions, and modern civilization: yet he would be a bold speculator who should attempt to account for the talent, fame, turbulence, and revolutions of the former; and for the quiet prosperity and obscure mediocrity, which have formed the character of the latter.
There is no political doctrine more false or more pernicious than that which represents vices in its internal government as an extenuation of unjust aggression against a country, and a consolation to mankind for the destruction of its independence. As no government is without great faults, such a doctrine multiplies the grounds of war, gives an unbounded scope to ambition, and furnishes benevolent pretexts for every sort of rapine. However bad the government of Poland may have been, its bad qualities do not in the least degree abate the evil consequence of the Partition, in weakening, by its example, the security of all other nations. An act of robbery on the hoards of a worthless miser, though they be bestowed on the needy and the deserving, does not the less shake the common basis of property. The greater number of nations live under governments which are indisputably bad; but it is a less evil that they should continue in that state, than that they should be gathered under a single conqueror, even with a chance of improvement in their internal administration. Conquest and extensive empire are among the greatest evils, and the division of mankind into independent communities is among the greatest advantages, which fall to the lot of men. The multiplication of such communities increases the reciprocal control of opinion, strengthens the principles of generous rivalship, makes every man love his own ancient and separate country with a warmer affection, brings nearer to all mankind the objects of noble ambition, and adds to the incentives to which we owe works of genius and acts of virtue. There are some peculiarities in the condition of every civilized country which are peculiarly favourable to some talents or good qualities. To destroy the independence of a people, is to annihilate a great assemblage of intellectual and moral qualities, forming the character of a nation, and distinguishing it from other communities, which no human skill can bring together. As long as national spirit exists, there is always reason to hope that it will work real reformation: when it is destroyed, though better forms may be imposed by a conqueror, there is no farther hope of those only valuable reformations which represent the sentiments, and issue from the heart of a people. The barons at Runnymede continued to be the masters of slaves; but the noble principles of the charter shortly began to release these slaves from bondage. Those who conquered at Marathon and Platæa were the masters of slaves; yet, by the defeat of Eastern tyrants, they preserved knowledge, liberty, and civilization itself, and contributed to that progress of the human mind which will one day banish slavery from the world. Had the people of Scotland been conquered by Edward II. or by Henry VIII., a common observer would have seen nothing in the event but that a race of turbulent barbarians was reduced to subjection by a more civilized state.
After this first Partition was completed in 1776, Poland was suffered for sixteen years to enjoy an interval of more undisturbed tranquillity than it had known for a century. Russian armies ceased to vex it: the dispositions of other foreign powers became more favourable. Frederic II. now entered on that honourable portion of his reign, in which he made a just war for the defence of the integrity of Bavaria, and of the independence of Germany. Still attempts were not wanting to seduce him into new enterprises against Poland. When, in the year 1782, reports were current that Potemkin was to be made King of Poland, that haughty and profligate barbarian told the Count de Goertz, then Prussian ambassador at Petersburgh, that he despised the Polish nation too much to be ambitious of reigning over them.* He desired the ambassador to communicate to his master a plan for a new Partition, observing “that the first was only child’s play, and that if they had taken all, the outcry would not have been greater.” Every man who feels for the dignity of human nature, will rejoice that the illustrious monarch firmly rejected the proposal. Potemkin read over his refusal three times before he could believe his eyes, and at length exclaimed, in language very common among certain politicians, “I never could have believed that King Frederic was capable of romantic deas.”† As soon as Frederic returned to counsels worthy of himself, he became unfit for the purposes of the Empress, who, in 1780, refused to renew her alliance with him, and found more suitable instruments in the restless character, and shallow understanding, of Joseph II., whose unprincipled ambition was now released from the restraint which his mother’s scruples had imposed on it. The project of re-establishing an Eastern empire now occupied the Court of Petersburgh, and a portion of the spoils of Turkey was a sufficient lure to Joseph. The state of Europe tended daily more and more to restore some degree of independence to the remains of Poland. Though France, her most ancient and constant ally, was then absorbed in the approach of those tremendous convulsions which have for more than thirty years agitated Europe, other Powers now adopted a policy, the influence of which was favourable to the Poles. Prussia, as she receded from Russia, became gradually connected with England, Holland, and Sweden; and her honest policy in the case of Bavaria placed her at the head of all the independent members of the Germanic Confederacy. Turkey declared war against Russia. The Austrian Government was disturbed by the discontent and revolts which the precipitate innovations of Joseph had excited in various provinces of the monarchy. A formidable combination against the power of Russia was in time formed. In the treaty between Prussia and the Porte, concluded at Constantinople in January, 1790, the contracting parties bound themselves to endeavour to obtain from Austria the restitution of those Polish provinces, to which she had given the name of Galicia.*
During the progress of these auspicious changes, the Poles began to entertain the hope that they might at length be suffered to reform their institutions, to provide for their own quiet and safety, and to adopt that policy which might one day enable them to resume their ancient station among European nations. From 1778 to 1788, no great measures had been adopted, but no tumults disturbed the country; while reasonable opinions made some progress, and a national spirit was slowly reviving. The nobility patiently listened to plans for the establishment of a productive revenue and a regular army; a disposition to renounce their dangerous right of electing a king made perceptible advances; and the fatal law of unanimity had been so branded as an instrument of Russian policy, that in the Diets of these ten years, no nuncio was found bold enough to employ his negative. At the breaking out of the Turkish war, the Poles ventured to refuse not only an alliance offered by Catharine, but even permission to her to raise a body of cavalry in the territories of the republic.†
In the midst of these excellent symptoms of public sense and temper, a Diet assembled at Warsaw in October, 1788, from whom the restoration of the republic was hoped, and by whom it would have been accomplished, if their prudent and honest measures had not been defeated by one of the blackest acts of treachery recorded in the annals of mankind. Perhaps the four years which followed present more signal examples than any other part of history,—of patience, moderation, wisdom, and integrity, in a popular assembly,—of spirit and unanimity among a turbulent people,—of inveterate malignity in an old oppressor,—and of the most execrable perfidy in a pretended friend. The Diet applied itself with the utmost diligence and caution to reform the state, watching the progress of popular opinion, and proposing no reformation till the public seemed ripe for its reception. While the spirit of the French Revolution was every where prevalent, these reformers had the courageous prudence to avoid whatever was visionary in its principles, or violent in their execution. They refused the powerful but perilous aid of the enthusiasm which it excited long before its excesses and atrocities had rendered it odious. They were content to be reproached by their friends for the slowness of their reformatory measures; and to be despised for the limited extent of these by many of those generous minds who then aspired to bestow a new and more perfect liberty on mankind. After having taken measures for the re-establishment of the finances and the army, they employed the greater part of the year 1789 in the discussion of constitutional reforms.* A committee appointed in September, before the conclusion of the year, made a report which contained an outline of the most necessary alterations. No immediate decision was made on these propositions; but the sense of the Diet was, in the course of repeated discussions, more decisively manifested. It was resolved, without a division, that the Elector of Saxony should be named successor to the crown; which determination,—the prelude to the establishment of hereditary monarchy,—was confirmed by the Dietines, or electoral assemblies. The elective franchise, formerly exercised by all the nobility, was limited to landed proprietors. Many other fundamental principles of a new constitution were perfectly understood to be generally approved, though they were not formally established. In the mean time, as the Diets were biennial, the assembly approached to the close of its legal duration; and as it was deemed dangerous to intrust the work of reformation to an entirely new one, and equally so to establish the precedent of an existence prolonged beyond the legal period, an expedient was accordingly adopted, not indeed sanctioned by law, but founded in constitutional principles, the success of which afforded a signal proof of the unanimity of the Polish nation. New writs were issued to all the Dietines requiring them to choose the same number of nuncios as usual. These elections proceeded regularly; and the newmembers being received by the old, formed with them a double Diet. Almost all the Dietines instructed their new representatives to vote for hereditary monarchy, and declared their approbation of the past conduct of the Diet.
On the 16th of December, 1790, this double Diet assembled with a more direct, deliberate, formal, and complete authority, from the great majority of the freemen, to reform the abuses of the government, than perhaps any other representative assembly in Europe ever possessed. They declared the pretended guarantee of Russia in 1776 to be “null, an invasion of national independence, incompatible with the natural rights of every civilized society, and with the political privileges of every free nation.”* They felt the necessity of incorporating, in one law, all the reforms which had passed, and all those which had received the unequivocal sanction of public approbation. The state of foreign affairs, as well as the general voice at home, loudly called for the immediate adoption of such a measure; and the new Constitution was presented to the Diet on the 3d of May following,† after being read and received the night before with unanimous and enthusiastic applause by far the greater part of the members of both Houses, at the palace of Prince Radzivil. Only twelve dissentient voices opposed it in the Diet. Never were debates and votes more free: these men, the most hateful of apostates, were neither attacked, nor threatened, nor insulted. The people, on this great and sacred occasion, seemed to have lost all the levity and turbulence of their character, and to have already learnt those virtues which are usually the slow fruit of that liberty which they were then only about to plant.
This constitution confirmed the rights of the Established Church, together with religious liberty, as dictated by the charity which religion inculcates and inspires. It established an hereditary monarchy in the Electoral House of Saxony; reserving to the nation the right of choosing a new race of Kings, in case of the extinction of that family. The executive power was vested in the King, whose ministers were responsible for its exercise. The Legislature was divided into two Houses,—the Senate and the House of Nuncios, with respect to whom the ancient constitutional language and forms were preserved. The necessity of unanimity was taken away, and, with it, those dangerous remedies of confederation and confederate Diets which it had rendered necessary. Each considerable town received new rights, with a restoration of all their ancient privileges. The burgesses recovered the right of electing their own magistrates. All their property within their towns were declared to be inheritable and inviolable. They were empowered to acquire land in Poland, as they always had done in Lithuania. All the offices of the state, the law, the church, and the army, were thrown open to them. The larger towns were empowered to send deputies to the Diet, with a right to vote on all local and commercial subjects, and to speak on all questions whatsoever. All these deputies became noble, as did every officer of the rank of captain, and every lawyer who filled the humblest office of magistracy, and every burgess who acquired a property in land, paying 5l. of yearly taxes. Two hundred burgesses were ennobled at the moment, and a provision was made for ennobling thirty at every future Diet. Industry was perfectly unfettered. Immunity from arrest till after conviction was extended to the burgesses;—the extension of which most inconvenient privilege was well adapted to raise traders to a level with the gentry. The same object was promoted by a provision, that no nobleman, by becoming a merchant, a shopkeeper, or artisan, should forfeit his privileges, or be deemed to derogate from his rank. Numerous paths to nobility were thus thrown open; and every art was employed to make the ascent easy. The wisdom and liberality of the Polish gentry, if they had not been defeated by flagitious enemies, would, by a single act of legislation, have accomplished that fusion of the various orders of society, which it has required the most propitious circumstances, in a long course of ages, to effect, in the freest and most happy of the European nations. Having thus communicated political privileges to hitherto disregarded freemen, the new constitution extended to all serfs the full protection of law, which before was enjoyed only by those of the royal demesnes; while it facilitated and encouraged voluntary manumission, by ratifying all contracts relating to it,—the first step to be taken in every country towards the accomplishment of the highest of all the objects of human legislation.
The course of this glorious revolution was not dishonoured by popular tumult, by sanguinary excesses, or by political executions. So far did the excellent Diet carry its wise regard to the sacredness of property, that, though it was in urgent need of financial resources, it postponed, till after the death of present incumbents, the application to the relief of the state of the income of those ecclesiastical offices which were no longer deemed necessary. History will one day do justice to that illustrious body, and hold out to posterity their work, as the perfect model of a most arduous reformation.
The storm which demolished this noble edifice came from abroad. On the 29th of March, of the preceding year, a treaty of alliance had been concluded at Warsaw between the King of Prussia and the Republic, containing, among others, the following stipulation:—“If any foreign Power, in virtue of any preceding acts and stipulations whatsoever, should claim the right of interfering in the internal affairs of the republic of Poland, at what time or in what manner soever, his Majesty the King of Prussia will first employ his good offices to prevent hostilities in consequence of such pretension; but, if his good offices should be ineffectual, and that hostilities against Poland should ensue, his Majesty the King of Prussia, considering such an event as a case provided for in this treaty, will assist the republic according to the tenor of the fourth article of the present treaty.”* The aid here referred to was, on the part of Prussia, twenty-two thousand or thirty thousand men, or, in case of necessity, all its disposable force. The undisputed purpose of the article had been to guard Poland against an interference in her affairs by Russia, under pretence of the guarantee of the Polish constitution in 1775.
Though the King of Prussia had, after the conclusion of the treaty, urgently pressed the Diet for the cession of the cities of Dantzick and Thorn, his claim had been afterwards withdrawn and disavowed. On the 13th of May, in the present year, Goltz, then Prussian Chargé d’Affaires at Warsaw, in a conference with the Deputation of the Diet for Foreign Affairs, said, “that he had received orders from his Prussian Majesty to express to them his satisfaction at the happy revolution which had at length given to Poland a wise and regular constitution.”† On the 23d of May, in his answer to the letter of Stanislaus, announcing the adoption of the constitution, the same Prince, after applauding the establishment of hereditary monarchy in the House of Saxony, (which, it must be particularly borne in mind, was a positive breach of the constitution guaranteed by Russia in 1775,) proceeds to say, “I congratulate myself on having contributed to the liberty and independence of Poland; and my most agreeable care will be, to preserve and strengthen the ties which unite us.” On the 21st of June, the Prussian minister, on occasion of alarm expressed by the Poles that the peace with Turkey might prove dangerous to them, declares, that if such dangers were to arise, “the king of Prussia, faithful to all his obligations, will have it particularly at heart to fulfil those which were last year contracted by him.” If there was any reliance in the faith of treaties, or on the honour of kings, Poland might have confidently hoped, that, if she was attacked by Russia, in virtue of the guarantee of 1775, her independence and her constitution would be defended by the whole force of the Prussian monarchy.
The remaining part of the year 1791 passed in quiet, but not without apprehension. On the 9th of January, 1792, Catharine concluded a peace with Turkey at Jassy; and being thus delivered from all foreign enemies, began once more to manifest intentions of interfering in the affairs of Poland. Emboldened by the removal of Herztberg from the councils of Prussia, and by the death of the Emperor Leopold, a prince of experience and prudence, she resolved to avail herself of the disposition then arising in all European Governments, to sacrifice every other object to a preparation for a contest with the principles of the French Revolution. A small number of Polish nobles furnished her with that very slender pretext, with which she was always content. Their chiefs were Rzewuski, who, in 1768, had been exiled to Siberia, and Felix Potocki, a member of a potent and illustrious family, which was inviolably attached to the cause of the republic. These unnatural apostates deserting their long-suffering country at the moment when, for the first time, hope dawned on her, were received by Catharine with the honours due from her to aggravated treason in the persons of the Confederates of Targowitz. On the 18th of May the Russian minister at Warsaw declared, that the Empress, “called on by many distinguished Poles who had confederated against the pretended constitution of 1791, would, in virtue of her guarantee, march an army into Poland to restore the liberties of the republic.” The hope, meantime, of help from Prussia was speedily and cruelly deceived. Lucchesini, the Prussian minister at Warsaw, in an evasive answer to a communication made to him respecting the preparations for defence against Russia, said coldly, “that his master received the communication as a proof of the esteem of the King and Republic of Poland; but that he could take no cognisance of the affairs which occupied the Diet.” On Stanislaus himself claiming his aid, Frederic on the 8th of June answered:—“In considering the new constitution which the republic adopted, without my knowledge and without my concurrence, I never thought of supporting or protecting it.” So signal a breach of faith is not to be found in the modern history of great states. It resembles rather the vulgar frauds and low artifices, which, under the name of “reason of state,” made up the policy of the petty tyrants of Italy in the fourteenth century.
Assured of the connivance of Prussia, Catharine now poured an immense army into Poland, along the whole line of frontier, from the Baltic to the neighbourhood of the Euxine. But the spirit of the Polish nation was unbroken. A series of brilliant actions occupied the summer of 1792, in which the Polish army, under Poniatowski and Kosciusko, alternately victorious and vanquished, gave equal proofs of unavailing gallantry.
Meantime Stanislaus, who had remained in his capital, willing to be duped by the Russian and Prussian ambassadors, whom he still suffered to continue there, made a vain attempt to disarm the anger of the Empress, by proposing that her grandson Constantine should be the stock of the new constitutional dynasty; to which she haughtily replied, that he must re-establish the old constitution, and accede to the Confederation of Targowitz;—“perhaps,” says M. Ferrand, “because a throne acquired without guilt or perfidy might have few attractions for her.”* Having on the 4th of July published a proclamation, declaring “that he would not survive his country,” on the 22d of the same month, as soon as he received the commands of Catharine, this dastard prince declared his accession to the Confederation of Targowitz, and thus threw the legal authority of the republic into the hands of that band of conspirators. The gallant army, over whom the Diet had intrusted their unworthy King with absolute authority, were now compelled, by his treacherous orders, to lay down their arms amidst the tears of their countrymen, and the insolent exultation of their barbarous enemies.† The traitors of Targowitz were, for a moment, permitted by Russia to rule over the country which they had betrayed, to prosecute the persons and lay waste the property of all good citizens, and to re-establish every ancient abuse.
Such was the unhappy state of Poland during the remainder of the year 1792, a period which will be always memorable for the invasion of France by a German army, their ignominious retreat, the eruption of the French forces into Germany and Flanders, the dreadful scenes which passed in the interior of France, and the apprehension professed by all Governments of the progress of the opinions to which these events were ascribed. The Empress of Russia, among the rest, professed the utmost abhorrence of the French Revolution, made war against it by the most vehement manifestoes, stimulated every other power to resist it, but never contributed a battalion or a ship to the confederacy against it. Frederic-William also plunged headlong into the coalition against the advice of his wisest counsellors.‡ At the moment of the Duke of Brunswick’s entry into France, in July,—if we may believe M. Ferrand, himself a zealous royalist, who had evidently more than ordinary means of information,—the ministers of the principal European powers met at Luxemburg, provided with various projects for new arrangements of territory, in the event which they thought inevitable, of the success of the invasion. The Austrian ministers betrayed the intention of their Court, to renew its attempt to compel the Elector of Bavaria to exchange his dominions for the Low Counties; which, by the dissolution of their treaties with France, they deemed themselves entitled again to propose. The King of Prussia, on this alarming disclosure, showed symptoms of an inclination to abandon an enterprise, which many other circumstances combined to prove was impracticable, at least with the number of troops with which he had presumptuously undertaken it. These dangerous projects of the Court of Vienna made him also feel the necessity of a closer connection with Russia; and in an interview with the Austrian and Russian ministers at Verdun, he gave them to understand, that Prussia could not continue the war without being assured of an indemnity. Russia eagerly adopted a suggestion which engaged Prussia more completely in her Polish schemes; and Austria willingly listened to a proposal which would furnish a precedent and a justification for similar enlargements of her own dominions: while both the Imperial Courts declared, that they would acquiesce in the occupation of another portion of Poland by the Prussian armies.*
Whether in consequence of the supposed agreement at Verdun or not, the fact at least is certain, that Frederic-William returned from his French disgraces to seek consolation in the plunder of Poland. Nothing is more characteristic of a monarch without ability, without knowledge, without resolution, whose life had been divided between gross libertinism and abject superstition, than that, after flying before the armies of a powerful nation, he should instantly proceed to attack an oppressed, and, as he thought, defenceless people. In January, 1793, he entered Poland; and, while Russia was charging the Poles with the extreme of royalism, he chose the very opposite pretext, that they propagated anarchical principles, and had established Jacobin clubs. Even the criminal Confederates of Targowitz were indignant at these falsehoods, and remonstrated, at Berlin and Petersburgh, against the entry of the Prussian troops. But the complaints of such apostates against the natural results of their own crimes were heard with contempt. The Empress of Russia, in a Declaration of the 9th of April, informed the world that, acting in concert with Prussia, and with the consent of Austria, the only means of controlling the Jacobinism of Poland was “by confining it within more narrow limits, and by giving it proportions which better suited an intermediate power.” The King of Prussia, accordingly, seized Great Poland; and the Russian army occupied all the other provinces of the republic. It was easy, therefore, for Catharine to determine the extent of her new robbery.
In order, however, to give it some shadow of legality, the King was compelled to call a Diet, from which every one was excluded who was not a partisan of Russia, and an accomplice of the Confederates of Targowitz. The unhappy assembly met at Grodno in June; and, in spite of its bad composition, showed still many sparks of Polish spirit. Sievers, the Russian ambassador, a man apparently worthy of his mission, had recourse to threats, insults, brutal violence, military imprisonment, arbitrary exile, and every other species of outrage and intimidation which, for near thirty years, had constituted the whole system of Russia towards the Polish legislature. In one note, he tells them that, unless they proceed more rapidly, “he shall be under the painful necessity of removing all incendiaries, disturbers of the public peace, and partisans of the 3d of May, from the Diet.”* In another, he apprises them, that he must consider any longer delay “as a declaration of hostility; in which case, the lands, possessions, and dwellings of the malcontent members, must be subject to military execution.” “If the King adheres to the Opposition, the military execution must extend to his demesnes, the pay of the Russian troops will be stopped, and they will live at the expense of the unhappy peasants.”† Grodno was surrounded by Russian troops; loaded cannon were pointed at the palace of the King and the hall of the Diet; four nuncios were carried away prisoners by violence in the night; and all the members were threatened with Siberia. In these circumstances, the captive Diet was compelled, in July and September, to sign two treaties with Russia and Prussia, stipulating such cessions as the plunderers were pleased to dictate, and containing a repetition of the same insulting mockery which had closed every former act of rapine,—a guarantee of the remaining possessions of the republic.‡ It had the consolation of being allowed to perform one act of justice,—that of depriving the leaders of the Confederation of Targowitz, Felix Potocki, Rzewuski, and Braneki, of the great offices which they dishonoured. It may hereafter be discovered, whether it be actually true that Alsace and Lorraine were to have been the compensation to Austria for forbearing to claim her share of the spoils of Poland at this period of the second Partition. It is already well known that the allied army refused to receive the surrender of Strasburgh in the name of Louis XVII., and that Valenciennes and Condé were taken in the name of Austria.
In the beginning of 1794, a young officer named Madalinski, who had kept together, at the disbanding of the army, eighty gentlemen, gradually increased his adherents, till they amounted to a force of about four thousand men, and began to harass the Russian posts. The people of Cracow expelled the Russian garrison; and, on the night of the 28th of March, the heroic Kosciusko, at the head of a small body of adherents, entered that city, and undertook its government and defence. Endowed with civil as well as military talents, he established order among the insurgents, and caused the legitimate constitution to be solemnly proclaimed in the cathedral, where it was once more hailed with genuine enthusiasm. He proclaimed a national confederation, and sent copies of his manifesto to Petersburgh, Berlin, and Vienna; treating the two first courts with deserved severity, but speaking amicably of the third, whose territory he enjoined his army to respect. These marks of friendship, the Austrian resident at Warsaw publicly disclaimed, imputing to Kosciusko and his friends “the monstrous principles of the French Convention;”—a language which plainly showed that the Court of Vienna, which had only consented to the last Partition, was willing to share in the next. Kosciusko was daily reinforced; and on the 17th of April rose on the Russian garrison of Warsaw, and compelled Igelstrom the commander, after an obstinate resistance of thirty-six hours, to evacuate the city with a loss of two thousand men wounded. The citizens of the capital, the whole body of a proud nobility, and all the friends of their country throughout Poland, submitted to the temporary dictatorship of Kosciusko, a private gentleman only recently known to the public, and without any influence but the reputation of his virtue. Order and tranquillity generally prevailed; some of the burghers, perhaps excited by the agents of Russia, complained to Kosciusko of the inadequacy of their privileges. But this excellent chief, instead of courting popularity, repressed an attempt which might lead to dangerous divisions. Soon after, more criminal excesses for the first time dishonoured the Polish revolution, but served to shed a brighter lustre on the humanity and intrepidity of Kosciusko. The papers of the Russian embassy laid open proofs of the venality of many of the Poles who had betrayed their country. The populace of Warsaw, impatient of the slow forms of law, apprehensive of the lenient spirit which prevailed among the revolutionary leaders, and instigated by the incendiaries, who are always ready to flatter the passions of a multitude, put to death eight of these persons, and, by their clamours, extorted from the tribunal a precipitate trial and execution of a somewhat smaller number. Kosciusko did not content himself with reprobating these atrocities. Though surrounded by danger, attacked by the most formidable enemies, betrayed by his own Government, and abandoned by all Europe, he flew from his camp to the capital, brought the ringleaders of the massacre to justice, and caused them to be immediately executed. We learn, from very respectable authority, that during all the perils of his short administration, he persuaded the nobility to take measures for a more rapid enfranchisement of the peasantry, than the cautious policy of the Diet had hazarded.*
Harassed by the advance of Austrian, Prussian, and Russian armies, Kosciusko concentrated the greater part of his army around Warsaw, against which Frederic-William advanced at the head of forty thousand disciplined troops. With an irregular force of twelve thousand he made an obstinate resistance for several hours on the 8th of June, and retired to his entrenched camp before the city. The Prussians having taken possession of Cracow, summoned the capital to surrender, under pain of all the horrors of an assault. After two months employed in vain attempts to reduce it, the King of Prussia was compelled, by an insurrection in his lately acquired Polish province, to retire with precipitation and disgrace. But in the mean time, the Russians were advancing, in spite of the gallant resistance of General Count Joseph Sierakowski, one of the most faithful friends of his country; and on the 4th of October, Kosciusko, with only eighteen thousand men, thought it necessary to hazard a battle at Macciowice, to prevent the junction of the two Russian divisions of Suwarrow and Fersen. Success was long and valiantly contested. According to some narrations, the enthusiasm of the Poles would have prevailed, but for the treachery or incapacity of Count Poninski.† Kosciusko, after the most admirable exertions of judgment and courage, fell, covered with wounds; and the Polish army fled. The Russians and Cossacks were melted at the sight of their gallant enemy, who lay insensible on the field. When he opened his eyes, and learnt the full extent of the disaster, he vainly implored the enemy to put an end to his sufferings. The Russian officers, moved with admiration and compassion, treated him with tenderness, and sent him, with due respect, a prisoner of war to Petersburgh, where Catharine threw him into a dungeon; from which he was released by Paul on his succession, perhaps partly from hatred to his mother, and partly from one of those paroxysms of transient generosity, of which that brutal lunatic was not incapable.
From that moment the farther defence of Poland became hopeless. Suwarrow advanced to the capital, and stimulated his army to the assault of the great suburb of Praga, by the barbarous promise of a license to pillage for forty-eight hours. A dreadful contest ensued on the 4th of November, in which the inhabitants performed prodigies of useless valour, making a stand in every street, and almost at every house. All the horrors of war, which the most civilized armies practised on such occasions, were here seen with tenfold violence. No age or sex, or condition, was spared; the murder of children forming a sort of barbarous sport for the assailants. The most unspeakable outrages were offered to the living and the dead. The mere infliction of death was an act of mercy. The streets streamed with blood. Eighteen thousand human carcasses were carried away after the massacre had ceased. Many were burnt to death in the flames which consumed the town. Multitudes were driven by the bayonet into the Vistula. A great body of fugitives perished by the fall of the great bridge over which they fled. These tremendous scenes closed the resistance of Poland, and completed the triumph of her oppressors. The Russian army entered Warsaw on the 9th of November, 1794. Stanislaus was suffered to amuse himself with the formalities of royalty for some months longer, till, in obedience to the order of Catharine, he abdicated on the 25th of November, 1795,—a day which, being the anniversary of his coronation, seemed to be chosen to complete his humiliation. Quarrels about the division of the booty retarded the complete execution of the formal and final Partition, till the beginning of the next year.
Thus fell the Polish people, after a wise and virtuous attempt to establish liberty, and a heroic struggle to defend it, by the flagitious wickedness of Russia, by the foul treachery of Prussia, by the unprincipled accession of Austria, and by the short-sighted, as well as mean-spirited, acquiescence of all the other nations of Europe. Till the first Partition, the right of every people to its own soil had been universally regarded as the guardian principle of European independence. But in the case of Poland, a nation was robbed of its ancient territory without the pretence of any wrong which could justify war, and without even those forms of war which could bestow on the acquisition the name of conquest. It is a cruel and bitter aggravation of this calamity, that the crime was perpetrated, under the pretence of the wise and just principle of maintaining the balance of power;—as if that principle had any value but its tendency to prevent such crimes;—as if an equal division of the booty bore any resemblance to a joint exertion to prevent the robbery. In the case of private highwaymen and pirates, a fair division of the booty tends, no doubt, to the harmony of the gang and the safety of its members, but renders them more formidable to the honest and peaceable part of mankind.*
For about eleven years the name of Poland was erased from the map of Europe. By the Treaty of Tilsit, in 1807, the Prussian part of that unfortunate country was restored to as much independence as could then be enjoyed, under the name of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw; and this revived state received a considerable enlargement in 1809, by the treaty of Shoenbrunn, at the expense of Austria.
When Napoleon opened the decisive campaign of 1812, in what he called in his proclamations “the Second Polish War,” he published a Declaration, addressed to the Poles, in which he announced that Poland would be greater than she had been under Stanislaus, and that the Archduke, who then governed Wurtsburg, was to be their sovereign; and when on the 12th of July in that year, Wybicki, at the head of a deputation of the Diet, told him, at Wilna, with truth, “The interest of your empire requires the re-establishment of Poland; the honour of France is interested in it,”—he replied, “that he had done all that duty to his subjects allowed him to restore their country; that he would second their exertions; and that he authorized them to take up arms, every where but in the Austrian provinces, of which he had guaranteed the integrity, and which he should not suffer to be disturbed.” In his answer,—too cold and guarded to inspire enthusiasm,—he promised even less than he had acquired the the power of performing; for, by the secret articles of his treaty with Austria, concluded in March, provision had been made for an exchange of the Illyrian provinces (which he had retained at his own disposal) for such a part of Austrian Poland as would be equivalent to them.* What his real designs respecting Poland were, it is not easy to conjecture. That he was desirous of re-establishing its independence, and that he looked forward to such an event as the result of his success, cannot be doubted. But he had probably grown too much of a politician and an emperor, to trust, or to love that national feeling and popular enthusiasm to which he had owed the splendid victories of his youth. He was now rather willing to owe every thing to his policy and his army. Had he thrown away the scabbard in this just cause,—had he solemnly pledged himself to the restoration of Poland,—had he obtained the exchange of Galicia for Dalmatia, instead of secretly providing for it,—had he considered Polish independence, not merely as the consequence of victory, but as one of the most powerful means of securing it,—had he, in short, retained some part of his early faith in the attachment of nations, instead of relying exclusively on the mechanism of armies, perhaps the success of that memorable campaign might have been more equally balanced. Seventy thousand Poles were then fighting under his banners.† Forty thousand are supposed to have fallen in the French armies from the destruction of Poland to the battle of Waterloo.* There are few instances of the affection of men for their country more touching than that of these gallant Poles, who, in voluntary exile, amidst every privation, without the hope of fame, and when all the world had become their enemies, daily sacrificed themselves in the battles of a foreign nation, in the faint hope of its one day delivering their own from bondage. Kosciusko had originally encouraged his countrymen to devote themselves to this chance; but when he was himself offered a command in 1807, this perfect hero refused to quit his humble retreat, unless Napoleon would pledge himself for the restoration of Poland.
When Alexander entered France in 1814, as the avowed patron of liberal institutions, Kosciusko addressed a letter to him,† in which he makes three requests,—that the Emperor would grant an universal amnesty, a free constitution, resembling, as nearly as possible, that of England, with means of general education, and, after the expiration of ten years, an emancipation of the peasants. It is but justice to Alexander to add, that when Kosciusko died, in 1817, after a public and private life, worthy of the scholar of Washington, the Emperor, on whom the Congress of Vienna had then bestowed the greater part of the duchy of Warsaw, with the title of King of Poland, allowed his Polish subjects to pay due honours to the last of their heroes; and that Prince Jablonowski was sent to attend his remains from Switzerland to Cracow, there to be interred in the only spot of the Polish territory which is now not dishonoured by a foreign master. He might have paid a still more acceptable tribute to his memory, by executing his pure intentions, and acceding to his disinterested prayers.
The Partition of Poland was the model of all those acts of rapine which have been committed by monarchs or republicans during the wars excited by the French Revolution. No single cause has contributed so much to alienate mankind from ancient institutions, and loosen their respect for established governments. When monarchs show so signal a disregard to immemorial possession and legal right, it is in vain for them to hope that subjects will not copy the precedent. The law of nations is a code without tribunals, without ministers, and without arms, which rests only on a general opinion of its usefulness, and on the influence of that opinion in the councils of states, and most of all, perhaps, on a habitual reverence, produced by the constant appeal to its rules even by those who did not observe them, and strengthened by the elaborate artifice to which the proudest tyrants deigned to submit, in their attempts to elude an authority which they did not dare to dispute. One signal triumph over such an authority was sufficient to destroy its power. Philip II. and Louis XIV. had often violated the law of nations; but the spoilers of Poland overthrew it.
[* ] From the Edinburgh Review, vol. xxxvii., p. 163.
[* ] The information on this subject in Lengnich (Jus Publicum Poloniæ) is vague and unsatisfactory.
[* ] Mémoires de Frederic II. 1763—1775. Introduction. Frederick charges the new Administration of Geo. III., not with breach of treaty in making peace without him, but with secretly offering to regain Silesia for Maria Theresa, and with labouring to embroil Peter III. with Prussia.
[† ] Rulhière, Histoire de l’Anarchie de Pologne, vol. ii. p. 41.
[‡ ] Ibid. p. 151.
[* ] Ferrand, Histoire des trois Demembrements de la Pologne (Paris, 1820), p. 1.
[* ] Martens, Recueil de Traités, vol. i. p. 340.
[† ] Rulhière, vol. ii. pp. 466, 470.
[‡ ] Martens, vol. iv. p. 582.
[* ] See their Manifesto, Martens, vol. i. p. 456.
[† ] Rulhière, vol. iii. p. 55.
[* ] Rulhière, vol. iii. p. 124.
[† ] Ferrand, vol. i. p. 76. The failure of this perfidious project is to be ascribed to the decline of Choiseul’s influence. The affair of the Falkland Islands was a fragment of the design.
[‡ ] Despatch from M. de Choiseul to M. D’Ossun at Madrid, 5th April. Flassan. Histoire de la Diplomatie Française, vol. vi. p. 466. About thirty years afterwards, the French monarchy was destroyed!
[* ] Rulhière, vol. ii. p. 310. Ferrand, vol. i. p. 75.
[† ] Flassan, vol. iii. p. 83. Vergennes was immediately recalled, notwithstanding this success, for having lowered (deconsideré) himself by marrying the daughter of a physician. He brought back with him the three millions which had been remitted to him to bribe the Divan. Catharine called him “Mustapha’s Prompter.”
[* ] Mémoires de Frederic II.
[† ] It was at one time believed, that the project of Partition was first suggested to Joseph by Frederic at Neustadt, if not at Neiss. Goertz’s papers (Mémoires et Actes Authentiques relatifs aux Negotiations qui ont précédées le Partage de la Pologne, Weimar, 1810) demonstrate the contrary. These papers are supported by Viomenil (Lettres), by the testimony of Prince Henry, by Rulhière, and by the narrative of Frederic. Dohm (Denkwürdigkeiten meiner Zeit) and Schoell (Histoire Abrégée des Traités des Paix) have also shown the impossibility of this supposition. Mr. Coxe (History of the House of Austria, vol. iii. p. 499) has indeed adopted it, and endeavours to support it by the declarations of Hertzberg to himself: but when he examines the above authorities, the greater part of which have appeared since his work, he will probably be satisfied that he must have misunderstood the Prussian minister; and he may perhaps follow the example of the excellent abbreviator Koch, who, in the last edition of his useful work, has altered that part of his narrative which ascribed the first plan of partition to Frederic.
[* ] Frederic to Count Solms, his Minister at Petersburgh, 12th Sept. and 13th Oct. 1770. Goertz, pp. 100—105.
[† ] Ibid. pp. 107, 128. The French alliance is evidently meant.
[‡ ] Ibid. pp. 129—146.
[§ ] Ibid. p. 9.
[* ] Rulhière, vol. iv. p. 209.
[† ] Ferrand, vol. i. p. 140.
[* ] Mémoires. This account is very much confirmed by the well-informed writer who has prefixed his Recollections to the Letters of Viomenil, who probably was General Grimouard. His account is from Prince Henry, who told it to him at Paris in 1788, calling the news of the Austrian proceedings in Poland, and Catharine’s observations on it, a fortunate accident, which suggested the plan of partition.
[† ] Ferrand, vol. i. p. 149.
[* ] This fact was communicated by Sabatier, the French resident at Petersburgh, to his Court in a despatch of the 11th February, 1774. (Ferrand, vol. i. p. 152.) It transpired at that time, on occasion of an angry correspondence between the two Sovereigns, in which the King reproached the Empress with having desired the Partition, and quoted the letter in which she had offered to take on herself the whole blame.
[† ] Ferrand, vol. i. p. 149.
[‡ ] Mémoires de Frederic II. The King does not give the dates of this communication. It probably was in April, 1771.
[* ] Rulhière, vol. iv. p. 167.
[† ] The want of dates in the King of Prussia’s narrative is the more unfortunate, because the Count de Goertz has not published the papers relating to the negotiations between Austria and Prussia,—an omission which must be owned to be somewhat suspicious.
[* ] Goertz, p. 75.
[† ] Ibid. p. 93.
[* ] Mémoires de l’Abbé Georgel, vol. i. p. 219.
[† ] The Abbé Georgel ascribes the detection to his master the ambassador; but it is more probably ascribed by M. Shoell (Histoire de Traités, vol. xiv. p. 76,) to a young native of Strasburg, named Barth, the second secretary of the French Legation, who, by his knowledge of German, and intimacy with persons in inferior office, detected the project, but required the ambassador to conceal it even from Georgel. Schoell quotes a passage of a letter from Barth to a friend at Strasburg, which puts his early knowledge of it beyond dispute.
[‡ ] Georgel, vol. i. p. 264. The letter produced some remarkable effects. Madame du Barri got possession of it, and read the above passage aloud at one of her supper parties. An enemy of Rohan, who was present, immediately told the Danphiness of this attack on her mother. The young Princess was naturally incensed at such language, especially as she had been given to understand that the letter was written to Madame du Barri. She became the irreconcilable enemy of the Prince, afterwards Cardinal de Rohan, who, in hopes of conquering her hostility, engaged in the strange adventure of the Diamond Necklace, one of the secondary agents in promoting the French Revolution, and not the least considerable source of the popular prejudices against the Queen.
[* ] Martens, vol. i. p. 461.
[† ] It has been said that Austria did not accede to the Partition till France had refused to co-operate against it. Of this M. de Segur tells us, that he was assured by Kaunitz, Cobentzel, and Vergennes. The only circumstance which approaches to a confirmation of his statement is, that there are traces in Ferrand of secret intimations conveyed by D’Aiguillon to Frederic, that there was no likelihood of France proceeding to extremities in favour of Poland. This clandestine treachery is, however, very different from a public refusal. It has, on the other hand, been stated (Coxe, vol. ii. p. 516.) that the Duc d’Aiguillon proposed to Lord Rochfort, that an English or French fleet should be sent to the Baltic to prevent the dismemberment. But such a proposal, if it occurred at all, must have related to transactions long antecedent to the Partition, and to the administration of D’Aiguillon, for Lord Rochfort was recalled from the French embassy in 1768, to be made Secretary of State, on the resignation of Lord Shelburne. Neither can the application have been to him as Secretary of State; for France was not in his department. It is to be regretted that Mr. Coxe should, in the same place, have quoted a writer so discredited as the Abbé Soulavie (Mémoires de Louis XVI.), from whom he quotes a memorial, without doubt altogether imaginary, [Editor: illegible word] D’Aiguillon to Louis XV.
[* ] Flassan. vol. vii. p. 125.
[* ] Dohm, vol. ii. p. 45.
[† ] It was about this time that Goertz gave an account of the Court of Russia to the Prince Royal of Prussia, who was about to visit Petersbugh, of which the following passage is a curious specimen:—“Le Prince Bariatinski est reconnu scélérat, et mème comme tel emplové encore de tems en tems.”—Dohm, vol. ii. p. 32.
[* ] Schoell, vol. xiv. p. 473.
[† ] Ferrand, vol. ii. p. 336.
[* ] Schoell. vol. xiv. p. 117. On the 12th of October 1788, the King of Prussia had offered, by Buckholz, his minister at Warsaw, to guarantes the integrity of the Polish territory.—Ferrand, vol. ii. p. 452. On the 19th of November, he advises them not to be diverted from “ameliorating their form of government;” and declares, “that he will guarantee their independence without mixing in their internal affairs, or restraining the liberty of their discussions, which, on the contrary, he will guarantee.”—Ibid. p. 457. The negotiations of Prince Czartorinski at Berlin, and the other notes of Buckholz, seconded by Mr. Hailes, the English minister, agree entirely in language and principles with the passages which have been cited.
[* ] Ferrand, vol. iii. p. 55. The absence of dates in this writer obliges us to fix the time of this decree by conjecture.
[† ] The particular events of the 3d of May are related fully by Ferrand, and shortly in the Annual Register of 1791,—a valuable narrative, though not without considerable mistakes.
[* ] Martens, vol. iii. pp. 161—165.
[† ] Ferrand, vol. iii. p. 121. See the letter of the King of Prussia to Goltz, expressing his admiration and applause of the new constitution. Segur, vol. iii. p. 252.
[* ] Ferrand, vol. iii. p. 217.
[† ] A curious passage of De Thou shows the apprehension early entertained of the Russian power. “Livonis prudentè et reipublicæ Christianæ utili consilio navigatio illuc interdicta fuerat, ne commercio nostrorum Barbari varias artes ipsis ignotas, et quæ ad rem navalem et militarem pertinent, edocerentur. Sic enim eximistabant Moscos, qui maximam Septentrionis partem tenerent, Narvæ condito emporio, et constructo armamentario, non solum in Livoniam, sed etiam in Germaniam effuso exercitu penetraturos.”—Lib. xxxix. cap. 8.
[‡ ] Prince Henry and Count Hertzberg, who agree perhaps in nothing else.—Vie du Prince Henri, p. 297. In the same place, we have a very curious extract from a letter of Prince Henry, of the 1st of November, 1792, in which he says, that “every year of war will make the conditions of peace worse for the Allies.” Henry was not a Democrat, nor even a Whig. His opinions were confirmed by all the events of the first war, and are certainly not contradicted by occurrences towards the close of a second war, twenty years afterwards, and in totally new circumstances.
[* ] Ferrand, vol. iii. pp. 252—255.
[* ] Ferrand, vol. iii. p. 369.
[† ] Ibid. p. 372.
[‡ ] Martens, vol. v. pp. 162, 202.
[* ] Segur, Règne de Frederic-Guillaume II., tome iii. p. 169. These important measures are not mentioned in any other narration which I have read.
[† ] Segur, vol. iii. p. 171.
[* ] The sentiments of wise men on the first Partition are admirably stated in the Annual Register of 1772, in the Introduction to the History of Europe, which could scarcely have been written by any man but Mr. Burke.
[* ] Schöell, vol. x. p. 129.
[† ] Ibid. p. 139.
[* ] Julien, Notice Biographique sur Kosciusko.
[† ] Published in M. Julien’s interesting little work.