Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

where the procession rested, crowds of people, from Chap. a great distance around, flocked to the spot to kneel YII!' down, and kiss the bier where their beloved Czar was MJ^'0 laid. The body reached St Petersburg on the 10th of March, but the interment, which was conducted with extraordinary magnificence in the cathedral, did not take place till the 25th. The Grand-duke Nicholas (now become emperor), with all the imperial family, was present on the occasion, and a splendid assembly of the nobility of Russia and diplomacy of Europe. There was not a heart which was not moved, scarce an eye that was not moistened with tears. The old grenadiers, his comrades in the campaigns in Germany and France, and who bore the weight of the coffin when taken to i Gazette de the grave, wept like children; and he was followed to ^*M«h his last home by his faithful servant Ilya, who had 1"^^.

driven the car from Taganrog, a distance of fifteen hun- ». 235,244; .... . , ° , . i • i ^ i Ann-H,st

dred miles, and who stood in tears at the side or the ix. 337,338.

bier, as his beloved master was laid in the tomb.1

The Empress Elizabeth did not long survive the husband who, despite all her sorrows, had ever reigned Death and supreme in her heart. The feeble state of her health the empress, did not permit of her accompanying his funeral proces- May 16sion to St Petersburg, which she was passionately desirous to have done; and it was not till the 8th May that she was able to leave Taganrog on her way to the capital. The entire population of the town, by whom she was extremely beloved, accompanied her for a considerable distance on the road. Her weakness, however, increased rapidly as she continued her journey; grief for the loss of her husband, along with the sudden cessation of the anxiety for his life, and the want of any other object in existence, proved fatal to a constitution already weakened by long years of mourning and severance. She with difficulty reached Belef, a small town in the government of Toule, where she breathed her last, serene and tranquil, on the 16th May. Her remains were brought May 16.

Chap. to St Petersburg, where she was carried to the cathedral !_ on the same car which had conveyed her husband, and

Jui'T6 *a'°* Reside him on the 3d July. Thus terminated a marriage, celebrated thirty years before with every prospect of earthly felicity, and every splendour which the most exalted rank could confer. "I have seen," said a Russian poet, " that couple, he beautiful as Hope, she ravishing as Felicity. It seems only a day since Catherine

i schnitzier placed on their youthful heads the nuptial crown of roses:

Ann6 H?st6; soon ^0 diadems were mingled with thorns; and too 341,342. soon, alas! the angel of death environed their pale foreheads with poppies, the emblem of eternal sleep."1 m Had Alexander died shortly after the first capture of

Hischarao- Paris in 1814, he would have left a name unique in the history of the world, for seldom had so great a part been so nobly played on such a theatre. It is hard to say whether his fortitude in adversity, his resolution in danger, or his clemency in victory, were then most admirable. For the first time in the annals of mankind, the sublime principles of the forgiveness of injuries were brought into the government of nations in the moment of their highest excitement, and mercy in the hour of triumph restrained the uplifted hand of justice. To the end of the world the flames of Moscow will be associated with the forgiveness of Paris. But time has taken much from the halo which then environed his name, and revealed weaknesses in his character well known to his personal friends, but the existence of which the splendour of his former career had hardly permitted to be suspected. He had many veins of magnanimity in his character, but he was not a thoroughly great man. He was so, like a woman, by impulse and sentiment, rather than principle and habit. Chateaubriand said, "II avait Tame forte, mais le caractere foible." He wanted the constancy of purpose and perseverance of conduct which is the distinguishing and highest mark of the masculine character.

Warm-hearted, benevolent, and affectionate, he was

without the steadiness which springs from internal con- Chap. viction, and the consistency which arises from the feelings Y11L being permanently guided by the conscience and ruled by me' the reason. He was sincerely desirous of promoting the HUbuings. happiness of his subjects, and deeply impressed with a sense of duty in that respect; but his projects of amelioration were not based upon practical information, and consequently, in great part, failed in effect. They savoured more of the philanthropic dreams of his Swiss preceptor La Harpe than either the manners, customs, or character of his own people. At times he was magnanimous and heroic, 'when circumstances called forth these elevated qualities; but at others he was flexible and weak, when he fell under influences of a less creditable description. Essentially religious in his disposition, he sometimes sank into the dreams of superstition. The antagonist of Napoleon at one time came to share the reveries of Madame Krudener at another. Affectionate in private life, he yet broke the heart of his empress, who showed by her noble conduct on his deathbed how entirely she was worthy of his regard. His character affords a memorable example of the truth so often enforced by moralists, so generally forgot in the world, that it is in the ruling power of the mind, rather than the impulses by which it is influenced, that the distinguishing mark of character is to be looked for; and that no amount of generosity of disposition can compensate for the want of the firmness which is to control it.

The death of Alexander was succeeded by events in

111

Russia of the very highest importance, and which revealed state of the the depth of the abyss on the edge of which the despotic to?hT'uu sovereigns of Europe slumbered in fancied security. Itthrone' occasioned, at the same time, a contest of generosity between the two brothers of Alexander, Constantine and Nicholas, unexampled in history, and which resembles rather the fabled magnanimity with which the poets extricate the difficulties of a drama on the opera stage, than anything which occurs in real life. By a ukase of

Chap. 5/16th April 1797, the Emperor Paul had abolished the __ right of choosing a successor out of the imperial family, ^ which Peter the Great had assumed, and established rm. '6' for ever the succession to the crown in the usual order, the males succeeding before the females, and the elder in both before the younger. This settlement had been formally sanctioned by the Emperor Alexander on two uka«e, solemn occasions, and it constituted the acknowledged i807,?nd and settled law of the empire. As the late emperor ^Sg1'» had only two daughters, both of whom died in infancy, the undoubted heir to the throne, when he died, was the Grand-duke Constantine, then at Warsaw, at the head of the government of Poland. On the other hand, the Grand-duke Nicholas, the next younger brother, was at St Petersburg, where he was high in command, and much beloved by the guards in military possession of the capital. In these circumstances, if a contest was to be apprehended, it was between the younger brother on the spot endeavouring to supplant the elder at a distance, ish t.i Nevertheless it was just the reverse. There was a coni. 141,14!).' test, but it was between the two brothers, each endeavouring to devolve the empire upon the other.1

Intelligence of the progress of the malady of Alexander constaitine was communicated to Constantine at Warsaw, as regularly tieiroM.the as to the empress-mother at St Petersburg; and it was Uec'7' universally supposed that, as a matter of course, upon the 'demise of the Czar, to whom he was only eighteen months younger, he would succeed to the throne. The accounts of the .death"of the reigning sovereign reached Warsaw on the 7th December, where both Constantine and his youngest brother, the Grand-duke Michael, were at the time. The former was immediately considered as emperor by the troops, and all the ministers and persons in attendance in the palace, though he shut himself up in his apartment for two days on receiving the melancholy intelligence. But to the astonishment of every one, instead of assuming the title and functions of empire, he absolutely forbade them; declared that he had resigned Chap. his right of succession in favour of his younger brother V1I1' Nicholas; that this had been done with the full know- 1826ledge and consent of the late emperor; and that Nicholas was now emperor. And in effect, on the day following, the Grand-duke Michael set out for St Petersburg, bearing holograph letters from Constantine to the empress-,Ann"Hist . mother and his brother Nicholas, in which, after referring s^^?,,,. to a former act of renunciation in 1822, deposited in the jjjjj^ j'o: archives of the empire, and which had received the sane- st retention of the late emperor, he again, in the most solemn Ju^'is0-' manner, repeated his renunciation of the throne.1 *

To understand how this came about, it is necessary to premise that the Grand-duke Constantine, like his brother How this Alexander, had been married, at the early age of six- camo aboutteen, by the orders of the Empress Catherine, to the Princess Julienne of Saxe-Coburg, a house which has since been illustrated by so many distinguished marriages into the royal families of Europe. The marriage, from the very first, proved unfortunate; the savage manners of the Grand-duke proved insupportable to the princess; they had no family; and at the end of four years they

* Tho letter to the empress-mother was in these words: " Habitué dès mon enfance, à accomplir religieusement la volonté, tant de feu mon père que du défunt empereur, ainsi que celle de V. M. I.; et me renfermant maintenant encore dans les bornes de ce principe, je considere comme une obligation, de céder mon droit à la puissance, conformément aux dispositions de l'acte de rempire sur l'ordre de succession dans la famille impériale, à S. A. I. le Grandduc Nicolas et à ses héritiers." In the letter, of tho same date, to the Grandduke Nicholas, Constantine thus expressed himself: "Je regarde comme un devoir sacré, do prier très-humblement V. M. I. qu'elle daigne accepter de moi, tout le premier, mon serment de sujétion et de fidélité; et de me permettre de lui exposer que, n'élevant mes yeux à aucune dignité nouvelle, ni à aucun titre nouveau, je désire de conserver seulement celui de Césarowitch, dont j'ai été honoré pour mes services, par feu notre pèro. Mon unique bonheur sera toujours que V. M. I. daigne agréer les sentiments de ma plus profonde vénération, et de mon dévouement sans bornes; sentiments dont j'offre comme gage, plus do trente années d'un service fidèle, et du zèle le plus pur qui m'anime envers L. L. M. les empereurs mon père et mon frère de glorieuso mémoire. C'est avec les mêmes sentiments que je ne cesserai jutqu' à la fin de met jours de servir V. M. /., et ses descendants dans mes fonctions et ma place actuelle."Constantin à l'Impératrice Marie et au Grand-duc Nicolas, 8th December 1625. Schnitzler, llitt. Int. de la Russie, i. 190-191.

« ForrigeFortsett »