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Affairs of Russia. Causes which led to the Rupture betwixt Russia and France. Preparations of the Parties. The French invade Russia. Progress of the Campaign till the Advance of the Invader upon Smolensko.
The campaign of the French in Russia will form one of the most interesting and extraordinary passages in history, whether we consider the mighty interests which depended on its issue, the greatness of the means employed on both sides, the singular and striking events which marked its progress, or the momentous consequences with which it was followed. The greatest military power which modern Europe ever saw had been concentrated for the purpose of achieving a conquest, which was expected to lay the whole civilized world at the feet of the conqueror. But all the efforts of genius, discipline, and numbers were rendered abortive by the heroic courage and patriotism of the Russian people; and the vast preparations of the invader, by which he had arrogantly calculated on obtaining universal dominion, availed him not in this season of unwonted trial. Defeated and disgraced, his armies annihilated, and himself a fugitive, he was compelled not only to
abandon his unlucky enterprise, but
to leave his former conquests to the unsparing vengeance of his enemies, who, gathering strength as they advanced, and animated by a succession of triumphs, were at last enabled to execute an awful retribution for all
the wrongs which they had endured.
No person who knew any thing of the character of Buonaparte, or the policy of the French government, could doubt for a moment as to the real nature of the treaty of Tilsit. It was but a hollow truce, consented to by the French ruler till he should be able to accomplish other more pressing objects of his ambition. That a lasting and friendly intercourse should have subsisted betwixt the French government, in the plenitude of its power, and any state of Europe, not yet reduced to abject dependence, was beyond all sober calculation; the whole course of French policy, all the acts of the new government, whether in peace or war, indicated a fixed design of attaining universal empire. Whether it was at any time very wise, even upon the exclusive views of ambition, to cherish so hazardous a project, is of no importance; but that it was really entertained, acted upon, and even avowed, is beyond all dispute. The Emperor Alexander must have been aware of this; he could not be blind to what the humblest politicians in other parts of Europe had perceived; and how much soever he might have been misled by the artifices of the enemy, and a momentary feeling of dislike towards England, he could not long remain in error as to the
could he be ignorant that his power
ve him a fair chance, on the first avourable opportunity, of performing what his duty urged him to attempt —the reduction of the influence of France, which had spread so much misery over the continent. Russia had not indeed made a very conspicuous figure in European wars, waged at a distance from her own frontiers; and many persons rashly concluded, that she was therefore impotent as to resources, and wholly insignificant in the arrangements of European policy. No intelligent Russian, however, could commit so gross an error; while the Russian government must have been aware of the ample resources of the empire when the hour of trial should arrive, and ought never to have sunk, like the rulers of feebler states, into despondency. It is true, indeed, that Russia, removed at so great a distance from the ordinary theatre of European war, had exercised but little controul over its results; that she had been found tardy and impotent in the defence of Germany; and had of late sacrificed her political character by a monstrous union with the common enemy. Her alliance had often been unavailing to the continental nations struggling against France, because her troops could seldom be brought into the field till the contest had been decided ; because, when they did reach the scene of action, their bravery was rendered unavailing by defective arrangements; and because the poverty of the Russian treasury constantly prevented the military energies of the eountry from developing themselves, This casual weakness arose out of the general condition of Russia; but it was not of such a nature as to create a suspicion of her real strength, when it should be drawn out under a better system, or roused into full vigour by 6
indignation or despair. The strength of Russia could seldom indeed be rendered efficient at any distance from the confines of the empire; but it might prove not the less formidable when these confines should be passed, and her enemies should be reduced to combat on her own soil, and under all the disadvantages which the extent of the country and the severity of the climate presented to an invader. The military talent of the Russian commanders had not, generally speaking, appeared of the first order in the great battles to which they had lent their aid since the French revolution; but it was to be expected that the leading men of such a country would, in extremities, display that sort of military genius which, in the operations of a protracted, defensive warfare, might overpower the first tacticians of the age. Such a country as Russia, with a population brave, hardy, and persevering, could not be suddenly conquered; it must, in any circumstances, have made a long and desperate resistance; and its permanent subjugation appeared utterly impossible to all reasonable men. Such, however, was the melancholy extravagance of many persons, that they considered the conquest of Russia as certain, when Buonaparte left Paris with the avowed purpose of undertaking this hazardous enterprise; and if he condescended, in this instance, to listen for a moment to the advice of his servile admirers, they may justly be charged with having contributed to precipitate his downfal. The Russian government was sensible of its real condition—of the natural resources of the country—the devoted patriotism of the people—the means of defence which they possessed—the rashness of the assailants, and, above all, of the impossibility of long averting the struggle into which the circumstances of Europe must one
day hurry Russia with France. They knew that neither the treaty of Tilsit, nor any other obligation, how solemn soever, could avert for a moment the vengeance of Buonaparte against Russia, whenever circumstances might favour its execution. They felt that the treaty, whatever nominal advantages it might have conferred on Russia, had in reality sealed her degradation ; and they detested the odious restraints which threatened their country with ruin.—When Buonaparte entered into the treaty of Tilsit, his mind was filled with the arrogant notion that he was destined to effect the downfal of England, which he hated, as the asylum of liberty, the successful enemy of France, and the great barrier to his projects of ambition. He knew that a direct attack on England was altogether hopeless while her navy triumphed on the ocean; while her armies maintained a pre-eminence not less conspicuous, and the stability of the government was fixed in the affections of the people. He had threatened an invasion, which he soon perceived that he could never accomplish ; for he was instantly confined to his own ports by fleets which he did not venture to meet; his gasconades were in a few weeks answered by the appearance of more than half a million of men in arms; and England thus exhibited to him the exasperating spectacle of a mighty and generous nation, defying all his menaces. Finding all direct efforts to subjugate her impracticable, he resolved on measures for gradually exhausting her resources. Such was the origin of the Berlin and Milan decrees, by which the commerce of England was excluded from the continent. But while the edicts of Buonaparte were imited in their operation to the states over which he exercised a direct-controul, they were found to be in a great measure ineffectual. His plan, therefore was to render, them general
throughout the continent; to seduce or compel all nations to give them es. fect, and in this manner to dissolve for ever the commercial relations of Great Britain with continental Europe. To induce the nations over whom he dared not yet avow a direct influence, to accede to this monstrous system, he invented many absurd fictions; he represented England as the eternal enemy of the continent, the tyrant of the seas, the disturber of the peace of Europe, and the foe of the civilized world. He strenuously insisted on the principle said to have been recognized by the treaty of Utrecht, that free ships should make free goods, and vainly supposed that in time of war he might thus neutralise the force of the British navy by providing for the permanence of the commercial relations of France. He called his system “The Continental System,” as if he himself had already been absolute master of the European continent; thus betraying his conviction, that nothing short of an entire combination of the continental powers, under one undivided scheme of despotism, could ever affect the prosperity and grandeur of England. He had introduced many singular conditions into the treaty of Tilsit ; but that by which Russia bound herself to accede to the contimental system, and to exclude British produce and manufactures from her ports, he was chiefly anxious to enforce. The Emperor of Russia soon sound that he had been deceived when he agreed to this article, and that he would be compelled to violate the treaty, even should the French ruler hesitate to set him the example. But Buonaparte did not thus hesitate. Long before the commercial relations betwixt england and Russia underwent any modification, or at least before such modification was made the subject of remonstrance and complaint,
he seized the duchy of Oldenburgh, and thus insulted the Russian emperor, both as the ally and the near relative of the family which was dispossessed. The treaty of Tilsit could not, indeed, have lasted much longer, because it was unjust and absurd in its provisions, and must have proved fatal to Russia and to Europe; yet the impatience and rapacity of the aggressor deserve to be recorded. It has been often remarked, that engagements extorted by violence seldom survive the unhappy combination of circumstances in which they have been created; but the impolitic haste with which the French ruler in this instance proceeded to mamifest his contempt for allengagements, even those which he had so great an interest in maintaining, was truly characteristic of his nature. The Russian government protested against this act of faithless violence; and the unsatisfactory answer of the French minister amounted to this, that a remonstrance by any power against its ally had no precedent in the history of nations ! It was strange policy in Buonaparte, if he expected the aid of Russia, and felt reluctant, as he well might, to hazard every thing in an attempt to subdue her, thus to authorise, by his own example, a breach of the treaty on her part. Yet such was his arrogance or infatuation, that he furnished Russia not only with plausible pretexts, but with sound reasons for violating a treaty which she must at all events have speedily determined not to observe. He pretended that the possession of the duchy of Oldenburgh was necessary to enable him to execute his continental system; and, after his own manner, he proposed that the family, whom he had thus driven out, should receive a compensation for their losses by the robbery of their neighbours. He affected great surprise and indignation that the emperor of Russia should presume to interfere with the affairs of this duchy, which was un
der his own immediate care as protector of the confederation of the Rhine; and, above all, he maintained, that this act of oppression, although it might seem a violation of the terms, was yet agreeable to the spirit of the treaty of Tilsit. Even had his cause been good, his arguments were too refined to make a strong impression in his favour; the terms of a treaty form a much safer and more palpable basis of interpretation than its alleged spirit; and the majority of mankind are happily more accessible to plain arguments than to logical subtleties. Every one could read and comprehend the terms of the treaty of Tilsit, while few could judge of its spirit; because few persons could pretend to understand the whole scope of thesemomentous negociations.—The rashness of Buonaparte in the seizure of the duchy of Oldenburgh operated just as the vices and follies of conquerors have often done before, by assisting to rescue the world from their tyranny, and to open the eyes of mankind to the real character of their ambition.
Is has been usual with the revolutionary governments of France to affect moderation after their greatest successes, and to enter into treaties which were calculated to impose on surrounding nations a belief of their sincerity. They have often agreed to evacuate countries of which, at the date of the treaty, they had military possession; but they have taken care at all times either indirectly to secure the subserviency of such countries, or have most shamefully violated their engagements, and resorted to a thousand pretexts for retaining possession by violence, long after other nations had sunk into security and repose. In this point Buonaparte has been their constant and successful imitator; and although he stipulated by the treaty of Tilsit, that his troops should evacuate Prussia, it is probable that no one but the Emperor Alexander him. self was surprised at the treacherous refusal to fulfil this condition. Prussia, long after the peace of Tilsit, remained in the military occupation of the French ; and this flagrant breach of treaty formed another ground of complaint on the part of Russia. The sophistry to which Buonaparte resorted in defence of his conduct will be afterwards noticed'; but in this summary of the circumstances which precipitated hostilities betwixt these great empires, it is important to remark, that the French ruler had been guilty at all events of two very palpable violations of the treaty of Tilsit, which were of themselves quite sufficient to have justified the war for which Russia had been making silent preparation. The chief ground of quarrel assigned by the French, was the infidelity of Russia to her engagements respecting the continental system. The Emperor Alexander could not be long deceived on this subject; and even if he had been rash enough to attemptenforcing that absurd system throughout his dominions, he would have been soon awakened from his delusion by the discontent and resistance of his people. He who should attempt in the present state of society to destroy trade, would undertake to oppose all the propensities and habits of mankind; and to sink them once more in barbarism and misery. There are in all countries many degenerate persons who care but little as to the nature of the government under which they live, but all can feel and will avenge any attempt to deprive them of their comforts and luxuries. The most barbarous nations cannot, in the present state of the world, be indifferent to regulations of trade; for there is none so rude and barbarous, as not to have some share in the benefits which it bestows. The Russians, although not perhaps a very refined people, have
a deep interest in commercial affairs, and naturally love to cultivate a friend. ly intercourse with England, which, of all other countries, is best calculated to supply their wants, and relieve them of their surplus produce. The cessation of intercourse with Great Britain threatened ruin to the nobility and landholders of Russia; and they are supposed to have resisted the continental system with firmness and vigour. The emperor could not have disregarded their remonstrances, even if he had been insensible to the degradation of his country; and he could not, therefore, have continued the suspension of commercial intercourse with England, even although the renewal of it threatened him with the whole vengeance of his new ally. It was a singular feature in the policy of Buonaparte, that, although he insisted on the most rigorous execution by his allies of the Berlin and Milan decrees, he presumed himself to set them at defiance. The pressure of the continental system on France was intolerable; the sufferings of the people surpassed all endurance; and, what was more likely to influence a despotic government, the revenue sustained the most serious defalcation. Still affecting an adherence to the principle of his decrees, Buonaparte in the meantime ventured on very frequent relaxations of them in practice; he granted licences under which considerable importations from England took place, and he thus relieved the growing embarrassments of his treasury. Surely the Emperor of Russia was entitled to follow his example, and to abate in some measure the sufferings of his people; nor could Buonaparte with any semblance of justice have objected to this course, even:
if the treaty of Tilsit had bound the
Russian emperor to go hand in hand with him to accomplish the humiliation of England. His wants were