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Title: "1812" Napoleon I in Russia
Author: Vereshchagin, Vasilïĭ Vasilʹevich
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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  GAINSBOROUGH. By WALTER ARMSTRONG, Director of the National Gallery,
     Ireland. With 62 Photogravures and 10 Lithographs in Colour. £5
     5_s._ net.

  LEONARDO DA VINCI. From the French of EUGÈNE MUNTZ. In 2 vols., with
     20 Photogravures, 26 Coloured Plates, and about 200 Text
     Illustrations. £2 2_s._ net.

     LOYD and FLORENCE SIMMONDS. With 38 Full-page Plates, and 250
     Text Illustrations. £1 16_s._ net.

     16 Photogravures, 21 Full-page Plates in Colour, and 160
     Illustrations in Text. £2 2_s._ net.

     Full-page Plates and 250 Text Illustrations. £2 2_s._ net.


  NEW LETTERS OF NAPOLEON I. Omitted from the Edition published under
     the auspices of Napoleon III. Translated from the French by LADY
     MARY LOYD. 15_s._ net.

     a Portrait. 6_s._

                       LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN.
                        21 BEDFORD STREET, W.C.


[Illustration: Signed author’s portrait]




With an Introduction by R. Whiteing

Illustrated from Sketches and Paintings by the Author

[Illustration: Printer’s decoration]

William Heinemann


_This Edition enjoys copyright in
all countries signatory to the
Berne Treaty, and is not to be
imported into the United States of



                        _Introduction_               1
                        _On Progress in Art_        16
                        _Realism_                   24
                    _I_ _Napoleon_                  53
                   _II_ _The Burning of Moscow_    180
                  _III_ _The Cossacks_             220
                   _IV_ _The Grande Armée_         227
                    _V_ _The Marshals_             256


                       _FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS_

             _Vassili Verestchagin_   _Frontispiece_
             _A Dispatch_                                72
             _Russian Grenadiers_                        78
             _At Borodino_                               92
             _Looking towards Moscow_                   108
             _Disillusion_                              128
             _On the Way Home_                          145
             _Bivouac_                                  155
             _Despair_                                  162
             _At a Council of War_                      176
             _Armed Peasant_                            186
             _In a Russian Church_                      197
             _Ney and the Staff_                        252


                          NAPOLEON I IN RUSSIA


The following pages are not offered to the reader as a history of the
invasion of Russia by Napoleon. They are but the statement of the basis
of observation on which M. Verestchagin has founded his great series of
pictures illustrative of the campaign. These pictures are now to be
exhibited in this country, and the painter has naturally desired to show
us from what point of view he has approached the study of his
subject—one of the greatest subjects in the whole range of
history—especially for a Russian artist. The point of view is—inevitably
in his case—that of the Realist; and this consideration gives unity to
the conception of his whole career and endeavour. He has ever painted
war as it is, and therefore in its horrors, as one of its effects,
though not necessarily as an effect sought in and for itself. He has
tried to be “true” in all his representations of the battle-field. His
work may thus be said to constitute a powerful plea in support of the
Tsar’s Rescript to the Nations in favour of peace. My meaning will be
best illustrated by a short sketch of M. Verestchagin and his work, as
painter, as soldier, and as traveller.

He was born in the province of Novgorod, in 1842, of a well-to-do family
of landowners. The son wished to be an artist; the father wished to make
him an officer of marines. As the shortest way out of the difficulty, he
became both. He passed his work-hours at the naval school, and his
play-hours at a school of design, working at each so well that he left
the naval school as first scholar, and eventually won a silver medal at
the Academy of Fine Arts. He entered the service, but only for a short
time, and he was still three years under twenty when he quitted it to
devote himself wholly to art.

He was a hard-working student, though he always showed a strong
disposition to insist on working in his own way. When Gérôme sent him to
the antique, he was half the time slipping away to nature. He played
truant from the Athenian marbles to flesh and blood. In the meantime he
was true to the instinct—as yet you could hardly call it a principle—of
wandering from the beaten track in search of subjects. Every vacation
was passed, not at Asnières or Barbizon, but in the far east of Europe,
or even in Persia, among those ragged races not yet set down in artistic
black and white. He had been on the borders of a quite fresh field of
observation in these journeys; and he was soon to enter it for a full
harvest of new impressions. It was in 1867; Russia was sending an army
into Central Asia, to punish the marauding Turkomans for the fiftieth
time, and General Kauffman, who commanded it, invited the painter to
accompany him as an art volunteer. He was not to fight, but simply to
look on. It was the very thing; Verestchagin at once took service on
these terms with the expedition, and in faithfully following its
fortunes, with many an artistic reconnaissance on his own account, he
saw Asia to its core.

He returned from a second Asiatic journey to settle at Munich for three
years; and here he built his first “open-air studio.” “If you are to
paint out-door scenes,” he says, “your models must sit in the open;” and
so he fashioned a movable room on wheels, running on a circular tramway,
and open to sun and air on the side nearest the centre of the circle,
where the model stood. The artist, in fact, worked in a huge box with
one side out, while the thing he saw was in the full glare of day; and
by means of a simple mechanical contrivance he made his room follow the
shifting light.

After a long rest at Munich, he was impatient for action once more, and
in 1873 he set off for British India.

Verestchagin filled one entire exhibition with his Indian studies. They
form a definite part of his collection, a section of his life-work.
Amazing studies they are. The end of his sojourn coincided with the
visit of the Prince of Wales, and he saw India both at its best and at
its worst. In one immense canvas he has represented the royal entry into
Jeypore, the Prince and his native entertainer on a richly-caparisoned
elephant, and a long line of lesser magnates similarly mounted in the
rear. A scene of prayer in a mosque is noble in feeling, and it exhibits
an amazing mastery of technique. The Temple of Indra, the Caves of
Ellora—all the great show-places—are there, with their furniture of
priests, deities, monsters, and men-at-arms. He made a prodigious
journey, from St. Petersburg by Constantinople to Egypt, Hindostan, the
Himalayas, and Thibet.

On his return he saw a great national subject at last—the Russo-Turkish
War. He followed the armies and saw it all, still as a civilian in name,
but as a soldier in fact. He could not keep out of it, both from
patriotism and from artistic conscientiousness. On one occasion his
desire to study the effect of a gun-boat in the air nearly cost him his
life. When the Russians were preparing to cross the Danube opposite
Rustchuk, their engineers found it almost impossible to carry on their
surveys for a bridge, owing to the proximity of the Turkish gun-boats.
Some men were accordingly sent out to lay fixed torpedoes across the
river to prevent the approach of the gun-boats. But they themselves
required protection while engaged in the service, and a few
torpedo-launches were accordingly ordered to patrol the river for that
purpose. They were not to wait to be attacked, but to boldly assume the
offensive, and sink or drive off the big gun-boats. It was a most
dangerous duty, and when Verestchagin asked permission to serve in one
of the launches the officer in command tried to deter him. “Russia has
many hundreds of officers like me,” he said, “but not two painters like
you.” Verestchagin, however, was allowed to have his way. The launch he
chose was very swift; it went almost at the speed of a train. It soon
came in sight of one of the gun-boats, to the great terror of the
Turkish crew. They could be seen running about the deck shouting and
shaking their fists at one another. The gun-boat turned tail at once,
but the little torpedo-launch gained on it every moment. By this time
the whole Turkish force had taken the alarm, and a fire was concentrated
on the little launch both from the gun-boat and the banks of the river,
under which it was evident she could not live. She pushed on, however,
shoved the torpedo under the bows of the Turk, and—it hung fire. It
touched her fairly, but the wire connecting with the fuse had been cut
in half by shot. Having done this, or rather having failed to do it, the
launch was carried away by the tide, and just as she got clear of the
vessel the Turks renewed their awful fire from ship and shore.
Verestchagin suddenly felt a sickening sensation, as if he had been
roughly pushed, and putting his hand to the place found a wound that
would admit his three fingers. At this moment the crew of the Russian
launch saw another Turkish monitor coming towards them, and firing as
she came, so that they stood a good chance of being caught between these
two monsters—as they might fairly be called in relation to the size of
the launch. However, the launch turned and ran, closely pursued by the
nearest gun-boat, which she had amiably tried to destroy. The pursuer
was fast gaining on them in their crippled condition, when, at a turn in
the river, they saw a little creek. They made for it and were saved. The
gun-boat could not follow for fear of going aground.

This incident nearly finished Verestchagin’s artistic career. He lay
between life and death for weeks, but a devoted Russian nurse brought
him round. Of course he went back to work again as soon as he could
move, and in one way or other saw and painted nearly all of the
campaign, especially Shipka, and the final rush on Constantinople.

De Lonlay gives us a characteristic picture of Verestchagin at this

“On November 24, 1877,” he says, “we were in Bulgaria, at the foot of
the great Balkans. Our little expeditionary corps, commanded by the
brave General Daudeville, had just taken possession of a city after an
obstinate fight, and was still trembling with the excitement of the
struggle. We ran through the deserted streets of the Turkish quarter,
which had been abandoned by its inhabitants. Everywhere we saw the same
lamentable signs of devastation—doors broken open, windows smashed; and
within the houses, furniture in fragments, heaps of wearing apparel in
rags, and a quantity of the stuffing of the ottomans strewed all about,
the Bulgarian pillagers having cared only for the ornamental coverings.
Amid all this confusion lay the bodies of three Redifs and an Arnaut.
The marauders had already stripped them of their uniforms, leaving them
nothing but a little underclothing. A little further on, a Redif, still
dressed in his blue tunic, lay on the ground. Suddenly, there came
clattering by a troop of Cossacks who had just been hunting the Turkish
runaways. They were rough-looking fellows, these soldiers in their white
linen, all in rags, and with their fur caps browned by the bivouac fires
and half bare with the wear and tear of the campaign; but among them I
remarked an elegant horseman who contrasted strongly with the rest of
the troop. He was dressed half like a soldier and half like a tourist.
He wore a high Circassian cap in Astrakan fur trimmed with silver. From
his breast hung the officer’s cross of the military order of St.
George,[1] a high distinction justly envied in Russia. The handle and
the scabbard of his poignard and sabre were in chiselled silver. I
followed him a long time with my eyes, admiring his bearing. A little
later on in the same day I found my unknown once more. He was sitting on
a low camp-stool in a corner of the grand mosque, and making a study of
the minaret. His aristocratic face, of a long oval, was ornamented with
a beard of a chestnut colour, and it contrasted strangely with the olive
complexion and high cheek-bones of the Mussulman-Cossacks who surrounded
him and peeped curiously at the work he was doing. It reminded me of
Salvator Rosa working in the midst of the bandits of the Abruzzi. At
this point a common friend of both of us came on the scene and presented
us to one another. I had before me the great Russian painter Basil
Verestchagin, who had but just recovered from the serious wound received
in the previous June. We talked for a long time of Paris and of the war.
Verestchagin complained bitterly of not having been able to take part in
the passage of the Danube, and see the winter campaign as he had seen
the summer one. ‘What good luck you had,’ he said, ‘to follow Gourko in
his expedition beyond the great Balkans! What things you must have seen,
the massacre at Shipka, and the burning of Eski Zara. If you only knew
how it enraged me to be tied down to my bed in the ambulance while the
army was going on!’ Then he paid me a few compliments on the modest
drawings which I was sending to the _Monde Illustré_, compliments which
touched me very much as they were offered by such an eminent artist.

“A few days after, the branch of the Cossacks of the Don to which I was
attached, and the regiment of the Grenadiers of the Guard, entered the
pass of the Balkans by the route which leads to Statitza. At nightfall
we halted on a plateau covered with snow, and where the temperature was
below zero. We were therefore not at all disinclined to take refuge in
an old Turkish block-house and to light up a good fire. There I found
Verestchagin again, with Prince Tzerteleff, the former secretary of
Ignatieff, and Prince Tchakowski, who were all following our columns as
amateurs. Enveloped in our _bourkas_, we talked away for hours round
this bivouac fire, Verestchagin telling us of his perilous expedition in
Turkestan. I can still hear him talking in his soft and quiet voice of
all those scenes of massacre and carnage which he had seen with his own

“A fortnight after, I was at Plevna, which had just fallen into the
hands of the Russian army, and there I saw Verestchagin again. He was
staying with General Skobeleff, governor of the city. The great artist
was fresh from the terrible battles, and from the scenes of misery which
he had seen in the camps of the Turkish prisoners, and he was projecting
another series of pictures. He was therefore, with his usual passion for
accuracy, taking pains to collect arms and uniforms of the enemy as
models. He showed great joy when one of the officers present offered to
conduct him to the place in which the spoils of the garrison of Osman
Pacha were stored. By the light of a torch carried by a grenadier he
rummaged a long time in this heap of Peabody-Martini rifles, covered
with mud and dust, torn uniforms stained with blood, blue vests with red
lacings of the Nizams, brass-buttoned tunics and red waistbands of the
Redifs, etc. Next morning we separated. Verestchagin followed the column
of Skobeleff in its march to Shipka; and I went to Orkanie to rejoin the
corps of General Gourko.”

As a war-painter Verestchagin is a great moralist, and he is a great
moralist because he is quite sincere. He paints exactly what he sees on
the battle-field, and he is far in advance of the French, who are the
fathers of this species of composition, in his rendering of the truth,
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, about this bloody sport of
kings. There was a whole wide world of difference in spirit between his
little military gallery and the big one at Versailles. The earlier
Frenchmen give us pretty uniforms, a monarch prancing on his steed in
the moment of victory, an elegantly wounded warrior or two in the
foreground, obviously in the act of crying, “Vive la France!” a host in
picturesque flight, a host in picturesque pursuit, waving banners, and a
great curtain of smoke to hide the general scene of butchery, with
supplementary puffs for every disgusting detail. Verestchagin’s manner,
on the contrary, passing like a breeze of wholesome truthfulness, lifts
this theatrical vapour, and shows us what is below—men writhing out
their lives in every species of agony by shot and bayonet wounds, by the
dry rot of fever, by the wet rot of cold and damp; and finding their
last glance to heaven intercepted by the crows or the vultures, waiting
for a meal. All this is very shocking, but looked at in the right way it
is supremely moral.

His work is his biography. He has lived every one of his pictures, and
he has often had to study at almost the cost of his life. All that he
represents he has seen; all that he relates with his pencil he has
lived. These pictures are just so many chapters detached from his
history. They are the work of an artist of an exceptional nature; and
are worthy of a book written on the critical method of Sainte-Beuve, a
book wherein the man would occupy a place at least as considerable as
the work itself; for the one and the other are inseparable. He is the
first Russian painter who has given his countrymen a true impression of
war—something besides those official pictures where victory is displayed
and never defeat. Even when he paints victory he never separates it from
its sadness, its ruin, its misery, its mourning beyond relief. I seem to
have always before my eyes, as in a dream, that pyramid of piled-up
skulls which he met with somewhere in his wanderings, and of which he
has made one of his most striking pictures. He wrote underneath it,
“Dedicated to the conquerors.”

Verestchagin had done nothing but draw; painting had frightened him.
Gérôme and Bida in vain tried to persuade him to begin. When he returned
from his second journey to the frontiers of Persia, among those nomadic
tribes with changeless manners, who must have descended from Abraham, he
showed his album and note-books to the two painters, and they pressed
him all the more. Bida said, “No one draws like you,” and he accepted a
few sketches, one of which is to be found in his famous Bible.

After his Asiatic campaign he had three years’ work at Munich, an
enormous and improbable labour, so much so that his enemies insinuated
that such a number and variety of pictures could not be the work of a
single man, and that Verestchagin had been helped by German painters.
The calumny reached St. Petersburg, where he was exhibiting at the time.
At his request the Art Society of Munich opened a thorough inquiry into
the matter. Models, porters, everybody that knew anything about it,
testified on oath that no painter but Verestchagin had so much as
entered the _atelier_. The report, covered all over with the best
signatures of Munich, and with a postscript of the most flattering kind,
was sent on to the Russian capital. When they gave Verestchagin the
surname of the Horace Vernet of Russia, no doubt they thought they were
saying something in his praise; but he certainly had a right to feel
calumniated, for the general impression left by his work is not
admiration for princes nor glorification of war. In telling the truth
feelingly about the sufferings of the soldier, without distinction of
nationality, with as much pity for the vanquished as for the victors,
Verestchagin has shown himself essentially human. His pictures, with
their poignant reality and elevated philosophy, are at the same time a
terrible satire on ambitious despots. Verestchagin is a courtier of
nothing but misfortune. A pupil of Gérome, he seems to have travelled
very much in search of himself. Sometimes he has drawn near to
Meissonier, then there is something in him of Géricault and of Courbet,
and again he is a true Impressionist in the best acceptation of the

As a traveller he saw Samarcand when the sight was almost as rare and
strange as that from the famous “peak in Darien.” “Samarcand,” he says,
“was occupied by the Russians. Our armies had taken it without assault,
after having routed the troops of the Emir. On reaching the summit of
the hill I stopped there, dazzled, and, so to speak, awed by
astonishment and admiration. Samarcand was there under my eyes, bathed
in verdure. Above its gardens and its houses were reared ancient and
gigantic mosques, and I who had come from so far was going to enter the
city, once so splendid, which was the capital of Tamerlane.”

On that day, as Vambéry has told us, a new era opened for Central Asia.
“The countries and cities once absolutely closed to the Western man are
now opened before him. There where a European could not make a single
step without danger of death, he now comes and goes as freely as he
pleases, for a Christian army holds the land. At Tashkend, Khojend, and
at Samarcand there are clubs, _cafés_, and churches. Tashkend has its
Russian newspaper, and with the plaintive chant of the Muezzin is
mingled the tinkling bell of the Greek Church, more terrible to the ear
of the true believer than the thunder of cannonades. In the streets of
Bokhara, where, but a few years ago, the author of these lines heard
only Mussulman hymns, the Russian priest, the Russian soldier, and the
Russian merchant are now walking together with the pride of the
conqueror. A hospital and a storehouse occupy the once splendid palace
where Tamerlane used to command; the palace to which all the princes of
the East came to do homage, to which the monarchs of Spain and the
Indies sent an embassy to beg for the friendship of the great conqueror,
and where the Turanians, humble and devout, knelt, to strike with their
foreheads the green stone which forms the sacred pedestal of the throne
of Timour. By the victory of the Russian eagles in Central Asia, Islam
has received a most terrible wound. For the whole thousand years and
more during which it has struggled with Christianity it has never been
hit so full in the breast. In our time Western civilization acts
vigorously on Mussulman Asia from Byzantium to India, and even Mecca and
Medina have not escaped its influence. Central Asia alone had remained
the sanctuary of Mahomedanism. The evil there had not been changed, and
it was not Mecca but Bokhara which passed for the intellectual centre of
Islam. The ascetic, the member of a religious order, the theologian,
sighed for this sacred city, and the most zealous Mussulmans of the
Ottoman Empire, of Egypt, of Fez, and of Morocco, came to cherish their
fanaticism in its schools and in its mosques. Samarcand is incontestably
the Maracanda of the Greeks, the capital of the ancient Sogdiana. It was
the queen city of the basin of the Oxus. It lost its preponderance for a
time, but recovered it, and under Tamerlane reached the height of its
splendour. The Mahomedans had a thousand poetic expressions in praise of
its wealth, its abundance of water, its innumerable canals fed from
mountain torrents, and running in all directions through the plain.”

When on the Himalayas Verestchagin ascended the highest mountain but one
on the face of the globe—Kanchinga. Kanchinga is twenty-eight thousand
odd feet above the level of the sea, and only Mount Everest in Nepaul
takes the palm of it with 29,000 feet. But Mount Everest is a peak, and
no one can get up there; while Kanchinga is a huge mass of mountain that
invites the climber. But Verestchagin was at Kanchinga in January, when
the mountain was covered with ice and snow, so he could not get higher
than 15,000 feet, and he was considered a madman for trying to do that.
Some English officers in the neighbourhood, when first they heard of his
project, did all they could to dissuade him from it. With his
characteristic obstinacy he simply thanked them for their advice and
went on with his preparations for the ascent. “At least,” they said,
“you will never take the lady?” Madame Verestchagin was with him, and
had insisted on accompanying him. “That will depend upon her,” said
Verestchagin, and his wife went with him all the same. It was a
frightful ascent. The coolies abandoned them when they had gone a very
little way—these dark-skinned races cannot stand the cold—and at last
they had only one man, who carried the colour-box and drawing-tools, the
use of which was Verestchagin’s main object in the journey. The painter
wanted to go up there to study effects of snow and cloud. By and by even
this man’s courage failed him, it became so intensely cold. They were
wading in snow up to the knees in some places and in others up to the
waist. The ponies had been left below. There was no house or shelter of
any kind. They called a halt, and the courier went back to get help,
leaving Verestchagin and his wife on the mountain in the midst of the
snow, with only a small wood fire between them and all but certain
death, and with nothing but snow for meat and drink. They cowered over
the fire till the falling snow put it out, and then for all that day and
night till far into the next day they struggled as best they could for
life. As a final and desperate effort, Verestchagin, taking leave of his
wife, whom he never expected to see again, roused himself and dragged
his almost frozen limbs down the mountain to look for help. When he had
gone a long way he met the coolie who had last left them, coming back
with food and aid, only just in time to save both the travellers’ lives.
Verestchagin was so exhausted that he had to be carried back to where
his wife lay. As soon as he had recovered, he took out his colour-box
and made some capital sketches of Himalayan effects.

In 1881, a memorable exhibition of Verestchagin’s pictures was held in
Vienna. Its success was probably without a parallel in the history of
art exhibitions by a single painter. For a whole month the public poured
into the rooms at an average rate of certainly not less than eight
thousand a day (on the last day twenty thousand passed or tried to pass
through the rooms), until, from the Emperor to his humblest subjects,
the peasantry included, there was no class, and it may be added no
nationality, within the Empire, which had not sent its representatives
to the Künstlerhaus. An attempt, by some political papers, to make the
enthusiasm of the Slavs for Verestchagin a means of exciting the
hereditary jealousy between them and other races of the Empire was
happily frustrated. It is literally true that the broad thoroughfare
leading to the exhibition was often blocked by the immense crowd, and
that the announcement, “The gallery is full to overflowing,” had to be
hung out to excuse the temporary closing of the building two or three
times a day. The artist did not conceal from his friends that he was
proud of the popular and even of the numerical element in his success,
because it showed that his work had touched those it was above all meant
to reach. He had painted for the people in the highest sense, and their
response showed that he had not laboured in vain. _Du reste_, this and
this only was his reward, for, beyond the payment of his bare expenses,
he had no pecuniary interest in the exhibition.

I may now leave the painter to speak for himself in regard to his own
guiding principles in art. The theory of them will be found in what he
has written on Progress in Art, and on Realism. The practice, in so far
as it relates to right methods of historic study for the painter, is, in
all that follows relating to the Campaign of Moscow, his latest and his
greatest series of works.

                                                     RICHARD WHITEING.


Footnote 1:

  The cross of St. George, the highest military distinction in Russia,
  is not given in the usual way on a mere order of the sovereign, but
  only after a special inquiry into the circumstances of each case by
  the Council of the Order.


                           ON PROGRESS IN ART

We artists always learn too little, and if we have recourse to books it
is only cursorily, and without a system, as though we held a solid
education to be quite unnecessary for the development of our talents. It
must be allowed that herein lies one of the principal, if not the chief,
reasons why art in its fuller and more complete development is checked,
and has not yet succeeded in throwing off its hitherto thankless part of
serving only as the pliable and pleasing companion to society, and in
taking the lead, not merely in the æsthetic, but essentially also in the
more important psychological development of mankind. While in all other
regions of intellectual life it is admitted that new ideas arise, and
with these the means of realizing and perfecting them, yet, in art,
especially in sculpture and painting, and to a degree also in music, the
old phrase still asserts itself—“The great masters have done thus, and
therefore must we also do the same.” In the handling of every subject,
an advance in thought may be remarked. Our view of the world is far from
being what it was a few centuries ago; our handiwork itself, in its
execution, has changed and improved. Under such circumstances one would
think that in the region of art—for instance in painting—either a new
idea or a more truthful and natural style might be possible. But no! One
is always met by the same assertion—that, “Not only in the perfect
construction of their pictures, but also in the sublimity of conception,
the old masters stand on an unapproachable height, and we can only
strive after them.”

The culture of the individual, as well as of society itself, has far
overstepped its former level. On the one hand science and literature, on
the other improved means of communication, have disclosed a new horizon,
have presented new problems to artists. These ought also to have
stimulated to some new efforts. But, again the same assertion blocks the
way—“The old masters have done thus, and therefore....”

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the art of painting, this excessive veneration and imitation show
themselves to a certain degree in representations of the nude and in
portraits, for both these branches of art reached a high stage of
development among the old masters. But, even here, we are struck by the
one-sidedness in the execution—the effect is always one and the same: a
very bright light on a very dark and sometimes black ground—an effect
often startling, but artificially produced, unnatural, and untrue.

Painters’ studios were formerly, it is true, small and, owing to the
costliness of gas, dimly lighted. But close to these studios there were
courtyards, gardens, and fields, with a beautiful background, and an
abundance and variety of light, which would have been as effective, and
would have made the black tones clearer and less monotonous.

We know that the darkness of the ground in old portraits is only partly
attributable to the influence of age, and that in most cases it is
intentional. On studying a series of old portraits one can only regret
that so much technical ability in representing the body, face, clothes,
lace, jewels, etc., should have been harmonized, not with the light,
airy shadows of a summer’s day as we all sufficiently know and see it,
but with a thick artificial black. Undoubtedly the new school of
painters will render a service to art by taking men out of the darkness
of attics and cellars into the clear light of gardens. It is
indisputable that the monotonous early style, which showed everything in
the same light of the studio, spares the artist many difficulties and
embarrassments; but in art there ought to be even less hesitation than
in anything else in the face of technical difficulties.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Turning to historical pictures, we are struck by the more thoroughly
intellectual and characteristic handling of the subject at the present
time. History is certainly still illustrated more or less by amusing
anecdotes, and artists content themselves by depicting that which
science has established, instead of contributing the results of their
own researches; but even now there is a very marked advance on the usual
adulation and the uncritical traditions, legends, and assertions of the
old school.

If painters were to study history, not in a fragmentary way from this to
that page, if they would understand that the imitation of dramatic
exaggeration on canvas has become obsolete, they would begin to arouse
the interest of society in the past quite in a different way from that
which is possible by means of anecdote, picturesque costumes, and types
that are for the most part fables of history. It is a fact, that
hitherto the treatment of memorable events by artists has been of a
nature to draw a smile from the educated. But by changing the sunny
holiday of the historical picture into a more acceptable workday, truth
and simplicity would certainly be the gainers.

It seems superfluous to mention the extraordinary advance made at the
present day in landscape painting, an advance due to very many causes,
but chiefly, of course, to the development of natural science. It is not
too much to say that the landscapes of the old masters are mere childish
essays, as compared with the works of the leading living artists in this
field. And it is really difficult to understand how and in what
direction landscape painting can be brought to greater perfection.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the so-called religious painting, imitation of the old masters is
nearly as great as in portraits. But this is fully explained by the
gradual disappearance of religious perception, and the consequent
preference for an old ideal, rather than the creation of a new one
without the strong faith of olden times.

Nevertheless, the new school finds it not only possible, but even
necessary, to reject inherited ideas, though hallowed by time and
custom, when they evidently contradict the artistic eye and feeling of
our time. First: the manner of placing God and the Saints on clouds, as
though these were chairs and stools, and not substances whose physical
condition is well known to us. Second: the custom of representing Christ
and the holy men and women as a Roman patrician surrounded by his
slaves. Third: the representation of God in the style of our kings, in
robes of state, seated on a throne of gold, silver, and precious stones,
with a crown on his head and a sceptre in his hand, all suspended in
clouds. Fourth: the representation of the Virgin Mary in the costly robe
of a lady of high rank covered with jewels. Possibly religious painting
will not now rise to a second _renaissance_, but it may nevertheless be
assumed that the advance in technical knowledge may even be useful in
Church paintings, if the painter, in his representation of the Deity and
the Saints in their manifestations in heaven or upon earth, would
replace the dim, poor, and monotonous light of the studio by a
brilliant, clear, sunny atmosphere, and delicate, transparent, airy

                  *       *       *       *       *

In order to explain our meaning, we will cite some of the famous
religious works of the old masters as examples: for instance, the
well-known pictures by Titian in Venice, and Rubens in Antwerp,
representing the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. We are not going to
speak of the great excellence of those two pictures, recognized all the
world over, and by no means valued too highly. If it be also beyond
doubt that these pictures have in course of time become darker, it must
nevertheless be understood that they were executed within four walls,
and produced by the traditional contrast of very strong light and very
deep shadow. Now, we ask, whence could these black shadows have come? If
the Assumption of the Virgin Mary had perchance taken place in a grotto,
or in some dark, artificially-illumined space, these shadows would be
intelligible, but in such case the strong lights would be inexplicable.
Now it was accomplished in free air, and we may be allowed to suppose
that a beautiful sunny day was chosen by God for so sublime and solemn
an event. So much the brighter should the pictures have been painted,
both on account of the direct and reflected sunlight. Whence then, we
may ask, came these black tones? Well, they were simply due to the fact
that the lights as well as the shadows were not derived from
observation, but invented, as artists say, “by the head,” and were
therefore from beginning to end false. But, can it be supposed that
great painters like Titian and Rubens should not themselves have
recognized such defects? Of course this can be as little understood as
that the great Leonardo da Vinci should not have remarked the false
light in his celebrated picture of beauty, _La Joconde_, when he painted
her in free air, with hard, metallic tones on the face, and an
impossible landscape in the background. Had he, then, no presentiment of
the wonderfully tender lights and half lights, shadows and half shadows,
wafted over the face of a lovely woman by the air?—how everything out of
doors has quite another appearance about it than within four walls?

We will not digress too far with our investigations, and only venture to
ask whether it occurred to no one at that time to demand so much from
the artist? No; they were not asked. But these niceties, are they not
required in these days from the artist? Yes, they are.... Then the
advance is evident.

In like manner, we cannot suppose that another shortcoming in the
artistic conception of such masters could have escaped their acuteness.
For instance, in the representations of the Apostles, whose
personalities are so clear and convincing in the Gospels, we recognize
in their forms, faces, and attitudes—particularly in Titian’s
pictures—not modest, humble fishermen, but fine Italian models of
athletic appearance. This error was evidently acknowledged even then by
the artists themselves, with their usual tact and good sense; and
Rembrandt went so far as to introduce into his religious subjects Dutch
market-figures. But there is still a long stride from this to the true
rendering of the types and costumes recognized at the present day as
indispensable. Is this not an advance? Certainly it is. We deny that
study has ever yet created talent; but, on the other hand, we do not for
a moment doubt that it stimulates it.

As regards time and place, the worshippers of the earlier style of
painting go to such lengths in their imitation, that they not only work
with the same colours and in the same manner as their adored masters,
but also aim at lending to their pictures that peculiar tint which time
has produced on the canvas. They cover their pictures with some dark
shiny colour, in order to give an appearance of age, as if they were
painted one, two, or three centuries ago. This tendency is even taught
in many modern schools, and individual artists have gained great
reputation as colourists merely because they can impart to their
productions a resemblance to those of Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, or
Velasquez. Let us hope that the new school will go to work with greater
deliberation, not only as regards the conception of their subject, but
also in colouring; for it is impossible to treat this aright by
imitating, with a quantity of varnish, a canvas which has become
yellowish or reddish through time. The young school will make it a
strict rule to bring every event into harmony with the time, place, and
light selected, in order to benefit by all the modern acquisitions of
science, in relation to the characteristics, costumes, and every
psychological and ethnographical detail.

A scene which takes place in heaven or on earth should positively not be
painted within four walls, but in the true light of morning or mid-day,
evening or night. The illusion and effect produced by the picture cannot
but gain by this, and the language of painting will become more
expressive and intelligible.

Perhaps the same might be said, with little variation, of sculpture, and
even of music. All the arts are now, more than ever, brothers and
sisters, and long ago should have been united in one temple of taste,
intellect, and talent.




[Illustration: _An old Russian._]

“Realism—realism!” How very often do we hear this term, and yet how
seldom does it appear to be applied understandingly.

“What do you take realism to be?” I asked a well-educated lady in
Berlin, who had been talking a great deal about realism and the realists
in art. The lady did not seem to be ready with an answer, for she could
only reply that “A realist is he who represents subjects in a realistic

I hold, though, that the art of representing subjects in a realistic
manner does not entitle a person to the name of realist. And, in order
to illustrate my meaning, I may present the following example—

When the war of the British with the Zulus came to an end, there could
be found no man among the prominent English artists who would take upon
himself the task of committing to canvas that epopee enacted between the
whites and blacks, and so the English had to have recourse to a very
talented French artist. They gave him money, and explained to him that
such and such were the uniforms and the arms of the English soldiers,
and such and such were the clothes, or what represents clothes, among
the Zulus. Then, eye-witnesses to the military encounters told the
Frenchman of what the background consisted in each case, probably
supplementing their accounts with photographic views. Armed with this
information the artist set to work, without having the least personal
knowledge of the country he was going to reproduce, nor of the types,
the peculiarities, nor the customs of Zululand. With much assurance the
artist went on with his task, and turned out several lively pictures in
which there are a great many men attacking an enemy—defending itself; a
great number of dead and wounded; much blood; much gunpowder-smoke, and
all that kind of thing; yet, with all this, there is total lack of the
principal thing: there are no British nor Zulus to be found in the
pictures. Instead of the former we behold Frenchmen dressed up in
British uniforms, and instead of Zulus, the ordinary Parisian
negro-models, reproduced in various more or less warlike attitudes.

Well, is that realism? No.

Most artists, besides, do not take sufficient pains to reproduce the
true light under which the events they treat have really taken place.
Thus, such scenes as are taken up in the just-mentioned pictures—scenes
of battles under the intolerably torrid sun of Africa, are being painted
by the greyish light of European studios. Of course the sunlight, and
the numerous peculiar effects dependent on it, cannot prove successful
in such a case, and the effect is lost.

Is that realism, then? Certainly not.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I go further, and assert that in cases where there exists but a bare
representation of a fact or of an event without idea, without
generalization, there can possibly be found some qualities of realistic
execution, but of realism there would be none: of that intelligent
realism, I mean, which is built on observation and on facts—in
opposition to idealism, which is founded on impressions and
affirmations, established _à priori_.

Now, can any one bring the reproach against me that there is no idea, no
generalization in my works? Hardly.

Can any one say that I am careless about the types, about the costumes,
about the landscape of the scenes represented by me? That I do not study
out beforehand the personages, the surroundings figuring in my works?
Hardly so.

Can any one say that, with me, any scene, taking place in reality in the
broad sunlight, has been painted by studio light—that a scene, taking
place under the frosty skies of the North, is reproduced in the warm
enclosure of four walls? Hardly so.

Consequently, I can claim to be a representative of realism—such realism
as requires the most severe manipulating of all the details of creation,
and which not only does not exclude an idea, but implies it.

That I am not alone in such an estimate of my work, is proved by the
following lines, from a correspondent to an American paper,[2] sent from
Paris at the time of the last exhibition of my paintings in that city—

“The respect shown to certain pictured ideals—the ideals of a painter so
foreign to Parisian conventions as Verestchagin—is noted as a pleasing
indication of departure from the gross realism that was beginning to
obtain in French art. Mr. Dargenty, of the _Courrier de l’Art_, does not
consider Verestchagin as a ‘seducing’ painter, but concedes to him
knowledge and talent, and declares that for his part he prefers the
refinement of an idea to the ‘brutal expression of vulgar realism.’ He
hopes for a reaction and believes that the crowd that ‘precipitated’
itself in the exposition of Mr. Verestchagin ‘heralded’ a running
victory for the idea.”

Still more notable was the judgment of the London _Christian_ of
December 2, 1887—a view having all the more interest to me because of
the special character of the paper that published it—

“These paintings are the work of a Russian, Verestchagin, a painter
equal to any of his contemporaries in artistic ability, and beyond any
painter who ever lived in the grandeur of his moral aims and the
application of his lessons to the consciences of all who take the least
pains to understand him....

“I will only say that he who misses seeing these paintings will miss the
best opportunity he may ever have of understanding the age in which he
lives; for if ever the nineteenth century has had a prophet, it is the
Russian painter, Verestchagin.”

I repeat it: I cite this last passage expressed in consideration of its
character, as an opinion emitted by a specially religious organ, an
opinion made all the more significant in view of the attacks to which I
had been submitted by people striving to prove themselves greater
papists than the Pope.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Realism is not antagonistic to anything that is held dear by the
contemporary man—it does not clash with common sense, with science, nor
with religion. Can any one have anything but the deepest reverence for
the teachings of Christ concerning the Father and Creator of all that
exists—for the golden rule of Christian charity?

It is true that we are enemies of bigotry, of all ostentatious, assumed
piety; but who is it that can blame us for this since Christ Himself has

“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they
think they shall be heard for their much speaking.”[3]

As can be easily conceived, we have a different estimation of many
things that were explained in another way some hundreds of years ago.
The infancy of science and, consequently, of the entire conception of
the universe can interest us now, but it can no more direct us. At the
threshold of the twentieth century, we can no longer admit that the
skies above are peopled by saints and by angels; that the interior of
the earth is occupied by devils engaged in their task of roasting the
sinners of the world. We refuse even to accept, in its literal sense,
the ancient idea of rewards for good deeds, and that of torments in slow
fires as punishment for evil deeds.

In our capacity of artists we do not deny the ideals of the past ages
and of the ancient masters. On the contrary, we give them an honourable
place in the history of art; but we refuse to imitate them, for the very
simple reason that everything is good in its own time, and that the
realism of one century already bears in itself the germs of the idealism
of the next.

The very masters who are held to be great idealists in art—have not they
been great realists in their own time?

Who would risk the assertion that Raphael was not a realist in the age
in which he lived: that his works did not scandalize many of his
contemporaries, whose tastes were formed on the work of primitive

And Rubens, who transgressed all limits of contemporary decency, and
that, not only in his capacity of painter, but even as a thinker? I hope
no one would be ready to question the fact that his powerful but
one-sided genius has intermingled the types of the personalities of the
Christian religion with those of the heathenish mythology; that his God
the Father is the same as his Jupiter of Olympus; that they are
portraits of the very same red-cheeked studio model; that his Virgin and
his Hebe—one may even say his Venus—are all personalities of the same
type, all alike red-cheeked, handsome, and self-satisfied! Who would
deny that Rubens, having peopled the Christian heavens with heavy,
buxom, healthy, and very immodest ladies and gentlemen, had reversed all
traditions and thus had shown himself to be a talented, powerful realist
in his time? Doubtlessly, he bewildered and scandalized a good many of
his pious contemporaries.

And Rembrandt? and the rest of them, all of whom are now held to be
idealists, more or less: was not each one of them a representative of
realism in his time—realism that has been considerably smoothed down in
our days by the hand of time on one side and the onward march of our
self-consciousness on the other?

Who would think now-a-days of reproaching those painters for all that
boldness, which certainly proved astounding to their contemporaries? And
yet how many were the disputes concerning those painters, how many
lances have been broken in their behalf! As we look back now all that
seems strange to us. But is it not a sign of what awaits the noted works
of our own time? These also were received inimically, were proclaimed to
be too far-reaching, too bold, too realistic, yet will not they also in
their turn acquire lasting strength under the influence of onward
marching thought and technique? Will not the day come when they will
also find themselves, unawares, in the archives of old ideals?

                  *       *       *       *       *

But we have to count with our irascible and exacting contemporaries. It
is generally held to be unpardonable boldness—quite a scandalous
proceeding in fact—to recede from formulas, recognized by successive
generations, through centuries. Novelists, painters, sculptors,
musicians, are all alike invited to make compromises with triviality and
absurdity which invariably retard the development of the idea and of the

Even such persons as grudgingly admit that we also are “men of
thoughts,” that we also are “men of well-developed technique,” even they
express their regrets that we should prove false to the traditions of
the old masters; that we should not follow the tenets consecrated by
great names.

Yes, it is true: we differ in many ways. We think differently, we are
bolder in our generalization of the facts of the past, the present, and
the future; we even work differently and transfer our impressions in a
different manner.

Can we take it now in its literal sense—the generally-accepted
conception of God, who had once assumed the form of man, and is now
sitting on the right hand of the Father Almighty, with all the hosts of
saints and angels gathered around Him? Can we admit as facts the idea of
all those thrones that surpass in richness the celebrated thrones of the
Great Moguls of India? Can we admit now the idea of all those splendid
vestments, adorned with embroidery, with pearls and precious stones—and
all that in the clouds? Can we sincerely and artlessly represent to
ourselves the saints that are supposed to sit on those same clouds as on
arm-chairs and sofas, likewise in the richest attire—saints who would
thus be found amidst the luxurious surroundings that were so distasteful
to them in their life on earth?

All those splendid garments, all those gilded surroundings, held out as
everlasting rewards for virtue practised on earth—do they not appear to
us quite childish now, not to say wholly inconsistent with good taste?

                  *       *       *       *       *

A good deal has been written about my works: many were the reproaches
brought against my paintings, those treating of religious subjects as
well as of military. And yet they were, all of them, painted without any
preconceived idea,—were painted only because their subjects interested
me. The moral in each case appeared afterwards, coming up of its own
account, from the very truthfulness of impressions.

Now, for instance, I have seen the Emperor Alexander II. on five
consecutive days, as he sat on a little knoll—the battle-field spreading
out before him—watching, with field-glass in hand, first the
bombardment, and then the storming of the enemy’s positions. This surely
was also the way in which the old German Emperor attended battles,—as
well as his son, that admirable man, the late Frederick of Germany. Of
this I have even been assured by eye-witnesses. Certainly, it would be
ridiculous to suppose that an Emperor assisting at battles would canter
about brandishing his sword as a young ensign, and yet the desire has
been attributed to me to undermine by my picture the prestige of the
sovereign in the eyes of the masses, who are prone to imagine their
Emperor prancing on a fiery steed, in times of danger, in the very thick
of the fight.

I have represented the bandaging and the transporting of the wounded
exactly as I have seen it done, and have felt it in my own person when
wounded, bandaged, and transported in the most primitive manner. And
yet, that again has been declared to be a gross exaggeration, a calumny.

I observed during several days how prisoners were slowly freezing to
death on a road extending over thirty miles. I called the attention of
the American artist, Frank D. Millet, who was on the spot, to that
scene; and when he afterwards saw my painting he declared it to be
strikingly correct; yet for that painting I have been treated to such
abuse as would not admit of repetition in print.

I have seen a priest performing the last religious rites on a
battle-field over a mass of killed, plundered, mutilated soldiers, who
had just given up their life in the defence of their country; and that
scene again—a picture which I had painted, literally, with tears in my
eyes—has been also proclaimed in high quarters to be the product of my
imagination, a downright falsehood.

My lofty accusers did not deign to pay any attention to the fact that
the lie was given them by that same priest who, disgusted with the
accusations against me, declared—and that in the presence of the public
standing before the picture—that it was he who had been performing those
last rites over the massed bodies of the killed soldiers—had done it in
the very surroundings reproduced in my picture. Yet, notwithstanding all
this, my picture barely escaped being ejected from the exhibition, and
when afterwards it was intended to publish all those pictures in
coloured prints, the officials put their veto on the scheme, for fear
lest they should find their way among the masses.

It should not be imagined, however, that that indignation prevailed
exclusively in Russian high spheres. It was a very well known Prussian
general who advised the Emperor Alexander II. to have all my military
paintings burned as objects of a most pernicious kind.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There were still more inimical commentaries on those of my pictures
which treat of religious subjects. Yet have I attacked the Christian
morals? No—I hold these very highly. Have I attacked the idea of
Christianity or its founder? No—I have the highest respect for them.
Have I tried to detract from the significance of the Cross? No—this
would be a sheer impossibility.

I have travelled all over the Holy Land with the book of the Gospels in
my hand; I have visited all the places sanctified, centuries ago, by the
presence of our Saviour in them. Consequently, I must have, and do have,
my own ideas and conceptions as to the representation of many events and
facts recorded in the Gospels. My ideas necessarily differ from the
conceptions of artists who have never seen the scenery of the Holy Land,
have not personally observed its population and their customs.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Here is my idea, for instance, of the fact of the Adoration of the Magi;
a painting contemplated, but not yet executed:—

A clear, starry night; travellers are approaching Bethlehem—these are
the Magi, men versed in science, having a knowledge of astrology.
Proceeding on their way toward the city, the wise men notice a star
standing over it—a star which they had never yet observed. Since, at
that time, the idea was prevalent that every man had his own star, and,
_vice versâ_, every star corresponded to some man on earth, so the Magi
naturally conclude that this new star indicates the birth of a child
somewhere in the neighbourhood, and that—the star being exceptionally
brilliant—the new-born child must develop into a most prominent man.

Arriving at Bethlehem, the Magi put up at an inn. Soon after, the
servant, who had been attending to the travellers’ mules, comes in and
tells the Magi that a poor woman had sought refuge in the place where
their animals were kept, and there had given birth to a most beautiful
child. Hearing this, the Magi exchange significant glances—the coming up
of the star has been rightly interpreted by them.

“Let us go and see; it must be an extraordinary child,” they say, and
thereupon proceed to the grotto of the inn, where the horses, the cows,
and the donkeys were kept, being followed by a few other travellers, who
are likewise curious to see the new-born child.

In a corner of the grotto they observe a beautiful, pale young woman,
sitting on a pile of straw and nursing her baby, whilst her husband, an
elderly man, is seen in the distance, outside the grotto, preparing
something for his family.

“What a beautiful child!” exclaimed the Magi, and, turning to the
Virgin, say: “Remember our words, He will be a great man; we have seen
His star.”

Then, their pity being stirred by the poverty of the surroundings, one
of the wise men would offer a gold coin as a gift to the child, while
another would, perhaps, pour out a little of the precious myrrh from his
travelling-flask. As the wise men get ready to leave the grotto, they
turn once more to Mary and repeat their prediction concerning the great
future of the child, and “Mary kept these things, and pondered them in
her heart.”

I firmly believe that such a realistic representation of the poverty and
simplicity attending the nativity of Christ is incomparably loftier than
the idealization of richness and other exaggerations to which the old
masters had recourse. But such a treatment of the subject is new;
therefore it appears strange, and very likely will excite comment. And
only our descendants in a century or two will be able to decide which of
these two opposing views was the correct one.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Among the paintings on exhibition will be noticed one portraying a not
infrequent event in Palestine in the olden time—an event highly
dramatic, yet retaining all its simplicity. I mean “A Crucifixion under
the Romans.”

The sky is overcast by heavy black clouds. Just outside the walls of
Jerusalem, on a small rock, are erected three crosses, all of the same
size, shape, and appearance. The figures of the crucified on the two
sides are of a vulgar type and of coarse build, while the central figure
is of a more refined form. His face is not seen; it is hidden by long
auburn hair that hangs over it; long hair indicates that the crucified
was a man who dedicated himself to God. The wounds on the hands and feet
of the three crucified men bleed profusely (it being a well-known fact
that physicians find it difficult to stop the flow of blood out of
outstretched palms and feet). In front of the crosses stand two priests
of high rank, and they seemingly argue about some matter, as if trying
to prove something to a Roman in military attire; possibly they refer to
the guilt of the man crucified on the middle cross, a guilt about which
the military man seems to retain some doubts. Around the rock soldiers
are forming a chain to restrain the crowd.

In the foreground of the painting are seen people of every description;
some on foot, some on horseback; others mounted on camels or on donkeys.
Those are country folks or nomads, who, returning home from market,
stopped on their way for a moment in order to witness the event of the
day—the execution of a man, the renown of whose deeds had reached even
their huts and tents—a man whose arrest caused almost an insurrection in
the city. Among others in the crowd can be noticed a few Hebrew
merchants with their characteristic head-gear (which was discarded at a
comparatively late date), and Pharisees with the letters of the Law
written on the coverings of their heads. One of the Pharisees is
discussing something with his neighbour concerning a woman who is seen
weeping bitterly, in the corner of the picture, presumably the mother of
one of the crucified men. Her face cannot be seen, but her sorrow must
be great indeed, and none of the women surrounding her seem likely to be
able to console her. Many a time, probably, had she tried to divert her
son from his chosen course, but all in vain, and now his time has come.

By the side of the heart-broken mother stands a handsome young woman
plunged into deep consternation at the sight of the executed man; the
tears run down her cheek, but she is not conscious of it, so thoroughly
absorbed is she by her terrible, unspeakable grief.

As soon as the authorities should retire and the crowd thin out, there
would be a chance for the mother, and those that surround her, to
approach the crosses; then they would find it possible to say their last

                  *       *       *       *       *

Further on, we have a representation of a contemporary execution, among
other people and surroundings. Here we see a cold winter day in the
North. A mass of people is crowding into one of the squares of St.
Petersburg, pressing toward the gallows and being held back by mounted
gendarmes. Close to the gallows only a select few are admitted, mostly
the military, all representatives of the gilded youth of the city, who
are in hopes of getting a piece of the cord used by the hangman: the
superstition being very common that a piece of the cord on which a man
is hanged is sure to bring luck at cards to its fortunate possessor.

The criminal, enveloped in a white shroud, with the cap drawn over his
head, has just been hanged and is still whirling round on the cord,
while the people stand in mute bewilderment before the instructive
sight. There is but a single hoarse voice raised from among the crowd:
“There now—serves him right, too!” But these words are immediately
hushed by several women’s voices crying out, “What are you saying? It is
beyond us to condemn him now. Let God Almighty pass judgment on him!”

Meantime the snow continues to fall, the smoke is rising from the
factories, work is going on as usual....

                  *       *       *       *       *

It is worthy of notice that this last painting, while it did not please
the Russians, pleased the English people very much indeed; on the other
side the “Blowing from guns in India” is not at all liked by Englishmen,
and yet the Russians fancied it very much. Men who had seen much service
in India assured me that I was mistaken in presenting such an execution
as a typical, characteristic way of capital punishment in that country;
they insisted that this mode of execution had been adopted but once—in
the course of the last insurrection of the Sepoys—and even at that time
it had been used only in a very few instances. But I maintain that this
mode of execution—a comparatively humane one too—not only has been in
constant use during the revolt referred to, when the Sepoys were blown
from guns by the thousand, but that it was used by the British
authorities in India for many years before and after the Sepoy revolt of
1858. More than that, I am quite positive that that particular mode of
execution will have to be used in future times. The Hindoo does not fear
any other kind of capital punishment received at the hands of the
“heathenish, unclean Europeans.” They hold that any one shot down or
hanged by the European goes to swell the ranks of the martyrs who are
entitled to a high reward in the future life. But an execution by means
of a gun carries positive terror into the heart of a native, for such a
shot tears the criminal’s body in many parts, and thus prevents him from
presenting himself in decent form in heaven. This bugbear was used by
the British, and will be used by them as long as they fear to lose their
Indian possessions.

In order to hold a population of 250,000,000 in political and economical
submission by means of 60,000 bayonets, it is not enough to be brave and
to be possessed of political tact—punishment and bloody reprisals cannot
be avoided.

                  *       *       *       *       *

All this is so self-evident, that it seems really wonderful that, while
we artists are required to observe and discriminate, people are still
inclined to be astonished and indignant whenever we put those faculties
of ours to use and transfer our impressions to canvas or paper.

The artists are on all hands pressed to give the public something new,
something original, something that is not hackneyed by fashion and
triviality; yet, when we make an effort to present something of the
sort, we are accused of insolence.

And what are the results of such a state of things?

People get tired of books and gorge themselves on crude facts from real
life as recorded in daily newspapers; people get tired of picture
galleries and exhibitions, being certain to find in most of them the
very same kind of pictures—all treating of the very same subjects,
painted in an identical manner; people find it a dull task to go to the
theatres where in nine plays out of ten they will find the very same
conventional plot, invariably terminating in a wedding.

Well, what is now generally speaking the part of art?

Why, art is brought down to the level of a toy for such as can be and
like to be amused by it; it is expected, as it were, to stimulate the
public’s digestive powers. Paintings, for instance, are considered
simply as furniture: if there happens to remain an empty space on the
wall between the door and the corner taken up, let us say, by a what-not
surmounted by a vase—why then, that empty space is forthwith covered by
a picture of light contents and of pleasant execution; such a one as
would not distract too much attention from the other furniture and
bric-à-brac, would not interfere with the _dolce far niente_ of

And yet the influence and the resources of art are enormous. The
majority of old-time painters were handicapped by their allegiance to
power and riches; they were men who were not weighed down by any sense
of serious civil responsibility, and yet, notwithstanding this, how
powerful was the influence of art during whole centuries! It was felt in
all the corners and hidden recesses of the life of nations!

What, then, is not to be expected from art in our time, when artists are
inspired with their duties as citizens of their country—when they cease
to dance attendance on the rich and powerful, who love to be called
patrons of art—when artists have acquired independence, and have begun
to realize that the first condition of a fruitful activity is to be a
gentleman, not in the narrow meaning of caste, but in the wide
acceptance of the term pertaining to the time we live in?

                  *       *       *       *       *

Armed with the confidence of the public, art will adhere more closely to
society, will constitute itself its ally in the face of the serious
danger that threatens society now-a-days—that kind of society which we
all know, which we are all more or less prompted to love and to respect.

There is no gainsaying the fact that all the other questions of our time
are paling before the question of socialism that advances on us,
threateningly, like a tremendous thunder-cloud.

The masses that have been for centuries leading a life of expectancy
while hanging on the very borders of starvation, are willing to wait no
more. Their former hopes in the future are discarded; their appetites
are whetted, and they are clamouring for arrears, which means now the
division of all the riches, and so as to make the division more lasting,
they are claiming that talents and capacities should be levelled down to
one standard, all workers of progress and comfort alike drawing the same
pay. They are striving to reconstruct society on new foundations, and in
case of opposition to their aims, they threaten to apply the torch to
all the monuments pertaining to an order that, according to them, has
already outlived its usefulness; they threaten to blow up the public
buildings, the churches, the art galleries, libraries and museums—a
downright religion of despair!

                  *       *       *       *       *


Footnote 2:

  _Sunday Express_, Albany, July 22, 1888.

Footnote 3:

  St. Matthew vi. 7.



[Illustration: _A Russian Woman._]

My friend, the late General Skobeleff, once asked me, “How do you
understand the movement of the Socialists and the Anarchists?” He owned
that he himself did not understand at all what they aimed at. “What do
they want? What are they striving to attain?”

“First of all,” I answered, “those people object to wars between
nations; again, their appreciation of art is very limited, the art of
painting not excluded. Thus, if they ever come into power, you, with
your strategic combinations, and I, with my pictures, will both be
shelved immediately. Do you understand this?”

“Yes, I understand this,” rejoined Skobeleff, “and from this time forth
I am determined to fight them.”

There is no mistaking the fact that, as I have said before, society is
seriously threatened at the hands of a large mass of people counting
hundreds of millions. Those are the people, who, for generations, during
entire centuries, have been on the brink of starvation, poorly clad,
living in filthy and unhealthy quarters; paupers, and such people as
have scarcely any property, or no property at all. Well, who is to blame
for their poverty—are not they themselves to be blamed for it?

No, it would be unjust to lay all the blame at their door; it is more
likely that society at large is more to blame for their condition than
they are themselves.

Is there any way out of the situation?

Certainly there is. Christ, our Great Teacher, has long ago pointed out
the way in which the rich and the powerful could remedy the situation
without bringing things to a revolutionary pass, without any upheaval of
the existing social order, if they would only seriously take care of the
miserable; that certainly would have ensured them the undisturbed
enjoyment of the bulk of their fortune. But there is little hope of a
peaceful solution of the question now; it is certain that the well-to-do
classes will still prefer to remain Christians in name only; they will
still hope that palliative measures will be sufficient to remedy the
situation; or else, believing the danger to be distant, they will not be
disposed to give up much; while the paupers—though formerly they were
ready for a compromise—may be soon found unwilling to take the pittance
offered them.

What do they want, then?

Nothing less than the equalization of riches in the society to come.
They claim the material as well as moral equalization of all rights,
trades, all capacities and talents; as we have already said, they strive
to undermine all the foundations of the existing state of society, and,
in inaugurating a new order of things, they claim to be able to open a
real era of liberty, equality, and fraternity, instead of the shadows of
those lofty things, as existing now.

                  *       *       *       *       *

I do not mean to go into the discussion of the matter; I would not
pretend to point out how much justice or injustice, how much soundness
or unsoundness, there is in these claims; I state only the fact that
there is a deep gulf between the former cries for bread and the sharply
formulated claims of the present. It is evident that the appetite of the
masses has grown within the past centuries, and the bill which they
intend to present for payment will not be a small one.

Who will be required to pay this bill?

Society, most certainly.

Will it be done willingly?

Evidently not.

Consequently there will be complications, quarrels, civil wars.

Certainly there will be serious complications; they are already casting
their shadows before them in the shape of disturbances of a socialistic
character that are originating here and there. In America, most likely,
those disturbances are lesser and less pointed; but in Europe, in France
and Belgium, for instance, such disorders assume a very threatening

Who is likely to be victorious in this struggle?

Unless Napoleon I. was wrong in his assertion that victory will always
remain with the _gros bataillons_, the “regulators” will win. Their
numbers will be very great; whoever knows human nature will understand
that all such as have not much to lose will, at the decisive moment,
join the claims of those who have nothing to lose.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It is generally supposed that the danger is not so imminent yet; but, as
far as I was able to judge, the imminence of the danger varies in
different countries. France, for instance—that long-suffering country
which is for ever experimenting on herself, whether it be in social or
scientific questions, or in politics—is the nearest to a crisis; then
follow Belgium and other countries.

It is very possible that even the present generation will witness a
serious upheaval. As to the coming generations, there is no doubt that
they will assist at a thorough reconstruction of the social structure in
all countries.

The claims of socialists, and, particularly, the anarchists, as well as
the disorders incited by them, generally produce a great sensation in
society. But no sooner are the disorders suppressed, than society
relapses again into its usual unconcern, and no one gives a thought to
the fact that the frequency of these painful symptoms, recurring with so
much persistency, is in itself a sign of disease.

Far-seeing people begin to realize that palliative measures are no
longer of use; that a change of governments and of rulers will no longer
avail; and that nothing is left but to await developments contingent on
the attitude of the opposed parties—the energetic determination of the
well-to-do classes, not to yield, and that of the proletariat, to keep
their courage and persevere.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The only consolation remaining to the rich consists in the fact that the
“regulators” have not had time as yet to organize their forces for a
successful struggle with society. This is true to a certain extent. But,
though they do it slowly, the “regulators” are steadily perfecting their
organization; on the other hand, can we say that society is well enough
organized not to stand in dread of attacks?

Who are the recognized and official defenders of society?

The Army and the Church.

A soldier, there is no doubt, is a good support, he represents a solid
defence; the only trouble about him is that the soldier himself begins
to get weary of his ungrateful part. It is likely that for many years to
come the soldier will shoot with a light heart at such as are called his
“enemies”; but the time is not far distant when he will refuse to shoot
at his own people.

Who is a good soldier? Only one to whom you can point out his father,
his mother, or his brother in the crowd, saying, “Those are enemies of
society, kill them”—and who will obey.

I may remark here, in passing, that it occurred to me to refer to this
idea in a conversation I had with the well-known French writer and
thinker, Alexandre Dumas, _fils_, and with what success? Conceding the
justice of the apprehension, he had no other comforting suggestion to
offer than to say, “Oh, yes, the soldier will shoot yet!”

The other defender of society, the priest, has been less ill-used than
the soldier, and consequently he is not so tired of his task; but, on
the hand, people begin to tire of him, less heed is paid to his words,
and there arises a doubt as to the truth of all that he preaches.

There was a time when it was possible to tell the people that there is
but one sun in the heavens, as there is but one God-appointed king in
the country. As stars of the first, second, third, and fourth magnitude
are grouping themselves around the sun, so the powerful, the rich, the
poor, and the miserable, surround the king on earth. And, as it all
appeared plausible, people used to believe that such arrangements were
as they ought to be. All was accepted, all went on smoothly: none of
such things can be advanced now-a-days, however; no one will be ready to
believe in them.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Clearly, things assume a serious aspect. Suppose the day comes when the
priests entirely lose their hold on the people, when the soldiers turn
their guns’ muzzles down—where will society look for bulwarks then? Is
it possible that it has no more reliable defence?

Certainly, it has such a defence, and it is nothing else than _talent_,
and its representatives, in science, literature, and art in all its

Art must and will defend society. Its influence is less apparent and
palpable, but it is very great; it might even be said that its influence
over the minds, the hearts, and the actions of people is enormous,
unsurpassed, unrivalled. Art must and will defend society with all the
more care and earnestness, because its devotees know that the
“regulators” are not disposed to give them the honourable, respectable
position they occupy now—for, according to them, a good pair of boots is
more useful than a good picture, a novel, or a statue. Those people
declare that talent is luxury, that talent is aristocratic, and that,
consequently, talent has to be brought down from its pedestal to the
common level—a principle to which we shall never submit.

Let us not deceive ourselves; there will arise new talents, which will
gradually adapt themselves to new conditions, if such will prevail, and
their works may perhaps gain from it; but we shall not agree to the
principle of general demolition and reconstruction, when this has no
other foundation but the well-known thesis—“Let us destroy everything
and clear the ground; as to the reconstruction—about that we shall see
later on.” We shall defend and advocate the improvement of the existing
order by means of peaceful and gradual measures.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It goes without saying that we demand that society, on its side, should
help us to fulfil our task; that it should trust us, give us all the
freedom necessary for the development and exertion of talent.

There is the rub!

Well-fed, self-satisfied society quails at every change, at all blame,
derision, and comment; it distrusts the foremost, daring representatives
of science, literature, and art. Society strives jealously to retain the
right not only to point out the road for talent, but even to regulate
the measure, the degree of its development, and its manifestation.

In this society of ours anything that is common and conventional is
shielded by all kinds of rights and privileges, while anything that is
new and original is bound to awaken animosity and censure, has to go
through a severe struggle under the pressure of wide-spread cant and

Try to create anything ingenious in any of the regions of science and
literature, try to present in graphic or plastic form the most original,
striking conception, but only forget or refuse to surround it with the
conventional layer of triviality and vulgarity so dear to the heart of
society, you will be “done for,” you will not even obtain a hearing, you
will be called a charlatan, if nothing worse than that.

Why is that so? Was it society that has shown the way to all great
discoveries? No; it has always delayed them, has always put brakes on

Has society, in its collective form, ever evoked any of the great
manifestations of art or literature? No; society was always eager to
worry, to persecute men of talent, though it erects monuments to them
after their death.

How did society come to display such arrogance and presumption? It was
tempted that way only by the unchristian conviction that “the aim
justifies the means.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Can there be anything more exasperating than the conversation we hear

“Have you been to the _Salon_?”

“No; we did not happen to go there this year, but last year we were
there more than once.”

There is irony here as well as truth, for in the majority of cases, you
will find in the _Salon_ the same number of pictures nearly of the same
quality, treating on nearly the same subjects, and, most assuredly,
painted nearly in the same style.

“Have you seen the new play of Sardou?”

“Just imagine, could not possibly get to see it yet, had to go to the
country; but then to-morrow we go to the _Comédie Française_ to see that
new thing of Dumas’. They say both plays are very much alike in
conception, as well as in plot.” And this is perfectly true; they are
doubtlessly more or less alike.

Whose fault is this, then, if not the authors’?

Ask the playwrights, whether they would dare to represent the action in
such a way as it has been suggested to them by real life, with its
logical conclusion, made unavoidable by the march of events, omitting,
for once, the long-established, hackneyed, conventional termination?

“No,” the authors would tell you, “such a thing is not to be thought
of,” and they will be in the right. Society, weighed down by cant, will
not go to see such a play, however interesting it may be; so the author
has to humour the public if he does not want to bring ruin on his
manager and on himself.

The same is the case with artists, sculptors, even composers. How many
favourites of the Muses have been driven into early graves by the
animosity of the public against all new construction of poetical as well
as musical ideas?

On one side we hear complaints of the dulness, the monotony, even the
triviality, prevailing in art; people clamour for something inspired,
something original; on the other hand, the same public arbitrarily
chastises you for all that fails to come within the range of
established, conventional ideas!

It is high time, it seems to me, to understand the necessity of treating
art with tolerance and confidence, if we want it to fraternize with
society, to become as one with it, to serve it faithfully and well in
the present troubled times when the poet and the artist are soldiers at
their posts.

                  *       *       *       *       *

“But, you representative of art,” I might be asked, “what are the
tidings that you are so eager to announce to us—what are your
discoveries that would be so entirely new to society?”

Well, what we should say would, perhaps, not be news, yet certainly the
idea of it has not yet penetrated the consciousness of the people. Armed
with the rich, varied resources of art we should tell people some

“Give up,” we shall say to them, “give up enjoying yourselves amidst the
illusions of the idealism which lulls your senses, of the idealism of
high-sounding words and phrases. Look around you through the eye of
sensible realism, and you will acquire the certitude of your mistake.
You are not the Christians you assume yourselves to be. You are not
representatives of Christian societies, of Christian countries.”

Those who kill their kind by the hundred thousand are not Christians.

Those who are always moved, in private as well as in public life, by the
principle of “eye for eye, and tooth for tooth,” are not Christians.

Those who spend many hours of their lives in churches, yet who give
nothing, or next to nothing, to the poor, are not Christians.

What have you done with the decree of the Saviour concerning Christian
humility, and to help such as are in real need?

What is the stand taken now, let us ask, by those two great branches of
the administration of Christ’s Church, that call themselves the Roman
Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, which have separated, thanks to
their inability to agree as to whether the Holy Ghost proceeded from the
Father and the Son or from the Father alone? Is it possible that they
have not come yet to an understanding, and, blinded by mutual hatred,
are neglecting the loftiness of their mission on earth?

What is the stand taken by those new Churches originated of late,
comparatively speaking, on the plea of a more realistic understanding of
the connection of life with its Originator? Is it possible that, having
concluded the fight with their great adversary, those Churches have also
drifted into a sweet nap over the existing order of things, and have
also renounced taking a hand in any further reforms?

Well, if it be so, let men of talent shake the strong and the powerful
out of the somnolence into which they have fallen; a difficult task it
will be, but a noble one. And if we are refused a hearing, or attempts
are made to muzzle us, why, it will be the worse for society. Rouse
itself it must; but it will be too late—the “Vandals will have burned
Rome” once again. We may be assured that no churches, no bankers’
offices will then be spared.

“If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.”




[Illustration: _Napoleon._]

It is, no doubt, from the Dresden Conference that we must date
Napoleon’s open hostility towards Russia. After his unsuccessful
endeavour to secure the hand of the Tsar’s sister, it was rumoured in
well-informed French Court circles that Napoleon had made up his mind
once and for all to humble the pride of Russia. It was not, however,
until the Dresden Conference that Napoleon threw off the mask. He then
adopted a distinctly threatening attitude in the face of Alexander’s
refusal to reconsider his decision and humble himself in the eyes of

The Russian Emperor firmly refused to submit, and his defiant attitude
was the more offensive to Napoleon inasmuch as it was open and
undisguised. There was no question of concealing it or of receding from
the position already adopted. “The bottle is opened—the wine must be
drunk,” was Napoleon’s own expression.

It was, moreover, at the Dresden Conference that Napoleon attained the
zenith of his power. At Dresden he was indeed a king of kings. The
Emperor of Austria respectfully and repeatedly assured his august cousin
that he might “fully rely upon Austria for the triumph of the common
cause;” while the King of Prussia reassured him of his “unswerving

The splendour and magnificence of the French Court at the time of the
Dresden Conference, says an eye-witness, gave Napoleon the air of some
legendary Grand Mogul. As at Tilsit, he showered magnificent presents on
all sides. At his _levées_ reigning princes danced attendance for hours
in the hope of being honoured with an audience. This new order of
would-be courtiers was so numerous that the Emperor’s chamberlains and
officials had constantly to give one another warning lest they should
jostle a Royal Highness unawares.

Every country sent its contingent. There were no eyes but for Napoleon.
The populace gathered in crowds outside the palace, following his every
movement, and dogging his progress through the streets, in hourly
expectation of some great event.

Never, probably, were such elaborate arrangements made as for this
campaign. Besides the usual preparations for a war, engagements were
made with tradesmen of all kinds—tin-workers, masons, watchmakers, and
other skilled artisans. There was no word of explanation as to the place
in which their services would be required, so that until the opening of
the campaign the general public had no inkling of the object of all
these preparations. It was even rumoured that Napoleon was about to aid
Russia against the Turks.

The abrupt departure of the Russian military agent Tczernicheff from
Paris, and the court-martial on certain persons who had treasonably
supplied him with various documents, at last revealed the Emperor’s
plans, and it was then positively stated in the _salons_ that the
preparations were directed against Russia. The authorities, however,
refused to confirm these reports, and went so far as to issue an order
to the army, forbidding the officers and men to discuss the rumoured

The French army was at that moment in the most flourishing condition. It
consisted of twelve infantry corps of 20,000 men each, three cavalry
corps of the same strength, and with 40,000 men of the Guard, Artillery,
Engineers, and Sappers, amounted to 400,000 men, including 300,000
Frenchmen. This enormous force possessed 1200 guns and more than 100,000
ammunition-wagons and caissons. Such a body of troops, accustomed to
victory, proud of its traditions, full of confidence in its officers,
and led by a commander with the prestige of twenty years’ brilliant
success, might well be deemed invincible.

Every subaltern regarded a campaign in Russia as a pleasant six months’
outing. The whole army, fully assured of speedy success, looked forward
to the war as a means of rapid promotion. All were eager to start. “We
are off to Moscow,” they cried to their friends, “_à bientôt_!”

It was said that Prussia would receive from the expected conquests full
compensation for her former losses. Napoleon himself suggested this in
his proclamation—“At the beginning of July we shall be in St.
Petersburg; I shall be avenged on the Emperor Alexander, and the King of
Prussia will be Emperor of the North.”

There were prophets who declared that “if the Russians do not make their
peace in time, Napoleon will divide their European territories into two
parts—the Dukedom of Smolensk, and the Dukedom of St. Petersburg. The
Emperor Alexander, if Napoleon thinks it worth while to leave him his
throne, will reign only in Asia.”

The Comte de Narbonne, Napoleon’s envoy to Vilna, was obliged to admit
that the Emperor Alexander conducted himself with irreproachable
dignity. He displayed neither fear nor arrogance. The answer with which
Narbonne returned to his Imperial master at Dresden proved that the
Russian Emperor was firmly resolved to offer no other terms than those
which his Ambassador at Paris had already communicated. He had nothing
to subtract from them, and nothing to add. An eye-witness describes the
impression produced in Dresden, where everybody was eagerly waiting to
learn the result of his mission, by the arrival of Comte Narbonne’s
travel-stained carriage, when he returned with the news that “the
Emperor Alexander refused to alter his decision.”

“Although,” Alexander said, “no one tells me so to my face, I am well
aware, and I am not ashamed to own it, that I am not so great a soldier
as Napoleon, and that I have no generals who are a match for his. This
assurance on my part should, I think, serve as the clearest proof of my
sincere desire for the maintenance of peace.”

Alexander was extremely indignant at Napoleon’s subsequent high-handed
proceeding in crossing the frontier without declaring war, for although
the Russians were expecting hostilities, there were some, including
Rumyantsef and other notables, who regarded it to the last as unlikely,
firmly believing that the matter would end in a few threats and a

Nine years later, when Napoleon was at St. Helena, the Emperor Alexander
caused him to be asked why he had refused the terms brought by Narbonne
from Vilna. “Because by the terms of the offer,” replied Napoleon, “a
month was required before any definitive treaty could be arrived at, and
such a delay might have involved the loss of the campaign, of all our
stupendous preparations, and of the alliances that had been entered
into, and which there was little prospect of renewing.”

Napoleon loudly proclaimed that “Fate was leading Russia to her doom,”
and took upon himself the duty of executing the decree of destiny, by
which the Russians, as enemies of European civilization, were to be
driven into the wilds of Asia.

Napoleon’s own baggage-train consisted of seventy wagons, each drawn by
eight horses; twenty carriages, open and closed; forty pack-mules; and
two hundred riding-horses. During his drives from place to place the
Emperor was never idle. When darkness fell, a lamp fixed inside the
carriage enabled him to work as comfortably as if he were sitting at
home in his own room. Aides-de-camp and orderlies were always within
call at the door of his carriage, and a number of riding-horses followed
with the body-guard.

In this way Napoleon reached the Niemen on June 11/23, and mounted his
horse at two o’clock at night. It is said that as he approached the bank
of the river, his horse stumbled and threw him, and that some one cried
out, “That’s a bad omen; a Roman would have turned back;” but no one
could distinguish whether it was the Emperor or one of his suite who
uttered the words.

I extract from M. Bertin’s book a characteristic account given by Count
Soltyk, general of the Polish artillery. “On the arrival of the Emperor,
several officers, together with myself and Suchorzewski, the major of
the regiment, ran up. Napoleon quickly approached the major and asked
for the colonel of the regiment. Suchorzewski, in no wise disconcerted
at the absence of the colonel, who was still asleep, answered that he
was filling his place, and was ready to receive any orders. Napoleon
then asked him which was the road to the Niemen, and made inquiries
regarding the outposts and the position of the Russians. Whilst asking
these questions, he ordered a change of uniform, as it had been agreed,
or rather ordered, that no French soldier should be seen by the
Russians. He took off his coat, and the rest of us—the Prince of
Neufchâtel, Suchorzewski, Colonel Pagowski, who had hurried to the spot,
General Bruyères, and myself—followed his example. There were therefore
five or six of us in our shirts in the middle of the bivouac surrounding
the Emperor, each with his uniform in his hand. The Poles offered theirs
to the French. Altogether the scene was most amusing. Of all our
uniforms, Colonel Pagowski’s coat and forage cap best fitted the
Emperor. He had been offered a Lancer’s head-dress, but refused it as
being too heavy. All this took place in a few minutes. Berthier also put
on a Polish uniform. The colonel’s horses were at once led up. Napoleon
mounted one of them; Berthier took the other, and Lieutenant Zrelski,
whose company was on outpost duty, was ordered to accompany the Emperor
as guide.

“They went as far as Alexota, a village about three miles distant,
opposite Kovno, and within range of its guns. The Emperor alighted in
the courtyard of a house belonging to a doctor, whose windows overlooked
the Niemen, and from which one might easily survey the surrounding
country. I had myself three days previously made a plan of Kovno from
this very spot. From there Napoleon thoroughly reconnoitred the district
without himself being seen. His horses were carefully concealed in the
courtyard. After completing his survey he returned to the bivouac, and
called for details as to the position of the enemy. The colonel having
told him that I knew the neighbourhood thoroughly, he put several
questions to me as to the fords that might be passable, the conformation
and irregularities of the ground, and the position of the enemy. The
Emperor questioned me searchingly as to where the Russians were massed,
whether on the right or left bank of the Vilia. He evidently wished to
ascertain whether the road along the Vilia was free, intending to march
in that direction in heavy columns, so as to seize this centre of
operations, and cut off the enemy’s corps, which were spread along the
whole length of the Niemen.

“When Napoleon returned we noticed a marked change of expression. He
looked happy, even merry, being evidently satisfied with the idea of the
surprise which he was preparing for the Russians on the following
morning, and of which he had calculated the results beforehand. Some
refreshments were brought to him, which he ate in our midst on the
high-road. He seemed amused at his masquerade, and asked us twice if the
Polish uniform suited him. After having breakfasted, he said laughing,
‘Now we must return what does not belong to us.’ He then took off the
garments which he had borrowed, put on his uniform of Chasseur of the
Guard, entered his carriage accompanied by Berthier, and rapidly drove
away. That very day he inspected several other points on the Niemen, and
chose Poniémon as the place of crossing. General Haxo accompanied him on
this tour.”

“This reconnaissance being finished,” adds Ségur, “he issued an order
that on the following evening three bridges should be thrown across the
river.... Then he returned to his quarters, where he passed the day
partly in his tent and partly in a Polish house, vainly seeking rest in
the sultry heat that prevailed.”

When the army began the passage next day, Napoleon took up a position
near the bridge, and encouraged the soldiers by his presence, while they
greeted him with the customary cries. But his impatience would not allow
him to remain long on this spot. He crossed the bridge and galloped
through the forest that stretches along the bank of the stream,
careering along at full speed on his Arab, as though in pursuit of some
invisible foe.

“What is to be said of an Emperor,” remarks an eye-witness, “who dresses
up in an outlandish disguise, rides off to his outposts, orders some one
to bring him some water from the Niemen in a helmet, and tastes it with
the air of a seer waiting for inspiration? It would have been better to
keep these absurd tricks for the banks of the Nile, among the
superstitious nations for whose behoof they were invented, rather than
bring them over to Europe.”

“Napoleon,” says Boutourline, “was preparing to crush the First Army of
the West with his Guards, Davout’s, Oudinot’s, and Ney’s Army Corps, and
Nansouty’s, Montbrun’s, and Grouchy’s cavalry—250,000 men in all—by a
sudden attack on the centre before the Second Army could come to its
support. The King of Westphalia, with the corps of Junot, Poniatowski,
and Renier, and Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry, making a force of 80,000, was
to execute the same manœuvre against the Second Army. The Viceroy of
Italy, with an army of about the same strength, consisting of his own
corps and that of St. Cyr, was to throw himself between the two Russian
armies, and cut off all communication between them. On the left, Major
Macdonald’s division, some 30,000 strong, was to enter Courland and
threaten St. Petersburg and the Russian right. On the right,
Schwarzenberg and the Austrians, also about 30,000 strong, were to hold
Tormasof in check.”

It was a well-conceived plan, and the movements of the French on Vilna
were so swift and decisive that General Dokhturof’s corps and Dorokhof’s
division were almost cut off.

This brilliant beginning was, however, followed by a number of mistakes.
The execution of the plan was marred by the slowness of the King of
Westphalia (who soon afterwards threw up his command and returned home),
and by the Emperor’s own irresolution. Napoleon appears to have lost
sight of the fact that he should have taken the direct road from Vilna
to Smolensk as his principal line of operations. If he had concentrated
the whole weight of his army on this line he would have successfully
outflanked Barclay on the left and Bagration on the right, and might
then have fallen on either of them with the whole strength of his army,
or, indeed, on both simultaneously. It was with the object of taking the
Russians by surprise that Napoleon crossed the frontier without
declaring war, and appeared at Vilna the day after the Emperor Alexander
had left.

Mme. de Choiseul-Gouffier, in her reminiscences of Napoleon’s stay in
Vilna, describes among other events his visit to the church. “A herald
shouted, ‘_L’Empereur!_’ and I saw a short, stout little man in a green
uniform with coat unbuttoned, and displaying a white waistcoat,
surrounded by a crowd of marshals. He flew by like a bullet, and took up
his place behind a _prie-dieu_. When mass was over he departed at the
same lightning speed.” She describes Napoleon’s arrival at a ball—“At
the first signal of his approach the dukes and marshals rushed off to
meet him as quickly as they could hurry; and to tell the truth, their
faces were a most amusing sight. We were hustled down the stairs almost
on all fours. Napoleon’s carriage drove up, with the Master of the
Horse, M. Caulaincourt, galloping behind. They put down a footstool for
the Emperor to alight on, as if the earth were unworthy of the honour of
being trodden by his Imperial foot. He went up-stairs amid shouts of
‘_Vive l’Empereur!_’ When he entered the _salon_ he cried, as if giving
an order, ‘Ladies, be seated!’”

“Napoleon’s face,” says Madame de Choiseul-Gouffier later on, “appeared
to me as severe as an antique bust, and of the colour of yellow marble.”
And further—“Napoleon’s expression when lighted up by his beautiful
smile was pleasant, and even when seen closer his pallor was not
remarkable. What is most noteworthy is that his countenance expresses
more good-nature than genius.... He knew every bit of gossip.”

The distance between the head-quarters of the two armies led Napoleon to
express the belief that “in all probability, they are afraid of
Alexander and myself meeting and coming to terms.” However, when the
opportunity of making terms did present itself, Napoleon let it pass.
Balachef, the Russian general, presented himself at the French outposts
demanding a parley. When they conducted him into Napoleon’s presence at
Vilna, he declared, in Alexander’s name—“If there is war between Russia
and France, it will be a long and bloody war, and before entering upon
it the Russian Emperor solemnly proclaims that it is not he who is
responsible for it. Though the Russian Ambassador has left Paris, war
has not yet been declared; there is still time to come to terms; it is
not yet too late.”

Having been told that the messenger who had been selected for the
embassy was the Minister of Police, the French suspected that the sole
object of his coming was to observe the position of the army and to gain
time. They regarded his visit, therefore, as a sign of weakness in the
Russian Government, and received his overtures with coldness. Besides,
it would have cost Napoleon a great struggle, after refusing to listen
to any explanations at Paris, to adopt a conciliatory tone in Vilna.
What would Europe think of him? What possible explanation could there be
of the enormous preparations, the vast movements of troops and
expenditure of money? It would have been tantamount to a confession of
defeat. Besides, he had gone so far in his utterances before the allies
as to render retreat almost impossible. But this was not all. Napoleon
lost control over himself, and broke out, as usual, into complaints and
reproaches. He used insulting language in speaking of the Emperor
Alexander to the Russian general. “Why did he ever come to Vilna? What
does he want? Does he mean to match his strength with me? He, this
carpet knight? Napoleon’s only counsellor is himself; who will advise
the Tsar? Whom does he mean to look to? Kutuzof is a Russian, he,
therefore, will not be selected; six years ago Benigsen was old and
useless—he is in his dotage now; Barclay, no doubt, is a man of courage
and capacity—but he only displays it by retreating.” Napoleon added
spitefully—“You all imagine that you understand the art of war because
you have read your Jomini, but if Jomini’s book were enough to teach you
generalship, do you think I should have allowed it to be printed?”

It is difficult to understand how, after sending such an insolent answer
to his “friend and brother,” Napoleon could bring himself to assure him
later on of his unswerving devotion. On the other hand, it is easy to
appreciate why his “friend and brother” after this message received all
the French Emperor’s subsequent blandishments in stony silence.

Napoleon began to be alarmed at the proclamations and manifestoes issued
by the St. Petersburg Cabinet. He displayed a naïve astonishment at the
expressions of hatred and anger which were levelled at his own person.
What had happened to the Emperor Alexander, who had up to that time been
so suave and gentle? It is said that Napoleon endeavoured to keep these
vigorous proclamations from the knowledge of his army, and commanded
that the Russians should be represented as disheartened and on the point
of disbanding; the Russian Emperor as having actually left his troops
and fled to St. Petersburg in order to implore assistance and mollify
the wrath of the Senate, which was demanding an explanation of what had
happened; the Russian generals as having lost their heads; and the
people at large as ready to fling themselves in despair at Napoleon’s

Ségur has preserved to us the order of march of the French troops. The
army advanced in column ready for instant battle, the Emperor on
horseback in the centre. Rivers were crossed by fords which soon,
however, became impassable, and the regiments in the rear crossed
elsewhere, wherever they could; no one troubled his head about them. The
staff neglected these details. No one remained behind to point out the
dangers, if there were any, or the route, where several roads met. Each
_corps d’armée_ was left to shift for itself.

Duverger is yet more categorical—“The retreat has often been described,
but the long and difficult march which preceded our misfortunes has
never been sufficiently mentioned. Worn out by the rays of a tropical
sun, we were reduced to drink foul stagnant water, to eat biscuits
served out with a sparing hand. Famine and dysentery destroyed as many
soldiers as did the war.”

Labaume, another eye-witness, completes this picture—“This immense
gathering of men on one spot increased the confusion and disorder that
reigned on the high-roads. Stray soldiers sought their regiments in
vain; orderlies with urgent despatches were unable to deliver them;
while on the bridges and in the ravines a frightful tumult arose. Our
soldiers, deprived of their rations, had to provide for themselves by
pillage, and the result was the utmost disorder and paralysis of
discipline, the usual forerunners of the approaching decay of an army.”

The disorganization of the French army was thrown into stronger relief
by the excellent order in which Barclay-de-Tolly drew off his men from
position to position. There were no deserted wagons, no dead horses, not
a single straggler or deserter.

The French troops moved, of course, not only along the high-road, but
also by by-roads, and often by hardly perceptible footpaths, destroying
everything they came across on their way, and feeding their horses on
the standing corn. They camped at night in the midst of the crops,
trampling and destroying them without scruple in the hope of getting
some shelter, however slight, from the heat and rain. The soldiers,
according to the account of French eye-witnesses, roamed the
neighbourhood searching for food, ill-treated the inhabitants, and
turned them out of their homes, looted the houses, carried off all the
live stock, and indulged in excesses strangely at variance with their
vaunted mission of civilization.

“The army at last approached Vitebsk,” says de la Fluse, who accompanied
the expedition. “A number of cavalry and infantry regiments were
extended in line, supported by strong bodies of artillery. Four strong
columns of Foot Guards formed a square, in the centre of which were
three tents—one for the Emperor, the other two for his suite. A squad of
twenty Grenadiers, with an officer and a drummer, formed a guard outside
the tents. The camp-fires were lighted, and the various regiments sent
fatigue parties to fetch their rations. These were served out in a
neighbouring field, where all the meat and corn had been collected.

“Around the Emperor’s tent there was a great deal of bustle. Generals
and aides-de-camps were constantly coming and going at full speed—for it
was known that the enemy were not far off, and a decisive battle was

“The Emperor left his camp two or three times with a telescope in his
hand. Resting it on the shoulder of one of the officers or men, he
inspected Vitebsk and the neighbouring hills. Beyond the town a broad
plain was visible, on which Russian cavalry and infantry were performing
some evolutions.

“Napoleon looked at them—‘To-morrow they will be ours,’ he said. Then he
gave orders to prepare for battle. A proclamation was read before each
regiment—‘Soldiers, the day we have longed for has come at last.
To-morrow we shall fight the battle for which we have waited so long. We
must end the campaign with a single thunder-clap. Remember your
victories at Austerlitz and Friedland; the enemy shall see to-morrow
that we have not degenerated.’

“The proclamation was enthusiastically received; the troops were
confident of victory; all hoped that this battle would end a war of
which they had already had more than enough. Brandy was distributed, and
after supper and the various preparations for the morrow they turned in,
many thinking, no doubt, that this would be their last night.

“Next morning they were up by dawn, dressed in their smartest, as if for
some festival. Every eye was turned to the quarter in which the enemy
had been manœuvring on the previous day; but the plain was empty—as the
sun rose it became clear that the Russian army had disappeared.

“The drum began to beat outside the Emperor’s tent,” continues the same
writer. “This meant that the Grenadiers on guard were being relieved. I
hurried up with my companions in order to ask the officer of the relief
if he had heard any news, for, placed as he was close to the Emperor’s
tent, he might have heard something. He told us that Napoleon flew into
a passion when he heard of the enemy’s retreat. When Prince
Poniatowski—who had instructions to cross the Dvina with the cavalry,
sweep behind the Russians and cut off their retreat—entered the tent,
the officers of the Guard heard what passed. The Prince came to report
that it was absolutely impossible to cross the Dvina, as he could find
no ford, and the water had risen in consequence of the recent storm. His
horses, moreover, had had no fodder. Thereupon high words passed between
the Emperor and Poniatowski, the former rating the Prince roundly for
not carrying out his instructions, Poniatowski for his part being at no
loss for a reply.

“‘So you urge want of fodder as an excuse, Prince?’ said Napoleon. ‘I
may tell you, sir, that when I was in Egypt it was not once nor twice
that I had to make expeditions without fodder.’

“‘Of course, your Majesty,’ replied Poniatowski, unabashed, ‘I do not
know what you fed your horses on out there, but I do know this, that my
horses cannot dispense with their hay, especially when there is no
grazing, which is often the salvation of cavalry. Lacking fodder as I
did, I ran the risk of finding myself in the position your Majesty was
in at St. Jean d’Acre; for want of horses, if you recollect, you were
unable to bring up your guns, and were obliged to raise the siege.’

“Then they both raised their voices and spoke at once. Some of the
generals who were present joined in, and the din was so great that I
could not make out a word of what they were saying. ‘They are still at
it,’ he added; ‘go close up to the tent, you will probably be able to
hear something.’

“I and my companion approached the tent, as if we were just strolling
by. We could indeed hear the voices of Napoleon and Poniatowski, but
could gather nothing distinctly except the latter saying—‘No, your
Majesty. I know this country better than you do, and I assure you that
that is out of the question here, quite out of the question!’ The two
sentries shouldered arms, which meant that the Emperor was just coming
out; so we made off.

“On parade the Emperor turned to the group of officers and
said—‘Gentlemen, you are not maintaining proper discipline in your
corps; there are too many stragglers. Officers seem to stop on the march
whenever they please, in order to spend their time in country-houses.
They are tired of camping out; but true courage does not fear rainy
weather, nor will mud stain a soldier’s honour. The men have no regard
for discipline; under the pretext of foraging for provisions they desert
from their regiments and wander about in disorder. Complaints reach me
from every side of their lawless behaviour. This condition of things
must be put a stop to, gentlemen; and those who absent themselves
without leave shall be severely punished. In the event of an engagement
with the enemy, our regiments would be greatly below their strength. The
efficient force of our army is such as it might naturally have been
after a battle, whereas we have not yet even seen the enemy. Marshals
Oudinot and Macdonald have secured victories because they had their full
complement of troops when they came to the banks of the Dvina and

“Then the Emperor called for Baron Larrey, but as he was not to be
found, Dr. Paulet, the head of the Ambulance Corps, presented himself
instead. Napoleon asked him—

“‘For how many wounded have you bandages ready?’

“‘Ten thousand,’ replied the doctor.

“‘And about how many days does it take to heal a wound?’

“‘About thirty,’ answered the doctor.

“‘If that is so,’ replied the Emperor, ‘you cannot even give assistance
to four hundred men! We shall want many more than that!’

“There was a low murmur in the crowd, and some one remarked, ‘I wonder
how many he thinks there will be killed?’

“Napoleon must have heard the remark, but he paid no attention. He
continued his cross-examination of the doctor, and asked him, ‘Where are
the ambulance and medical stores?’

“‘They were left at Vilna for want of means of transport.’

“‘So the army is entirely unprovided with medicine,’ cried Napoleon,
‘and if I wanted physic I should have to go without it?’

“‘Your Majesty has your own private medical stores,’ replied the doctor.

“This made the Emperor very angry. ‘I am the first soldier in the army,’
he said, raising his voice, ‘and I have a right to be attended to in the
army hospital.’ Then he asked where the chief dispenser was. He was told
at Vilna.

“‘What!’ cried Napoleon. ‘One of the chief medical officers absent from
the army! Let him be sent back to Paris to peddle his drugs to the women
of the Rue St. Honoré! Appoint some one else in his place, and let the
whole medical service rejoin the army.’”

The army did not meet with the same enthusiastic reception at Vitebsk as
at Vilna. The inhabitants treated the French not as liberators, but as
conquerors. Evidently Lithuania was not particularly well pleased at the
prospect of re-union with its native Poland, for the disposition of the
inhabitants was by no means friendly.

Napoleon made great efforts to impress the Lithuanians. In a single
audience he would discourse upon religion and the drama, war and the
arts. He rode about at all hours of the day or night, giving orders to
build a bridge here, and a bastion there, and on the eve of an
engagement he would appear at a ball or a concert. He evidently did his
best to astonish the natives by his versatility.

As the Russians had left Vilna and it was impossible to overtake them,
Napoleon returned to this town on July 28.

According to Ségur, when he entered his head-quarters he took off his
sword, threw it on the table, which was covered with maps and plans, and
said in a loud voice, “Here I am, and here I shall stay! I shall look
about me, complete my army, give it a rest, and organize Poland. The
campaign of 1812 is at an end; that of 1813 will do the rest!” Orders
were given to provision the army for thirty-six days, and extensive
plans were announced. Napoleon did not neglect amusements; actors were
to be brought from Paris to Vitebsk for a winter season, and as the town
was empty the audience was to be drawn from Warsaw and Vilna.

“Murat,” said the French Emperor, turning to the King of Naples, “the
first Russian campaign is over. We will plant our standards here. Two
broad rivers outline our position; we will build block-houses along this
natural entrenchment, commanded by artillery in every direction. We will
form a square with guns at the angles and on each front, and within this
square we will build our barracks and magazines. The year 1813 will see
us in Moscow; 1814 in St. Petersburg—the war with Russia shall be a
three years’ war!”

On the same day he turned to one of the principal civil officials
attached to the army and said, “As for you, my dear sir, you must see
that we are properly provisioned, for we must not repeat the mistake of
Charles XII.”

It was at this very time that Napoleon received news that peace had been
concluded between Russia and the Porte. “The Turks,” he said, “will pay
dearly for their mistake. It is such a foolish one that I did not even
foresee it.”

Recognizing that the advance of the Russian army of Moldavia on his rear
had now become both possible and probable, he began to think that
perhaps it would be as well to destroy the two Russian armies in front
of him, and that the sooner this was effected the better. These and
other circumstances caused him to alter his views. He was no longer
convinced that his wisest course was to stay at Vitebsk, and he became
at once anxious and irresolute.

For a solution of his doubts he would appeal in broken phrases to
intimates whom he met as he went about. “_Eh, bien_, what are we to do?
eh? Shall we stay where we are, or go on? Is it right to stop half-way?”
Then without waiting for an answer, he would go on as if looking for
somebody or something that would settle the question for him. Brooding
over these questions, not daring to make up his mind, he would fling
himself on his bed in nothing but his shirt, overpowered by the heat and
his anxiety.

In this way he passed the greater part of his time at Vitebsk. Meanwhile
the advantages of a forward movement appealed to him more and more

“If we stay in Vitebsk,” he argued, “we must make up our minds to die a
lingering death of _ennui_ during the seven long winter months! I, who
have always been the first to attack, obliged to stand on the defensive!
Shame and dishonour await me. All Europe will say, ‘He stayed at Vitebsk
because he _dared_ not advance!’ Am I to give Russia time to arm? And
how long am I to put up with this uncertainty, which is undermining my
reputation for invincibility, already shaken by the resistance of Spain?
What will the world think when it learns that, what with the sick and
those who have fallen behind or disappeared, I have lost a third of my
army? I must dazzle the eyes of the nations with the glamour of a
brilliant success—the laurels of victory will cover a multitude of

Napoleon began to find at last that Vitebsk promised nothing but
misfortune and loss, with all the discomforts and anxieties of standing
on the defensive; while Moscow on the other hand offered the most signal
advantages—provisions, money contributions, glory, and, last but not
least, peace!

[Illustration: A DISPATCH.]

But the more resolutely the Emperor wished to act, the more obtrusive
were the prevailing signs of discouragement and discontent. After two
weeks of rest the soldiers began to complain that they had gone too far
already, and that the prospects of war were gloomy. They abused
everything that tended to prolong the campaign, and approved of
everything that might possibly shorten it.

The Emperor, who wished at any cost to secure general approval of his
plans, even from those who did not as a rule give expression to their
views, called a council of the principal officers of the army, and his
colleagues were invited—perhaps for the first time in their lives—to
speak their minds freely.

“The more vigour the enemy displays,” he said to the marshals and
generals who surrounded him, “the less ought we to slacken in our
attack. We must not give these Oriental fanatics time to gather together
against us from their remotest wilds. How can we go into winter quarters
in July? And what sense is there,” he asked, “in breaking up a campaign
like this into several parts?” forgetful of his own recent advocacy of
the opposite view. “Be assured, gentlemen, that I have pondered deeply
over the question. Our troops are always ready to advance, an offensive
war is a war after their own hearts, whereas a long stay in one place is
not acceptable to the French temperament. To shelter ourselves behind
frozen rivers, sit in mud huts and endure privation and _ennui_ for
eight months, with daily manœuvres and never a step in advance—is that
the style of warfare we are accustomed to? The winter has other terrors
than its frosts. It may bring with it endless diplomatic intrigues. Is
it safe, think you, to give all these allies—whom we have successfully
won over to our side, but who feel strangely out of place, I doubt not,
in our ranks—to give them time, I say, to realize how unnatural is their

“Why should we remain inactive for eight months when we can attain our
end in twenty days? Let us forestall the winter! We run the risk of
losing all if we do not strike a swift and decisive blow. If we are not
in Moscow in twenty days, it is possible we shall never get there at
all. If peace be signed at Moscow, I shall have won the best and most
glorious of all my victories!”

It was, however, already too late in the year, and the marshals were of
opinion that further advance was out of the question. Berthier, Prince
of Neufchâtel, was so bold as to urge this fact upon the Emperor, and to
explain his reasons. The Emperor gave him a very warm reception.
“Begone!” he said. “I have no need of you, you are only a ——. Go back
home! I will keep no one with me against his will.”

Berthier, however, endeavoured to dissuade Napoleon from the decision he
had arrived at, not by argument but by an appealing glance; there seemed
almost to be tears in his eyes. Lobau and Caulaincourt tried to
influence him by more open opposition, which took the form of bluntness
with the former and persistence with the latter. The Emperor angrily
swept all their opinions and advice on one side, and replied with the
remark, aimed more particularly at Caulaincourt and Berthier, that he
had made his generals too rich. “They can think of nothing but hunting
and driving about Paris in expensive carriages—they are sick of the very
name of war.”

To Duroc, who also opposed him, the Emperor replied that he was
perfectly well aware that the Russians were trying to lure him on, but
he must get to Smolensk at any cost. There he would go into winter
quarters, and in the spring of 1813, if Russia did not end the war, he
would end Russia. “Smolensk,” he said, “was the key to two roads, the
road to St. Petersburg and the road to Moscow; and they must seize it
because they would then be able to attack both capitals at once—to
destroy the one and preserve the other.” Caulaincourt remarked that
peace would be no nearer at Smolensk or Moscow than it was at Vitebsk,
and that to advance so far, relying upon the fidelity of the Prussians,
was the height of rashness. When the Emperor asked Count Daru for his
opinion, he replied that it was not a popular war, and that neither the
importation of English goods nor the restoration of Poland was a
sufficient justification for so distant a campaign. “Neither we nor our
troops can see the necessity or object of it, and everything points to
the advisability of stopping where we are.”

“Great heavens!” cried the Emperor; “do they think that I am out of my
mind? Do they imagine that this war gives me any pleasure? I have always
said that the Spanish and Russian wars are the two sores that are
sucking away the life of France, and that they are more than she can
bear at once. I wish for peace, but in order to enter upon preliminaries
there must be two sides, whereas there is but one at present—for
Alexander has not vouchsafed two words as yet. What good can we expect
from staying at Vitebsk? True, the position is bounded by two rivers,
but in winter there are no rivers in this country; they will be merely
imaginary lines. Here we shall want for everything, and shall have to
buy whatever we need; whereas in Moscow there is plenty to be had for
nothing. I might of course retire to Vilna, but even if provisions could
more easily be obtained at Vilna, defence is more difficult, and for
real safety we should have to retreat beyond the Niemen, which means the
abandonment of Lithuania. On the other hand, if I advance to Smolensk I
shall either secure a decisive victory or a strong position on the

“If we were always to wait for the most favourable combination of
circumstances no enterprise would ever be undertaken. There can be no
end without a beginning—there never was an enterprise in which
everything fitted in perfectly, for chance plays a leading part in all
the affairs of men. Obedience to rule does not ensure success, but
success on the other hand furnishes a canon of conduct, and if this
campaign be successful, these new triumphs will doubtless give new
guidance for the future.

“No blood has as yet been spilled, but Russia is too great to yield
without a struggle. Alexander could not come to terms, even if he would,
except after a serious defeat. I will inflict that defeat, cost what it
may, and if need be, I will follow it up by advancing to their sacred
city. I am confident that peace awaits me at the gates of Moscow. Even
if Alexander remains obdurate, I will win over the nobles and the
inhabitants of the city to my side. They will know their own individual
interest best, they will recognize the value of liberty.” “Moscow,” he
added, “hates St. Petersburg, and I intend to avail myself of their
rivalry—the consequences of their mutual jealousy may prove

Such, according to Ségur, and others, was the line of reasoning adopted
by Napoleon, who inclined more and more strongly to an immediate advance
on Moscow. Sebastiani’s disaster at Incova at last furnished him with a
definite excuse for advancing. The Russian cavalry utterly routed the
opposing French horse, and the dash and daring of the attack compelled
the Emperor to seek some opportunity of retrieving the disaster by a
decisive victory.

Napoleon’s want of decision at this moment was, however, reflected in
the movements of the French army, and the well-conceived plan of
separating the two Russian armies and destroying each of them in detail
was never carried out.

The great efforts of the Russians to effect a speedy junction helped to
upset the invader’s plans. Every man in Russia, from the Emperor to the
last recruit, believed that if the armies were once united, not only
would they cease their retrograde movement, but they would be able to
fall upon the enemy, who had already over-reached himself by penetrating
too far into the country. As a matter of fact the Russian
Commander-in-chief had no intention of assuming the offensive against
such overwhelming forces.

The account given by Dumas, General-Intendant of the French army, throws
valuable light upon this point. He says that one of the officers spent
three months in Memel on terms of intimacy with Barclay-de-Tolly, who
was brought there after receiving a terrible wound at Eylau. The officer
in question clearly recollected the details of the plan of “successive
retreats” “by which the Russian general hoped to lure the formidable
French army into the very heart of Russia, if possible beyond the
Moskva; to wear it out, separate it as far as possible from its base of
operations, and tempt it to waste its ammunition and provisions. At the
same time he proposed carefully to nurse the Russian forces until the
frosts came to their aid and the time was ripe for commencing offensive
operations, and subjecting Napoleon to a second Pultava on the banks of
the Volga. This grim programme was but too faithfully executed.”

Napoleon was aware that he was being “lured on,” as he called it; but,
as we have already seen, he could not refrain from advancing, if not to
Moscow, at any rate to Smolensk. He moved on, therefore, to the latter
town, still adding to the list of so-called “victories” chronicled in
his bulletins.

These bulletins were the more credible, inasmuch as the Russian plan of
retreat lent them a sort of colour. The French were always advancing and
the Russians always retreating; the inference was of course that the
former were gaining a series of victories. Even Neverofsky’s exploit is
described in Bulletin XVII. as an “engagement in which the advantage
rested with the French.” The “engagement” really amounted to
this—Neverofsky’s division, while hurriedly withdrawing towards
Smolensk, was overtaken by Murat and surrounded by thirty regiments of
cavalry, together with Nansouty’s and Grouchy’s army corps and the Light
Brigade. Finding himself in this dangerous position, the Russian general
formed square, and continued his retreat in that order. The French
cavalry, though they fell upon the little detachment on every side,
found it impossible to break through, even after forty attacks.

The French surrounded the Russians so closely that they were able to
exchange words with them, and Murat more than once called upon
Neverofsky to surrender. He only managed, however, to capture seven
Russian guns, and Napoleon greeted him with the remark, not unmerited,
that he should have brought back “not only those wretched guns, but a
whole Russian division as well.”


At Smolensk Napoleon spent an evening in personally questioning
prisoners, and in congratulating himself on the fact that he had at last
come up with the Russian army. He attacked it, however, in front,
instead of outflanking it and falling on its rear. He might have made a
demonstration before the city with a strong detachment, and meanwhile
sent the main body of the army to the right over the Dnieper to attack
the left flank of the Russians defending the town, for Napoleon’s army
was so numerous that he could well afford to divide his forces. It is
said that he did in fact intend to cut off Prince Bagration, but could
not find the ford over the river.

The French censure Marshal Davout for the fearful losses sustained at
Smolensk, holding that these sacrifices were due to his want of
foresight. They blame Napoleon, moreover, almost unanimously, for
failing to surround the Russians. “In storming the fortifications of
Smolensk,” says the author of the _Letters on the Russian Campaign of
1812_, “when he might have contented himself with surrounding the city
and cannonading it, he committed a mistake. In allowing the Polish
infantry to be cut to pieces so near their own country, he made a second
mistake. In advancing into a huge and resourceless country at the
beginning of winter, he fell into a third and far more serious error.”

After the battle of Smolensk Napoleon was seen riding over the field and
rubbing his hands with an air of glee. “Five Russians,” he said, “for
every Frenchman!” This, however, was not the fact, for the French lost
not 8000 as they said, but nearer 20,000. Bourgeois admits a loss,
besides 6000 killed, of 10,000 wounded, though according to the usual
ratio the number of wounded would be still greater. He puts the Russian
loss at the same number, not more. This is not surprising, in view of
the fact that the Russians were fighting under cover, while the French
were attacking in the open, and were several times repulsed.

Russian authorities, on the other hand, admit that our losses at
Smolensk filled many of our countrymen with dismay, although they had
hitherto looked upon the invasion with the utmost indifference. The
scenes of terror and desolation presented by the interior of the town
were fearful in the extreme. Some of the streets were literally burned
to cinders, and the roadway filled with dead and dying, many of whom
were half-consumed by the flames.

When Napoleon, from the old tower on the city walls, surveyed the
position that had been occupied by the Russian army on the previous day,
he perceived that Barclay-de-Tolly was no longer there—he had again
escaped! Napoleon had failed in his endeavour to annihilate the Russian
army, and the capture of a city in ashes did not represent the final
paralyzing blow which could justify his losses in the eyes of Europe.

The French Emperor already appreciated the necessity of lowering his
haughty Dresden tone, and took every opportunity of throwing oil on the
troubled waters that threatened to engulf him. The letter sent by
Marshal Berthier to Barclay-de-Tolly under the specious pretext of
offering his sympathy and condolence, but serving as a matter of fact to
cloak an attempt to open indirect overtures, contained the following
passage—“The Emperor, to whom I have communicated the contents of this
letter, desires me, Monsieur le Baron, to beg you to convey the
assurance of his respect to the Emperor Alexander if he is still with
the army. Pray tell him that the sentiment of esteem and friendship
which the Emperor Napoleon entertains towards him will be impaired
neither by the vicissitudes of warfare nor by any other circumstances.”

These tentative approaches did not elicit any reply. Napoleon then
availed himself of the first convenient opportunity that occurred to
mention his peaceful inclinations and intentions to his prisoner,
General Tutshkof, begging him to communicate them to his brother,
another general in the Russian army. “It was not I that began the war,”
he said. “Why do the Russians retreat? Why have they abandoned Smolensk
to me? There is nothing I desire so heartily as peace.” He also begged
Tutshkof to mention that the Commander-in-Chief was wrong in carrying
all the civic functionaries away with him. He invited Tutshkof to
constitute a sort of tribunal of arbitration to decide which of the
contending parties had more chance of victory, and if that question was
decided in favour of the Russians, to appoint a rendezvous for a battle;
if for the French, then why shed blood in vain, and why not discuss
terms and conclude peace? It was also through Berthier that he called
upon the Emperor Alexander to instruct the governors not to leave their

Such overtures could not of course be expected to have any result; their
only justification is to be sought in the pitiable frame of mind to
which Napoleon was then reduced. He began to realize how gigantic was
the enterprise he had undertaken—an enterprise that grew in magnitude
the further he advanced. He was now dealing with a nation in arms—with a
second Spain, but more powerful, more remote, vaster in extent, and more
unproductive.... The name of Charles XII., we are told, was at this time
always on his lips.

Murat was once heard to say to Napoleon, “If the Russians refuse to give
battle it is not worth while to pursue them; it is time to stop.” The
Emperor answered him with some warmth; though what he said is not known.
It was, however, subsequently understood from the King of Naples’ own
lips that he went on his knees to his brother-in-law, and implored him
to stop. Napoleon, however, would hear of no halt short of Moscow, which
held everything that was dear to him—honour, glory, and repose. “Every
one remarked,” says Ségur, “that when Murat left Napoleon after his
interview his face wore an expression of deep affliction, and his
gestures were excited and abrupt—he repeatedly uttered the words, ‘Oh,
ce Moscou!’”

So soon as he made up his mind to advance, Napoleon again acquired
complete command over himself. He became cheerful and tranquil, as was
usual when he had definitely settled upon any project. After the battle
of Zabolotye—or Valutina, as the French called it—he said: “We have come
too far to retire; if I thought of glory alone I should return to
Smolensk, plant my standard there, and treat the town as my own. The
campaign would be ended, although not the war. Peace lies before us—we
are only eight days’ march from it. Shall we hesitate now that we are so
near our goal? _En avant!_ to Moscow!”

The best answer to this resolve was given in one of the Emperor
Alexander’s proclamations—“He threatens to march on Moscow—let him do
so. Even if he is victorious he will still share the fate of Charles

Napoleon himself was far from feeling the confidence which he
endeavoured to inspire into others. For instance, in writing to Marshal
Victor from Smolensk he said—“It may be that I shall not find peace
where I seek it; in that case I shall be able to retire under cover of
your reserves steadily and without precipitation.”

If one compare the words of Napoleon at the beginning of the campaign,
when his intention was to remain at Vitebsk, or even at Smolensk, with
what he said when his decision to march on Moscow was irrevocable, one
is struck with wonderment at the total change of ideas, and at the
irresistible impulse of which he was the victim.

We have already mentioned the plan sketched out by Barclay-de-Tolly as
to the best method of carrying on the war in Russia. Barclay was not the
only person to recognize the weak spot in Napoleon’s genius.

When the storm first began to gather, Tczernicheff, the military agent,
pointed out with remarkable penetration both the French Emperor’s
probable course of procedure and the best way of replying to his
intended moves.

“The preparations for the war are complete,” he wrote to the Minister of
War at St. Petersburg in 1811. “The Emperor Napoleon’s animosity against
us increases day by day, and if this autumn does not see us at war it
will only be because the season is late, and Napoleon, taking a lesson
from the Pultusk campaign, will perhaps be afraid of the marshes of
Poland. They would of course hinder him in his plans, which are no doubt
to end the campaign in one lightning stroke, as he has done in all
preceding wars.

“Accepting the conclusion that hostilities are unavoidable, we must make
every preparation, not only for withstanding the first shock, but for
prolonging the war as much as possible. Experience tells us that this is
the only method by which we can hope for success against Napoleon; and
it also tells us that he has always been embarrassed and led into
mistakes of strategy when he has met with prolonged resistance. This is
the course which our Government should adopt, in this difficult and
critical situation. It is the only course that offers any hope of final
triumph over the world’s oppressor.

“The proper way to conduct this war, in my opinion, is to avoid a
general engagement and to conform as far as possible to the guerilla
tactics adopted against the French troops in Spain, so as to gradually
demoralize them, and reduce by starvation the enormous forces they will
bring against us.”

The advice given by Marshal Bernadotte, who was at that time King of
Sweden, is also interesting:—“In the position in which Russia stands
towards France, it is to her advantage to prolong the war, because it is
in her power to do so, but not in Napoleon’s. One ought to depend as
little as possible upon chance. It is therefore essential to avoid big
battles and endeavour to reduce the war to a series of petty skirmishes.
You must have plenty of Cossacks. You must capture Napoleon’s baggage
and cut off his supplies. Even if you have to retire behind the Dvina,
nay, behind the Neva, so long as you continue to offer a stubborn
resistance everything will turn out well, and Napoleon will meet at the
hands of Alexander with the fate meted out to Charles XII. by Peter the

“Napoleon neglects nothing that can conduce to success; but his means
are already exhausted, and he cannot stand a two years’ war. He lacks
men, money, and horses for such an undertaking; and the further he
advances the worse he will fare. But of course it would be best if such
extremities could be avoided, for the provinces will suffer severely,
and the reverses that may be expected in the early part of the campaign
will produce a bad impression.”

In spite of these prudent counsels, we were all but hoist with our own
petard at Drissa. Nevertheless, looking back, we may now say that it was
a good thing for Russia that we were obliged to retire behind the Dvina,
inasmuch as we should otherwise have had great difficulty in coping with
our opponents.

Napoleon marched straight on Moscow. In passing through Viazma he came
upon signs of want of discipline that made him furious. He rode into a
crowd of soldiers; struck some of them, knocked others down with his
horse, and ordered a canteen-keeper to be arrested, tried, and shot. But
they allowed the poor wretch to kneel in the road, surrounded by a
fictitious family group consisting of a woman and a few borrowed
children, when the Emperor was passing by, and this stratagem saved his
life. Fezensac mentions it—“In passing through the little town of
Viazma, Napoleon came upon some soldiers who had looted a wine-cellar.
He flew into an ungovernable passion, charged down upon them, and began
abusing them and hitting right and left with his riding-whip. The
impossibility of catching up the Russian army, and the devastations they
had made on our line of march, angered him so much that he fell foul of
everybody he came across.”[4]

                  *       *       *       *       *

Prince Kutuzof had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Russian
army, and Napoleon hastened to gather all possible information as to his
new opponent. He was described to him as “an old man who had originally
attracted notice by virtue of a most interesting and unusual wound.”
From that time he had made the most of his opportunities. Even the
defeat which he had suffered at Austerlitz, and which he had foretold,
served only to raise his reputation. But it was exalted still higher by
the last campaign against the Turks. There was no doubt that he was a
man of parts, but he was accused of attending too closely to his own
interest, and having an eye to some personal end in all his actions. He
was, further, a man of phlegmatic and unforgiving character, and above
all of great cunning—in fact a thorough Tartar—rather a courtier than a
general, but redoubtable on account of his reputation. To the Russians
his person, his conversation, his dress, and, last but not least, his
superstitions and even his age, recalled Suvoroff and the Russia of the
days of Catharine the Great—a fact that endeared him to his
fellow-countrymen. In Moscow the popular enthusiasm aroused by his
appointment was so great that the people exchanged congratulatory
embraces in the streets. All were confident that the new
Commander-in-Chief would, by hook or by crook, prove more than a match
for Napoleon.

The arrival of Kutuzof at head-quarters created an excellent impression
on the army, especially as the constant succession of retreats had
undermined, not to say destroyed, confidence in their commanders. The
person chiefly blamed for what was considered the cowardice of our
strategy was of course the Commander-in-Chief, a man of great talent and
intelligence, who, when once a plan of operations had been definitely
adopted, was accustomed to carry it out to the bitter end. He was
completely misunderstood by his contemporaries, including the Emperor
Alexander, who, yielding to the pressure of his _entourage_, expressed
signs of impatience, and demanded offensive tactics and immediate
victories. The impulsive Prince Bagration, who was an especially strong
advocate of the offensive, so far forgot himself as to make complaints
to the Emperor against the Commander-in-Chief. He, however, had not the
terrible responsibilities that devolved upon Barclay, and he practically
admitted in private that a decisive battle might be disastrous to
Russia. The Emperor Alexander’s Council of War might decide upon an
attack, but the Commander-in-Chief would inevitably defeat their
intentions, although he would at first pretend to share their
enthusiasm. This course of action rendered him extremely unpopular.

Kutuzof, the new Commander-in-Chief, was unwilling to endanger his
enormous popularity, and decided to accept battle, although, as a
prudent man, he was almost as strongly opposed to such a course as was
his predecessor. It cannot be denied that the selection of the plain of
Borodino for the great defensive battle was creditable both to Kutuzof
and to Colonel Tol, the head of his staff.

“On two lines,” says G. de Pimodan, “it is an extremely strong position,
and still worthy of a visit from officers of the general staff, who may
profitably study the scheme of the defences that were hastily
constructed. Their only weakness was on the left flank.”

The French army, which at the passage of the Niemen numbered 400,000
men, after comparatively insignificant losses in battle mustered no more
than 160,000 when it reached the plain of Borodino. The question
naturally arises: what had become of the 240,000 men who, even on the
admission of Bulletin XVII., were missing? Moreover, where did all the
Russian troops come from after being incessantly slaughtered by the
French, tens of thousands at a time according to Napoleon’s bulletins,
for the space of ten weeks, and after the wholesale desertions which he

On the day before the battle of Borodino, Napoleon, according to the
evidence of his valet, was in a perfectly tranquil state of mind. He
spoke of Russia as if it were a smiling province of France. From his
conversation it might have been supposed that the neighbourhood was a
vast granary ready-stored for the army, and offering all facilities for
the establishment of winter quarters. The first step of the new
administration which he was about to establish at Gjatsk would be the
encouragement of agriculture. He was evidently enchanted by the vistas
that opened up before him. Seldom had the Emperor appeared so much at
ease or displayed such calmness in his conversation and demeanour.

It should be mentioned that the entrenchments at Borodino were very
slight, partly on account of the haste in which they were constructed,
and partly owing to the fact that the Second Army, which constituted the
left flank, had no entrenching tools. Bayefsky’s battery, therefore, and
the entrenchments on the Semyonof heights, were far from formidable.
Scarcely anything was done to Tutshkof’s position at Utitsa owing to
want of appliances.[5]

Napoleon regarded the left flank as the weakest part of the Russian
position, and after a careful survey of the heights of Borodino he
decided to concentrate all his efforts on this point, i.e. on an attack
with his own right. Marshal Davout then requested the assistance of
Poniatowski, whose forces were too weak for independent action, to help
in outflanking the enemy. He proposed to move before daybreak with
Poniatowski’s troops and his own five divisions, numbering 35,000 men,
under cover of the woods on which the Russians were resting, get behind
them, along the old Smolensk road, and fall suddenly on the rear of the
left flank. He pointed out that while the Emperor was leading the attack
from the front, he would move rapidly from redoubt to redoubt and from
reserve to reserve, disperse any force he found on the Mozjaisk road,
annihilate the Russian army, and finish the war at a single blow.

This proposal furnished one more proof that Davout was the best
tactician of all the marshals trained in the school of Napoleon. If his
daring project had been carried out, it would most probably have thrown
the Russian army into utter confusion. But Napoleon, after listening
attentively to what the Marshal had to say, replied after a few minutes
of silent deliberation—“No, it is too unheard-of a manœuvre; it will
lead me away from my main object, and make me lose a great deal of

The Duke of Eckmühl, confident in the correctness of his views, still
persisted. According to Ségur, he undertook to execute the whole
manœuvre by six o’clock in the morning. He would answer, he said, for
the utter rout of the Russians. But Napoleon, evidently displeased at
the Marshal’s persistence, interrupted him with—“Oh, you are always
urging these flanking movements; it is too hazardous!” So Marshal Davout
said no more, and, fortunately for the Russian army, left without
gaining his point.

Kutuzof was not slow to divine the enemy’s intentions. When the battle
began, in the face of the enemy’s fire he moved Boggavut’s corps across
from the right flank, against which Prince Eugène was making an
ineffectual demonstration, to the support of the Second Army, and in his
turn alarmed the French by a movement round their left flank with
Uvarof’s cavalry and the Cossacks.

Both sides appreciated the fact that the Semyonof heights were the real
key to the position.

We must not omit to mention that throughout the night preceding the
battle Napoleon was apprehensive lest the Russian army should again
retreat. The fear of this prevented him from sleeping; he kept calling
to his attendants, asking what the time was, and whether any sound could
be heard from the Russian camp, and sending to see whether the enemy was
still in the same place. When he was reassured on this score, he began
to express anxiety for his hungry and exhausted troops—how would they
bear the shock of battle? He sent for Bessières, the Marshal in whom,
apparently, he had the greatest confidence, and inquired whether the
Guards had everything they needed. He more than once, in fact, made
inquiries on this point.

At last, still unsatisfied, he rose and asked the sentinels outside his
tent whether they had had their rations served out to them. Receiving an
affirmative answer, he lay down again and fell into a troubled sleep.

But he soon called out again. The aide-de-camp who entered found him
with his head resting on his hand. He appeared to be musing on the
vanity of human glory. Napoleon reviewed the critical situation in which
he was placed, and added—“The eventful day draws near. It will be a
terrible struggle!” Then he asked Rapp if he was confident of victory.
“Certainly,” the latter replied, “but we shall not get it without much

Once more Napoleon became restless and uneasy. Again he sent to inquire
whether the Russians were in the same position, or whether they had
slipped away. Receiving a reassuring report, he endeavoured to calm his
agitation; but the exhausting journeys he had lately performed and his
sleepless nights, together with his many cares and anxieties, had so
told upon him that as the temperature fell during the night he grew
feverish, and was seized with a dry cough and nervous irritation. During
the latter part of the night he suffered from intense thirst. And to add
to all this he was troubled by his old complaint, for on the previous
day he had had an attack of dysuria, a disease from which he had long

Five o’clock struck at last. An officer came from Ney to report that the
Russians were in front, and requesting leave to begin the attack.
Napoleon brightened up, rose from his bed, summoned his attendants, and
issued from his tent with the words—“They are in our hands at last!
Forward! The gates of Moscow are before us!” Such is Ségur’s account.

The battle of Borodino, famous in the annals of war, had begun. The roar
of the guns, borne upon the wind, was heard eighty miles away from the
battle-field. The Emperor was seen throughout the whole day sitting or
slowly walking up and down near the landslip on the left front of the
captured Shevardino redoubt; but he could scarcely view the battle from
that place after it had been for some time in progress. He rose now and
again, walked a few paces and seated himself once more. Those who
attended him regarded him with astonishment. They were accustomed under
such circumstances to see him managing affairs with a confident and
tranquil air; but instead of this they now saw nothing but feebleness,
lethargy, and inertia. Some ascribed his want of energy to fatigue;
others thought that he was tired of everything, even of fighting, while
some suspected internal sufferings.

The last supposition was probably the correct one. Napoleon’s attendant,
Constant, positively asserts that during the whole of the battle of
Borodino he was suffering from an attack of his chronic malady. He had
contracted, moreover, some time previously a severe cold which he had
neglected, and it was rendered still worse by the anxieties of the day.
So seriously, in fact, did it affect him that he almost lost his voice.

“Napoleon never once mounted his horse,” says de la Fluse, “during the
whole of the battle. He walked about with his officers, pacing up and
down upon the same spot. It was said that his indisposition prevented
him from riding.

“His aide-de-camp was kept busy in receiving and delivering his orders.
Behind Napoleon were the Guards and a few corps in reserve. A regimental
band was playing a succession of military airs, recalling the
battle-fields of the first Revolution, such as ‘_Allons enfants de la
patrie!_’ But at Borodino these strains had no effect on the soldiers,
and some of the older officers laughed at the contrast of the two
periods. The panorama of a bloody battle was spread before our eyes, but
we could see nothing, owing to the smoke of a thousand guns thundering
without a pause. I got as close as I could to the Emperor, who kept
looking through his glass at the field of battle. He was dressed in his
grey overcoat, and spoke but little. When a cannon-ball rolled towards
his feet, as sometimes happened, he stepped on one side just like the
rest of us.”

By three o’clock in the afternoon the French had captured the redoubt on
the Semyonof heights, but the Russian army, far from taking to flight,
had no intention even of retiring. Napoleon, aghast at the unprecedented
losses of men, officers, and generals, put a stop to any further attack,
and, in spite of all representations, refused to allow the reserves to
be used for a final decisive assault.

[Illustration: AT BORODINO.]

The marshals sent General Belliard for assistance. The general declared
that from the position they occupied they could see the whole of the
Mozjaisk road, covered with men and wagons in full retreat, that nothing
was needed but one vigorous onset to finally crush the Russian army. The
Emperor wavered and hesitated; then he bade the general return and
report again.

Belliard rode off in some surprise, and soon returned with the news that
the enemy was apparently rallying, that the opportunity for the decisive
blow was passing, and that if they did not strike at once a second
battle would be needed to decide the first. Bessières, however, returned
at this moment from the hills to which he had been sent by Napoleon to
inspect the Russian position. He insisted that the Russians, far from
retreating in disorder, had only retired to their second position, and
were actually preparing to attack. Then the Emperor informed Belliar
that it was not yet clear what had happened; that before making up his
mind to allow his last reserves to be brought into action he wished to
be more certain regarding the position of the pieces on his chess-board.
He repeated this phrase several times.

Belliard returned completely dumfoundered to Murat and the other
Marshals, who were impatiently awaiting reinforcements, and informed
them that they were not forthcoming. “He had found the Emperor still at
the same spot, evidently in pain, and in a state of despondency; his
features were downcast, his eyes dull and heavy, and he gave his orders
in a listless way.

“Every one was surprised. Ney, in an access of ungovernable temper, said
bluntly, ‘What is the meaning of this? Have we come out here for the
pleasure of taking the plain? What is the Emperor doing in the rear?
There he can only see the reverses and not the successes. If he does not
mean to lead the army himself, if he has ceased to be a general and is
playing at Emperor, let him return to the Tuileries, and leave the
command in our hands!’”

Daru, in his turn, was instigated by Dumas and Berthier to whisper to
the Emperor that the universal cry was, “Now is the time for the Guards
to attack!” But Napoleon answered, “And if I have to fight a second
battle to-morrow, what troops shall I have to fight it with?”

Napoleon’s sufferings were evidently increasing; it was as much as he
could do to mount his horse and ride at a foot pace to the Semyonof
hills. He saw that he was far from being master of the field of battle;
that it was still disputed by the cannon-balls, and even the
rifle-bullets, of the enemy.

Murat declared that he saw none of the genius of Napoleon displayed on
this momentous day, and Prince Eugène, the Viceroy, admitted that he
could not understand his adopted father’s indecision. When Ney was
appealed to for his opinion he was so angry that he recommended retreat.

The whole of the French army was disappointed with the result of the
battle, and with the want of energy displayed by Napoleon. Bessières was
especially blamed; for, at the critical moment, when the Emperor was on
the point of making up his mind to let the reserves be brought into
action, the Marshal approached him and whispered in his ear—“Sire, do
not forget that you are eight hundred leagues from your capital.”

There are, however, some who take the opposite view. Chambrey, for
instance, assures us that “the whole of the French army was astonished
at the stubbornness with which this terrible battle was fought,” and
Gourgot, in defending Napoleon, goes so far as to say, “If the ranks of
the Guards had been thinned at the battle of Borodino, the remains of
the French army, of which it was the pillar and pride during the
retreat, would hardly have managed to reach the Niemen.”

Of the Russian authorities, some find fault with Napoleon, and others
are of opinion that he adopted the only possible course. “Nothing,” says
Buturlin, “can justify Napoleon’s course in stopping the fight at three
o’clock when a little further effort might have ensured a victory. The
last Russian reserves had already gone into action, while on the side of
the French neither the Old Guard nor the Young, nor any of their
cavalry, amounting to over 20,000 men, had taken any part in the battle.
There is no doubt that if Napoleon had made use of the twenty-three
battalions and twenty-seven squadrons of which this select force
consisted, he would have utterly routed the Russians, and compelled them
to spend the remaining four hours of the day in continual retreat
instead of preparing for attack.”

Danilevsky asserts that the French, after occupying the redoubt on the
Semyonof hills, so far from pressing the Russians, who had fallen back
on another position in the immediate neighbourhood, withdrew all along
the line for the night; and reminds his readers of the fact, that until
eleven o’clock on the following day the French made no attempt to renew
the assault, but awaited an attack on the part of the Russians, and only
advanced at last when their opponents began to retire.[6] He expresses
an opinion that for Napoleon’s refusal to use the Young Guard to support
the cavalry in breaking through our left flank, our army was indebted to
the movement made on the left by Uvarof’s cavalry,—that is to say, to a
movement ordered by Kutuzof himself. We may add that neither Uvarof nor
the Cossacks did all that might have been expected from them. Had the
latter attacked the French more boldly in the rear, plundered their
baggage, and generally caused confusion in that quarter, as they had
every opportunity of doing, Napoleon would in all likelihood have had to
send his reserves not to the front but to the rear; and the result would
probably have been to demoralize, and perhaps to spread panic throughout
the whole of the French army.

Many incline to Marshal Davout’s opinion, which we have already
mentioned, that Napoleon could have made much more certain of victory
if, instead of attacking the Russian left, he had made a strong
demonstration there, and sent a large force on to the old Smolensk road
to support Poniatowski against Tutshkof. He would certainly have been
enabled to fall on the rear of the Russian army, which, being thus cut
off from Mozjaisk and cornered between the rivers Kolotsha and Moskva,
would have been in a very critical position.

It was at first Prince Kutuzof’s intention to accept battle on the
following day in the position which the Russian army then occupied. But
the reports sent in at night by the commanders of the various army corps
as to the disordered condition of the different divisions, and above all
as to the scantiness of ammunition, caused him to change his plans.
Grabbe was sent that night to the First Army with orders to retire. Deep
silence, he says, reigned at the village of Gorki. When he had found the
cottage in which Barclay-de-Tolly was quartered, he obtained a candle
with much difficulty and entered the parlour where the general was
asleep on the floor, side by side with his aides-de-camps and orderlies.
He gently awakened him, gave him the note which he had brought with him,
and explained his mission. The general leaped to his feet, and, probably
for the first time in his life, there burst from his lips, generally so
mild and gentle, a torrent of bitter invective against Benigsen, whom,
for some reason or other, he took to be the principal author of the
decision to retreat.

The Russian army began once more to retreat, and the French to advance.
The French had therefore nominally won the battle.

“Monsieur L’Evêque,” writes Napoleon to the Bishop of Metz, “the passage
of the Niemen, of the Dvina and the Dnieper, and the battles of Mohilef,
Drissa, Polotsk, Smolensk, and lastly of Moskva [Borodino], call for
thanksgiving to the God of Might. We desire that on receipt of this
letter you will make the necessary arrangements. Summon my people to the
churches and sing praises unto the Almighty according to the forms laid
down by the Church for such occasions.

“In sending you this letter, I pray the Lord that, etc.

“_Given in our Imperial Quarters in Mozjaisk, 10th September, 1812._


In accordance with these instructions, the Bishop of Metz issued the
following proclamation:—

 “Claudius Ignatius Laurent, by the Grace of God, Bishop of Metz,
 General Administrator of the District, and Baron of the Empire, to the
 clergy and to all true sons of the District of Metz, greeting.


     “The whole universe now gazes in profound wonder upon new exploits
 and new triumphs yet more glorious than those that have hitherto
 filled us with astonishment. Napoleon has once more shown himself a
 veritable Titan, capable of the most gigantic achievements. His
 victorious phalanxes have swept like eagles from the mouth of the
 Guadalquivir to the sources of the Volga. No longer shall the Northern
 barbarians trample on the blessed valleys of the South; the glorious
 warrior of the West is driving the common foe before him to the
 ice-bound regions of the Pole.

 “For more than a century have the presumptuous dwellers of the
 hyperborean shores, relying on a reputation they have ill deserved,
 menaced and intimidated the humble and confiding monarchs of civilized
 Europe. Long time, too long indeed, have they lent the hireling aid of
 their would-be invincible legions, to nations whom it was their aim
 thereafter to subdue, and whom they have set in arms one against
 another, only to break faith with their kings and lead them astray
 into difficulties from which there was no escape. He whom the Creator,
 the God of War, hath chosen to root out all manner of crafty cunning,
 to break the spells of witchcraft, to humble the proud, to cast down
 earthly idols, to triumph over the kings of the nations and subdue
 their chief cities, he has seen, beloved brethren, that the time has
 come to humble their intolerable pride and arrogance, and to show to
 all men that these savage warriors are no more invincible in their
 native steppes than in the valleys of Helvetia, or the plains of
 Poland and Moldavia.

 “What the mind hath conceived, that the hand hath performed. Though
 few be the months that have passed, the rapidity of our successes and
 the splendour of our victories fill the whole world with astonishment.

 “The immortal instrument by whom these wonders have been worked, he
 himself marvels, it would seem, at his own successes. He humbly
 acknowledges that it is the right hand of God, and not his own, that
 triumphs over the enemy who has summoned him to the fight.

 “On the field of battle, in the midst of his victories, he is the
 first to raise the hymn of thanksgiving, and, from the ends of the
 earth, where he is now contending with the foe, he calls upon the
 pastors of his realm to summon the people to the churches, and join
 him in singing praises unto the Lord, in gratitude for His victories.
 Who is so proud that he will not bow down before the Most High when
 the victor, who casteth down the thrones of kings, himself falls at
 the throne of the Lord who giveth as He will, victory or defeat, life
 or death, peace or war?

 “Never, my brethren, has Napoleon the Great missed any occasion of
 proclaiming these eternal truths whenever he has achieved one of his
 wondrous victories. The joyful epistle which his Imperial and Royal
 Majesty has graciously vouchsafed to us is a convincing testimony of
 the depth of his religious faith.

 “Let us give thanks to the Fountain of these great mercies even as our
 most gracious Emperor lays his triumphs at the feet of the Almighty,
 the Lord of heaven and earth.

 “And to this end that the praiseworthy intentions of our most august
 Emperor and King may be worthily fulfilled, we, having duly considered
 the matter, do hereby order and command....”

It is admitted on all hands that the French losses at Borodino were
quite as great as the Russian, namely, about 50,000. Ségur puts them at
40,000. Dumas says that “the losses were beyond calculation.” At about
nine o’clock in the evening Napoleon summoned Daru and Dumas. His camp
was in the middle of a square formed by the Guards. “He had only just
supped,” says Dumas, “and was sitting all alone. He made one of us sit
on his right, and the other on his left. After questioning us as to the
arrangements made for giving assistance to the wounded, he began to talk
of the result of the battle. Then, after dozing in his chair for about
five minutes, he gave himself a shake, and began talking again. ‘People
are surprised, I dare say,’ he said, ‘that I did not let my reserves be
used in order to secure a more decisive result; but you see I was
obliged to save them for the final blow which we must deal before we can
enter Moscow. The success of the day was certain; I had to think of the
issue of the campaign—that is why I kept the Guards out of action.’”

Napoleon attempted the same night to resume his routine work which had
been interrupted for five days. But his voice failed him, and he could
neither converse nor dictate. He was obliged to have recourse to the
assistance of the pen, writing his orders on scraps of paper. His
secretaries and all the members of his staff who could be of any
assistance copied them out as fast as they could. Count Daru and the
Prince of Neufchâtel set to work with the others; but the Emperor’s
handwriting was extremely difficult to decipher, for he was writing at
the rate of an order a minute. He would frequently rap on the table as a
sign to remove the papers which were accumulating in great piles.

Twelve long hours were spent in this work. Not a sound was to be heard
but the scratching of Napoleon’s pen and the rapping of his hammer.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The French army at last approached Moscow. Napoleon, who had been
previously seated in a carriage, mounted his horse when half-way through
the last march.

In the distance, through a cloud of dust, could be seen the long columns
of Russian cavalry retiring in good order before the French troops. At
last a number of towers came into view, with golden domes glittering in
the sun—a vast city lay before the advancing host, and the van of the
army, in a transport of enthusiasm, cried, “Moscow! Moscow at last!” The
cry was taken up by the whole army; officers and men clambered on to the
heights in order to gaze at the famous city, destined perhaps to be the
new boundary of the French Empire.

Napoleon feasted his eyes upon the spectacle from the Pilgrim’s
Hill—Poklonnaya Gorà. Behind him was a group of delighted marshals.

To the left and right they could see Prince Eugène and Poniatowski
approaching the city. In front, on the high-road, Murat and his scouts
had almost reached the suburbs; but still no deputation of the
inhabitants came out to meet them. It was afternoon, but Moscow gave no
sign of life; it was like a city of the dead. Those officers who had
already been in the city reported that Moscow was deserted! But for a
long time no one dared to communicate these tidings to Napoleon; all
feared an outburst of the Emperor’s fury. When Napoleon was at last
informed of the condition of the city he flatly refused to believe the
report. Then he mounted his horse and rode up to the Dorogomilof gate.
He gave orders that the strictest discipline should be observed,
clinging to the hope that the rumour would prove to be untrue. Perhaps
these people did not know the proper mode of surrendering. The whole
situation was new to them; the French and their ways must be as strange
to the Russians as they and their ways were to the French. But every
fresh report confirmed the alarming news; doubt was no longer possible.

Napoleon summoned Daru—“Moscow is deserted! The thing is preposterous!
Ride into the place and find the boyards.”

Daru, however, was unsuccessful in his mission, for there was not a
boyard in the city. There was no smoke from the chimneys—not a sign of
habitation; unbroken silence brooded over the vast city.

But Napoleon insisted; he still waited and hoped. At last one of the
officers, evidently willing to oblige at any cost, rode in, seized a few
vagrants in the streets and drove them out before him—as a deputation.

Rostopchin says that the deputation consisted of some twelve men clad in
the worst of garments; the civic authorities, nobility, clergy, and
principal merchants were represented on this solemn occasion by a simple
type-setter. Napoleon saw the humorous side of the situation, and turned
away. Convinced at last that Moscow was really deserted, he abandoned
his hopes and projects, shrugged his shoulders, and said with a
contemptuous air—“The Russians do not understand the impression that
will be produced by the occupation of their capital.”

One can well understand Napoleon’s impatience to receive the keys of the
city; for this would have meant the realization of a long-cherished
ambition. An hour before reaching Moscow he summoned Count Durosnel, who
was in charge of the Imperial head-quarters, and said—“Go into the city,
get everything in order, and select a deputation to bring me the keys.”
There is no doubt that he had thought out all the details of his entry
into Moscow; his speech to the nobility, in which he would have availed
himself of the jealousy between the old capital and St. Petersburg, and
the shortcomings of the constitution of the empire, to win these brave
but barbarous people over to his side; his arrangements for a
contribution to be paid in gold, and the issue of the false 100 rouble
notes which he had had printed expressly in Paris, and with which he
hoped to make good the expenses of the war. He had, of course, already
decided whom he would punish, or reward, to whom he would extend his
Imperial clemency; what changes he would make in the administration;
and, last but not least, how he would conduct the negotiations for
peace—whether slowly or quickly, haughtily and sternly, or graciously.
He who had so long been accustomed to apply his genius to every detail
of the subjugation, pacification, and organization of newly-conquered
countries, must of course, now that he had reached the goal of his
ambition, consider and decide everything beforehand. And, after all,—how
aggravating to find that there was nothing, positively nothing, with
which to satisfy the curiosity of the _Moniteur_ and of Europe, which
had been expecting this climax open-mouthed.

A Frenchman, who was an eye-witness of the scene, tells us that he came
upon the Emperor in one of the suburbs, awaiting envoys from the
Russians, and examining their cavalry, which was retiring on the left,
through a field-glass. A few peasants and shopkeepers were marched up.
They presented a pitiable spectacle, and were quaking with terror, under
the impression, apparently, that their last hour had come.

Napoleon dismounted. He was evidently cold; he coughed as he gave his
orders, and he seemed to be undecided as to what course to adopt.
Apparently considering that it would be wisest not to run the risk of
entering the city at that moment, he stationed himself in one of the
neighbouring wooden houses.

This was in the suburb of Dorogomilof. Marshal Mortier was appointed
Military Governor of the town. Napoleon said emphatically—“See to it
that there is no plundering! You will be answerable with your own
head—save me my Moscow from everybody and everything!”

At the Dorogomilof Bridge, Riess, the bookseller, was brought to
Napoleon. Riess afterwards related that he had been compelled to remain
at his shop, but hearing the drums and trumpets in the street he went
out, was taken prisoner and brought before the Emperor.

“Who are you?” asked Napoleon.

“A French bookseller.”

“Ah! then you are one of my subjects.”

“Yes; but I have lived for a long time in Moscow.”

“Where is Rostopchin?”

“He has gone.”

“Where are the magistrates—municipal council——?”

“Gone also.”

“Who is left in Moscow?”

“None of the Russians.”

“_C’est impossible!_”

Riess apparently swore that what he said was true. Napoleon frowned and
remained for some time buried in thought; then, as if he had made up his
mind to some daring project, he gave the word, “Forward—march!”

One of the Russians says—“They went searching for the keys and for a
deputation in the Government offices, the town-hall, the head-quarters
of the police, the Governor-General’s house, and, in fact, every place
in which there was the least chance of finding an official. After a long
but ineffectual search, the zealous Polish general who had undertaken
the task returned to Napoleon and reported that there was not a single
functionary left in Moscow, and that the town was deserted by all except
a few foreigners who had stayed behind. The Emperor accordingly
postponed his entry; he thought perhaps that by next day some of the
inhabitants would have returned, and that a deputation would arrive
after all, or that at any rate his French, Italian, and German subjects
would come to the rescue and present themselves to pay him their

He was again disappointed. He spent the night before the gates in an
innkeeper’s house, apparently unable to sleep. “There was such a
horrible smell in the house,” says his valet, “that his Majesty kept
calling every minute, ‘Are you awake, Constant?’

“‘I am, your Majesty,’

“‘Pray burn some vinegar, _mon cher_; I cannot stand this awful smell—it
is simply torture to me!’

“The house was in such a filthy condition that they found next day
specimens of those disgusting insects which are so plentiful in Russia,
in the Emperor’s bed, nay, in his clothes as well.” The writer refers to
our bugs, which, as is well known, attack new-comers with peculiar

It was said that Napoleon, “although he intended to establish himself in
the Palace of the Kremlin, considered it best to wait a little before
entering into possession, owing to a rumour that the ancient dwelling of
the Tsars was mined with explosives.”

The two armies moved simultaneously upon Moscow. The King of Naples and
Marshal Ney crossed the bridge. The men and officers of the Russian
rear-guard and of the French advance-guard met on the bridge, and the
King found himself completely surrounded by Russians of General
Dorogomilovsky’s detachment. According to Ségur, Murat called out, “Is
there any one here who can speak French?”

“There is, your Majesty,” answered a young officer not far off.

“Who is in command of the rear-guard?” The young man pointed to a
veteran in Cossack uniform who looked as if he had seen service.

“Please ask him if he knows me?”

“He says that he knows your Majesty well. He has always seen you in the
thick of the fight.”

The King hinted in the course of conversation that it was time to make
peace—that the war had already lasted too long. He also remarked
incidentally that the fur coat which the worthy veteran was wearing must
be most useful in camping out. The Cossack general at once pulled it off
and offered it to Murat as a memento of the interview. Murat in return
gave him a valuable watch which he took from one of the officers of his
staff. This unfortunate officer was Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, Gourgot,
who afterwards bitterly lamented the loss of his watch, which he valued
for its associations.

The narrative of Kerbeletzky, a Russian _chinovnik_, who was captured on
the way to Moscow and brought before Napoleon, is interesting in its
_naïveté_ and simplicity—“The Duc d’Istry, Napoleon’s State Secretary de
Laurent, and his Polish aide-de-camp Lieutenant-Colonel Welsowicz,
questioned me on the morning of September 1, in great detail, not only
as to the number and disposition of all our armies, and the movements
and performances of each of them, but also as to the intentions
entertained by our Government with regard to peace.

“All the officials whom I have named above, according to their own
account, which they said was based on the most trustworthy information
received by Napoleon, were thoroughly acquainted with the condition of
Moscow. They knew that there were no Russian troops in the town, and
supposed not only that the Russian army would not give battle before the
gates of the city, but more than that, that the Russian Government would
certainly sue for peace. Welsowicz further affirmed that on the morrow,
namely on September 2, Napoleon, their Emperor, would dine in Moscow;
that whatever resistance might be offered by the Russian army which had
taken part in the battle of Mozjaisk, he would take the city by force if
need be; would raise a good round sum by way of contribution; would
restore Poland to her former dignity, and would join White Russia and
Smolensk to her territories. He would further provide his troops with
clothes and boots, and after spending a while in this capital of Russia
would return to Paris. If the Russian Government remained obdurate and
refused his terms, he would make over Moscow to Poland, while he himself
marched to St. Petersburg and beyond, and subdued the whole of Russia.

“On the 1st, at ten o’clock in the morning, he proceeded towards Moscow
with his huge army, which had passed the night camped round the
country-house he had occupied. In the evening he halted at Viazum, a
village some twenty-two miles from Moscow, belonging to Prince Galitzyn,
and spent the night in the manor-house. That day Napoleon drove the
first eight miles in his carriage, with the Prince of Neufchâtel
(Berthier). Then, as he could no longer use the carriage, for the bridge
on the high-road was burned, and the road that led round by the ravine
was impassable, he mounted a horse and rode the rest of the way. On
September 2 Napoleon left Viazum at daybreak, and at ten o’clock in the
morning he reached a manor-house which lies on the right of the
high-road to Smolensk, eight miles from Moscow. There he was met by the
King of Naples. He did not enter the house with him, but turned to the
left into a close near the church, and there they walked alone for more
than an hour, discussing the steps that must be taken for the capture of

“Murat then, without taking his dinner, proceeded towards Moscow, and
the whole of the French army with its numerous artillery followed him
without a halt. Napoleon made a hasty dinner in the house, and with his
attendant generals—who took their dinner outside—and a special
body-guard, consisting of a squadron of Chasseurs and another of Polish
Uhlans, under the guidance of the Russian prisoners, set off post-haste
after Murat.

“Napoleon arrived at two o’clock in the afternoon at the Pilgrim’s
Hill—Poklonnaya Gorà—distant some two miles from Moscow. He found the
vanguard already drawn up in battle array at the foot of the hill by
order of the King of Naples. The Emperor, holding in his hand a plan
which was given to him, dismounted, and some of the generals who
accompanied him did the same. The army was preparing for battle.

“After waiting half-an-hour without any challenge from Moscow, Napoleon
gave orders to fire a gun as a signal; then, when five more minutes had
elapsed, he and his staff mounted their horses and galloped at full
speed towards the city. At the same moment the vanguard and the division
which was posted in the rear of the centre advanced with indescribable
impetuosity; the cavalry and artillery galloped at full speed, keeping
step together, and the infantry charged along as fast as they could
double. The thud of horses’ hoofs, the creaking of wheels, and the
rattling of guns, added to the noise of running men, made a remarkable
uproar. The daylight was dimmed by the dense cloud of dust which they
raised! Within twelve minutes they had reached the Dorogomilof gate.


“The unexpected news that Moscow was deserted both by the Russian army
and by the inhabitants seemed to astound Napoleon. He was seized with
the profoundest amazement, which for the moment wrought in him a kind of
ecstasy or self-forgetfulness. His tranquil and measured step at once
became quick and feverish. He looked all round and about him, recovered
himself, stopped in his walk, shivered, fell into a stupor, scratched
his nose, pulled off his glove, and pulled it on again; drew out his
handkerchief from his pocket, crumpled it between his hands and put it
in another pocket as though by mistake, then took it out again and put
it back; then he pulled off his glove once more and pulled it on again,
repeating this action many times. He continued thus for a whole hour,
and during that time the generals surrounding him stood motionless, like
lifeless images of men, not one of them daring to stir. Then Napoleon
recovered himself a little, mounted his horse and rode into Moscow,
followed by the cavalry, which had hitherto stood without the gates.
When he had passed through Dorogomilof Post-boy Ward and come to the
edge of the river Moskva, he stopped on the right side of the street on
the slope of the bank, dismounted, and began once more to pace up and
down; but this time he was more tranquil.

“Napoleon and his escort lay that night in the Dorogomilof suburb in
private dwellings. Of the inhabitants of Moscow none were to be seen
except four stable-boys.”

The night which Napoleon passed in the suburb was a sad and dreary one.
To say nothing of the bugs—and perhaps also other parasites by no means
rare in Russia—he was kept awake by the gloomy reports that were
continually brought in, warning him, among other things, that the city
was about to be burnt. “The Emperor was uneasy and could not lie still;
he kept calling his attendants and making them repeat the rumours.
Apparently he could not quite bring himself to believe them, but about
two o’clock in the morning he received word that the fires had begun.

“He entered Moscow on Tuesday, September 3, at half-past ten in the
morning. The Arbat Ward was absolutely empty. He mounted his little
Arab, dressed in his grey overcoat and an ordinary cocked hat, without
any sign of distinction. He was surrounded by a very large suite of
marshals and other officials. The various colours and the richness of
their uniforms, and the many-tinted ribbons of the orders which they
wore, made a most brilliant picture, and gave a certain distinction to
the simplicity of Napoleon’s attire. The conqueror of Moscow rode as far
as the Borovitzky gate without seeing a single inhabitant. His wrath was
visible in every line of his face. He was not, indeed, at any pains to
conceal what was passing in his mind.”

It was at this time that new fires broke out in many parts of the Arbat
Ward, and after Napoleon had entered the Palace of the Kremlin, the
Bazaar and the so-called Carriage Mart, together with a number of
dwelling-houses round the Kremlin, burst into flames. Napoleon hurried
to the scene, issuing orders interspersed with curses and threats
against the troops and Marshal Mortier.

“The sight of the Kremlin, however,” says Ségur, “the majestic dwelling
of the line of Rurik and the Romanofs, the throne still standing in its
accustomed place, the Cross of Ivan the Great, and the beautiful part of
the city commanded by the Palace, restored, in some degree, his peace of
mind. His hopes revived; the conquest was at least flattering to his
pride, and he said with some complacency, “_Me voilà, enfin!_ Here am I
at last in Moscow, in the ancient palace of the Tsars! in the Kremlin
itself!” He examined everything with mingled pride, curiosity, and
pleasure; made inquiries as to the resources of the town, and began to
consider the possibility of making peace.”

The enthusiasm in Paris on receipt of the news that Napoleon had entered
Moscow was indescribable. The only anxiety was lest he should rest
satisfied with his laurels and not march triumphantly into India!
Innumerable sonnets, epistles, odes, and eulogistic rhymes of all kinds
were published in honour of the occasion.

Here are a few specimens in the original, for they would suffer by
translation; we have merely left out a few descriptive passages of a
purely imaginary character—


               “Elevons nos chants d’allégresse!
                Vantons nos triomphes heureux!
                Jadis l’Italie et la Grèce
                Eurent des soutiens valeureux;
                Jusqu’à nos jours, Athène et Rome
                Doutaient de voir paraître un homme
                Qui pût égaler leurs succès.
                Maintenant, elles sont moins fières,
                En trouvant les preuves contraires
                Dans le monarque des Français.
                *       *       *       *       *       *
                Ton vainqueur, témoin de ces crimes,
                Moscou, déplore tes malheurs,
                Et par des secours magnanimes
                S’efforce d’essuyer tes pleurs;
                Mais tes maux sont trop innombrables,
                Sur ces pertes irréparables,
                Moscou, tu gémiras longtemps.
                Pleure, vingt siècles sans orages
                N’effaceraient pas les ravages
                Des brandons de monstres sanglans.”

Another lyric poet, Paul Chanin, anathematizes Russia in a ‘Poem on the
Campaign of Russia by the United Armies of France and Germany.’

                  “Une nation factieuse
                   S’oppose au bien que nous voulons;
                   Son influence désastreuse
                   Corrompt l’air que nous respirons.
                   Une île de nous se sépare!
                   C’est du Scythe, c’est du Tartare
                   Qu’elle ose appeler le secours!
                   Le crime de ce pacte impie,
                   Aux yeux de l’Europe trahie,
                   La déshonore pour toujours.”

And now M. A. J. B. Barjaud rises to the epic strain, in a poem entitled
‘Conquest of Moscow.’

          “Le Russe espère, en vain, par un excès d’audace,
           Se soustraire au péril dont ton bras le menace;
           Sa bouche ose indiquer le prix du déshonneur
           A ce perfide appel, la voix de la Patrie
           Répond: qu’il soit marqué du sceau de l’infamie,
                Le front du suborneur!
           *       *       *        *       *       *
           Tremblant à ton aspect, contre l’airain qui gronde
           Il se fait un rempart de la flamme et de l’onde,
           De ses propres foyers il est le destructeur;
           Mais loin de retarder ta marche triomphale,
           C’est la sombre clarté de sa torche fatale
                Qui guide son vainqueur.”

Next comes an ‘Ode to His Majesty the Emperor on his Entry into Moscow,’
by A. de la Garancière.

           “En vain tes ennemis se flattent dans leur rage
            Que leurs climats glacés dompteront ton courage;
            Tu dis en contemplant tes valeureux soldats:
            ‘Si jamais la victoire, en caprices féconde,
            Fuyait, pour m’échapper, dans un troisième monde
                 J’y guiderais leurs pas!’”

And M. Mazarie, in his turn, celebrates ‘The Taking of Moscow’ in “fiery

                 “Les fils aînés de la Victoire
                  Suivent ce héros que la gloire
                  A ceint du laurier des Césars;
                  Par lui les destins s’accomplissent,
                  Et dans la tombe, au loin gémissent
                  Les mânes effrayés des Tzars.”

I bring these citations to a close with a verse from an anonymous ode on
‘The Campaign of His Imperial and Royal Majesty in Russia and his Entry
into Moscow.’

          “Lâches, où courez-vous? Quels seront vos asiles?
           Ne lancez-vous les feux que sur vos propres villes?
           Ah! tournez contre nous ce salpêtre éclatant.
           Des coups de vos ayeux, élancés du Bosphore,
                L’Europe fume encore;
           Et les Parthes, du moins, fuyaient en combattant!”

“Let us see what the Russians mean to do now,” said the Emperor. “If
they still refuse to enter into negotiations, we shall have to take our
own course. We are provided with winter quarters now. We will show the
world that our army can winter comfortably in the midst of a hostile
nation—like an ice-bound ship in Arctic seas. In the spring we can
continue the war—though Alexander will not compel me to do that—we shall
come to terms and peace will be signed.”

Apparently Napoleon had provided for almost every contingency. One
thing, however, he had not foreseen—the terrible fires that spread so
rapidly in the gusty wind that prevailed on the night of his entry into
the Kremlin. There was nothing to be seen on any side of the fortress
but flames rising high into the air, almost, as it seemed, into the

Numbers of the inhabitants who had remained in Moscow, and who now fled
from house to house in terror of the fire and of marauding soldiers,
were arrested and shot, under suspicion of incendiarism.

Napoleon spent his first night in the Kremlin in a state of great
excitement; abusing his soldiers, his officers, and Marshal Mortier,
stamping his feet, and demanding that the fires should be stopped.

When he was told that the Kremlin was surrounded with flames, he sent
Berthier on to an elevated terrace of the Palace to see if this was
really the case, but the force of the wind and the draught created by
the fires was so great that the Prince and his officers had considerable
difficulty in preventing themselves from being carried away.

The Emperor was stupefied at times by the strength of his emotions; his
face was red and streaming with perspiration. The King of Naples, Prince
Eugène, and the Prince of Neufchâtel begged him to leave the Palace, but
he could not make up his mind to retreat. “These ruffians,” he said to
his servant Constant, in his indignation against the incendiaries, “will
not leave one stone upon another in Moscow.”

Fire broke out at last within the very walls of the Kremlin; the arsenal
was found to be in flames. They found a Russian in the fortress. He was
brought before Napoleon, who questioned him narrowly and ordered the
soldiers to despatch him with their bayonets. He was the custodian of
the arsenal!

“There is no such word as _cannot_ in my dictionary,” was one of
Napoleon’s favourite sayings. But the time had apparently arrived for
incorporating the unwelcome expression, especially when Berthier
represented that if he did not leave the Kremlin and Kutuzof delivered
an attack, he would find himself cut off from his troops.

Napoleon resolved to abandon the Kremlin and remove to Peter’s
Palace—Petrofsky Dvoretz—but the change of quarters was by no means an
easy undertaking. Around the fortress swirled an eddying sea of fire
closing every exit. At last the fugitives discovered a path to the river
Moskva; and the Emperor with his suite and his guards sallied forth
across the stream, only to find themselves in a veritable inferno. The
officers of Napoleon’s suite wished to wrap him in a cloak and carry him
through the flames in their arms; but he refused, and solved the
question of the means of escape by dashing boldly forward. They had to
fight their way through an avenue of fire, scorching their faces and
burning their hands, which they put up to ward off the sparks and
cinders that fell in a shower around them. It was fortunate for the
Emperor that some soldiers, who were marauding in the vicinity,
recognized him and showed him a way of escape. His hair was singed, his
clothes were burnt into holes, his hands blistered, and his boots

The Prince of Eckmühl, it is said, though still suffering from the wound
he had received at Borodino, as soon as he heard of the danger to which
Napoleon was exposed, hurried to meet him, intending to rescue him or
perish in the attempt. It is said that when Napoleon and the Marshal met
they fell into each other’s arms.

The principal officers accompanied Napoleon to the Petrofsky Palace.
Dumas, the Intendant-General, gives the following account of his
escape—“It was night when I left the house I was proceeding to occupy.
We issued from Moscow under a perfect hail of fire; the wind was so
strong that it tore the red-hot iron from the roofs and hurled it down
into the streets. All our horses had their legs burnt. It is impossible
to describe the confusion of our headlong flight. The roar of the flames
can be likened to nothing but the noise of the waves of the ocean—it was
indeed a storm raging over a sea of fire. The whole length of the road
to the Petrofsky Palace was littered with odds and ends of all kinds,
especially with broken bottles thrown away by the soldiers. We
bivouacked at the edge of the forest in full view of this image of the
infernal regions. The whole of the huge city was a vast sheet of flame,
and the heavens themselves seemed to be on fire. At a distance of two
miles from the conflagration I was able to read the orders which were
brought to me from the major-general.”

After a five days’ stay in the Petrofsky Palace, a period of the most
intense anxiety, Napoleon returned to Moscow. It should be mentioned
that from the time he entered the Kremlin, and throughout his stay at
the Petrofsky Palace, he made no military arrangements of any kind. It
is evident that he was so overwhelmed by the fire that he was unable to
determine upon any course of action.

When Napoleon re-entered Moscow a fearful sight met his eyes. Of all the
huge city there remained nothing but heaps of ruins surmounted at
intervals with stacks of chimneys. A heavy stifling atmosphere hung over
the fallen Colossus. Heaps of cinders and ashes, with here and there the
fragments of half-ruined walls or pillars, alone marked the course of
the streets.

The Emperor saw his troops scattered over all parts of the town. His own
progress was hindered by the multitude of plunderers, searching for
booty or dragging it away in noisy crowds. Soldiers were grouped at the
entrance of every cellar, before every large house, and before the shops
and churches towards which the fire was making its way. Before the
flames reached these buildings the doors were broken open by impatient
pillagers. The Emperor’s path was impeded at every turn by remnants of
broken furniture flung from windows, and various articles thrown away by
the plunderers to make room for more delicate or costly booty. Napoleon
rode on in silence.

But disorder soon reached a climax. Even the Old Guard joined in the
pillage, and Napoleon resolved upon stern measures, which had a certain
good effect. After returning to Moscow, the Emperor’s mood became
somewhat more cheerful, and the change was reflected in his _entourage_.
When, however, he looked out of the window upon the scene of desolation
that met his view on every side, he was once more oppressed with gloomy
thoughts, and his bitterness was vented on those who had the ill-fortune
to present themselves at such moments. But he no longer displayed such
constant signs of impatience, nor did he give rein to such furious
outbursts of anger, as had marked his previous demeanour. It need
scarcely be said that Rostopchin—who was, fortunately for himself, at a
safe distance—and the incendiaries were the principal objects of his

Napoleon was very satirical in chronicling the fact that the Russians
had celebrated Borodino as the first victorious encounter of their
forces with the invader. He says in one of his despatches—“The Russians
have offered up a _Te Deum_ in thanksgiving for the battles of
Ostrovnaya and Smolensk—and of course the army entered Moscow to the
strains of hymns of thanksgiving.”

“At the ruffian Rostopchin’s house,” he continues, “they found rifles,
papers, and a letter which he had begun—he ran away without having time
to finish it. Moscow, one of the wealthiest cities in the world, is no
more. This is an incalculable misfortune for the Russians, both for
their merchants and for their nobility; the loss must amount to
milliards. Some hundred incendiaries have been taken and shot. Thirty
thousand Russian sick and wounded were burnt alive. The richest
commercial houses of Russia are ruined. They were unable to take
anything away with them; and when they saw that everything had fallen
into the hands of the French, they set fire to their own ancient
capital, their holy city, the centre of the empire. Rostopchin is the
author of this crime. We did what we could to subdue the fire, but the
ruffianly Governor had taken his precautions only too well—he had
carried off or destroyed all the fire-engines and apparatus.”

As an answer to this bulletin he learned that the surprise, terror, and
indignation produced in Paris by the news of the burning of Moscow
defied description. It was easy to see that a despatch announcing that
the soldiers were provided with shelter, food, and clothing would have
reassured the Parisians far more than any news of victories.

Napoleon, however, after bewailing the treacherous welcome he had
received from the city, declared—“The army is doing well; there is
plenty of corn, potatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables, beef, salt
meat, wine, brandy, sugar, coffee, etc., etc. The men have secured a
quantity of furs and coats for the winter. One advance-guard is posted
on the road to Kazan, the other on the road to St. Petersburg.”

He referred in carefully-chosen terms to the Emperor Alexander, who, in
his opinion, would not have hesitated to make peace if he had but
received any one of the letters sent to him—letters, by the way, of a
most gloomy, melancholy character.

Napoleon expounded his magnanimous intentions to Yakovlef, a Russian
nobleman who was captured when about to leave Moscow, robbed by the
soldiers, and brought to the Emperor dressed in the coat of his valet.
After various complaints and reproaches, Napoleon, adopting a much
gentler tone, asked—“If I write a letter, will you consent to deliver
it? Will you promise that it shall come into Alexander’s own hands? If
you can promise me this, I will let you go—but are you certain that you
have access to your Emperor, and can you assure me that he will get my

Yakovlef of course promised.

Napoleon got up at night on purpose to write the letter—“I have fought
your Majesty without ill-feeling. A word from you before or after the
last battle, and I would have stopped, and abandoned my right to enter
Moscow. If your Majesty yet cherishes any kind feeling towards me, you
will consider my appeal to you. Common humanity, your Majesty’s own
interest and the interests of this great city, should have induced you
to trust to my hands the capital which your troops had left.”

At three o’clock in the morning he despatched the letter to his
prisoner, who passed with it through the French lines, delighted that
his carelessness in allowing himself to be taken prisoner had had no
graver consequences.

Tutolmin, the Governor of the Foundling Hospital, also had the honour of
a conversation with Napoleon, of hearing from his own Imperial lips of
the respect and brotherly tenderness with which he regarded the Emperor
Alexander, and of his readiness to make peace. “I have never adopted
this method of warfare,” said Napoleon to Tutolmin; “my troops can
fight, but not burn. All the way from Smolensk I have seen nothing but
ashes. Some limit must be put to this bloodshed; it is time for peace. I
have no business here in Russia.”

As Tutolmin’s official duties prevented him from leaving Moscow,
Napoleon begged him in his next report to the Empress—to be sent through
the outposts—not to omit to mention Napoleon’s peaceful inclinations and
his readiness to enter into negotiations.

Napoleon was very uneasy during the first few days after his entry into
Moscow regarding the movements of the Russian army, which had been
completely lost sight of in the confusion of the fire, the looting, and
all his other troubles. He spoke very sharply to General Sebastiani,
losing his temper and abusing him roundly, for not keeping an eye on
Kutuzof. Imagining that frequent communication with the Russian outposts
was the cause of the disorders that had occurred, he ordered Marshal
Berthier to instruct Murat to forbid all communication with the enemy on
pain of death. “It is his Majesty’s wish,” said Berthier, “that the only
communication with the enemy should be through the medium of powder and
ball.” Napoleon, however, was not the only person who was uneasy at the
disappearance of the Russians. The marshals were apprehensive at one
time lest Kutuzof should cut their communications.

“On the 11th September,” according to Kerbeletzky, “Napoleon, preceded
by two pages and accompanied by his generals, Court officials, three
Russian prisoners and a body-guard consisting of a squadron of Chasseurs
and some Polish Uhlans, left the Kremlin for the first time to gaze upon
the ruins of Moscow, and, also for the first time, doffed his light-grey
overcoat and appeared in uniform. It might have been expected that, as
his marshals and all his generals were in uniforms, richly embroidered
back and front with gold, the Emperor would be distinguished by the
peculiar brilliance of his attire. On the contrary, he was dressed in a
plain military uniform of dark-green cloth, with a red collar, without
embroidery, but with epaulettes, the star of the Legion of Honour on the
left breast, and a crimson ribbon round the tunic. He wore a low cocked
hat and a small cockade. His charger was an ordinary Polish horse, while
his generals and Court officials had English horses, in a very famished
condition. When Napoleon came out, many of the inhabitants of Moscow,
who had drunk deep of the cup of suffering, ran away as soon as they
caught sight of his numerous suite. Others, of a more daring
disposition, ventured to peep stealthily from behind ruined walls. And
lastly, in a street near the poultry market, a group of small burgesses,
numbering about forty, whose clothes were in tatters, and whose faces,
through the combined effects of fear, hunger, and cold, retained
scarcely any semblance of humanity, waited till the suite approached the
end of the street, then fell on their knees, stretching out their arms
to the Emperor, bewailing what they had suffered, lamenting their utter
ruin, and begging for mercy and bread!

“But this inhuman creature turned his horse away to the right, and
merely bade his secretary learn what they wanted.

“From end to end Moscow was a scene of indescribable horror and utter
desolation. The houses which had survived the fire were plundered, and
the churches looted. All the pavements and side-walks were littered with
fragments of chandeliers, mirrors, furniture, pictures, books,
church-plate, and even the sacred _ikons_ of the saints.”

As we have already said, when the plundering began, even the severest
prohibitions scarcely availed to check the reign of lawlessness.
Sebastiani, for instance, when complaints were made, was obliged to
declare that he was unable to restrain his men. In the orders of
September 22, Napoleon says—“In spite of all orders, the patrols neglect
their duty; at night the sentinels fail to challenge those who pass.” On
September 24 he says—“To-day the officers omitted to salute the Emperor
with their swords on parade.”

“At the Kremlin,” says Constant, “the days were long and tedious.”
Napoleon was waiting for the answer from Alexander that never came.
Among other things his spirits were depressed by the flocks of crows and
jackdaws that appeared in the city. “_Mon Dieu!_” he cried, “do they
mean to follow us everywhere?”

Napoleon rode daily through the city, mounted on a little white Arab,
and accompanied by a few generals and aides-de-camp and fifty Uhlans. He
spoke to nobody while in the street. A theatre was opened for the men
and officers of the army in one of the houses which were still left, but
Napoleon did not visit it himself. Sometimes in the evening he would
play a game of cards with Duroc. A few concerts were given at the
Palace; the Italian Tarquinio, who had lately come from Milan, sang, and
Martini played the piano; but the Emperor listened with a heavy heart.
“Music,” observes Constant, “had lost its power over his disordered
spirit.” Evidently these distractions and the rides through the streets
were insufficient to counteract his gloomy meditations on the solution
of the insoluble problem, how to present the utter failure of the
campaign to Europe as a gigantic success, and by what stratagem to evade
the inevitable.

Napoleon paraded and reviewed the Guards and the garrison in all
weathers, distributing rewards and crosses of the Legion of Honour. The
latter ceremony is described as follows by an eye-witness—“A fat little
man marched down the steps of the Palace, surrounded by a numerous suite
of marshals and generals. The band struck up, and he advanced to within
some fifty paces of the front of the line. He wore a green uniform, and
his hat was pulled right down over his evil, penetrating eyes. The
ribbon of the Legion of Honour which he wore was so hidden under his
uniform that it was not always visible. He sometimes made speeches on
these occasions. At the announcement of the names of the newly-appointed
chevaliers the band gave a flourish. To judge by Napoleon’s haughty
look, he was quite conscious of his own power.”

It had meanwhile become plain that Alexander would not condescend to
reply. This was a terrible insult, and Napoleon was correspondingly

“On October 3,” says Constant, “after passing a sleepless night, he
summoned his marshals. As soon as they appeared, he said—‘Come in! Come
in! Listen to the new plan I have thought of. Prince Eugène, read it!
Burn the remains of Moscow; and march through Tver to St. Petersburg,
where Macdonald is to join us, Murat and Davout to command the
rear-guard.’ He gazed at his generals in a state of great excitement;
but they remained impassive and silent, apparently only surprised. He
tried to kindle some enthusiasm in them, and cried out—‘What! Are you
not delighted at the notion? Was there ever a more glorious feat of
arms? What glory we shall reap! What will the world say when it hears
that we have subdued the two great capitals of the North in three

Davout and Daru tried to damp his enthusiasm by pointing out the
lateness of the season, the scarcity of provisions, the bare and exposed
nature of the road from Tver to St. Petersburg, a track through marshes
which three hundred peasants could render impassable within a few hours!
Why, they urged, go north to meet the winter so eagerly, when it was
even then at their very doors? And what of the 6000 wounded in Moscow?
Must they be given up to Kutuzof? The latter would certainly pursue, and
the army would then have to act simultaneously on the offensive and
defensive. The time, they added, had come to end the campaign, not to
prolong it. The question was not that of securing a superfluous victory,
but of getting as quickly as possible into winter quarters. They must
abandon all thoughts of Kutuzof and of fighting, and retire.

Napoleon had not only to listen to this advice, he had to follow it. The
time had passed when he could say of his marshals—“These people think
that they are indispensable; they do not understand that I have a
hundred brigade-commanders who could amply fill their places.”

The marshals clearly saw not merely the dangers of the approach of
winter, but also the precarious condition of the army. From the moment
of Napoleon’s arrival at Moscow, his pride kept him in a state of
absolute ignorance upon this subject. He always took the army to be in
the condition in which he wished to see it, and he boldly adapted his
orders to this view, refusing to listen to his generals when they
endeavoured to disabuse him of his error. He was resolved, indeed, to
make no serious arrangements until their absolute necessity became
apparent; until, in fact, it was too late.

Seeing the stubbornness of his marshals, and Russia’s unwillingness to
take the hand which he had proffered too late, Napoleon showed
remarkable consideration for the happiness of the two contending
nations, and resolved to secure peace at any price. In vain did
Caulaincourt, whom he wished at first to send as an envoy to St.
Petersburg, represent that at this season of the year Russia must feel
her own strength and superiority, and that any such attempt would do
more harm than good, inasmuch as it would betray the difficulty of his
position. Napoleon, whose chief fear was lest he should have to utter
the word “Retreat,” resolved once more to try the charm of his own
personality. He could not admit, with Tilsit and Erfurt in his mind,
that this charm would be less effective in Moscow than in Paris, and
resolved to send General Lauriston to Kutuzof’s head-quarters. Lauriston
also ventured to submit that at this season of the year it was time, not
to be negotiating from Moscow, but to be retiring to Kaluga, and that as
quickly as might be. Napoleon answered bitterly that he himself was in
favour of the simplest plan, and the straightest road—the high-road—and
in the present case the road by which they had come; but he would not
travel along it until peace had been concluded. He then showed to
Lauriston, as he had showed to Caulaincourt, his letter to Alexander,
bade him approach Kutuzof and request a pass to St. Petersburg. The
hopelessness of Napoleon’s position was expressed at this interview in
his last words to Lauriston—“I desire peace; you hear my words. Get me
peace, _coûte que coûte_! But save my honour by any means you can!”

The “old fox,” Kutuzof, fully appreciated the necessity of keeping
Napoleon in Moscow, and humoured Lauriston so cleverly that the poor
envoy flattered himself with the most extravagant hopes of a speedy
peace, and, what is more, inspired his Emperor with the same delusion.

The position of the French army, however, began in the meanwhile to
assume a critical aspect. A desultory guerilla warfare broke out, and in
order to procure forage it was necessary to send large detachments with
a powerful escort of cavalry and artillery. Every measure of oats and
every truss of hay was obtained by hard fighting. Then the peasants
began to take part in the war. These men whom Napoleon had taught his
troops to look upon as hereditary helots and barbarians, exhibited an
unlooked-for independence, and refused to accept the favours which the
foreigner endeavoured to foist upon them.

Recognizing the danger of his position, and feeling that he was being
hoodwinked, yet not daring to break off his overtures to the Russian
Government, Napoleon cast around for some means of making peace
necessary to his adversary. He began to collect information regarding
Pugachof’s rebellion, and endeavoured to procure a copy of one of the
Pretender’s latest manifestoes, expecting to find in it a guide to the
families that could lay claim to the Russian throne. In the course of
his inquiry he was ready to turn for advice to any one whom he chanced
to meet. He soon saw, however, that it would be difficult to effect
anything by this means, and abandoned the idea of using Pugachof.

The Tartars were invited to go to Kazan and summon their brethren to
declare their independence. They were promised support as soon as they
should rise; but nothing came of this proposal. False reports of all
kinds were then circulated. It was pretended that Riga had been taken by
assault, that the whole length of the road from Vilna to Smolensk was
covered with a train of wagons bearing winter clothing to the army, that
Marshal Victor was bringing up large reinforcements, that next spring
the army would be as strong and well-equipped as when it crossed the
frontier; in short, that if the Russians did not make peace that winter
the Emperor would adopt stern measures.

None of these reports and projects, however, came to anything. No reply
was received from St. Petersburg, and the war assumed a more and more
serious aspect. An armed band, with a priest at its head, captured the
town of Vereya, near Moscow, under the very nose of the Grande Armée.
Others seized two immense convoys on the high-road to Smolensk, the only
route by which Napoleon was able to communicate with Europe, and with
France. It was becoming clear that the great invasion was a fiasco, and
Napoleon was obliged to reconsider his opinion as to the system by which
the Russians should defend their country. When they were attacked in the
centre they directed all their forces on the flanks, and seemed almost
as if they would overpower them.

Worst of all, winter was now approaching. Napoleon at last realized the
fact. He grew uneasy, and began to make unobtrusive preparations for

Poor Moscow bore the brunt of his resentment. He gave orders to strip
the covers from the _ikons_ and fling them, with the censers, crosses,
and plates, into the melting-pot. Two and a quarter hundred-weight of
gold and six tons of silver were converted into bullion for transmission
to France. In addition to this Napoleon took a number of so-called
“trophies”—the arms of Moscow from the Senate House, the eagle from the
gates of St. Nicholas, the cross from the belfry of John the Great. The
removal of this gigantic cross cost no little time and labour. The
Emperor wished to use it as an adornment for the Church of the Hôtel des
Invalides. While personally superintending its removal he lost all
patience with the clouds of “accursed jackdaws which hovered over the
belfry as if they had a mind to defend the cross!” It is said that
Berthier, the Duke of Wagram, who was standing with General Dumas on a
balcony outside the Empress’ apartments while the work of removing the
cross was in progress, unable to restrain his anger, exclaimed—“To think
of a man doing a thing like this when he as good as has peace in his

Shortly before the departure from Moscow a very curious order was
issued. The Commanders of Army Corps were directed to present tables
showing the number of sick who could recover, (1) within a week; (2)
within a fortnight; (3) within a month; and secondly, the number who
would probably die, (1) within a fortnight; (2) within three weeks.
Provision was to be made only for the departure of Class 1—all the rest
were to be left behind. Not less extraordinary, considering the
depopulated and devastated state of the country, was the order to
purchase exactly 20,000 horses, neither more nor less; and to procure
fodder for two months—and that in a position where even the most distant
and dangerous expeditions were insufficient to procure enough forage for
daily needs.

During the latter half of his stay in Moscow Napoleon’s anxieties once
more gave rise to constant outbursts of temper. At his morning _levées_,
for instance, when he was surrounded by his chief officers, he would
challenge their inquiring looks, which seemed to him to be full of
reproach, with his stern impassive glance; but his hard abrupt way of
speaking and the pallor of his countenance showed that he knew the
truth, and that it gave him no peace. He would vent his wrath at times
in harsh, even cruel, reproaches, which afforded him no relief, but
rather added to the tension of his feelings by the consciousness of his

[Illustration: DISILLUSION.]

It was only, according to Ségur, in his conversations with Count Daru
during his sleepless nights, that he entirely unburdened his mind. “He
wished,” he said, “to attack Kutuzof and either annihilate or drive him
from before him, and then to fall rapidly back upon Smolensk.” But Daru
answered that though this might have been done before, it was now no
longer feasible. The Russian army, he pointed out, was stronger than
ever, and his own weaker; the victory of Mozjaisk was already forgotten;
and as soon as his army turned back towards France it would slip like
water through his fingers, for every soldier was loaded with booty, and
would hurry forward into France to dispose of it.

“Then what am I to do?”

“Stay here,” said Daru; “turn Moscow into a great fortified camp, and so
pass the winter. There is plenty of ‘bread and salt’—I can answer for
that. For all else, great foraging expeditions can provide. I will salt
down all the horses for which there is no forage. As for quarters, if
there are not houses enough, there are plenty of cellars. This will help
us to last out till the spring, when our reinforcements, backed by all
Lithuania in arms, will come to the rescue and help us to complete our

At this suggestion, the Emperor was silent a while, evidently buried in
thought; then he answered, “_Conseil de lion!_ but what will Paris say?
What will they do? What have they been doing these past three weeks? No
one can foresee the impression which six months of uncertainty may have
upon the Parisians. No; France is not accustomed to my absence. Prussia
and Austria will take advantage of it.”

Napoleon was already engaged in imparting an artificial warmth to the
zeal of his allies. In confirming the instructions he had before given
to Schwarzenberg, and adding new ones, he did not forget to allow him
“12,000 francs per month for secret expenses; and ordered 500,000 to be
paid to the account of the future;” nor did he refuse any of the rewards
solicited by Schwarzenberg for his nominees. He even begged the Emperor
of Austria to confer upon him the dignity of Field-Marshal, and
suggested various distinctions for his army.

Schwarzenberg, requiting one good turn with another, secretly informed
Berthier that the Emperor could count on him personally, but that he
must not rely upon Austria.

Napoleon, however, was still reluctant to announce his intention of
retreating. Already half defeated, he deferred from day to day a public
avowal of the disaster that had overtaken his arms. Amid the gathering
clouds of military and political disaster, Napoleon, who had always
shown a morbid activity, was absolutely inert. He spent his days in
discussing the merits of various odes and sonnets that had lately
arrived from France, specimens of which we have given above, or in
revising the regulations for the Comédie Française—a task on which he
spent three evenings.

It was generally remarked that his dinners and suppers, usually simple
and short, were now prolonged, and that he began to sustain his flagging
energies with spirits. He grew heavy and sluggish, and would pass whole
hours half-sitting, half-lying, with a novel in his hand, his eyes fixed
upon vacancy, awaiting the _dénouement_ of this terrible drama. The
letter to Alexander at St. Petersburg, which he sent by Lauriston under
the escort of Volkonsky, should have arrived on September 24. A reply
could not be expected until October 20, and Napoleon was evidently
awaiting that date. According to Constant, “the last days spent at
Moscow, preceding October 18, were terribly gloomy; his Majesty seemed
deliberately cold and uncommunicative; for whole hours together no one
who was with him would dare to begin a conversation.”

Throughout this period the official sources of information, the
despatches and the _Moniteur_, carefully concealed the truth. Thus we
read—“On October 3 winter began to make itself felt in Moscow. Our
troops are in quarters, and preserve the most excellent discipline. We
found in Moscow all the Turkish standards taken during the last hundred
years and more.”

Murat at this time sent a despairing report from the advance-guard
regarding the scarcity from which they were suffering and the rapid
disappearance of the remains of the cavalry. Berthier was alarmed at
this information. Napoleon summoned the officer who brought the report,
and so questioned and cross-questioned him that in the end he began to
doubt his own information. Napoleon at once availed himself of this
hesitation to support Berthier’s flagging hopes, and assure him that
they were still in a position to wait, and finally sent the officer back
to Murat with the full conviction that he would spread the notion in the
advance-guard that the Emperor had his plans fully thought out and
decided upon.

It is impossible to believe that Napoleon had entire confidence in his
own optimism, for his every action was stamped with the mark of
indecision. All who came into contact with him were astounded by the
entire absence of his former promptitude and audacity, which had always
been equal to the necessities of the moment. They recognized that his
genius was no longer able to adapt itself to circumstances, as in the
days when his star was in the ascendant. He was now obstinate and
rebellious, and could not reconcile himself to the shipwreck of his
plans. Not only his military projects, but all his other schemes—which
the world regards as strokes of genius if they are sanctified by
success, and dishonourable cunning if they fail—missed their aim and
vanished in smoke. To the list of these abortive plans—besides the
endeavours of which we have spoken to raise the peasants and the
Tartars—we must add the miserable fiasco of the bank-notes, which he had
forged to the extent of 100,000,000 roubles. It is impossible to refuse
to credit the existence of these hundred-rouble notes of Parisian
manufacture. Berthier, in one of his letters, laments the loss of his
last carriage which contained “the most secret papers.” In this carriage
was found a _pièce de conviction_ of the most damning character—a plate
for printing Russian hundred-rouble notes.

Every precaution was taken before the war to prevent the Parisian
artists, who were engaged to engrave the plates, from learning the true
character of the nefarious task upon which they were employed. The
forgery was carried on very slowly, to Napoleon’s great annoyance; he
more than once insisted upon the work being advanced more quickly. The
campaign had already begun when they brought him twenty-eight cases of
forged notes, and if he did not succeed in uttering them, it was only
because there were no inhabitants on his road—there was no one to pay
and no one to reward.

In the spring of 1812 the Duke of Bassano handed over to Frenckel, a
banker of Warsaw, forged notes to the amount of 20,000,000 roubles, with
instructions to circulate them beyond the Russian frontier as the French
advanced. In order to facilitate this operation, a rumour was spread
that when the French occupied Vilna they seized notes to the amount of
many millions, but the report proved ineffectual. The merchant
Nakhodkin, who was acting as Mayor of Moscow, received 100,000 roubles
for his services. Pozdnykof, Kolchúgin, and others were rewarded in the
same way, but they could not bring themselves to put the notes into
circulation. Tutolmin, the honourable director of the Foundling, refused
outright to accept any bribe. “It was mere maliciousness on their part,”
he wrote in his report to the Emperor, “that led them to offer me forged
notes, of which they had brought a great quantity, and with which they
even paid the troops at Napoleon’s own order.” It was with great
reluctance that the Guards accepted these notes in payment, though the
forgeries were cleverly executed, and afterwards accepted in error even
by the Russian banks.

Napoleon’s inactivity was infectious. It was not until October 7 that
leather was distributed, by the orders of Berthier, the head of the
staff, to repair the soldiers’ boots, and then it was too late. It was
also too late when the slightly wounded and the convalescent, together
with the trophies that had been captured, were despatched to Mozjaisk.
The rest of the sick and wounded were moved into the Foundling, and
French doctors were told off to attend them, in the hope that the
Russian wounded who were among them would serve as a kind of protection.

Napoleon concentrated the various army corps that were stationed outside
the city on the Moskva, and reviewed them even more frequently than
before. The obvious weakness of the battalions was a constant source of
annoyance to him, and he ordered the troops to be drawn up two instead
of three deep. It is difficult to find a reason for this change, unless
we assume that Napoleon was endeavouring to deceive himself and others
by lengthening the lines.

During one of these reviews in the courtyard of the Kremlin, a rumour
was circulated among his suite that artillery fire was to be heard in
the direction of the advance-guard. At first no one dared to call
Napoleon’s attention to the fact; but Duroc summoned up courage to
inform him of the news, and all observed that the Emperor was seriously
disturbed. He soon recovered himself and was about to continue the
review, when an aide-de-camp from Murat came galloping up with the
information that the King’s first line had been taken by surprise and
routed; that his left flank had been surrounded under cover of the
woods, his right attacked, and his communications cut. Twelve guns,
twenty caissons, and a number of baggage-wagons had been captured, two
generals killed, and three to four thousand men lost. He added that the
King himself had been wounded, but he had saved the remnants of his
command by means of repeated attacks on the overwhelming forces of the
enemy, who had just begun to occupy the only road by which he could
retreat. Murat’s report was that “the advance-guard no longer exists,
for the exhausted remnant of it could certainly not survive more than
one more battle with the enemy, who have become bolder than ever.”

This was on October 18. The war was being renewed, said the French—it
was just beginning, said Kutuzof.

At the news of this attack, Napoleon recovered all his former energy. He
issued a thousand orders, embracing the most important movements and the
most trivial details, and before nightfall the whole army was in motion.
At dawn on the 19th, the Emperor himself left Moscow, with a bold
declaration that he was moving on Kaluga—“And woe to him who tries to
bar my way.”

He left Moscow by the old Kaluga road, meaning to reach the frontier of
Poland by way of Kaluga, Medyn, Yelnya, and Smolensk. Rapp, who
accompanied him, observed that it was getting late in the year and
winter would overtake them on the way; but the Emperor replied that the
soldiers must be given time to rest and recover, and the sick must be
moved from Mozjaisk, Moscow, and the Kolotzky monastery to Smolensk.
Then he pointed to the clear blue sky, and asked if they did not see the
star of his fortune in the sun above them and in the continued fine
weather. “The sinister expression of his countenance,” says an
eye-witness, “gave the lie direct to these words of hope and simulated

In this instance, as in every other, it was hard even for those who were
brought most closely into contact with him to decide whether he spoke
from conviction or not. Considering the explicit nature of the reports
that were sent in to him, it is impossible to suppose, for instance,
that it was through ignorance that he so entirely misrepresented the
truth as to the engagement of the advance-guard under Murat. This was
the celebrated battle of Tarutina, the real beginning of the _débâcle_
of the French army. About 50,000 were engaged and utterly routed, losing
some 4000 killed and wounded, thirty-eight guns, one flag, and the whole
of the baggage.[8]

Napoleon in his despatches gives the following account of the
engagement—“A number of Cossacks have begun to make their appearance,
and given our cavalry some trouble. The cavalry advance-guard, which was
stationed by Vinkovo, was surprised by a mob of these Cossacks, who made
their way into the camp before our men had time to mount, captured
General Sebastiani’s baggage, consisting of 100 wagons, and made about
100 prisoners. The King of Naples placed himself at the head of his
Cuirassiers and Carabineers and attacked a column of the enemy’s light
infantry, consisting of four battalions, which had been sent to support
the Cossacks, with such success that he routed and annihilated it.
General Desi, the King’s adjutant, and a brave officer, was killed in
this skirmish. The Carabineers distinguished themselves.”

When Napoleon learned from a new envoy to the Russian camp that Kutuzof
had made no forward movement, he started for Kaluga, making a circuit
round the Russian troops with the object of avoiding an engagement. We
are forced to the conclusion that he only spoke of dashing Kutuzof to
pieces, and opening the road before his troops, with a view to rousing
the drooping spirits of his men, and distracting the attention of
Europe. He must have seen that though his troops could fight in defence
of the enormous booty they had taken, they could no longer win

The retreating French army covered a vast extent of ground. Of the
column—which consisted of nearly 150,000 men, with 50,000 horses—the
100,000 who formed the vanguard, with haversacks and rifles, 550 guns,
and 2000 artillery-wagons, still recalled the warriors who had conquered
Europe. The rest resembled a Tartar horde returning from a successful
raid. Along three or four endless lines of march there was a hopeless
tangle of carriages and caissons, of smart barouches mixed up with
wagons of every description. In one place were trophies of Russian,
Turkish, and Persian flags, and the huge cross of Ivan the Great; in
another were bearded Russian peasants dragging along French booty of
which they themselves formed part. Others were drawing wagons laden with
everything on which they had been able to lay hands. They had no chance
of reaching even the first _étape_, but their greed made nothing of 2000
miles or more. Elegant carriages passed along drawn by undersized horses
harnessed with ropes. These carriages were filled with plunder and with
French women, former inhabitants of Moscow, flying before the
anticipated vengeance of the Muscovites. Many Russian women were also to
be seen, some following the army of necessity, and some of their own
free will. One might have fancied, say those who witnessed the scene,
that this was some caravan of nomads, or some army of early days
returning from a foray with women, slaves, and all kinds of spoil.

In spite of the breadth of the road and the cries of his body-guard,
Napoleon could scarcely manage to make his way through this endless
host—they no longer paid much attention to him. He pushed forward in
silence, and proceeded along the old Kaluga road. For some hours he
pursued this direction, but at mid-day, on the heights of Krasnaya
Pakhra, he turned the line of march suddenly to the right and reached
the new road to Kaluga in three marches across country, the movement
being covered by Ney’s corps and the remains of Murat’s cavalry.
Berthier’s letter to Kutuzof, received on the day of the evacuation of
Moscow, descanting upon the theme of humanity and love of one’s fellows,
was a military stratagem intended to throw dust in the eyes of the
Russians and gain a day of undisturbed retreat.

This ruse very nearly achieved its end; but it so happened that the
Russian free-lance, Figner, detected the retreat of the army and carried
the news to Kutuzof, who was lying without precaution at Letashefka. The
Russian general immediately moved parallel to Napoleon upon Kaluga.

There can be no doubt that if Napoleon had cared less for the
preservation of his plunder and more for speed he would have arrived
before the Russians; but moving as he did without haste, no faster than
circumstances conveniently permitted, he made the irretrievable mistake
of arriving too late.

“Never,” says Fezensac, “did the French army carry such a quantity of
baggage. Every squadron was provided with a wagon for its provisions,
and burnt what it could not carry without the formality of asking
permission from the battalion commander.”

“The troops,” says René Bourgeois, “and especially the Guards, were
laden with gold, silver, and precious things, stuffed into every
possible place, regardless of the provisions. The result was that they
had not got far from Moscow before the army began to want for the first
necessaries of life. There were few of the officers who were not
provided with furs, but the majority of the soldiers had no clothing
beyond their uniforms and great-coats, while their boots were in a most
lamentable plight.”

The French army slowly made its way to Malo Jaroslavetz. The
advance-guard had already occupied the town, and the principal obstacle
to their progress seemed to be successfully surmounted. Napoleon was
taking his _déjeuner_ in the open with Murat, Berthier, and General
Lariboisière, when he suddenly heard artillery fire from the direction
of the advance-guard. Fighting had begun at Malo Jaroslavetz. The
Emperor mounted and galloped in the direction of the cannonade. The
Viceroy’s aide-de-camp, who brought news that all the available forces
had gone into action, received the answer—“Ride back to the Viceroy and
tell him that now he has begun he must drink the cup to the dregs. I
have ordered Davout to support him!”

The battle was a sharp one. Malo Jaroslavetz was captured and
re-captured eleven times. The town was utterly destroyed, and the course
of the streets was indicated only by the piles of corpses with which
they were strewn. The houses were mere heaps of ruins, among which might
be seen the limbs of charred corpses. When the Emperor reached the scene
of action, he was shown redoubts which the Russians, when repulsed, had
hastily constructed. The general opinion of the French was that Kutuzof
would not retire, and that the action would end in a general engagement,
to which the vigour of the French troops and the ammunition of their
artillery were alike unequal.

“At Malo Jaroslavetz,” says Fezensac, “the advantage of the day rested
with the French, but Kutuzof fell back upon a new position and
strengthened it with redoubts. One of his divisions actually began to
make its way round our right along the Medyn road. We were obliged
either to retreat or engage in a serious battle.”

The position was extremely grave. In the village of Goròdnya, on the
road to Malo Jaroslavetz, a Council of War was summoned to consider the
question. Marshal Bessières and the other generals were of opinion that
they must retreat—not that they were doubtful of victory, but they
dreaded the losses that must ensue, and the probable demoralization and
disorganization of the army. The cavalry and the artillery horses were
worn out with work and want of food, and it was impossible to replace
those that were lost. How were they to transport their artillery, their
ammunition, and the wounded, of whom there would certainly be a large
number? Under these circumstances the march to Kaluga seemed a very
risky enterprise, and prudence counselled retreat through Mozjaisk to
Smolensk. Bessières was the first to suggest retreat, and the others
followed suit. Napoleon hesitated for a long time, but at last, after
passing the whole day in inspecting and studying the locality and in
hearing the opinion and advice of his generals, he resolved to retire to
Mozjaisk, and thence to retreat along the devastated route of his

In Bulletin XXII. Napoleon gave the following account of the important
battle of Malo Jaroslavetz and the subsequent decision to retire—

“At Malo Jaroslavetz the Russians brought two or three armies into
action, but without effect. The enemy retired in such disorder that they
were obliged to throw twenty guns into the river. The Emperor rode into
Malo Jaroslavetz and inspected the enemy’s position. He ordered an
attack, but the enemy escaped in the night. The Emperor then returned by
way of Vereya to Smolensk, i.e. to the road on which he had previously
travelled.... The weather is brilliant and the roads are excellent. The
Italian Guards have distinguished themselves. General Baron Delsome, a
first-rate officer, received three bullet wounds and was killed. The old
Russian infantry was annihilated. It is stated upon good authority that
only the front ranks of the Russians consist of soldiers. The rest are
made up of recruits and militiamen, with whom the Government has broken
faith in keeping them under arms.” And so forth.

Napoleon now increased the rate of march, and reprimanded Davout
continually for the slowness of the rear-guard. What this slowness
really amounted to may be gathered from the report given by Platof,
Hetman of the Cossacks, who followed Davout from Mozjaisk. He stated
that the enemy was in flight—“no army can be said to retire under such
circumstances—they abandon their wounded, their sick, and their heavy
baggage by the way.”

After leaving Mozjaisk the French army passed by the plain of Borodino,
on which more than 30,000 corpses had been left. At the approach of the
troops, flocks of carrion-crows rose with hideous cries from the torn
and mangled bodies of the dead. In spite of the cold, the latter emitted
a most nauseating odour. Napoleon neither turned his head nor uttered a
word, he merely quickened his step—for he was on foot.

It is said that when the Emperor’s column approached Gzhatsk they found
the road strewn with freshly-slain Russians, all with their heads blown
open in the same manner, by a point-blank shot, and their blood and
brains scattered around. They knew that 2000 Russian prisoners had gone
on in front under escort, and they understood that these were the bodies
of those who could not keep up with the rest, and who had been shot to
save further trouble. Some of the suite were filled with indignation,
others held their peace, while yet others justified this cold-blooded
butchery. None of those who were with the Emperor dared to express their
feelings, except Caulaincourt, who exclaimed—“This is the foulest
brutality! And this is the civilization which we have imported into
Russia! The enemy will requite our barbarity; there are numbers of
wounded and captive Frenchmen in their hands, and there is nothing to
prevent them revenging themselves on us.” Napoleon was stern and silent,
but next day the butchery ceased—no doubt he had taken measures to stop

With regard to these prisoners, the testimony of eye-witnesses at
head-quarters is all to the same effect. “There was a column of Russian
prisoners marching in front of us,” says Fain, “guarded by soldiers of
the Rhine Federation. They flung them fragments of horse-flesh for their
food, and their guards had orders to kill those who fainted by the way
and could not proceed. The road was scattered with their dead bodies,
their brains blown out.”

“The Baden Grenadiers,” says Rooss, “who escorted Napoleon’s baggage,
had orders, if any of the Russian prisoners succumbed and were unable to
proceed, to shoot them on the spot. Two of these Grenadiers informed me
that it was Napoleon himself who gave the order.”

“My pen positively refuses,” says M. de B., “to describe our treatment
of the Russian prisoners during the retreat, the cruelty and savagery of
which it has in vain been sought to excuse by the law of necessity, and
by the exceptional circumstances in which the French troops were

Labaume describes what he himself saw. “On the road they had no means of
feeding the 3000 Russian prisoners taken in Moscow. They drove them
along like so many cattle, and would not allow them to leave the narrow
space allotted to them under any pretext. Fireless and frozen, they lay
upon snow and ice, and in their unwillingness to die, longing to stay
the pangs of hunger with any nourishment, they ate the bodies of such of
their comrades as succumbed. It must be added that these were not
captives taken with arms in their hands, but a rabble composed of men of
every class who were found in the streets of Moscow.”

Petrofsky, an officer of noble birth, who was kept prisoner in spite of
all the rules of war, gives the following account of this butchery.
“Suddenly, a few paces in our rear we heard a rifle-shot, to which I at
first paid no attention. A non-commissioned officer came and reported to
the officer in command that he had shot one of the prisoners. I could
not believe my ears, and I asked the officer to explain the statement.
‘I have written instructions,’ he replied politely, ‘to shoot all
prisoners who, from fatigue or any other cause, fall more than fifty
paces behind the rear of the column. The escort has received decisive
orders to that effect.’ In the course of the day some six or seven men
were shot, and among them was one of the civil officials. Sometimes we
heard as many as fifteen shots in a day. I once saw a veteran sink upon
the road from fatigue; three times the Frenchman who stopped to shoot
him put the muzzle of his gun to the Russian’s head, three times did he
pull the trigger—the rifle missed fire! At last he left him, and sent a
comrade whose musket proved more effective. Some of the prisoners, when
they saw that their end was approaching, espied a church ahead in the
distance. They strove to drag themselves to the porch, and were there
shot dead with prayers upon their lips.”

The author of this last statement, who afterwards became a count, would
doubtless have shared their fate but for his deliverance by a band of
free-lances under the command of Cheznyshof.

On October 31, Napoleon reached Vyazma. For the first time since leaving
Moscow he wore a sable cap, a green pelisse edged with sable, and
slashed with gold frogs, and fur-lined boots. He continued to wear this
costume during the rest of the retreat, and when the severe frosts
began, and it was impossible to sit in the saddle, he either drove in a
carriage or went on foot. The infantry of the Old Guard camped round his
head-quarters as before in a square, finding shelter, as far as
possible, in such houses as were still standing.

The troops, who had orders to burn everything, smashed in the doors and
windows of the houses and set fire to them with torches, cartridges, and
even ammunition-boxes. The towns and villages were filled with the smoke
of burning houses and the stench of decomposing corpses. Davout, who
despaired of preserving his men under such circumstances, wrote to
Napoleon saying—“It should be left for the rear-guard to fire such
villages as remain.” The daily losses of the army in men and horses were
greatly increased by this destruction of every dwelling on the road.

The battle of Vyazma was most disastrous to the French. Dorogomilovsky
took a number of prisoners, artillery, and baggage. Napoleon, however,
only informed France of the loss of a few individuals who had been
captured by the Cossacks,—some engineers and topographers who were
taking plans, and a few wounded officers who were marching without
sufficient caution, running into danger instead of marching in their
place with the baggage.

[Illustration: ON THE WAY HOME.]

“On November 6,” says Ségur, “there was a complete change in the
weather, and the blue sky entirely disappeared. The French army had for
some time past been moving through a frosty mist which grew constantly
thicker and thicker; but on that day the mist turned into flakes of
snow—it seemed as if the icy sky had united with the frozen earth.
Everything took on a new and unknown form. The troops marched without
knowing where they were or where they were going to, meeting obstacles
at every step. While the soldiers were struggling forward against the
icy hurricane, the snow, whirled up by the wind, drifted over the
hollows and concealed their depth; the soldiers fell into them and were
buried in the drifts, and many who were already enfeebled lay where they
fell. Those who came behind them tried in vain to turn aside; the wind
blinded their eyes with falling and drifting snow, buffeted and confused
them, and prevented them from advancing. Their wet clothing froze upon
them, and a garment of ice clung to their bodies and numbed their limbs.
The strong bitterly cold wind caught their breath as it issued from
their mouths and turned it into icicles on their beards and coats.
Trembling in every limb they would plod on until the snow, forming balls
under their feet, absolutely prevented all progress; then, stumbling
over a piece of wood or the dead body of a comrade, they would fall and
lie groaning and lamenting while the snow covered them up, leaving on
the surface nothing but an almost invisible hillock—a soldier’s grave.
The whole road was scattered with these tiny eminences, like a
churchyard. There was snow, snow everywhere, as far as the eye could see
nothing but a melancholy vista of snow. The effect on the imagination
was profound; it seemed to be a winding-sheet which Nature was wrapping
around the unfortunate French army! The only objects that stood out were
the fir-trees with their funereal green, standing motionless and huge,
their black boughs outspread, filling the heart with sadness and

“Everything, even their weapons which had been serviceable at Malo
Jaroslavetz, but were now only contemptible, hindered the wretched
soldiers in their progress. They seemed insufferably heavy; when the
miserable men stumbled, their muskets would fall and break or become
buried in the snow. They would rise to their feet without them—not that
they lost them intentionally—hunger and cold had snatched them from
their grasp. Many had their hands frost-bitten, while their fingers
clung stiff and numbed to their muskets.

“Then came the sixteen-hour nights. With the snow everywhere, covering
everything, there was no place to lean against, to stop at, to sit or
rest upon, there was no spot in which they could dig for roots to stay
the pangs of hunger or obtain fuel for fires. The troops did their best
to form a camp, but the wind cared for nobody, and rudely scattered all
their preparations. The fir-wood was covered with hoar-frost and would
not take fire, fresh snow fell from the sky, the old snow melted
beneath, and even when, at infinite pains, the fire was kindled, it
could not be kept alight. At last something like a fire might be
obtained, and officers and soldiers began to prepare their wretched
supper of scraps of lean meat from horses slaughtered or dead of
fatigue, with perhaps a few spoonfuls of oatmeal soaked in melting snow.
Next day a heap of frozen soldiers marked the position of the
camp-fires, and all around lay thousands of dead horses!”

On the day on which winter broke in all its horror on the unfortunate
French army, Count Daru stopped the head-quarters staff on the march and
made a secret communication to the Emperor. It appeared that an
_estafette_, the first that had arrived for a whole week, had reached
the army with news of Malet’s conspiracy. On the march, under the public
gaze, Napoleon received the news with the utmost _sang-froid_, but
afterwards in camp he expressed the greatest wrath.

He was still more angry at Smolensk, where the army, after all its
expectations of rest, found an insufficiency both of quarters and
provisions. The Emperor was simply furious. “I never saw him,” says his
servant Constant, “forget himself to such an extent. He sent for the
Intendant; I could hear his cries from the adjoining room. Napoleon gave
orders that this officer should be shot, and it was only by grovelling
at the Emperor’s feet that the wretched man managed to get off.”

The calamities of this stage of the retreat were accentuated by the fact
that no notice had been received of the return of the army, and
officials at Smolensk and elsewhere, taken by surprise, completely lost
their heads when they saw these crowds of ravenous fugitives storming
and plundering their stores without much advantage to themselves, but to
the ruin of all who came after them.

The army not only obtained no respite in Smolensk, it proceeded on its
march in a worse condition than ever. There is no doubt that the Emperor
hoped to give his disordered flight the air of a dignified and regular
retreat, for, among other things, he directed that the walls of Smolensk
should be razed to the ground, in order, to use his own expression,
“that they might not stand in his way another time;” as if, at this
moment of disaster, he could have dreamt of a new invasion.

As we have already said, Napoleon rode the first part of the way in a
carriage. In this vehicle, which was closed and contained an abundant
supply of furs, the Emperor, who was warmly clad, did not of course feel
the cold himself. Moreover, shut up with Murat in his carriage, he ran
less risk of being subjected to insults from his angry soldiery, nor was
he haunted by the spectacle of their famine and despair, or the sound of
their clamour for bread, bread, bread!

After Smolensk he covered a great part of the distance on foot, and in
the course of the march he of course had ample opportunity of assuring
himself of the terrible plight of his troops, who were suffering
unspeakable hardships.

The Emperor gave orders that the greater part of the ill-starred
trophies, as well as a quantity of cannon and weapons of every
description, should be sunk in the Dnieper and in the Semlefsky Lake.
But, come what might, he wished to convey the cross of Ivan the Great to
Paris, and he seems to have brought it as far as Vilna.

We have already given some description of the sufferings which the army
underwent on its retreat, but the details furnished by eye-witnesses are
so full of character, interest, and instruction, that I may add a few
more extracts.

At every step were to be seen gallant officers, dressed in tatters, and
leaning on sticks of pinewood, with their hair and beards covered with
icicles. Again and again one might hear them imploring assistance.
“Comrades,” cried one in piteous tones, “help me to rise, give me a
hand; I cannot be left behind!” Every one passed on without even
glancing at him. Misery levelled all ranks and abolished all
distinctions. In vain did many of the officers insist upon their right
to command—no one paid any attention to their orders; the starving
colonel had to beg for a scrap of biscuit from the common soldier; he
who had a store of provisions, were he merely a simple officer’s
orderly, was surrounded by a little court of sycophants, who laid aside
rank and distinction, and flattered and fawned upon their more fortunate
comrade. Officers accustomed to command, and unacquainted with want,
were in the most grievous plight of all—every one shunned them to avoid
rendering them any service.

“_À moi, mes amis!_ help me to rise, I am a Captain of Engineers,” cried
an officer piteously. A passing grenadier stopped, “What, you are a
Captain of Engineers?”—“Yes, dear friend, I am!”—“Work away at your
plans then!” The road was covered with soldiers who no longer bore the
semblance of humanity, and whom the enemy would not even trouble to take
prisoners. Many were reduced by cold and hunger to idiocy; they cooked
and ate the dead bodies of their fellow-soldiers or gnawed their own
arms. Others were so weak that they could not fetch a log of wood nor
carry a stone to sit upon; they seated themselves on the bodies of their
comrades and turned a dull fixed stare upon the burning embers. Soon the
fire would die out, and these living skeletons, having no strength to
rise, would fall dead beside the bodies on which they sat. Many tried to
warm themselves by thrusting their naked feet into the midst of the

All the corps were mixed up: the remnants formed a number of little
detachments, or rather groups, of eight or ten men, who kept together
and had everything in common. Each group had a Russian horse—a _conya_
as they called it, under the impression they were speaking Russian—for
their baggage, their cooking apparatus, and provisions; and every member
of the group had also a sack for provisions. Each of these little
communities lived apart from all the rest, repulsing every one who did
not belong to them. The members kept close together and did their utmost
not to get separated in the crowd, and woe betide him who lost sight of
his mates—he would certainly find no one else to take the least interest
in him or give him any assistance.

“We were a gang of ruffians,” says Labaume, “respecting neither person
nor property. Necessity made thieves and rogues of us. Without the
slightest feeling of shame we stole from one another whatever we wanted.
Arson, murder, and destruction of every kind were incidents of everyday
life, and crime became second nature. With the same indifference with
which the soldiers set houses on fire for the sake of a moment’s warmth,
they would deprive a weaker comrade of all his little store for their
own maintenance.”

In spite of the fearful condition of the troops, Napoleon ordered
occasional manœuvres—with what result may be imagined. Such divisions as
could still be made to perform any evolutions, after wandering about
over snow-blocked roads, would end the day by retiring without their
artillery and baggage, which had been abandoned in the ditches.

The staff encampment, according to the testimony of an eye-witness,
presented a sad and pitiable spectacle. “In a wretched outhouse, with a
crazy roof, some twenty officers, sandwiched with as many servants, were
gathered round a little fire. Behind them stood their horses, ranged in
a circle to keep off the wind. The smoke was so thick that one could
hardly discern the forms even of those who were sitting close to the
fire blowing up a flame under the cauldron in which their food was
simmering. The rest, wrapped in cloaks and fur-coats, were lying side by
side almost on the top of one another for the sake of warmth. They did
not stir a limb, but every now and then one might hear the voice of a
man abusing his comrades for moving about and treading on him, or
cursing the neighing of the horses, or the sparks from the fire that
burnt his coat.”

Napoleon, who now travelled for the most part on foot, clearly
recognized the condition of the army, but he saw no need for giving
Europe any inkling of the truth in his bulletins. “The roads are very
slippery,” he says in Bulletin XXVIII., “and are difficult travelling
for the draught-horses—we have lost a considerable number through cold
and fatigue.” From Vyazma he wrote—“Twelve thousand Russian infantry,
under cover of swarms of Cossacks, cut the road between the Duke of
Eckmühl and the Viceroy. The Duke and the Viceroy attacked them, drove
them from the line of march, pursued them into the forest, and took a
number of prisoners, including a general and six guns. Since then we
have heard no more of the Russian infantry; only the Cossacks are to be
seen moving about in the distance.”

Not a word about the number of prisoners, guns, and baggage taken by
Dorogomilovsky in this battle, which proved so disastrous to the French
army, or of the fact that the French had by this time lost some 40,000
prisoners, about 25 generals, 500 guns, 30 flags, and, in addition to a
stupendous quantity of other baggage, all the trophies from Moscow which
they had not yet burnt or destroyed! If to this total we add some 50,000
who had died of their sufferings, or been killed in different
engagements since they left Moscow, we may calculate that the army
contained not more than 70,000 men, and of these, inclusive of the
Imperial Guard, there were only about 10,000 able to carry arms.

Kutuzof strictly enjoined his generals not to drive the enemy to
despair, and for Napoleon and the Old Guard in particular, from which he
expected a most desperate resistance, he ordered them to _faire des
ponts d’or_, reckoning that even if they survived cold and hunger they
would be unable to pass the Beresina, where they would have to deal with
three armies at once. This is the only supposition upon which it is
possible to explain the unnecessary caution displayed by the Russian
Commander-in-Chief whenever his generals showed any intention of
attacking their enfeebled adversary, and making an end of him and the
war at a blow. The French army—or rather the remains of it—was indebted
for its escape, not so much to its prestige, as to Kutuzof and
Chichagof, and especially to the latter.

In consequence of Kutuzof’s plan, the Emperor and his picked troops were
not harassed on the road to Krasnoye, while Marshals Davout and Ney, who
brought up the rear, were exposed to the most determined attacks.

At Krasnoye, Napoleon, after a series of vacillating and contradictory
movements, once more displayed his characteristic skill and audacity. By
a bold manœuvre he held the Russians in check, and gave the remains of
his two divisions an opportunity of escaping.

While he was manœvring with the Guards, an indescribable mass of
broken-down fugitives absolutely incapable of defence filed past him. In
spite of his self-command it was evident that the sight of these
destitute remnants of his once invincible troops affected him deeply.
Throughout the night that followed he was unable to sleep, and
complained that he could not bear to think of the condition of his
troops. “The very sight of them,” he said, “fills my soul with horror.”

“Imagine, if possible,” says René Bourgeois, “60,000 destitutes with
sacks over their shoulders and long sticks in their hands, covered with
rags of the filthiest description stuck together anyhow, swarming with
vermin, and absolutely starving! Add to this picture pale, cadaverous
faces covered with the dirt of camps and blackened by the smoke of
fires, glazed and sunken eyes, dishevelled hair, long filthy beards—and
you will still have but a faint notion of the appearance presented by
the army! No men had brothers, friends, countrymen, or officers. _Sauve
qui peut_ was the order of the day. We were waging a desperate warfare,
each man against his neighbour; and it may truthfully be said, both in
the literal and the figurative sense, that the strong devoured the weak.
Wherever one turned one’s eyes they fell upon scenes of horror and
barbarity. If a man was suspected of concealing provisions his comrades
attacked him furiously, and snatched them from him in spite of all his
struggles and curses. All day and every day one might hear the sound of
dead men’s bones crunching beneath the feet of horses and the wheels of
the wagons, as they were crushed into the ruts.”

In the face of these horrors one cannot but be surprised that any
fraction, however small, of the Grande Armée ever managed to reach the
frontier and the long-wished-for winter quarters, and it will therefore
not be without interest to see how the fugitives lived their daily life.

“Whenever we halted,” says Bourgogne, “to take a mouthful of food, the
soldiers laid eager hands on the horses that had been abandoned, or on
those which were not guarded, cut them up, collected their blood in
saucepans, boiled and ate it.... If it happened that the order to
advance was given before they had time to finish, or the Russians were
seen approaching and they had to make off, they carried their saucepans
with them, and ate the contents on the march. Their hands of course
became smeared with blood.

“They fought on the slightest provocation, and the air was filled with
evil words. The foulest abuse and the vilest epithets were bandied about
on the most frivolous occasion. Every quarrel ended, as a rule, in the
disputants falling upon one another with fists and sticks; the troops
had in fact arrived at such a condition of savagery that they were ready
to tear one another in pieces.

“At the halting-places they rushed like madmen into the houses, sheds,
outhouses, and buildings of whatever kind that were to be found, and in
a few moments packed them so full that it was impossible either to leave
or enter. Those who could not get in settled down outside, as near as
possible to the walls. The first task was to get firewood and straw for
the bivouac, and for this purpose they would climb on to the
neighbouring houses and carry off roofs, rafters, partitions, and
everything combustible, reducing the whole building to ruins, despite
the cries, threats, and resistance of those who were within. The inmates
had to stand a regular siege and drive away their assailants by a
sortie, or rather by a series of sorties, for the place of those who
were repulsed would be taken by other besiegers stronger and more
resolute. They had to yield at last to superior force and escape in
order to avoid being buried in the ruins. When it was impossible to
effect a forcible entry the assailants would fire the building from
outside in order to expel those who were warming themselves within. This
happened as a rule when a building was tenanted by generals who had
expelled its first occupants. The latter would then threaten to set the
house on fire, and actually put their threat into execution. The
unfortunate officers would rush for the door with execrations on their
lips, falling and crushing one another in their eagerness to escape.”


  Napoleon.      Berthier.      Murat.      Rapp.

Even those highest in command now admitted that Napoleon in leading his
army to Moscow had made the same error as Charles XII. when he invaded
the Ukraine; that from a military point of view the campaign was lost by
irresolution during the critical battle, and from a political point of
view by the burning of Moscow; and that if the army had returned in time
it might have retired in good order. After its entry into Moscow the
Russian Commander-in-Chief and the Russian winter both gave the French
ample grace; the former forty days, the latter fifty, to rest and
retreat. And while they lamented the time wasted in Moscow and the
indecision shown at Malo Jaroslavetz they reviewed the long catalogue of
their own misfortunes. Since leaving Moscow they had lost all their
baggage, half their artillery, thirty flags, some thirty generals,
40,000 prisoners, 60,000 dead. There remained some 50,000 helpless
vagrants, and perhaps 10,000 who were still in a condition to defend
themselves! It was, moreover, a grave mistake to entrust the task of
covering the retreat of the army and all its stores to the Austrians
without leaving some one in authority at Vilna or Minsk to correct their
errors and omissions. The French were unanimous in charging
Schwarzenberg with treachery, though Napoleon himself held his
peace—perhaps out of policy, perhaps because he had not looked for any
greater degree of zeal from his Austrian ally.

Napoleon endeavoured to check the general demoralization and
despondency. In private, as we have already said, he bitterly bewailed
the sufferings of his troops, but in public he assumed a tranquil air,
and gave orders that every one should keep his proper place in the
ranks. Failing obedience, he ordered that “officers be reduced to the
ranks, and soldiers shot.” But this threat proved entirely ineffectual,
for the soldiers were naturally less afraid of death than of the
prolongation of such a state of misery.

At Orcha Napoleon burned his baggage with his own hands in order to
prevent it from falling into the clutches of the enemy. Thus perished
the documents which he had collected for the history of his own life,
with the composition of which he had intended to occupy himself when he
started on this campaign. He then counted upon establishing himself in a
threatening position on the banks of the Dvina or Beresina, and during
the six tedious months of winter devoting his leisure hours to writing
his reminiscences. All these plans and hopes were now scattered to the

A rumour gained currency that Chichagof had occupied Minsk, and that the
line of retreat was therefore endangered. The Emperor, however, attached
little importance to the report, for he was convinced that he commanded
the passage of the Beresina at Borisof. The bridge at Borisof was
protected by a strong fortress occupied by a Polish regiment. Napoleon
was so confident upon this point that in order to relieve the burdens of
the army, he gave orders at Orcha to burn all his pontoons. It must
indeed have been a blow to learn after this that Chichagof had taken the
town of Borisof, which commanded the passage of the river.

There is an interesting description of the arrival of an officer of the
Young Guard who brought this unwelcome news—“On November 26 we were
marching along the high-road in the direction of Borisof. The town was
not far off. Bonaparte was walking, like the rest of us, with a stick in
his hand. He was dressed in a fur-coat and hat, and was walking along
the middle of the road a few paces from me, behind the Prince of
Neufchâtel (Berthier). On every side reigned a melancholy silence.
Suddenly we saw an officer riding to meet us. It was Colonel de F.,
attached to the staff. He halted in front of the Prince and made a
report of something to him—I only heard the words ‘Beresina’ and
‘Russians.’ We all stopped. Bonaparte also halted; he was about six
paces from the Chief of the Staff and the colonel. I moved a little
closer in order to learn what it was all about. I could hear Bonaparte
asking angrily, ‘What is he talking about? eh? What is he talking about?
What is he talking about?’

“The Prince ordered the colonel to repeat his message to Bonaparte. I
seem to hear them even now.

“_De F._—‘Monsieur le Maréchal has sent me to inform you that the
Russian army of Moldavia has reached the Beresina and occupied all the

“_Bonaparte._—‘It’s not true, it’s not true, it’s not true!’

“_De F._—‘That two divisions of the enemy have captured the bridge and
occupied the left bank; also that the river is not frozen sufficiently
to cross on the ice.’

“_Bonaparte_ (angrily).—‘You lie, you lie! It’s not true.’

“_De F._ (coldly, in a louder tone).— I was not sent to ascertain the
position of the enemy. Monsieur le Maréchal sent me to bring this
report, and I am performing my duty.’

“Seeing Napoleon beginning to brandish his stick, I thought he meant to
strike the colonel with it; but at that moment he stepped back with his
legs spread wide apart. Leaning his left hand on his stick and grinding
his teeth together, he cast a furious glance at the heavens and shook
his fist! A cry of passionate anger broke from his lips; he repeated his
menacing gesture, and added one short expressive word—a word blasphemous
enough by itself. I assure you that in all my life I never saw a more
fearful expression of face and figure! He was evidently quite forgetful
of the care with which he had striven till then to hide his feelings
from us, and his endeavours to appear cheerful—though, of course, no one
was deceived. We were so attentively engaged in watching his movements,
and were so much surprised at the scene, that we only recollected
ourselves at last when he gave orders to continue the advance.”

“That night,” says Ségur, “Napoleon had no sleep. Duroc and Daru,
thinking he was asleep, began to talk of the desperate position in which
the French were placed, unaware that he could hear all they said. When
they uttered the words ‘royal prisoner’ he could keep silence no longer,
but broke in, ‘Do you think that they would dare?’ Daru, after the first
moment of surprise, replied that if the Emperor was obliged to yield at
last he must be prepared for the worst; that he must not count on the
magnanimity of his adversary, for politics, in the widest sense of the
word, knew nothing of the ethics of everyday life, they have their own

“‘And France?’ asked Napoleon. ‘What will France say?’

“‘Oh! as for France—one may fit one’s conjectures to one’s fancy, for it
would be hard to say what the result will really be in France. The best
thing,’ added Daru, ‘both for us and for your Majesty, would be if you
could somehow get back into France, through the air, if it may not be
along the road; for you would be more likely to save us by being there,
than by staying here.’

“‘In fact, I am in the way?’ asked Napoleon.

“‘Yes, your Majesty.’

“‘And would not you like to be a royal prisoner?’

“Daru answered in the same jesting strain that ‘he would be satisfied to
be an ordinary prisoner of war.’

“To this the Emperor made no reply; but after a long pause he asked if
all the despatches had been burnt.

“‘Your Majesty did not wish that to be done?’

“‘Go at once and burn everything—our position, to be frank, is not one
to boast of.’”

Marshal St. Cyr received strict orders to drive the Russians over the
river. He performed this task; but the problem how the French army was
to cross under the enemy’s fire without any pontoons still remained
unsolved, and troubled the minds of every soldier from the highest to
the lowest.

There was no longer any hope that the fugitives would be able to slip
through between the Russian armies. Driven on by Kutuzof and
Vittgenstein to the Beresina, they must cross the river without delay in
spite of the threatening position occupied by Chichagof on the further

On November 23 Napoleon began his preparations for this desperate step.
The remains of the cavalry, under the command of Latour-Maubourg, were
rapidly dwindling in number, and there were now only 150 left. The
Emperor collected all the officers who could still sit in the saddle and
formed them into a body of some 500, which he called his “Holy
Squadron.” Divisional commanders acted in this squadron as captains;
Grouchy and Sebastiani were appointed commanders. Napoleon further
ordered that all superfluous vehicles should be burnt, and that no
officer should have more than one; so that half the vans and wagons in
the various corps were destroyed, and the horses distributed among the
Horse Guards.

The retreating host soon came up with Marshal Victor’s army, which was
awaiting Napoleon’s arrival.

“Still in good condition, having suffered but little, it welcomed the
Emperor with the usual enthusiastic cries, which had long been unheard
among the fugitives from Moscow,” says Ségur. “These troops knew nothing
of the sufferings of the main army, so that they were perfectly
astounded when, in the place of the well-appointed columns of the
victors of Moscow, they saw Napoleon followed by this rabble of
skeletons, clad in tatters, in women’s jackets, in fragments of old
carpets or filthy remnants of rusty cloaks, burnt into holes, with their
legs wrapped in all manner of scraps and rags. The real soldiers gazed
in horror on these unfortunate warriors, their sunken cheeks, the earthy
colour of their countenances, their straggling beards; defenceless,
weaponless, jostling one another like a herd of cattle, their heads
hanging down and their eyes cast upon the ground. What astonished them
more than anything was the number of generals and colonels, marching by
themselves, in solitary dejection, with no soldiers to command. Busied
only with themselves, their persons, or their goods, they marched
unnoticed and uncared for among the common soldiers—soldiers from whom
they no longer looked for obedience, for every tie was broken and every
rank levelled by misfortune. Victor’s and Oudinot’s troops could not
believe their eyes. The impression produced by this fearful _débâcle_
had an immediate effect upon the discipline of the 2nd and 9th
corps—disorder soon showed itself in their ranks; the soldiers threw
away their muskets and laid hands on valuable walking-sticks.”

The Grande Armée reached the river, and it was decided to make the
crossing at Studyanka. The only chance of success lay in deceiving the
Russians as to the place in which the passage was to be attempted, for
it was evidently impossible to effect a crossing by force. On the 24th,
therefore, three hundred soldiers and a few hundred fugitives were sent
down the river to Ukholda with orders to prepare materials for the
construction of a bridge, and to make as much noise as possible over it.
The remains of the Cuirassiers were sent to the same place by a road
that was well within sight of the Russians. In addition—and this was the
most cunning stroke of all—the Chief of the Staff summoned some Jews of
the neighbourhood and questioned them with the greatest show of secrecy
as to the fords and roads leading to Minsk. Then, as if delighted with
the result of his examination, and allowing them to imagine that in his
opinion this was the only way out of his difficulties, he retained some
of the rogues as guides and dismissed the rest beyond his outposts. In
order to make certain that they would repeat all they knew, the general
forced them to take an oath that they would meet the French lower down
the Beresina and inform them of the enemy’s movements.

While endeavouring in this way to hoodwink Chichagof, they made all
necessary preparations for the passage of the river at Studyanka. The
presence, however, of a division of the enemy on the far side of the
river caused them to doubt seriously whether the Russians would fall
into the trap. They expected every minute that the Russian guns would
open fire on the workmen engaged in building the bridge. Even if the
enemy had delayed until dawn the work would not have been sufficiently
far advanced, and the opposite bank, which was low and marshy, was only
too well adapted for opposing the passage.

Napoleon was aware of this, and when he left Borisof at ten o’clock in
the evening he prepared for the last desperate stroke. He halted with
the 6000 Guards which remained to him at Staro-Borisof in a house
belonging to Radziwill. He did not go to bed that night, but was
continuously on the alert, listening and making inquiries as to the
movements of the enemy. In his anxiety he was haunted by the idea that
the night was drawing to a close and dawn about to break. His attendants
had great difficulty in assuring him that this was not the case. He went
out to wait in a little hut on the banks of the river.

“Well, Berthier, how shall we get out of this?” he said to the Chief of
the Staff, who was continually with him. In a quiet moment, when
Napoleon was sitting in a room of the hut, they saw the tears rise to
his eyes and course down his pale cheeks, paler now than ever.

The King of Naples openly expressed his doubts as to the possibility of
effecting a crossing, and in the name of the army begged the Emperor to
think of his own safety.

“There are brave Poles ready to escort the Emperor; they will take him
up along the banks of the Beresina and will get him to Vilna within five
days.” Napoleon hung his head in sign of refusal, but said nothing.

[Illustration: DESPAIR.]

Hardly had the first piles of the bridge been driven when Marshal Ney
and the King of Naples came running out of breath to the Emperor, crying
that the enemy had abandoned their position on the other bank. Napoleon,
beside himself with delight, and unable to believe his ears, ran to the
river—it was indeed true! In an ecstasy of joy, he cried breathlessly,
“Then I have deceived the Admiral!” And the Russians were indeed in the
fullest sense of the word deceived. Their officers did not consider the
work that had been going on at Studyanka for forty-eight hours as worthy
of any attention. The carelessness and incautiousness of the French
served to convince Admiral Chichagof that they meant to cross lower down
the river, and he accordingly moved the whole of Chapletz’s corps, which
was stationed opposite the bridge then in course of construction at
Studyanka, and which could of course see and hear the work that was

Admiral Chichagof was an excellent type of the crafty courtier. He had
gained his promotion by the accident of interest and favour; he was
proud, bold, and overbearing. Most aptly did Krylof characterize him in
the fable of the pike that went mouse-hunting. The Jews sent out by the
French, and the demonstration at Ukholda, firmly convinced him that the
crossing was to be effected below Studyanka, and in spite of all reports
of the progress of the works at that point, he drew off the whole
division to the very last man.

Napoleon, however firmly he might believe in his lucky star, could
scarcely have counted on such simplicity, and the French are right in
saying that the historian will have to solve an interesting problem; how
was it that a demoralized and exhausted army, hemmed in on every side by
an enemy incomparably superior in numbers, who literally had only to put
out their hand to seize their prey, found the way left open before them?
The Russians retired—there were no obstacles, and the French army was
allowed to retreat in peace along a route that was neither burnt nor
devastated. Whatever the cause may have been—whether carelessness,
misunderstanding, or indolence—the retreating army owed thanks to Heaven
that among its enemies there was at least one stupendous fool.

Ségur graphically describes his own impressions and Napoleon’s feelings
at this time. “Every stroke of our sappers’ axes which had been ringing
in the adjacent woods for a whole day must have been heard by the enemy.
We expected that at the first rays of dawn we should see the Russian
battalions and guns drawn up before the frail construction which General
Ebler had erected, while eight hours’ work were still wanting to
complete the bridge. No doubt, we thought, the enemy is waiting for
daylight in order to train his guns with more effect. Day broke, and our
eyes beheld the camp-fires abandoned, the river-bank deserted, and in
the distance, on the heights, thirty guns—moving away.

“A single cannon-ball would have sufficed to demolish our only hope of
safety. But their artillery was retiring before our very eyes, moving
further and further into the distance, while ours was at the same time
being brought into position.

“Far away we could see the end of the long Russian column retiring to
Borisof—they had but to look round. An infantry regiment of twelve guns
remained, but scattered about, and evidently with no intention of
interfering with us; while at the edge of the forest we could see a
detachment of Cossacks—the rear-guard of Chapletz’s division, 6000
strong—withdrawing so as to leave the road open to us.

“The French simply could not believe their eyes. At last, delirious with
joy, they began cheering and clapping their hands. Rapp and Oudinot ran
in to the Emperor—‘Your Majesty, the enemy have struck their tents and
abandoned the position!’—‘Impossible!’ answered the Emperor; but Ney and
Murat in their turn came running up to confirm the news. Napoleon rushed
out of his hut, looked, and saw the extreme end of Chapletz’s column in
full retreat just disappearing into the woods.”

By one o’clock the Cossacks had completely abandoned the bank, and the
bridge for the passage of the infantry was finished. Legrand’s division
immediately crossed with its artillery before Napoleon’s eyes, to loud
cries of “_Vive l’Empereur_!” Napoleon had been hurrying on the work,
and he now assisted the passage of the artillery by his encouraging
words and example of cheerfulness. When the foremost troops at last
reached the further bank, he could not forbear from crying out—“My lucky
star, again my star!”

Chichagof to his first mistake added yet another, into which no
intelligent sergeant-major would have fallen, and which is really beyond
forgiveness. Zemlin lies on the far side of the river in the middle of
an extensive marsh, over which passes the Vilna road. The latter is
constructed on a causeway of twenty-two wooden bridges, which the
Russian general could and ought to have burnt before he retired.
Combustible materials had indeed been put under them for this very
purpose, but no one took the trouble to set fire to them. If Chichagof
had been less self-confident he would at least, in withdrawing to
Ukholda, have ensured the impossibility of the passage of the river at
Studyanka by ordering the Vilna road to be destroyed. The French army
would have been irretrievably lost, and all their labours and sacrifices
at the passage of the Beresina would have availed them nothing, for the
deep marshes which surround Zemlin would inevitably have stopped them.

The crowding, jostling, confusion, fighting, and killing which took
place at the passage of the Beresina, according to the testimony of
those who witnessed the scene, defy description. All rushed like madmen
for the bridges; no one was master of himself, a universal frenzy
possessed the whole army. They hewed a passage with their swords or
whatever weapon they possessed, and hurled down every obstacle in their
way. The word “Emperor,” which a month before had been one to conjure
with, had lost its magic. Caulaincourt, the great Master of the Horse,
was hustled and jostled, almost knocked from the saddle, before he
managed with infinite difficulty to get the Emperor’s horses and
carriages over.

By the evening the Russian guns (of Witgenstein’s army) were in
position, and opened fire on the masses of soldiers who covered the
banks and the bridges. It is difficult, nay impossible, to paint the
scenes of horror, of butchery, which were enacted under the fire of the
Russian batteries. The terrified troops were so closely huddled and
packed together that every shot told with fearful effect. With the cries
of despair which rang out on every side, with the groans of men and the
neighing of horses as they fell and were trampled under-foot, mingled
the ceaseless shrieking of the cannon-balls, the booming of the guns,
the rain of lead upon wagons, carriages and caissons, broken, shattered
and dispersed, their flying splinters still further adding to the
slaughter. It was a scene of horror beyond the power of words to paint.

At last night put an end to the massacre. Some portion of the 9th Army
Corps managed to cross the river, but the greater part was destroyed.
The whole of General Portuneau’s division laid down its arms; it had
lost its way, blundered among the Russians, and been surrounded. Marbot
declares, but it seems improbable, that the general was accompanied by a
guide from Borisof, who endeavoured to explain with all the
expressiveness at his command that the camp in front of them was a
Russian camp; but, having no interpreter, they did not understand him.
The result was that the French lost from 7000 to 8000 men. There is no
proof of Napoleon’s grave accusation that, to judge by report, “the
commander lost his division because he took an independent line.”

By eight o’clock the next morning the bridge destined for the horses and
wagons was broken, and the baggage and artillery proceeded to occupy the
other bridge. This was the signal for a regular battle, in the truest
sense of the word, between the infantry and cavalry. Many fell in this
struggle, and still more at the beginning of the bridge, where the path
was so blocked with the bodies of men and horses that the troops had
literally to pass over heaps of dead.

“The last to cross was Gérard’s division, who made their way at the
point of the sword, after clambering over the pile of corpses which
cumbered the road. They had hardly reached the further shore when the
Russians charged down after them; and the French immediately set the
bridge on fire, thus sacrificing all that remained on the left bank, in
order to prevent the Russians from crossing.”

Those who had not succeeded in getting across were mad with terror. Many
endeavoured to dash over the burning bridge, and to avoid being roasted
alive were forced to leap into the river, where they were drowned.

Thousands of fires lined the heights occupied by the Russians, while in
the valley beneath, by the bank of the river, tens of thousands of
wretched men were dying or preparing to die, without food or shelter.
There was nothing but the sound of their moaning to tell that these
hosts of men lay there, still breathing, in the darkness.

“Much has been said,” writes Marbot, “of the disasters of the Beresina;
but no one has yet said that most of them might have been avoided if the
staff had better understood its duties and availed itself of the night
of the 27th and 28th for the transport of the baggage and of all those
thousands of men who next day blocked the way across the river. That
night the bridges were empty; not a soul crossed them, though within a
hundred paces one might have seen by the light of the moon a rabble of
more than 50,000 men of all sorts, stragglers from their own regiments,
who went by the name of ‘broilers.’ These men sat calmly by their
enormous fires cooking their supper of horse-flesh, unconscious that the
passage of the river must cost many of them their lives on the following
day, while at that very moment they might be crossing at their leisure
and could cook their supper in safety on the other side. Their conduct
is not to be wondered at, for no officer came from the Emperor, no
aide-de-camp from the staff, nor from any one of the marshals, to warn
these poor wretches, or, if necessary, to drive them by force to the

“Had the authorities borrowed a few battalions from Oudinot’s corps, or
from the Guards, who still maintained discipline, they might easily have
forced all these masses to cross the bridge. In vain did I urge, as I
passed the Head-quarters Staff and that of Marshal Oudinot, that the
bridges were lying idle, and that all these unarmed troops should be
made to cross while the enemy remained quiet. I received only evasive
replies, and found myself referred from one to another.”

The battle of the Beresina may be regarded as having decided the fate of
the Grande Armée—the magnificent force that had once caused Europe to

It has often been said that the destruction of the French army was due
to the cold; but, as we have seen, many other causes were at work. The
2nd and 9th Army Corps kept perfect order, though they had to endure
much the same cold as the main army. The chief cause of the _débâcle_
was hunger, followed by rapid and ceaseless marches and bivouacs without
sleep or rest; and lastly, the cold when it became very intense. We must
not, however, forget the steadiness and endurance of the Russian troops.
Napoleon and the whole of the French army were astonished by the fact
that at “the great battle,” though there were hosts of Russians slain
there were no prisoners. As for the horses, they sustained the cold very
well so long as they were fed; and they too perished chiefly of hunger
and fatigue.

Kutuzof, as has been said, was not alone responsible for Napoleon’s
escape from Russia. The Russian Commander-in-Chief took a thoroughly
sound view of the position of the French Emperor; and in this connection
his conversations with one of his prisoners, a man occupying a high rank
in the administrative branch of the French army, are full of interest.
Kutuzof told him that he had thoroughly studied Napoleon’s character,
and was sure that when once he had crossed the Niemen he would be
tempted to extend his conquests indefinitely. “We have given him plenty
of space to exhaust and dissipate his army, to give strategy, famine,
and frost free play. What blindness is it that has prevented Napoleon
alone from recognizing the trap that was so evident to everybody else?”

The Field-Marshal expressed astonishment at the ease with which Napoleon
had been induced to stay in Moscow and encouraged in his absurd hopes of
concluding an honourable peace, when he was helplessly caught in the

“Napoleon’s intelligence,” he remarked, “has deteriorated—the whole
campaign shows that. It is a pity he did not think of going further than
Moscow, we would have given him another 5000 versts to conquer.”

He admitted that it would have been hard to imagine anything more
dangerous for Russia than Napoleon’s original plan of remaining in
Smolensk, covering Poland, and renewing the war in the spring. But he
was convinced that the plan did not originate with Napoleon himself, for
he was too much accustomed to short campaigns to devote two whole years
to the conquest of a single empire. “One must know but little of
Napoleon,” said Kutuzof, “to imagine him capable of the patient
execution of an enterprise demanding time, caution, and tedious
elaboration of detail.”

“When I left the Field-Marshal,” says this French officer, “he expressed
the conviction that Bonaparte would inevitably be crushed at the passage
of the Beresina.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Beyond the Beresina, the retreat became more disastrous than ever. It
was a headlong flight in which there was no longer any pretence of
order. The fugitives behaved, in the most literal sense, like wild
beasts. Muravyof, Fenschaw, Chichagof, and many others affirm that they
saw the French devouring their dead comrades. They often found them in
outhouses seated round a fire on the bodies of the dead, cutting out the
best portions to roast and eat. When, on one occasion, a Russian officer
expressed his horror and disgust, one of these cannibals replied with
perfect equanimity, “Of course this stuff isn’t very nice, but at any
rate it’s better than beastly horse-flesh.”

In the hospital at Minsk the French convalescents, for want of tables,
played cards on the dead and stiffened bodies of their comrades, and the
walls of the room were ornamented with the bodies of the dead dressed in
fantastic costumes and with their faces daubed, by way of jest, with
coal and brick-dust.

Fuel was so scarce that even the Viceroy Eugène, for instance, had to
make shift without a fire. It is said that on one occasion, in order to
scrape together a few billets of wood, his attendants had to remind the
Bavarians that Prince Eugène was married to their king’s daughter, and
consequently had a right to command them!

To make matters worse, on the far side of the Beresina, and during the
first stages of the retreat, the arrival of the fugitives came as a
complete surprise to the towns and halting-places along the road. At
Vilna, for instance, there was a supply of flour for 100,000 men for
forty days, exclusive of the corn in the granaries; there was meat for
100,000 men for thirty-six days, unkilled; beer and brandy in still
larger proportions; 30,000 pairs of boots; 27,000 rifles, and an immense
quantity of clothing, ammunition, saddlery, harness, and equipments of
every kind. The officials, however, having received no instructions, did
not dare to make an immediate distribution of these stores. They waited
so long that the greater part of the supplies fell into the hands of the
Russians, who followed close upon the heels of the French.

Vilna was, like Smolensk, a sort of Promised Land in the eyes of the
soldiers. Here, they thought, they would be able to eat their fill at
last and enjoy at least some rest from their flight. But they were
disappointed in their hopes, and forced to continue their flight without
a pause. The town was nothing but a plague-stricken cesspool. Thousands
of corpses lay unburied, simply flung out of the houses into the yards,
where the invalids also lay, forming a confused mass of sick and dead.

Most of the houses in the town were turned into hospitals, crammed full
of sick and wounded. As soon as the French left Vilna the house-owners,
who were Jews, stripped the sick of all their money and clothes and
turned them, stark naked, into the streets. The Russian authorities,
including the Emperor Alexander himself, were obliged to take stern and
vigorous measures for housing the wounded and relieving their

A few miles beyond Vilna is a steep hill, which was at that time covered
with ice. It gave the French baggage as much trouble as the Beresina. In
vain did the horses put forth every effort to surmount it—the French
saved hardly a gun or private carriage. At the foot of the hill they
were forced to abandon the whole of the artillery of the Guard, the
Emperor’s baggage, and the army treasure-chest.

As the troops went by they smashed open the carriages and took the most
valuable of their contents—clothes, furs, and money. Many poor wretches
dying of hunger were to be seen covered with gold; articles of luxury of
all kinds were strewn upon the snow. The plundering was only stopped by
the appearance of the Cossacks, who swooped down and seized all the
booty that remained. One of the officers gives us an account of the
retreat from Vilna and of this last disaster—which, if we may trust
eye-witnesses of the scene, might have been avoided, inasmuch as there
was an easy road round the hill. “We passed out in silence, leaving the
streets covered from end to end with soldiers, some asleep, some dead.
The courtyards, the galleries, and the steps of the buildings were
covered with them, but none were willing to rise and follow us, nor even
to stir at the summons of their officers.

“We arrived at the foot of a hill, the ascent of which was rendered
quite impracticable by reason of its steepness and the ice with which it
was covered. All around lay Napoleon’s carriages and baggage, which were
abandoned at Vilna, together with the army treasure-chest.

“It was decided to entrust the salvage of the Imperial treasure to the
escort. As there was about five million francs, principally in silver
écus, they had to distribute them at random among the soldiers. Many,
seeing that they could not possibly keep up with us, made free with what
had been entrusted to them. The flags which had been taken from the
enemy, and which had no further interest for the troops, were shamefully
thrown away at the bottom of the hill, as well as the famous cross of
Ivan the Great—a trophy which we had set our hearts upon carrying away!
The Russians, who are generally regarded as barbarians, subsequently
afforded a most noble example of moderation such as is rarely displayed
after victory.

“New-comers kept increasing the number of the plunderers, and it was
indeed an edifying spectacle to see these men dying of hunger, and at
the same time loaded with such quantities of treasure that they could
move only with difficulty. On every side lay open trunks and broken
chests. Gorgeous gold-embroidered court dresses and rich furs were
donned by persons of the most repulsive exterior. Sixty francs were
offered for a Napoleon d’or, and ten crowns was the price of a glass of
brandy. One of the Grenadiers in my presence offered a cask of silver
coin for sale; it was finally bought by one of the principal officers,
who took it away in his sledge.

“All the soldiers, turned second-hand dealers, were selling their
plunder to those who had looted the treasure-chests. Their conversation
turned exclusively on bullion and jewellery; every one had plenty of
silver, and no one a rifle. Is it surprising that the mere appearance of
the Cossacks was enough to inspire the fugitives with terror? Nor were
they long in coming upon the scene.” An eye-witness tells us that on
this occasion the lust for gold abolished all distinction between the
bold and the timorous, between friend and foe, and that the Cossacks set
to plundering side by side with the French!

At this point the most terrible frosts overtook the fugitives. Even the
discipline of the Guards was destroyed; and when the drum summoned them
to march, this brave army of tried veterans, the last hope of the army,
refused to leave the camp-fires and fall in. Reproaches, entreaties, and
menaces sufficed to persuade some; others did not stir—they were
frost-bitten, for even the fires were not enough to save them from the

Even for so high an officer as Murat the Grenadiers refused to fetch
firewood or snow for water, lest, as they expressed it, they should be
“nipped on the way.”

On one occasion the whole of the 4th Army Corps refused to move, and it
was only by the most vigorous persuasion that the Duke of Neufchâtel
induced them to stir out of the room,—for one roomful constituted the
whole of this corps of the Grande Armée!

As for the rear-guard, it was no longer in existence. The result of the
campaign was the complete annihilation of an army of nearly half a
million men. The whole of the artillery, consisting of 1200 guns and
caissons, fell into the hands of the enemy, together with many thousands
of wagons and officers’ carriages, and an enormous quantity of warlike
stores and provisions. According to official accounts, 253,000 bodies
were burnt in the provinces of Moscow, Vitebsk, and Mohilef, and 53,000
in Vilna and its immediate neighbourhood. More than 100,000 men were
taken prisoners. Within historical memory, from the time of Cambyses to
the present day, there is no parallel to such a disaster affecting so
great a host.

To return once more to Napoleon—it should be said that after the passage
of the Beresina he had but one thought—how best to return to France,
collect a fresh army, and if he could not induce his allies to keep
faith with him, at any rate prevent them from immediately joining forces
against him. His intention of leaving the army and proceeding direct to
Paris was kept a profound secret, although some of those nearest to him
knew, and for the most part approved, the plan. They saw, in fact, no
hope of rescue except in the organization of a new army of half a
million men.

For some time previous to the Emperor’s departure from the army he, too,
suffered extreme discomfort and even privation. The soldiers occupied
filthy, foul-smelling huts close to his head-quarters, and it was
necessary to use force to repel them. The bread baked for Napoleon at
this time consisted of black rye loaves; the meal was badly ground, the
dough had hardly risen, in addition to which it had a disagreeable musty

In the little town of Zanifka the head-quarters were established in a
small, two-roomed hut. The back room was occupied by Napoleon, the front
apartment by his suite, who disposed themselves for sleep packed side by
side so closely that the Emperor’s valet could not avoid treading on
their legs and arms. At Smorgoni the Emperor was stationed at
head-quarters for the last time. He there made his final arrangements,
and wrote his last bulletin, No. XXIX., filled, as usual, with
half-truths and glaring falsehoods. In this bulletin he attributed his
disasters to fortuitous circumstances, explaining that they might soon
be repaired by vigorous action.

“More than 30,000 horses,” he says, “fell within a few days. Our cavalry
had no mounts, our artillery and transport had no beasts of draught. We
had to abandon or destroy a large number of our guns with their
appurtenances. The enemy, coming upon these traces of the French army,
were encouraged to surround our columns with Cossacks, who cut off all
straggling baggage and wagons like Arabs in the desert. This wretched
(_méprisable_) cavalry, whose strength lies in noise alone, and which
could not seriously attack a company of riflemen, was rendered
formidable by circumstances. However, we caused the enemy to regret
every serious attempt they made against us.”... “Horses and necessaries
of every sort,” he continues, “are beginning to pour in. General
Boursier has more than 20,000 horses in various depôts. The artillery
has already repaired all its losses.”

Every precaution was taken to prevent any knowledge of Napoleon’s
intention of leaving the army from leaking out until the last moment.
But the presentiment of the coming disaster was in the minds of every
member of his suite—every one wished to accompany him and escape from
this living hell as quickly as possible.

“In the evening the chief officers of the army were summoned together,”
says Ségur. “The marshals appeared. As they entered Napoleon took each
of them aside and revealed his project, sparing neither arguments nor
expressions of confidence and affection.

[Illustration: AT A COUNCIL OF WAR.]

“When he caught sight of Davout he went to meet him, and asked whether
he was vexed with him. Why did he not see more of him? To the Marshal’s
reply that he seemed to have fallen under his displeasure, Napoleon,
accepting all his explanations, expounded in detail his intention of
departing, and indicated the direction of his route. He was genial and
affectionate to all. At table he praised all for their admirable conduct
in the course of the campaign. ‘As for himself,’ he said, ‘it would have
been easier, no doubt, to avoid mistakes, had I been a Bourbon.’

“When dinner was over Napoleon told Prince Eugène to read out Despatch
XXIX., and explained publicly what he had before spoken of in
confidence. That night he would leave with Duroc, Caulaincourt, and
Lobau for Paris, where his presence was essential both for France and
for the remains of the army. Only from Paris could he keep his thumb on
the Austrians and Prussians, who would no doubt hesitate to declare war
against him if they saw that he was once more at the head of the French
nation, and an army of a million soldiers!

“He stated that he was handing over the chief command to the King of
Naples. ‘I hope,’ he added, ‘that you will obey him as myself, and that
there will be no differences among you.’”

Nobody, of course, raised any opposition. Marshal Berthier, without
endeavouring to dissuade Napoleon, merely announced that he must be
included in the number of those who were going. This request drew upon
him a very severe rebuke. Napoleon loaded him with reproaches for
preferring such a claim; reminded him of all the kindnesses and benefits
he had received at his hands, and finally called upon him to change his
mind and submit, or return at once to his estate in France and await the
announcement of his punishment for rebelling against the will of the

At ten o’clock that evening he shook hands with them, kissed them all in
turn, and issued at the front door between two lines formed by the
officers of his suite, smiling pitiful forced smiles to the right and

Napoleon and Caulaincourt got into a covered sledge, on the box of which
sat Roustan, the Mameluke, and a Polish officer, who was to be his
driver. Duroc and Lobau followed in open sledges.

As soon as the news of the Emperor’s departure spread through the army,
the last traces of discipline disappeared. Groups of armed soldiers had
till now been gathered round the colours; but even they dispersed at
last, hiding the eagles in their valises. Napoleon alone was able to
maintain any semblance of order; with his disappearance, Murat and the
other officers lost all authority.

“An hour after the Emperor’s departure,” says an eye-witness, “one of
the senior officers turned to another with the words, ‘Well, has the
ruffian gone?’

“‘Yes,’ replied the other; ‘he has played us the same trick as in

Napoleon, after barely escaping capture at the hands of the free-lance
Seslavin’s Cossacks, and that only by the most remarkable good fortune,
arrived at Warsaw. When he had somewhat recovered from the fatigues of
his journey, he gave the following explanation of the disastrous issue
of the campaign—“When I left Paris it was my intention,” he said, “to
carry the war no further than the former confines of Poland.
Circumstances drew me on. Perhaps I was guilty of an error in going so
far as Moscow, perhaps I was wrong in staying there so long as I did;
but from the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step, and posterity
shall be my judge! My French soldiers,” he added, “are worthless in the
frost, the cold turns them into mere dummies.”

“During the retreat I had no cavalry, and I must admit that when the
Cossacks attacked my column I found myself in a dilemma. It was
impossible to mass the army together, for that would have retarded the
retreat; it was equally impossible to deploy it, for the Cossacks would
have broken through our line. We were obliged to continue our retreat,
to fill up the gaps, and deceive the enemy. I confess that I needed all
my skill and experience to escape.”

He did indeed escape, but with this campaign began the decline of his

[Illustration: Printer's decoration]


Footnote 4:

  There seems to be no doubt about the incident in question. But though
  it would appear that the French plundered the houses in Viazma,
  Napoleon writes in Bulletin XVI.—“The Cossacks pillaged Viazma so
  completely before their departure that the inhabitants do not think
  there is much chance of the town ever renewing its allegiance to

Footnote 5:

  It is stated that for a long time there was only one sapper attached
  to Dorogomilovsky’s detachment.

Footnote 6:

  To be more accurate, it appears that the Russians had already begun to
  retire in the night.

Footnote 7:

  The state of Napoleon’s temper and the keenness with which he felt his
  position were reflected in his treatment of his servants. “His trusty
  henchman, Roustan,” says Soltyk, “who happened one day to put
  Napoleon’s left boot on his right foot, found himself stretched on the
  broad of his back by a vigorous kick.”

Footnote 8:

  The battle would certainly have ended in the capture of the whole of
  Murat’s force, had not Kutuzof, who disapproved of the engagement,
  refused to support Benigsen. Kutuzof was of opinion that Napoleon and
  his troops should be left as long as possible undisturbed in and
  around Moscow, in order that they might be tempted to stay until the
  frosts began, and in this he was right; but when once he allowed an
  attack on his recklessly incautious adversary, it was unpardonable not
  to send the help which was demanded when the battle was at its height.
  For the opportunity of escaping, though not without serious losses,
  the French were entirely indebted to Kutuzof and his chief advisers
  Tol and Kaissarof. Some say that General O. D. could hardly keep in
  his saddle that day, and some say... all kinds of things.

Footnote 9:

  It is impossible to read without a smile Thiers’ eulogy of Napoleon’s
  plan—if indeed such an absurd plan could ever have existed—of
  wintering with the army in _the more temperate climate_ of Kaluga; and
  of keeping up communication with Smolensk, and with Moscow in the
  rear. According to this project, Napoleon was to have maintained
  possession of the Kremlin (?) and entrusted its defence to Marshal
  Mortier and 4000 dismounted cavalry (?), who would have formed
  infantry battalions. He was to have left there the more cumbrous part
  of his _matériel_, together with the wounded, sick, etc., and have
  provided that experienced soldier, the Marshal, with a garrison 10,000
  strong, and with provisions for six months.



                         THE BURNING OF MOSCOW

[Illustration: _Vassily Blajenni Cathedral._]

The restoration of the kingdom of Poland and the abolition of serfdom
were among the pretexts put forward by Napoleon for his invasion of
Russia. The proposed liberation of the serfs was presumably intended
merely to embarrass his adversary, for Napoleon can scarcely be credited
with any sentimental weakness in favour of liberty for its own sake. He
expected to find in Russia a people ready to throw off its fetters, and
to some extent at least his estimate of the social and political
situation was correct. The masses were ardently longing for freedom, and
the idea of enfranchisement was in the air; but Napoleon failed to
recognize that the means which he employed, instead of encouraging the
people to revolt against their masters, were calculated merely to turn
them into irreconcilable enemies of the invader. There were, it is true,
some disturbances and seditious plots at the beginning of the campaign,
but they were comparatively insignificant; the excesses of the French,
and especially of their allies—Germans, Poles, Italians, and others—soon
provoked a wide-spread revulsion of public opinion. The announcement
that the provinces occupied by the Grande Armée would be retained by
France, and that the nobility and officials would, under no
circumstances, be allowed to return, encouraged the peasantry in some
districts to assist in provisioning the invading army. In many
instances, however, they broke out into open revolt against their
masters, and refused to assist their escape by supplying them with
horses. “Why,” they asked, “should we lend horses to remove our masters’
goods, when Bonaparte is coming to set us free?”

Of the gentry, some, like Engelgard, behaved as true patriots, remaining
on their estates, harassing the French to the utmost of their power, and
frequently meeting death in the service of their country. On the other
hand, we find Prince Bagration tearing the Cross of Honour from the neck
of a certain dignitary, and branding him as a traitor unworthy to serve
his sovereign. Again, in the captured barouche of the French General
Montbrun a note was found, among other papers, giving information as to
the plan of a proposed Russian attack. This note was, in all
probability, delivered to the general by an officer attached to the
Russian head-quarters.

The behaviour of the clergy was, in some cases, extraordinary. The
Bishop of Mogileff and the ecclesiastical dignitaries of Vitebsk in so
far admitted that the conquered provinces no longer belonged to Russia
as to swear allegiance to Napoleon, and issue an order to the priests
directing them to take the same oath, and, in the public prayers in
their churches, to substitute the name of Napoleon for that of
Alexander.[10] Following the example of the Bishop, the priest
Dobrovolsky, and many others, in Holy Mass or the _Te Deums_, omitted to
mention any member of the Russian Imperial Family, while praying for the
health of Napoleon, Emperor of the French and King of Italy.

After the departure of the French many proceedings were instituted in
respect of seditious acts among the ecclesiastical and civil
authorities. Archbishop Theofilakt, who was sent to restore
ecclesiastical order in the provinces, wrote to the Minister:—“In the
civil departments it is necessary to shut one’s eyes, for the civil
governor, Count Tolstoi, knowing full well who the traitors are, is
nevertheless obliged to retain them in the service.”

It is interesting to learn that Marshal Davout entered into a doctrinal
discussion with the Archbishop of Mogileff. He urged upon the Archbishop
that, having accepted the _fait accompli_, he was bound to mention the
name of Napoleon in public prayer, quoting the words of the
Gospel—“Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s.”—“That is exactly
what I am doing,” answered the Archbishop, “mentioning the name of my
own sovereign.”—“By no means,” replied Davout. “By Cæsar we must
understand the stronger, and, at the present moment, the stronger is
certainly not your Emperor Alexander.”

“There is no denying the fact that there was discontent among the
people,” says A. F. de B., an officer in the Russian service, “and the
further the enemy advanced, the more this discontent spread. The
attitude of the people was extremely doubtful, but it was Napoleon
himself, or rather his troops, who contributed most to destroy the
confidence of the peasantry in the sincerity of his promises. Rumours
soon began to spread that the enemy were plundering all along the line
of march; that they were turning the churches into stables, trampling
the holy images under-foot or chopping them up for firewood; that they
were ill-treating the inhabitants, women, girls, and even young
children, suffering at their hands. Small wonder that the peasants
betook themselves to the woods, taking with them everything they could
carry, and burning whatever they were unable to remove.”

The atrocities committed by the French in other countries are
sufficiently notorious, but they were surpassed in this campaign. Many
Frenchmen, eye-witnesses of what they relate, give harrowing details of
the wanton destruction and rapine that marked the advance of the
invading army. Labaume gives some instances of barbarous violation of
private property. “We entered,” he says, “into a large domain, called
Vedenskoye, a charming estate with a mansion beautifully appointed
within and without. In a few minutes everything was broken or torn in
pieces.” “On another occasion,” he says, “we stopped at a large house
with a beautiful garden. Apparently the place had been but recently
furnished, but it was now dismantled in a most painful manner. Broken
furniture was scattered about the passages; fragments of china and
expensive pictures, torn out of their frames, were scattered to the

Bourgeois tells us that “the inhabitants, driven by fire out of their
homes, took shelter wherever they could. Sometimes they sought refuge
among the inhuman soldiery, who plundered them to the last extremity....
The women were seized and exposed to every kind of insult.... Even the
dead were disinterred, in the search for hidden treasure. It is not
surprising, therefore, that the Russians themselves set fire to their
homes, and that the French met with nothing but villages in ashes, and
wells filled with carrion.”

We know how nobly the populace of Moscow responded to the appeal of
their Emperor. The gentry provided numerous volunteers, and the
merchants large sums of money. Some of the volunteers, it is true,
arrived too late, and the money was not all collected until 1819, and,
even then, under considerable pressure. But the spirit that animated the
people was none the less heroic. The inhabitants of Moscow resolutely
refused to entertain the idea of making any concessions to the invader,
and, with a few insignificant exceptions, were true to their duty as

How was it, then, that the French army found Moscow filled with
provisions, wealth, and merchandise of all descriptions? The explanation
is simple. When Napoleon won the battle of Borodino, Kutuzof saw clearly
that he could do nothing more at the moment, and that he could not
venture to fight another battle under the walls of Moscow. Nevertheless,
he led the Governor-General of the city, Count Rostopchin, to believe
that he was preparing to assist him with his army, and the latter,
trusting in this, and unwilling to alarm the inhabitants, made few
preparations for retreat, sending away only the most precious objects
and the treasures of the Tsars. He did not even touch the arsenal. At
the last moment, when the entry of the enemy was inevitable, and
Rostopchin recognized that the Russian general was concealing his real
plans, he tried to hide what was left; but horses were scarce, and the
whole city, abandoned by its inhabitants, remained with the greater part
of its wealth at the discretion of the enemy.

The dissensions between the two commanders, at first restrained, soon
developed into an open rupture. While Rostopchin made an exhibition of
his patriotism, Kutuzof was compelled to remain silent; but he suffered
keenly nevertheless, for, although he decided to sacrifice the sacred
city, it was only because he saw the impossibility of defending it.

In spite of the field-day opinions of such generals as Beningsen,
Ermolov, and others, the “old fox” Kutuzof thought, with Barclay, that
Moscow should be sacrificed like any other city if the safety of the
Empire demanded such a step. He authorized Dorogomilovsky to make some
show of resistance merely with the object of satisfying the inhabitants,
but he resolutely kept Rostopchin, the old courtier of Paul I., at arm’s
length from his councils. The latter did not hesitate to call Kutuzof
“an old one-eyed Baba” (peasant woman), and wrote to him—“It rests with
you to decide whether I shall act with you before Moscow, or without you
in Moscow.”

The “Baba,” who had no great opinion of the armed mob which Rostopchin
offered to place at his disposal, replied only with a demand for
provisions, and did not even invite the commandant of Moscow to attend
the Council of War at which the retreat of the Russian armies was
decided upon.

“When the masters are fighting,” says a proverb of Southern Russia, “the
peasant’s head is aching.” The truth of this adage was now bitterly felt
by the inhabitants of Moscow. It was owing to the quarrels of their
leaders that they were surprised by the French.

Rostopchin had just sufficient time, putting a good face on the trick
played upon him by Kutuzof, to open the gates of the arsenal to the
public, empty the numerous barrels of vodka into the street, and, most
difficult of all, to escape with his wife and family.

The populace which he had armed, and who were excited by his “placards,”
which have become legendary, opposed his departure. They gathered in
front of the governor’s palace, and demanded to be led against Napoleon.
To save himself, Rostopchin hit upon the idea of throwing a victim to
the mob, as to a pack of famished wolves. He promptly found a scapegoat
in the person of Verestchagin, the son of a merchant. The victim was
accused of having translated an article relating to Napoleon, and
Rostopchin handed him over to the mob as “the wretch through whom Moscow
and Russia would perish.” As no hand was raised to execute justice on
this so-called traitor—a pale, delicate young man—the Governor-General
ordered a dragoon to cut him down. At the sight of blood the passions of
the mob broke loose. Verestchagin was fastened to the tail of a horse
and dragged through the streets, while the Governor-General escaped by
the back door and fled the city. The body of the victim, after being
dragged through the market-place, was dropped in front of a small
church, and was buried at the very spot on which it fell. Some time
later, when the Sophiyaka Street was opened, the body was found intact,
and was believed by many to be that of a holy martyr.

Although the Emperor Alexander had, since the battle of Austerlitz, been
prejudiced against Kutuzof (a feeling, by the way, by no means
justified, inasmuch as that general had only carried out the plan drawn
up by the head of the Austrian chief staff, Weinrotter, and approved by
both Emperors) he placed him at the moment of danger in command of his
armies. This appointment was demanded by public opinion.

[Illustration: ARMED PEASANT.]

On taking over the command, Kutuzof did his best to reanimate the
courage of his troops, upon whom the constant retreat before the invader
had necessarily had a depressing effect.

In some quarters, however, he was by no means trusted. The gallant but
irascible Bagration asserted that he regarded Kutuzof as “a scoundrel
ready to sell his country.” As a matter of fact, Kutuzof had but one
idea—to deceive Napoleon, and, by avoiding a pitched battle, cause him
to stay as long as possible in Moscow. If he could be tempted to remain
in the city until the winter time, Kutuzof hoped to be able to block up
the road to the southern provinces, throwing Napoleon back on to the
route which he had already traversed—a devastated line of march.

The plan succeeded, and if Kutuzof subsequently failed to pursue
Napoleon, it was because, as a Russian and a patriot, he thought it
sufficient to drive the invader from the country, and did not care to be
mixed up in the affairs of Europe. This is evident from the reports of
the English military _attaché_, Wilson, which are nothing more than a
long and violent diatribe against the “traitor” Kutuzof.

After the retreat had been decided upon by the Council at Filli, the
Russian troops began to move through the town towards the Kiazan road.
Glinka saw Kutuzof sitting in a _droshky_ near the town gate lost in
deep thought. Colonel Toll approached him and reported that the French
had already entered Moscow. “Thanks be to God,” answered Kutuzof, “this
is their last triumph.” The regiments moved slowly past the general, who
was sitting motionless, his right elbow resting on his knee, apparently
seeing and hearing nothing. The troops were in great disorder;
luggage-carts were colliding; various detachments were seeking their
respective regiments; private soldiers were seizing the opportunity to
plunder. The people surrounded the transport train containing the
wounded, and kind-hearted women threw money into the carts, forgetful
that the copper coins might seriously hurt the sufferers.

If at this time Napoleon had sent a few regiments of cavalry against the
retreating Russians he could easily have destroyed the rear-guard. But
at this time he had other matters to think about. He was standing behind
the Dorogomilovsky gate waiting for a deputation from Moscow. He had
summoned this _canaille_ of a Rostopchin to appear before him, together
with the commandant, the chief of police, and the mayor, but no one

Kutuzof, having enticed him into Moscow, turned aside, and, without
leaving any trace behind, succeeded in completely hoodwinking his enemy.
While Napoleon was announcing to Europe that the Russians were fleeing
in disorder along the Kazan road, Kutuzof suddenly turned off this road
on to the Kaluga road, and placed himself in position to protect the
fertile provinces that had not yet been touched by the invaders. Whose
idea this was is not known, but it was a very happy one, full of results
advantageous to the Russians and ruinous to the French.

Meantime complete confusion reigned in Moscow. Of the well-to-do only
those remained in the city who, relying upon Rostopchin’s proclamations,
had not removed their wealth. In addition to these and others who
remained, perhaps to fish in troubled waters, there was the vast army of
beggars and criminals. The Postmaster-General, Kluchareff, suspected of
being a freethinker, was banished; young Verestchagin, as we have seen,
was murdered, and an ex-student, Uroosoff, who tried to show that
Napoleon’s invasion was a good thing, was first imprisoned and then

When the order directing the broaching of wine and spirit casks was
issued, the people fell to work at once, and soon became intoxicated.
Wine and spirits literally flowed in the streets, and the mob, lying on
the pavement yelling and fighting, lapped up the liquor from the

“My father was an obstinate man,” says the wife of a citizen.

“‘I will not leave the city,’ he said, ‘no, on no account; there is no
reason to be afraid of the French.’

“Arms were distributed in the Kremlin, and he received a gun, but it was
without a hammer.

“‘Never mind,’ he said, ‘although it is out of order, it may prove handy
to frighten a Frenchman with....’

“When we reached the stone bridge there was a crowd of about a hundred
men, and a regiment of the enemy was marching across. Father took it
into his head to threaten them with his gun, but one of the soldiers
snatched it out of his hands, and with the butt-end hit my father a blow
on the back of his head that caused blood to flow.”

“I was sitting at a window knitting a stocking,” says the wife of a
priest, “when suddenly the deacon’s wife came running up. ‘Mother,’ said
she, ‘they say that “Bonaparte has passed through the gates of
Dorogomilovsk and Kaluga.’” I dropped the stocking and called
aloud—‘Dmitry Vlasich, do you hear?’ My husband was sitting in another
room writing. ‘What is the matter?’ he asked. ‘The matter is that the
deacon’s wife tells me that Bonaparte has come,’ I answered. He laughed.
‘What a foolish woman you are to believe the deacon’s wife rather than
the Governor-General. There is the Count’s proclamation, have I not read
it to you? You had better go and order the tea.’

“Later,” says the same authority, “we sent the cook to the bazaar to do
her marketing, and she took with her my cousin, Sidor Karpowitch. The
latter was carrying a pot and a good wooden spoon. ‘I have a great
mind,’ he said, ‘to lay in my stock of honey, as I know there are
several casks of it.’ They found the bazaar empty, but from time to time
a Russian, or one of the enemy, passed by. The cook went for her sugar
and tea, and he for his honey. ‘When you are ready,’ he said, ‘wait for
me, I shall soon find what I want.’ She put tea and sugar into her
napkin and waited for her companion, but for some time no one appeared.
So she took refuge in a shop and said her prayers. Suddenly she heard
Sidor call, ‘Anicioushka, my pigeon, where are you?’ She stept outside
and stood spell-bound with fear; all the shops were empty, but coming
towards her was a man—no, not a man—a monster. She could not make out
what it was. When, however, it came closer, and she discovered what it
was, she thought she must have died with laughter. There stood Sidor
dripping with honey from head to foot. On his head one might have
thought he wore a hood; of the face there was not a trace.

“The victim explained that when he began to fill his pot with honey,
three men came up and said, ‘Give up your pot!’ He refused. ‘Why,’ he
said, ‘did you come empty-handed?’ ‘Give up the pot!’ they repeated.
Sidor Karpowitch clutched his pot tightly, and made off, but he was soon
overtaken. His pursuers snatched the pot out of his hands, and threw him
into the cask, head downwards. ‘I saw nothing; I was stifled; I began to
wriggle and managed to raise my head. But then my feet sank in; my nose,
eyes, mouth, were all covered with honey. I do not know how long my
martyrdom lasted, but at last I felt that I was growing giddy. Then I
summoned up all my courage, caught hold of the edge of the cask, and
pulled myself out!’ Later, many years later,” adds the Matouschka, “we
could never think of this incident without laughing. The wife of the
sexton, who is fond of her joke, says, whenever she sees my cousin,
‘Will you not take some honey, Sidor Karpowitch, you are so very fond of
it, are you not?’”

Long processions of the citizens of Moscow, carrying the sacred _ikons_
and the vessels of the Mass, left by all the gates of the city,
lamenting and singing plaintive songs.

A legend states that on that terrible day a sword of fire was seen in
the heavens at Moscow—a miracle that helped to complete the terror of
the few thousands who remained behind, out of a population of nearly a
third of a million.

Meantime the French were occupying Moscow, spreading, as Kutuzof said,
like a sponge in water. Some of them only passed through the streets and
bivouacked in the suburbs and adjoining villages; others, belonging to
the Guard, took up their quarters in the Kremlin itself.

Labaume writes—“We were greatly impressed by our first view of Moscow,
and our vanguard saluted the town with transports of enthusiasm, crying,
‘Moscow! Moscow!’ All ran to the hills and vied with each other in
discovering and pointing out the beauties of the sight. Houses painted
in various colours, domes covered with iron, silver, and gold; the
balconies and terraces of the palaces, the monuments, and especially the
belfries, combined to realize one of those beautiful cities of Asia
which we had hitherto supposed to exist only in the imagination of the
Arabian poets.”

Dorogomilovsky, who commanded the Russian rear-guard, warned Murat
against pressing forward too hastily, threatening that if the Russian
troops were not allowed to retire in peace, he would set fire to the
city. The King of Naples, with the consent of Napoleon, agreed not to
harass the Russian retreat, and the French troops marching in mingled
with the rear-guard of the Russians marching out. This gave Murat an
opportunity of making a display of the splendour of his attire before
the “barbarians.”

The longer the French troops remained in the vast city the more they
were amazed at the death-like quiet and desolation that reigned on all
sides. The strange stillness caused them involuntarily to keep silence,
nervously listening to the rumbling clatter of the horses’ hoofs on the
pavements. Even the bravest were depressed, owing to the length of the
streets. It was sometimes impossible to distinguish the uniforms of
troops marching at some distance from one another along the same
thoroughfare, and in some instances detachments fled in panic from their
own comrades.

The soldier Bourgogne naïvely expresses his astonishment at the aspect
of the deserted city. “We were greatly surprised at seeing no one in the
streets, not a single young woman listening to our regimental band
playing ‘Ours is the Victory!’ We could not account for this complete
desolation; such a glorious city, but now so mute, so gloomy, and so
empty! Nothing was to be heard but the sound of our own footsteps,
drums, and music. Nor, of course, were we ourselves in very talkative
humour. We kept looking at one another, wondering whether the
inhabitants, not daring to show themselves in the streets, were spying
at us through the chinks of the shutters. It was impossible to imagine
that such magnificent palaces and such beautiful buildings were
abandoned by their owners.... An hour after our entry into the city the
fires began. We, of course, thought that some of our own people, in
plundering, had set fire to the buildings through carelessness.... We
could not believe that the inhabitants were so barbarous as to burn
their own property, and destroy one of the finest cities of the world.”

Labaume writes—“In all these richly-furnished houses and palaces we
found only children, old men, and Russian officers who had been wounded
in previous battles. In the churches all the altars were decorated as on
holy-days; and, judging from the number of candles and burning lamps
before the holy images, it was evident that just before leaving the city
the pious Muscovites had been at prayer. These striking testimonies of
the citizens’ piety and love of religion raised this conquered people in
our estimation, and made us feel ashamed of the injustice we had done
them. Sometimes, in an involuntary feeling of fear, we found ourselves
listening eagerly, and our imagination, nervously strained in this huge
conquered city, caused us to fear ambuscades on every side, and to
imagine that we heard the clash and sound of arms or the cries of

“A humble officer found himself sole occupant of a beautifully-furnished
suite of apartments, for no one was present but the porter who, with
trembling hands, presented him with the keys of the place.”

Madame Fusil, an actress at the French theatre at Moscow, tells us—“I
left my lodgings on August 25 (September 6). Passing through the city, I
was strongly impressed by the melancholy of the scene. The streets were
empty, but now and then I met a passer-by, one of the common people.
Suddenly I heard in the distance the sounds of mournful singing, and,
coming nearer, I saw a large crowd of men, women, and children carrying
holy images and following the priests, who were singing sacred hymns. It
was impossible to witness such a sight without tears—the people leaving
the city and carrying away with them the treasures of their faith.
Suddenly I was called away. ‘Come and look on this wonderful phenomenon
in the sky, it is like a fiery sword. Surely some great calamity must be
about to happen!’ And I really saw something quite out of the common, a
sign indeed....”

The strength of the French army that entered Moscow may be estimated at
about 110,000 men. With the exception of the Guard, the French left the
city the next day and encamped in the suburbs; the Spaniards,
Portuguese, Swiss, Bavarians, Wurtembergers, and Saxons remaining in the
city. The presence in Moscow of the “alien element” probably accounts
for the extraordinary cruelties perpetrated in the city. Numerous
Russian stragglers roamed about the streets. Fezensac says that he alone
stopped about fifty, and sent them to head-quarters. “The general to
whom I reported this, expressed his regret that I had not shot them all,
and instructed me to dispose of them in this way in future.”

Meantime the fires, far from subsiding, began to spread with
ever-increasing fury.

“It was horrible,” relates the daughter of a merchant. “The Russians
themselves were burning Moscow.”—“We were struck with terror at seeing
fires all round us,” says another witness.—“Moscow,” says yet another,
“was burned to drive out Bonaparte. I do not know how it happened, but
one thing is certain, that our house was set on fire.”

A drunken man, dressed in a peasant’s smock, was seen leaving the house
of Prince Kourakin, the steward and four footmen driving him out with
blows. He uttered a shout of triumph, exclaiming, “How well it burns!”
Kourakin’s servants declared that he was an incendiary, and that they
were about to give him up to the French. He was at once shot.

It is impossible to attribute the burning of Moscow to a concerted
plan. It was due in great measure to the fact that a large proportion
of the houses were built of wood, and to the determination of the
Russians not to allow their property to fall into the hands of the
enemy. At first the responsibility was thrown on Rostopchin, who
assured Bagration that if the worst came to the worst he was resolved
to reduce the city to ashes. The fact that the Governor caused all
fire-extinguishing appliances to be removed may suggest the theory
that the destruction of the city was due to the action of the
Governor-General. But subsequent inquiries demonstrated that the
conflagration was, in the main, accidental, and Rostopchin himself
confirms this idea. “It is a trait in the Russian character,” he says
in his _Explanation_, “to destroy rather than to suffer anything to
fall into the hands of the enemy. Let everything perish!” After
Napoleon and his army occupied the city, several generals and officers
visited the principal carriage-manufactories. Each selected a carriage
and wrote his name upon it. The merchants, of one accord, set fire to
their shops that they might not become “purveyors” to the enemy.

On the other hand, the French officers seem to have suspected their own
men, and this suspicion was a source of no little vexation. Ségur states
that a number of officers took refuge in the halls of the Palace. Other
generals, among them Mortier, who had been fighting the flames for
thirty-six hours, arrived in a state of exhaustion. Some were taciturn.
Others charged their companions with responsibility for the outbreak.
All believed that drunkenness and want of discipline among the soldiers
had helped to spread the conflagration. They looked at each other with
dismay. What would Europe say? They spoke with downcast eyes, as if
awestruck by so terrible a catastrophe, which tarnished their glory,
destroyed the fruits of their victory, and endangered their lives. Would
not Providence—the whole civilized world—punish such criminals?

These sad thoughts were at last mitigated by the news that the Russians
themselves were setting fire to the city. It was impossible to doubt it.
Officers who came in from all sides agreed on this point. A hurricane
had sprung up, and the fire was raging with unheard-of fury. In less
than an hour it had engulfed ten different parts of the city, and an
enormous district on the far side of the river was transformed into a
sea of flame, spreading terror and destruction far and wide. A cupola of
fire hung over the whole city, the air was alive with sparks and burning

“At night-time,” says Labaume, “the city was set on fire in various
places, and the conflagration soon reached the finest portions. In a
moment, the palaces which we had admired for their architecture and the
taste of their fittings were wrapped in a sheet of flame. Their superb
pediments, adorned with statues and bas-reliefs, fell with a crash on
the ruins of the columns. The churches, although covered with sheet-iron
and lead, also fell in, and with them the gorgeous domes of gold and
silver, which we had seen the day before glittering in the sun. The
hospitals, containing over 20,000 wounded, were not long in catching
fire, and the scene which then presented itself was revolting and
horrible to the last degree. Nearly all the inmates perished. A few of
the survivors might be seen dragging themselves half burnt through the
smoking ruins; others lay groaning under piles of corpses, convulsively
endeavouring to lift the ghastly weight above them in their efforts to

[Illustration: IN A RUSSIAN CHURCH.]

What must have been at this time the thoughts of Napoleon, who was in
Peter’s Palace? Probably, like other witnesses of this awful night, he
did not close his eyes, for about six in the morning one of his
aides-de-camp was despatched to the next camp to command the attendance
of Madame O——, who had taken refuge there. The two were met at the
Palace gate by Marshal Mortier, who showed the visitor into the large
hall. Napoleon was waiting for her in the recess of a window.

“I was told that you were very unhappy, Madame; is it so?” asked
Napoleon, and for a full hour he plied her with questions on various

Great must have been the difficulties of the conqueror if he had to seek
counsel from this lady in matters of politics and administration. Among
other things, Napoleon asked what she thought about the liberation of
the serfs. “I think, your Imperial Majesty,” she answered, “that they
would scarcely understand what you mean by it.”

This lady was not alone in having the honour of advising the Emperor.
Several others ventured to give their advice. Napoleon, indeed, invited
their opinions, for advice costs nothing.

“How shall I describe the scenes that took place in the city?” says an
eye-witness. “Soldiers, sutlers, convicts let loose from prison, and
prostitutes, were roaming the streets, breaking into deserted houses and
seizing all that attracted their cupidity. Some clothed themselves in
silken dresses embroidered with gold, others piled upon their shoulders
as many furs as they could carry. Soldiers, and the rabble in general,
attired themselves in court dresses. Crowds broke open the doors of the
cellars, drank to intoxication, and reeled about the streets laden with
plunder. It was not only deserted buildings that were pillaged in this
way. The soldiers forcibly entered inhabited houses, and abused every
woman they met. When the generals received orders to abandon Moscow,
licentiousness reached its culminating point. Unrestrained by the
presence of their leaders, the troops gave themselves up to the most
monstrous excesses. Nothing was sacred to their unbridled licence.”

One eye-witness tells us—“Nothing so inflamed the greed of the
plunderers as the Archangel Cathedral in the Kremlin, in the royal tombs
of which they hoped to find enormous treasures. In this expectation the
Grenadiers descended with torches into the vaults, and without
compunction disturbed even the bones of the dead....

“We hoped that night would put a stop to these horrors, but the darkness
merely served to render the conflagration more terrible. The flames,
spreading from north to south, shot up into the heavens, illuminating
the pall of smoke that hung like a thick fog over the city. Our blood
chilled as we listened to the babel of cries, growing louder and ever
louder in the darkness; the moans of the unfortunate wretches who were
being tortured and slain; the screams of maidens vainly seeking refuge
in the arms of their mothers; the howling of the dogs which, in the
Moscow custom, were chained to the gates of the houses, and were thus
slowly burned alive.

“Through the thick smoke long files of wagons were to be seen loaded
with booty. These were continually stopping, and above the din rose the
shouts of the drivers, who, fearful of being burned to death, spurred on
their horses and forced a way to an accompaniment of recrimination and

“We met a Jew,” says Bourgogne, “who was tearing his hair and beard at
the sight of a burning synagogue of which he had been the Rabbi. As he
was able to speak a little German we learned that, together with other
Jews, he had brought to his place of worship all his valuables.

“We went with him into the Jewish quarter. There we found that
everything was burned to the ground. Our friend, on seeing the ruins of
his house, uttered a cry and fainted.

“Whenever the troops discovered a house still intact, they broke in the
door as if fearful of missing any chance of plunder. If they found
anything more valuable than what they already possessed, they threw away
the treasures previously collected to make room for the new booty, and
when their carts could hold no more they brought away loads of plunder
upon their shoulders.

“Sometimes when their road was barred by fire, they were forced to turn
back and roam about the strange city, seeking an outlet from the
labyrinth of flame. Notwithstanding their danger, the greed of the
plunderers conquered their dread of the flames. Covered with blood, they
made their way over dead bodies to any spot where they expected to find
treasure, heedless of the burning ruins which were falling about them.
Nothing but the unbearable heat eventually drove them away, and
compelled them to seek shelter in the camp.”

The earth was so hot that it was impossible to touch it. Boots were no
protection; the ground scorched the feet even through leather soles.
Eye-witnesses assert that molten lead and copper were flowing in streams
along the streets. Strangers were astonished to observe that the
inhabitants looked upon their burning houses without a trace of emotion.
Their religious faith must undoubtedly have sustained them, for they
placed _ikons_ before the houses they abandoned, after quietly making
the sign of the cross, without lamentation, or weeping, or wringing of

A lady who determined to leave Moscow with her friends, called upon one
of her acquaintances, an old woman named Poliakoff, to urge her to
accompany them.

“I found her,” she said, “near the _ikons_, lighting her lamp. She was
dressed as if for a holiday, all in white, with a white kerchief about
her head. ‘What is the matter, Babouchka (granny)?’ I asked. ‘Do you not
know that your house is on fire? Let us pack up your traps and clothes
as quickly as possible, and with God’s help we may escape; we came to
take you with us.’ But she only replied—‘Thank you, my pigeons, for
remembering me. For my part, I have spent all my life in this house, and
I will not leave it alive. When it was set on fire I put on my wedding
chemise and my burial garment. I shall begin to pray. And it is thus
that death will find me.’ We tried to reason with her; why should she
become a martyr when the good God pointed out a way of escape? ‘I shall
not burn,’ she rejoined, ‘I shall be suffocated before the flames can
reach me. Go; there is still time. The smoke is already filling the
room, and I have my prayers to make. Let us say good-bye, and then go.
God bless you.’

“Weeping, we embraced her. With tears in her eyes, she blessed us all.
‘Forgive me,’ she said, ‘a wretched sinner, if ever I have done you any
injury, and when you see any of my family, give them my last greeting.’
We bowed before her as before one who was dead. The room was already
full of smoke.”

The small property of the Convent of St. Alexis, hidden in the
store-room, was plundered. The soldiers dressed themselves in the long
habits of the nuns; several took up their quarters in the cell of the
Lady Superior, and caroused there for two whole days, inviting the young
nuns to join them. One of them—her name is known—willingly submitted to
this disgrace.

“The young ones among us,” relates one of the nuns, “were dying of
curiosity to find out what was taking place in the cell. We had gathered
together in a room, and gently opened the door to steal out one by one.
An old nun ran up to us. ‘Where are you going?’ she exclaimed. ‘Go back
at once. You wish to look at the soldiers, shameless women that you are.
See how you blush. If you had been modest girls you had been pale with
fear.’ One of the elder nuns insulted the French whenever she met them,
but they made no reply. She went to the well to draw water. A Frenchman
ran up and offered to help her draw up the bucket. Then she gave reins
to her indignation. ‘What, drink water drawn by your impious hand? Be
off, accursed one, or I will throw it over you.’ A man of another nation
would have been angry; he merely laughed and withdrew.

“At the Convent of the Nativity the older nuns hit upon the device of
rubbing soot over the faces of the novices. In passing through the
courtyard they encountered a number of soldiers, who surrounded them.
The old women spat on the ground, pretending, by their gestures, that
the novices were black and ugly. Near at hand was a bucket of water. One
of the soldiers picked it up, advising the nuns to wash their faces.
Then they became frightened and tried to escape, but the Frenchmen
caught them and commenced to scrub them. All the nuns, young and old,
then began to shriek, while the soldiers laughed heartily,
saying—‘_Jolies filles_.’”

If the testimony of numerous eye-witnesses is to be credited, the French
soldiers were less cruel than their allies, and, according to private
reports, much more polite, and even obliging. Although their name is
associated with all the monstrosities and cruelties committed during the
invasion, this is merely because the Russians made no distinction
between them and the Germans, Wurtembergers, Saxons, Bavarians, Poles,
Italians, and others, and only spoke of the “Frenchman,” on whom they
placed all responsibility.

An old neighbour of mine, of whom I made inquiries on this point,
knowing that his village had been occupied by Frenchmen only, informed
me that—“They did us no harm. They only fed at our expense.”

In one case the troops stole all the sacramental vessels of a village
church. The priest sought out Murat, who encamped within a short
distance of the village, and, with tears in his eyes, besought the King
to restore the vessels necessary for divine service. They were found and
given back, and this act of grace is attested by an inscription on one
of the silver vessels. The priest of the church of Kolominskoë told me
that his father-in-law, who was a child at the time of the invasion, was
so much afraid of the French that he hid himself in the stove, until,
being hungry and impatient, he began to cry. The soldiers pulled him
out, petted him, and solaced him with sugar.

From the beginning, according to Ségur, the conflagration might have had
terrible consequences for the invaders, whose want of foresight and
carelessness were incredible. “Not only did the Kremlin contain, unknown
to us, a powder-magazine, but at night the worn-out and badly-placed
sentries allowed a battery of artillery to enter and take up position
under the windows of Napoleon.... The pick of the army, and the Emperor
himself, would have been blown to pieces if but one of the burning
cinders which flew over our heads had alighted on a powder-chest. For
several hours, therefore, the fate of the whole army hung upon that of
every spark scattered abroad by the conflagration.”

The courage of the people of Moscow excited the admiration of their
foes. “Although,” says Labaume, “we suffered so terribly by the fire, we
could not but admire the generous self-sacrifice of the inhabitants of
the city, who, by their courage and steadfastness, have attained to that
high degree of true glory that marks the greatness of a nation....”

The same writer admires the firmness of the Russians who were condemned
to be shot. “At the moment of death, each stepped forward to be, if
possible, the first to receive the fatal bullet. With a demeanour that
bore eloquent witness to their calmness and courage, they made the sign
of the cross, and fell riddled with bullets....”

The Abbé Surrugues, a Catholic priest, and an eye-witness, says—“The
soldiers did not respect the modesty of women, the innocence of
children, nor the grey hairs of age.... The wretched inhabitants of
Sloboda, pursued from place to place by the flames, were obliged to take
refuge in the cemeteries.... The unfortunate beings, with terror stamped
on their faces, seen fitfully by the light of the burning dwellings
flitting among the tombs, might have been taken for so many ghosts that
had left their graves.... The sacramental vases, the images, all the
monuments consecrated by the piety of the faithful, were pillaged or
dragged ignominiously about the streets. The churches were turned into
guard-houses, slaughter-houses, or stables.”

No town taken by assault ever witnessed such excesses. An officer
asserted that since the Revolution in France he had never seen such
insubordination in an army. All the streets were strewn with bodies of
the dead, lying side by side with the carcases of horses and other
animals that had perished by fire or famine.

The author of the _Journal de la Guerre_ confirms these details—“In one
quarter,” he relates, “cries of ‘Murder!’ were heard, dying away into
sighs and groans; in another, the inhabitants were besieged in their
houses, defending their already pillaged and devastated hearths against
a soldiery infuriated by drunkenness and exasperated by resistance. In
yet another quarter one saw men and women, scarcely clothed, dragged
through the streets and threatened with death if they did not reveal the
spot in which their supposed wealth was concealed.... The shops were
wide open, the shopmen had left, and the goods were scattered about in
every direction.”

The Russian author, A. F. de B——, gives the following details—“So soon
as one troop of marauders left the house, another took its place, so
that not even a shirt or a shoe was left.... People no longer dared to
go out into the streets. Even the soldiers placed on guard began to
loot, imposing silence on the wretched inhabitants by threats and
blows.... Some, having lost all their wardrobe, were obliged to wear
female apparel. Men were to be seen wearing elegant bonnets trimmed with
feathers or flowers... on their shoulders were fur tippets, and their
feet were squeezed into ladies’ boots....”

Even the French officers took part in this absurd masquerade. The
weather was becoming cold, and satin pelisses trimmed with fur were for
this reason worn over military uniforms and accoutrements.

What concealment could be effectual against men who had made war and
plundered in every corner of Europe? Hearths and ovens were broken to
pieces in the search for treasure. The earth was turned up with sword
and bayonet; even the cemeteries were visited, the resting-places of the
dead violated, new graves opened, and coffins ransacked.... The sick
were thrown out of their beds in order that the plunderers might search
the mattresses.... The tubs in which orange-trees were planted, the
flower-pots in hot-houses, were emptied of their contents in the same
frenzied hunt for loot.

An Englishman living in Moscow succeeded in outwitting the pillagers. He
dug a deep hole, put into it all his coffers, and, without quite filling
up the cavity, interred the body of a French soldier, which he then
covered over with a slight layer of earth. The French, feeling certain
that there must be something hidden, began to dig, but immediately
desisted when they recognized their dead comrade.

“It is impossible,” remarks Perovski, “to imagine the state of Moscow.
The streets are encumbered with furniture and other wares; on all sides
one hears the songs of drunken soldiers and the shouts of the pillagers
fighting among themselves. Here a bearded grenadier is to be seen
clothed in priestly vestments, with the three-cornered hat on his head.
Another is wearing a woman’s tippet, with a stole round his neck. A
third appears in a mantilla, wide trousers, and a helmet; while a fourth
is decked out in a white cloak and wears red _kakochniks_ as a
head-dress. An elderly warrior, again, is strutting about in the
surplice of a deacon; a cavalryman is masquerading as a monk, with his
shako adorned with a red plume; a soldier of the line is promenading in
a woman’s skirt. When the soldiers returned into camp in their various
disguises, they could only be identified by their side-arms. To make
matters worse, many of the officers, following the example of their men,
went looting from house to house. The less bold among them contented
themselves with pillaging houses in which they were quartered. Even the
generals, under pretence of investigation, made house to house visits,
and ordered any objects that pleased them to be laid aside.”

Madame Fusi has left an interesting account of these lugubrious days.
“In my house,” she relates, “were two officers of the Gendarmerie of the
Guard. Everything was upside down; my papers were scattered over the
floor. I returned by the light of the burning houses; the glare was
horrible, and the fire was spreading with inconceivable rapidity. A
violent wind was blowing, and everything seemed to have conspired to
assist the destruction of the doomed city.... Grandly horrible was the
sight. For four nights we did not require a lamp, the light was more
brilliant than at mid-day.... On one occasion we wished to take the
usual road to the boulevards, but we found it impossible to pass, the
way being blocked by a sheet of flame. We stood in the middle of the
street, and the flames, fanned by the wind, formed an arch of fire over
the thoroughfare. This may seem to be an exaggeration, but it is
literally true. We could neither advance nor make a _détour_. Putting
our horses to the gallop, we managed to regain the boulevard.... The
house to which we intended to return was burning. We went from street to
street, from house to house. All bore the marks of devastation.... We
had scarcely eaten anything since the previous day. A table and some
chairs were still intact. These were carried down into the street, and a
sort of dinner was prepared and dished up in the middle of the road.
Imagine a table in the middle of the street, houses in flames or smoking
ruins on all sides, the wind driving dust and smoke into our faces,
incendiaries shot down near us, drunken soldiers carrying away the booty
which they had just pillaged.”

In the midst of these horrors they had the heart to open a theatre.
Those actors who were left in the city were called together, some being
ordered to sing in the Kremlin, others to assist in a play. A theatre
was hurriedly run up in the house of Pozniakoff, and pieces were chosen.
The curtain and the costumes were of rich materials willingly supplied
by the soldiers, and a huge lustre, stolen from one of the churches,
gave the necessary light. The orchestra was selected from the bands of
the various regiments, and two Russians are said to have given their
services. Neither the Emperor nor the marshals attended, but many
generals and officers were among the soldiers who filled the hall.

The wax candles taken from the cathedrals were used to illuminate some
houses spared by the conflagration, in which balls were arranged. The
French, obliged to dance with one another, were unceasing in their
questions as to the whereabouts of the Russian women. “Where,” they
asked, “are the _barinas_, your daughters?”—naïvely expressing deep
regret at their absence.

Thus the invaders led at times a jovial life in Moscow. Bourgogne,
referring to this period, says—“As we thought we should remain some time
in the city, we stored up for the winter seven large cases of champagne,
and several of sherry and port. We were the happy possessors of five
hundred bottles of Jamaica rum, and over a hundred large loaves of sugar
to be divided among six sergeants, a cook, and two women. Meat was
scarce, but we had a cow.... We had also several hams, which had been
found in large quantities, a good supply of salt fish, some sacks of
flour, two large barrels of tallow, which we had taken for butter, and
some beer.... We slept in a billiard-room on sables, lions’ skins, fox
and bear hides, each with his head wrapped in a rich shawl, forming an
immense turban.”

Those who did not attend the roll-call would come back laden with the
richest and most valuable booty. The loot included silver plates with
designs in relief; a bar of the same metal, as large as a brick;
ornaments, Indian shawls, and silk stuffs woven in gold or silver....
“We, the non-commissioned officers, levied a tax of at least twenty per
cent. on all the loot brought in by the soldiers.”

Bourgogne then gives an account of an improvised ball. “We began,” he
says, “by dressing our Russian women as French marchionesses, and as
they knew nothing about the dress, Flamand and I were told off to
superintend their toilette. Our two Russian tailors were disguised as
Chinese; I as a boyard (Russian nobleman), Flamand as a marquis; in
short, we all assumed a different dress. Our _cantinière_, Mother
Dubois, who turned up at that moment, donned the rich national dress of
a Russian lady. As we had no wigs for our _marquises_, the company
haircutter dressed their hair, using tallow in place of pomatum, and
flour instead of powder,—their toilette was indeed a marvel.

“When everybody was ready, dancing began. I must admit that during the
preparations for the ball we drank somewhat freely of punch, with which
Mellet, an old dragoon, took care to supply us, and which got into the
heads of our _marquises_, and also affected the old _cantinière_.

“Our band consisted of a flute, played by the sergeant-major, while the
company drummer tapped the time.

“They began with the tune ‘_On va leur percer le flanc... ran, ran,
tan plan, tire lire, ran plan_.’ But when the band struck up and
Mother Dubois was advancing towards her _vis-à-vis_, the
quartermaster-sergeant, our _marquises_, evidently delighted by our
stirring music, began to jump about in Tartar fashion, bounding from
side to side, and cutting all sorts of capers, so that one might have
thought them possessed. This would not have been remarkable had they
been dressed in their national costume, but the sight of French
_marquises_, usually so decorous, jumping about as if possessed, was
so irresistibly comic that we were convulsed with laughter, and the
flute-player was unable to continue. The drummer, however, stuck to
his post, beating the advance, at the sound of which our _marquises_
began anew until they could hold out no longer, and fell down on the
floor through sheer fatigue. We picked them up and applauded, and then
continued dancing and drinking till four in the morning.”

At the Kremlin, too, they were not without amusement. “At each gate of
this fortress-palace,” says the author of the _Journal de la Guerre_,
“were posted sentries of the Grenadiers of the Guard. They had wrapped
themselves in Russian furs, fastened round the waist with cashmere
shawls, and close to them were vases of opal crystal, two or three feet
high, filled with preserved fruits of the most expensive kind, in which
were stuck large wooden soup-ladles. Around these vases were piled
enormous quantities of flagons and bottles, the necks of which were
broken—to save time. Some of these men had donned Russian head-dresses
in place of their shakos. They were all more or less drunk, had dropped
their muskets, and literally did sentry with their wooden spoons.”

Although officially forbidden, pillaging continued. Very strict orders,
threatening the execution of all mutineers, were necessary to produce
any effect. But the harm done was immense and irreparable. Thirteen
thousand eight hundred houses, to say nothing of palaces, had been
reduced to ashes. The shops of six thousand tradesmen, forming in
themselves a small town, had disappeared. Huge warehouses had also been
burned. When the inhabitants ventured to leave their cellars, they
failed to recognize the city. They only found isolated houses standing
in the midst of ruins. Piles of burned rubbish marked where the streets
had stood, and the ruins were encumbered with the bodies of men and
animals. Several men were to be seen still hanging; these were the
incendiaries, real or suspected, who had first been shot and then strung
up. The soldiers passed by these ghastly trophies with complete

The army had wine and sugar in abundance, but neither bread nor meat. In
vain were detachments sent into the forests where the peasantry were
concealed with their cattle:—the men returned empty-handed.

“If, from the beginning,” says the Abbé Surrugues, whom I have already
quoted, “the authorities had seized the store-houses containing flour,
wine, and brandy, and established a certain order in the distribution of
the provisions, there is no doubt that Moscow might have been preserved
from want during the whole winter.... The result of the pillaging was
that at the approach of the frost, the prime necessaries of life were

The peasants of the village of Ostankino came indeed to Moscow with
thirty cart-loads of oats and flour which were duly bought and paid for.
Having received their money they left, with the injunction to come again
as soon as possible. But scarcely had they left Moscow than they were
assaulted, beaten, and compelled to return to the city, where they were
put to forced labour. Two other peasants who had sold their wares to the
French were robbed, and one of them was killed. From that time forth no
one had any desire to deal with the soldiers or the army, and, in spite
of all their efforts, de Lesseps, the former Consul-General, who had
been appointed Civil Governor of Moscow, and his Russian assistants,
could not succeed in establishing an open and well-supplied market.

But in Moscow itself the inhabitants, less timid and more greedy for
gain, did not hesitate to enter into relations with their invaders. A
large quantity of copper money, found at the Mint in bags, containing
twenty-five roubles each, was used to pay all arrears due to the
soldiers. When the populace heard that the Imperial Guard wished to sell
these sacks, large numbers hastened, like a flock of birds of prey, to
the Nikolskäia, the principal centre of trade. For fifty copecks, or a
silver rouble each, they could buy as many sacks as they wished. It is
said that several of the great business houses of Moscow date the
beginning of their prosperity from that time. The most difficult part
was to force a way, when laden with sacks, through the crowd. Even the
women hoisted them on their shoulders, but some strong hand would snatch
them away, and the thief would manage to escape in spite of cries and
blows. Great was the competition to obtain a sack. There were cries of
“Monsieur! monsieur make me a present of it.”—“What will you give for
it?”—“Be off, be off!”—“Give it to me, monsieur.” Then would follow
blows from the flat end of the sword, rained down on the outstretched
hand, but this treatment was borne with patience, when fortune was so
close at hand.

The next morning some soldiers took their stand at the windows of the
Courts of Justice, and set up an office for the exchange of money. After
receiving the money for a sack of twenty-five roubles, they would throw
the bag out of the window. The crowd would then surround the buyers and
make a rush for the sacks, facing even musket-shots in their delirium of

During these days, three wine-shops were opened in Moscow by Frenchmen,
the waiters being Russian. From these places were heard the sounds of
quarrelling, fighting, and even fire-arms. Many French soldiers were
murdered in the cellars, in the neighbourhood of the city, and bodies
were found in the gardens, in the orchards, at the bottom of deep wells.

A pupil of a seminary was told off as servant to a squad of Hussars
quartered at the extreme end of the city. He noticed, one evening, an
individual who was looking through the lighted windows, watching all
that went on inside the house. “What are you doing there?” he cried. The
stranger stepped back quickly, then approached and questioned the young
man, after taking him into the garden, and showing him the Cossack
uniform under his caftan of coarse cloth. He wished to find out whether
the Hussars were numerous, whether they all slept in the same room,
where they deposited their arms and horses, and enjoined the most
absolute secrecy. Two days afterwards the seminarist was awakened by an
extraordinary commotion; all the Hussars had been killed.

There were many similar cases, the French recognizing in all, and with
good cause, the handiwork of “the cursed Cossacks.”

The situation of the troops in Moscow was, indeed, not without danger.
Proclamations, in which the wisdom, charity, and magnanimity of Napoleon
were vaunted, inviting the inhabitants to return home, and follow their
various occupations in peace, produced no effect whatever.

Relations between the French army and the inhabitants of Moscow were
never re-established. Those who passed over to the enemy, especially in
the higher classes, were very few. But a very small number can be
mentioned, among them being the riding-master Zagrïajski, who purposely
remained in Moscow to please his friend Caulaincourt, and Samsonoff, who
entered the service of Davout.

The clergy behaved with great dignity. They rose superior to the
weakness that had been shown in Western Russia. Some priests attempted
to hold divine service once more, and to celebrate the Mass; they caused
the churches to be cleaned, and locked up. But the soldiers smashed the
locks, broke in the doors, and cut up the sacred books. A priest of the
Convent of Novinski, named Pilaeff, offered, if Napoleon so desired, to
say mass in the Cathedral of the Assumption. By order of the Emperor, he
celebrated divine service pontifically, wearing, that is to say, the
robes of a bishop.

Many were only too glad to take advantage of Napoleons difficult
situation. A Pole, who seemed to be a person of position, came to the
Kremlin, declaring that he was sent with a secret mission by the
Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army. Napoleon dictated in person the
answers which this spy should deliver to the Russian general, paid him
well, and never saw him again.

A handsome woman, and a skilful musician, calling herself a German
baroness, who offered her services, received several thousand francs—and

But the largest number of persons ready to enter into the service of
Napoleon was found among the merchants of the three Guilds, and among
officials, doctors, and aliens.

The greater part of the notables had been compelled to enter into the
service of the municipality. The members wore round their arm a badge of
red and white ribbon, and had the right to call out the soldiery in case
of necessity.

The merchant Koltchouguine, for example, gave three reasons for not
leaving Moscow; first, because the Governor-General had asserted that
the city would not voluntarily be evacuated; secondly, because passports
were given only to women and children; and, thirdly, on account of
family and business matters. Of course the majority of the people might
have put forward the same excuses. All the merchants who remained,
including Koroboff, Bakinine, Leschakoff, and, above all, Nahodkin, who
had been obliged to act as mayor, declared that they refused to do
anything against their faith, or the Emperor Alexander. To this the
French Governor, de Lesseps, replied that the differences between the
two Emperors were outside their province; their only duty was to watch
over the security and prosperity of the city. The merchant Ossipov
offered Napoleon bread-and-salt on a silver platter. This gift was
sufficient to cause his house to be spared, and he himself was appointed
provider to the army. But when he asked for carts for the transport
service, the Emperor told him that he would hang him if he raised any

The Mayor of Moscow, Nahodkin, whom we have already mentioned, received
a hundred thousand roubles for his services, but the bank-notes were
false. After the evacuation of Moscow, Rostopchin compelled these
gentlemen to sweep the snow off the streets, wearing their white and
blue badges, and guarded by soldiers.

The conduct of the merchant Jdanov was very different. On the
recommendation of Samsonoff, cited above as an adherent of Davout, the
latter made him a proposal to visit Kaluga, find out the movements of
the Russian army, inform himself about its officers, discover whether
the regiments had been brought up to their full strength since the
battle of Borodino, and learn what was being said about the prospects of
peace. He was directed to spread the rumour that there was no want of
bread in Moscow, and that Napoleon intended to remain there during the
winter. If the Russian army was at Smolensk he was to return as quickly
as possible without going to Kaluga.

All precautions were taken, and his family in Moscow guaranteed the
faithful performance of his mission. On his return he was to receive a
thousand ducats, and the freehold of a house. Jdanov did not hesitate.
He went directly to Dorogomilovsky, the head of the Russian
advance-guard, and told him his reasons for leaving Moscow, as well as
the services which the French expected from him. He remained with his
countrymen, and his family was not molested.

Rostopchin is open to severe censure for his inactivity during the stay
of the French army in Moscow, and for not having used his influence to
organize volunteer corps. He must also be blamed for his ridiculous
attempt to save the city by arming a band of ruffians at the last
moment, and for the pompous phrases and dubious meanings with which he
filled his reports to the Tsar. In a word, he was emphatically not the
man for the place.

But in spite of all, the French army was obliged to abandon Moscow. The
situation could no longer be disguised. The three hundred pieces of
cannon mounted on the walls of the Kremlin with much labour had proved
absolutely useless; but the Kremlin itself must be made to suffer, if
only because it could not be carried away with other trophies, such as
the cross of Ivan Veliki. An order was issued to blow up the towers, the
walls, the cathedrals, and the palaces that constituted the celebrated
fortress of former Tsars. The destruction of the Kremlin was merely the
expression of Napoleon’s vengeance, as cruel as it was useless. It
cannot be excused on grounds of policy, for, inasmuch as the Kremlin was
merely surrounded by a wall, it was of no use as a fortress.

When the evacuation was decided upon, Marshal Mortier was directed to
remain behind in Moscow with the Young Guard. He was ordered to deny any
rumours relating to the evacuation, and to pretend that Napoleon would
return after defeating the Russian troops whom he had gone out to meet.
Nobody believed these assertions, and all who had compromised
themselves, from French merchants down to Russian girls of loose
character, made ready to follow in the wake of the army.

With the exception of the Imperial Guard, the troops left Moscow
helter-skelter, got up in ridiculous and wretched garments, giving them
the appearance of scarecrows rather than soldiers. It was arranged that
the immense quantity of powder stored up in the cellars of the Kremlin
should not be fired until the departure of Mortier and the troops under
his command. All that they could not carry away was to be given to the
flames; and the mines were so laid that the fire should not reach them
until the garrison was at a considerable distance from the city.

“It was an excessively dark night,” says A. F. de B——. “At midnight the
fire caught the arsenal of the Kremlin, and the first explosion was
heard, followed at short intervals by six others. Nothing could be more
terrible; immense stones were hurled to a distance of five hundred
paces. Not a single pane of glass remained, and the broken pieces were
driven into the surrounding walls. The towers and a portion of the walls
were blown down. The arsenal was almost destroyed. The steeple of Ivan
Veliki shook and cracked, but resisted the shock.”

The effect of the explosion was, however, insignificant as compared with
what had been intended. A cold rain was falling. The first shock had all
the effect of an earthquake. Buildings were shaken to their foundations,
walls divided, roofs cracked, and threatened to crush all below them,
and all furniture was broken or displaced.

“A great number of the wretched inhabitants were wounded by fragments of
glass, or the fall of heavy timber.... This awful night caused the death
of many persons.”

Madame Fusi states that the explosion was so tremendous that many women
miscarried through fear; others went mad, and children died of fright
and excitement.... The French wished to blow up the rest of the town,
but happily they had not the time to do so.

“On the day the French left,” says a Russian woman, “we were awakened in
our cellar by a terrific report. The earth shook under our feet, and it
seemed to me as if the walls of the cellar must fall in and bury us
alive. At the second explosion a hailstorm of stones flew about in all
directions; at the third the church was so shaken that it split from top
to bottom. The walls of the Kremlin were destroyed, and a pile of ruins
and bricks marked the spot where once the palace had stood. Not only the
ground of the Kremlin, but the Polianka, and the far side of the river,
were covered with plaster, bricks, and sheets of metal torn away from
the roofs.”

I copy from Ségur’s _Mémoires_ a description of the catastrophe—“On
October 23, at half-past one in the morning, the air was shaken by a
terrific explosion.... Mortier had obeyed his orders, the Kremlin
existed no longer. Barrels of gunpowder had been placed in all the rooms
of the Imperial palace, and one hundred and eighty-three thousand
kilogrammes under the vaults that held them up. The Marshal, with three
thousand men, remained on this volcano, that might have been exploded by
any stray Russian shell. He covered the march of our army on Kaluga, and
the retreat of our various convoys towards Mozjaisk....

“He had been ordered to defend the Kremlin, and when retiring, to blow
it up, and set fire to the remainder of the town....

“The earth was shaken under Mortier’s feet by the force of the
explosion. Six leagues off, at Fominskoie, the Emperor heard the report,
and, with that ferocity with which he at times addressed Europe, issued,
the next morning, a proclamation dated from Borawsk—‘The Kremlin,
arsenal, magazines, all are destroyed. This ancient citadel, dating from
the beginning of the monarchy, the first palace of the Tsars, is a thing
of the past. Henceforth Moscow will be nothing but a pile of rubbish, an
impure and unwholesome sink, of no importance political or military. He
leaves it to the Russian beggars and pillagers, to march against
Kutuzof, outflank the left wing of that general, hurl him back, and then
quietly reach the borders of the Dvina, where he will pitch his winter
quarters.’... Then, as if he feared to appear to retreat, he adds—‘By
this step he will be nearer by eighty leagues to Vilna and St.
Petersburg, a double advantage—that is to say, twenty marches nearer to
his objective.’

“By this proclamation he sought to give his retreat the appearance of an
offensive movement.”

“Moscow,” says Madame Fusil, “had a charm which it will never possess
again. It will perhaps become a beautiful city, but it will be like any
other, instead of suggesting Pekin, or Ispahan, a typical city of


Footnote 10:

  “I, the undersigned, swear by Almighty God to be faithful to the
  Government appointed by his Imperial Majesty the French Emperor and
  the King of Italy, Napoleon, to fulfil all his orders, and to ensure
  that these orders be fulfilled by others.”



                              THE COSSACKS

[Illustration: _Napoleon._]

On quitting Moscow, the Grande Armée fell into the hands of the
Cossacks, who surrounded and pursued it to the frontier, and even some
way beyond. They so harassed the French that the word “Cossack” soon
became a synonym for “Terror,” not only in France but all over Europe,
representing the height of greed, perfidy, and barbarity. But in
pursuing and killing the enemy, the Cossacks were after all doing
nothing more than their duty. At times they undoubtedly committed
atrocities, but they often gave proof of humanity.

“The Cossacks,” says Constant, the Emperor’s _valet de chambre_, “seem
to have been created to be eternally perched on a horse. There is
nothing more amusing than to see them try to walk. Their legs, bowed
through the habit of gripping the horse’s flanks, resemble the arms of
tweezers. When he dismounts, the Cossack seems to be on an element to
which he does not properly belong.

“The Emperor, on entering Gjatsk, escorted by two of these barbarians on
horseback, ordered that vodka should be served out to them. They
swallowed it as if it were water, and held out their glasses with a most
amusing calmness for a further allowance. Their horses were small, and
had long tails. They appeared to be very docile.”

On the road to Mozjaisk 300 Cossacks attacked at night a convoy of 350
carts, having a guard of four regiments of cavalry and two battalions of
infantry. In a few moments the harness of all the carts was so hacked
about that it was impossible for the drivers to proceed.

Baron Fain speaks somewhat ironically of the Cossack tactics. “Although
Kutuzof is rather weak in a pitched battle, he is at least unrivalled on
the high-road. The audacity of these undisciplined hordes knows no
limit. We have them in front of us, behind us, on our flanks. They face
us at every turn. Perhaps the road to Viazma may free us of them for
some days.”

But after the battle of Viazma, the Russian infantry, which had taken a
parallel road to cut off the French, disappeared, and Ney’s rear-guard
was again beset by Cossacks. Importunate insects, to use Ségur’s
expression, mounted on little horses with roughed shoes, trained to
gallop on the snow, they gave the retreating army no peace.

“To complete the disorder of our retreat, which was of itself enough to
undo us,” says René Bourgeois, “the Cossacks attacked us unceasingly....
As soon as our men caught sight of them, they would scatter in every
direction. Some fled hurriedly to the front, while others fell back on
the guard, or on some of the companies that were still to be found at

Another witness, A. F. de B—— adds this sketch—“The number of stragglers
was so great that the Cossacks picked out their prisoners, taking those
who seemed best dressed, and whom they imagined to have loot. They
allowed the others to pass on, without seeming even to notice them.”

“That wretched cavalry, which makes a vast amount of noise, and is
incapable of breaking through a square of voltigeurs, has become
formidable through force of circumstances.” Such was Napoleon’s opinion
of the Cossacks as set forth in one of his bulletins. Platoff, however,
almost cut up the whole of the Beauharnais division. He killed 1500 men,
and took 3500 prisoners, captured 62 pieces of cannon, several flags,
and a large quantity of transport.

“Napoleon did not, and above all would not, understand that the Cossack
cavalry was unique of its kind, and in no way resembled regular horse.”
It never risked a regular action unless victory was certain. If,
however, he had seen the Cossack who, having put on the uniform of
Marshal Ney, “the bravest of the brave,” went calmly about his business,
he might have appreciated the fearlessness of these simple children of
the steppes.

“It is a historical fact,” writes Constant, “that the King of Naples
impressed these barbarians greatly. The Emperor was told that they
wished to name Murat their Hetman. Napoleon, amused at the proposal,
said he would be delighted to second the nomination. It must be admitted
that the King of Naples had something theatrical in his bearing
calculated to appeal to these barbarians. It was said that by simply
flourishing his great sabre he had put an entire horde to flight.”

The author of the _Journal de la Guerre_ relates that in spite of their
critical position, the French troops laughed heartily at an incident
that occurred during a Cossack attack. One of the enemy seized hold of
one end of an enormous roll of fine linen. The other was held fast by a
Frenchman, and as the Cossack galloped away, the roll was unwound and
continued to extend in a long serpentine strip until “the barbarian”
disappeared into a wood close by.

The Cossacks succeeded one day in capturing Napoleon’s baggage. What
pleased them most in this haul was the discovery of a number of bottles
of old “Château Margaux,” stamped with the letter N surmounted with the
Imperial crown.

Napoleon’s camp-beds, taken by the Cossacks, and now exhibited in the
Museum of Armour in Moscow, are interesting. They are two in number, one
large and the other small. The former was set up when Napoleon intended
to make a more or less protracted stay. The covers were of lilac silk,
and provided with pockets for the reception of papers, books, and
reports to be read during the night.

The relations between the French prisoners and their Cossack captors
were at times marked with the utmost cordiality, if we may credit the
following statement made by the author of the _Journal de la
Guerre_—“Our artillery having been captured, the gunners were disarmed
and marched off roped together. In the evening the Cossacks celebrated
their victory by a great festivity, in which drinking and dancing played
the principal part. In the expansiveness of their hearts they wished
every one to participate in their good fortune, and remembering their
prisoners, invited them to take part in the general merry-making. The
unfortunate artillerymen desired nothing better than rest after their
labours, but little by little, restored by the good cheer lavished upon
them, they joined in the dances, and took a hearty part in the
amusements of their captors. The Cossacks were so much delighted by this
display of good-fellowship that they allowed the French to don their
tunics and shakos, restored their side-arms, shook hands vigorously with
their new friends, who embraced them in turn, and made the best of their
way back to their quarters.”

An equally pleasing story is told by a marine of the Guard who was taken
prisoner by the Cossacks. “While we were warming ourselves round some
pine-logs, a Cossack came up—a tall, lean, wiry man, of such a ferocious
countenance that we involuntarily drew back. He approached us with a
military salute and began talking; but we were unable to understand a
word he said. He was probably questioning us about something. Annoyed at
our failure to understand him, he showed signs of his displeasure, which
caused us some alarm; but when he saw this he at once assumed a kindly
expression, and, noticing that my comrade’s clothes were stained with
blood, he indicated a wish to examine his wound, and signed to us to
follow him.

“He took us into the nearest hut. A woman appeared, and he told her to
spread some straw and bring some warm water. Then he went away, giving
us to understand by signs that he was coming back again. The woman threw
down a little straw, but forgot all about the water, and we did not like
to bother her about it. When he returned he at once signed to us, asking
if we had had anything to eat. We shook our heads. He apparently bade
the woman give us some supper, and when she refused, he rated her
soundly. Then she showed him a basin containing some sort of broth in
it, vowing, to all appearance, that that was all she had. The Cossack
stormed and threatened, but in vain—she would do nothing but warm some
water. The Cossack left us again, and soon returned with a piece of salt
bacon; and we at once fell to, although it was quite raw. While we ate,
the Cossack looked on with pleasure and signed to us not to eat too much
at once.

“When we had satisfied our hunger, he again spoke to the
woman—apparently about bandages for our wounds. He asked her for some
rags, but she refused to give him any, and tried to put him off with the
answer—‘_Nyema_—I have none.’ Then the gallant soldier took hold of her
by the arm and made her turn out every corner of the hut, but he found
nothing. At last, irritated by her obstinacy, he drew his sword; she
began to scream, and we threw ourselves at his feet, thinking that he
was going to kill her. He smiled at us, as much as to say—‘You don’t
know me, I only want to frighten her.’

“The woman trembled in every limb, but still refused to give him
anything. So he threw away his coat and pulled off his shirt, which he
proceeded to cut in strips with his sword, and set to work to re-bandage
our wounds. He talked the whole time he was engaged in this task, using
a number of Polish and German words in the course of his remarks; but,
however unintelligible this running accompaniment was, his actions
clearly showed the nobility of his heart. I believe he was trying to
make us understand that he had been accustomed to warfare for more than
twenty years—he was about forty—that he had been in a number of great
battles, and knew that one must learn after victory to be generous to
the unfortunate. He pointed to his medals, as much as to say that such
tokens of courage imposed upon him certain obligations. We were
delighted at his magnanimity, and he could no doubt read in our faces
the expression of our gratitude. I should have liked to say to
him—‘Friend, rest assured that your kindness will never fade from our
memory. There are but two witnesses of your humanity, for this woman is
incapable of appreciating it. Only tell us your name, that we in turn
may tell it to our comrades.’ At first he knelt down, but afterwards
becoming tired of that attitude he sat on the floor with a leg on either
side of my comrade. He washed the wound in his shoulder and dressed it
with the utmost care. Then, looking towards me, as if for advice, he
showed me that he intended, if possible, to extract the ball with a rude
knife which he now produced. He tried to probe the wound, but my friend
screamed so loudly in his agony that he stopped. Laying his cheek on my
comrade’s head, he seemed to ask pardon for the pain he had caused. At
the sight of so much tenderness I could not forbear from seizing his
hands and pressing them warmly. Summoning all the resources of my
Polish, Russian, and German vocabulary, I tried to speak, but could
not—my heart was full, and my eyes were wet with tears.

“‘My dear, dear camarade!’ said he, making haste to get the wound
dressed, for he seemed to fear there would not be time enough.

“When my turn came, the kindly Cossack, having examined my wound, gave
me by signs to understand that it was not deep, and would heal up of its
own accord. The force of the lance-thrust must have been broken by my

“He was still attending to our wants when one of his comrades called to
him from the street—‘Pavlovski’—so that at last I learned his name—and
he left us at once, followed by our blessing.

“We thought we should probably never see our gallant Cossack again, but
he returned very early the next day and examined the dressing of our
wounds. He also brought us a couple of Russian biscuits apiece, and
expressed his regret that he could do no more.”



                            THE GRANDE ARMÉE

[Illustration: _Napoleon._]

The Russian general Grabbe, who, during the invasion, visited the French
camp, was astonished at the disorganized state of the cavalry.

This impression is emphasized by Fezensac.

“From the very first, I was struck by the exhaustion and numerical
weakness of the troops. At head-quarters they only judged by results,
without weighing the cost, and thus they had no idea of the condition of
the army.

“Four regiments of cavalry were reduced to 900 men out of 2800 who had
crossed the Rhine. All articles of clothing, but especially boots, were
in a wretched condition. We had at first enough flour, and a few herds
and flocks, but these resources were soon exhausted, and to renew them
we were obliged to move constantly from place to place, for in
twenty-four hours we cleared out any locality through which we passed.”

In a conversation with M. de Narbonne at Vitebsk, the Emperor estimated
the two combined Russian armies before Smolensk at 130,000 men; with the
Guard, the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 8th Corps, he calculated his own
strength at 170,000 men. If no battle were fought he did not intend to
pass Smolensk; if he won a complete victory, he would perhaps march
straight to Moscow; but in any case, a battle, even if undecided, seemed
to him likely to pave the way for peace.

At Smolensk and at the battle of Valoutina, René Bourgeois and Fezensac
agree in estimating the French losses at 6000 to 8000 killed, and over
10,000 wounded. The Russian loss was equal, if not greater. Together
with prisoners and stragglers, the Grande Armée lost in these
engagements about 20,000 combatants.

The Emperor, however, does not scruple to assert, in Bulletin XIII.,
that for every dead Frenchman on the field of battle there were eight
Russians, and that the soldiers of the Tsar, encouraged by the proximity
of their villages, seized every opportunity to desert. He acknowledges
that General Sebastiani was beaten and obliged to fall back, but he
estimates his loss at only 100 men. As, however, this retreat of one of
his best generals might be looked upon as a serious check, and produce a
painful impression on the whole army, the Emperor decided to march on

Labaume sketches the situation at that moment in a few strokes—“To
describe our distress in the midst of our apparent victory, it is
sufficient to say that we were utterly worn out by the persistent and
systematic retreat of the Russians. Our cavalry was totally
disorganized, and the half-starved artillery horses could no longer draw
the guns.”

All this took place at the beginning of the campaign; but far from
showing alarm, Napoleon merely laughed at the Russians, whether
sincerely or not it is difficult to say. “In the midst of all the
defeats which they look upon as victories,” he writes in Bulletin XIX.,
“the Russians sing _Te Deums_ of thanks. In spite of their ignorance and
want of culture, this behaviour begins to strike one as unnatural and

At Borodino the Russian redoubts turned out to be mere sketches of
fortifications, and the trenches shallow and unprotected; yet the
Russians defended them so obstinately that, according to Labaume’s
description, the centre of the Great Redoubt presented an inexpressibly
terrible picture. The dead were piled upon one another several deep. The
Russians were falling on all sides, but they refused to retire; in the
space of one square league there was not a spot that was not covered
with dead or wounded. Further on were heaps of dead among scattered
fragments of guns, lances, helmets, cuirasses, or cannon-balls covering
the ground like hailstones after a violent storm. The most awful
spectacle of all was to be seen in the trenches—poor wounded wretches,
who had fallen one on the top of the other, lay weltering in their
blood, groaning in the most heart-rending manner and praying for death.
“Not only,” says Fezensac, “had the French army never before suffered
such losses as at Borodino, but, what was worse, never before had the
spirit of the soldiery been so utterly broken as after that battle. The
irrepressible gaiety of the French soldiers vanished, and instead of the
songs and jokes in which it had been their wont to forget the fatigues
of their long marches, a death-like silence reigned in the camp. Even
the officers, it appears, utterly lost heart. Such depression is
intelligible when it follows defeat, but it was certainly not to be
expected after a victory which had thrown open the gates of Moscow.”

According to Russian authorities, whose accounts are completely at
variance with Napoleon’s own assertions, the Emperor lost more than
50,000 men in the attack, including 1200 officers and 49 generals; while
the Russian losses, dead and wounded, amounted to 40,000, including 1732
officers and 18 generals. The enemy’s losses must have been increased by
the fact that during the three days in which they were engaged on the
field of battle they had nothing to eat and drink but roots and water.
Ségur admits a loss of 40,000 men, and says that the army which entered
Moscow numbered 90,000. The division of Cuirassiers, which had comprised
3600 horses all told, numbered but 800 on that day.

The situation in which the French army found itself within the walls of
Moscow was not by any means an enviable one. It had neither bread nor
meat, although the tables were spread with sweetmeats and syrups.
Valuable wine was readily exchanged for blankets; and a fur-coat could
be bartered for any quantity of sugar and coffee.

The camp presented the appearance not of a military bivouac, but rather
of a market where every soldier, turned tradesman, was busy selling the
most valuable articles at the most moderate prices; where all the men,
though living in the open field exposed to rain and storm, ate from
porcelain plates, drank out of silver goblets, and were surrounded with
the costliest luxuries of the period.

During their stay at Moscow, the battalions quartered outside the walls
knew no peace. There existed, as Ségur says, a kind of tacit, informal
armistice between the opposing armies, but only in the front. On the
flanks and in the rear, not a wagon could pass, not an ounce of forage
could be brought in unopposed, so that in reality the war still

During the first few days Murat delighted in showing himself to the
outposts of the enemy. He was flattered by the respect paid to his
appearance, his reputation for courage, and his rank. The Russian
officers took good care not to undeceive him. They loaded him with all
the tokens of deference calculated to keep up this illusion. He was
allowed to order their vedettes about as if they were Frenchmen. If any
part of the ground they occupied pleased him, they hastened to surrender
it to him.

Cossack chiefs went so far as to pretend enthusiasm, and to say that
they only recognized as Emperor the Emperor who reigned in Moscow. Murat
even believed for a time that they would not fight against him.

The Emperor, who was not deceived by these professions, complained
bitterly of the exasperating guerilla warfare to which he was constantly
exposed. “Had not a hundred and fifty dragoons of the Old Guard met,
been attacked, and routed by a horde of these barbarians? And this took
place but two days after the armistice on the road to Mozjaisk, his
principal line of communications, which connected him with his stores,
his reserves, his depots, with Europe itself.”

“Every morning,” adds Ségur, “our soldiers, especially the cavalry, had
to travel great distances to obtain the necessaries of life. And as the
environs of Moscow and Winkovo became more and more denuded, they were
obliged to range further and further afield. Men and horses returned
worn out, some did not return at all. Each measure of oats, each bundle
of straw, had to be fought for, dragged out of the enemy. Nothing but
surprises, fights, losses. Even the peasantry began to be troublesome.

“We had war on all sides—in front, on our flanks, in our rear. The army
was growing weaker and weaker; the enemy becoming daily more
venturesome.... At last Murat himself grew anxious. He saw half the
remnant of his cavalry melt away in these daily skirmishes.”

In Bulletin XXII. Napoleon only says—“The Cossacks attack our scouts....
The Turkish flags, as well as some curiosities taken from the Kremlin,
and the image of the Holy Virgin studded with diamonds, have been
forwarded to Paris.... Rostopchin is said to have gone mad.... He has
set his country-house on fire.... The sun is more brilliant and hotter
than in Paris, one might fancy oneself in the south.... The Russian army
does not approve of the burning of Moscow.... The Russians look on
Rostopchin as a Marat consoling himself in the society of Wilson, the
English _attaché_.”

Napoleon says not a word about his endeavours to conclude peace.

Winter was advancing. Ségur continues—“The Russians openly expressed
their astonishment that we should appear so indifferent to the approach
of their terrible winter. It was their natural ally; they grieved for
us, and urged us to retreat. ‘In another fortnight,’ they said, ‘your
nails will drop off, your weapons will fall out of your stiffened and
half-frozen hands.’”

Fain confirms these details—“The cold seems to be the only cause of
future anxiety. But the veterans of the army, who have already learned,
in the bogs of Pultusk and the ice-fields of Eylau, to brave the
climate, hope to escape this time with the same good luck. Moreover, no
calculation has been neglected in this matter, and all the probabilities
are reassuring. It is usually only in December or January that the
Russian winter displays all its severity. During November the
thermometer seldom marks six degrees of frost, in a normal year.
Observations made during the preceding twenty years confirm this

On October 13 the Emperor saw the first fall of snow. “Let us hurry,” he
said, “for in twenty days we must be in our winter quarters.” Napoleon
repeats this sentence in Bulletin XXIV.

Labaume is very emphatic in his remarks—“It is past all comprehension,”
he says, “that Napoleon could be so blind and so obstinate as to remain
in Russia when he saw that the capital on which he had relied was in
ruins, and that winter was approaching.... Providence no doubt, in
punishment of his pride, must have dulled his wits. Could he otherwise
have imagined that the very men who had had the courage to destroy their
homes would be weak enough to accept his onerous terms, and sign a peace
on the flaming ruins of their cities?”

“In proportion as our strength and energy fell,” says the same author,
“so did the boldness of the Cossacks rise. It increased to such a pitch
that they actually attacked an artillery convoy on its road from Viazma,
and repeated the experiment on another artillery convoy coming from
Italy. These Tartar hordes dashed in whenever they found a gap between
our armies, and availed themselves of the advantages of their position
to display the most impudent daring.”

The King of Naples, whose cavalry had almost reached the vanishing
point, daily implored that something should be done; that peace should
be concluded or a retreat begun. But the Emperor was both deaf and

“The spell was broken at last!” exclaims Ségur, “and by a mere Cossack.
This barbarian fired at Murat as he was visiting an outpost. Murat was
highly indignant, and explained to Dorogomilovsky that an armistice that
existed only to be broken was not worth prolonging.”

[Illustration: _Bivouac Fire._]

The position of the French army then became intolerable. It was
impossible to remain in Moscow, but it was equally impossible to retreat
without preparation. The Emperor of the French nevertheless continued to
issue the same characteristic bulletins. “Some think,” he said, “that
the Emperor ought to set fire to the public buildings, march to Tula in
order to be near Poland, and spend the winter in a friendly country
where he can easily obtain all he requires from the stores of Dantzic,
Kovno, Vilna, and Minsk. Others point out that between Moscow and St.
Petersburg there are 180 leagues of bad road, while the distance from
Vitebsk to St. Petersburg is only 130 leagues, and conclude that Moscow
is worthless as a strategic position, while in its ruined condition it
must lose its political importance for a century to come. There are a
number of Cossacks with the enemy who give our cavalry some trouble....
Everything points to the necessity of seeing to our winter quarters. The
cavalry especially are in need of rest.”

The battle of Tarutina opened Napoleon’s eyes. He now saw that Kutuzof
was merely playing with him, and he resolved to retreat. But what a
retreat! “From the very first,” says Fezensac, “it resembled a rout.”
Some companies were dying from sheer starvation, whilst others did not
know what to do with their provisions. Those soldiers who straggled from
the line of march in search of food, fell into the hands of the Cossacks
and the armed peasants. The road was filled with caissons which had been
blown up, with guns and carts that had been abandoned.

The soldiers were unwilling to sacrifice their loot, and marched heavily
laden. One of them gives an inventory of his share—“I had furs, pictures
by old masters, rolled up for convenience of transport, and some
precious stones. One of my comrades carried a huge case of quinine.
Another had a whole library of beautiful books with gilt edges, and
bound in red morocco. I had not forgotten the inner man, and had
provided myself with rice, sugar, and coffee, besides in reserve three
big pots of jam—two cherry and one gooseberry.”

Bourgogne gives similar details—“We were obliged to halt and wait for
the left column. I took this opportunity to overhaul my knapsack, which
seemed too heavy. It was well loaded. I had several pounds of sugar and
rice, some biscuits, half a bottle of liqueur, the silk dress of a
Chinese woman embroidered in gold and silver thread, several gold and
silver ornaments, among them a fragment of the cross of St. Ivan, or
rather the cover which surrounded it. I should state that in the middle
of the great cross of St. Ivan was a smaller one, in massive gold, a
foot in length. I had also my full-dress uniform, a woman’s large cape
for riding, two silver pictures, a foot wide by eight inches high, the
figures in relief, and several medals and stars set in diamonds
belonging to a Russian prince. All these I kept to give away. Moreover,
I had on my shirt, a waistcoat of yellow silk, embroidered and wadded,
which I had cut out of a woman’s petticoat, and over that again a large
collar, lined with ermine. A game-bag was slung at my side and held up
under the collar by a heavy piece of silver braid. This bag held many
precious things, among them a figure of Christ in gold and silver, a
china porcelain vase, both of which escaped the general wreck as if by a
miracle.... Then came my cross-belts, my arms, and sixty rounds of
cartridges in my pouch.”

The Russian witness, A. F. de B., gives the last touch to this
picture—“Every French officer had two or three carriages, and each took
with him a Russian or French woman; for a number of women had in one way
or another managed to follow the army. Some of them, suspecting the hard
fate that awaited them, changed their minds at the gates of the city and
returned. Others were robbed on the road of their horses, their
provisions, and their furs. These wretched beings lived to see their
children buried under the snow, and later on the greater number of them
perished miserably. Very few escaped, and not one of them was seen to
cross the frontier.”

Speaking of the women who accompanied the Grande Armée, Duverger relates
a characteristic episode—“We had orders to prevent any carriage from
getting between the guns. A magnificent carriage, drawn by four horses,
approached us rapidly. I signalled to the coachman to stop, but he
refused, and continued to drive on. My comrades and I seized the bridle,
and the carriage was close to the edge of a ditch when a young and
pretty woman put her head out of the window. Her handsome new clothes,
as well as the luxury which surrounded her, plainly showed that she
enjoyed the favour of some very important personage. She ordered us in
the name of the Emperor, and of the Major-General, to let her pass, but
we refused.”

After Malo Jaroslavetz the situation of the army became more and more
critical. On November 5, hand-mills, and rather heavy ones, too, were
served out to the Guard. It seemed like a practical joke, for there was
nothing to grind. The troops threw away these cumbersome and useless
utensils within twenty-four hours.

On the following day snow began to fall heavily. The men were blinded by
the flakes and numbed by the intense cold.

“Within a few nights,” writes Baron Fain, “everything is changed. Horses
fall by thousands, cavalrymen march on foot, the artillery are without
harness, the edge of the road is strewn with our unfortunate comrades.
An entire brigade under General Augereau, the brother of the marshal, is
surprised on the 9th, by the Cossacks of Orlov-Davidov and Seslavin, and
surrenders! Napoleon has still enough natural feeling to be moved by
this new misfortune. He sends General Baraguay d’Illiers—an old comrade
of the army of Italy, and one of his most distinguished generals—on to
France, with orders to remain under arrest in his own house until he can
be tried by court-martial.”

Prince Eugène reported the loss of all his artillery and ammunition. On
the road into Doukovstchina he met with a terrible disaster crossing the
little river Vop. The scene is dramatically described by Labaume—“There
was a general panic, for in spite of the efforts made to keep the
Russians in check, we knew but too surely that they were advancing. The
prevailing panic, moreover, increased our danger. The river, being only
half frozen, would not bear the weight of the wagons and droshkies which
contained our few remaining provisions. Every one then struggled to
transfer his most precious possessions from the wagons to the horses’
backs. No sooner were the horses out of a cart than a crowd of soldiers,
without giving the owners time to rescue their effects, began to plunder
it. Their search was particularly keen for flour and wine.... The cries
of those who were crossing the river, the terror of those who were
preparing for the plunge from the steep and slippery bank, the distress
of the women, the weeping of children, and the panic of the soldiers
themselves, made the passage of this river so harrowing a scene that it
is impossible to recall it without a shudder. For a whole league around,
on the edge of the road and the banks of the river, lay abandoned guns,
caissons and elegant carriages that had come from Moscow. On every side
lay articles that had been flung from the wagons; they were of course
especially conspicuous on the dazzling snow. There were candelabra,
bronze antiques, old masters, and rare and costly porcelain services.”

“On every side reigned terror and despair,” says Bourgeois. “Safety
seemed to lie only in flight, and of course no one wished to be the
last. If the crowd jostled you beneath the wheels of the carriages, you
might abandon all hope of the horses pulling up and allowing you to
extricate yourself. No one would listen to your cries. In the throng it
was impossible to distinguish generals from common soldiers; they were
dressed like scarecrows, in tattered garments, suffering the pangs of
cold and hunger, and reduced to beg favours of the soldiers under their

Chambray relates, for instance—“One day when some soldiers were warming
themselves round a fire, a general came up half dead with cold, and
begged for a place. No one vouchsafed a word in reply, and it was only
on his repeating his petition that one of the men answered—‘All right,
if you’ll fetch another log.’

“Lawlessness and insubordination reached their climax; there was no
thought of discipline, and obedience was out of the question. All
distinctions of rank were levelled—we were a wretched mass of shrunken,
decivilized humanity. When some poor wretch, wearied with the long
struggle, fell at last, a prey to his miseries, his neighbours, fully
assured that all was over with him, and that he would never rise again,
flung themselves upon their wretched comrade, before the breath was out
of his body, and stripped him of the remnants of his clothing. In a few
moments he would be left naked on the ground, to die a lingering and
painful death. One might often see the spectral semblance of a man
dragging himself painfully along to reach the halting-place, striving
his utmost to put one leg before the other, until he realized at last
that his strength was leaving him. A deep groan would be heard, the
man’s eyes would fill with tears, his legs would begin to fail him, he
would totter along for a few yards, swaying from side to side, then fall
to the ground, never to rise again. If the poor wretch’s body fell
across the road, his comrades would step indifferently over it as if
nothing had occurred.

“The courage of which the troops had at first afforded so many signal
proofs, gave place to the most hopeless cowardice. They had no thought
but of flight. The idea of defending themselves never seemed to occur to
them. In many instances they refused to raise a hand to save their own

“At the approach of a handful of Cossacks, or a band of peasants with
clubs, there was a general stampede. Even those who carried muskets
would fling them away in order to run the more quickly. Those who were
taken prisoners never dreamed of resistance—a company of Grenadiers
would fall an easy prey to these unarmed peasants.”

“The Cossacks and the militia,” says the author of _The War of 1812_,
“were more formidable to the captives than the regular forces.” The
Russian generals did all that was in their power to restrain their
ferocity, but their animosity was such that the officers would have had
to be everywhere at once in order to save the prisoners.

“It was like marching over an endless battle-field,” says Fezensac.
“Some lay in the snow with frost-bitten limbs; others fell asleep and
perished in the burning villages. I remember a private in my battalion
who acted like a drunken man. He marched at our side without recognizing
any of his comrades, asked after his regiment, named the men of his
company, and yet conversed with them as if they were complete strangers.
He swayed from side to side as he walked, and his expression was dazed
and wandering....

“The soldiers, blinded by the whirl of drifting snow, could not even
distinguish the road, and often fell into ditches which became their
graves. Ill-shod and worse clad, without meat or drink, huddled and
shivering, hardly able to move a limb, they pressed forward at all
costs, without paying the slightest attention to those who were failing,
falling, and dying around them. Alas! what a mass of poor wretches there
was upon that road, perishing of sheer exhaustion, yet still struggling
to ward off the approach of death! Some cried ‘Farewell’ to their
brethren and comrades, some with their last breath murmured the names of
their mothers and their homes. The cold soon stiffened their limbs and
struck into the very marrow of their bones. The place where they fell
was marked only by little heaps of snow along the wayside, covering
their bodies like the hillocks in the churchyard.

“Flocks of carrion rose up from the valleys and hovered in the air above
them, uttering cries of ill omen. The innumerable dogs which had
followed the army from Moscow, fattening on carrion, slunk around and
howled on every side, awaiting fresh prey.”

It should be mentioned that when the retreat began most of the men had
furs of different kinds, but in the nightly bivouacs, the snow, melted
by the heat of the fires, soaked them through and through, and they
afterwards froze again into solid blocks of ice. The result of the
alternate freezing and thawing was that at last the fur rotted away and
dropped off, and nothing was left of the splendid sables and ermines but
a few wretched brown rags.

Stragglers who had deserted from their regiments were repulsed wherever
they went, and could find no place in the bivouacs. One can imagine the
plight of these poor wretches. Tortured with hunger they flung
themselves on every horse that fell, and fought like savage dogs over
the carcase. Exhausted with long marches and want of sleep, they could
find in the snow no rest for their weary limbs. Half dead with cold,
they wandered in every direction, searching the snow for fuel, and even
when they were successful, the sodden wood was difficult to kindle and
the fire was easily extinguished by the wind. “Then they huddled
together like cattle,” says an eye-witness, “around birches and pines,
or under carts. Sometimes they would set fire to the houses in which the
officers had taken refuge, and sit motionless through the night around
these monster bonfires.”

The soldiers’ frost-bitten limbs were covered with sores, which turned
into black patches when they warmed them at the fire, and he was a lucky
man who could boast of having escaped frost-bite altogether.

In their miseries they forgot their booty. “The road was covered,” says
Duverger, “with useless plunder, which they had flung away. The famous
chest of quinine was left to its fate. I tried to sell my pictures, but
no one seemed to want them. I gave my furs away for nothing. The man who
brought away the library was struck with the happy thought of selling it
in lots, but no one would make a bid.”

They had even to abandon the famous trophies from Moscow, casting them
into Lake Semlefsky, between Gjatsk and Mikhailov. The guns, the various
knights’ trappings, and the ornaments from the Kremlin were buried close
by. Ségur says that the famous cross from the belfry of John the Great
was also sunk in the lake, but according to other authorities it was
dragged on as far as the first post-house beyond Vilna. “How did it
happen,” he asks, “that nothing had been provided for before the army
left Moscow? How was it that these masses of soldiers who died of cold
and starvation, were found laden with gold and silver instead of the
food and clothing they required? How was it that during a rest of
thirty-three days they never thought of roughing the horses’ feet so
that they might get along with more speed and safety? How was it that,
even if Napoleon himself gave no orders, these obvious precautions did
not occur to the other authorities—the kings, princes, and marshals?
Were they not aware that even in Russia autumn is followed by winter?
Can we suppose that Napoleon relied upon the sagacity of his men, and
left them to look after themselves?

“Was he perhaps misled by his experience of campaigning in Poland, where
the winter is no more severe than in France? Was he deceived by those
sunny October days, which surprised even the Russians themselves? What
midsummer madness was it that scattered the wits of Napoleon and his
army? What mist was it that obscured their vision? What was the resource
on which they counted? Even if all heads were turned by the notion of
concluding a treaty of peace within the walls of Moscow, they had still
in any case to march back again. Yet not the slightest preparation was
made even for the most peaceful return.”

“At last,” continues Ségur, “the army cast its eyes once more upon
Smolensk. Before them lay the promised land, where the hungry should be
filled and the weary be at rest, where they were to lie in warm and
comfortable rooms and forget their nightly bivouacs in forty degrees of
frost. ‘Now,’ they thought, ‘we can sleep as long as we wish, mend our
clothes, and provide ourselves with boots!’ But the skeletons of horses
lying in the streets show that even here there is a scarcity of
provender. Broken doors and window-frames serve as fuel for camp-fires,
and the warm houses and promised winter quarters—where are they? The
sick and wounded lie neglected in the street, in the vans in which they
arrived. This is but another camp, still colder than the forests through
which the march has hitherto lain.

“The greatest care was needed to prevent detachments of the different
corps from coming to blows at the doors of the store-houses. When the
rations were at last served out the soldiers refused to carry them to
their various regiments. They sprang eagerly upon the sacks, seized a
few pounds of flour and bore it off to gorge themselves. The same thing
happened with the brandy. Next day the houses were filled with the
bodies of these poor wretches, dead of their surfeit of food and drink.
It was evident that Smolensk, which the army had regarded as the end of
its sufferings, was but the beginning. An endless vista of misery opened
out before it. There remained forty more days of marching—forty more
such days as they had already experienced.”

The Emperor arrived on November 9, when their despair was at its height.
He locked himself in a house in the market-place, and left it on the
14th, to continue his retreat. He had been counting on a fortnight’s
full rations for a force of 100,000 men, and he found only half that
quantity in flour, rice, and brandy—meat there was none.

“Ever since Napoleon arrived,” writes the author of _The War of 1812_,
“I have been engaged in serving out rations to the troops of the various
corps. I am afraid that the seven sentries who keep guard over me day
and night will hardly manage to save me from being torn to pieces by the
famishing soldiers.... Some of the very highest officers broke one of my
windows the other night and climbed in.”

Every eye-witness speaks of the bitter disappointment of the soldiers at

“Our horror,” says Labaume, “was indescribable when we first learned on
the outskirts of Smolensk that the 9th Army Corps had already marched
on, that the troops were not to stay at Smolensk, and that such
provisions as there were had already been exhausted. Had a thunder-bolt
fallen at our feet, we could not have been more astounded than at this
news; it was so overwhelming that we refused to believe it. We soon
found out, however, that downright famine prevailed in the town—the town
which we had pictured a veritable Land of Promise.”

Those soldiers who could find no quarters lay in the streets; and within
a few hours they would be found dead by their fires. The hospitals, the
churches, and all the public buildings were crowded with the sick who
flocked thither in thousands. Those who could find no room were left to
die in the vans and on the caissons and gun-carriages on which they had
been brought.

“One Cuirassier,” says an eye-witness, “moaning with hunger, flung
himself upon the flayed body of a dead horse, thrust his head in between
the naked ribs, and began tearing out the entrails with his teeth. So
fierce were the pangs they suffered that the Russians found dead bodies
of Frenchmen half devoured by their comrades.”

They left 5000 sick and wounded in Smolensk without provisions of any
kind. The doctors and officials charged with the duty of attending upon
them took to flight, in fear of being massacred or taken prisoners.

Chambray is our authority for saying that, contrary to custom, the sick
were not even commended to the generosity of the enemy—they were simply
abandoned as so much useless rubbish.

“The war now became so barbarous,” says the author of _The War of 1812_,
“that it is impossible to imagine within what limits an enemy whose
wrath has been aroused by wholesale ruin and destruction will confine
his vengeance. Before planning the cruel and wanton destruction of
Moscow and Smolensk, the French should have remembered that they were
leaving 10,000 of their men in the hospitals and on the road as hostages
in the hands of the enemy.”

“When they found themselves left to perish of starvation,” writes René
Bourgeois, “compelled to shift for themselves, these poor wretches
crawled about the fields digging up roots and picking up the refuse of
cabbages and other vegetables. They lay about on rotten grass and straw,
on rags and scraps; they were covered with vermin and filth and
surrounded by the decomposing bodies of their comrades. For a distance
of eighty leagues the road was impassable; one had, so to speak, to cut
a way through corpses and _débris_ of every kind. At every halting-place
were huge cemeteries, miscalled hospitals, which made their presence
known for miles around by their nauseating odour due to the heaps of
unburied dead, and the filth of every sort that lay weltering in foul

The fugitives, too, were covered with every sort of vermin. The stench
that arose from these living corpses was due both to their disorders,
and the fact that through dread of the cold they never removed their
clothing for any purpose whatever. Their hands were smeared with horses’
blood, and their faces and tattered garments reeked with its effluvium.
Many whose faces and arms were frost-bitten resembled the rounded
figures of ivory chessmen.

“What I dreaded most,” says a German writer, “was the approach of night;
not so much because our sufferings were greatly intensified at night, as
because when we halted all the soldiers collected together and huddled
close to one another so as to keep as warm as circumstances would
permit. In the general silence one might hear on different sides,
sometimes on all sides at once, the dull thud of men and horses falling
on to the frozen ground, dead of cold and privation.”

“In one encampment,” says Bourgogne, “I was horrified to find that all
the men and horses were dead and already covered with snow. The men’s
bodies lay in the most natural manner round the camp-fires, and the
horses remained harnessed to the guns. There were five men snarling and
fighting like dogs—on one side lay the hindleg of a horse, the subject
of their dispute.

“They had been buoyed up by the expectation of finding food and lodging
in Smolensk, but now they had no further hope; they marched along
mechanically wherever they were led, and halted when others halted.”

“A veteran Chasseur,” says the same author, “who had wrapped his
frost-bitten extremities in strips of sheep-skin, sat down by our fire.
He cursed the name of the Emperor Alexander, and he cursed Russia and
all the saints; then he asked whether any brandy had been served out.
When he heard the answer—‘No, none has been served out, and none will
be,’ he exclaimed—‘Well, there is but one thing left, and that is

“On the road we came upon a Hussar in his death agony, now rising to his
feet, now falling to the ground again. We tried to help him along, but
he fell again, and for the last time. Further on we came upon three men
engaged upon a fallen horse. Two were standing up, reeling so fearfully
that they looked like drunken men. The third, a German, lay across the
horse—the poor devil, half dead with hunger and too feeble to cut a
piece off, was trying to bite out a mouthful, but he died in the

The unfortunate women who still managed to drag on a miserable existence
suffered, if possible, still more. “Throughout this terrible march,”
says Madame Fusil, “I said to myself each day that I should probably not
see the end of it; but I could not tell by what death I should die. When
we halted and camped in the hope of warming ourselves and eating
something, we generally sat on the bodies of those who had fallen
victims to the cold, settling ourselves upon them with as little concern
as if they were so many sofas. All day long one might hear people
exclaiming—‘Great heavens, my purse has been stolen!’ or ‘my bag,’ or
‘my bread,’ or ‘my horse.’ It was just the same with every one, from
generals to privates. People were perpetually trying to push their way
through the crowd, with—‘Room for Marshal So-and-so’s carriage!’ or ‘His
Excellency So-and-so’s,’ or ‘General So-and-so’s.’ When there was a
bridge to be crossed, generals and colonels would range themselves on
either side, in spite of the general confusion, so as to expedite the
passage of their own vehicles as much as possible, for the Cossacks were
never far off.”

“The Frenchwomen who had fled from Moscow to escape the vengeance of the
Russians,” says Labaume, “and who had counted on perfect safety in our
midst, presented a most pitiable spectacle. Most of them had to go on
foot, shod in summer shoes and clad in the flimsiest of silks and
satins, in torn fur cloaks and military great-coats taken from the
shoulders of the dead. Their plight would have been enough to wring
tears from the hardest heart had not every sentiment of sympathy been
stifled by each man’s individual privations.

“Of all the victims of this war, not one presents such an interesting
figure as the young and lovely Fanny. Modest, amiable, and witty, a
talented linguist, adorned with qualities calculated to captivate the
least impressionable—she was reduced to begging for the slightest
services almost upon her knees, and compelled to pay for every crust of
bread at the price of her shame. Her benefactors abused their position
to demand the most debasing return for the nourishment they afforded
her. I saw her at Smolensk unable to walk, clinging to a horse’s tail,
until she fell at last upon the snow, and there she probably remained,
her fate provoking no sign of sympathy or look of pity.”

“The unhappy P.,” continues Labaume, “still succeeded in keeping up with
us, sharing with servile fidelity in our sorrows and privations. The
story of this unfortunate girl is worth narrating. Whether she had lost
herself, or whether her romantic spirit prompted her to seek for
adventure, I do not know, but she was found secreted in the crypt of the
Cathedral of St. Michael. They brought her to one of the French
generals, who took her under his protection. He afterwards pretended to
be in love with her, and made her his mistress under promise of
marriage. With the true heroism of virtue she suffered every misery and
privation. She was about to become a mother, and was proud of her
condition and of her fidelity in following her husband. But when the man
on whose promises she relied learned that the army was not to stay at
Smolensk, he resolved to sever a tie which he had never regarded
otherwise than as a pastime. This black-hearted scoundrel, whose bosom
was closed to every sentiment of pity, announced to the innocent girl,
under some plausible pretext, that they must part. The unhappy creature
uttered a cry of despair. She declared that having sacrificed her home
and her good name for one whom she already regarded as her lawful
husband, she looked upon it as her duty to follow him to the world’s
end—that neither fatigue nor danger should deter her in her resolution
to cling to the man she loved.

“The general, unmoved by her fidelity, curtly repeated that they must
part—in the first place because circumstances rendered it impossible to
maintain women on the march; and secondly, because he was already
married; in short, she had best return to Moscow, where no doubt a
handsome sweetheart awaited her. The wretched girl was stricken dumb
with despair at this announcement. Pale as death, paler than when they
found her among the vaults of the Cathedral in the Kremlin, she was
unable for many minutes to open her lips. Then she began to weep and
moan, and, overwhelmed with grief, she fell into a swoon, of which her
betrayer availed himself—not to escape a trying farewell, but to fly
from the Russians whose cries were drawing nearer and nearer.”

[Illustration: _French Fugitives._]

“The scarcity of fodder for the horses,” says René Bourgeois, “was
appalling. Handfuls of decaying straw, the broken and trampled remnants
of former bivouacs, or thatch torn from the roofs of what few huts
remained, furnished all their provender, and they perished in the camp
by thousands. The sheets of ice that covered the roads gave them their
_coup de grâce_—in a short time the cavalry was a thing of the past, and
dismounted horsemen swelled the ranks of the pedestrians. The regiments
became hopelessly mixed up, order and discipline were no longer
maintained. The soldiers took no notice of their officers, and the
officers took no thought for the soldiers, every one plodded along at
his own sweet will.

“This disorderly rabble was clad in the most extraordinary garments—in
the skins and hides of various animals, in women’s petticoats of every
conceivable hue, in great shawls, in scraps of blankets, in old
horse-cloths with a hole in the middle for the head, and hanging down
all round. As their boots were gone, their feet were wrapped in tattered
rags and shreds of felt and sheep-skin, tied up with bits of straw....
Above these vermin-infested rags were to be seen sunken faces black with
the smoke of camp-fires, smeared with all manner of filth—faces on which
were imprinted horror, despair, and the haunting terror of hunger, cold,
and all their other ills. There was no centre or flank; the whole army
was huddled into a heap, with no cavalry or artillery, and moved
forward, baggage and all, in indescribable confusion.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

At last the French army arrived at the Beresina, where it must have been
annihilated but for the folly of the Russian General Chichagof, who had
been directed to cut off its retreat.

“It must be admitted,” says René Bourgeois, “that throughout the
campaign the Russians made the most astounding blunders. At the
Beresina, in particular, they might have taken the whole French army
prisoner without spilling a drop of blood. Our escape was due solely to
the incapacity of the Russian commander, Admiral Chichagof, who took
over the command of the army of Moldavia from Kutuzof.... He was a young
courtier, self-confident and vain, who enjoyed the fullest confidence
and favour of the Emperor Alexander.”

A perusal of the despatches which this youthful favourite wrote, with
the pompous French periods, the confident and condescending criticisms
of anybody and everybody, not even excepting Kutuzof, enables us to
appreciate his fatuity and incompetence.

The French, having hoodwinked the Russian general—or rather,
admiral—proceeded to throw bridges over the Beresina.

“_Esprit de corps_ in the different arms of the service,” says Marbot,
“is of course worthy of all honour, but it does no harm now and then to
moderate it under certain circumstances. This was a task beyond the
powers of those in command of the artillery and engineers at the passage
of the Beresina; for sappers and gunners each insisted that they alone,
and no others, were going to build the bridges. The result was that the
work remained at a complete standstill until the Emperor, who arrived on
the 26/14, settled the dispute by ordering the artillery to build one
bridge and the engineers the other.”

“Who shall number the victims of this passage,” says S. U., “or describe
the scenes of horror and destruction? Amid inconceivable confusion the
Emperor endeavoured to facilitate the passage by ordering a multitude of
vehicles to be burned under his own eyes; the Prince of Neufchâtel led
several horses over with his own hands.”

“One’s pen,” says Constant, “simply refuses to depict the scenes of
horror that were witnessed at the Beresina. Vehicles of all kinds drove
up to the bridge literally over heaps of bodies that lay blocking up the
road. Whole crowds of wretched soldiers fell into the river and perished
among the blocks of ice. Others clung to the planks of the bridge,
suspended over the abyss, until the wheels of the carts passed over
their fingers and compelled them to relinquish their hold. Caissons,
wagons, drivers, and horses went down together.”

“One woman was seen,” says de B., “caught between the blocks of ice,
holding up her baby in the air and imploring the passers-by to save it
from a watery grave.”

[Illustration: NEY AND THE STAFF.]

“I saw soldiers,” says the author of the _Journal de la Guerre_,
“clinging to their neighbours to save themselves from falling. I saw the
feeble, tottering as they went, yet still pressing feverishly forward,
jostling one another so that whole rows of them fell into the water
together, toppling over like houses of cards. If a Cossack showed
himself, or any one repeated the word ‘Cossack’ two or three times, the
whole army of fugitives were seized with such panic that they dashed
hither and thither, backwards and forwards, slipping and falling
headlong into the river.”

                  *       *       *       *       *

Beyond the Beresina the cold became even more severe. The whole country
round was covered with snow. Even the villages, buried in the drifts, no
longer broke the monotony of the horizon, and they could only be
distinguished by the smoke and flame of burning houses fired by the
inhabitants or by fugitives from the French army.

“The soldiers,” says Ségur, “were perpetually burning down whole houses,
merely for the sake of warming themselves for a few minutes at the
blaze. The glare would attract some poor creatures who had partly lost
their wits through cold and privation. Grinding their teeth, and yelling
with unearthly laughter, they would leap into and perish in the flames,
while their comrades looked on with calm unconcerned countenances. The
bystanders sometimes pulled out their burnt and disfigured bodies and,
horrible to relate, devoured them.”

“The road was so thickly covered with dead and dying,” says the author
of the _Journal de la Guerre_, “that one had to exercise the greatest
care to avoid treading on them. Marching, as we were, in a compact mass,
one had no choice but to step on or over these poor wretches who lay
writhing in their death agony. One could hear the death rattle in their
throats, but it was useless to think of giving them any assistance.”

“In the sheds by the roadside,” says Ségur, “were to be seen spectacles
of indescribable horror. Many of our men who sheltered there for the
night found their comrades in the morning frozen by scores around the
remains of the fires. In order to get out of these charnel-houses one
had to clamber over heaps of poor wretches, many of whom were still

“I could never understand,” says Constant, “why in our wretched plight
we must needs continue to play the _rôle_ of conquerors, and drag
captives along with us, to the infinite discomfort of our own men. The
unfortunate Russians, half dead with fatigue and famine, were herded
together in a large open space like cattle. A multitude of them died in
the night; the rest sat huddled together for the sake of warmth. Those
who died of the cold continued to sit cheek by jowl with the living.
Some of the prisoners ate the bodies of their dead comrades.”

It is interesting to note that all this went on within a few yards of
Napoleon’s head-quarters—a wooden house, the windows of which had to be
stuffed with hay and straw.

When Napoleon left the troops, their confusion, and consequently their
misery, became, if possible, worse than before. The army needed the arm
of a giant to help it to bear its miseries, but meanwhile the giant
abandoned it. On the very first night one of the generals refused to
obey orders, and the Marshal in command of the rear-guard had to attend
the King’s head-quarters almost alone. Round these head-quarters lay all
that was left of the Grande Armée, 3000 files of the Old and Young
Guard. When Napoleon’s departure became known, discipline suffered a
severe blow, even among these seasoned veterans.

“There were some among them who had covered two hundred leagues without
daring to look back; _sauve qui peut_ was the order of the day.

“All that were left of the baggage-wagons after the passage of the
Beresina, including the Emperor’s, had to be finally abandoned near the
Tamari post-house at the foot of an ice-covered declivity on the further
side of Vilna. The continual arrival of more vehicles behind those that
had been abandoned intensified the prevailing lawlessness and disorder.
Russians and French were soon mingled in an inextinguishable crowd round
the wagon-loads of French treasure.”

“Every one,” says the author of the _Journal de la Guerre_, “took what
he pleased from the contents of the carriages and carts. I saw wagons
full of gold and silver looted in the middle of the road, partly by
Frenchmen, partly by Cossacks, without any display of hostility between
them. I made my way into the midst of them, and not one of the Russians
attempted to molest me.”

At the Russian frontier, two kings, one prince, eight marshals, a few
generals and officers, roaming aimlessly about, together with a few men
of the Old Guard who still carried muskets, were all that remained of
the Grande Armée.

[Illustration: Printer's decoration]



                              THE MARSHALS

[Illustration: _Marshal Ney._]

The lack of discipline in the army must in great measure be ascribed to
the fact that the kings, marshals, princes, and dukes who held the chief
command were wanting in self-restraint and in the virtue of unmurmuring
obedience to the Emperor.

As is well known, at the beginning of the campaign the King of
Westphalia took umbrage at a well-deserved rebuke which his lack of
energy had drawn upon him, and went home, leaving his army corps without
even transferring the command, or communicating to any one the orders he
had received.

The relations between Marshal Berthier, the chief of the staff, and
Marshal Davout, between the latter and Murat, and, indeed, between many
of the other commanders, were so strained that they distinctly hindered
the progress of the campaign. In 1809 Berthier had been for some days
Davout’s superior officer. Disregarding his orders, Davout won a battle
and saved the army from annihilation; but he incurred the bitter hatred
of his chief. When they met again at the opening of the last campaign
they had a fierce altercation in the presence of the Emperor. Davout
went so far as to say that Berthier must be “either a fool or a
traitor,” and they threatened one another with personal violence.
Berthier, as is well known, was incapable of initiative: He merely
served as an echo of Napoleon’s wishes; but he was very docile and
industrious. A firm believer in the Emperor’s maxim—“Never attempt two
things at the same time; concentrate all your efforts on one,” he did
not approve of the war of 1812, but bowed to necessity. He entered upon
the campaign without conviction or enthusiasm, deeply disquieted by the
position of the French armies in Spain.

In the campaign of 1812 the Duke of Neufchâtel displayed, to say the
least, very little foresight. Davout was no doubt the best strategist in
the whole galaxy of Napoleon’s satellites, but he was of a quarrelsome,
envious, and vindictive disposition. The methodical and patient genius
of Davout formed a striking contrast to the impulsiveness of Murat. This
was the cause of many misunderstandings between these two commanders,
old comrades though they were, and almost of the same age, who had risen
side by side through the various grades. They were accustomed to obey
Napoleon, but were wanting in command over themselves. This was
especially the case with Murat. The relations of Murat and Davout throw
so interesting a light on the system of command in the Grande Armée that
they are worthy of some attention.

Davout was put at one time under Murat’s command. He submitted to his
orders, but most unwillingly, and although he swallowed his wrath, he
ceased all direct communication with the Emperor. Napoleon, however,
ordered him to send in his reports as before, for Murat’s despatches
were hopeless. This was just what Davout wanted, and from that time
forth he ceased to recognize the authority of the King of Naples. The
extent of their jealousy may be judged from the fact that in an
engagement one of Davout’s batteries refused to fire on the orders of
Murat. The commander of the battery urged the Marshal’s own orders in
justification of his refusal; he had been told to take orders from no
one but Davout under pain of losing his command.

[Illustration: _Marshal Davout._]

The next day the two rivals had a lively altercation in Napoleon’s
presence. The King accused the Duke of obstinate resistance to his
wishes, and with secret enmity towards himself, an enmity, he averred,
that had its origin in Egypt. He went so far as to propose a settlement
of the quarrel man to man, urging that the army should not be allowed to
suffer through their private differences. Davout, on the other hand,
attacked the King furiously for his wanton recklessness, and painted a
lively picture of the disorder that reigned in the advance-guard of the
army. “I must admit,” said he, according to Ségur, “that the Russians
are effecting their retreat in the most admirable order. They halt
wherever they find it convenient instead of consulting the wishes of our
boastful friend Murat. They select their positions so well, and defend
them so skilfully, with an eye to the forces at their disposal, and the
time they wish to gain, that their tactics must have been carefully
thought out long ago.

“They never abandon a position until it becomes untenable. At night they
turn in early and leave only as many troops under arms as are absolutely
necessary for the defence of their positions and for allowing the rest
of the troops an opportunity for sleep and refreshment.

“But the King, instead of profiting by this excellent example, takes no
account of time or of the position and strength of the enemy. He is
always appearing in the skirmishing line, prancing up and down in front
of the enemy or trying to worry them on the flanks, losing his temper,
yelling himself hoarse with orders, wasting cartridges and ammunition,
men and horses, for no reason whatever, and keeping all the troops under
arms until late into the night.

“It wrings my heart to see the wretched men jostling one another in the
dark, and groping for fodder and water, firewood and eatables, unable to
find their own quarters, and spending the night shouting to one another.
It is not only the advance-guard that suffers by this—the whole of our
cavalry is visibly worn out. Let Murat do what he likes with his own
cavalry, but so long as Davout is in command of the infantry of the Ist
Army Corps, he will not let him worry them to death.”

“The King in reply hit as hard as his opponent. The Emperor heard them
out, rolling a Russian cannon-ball about with his foot. It seemed as if
he enjoyed the differences between his officers,” says Ségur.

When he dismissed them he cautiously remarked to Davout that “no one man
could combine all the virtues; that even if the Duke of
Eckmühl—Davout—knew how to win battles, it did not follow that he could
lead an advance-guard; and that if Murat had been told off to pursue
Bagration in Lithuania he would very likely have prevented his escape.”

Napoleon subsequently advised the two rivals to do their best to pull
better together for the future; but how much they profited by this
recommendation may be gathered from Belliard’s despatch to the Emperor
on the battle of Viazma. “On the far side of the town the enemy appeared
in a convenient position behind a trench, apparently quite prepared for
an engagement. The cavalry at once went into action on either flank; but
when the time came for the infantry, and the King in person was heading
one of Davout’s divisions, the Marshal galloped up and ordered the men
to halt. He then expressed loud disapproval of the intended movement,
and had high words with the King, flatly forbidding the generals to obey
his orders. Murat endeavoured to insist, and reminded Davout of his
position, but his protests were useless. Meanwhile the chance was gone.
The King had to content himself with sending word to the Emperor that it
was absolutely impossible to carry on the command under the
circumstances, and asking him to choose between him and Davout.

“Napoleon was very angry. He sided with Murat against Davout, but the
former could not forget the insult to which his old enemy had given
public expression. The longer he considered the matter the fiercer grew
his indignation. The affront, he determined, was one that his sword
alone could avenge. What mattered the Emperor’s decision, or the
Emperor’s anger? He must wipe out the insult with his own hand!

“He was about to demand satisfaction of Davout, when Belliard stopped
him, and represented the consequences of such an act, and the bad
example it would set.”

On the whole, Davout’s accusations were fully justified. In the course
of the campaign Murat’s precipitation was on more than one occasion the
cause of serious loss to the invading army. The repeated attacks of the
cavalry on the square formed by Neverofsky’s retreating division, when
the Russians coolly and successfully sustained forty charges led by the
King of Naples in person, is an example in point. When he had sacrificed
the whole of his cavalry Murat practically took no further part in the
campaign. He merely drove about in the carriage with Napoleon, or
followed him on foot, with a stick in his hand and a fur-coat buttoned
up to his chin.

The order and discipline of Davout’s own division were not, however,
proof against the miseries of the retreat, and after the battle of
Viazma Napoleon received a very clear report from Ney informing him of
the disastrous result of the battle.

“If better order had been maintained,” said Ney, “the result would
probably have been very different. The most appalling feature of the
whole business was the disorganization of Davout’s division, which
unfortunately spread to the other troops. I feel obliged to tell your
Majesty the whole truth, and however unpleasant it is to have to find
fault with any of my fellow-officers, I am compelled to state that under
the circumstances I cannot answer for the safety of the retreat.”

Napoleon himself had occasion to complain of Davout’s dilatoriness. He
had fallen behind five days’ march when he should, at the most, have
been only three days in the rear. These complaints were repeated in all
quarters, and it was said that his movements against the Cossacks had no
other effect than to detain the army.

“_Mon cousin_,” wrote Napoleon to Berthier, losing all patience, “tell
the Duke of Elchingen—Ney—to take command of the rear-guard and to move
as quickly as possible—the Duke of Eckmühl keeps the Regent and Prince
Poniatowski waiting every time a Cossack shouts ‘Hurrah.’”

Napoleon could not have found a better person than the Duke of Eckmühl
to carry out his plan of taking vengeance on the Russians by burning
everything on the line of march. When he was in charge of the rear-guard
he distinguished himself by the zeal and completeness with which he
burned every manor and village within reach.

When snow and frost appeared Davout was utterly unable to meet the
altered conditions. Thrown out of his ordinary routine, he was driven to
despair by the disorder that prevailed, and was among the first to lose

“Davout,” says Ségur, “entered Orcha with 4000 men, all that remained of
70,000! The Marshal lost all his personal belongings; he had no linen,
and was literally dying of hunger. When he was offered a piece of bread
he positively leaped upon it; when they gave him a handkerchief and he
wiped his face for the first time for many days, it was covered with
hoar-frost. ‘A man must be made of iron,’ cried the Marshal, ‘to stand
such privations! There are such things as physical impossibilities;
there is a limit to human endurance, and that limit we have long since

Ney was made of very different metal. When Napoleon refused to let him
have the Guards for a final attack in the plains of Borodino, he did not
hesitate to proclaim aloud, that “if the Emperor is tired of fighting,
let him take his d——d way to the Tuileries, and leave us to do what is

Amid the universal despair and confusion of the retreat, Ney proved
himself not only the “bravest of the brave,” as he had always been, but
an obedient and efficient officer—he was the true hero of the retreat of
the Grande Armée. Of a remarkably strong constitution, Ney was a man of
action, not of sentiment. Highly characteristic was his answer to a
wounded man who besought him to save him. “What would you have me do?”
said he. “You are but one of the victims of the war—_voilà tout_!” When
Ney was told of the death of the young de Noailles, he answered, without
moving a muscle—“Well, well, his turn has come; it is better that we
should lament his death than that he should lament ours.” The following
incident is equally characteristic of the man. At Smolensk Ney was
abandoned by Marshal Davout, and lost almost all his troops, artillery,
and baggage. When, by circuitous roads, through bogs and forests, he
overtook Napoleon with a handful of men, and the Duke of Eckmühl began
to excuse his conduct, Ney merely replied—“I have not accused your Grace
of anything. God sees us, and He is your Judge.”

“Ney saw,” says Ségur, “that some one must bear the brunt of the
retreat, and of his own free will he accepted the post of danger,
undertaking to cover the rear of the army.”

“The Russians were advancing,” says an eye-witness of one engagement,
“under cover of the forest and of the wagons we had abandoned, and
firing on Ney’s troops with great effect. The latter were on the point
of taking to flight when the Marshal seized a rifle, rushed up, and led
them into action. He replied to the Russian fire with as little concern
for his own safety as if he did not know what it was to be a father and
a husband, wealthy, noble, and respected. Although playing the part of a
private soldier he did not cease to be a general. Taking advantage of
the ground, he made full use of the cover afforded by hills and houses.
In this way he secured for the army a respite of twenty-four hours. On
the two following days he displayed the same heroism; from Viazma to
Smolensk he was fighting for ten days without a break.”

Military history probably furnishes few instances in which a commander
has extricated himself from so difficult a position as that in which Ney
found himself when, as we have already said, he was abandoned by Davout
on the road from Smolensk to Krasnoye. The rear-guard of the Grande
Armée was caught in a trap; Dorogomilovsky’s forces lay across the road
and on either flank, so that it was absolutely impossible to pass. Ney,
however, could not bring himself to yield, and did his best to cut his
way through. Again and again he led his exhausted troops against the
enemy’s bayonets; but musketry volleys and the fire of 40 guns at a
range of 250 paces could not fail of their effect. At last the greater
portion of the French division, consisting of 12,000 men, surrendered,
and all their artillery, 27 guns, baggage, etc., passed into the hands
of the enemy. Marshal Ney, however, was not one of the prisoners. He
took advantage of the darkness to escape with 3000 men, who readily
followed him.

The means which he employed to effect his escape were perhaps not quite
legitimate. The Marshal detained the officer who came from General
Dorogomilovsky with an offer of surrender, and while he was awaiting a
final answer, slipped away, first in the direction of Smolensk, and then
by a circuitous flank march to Orcha.

The details of this retreat and final escape have an air rather of
romance than of stern fact. The boldness with which the operation was
conceived and executed is nothing less than astounding. “The eyes of
every man in the little detachment that slipped so quietly out of the
hands of the Russians,” says Fezensac, “were turned towards the Marshal.
He showed no trace of anxiety or irresolution, but no one dared to
question him. Ney said to one of his staff-officers who was standing by—

“_Nous ne sommes pas bien._”

“_Qu’allez vous faire?_” asked the officer.

“_Passer le Dniéper._”

“_Où est le chemin?_”

“_Nous le trouverons._”

“_Et s’il n’est pas gelé?_”

“_Il le sera._”

It was as he said. The fugitives came upon a lame peasant who served
them as a guide. The ice was only just strong enough to bear.
Nevertheless, most of the troops got across safely after abandoning all
their baggage. The Cossacks started in pursuit the following day, but in
forty-eight hours Ney made his way by river and forest, after much
fighting, to the town of Orcha.

It is said that when Napoleon heard of Ney’s arrival, he exclaimed with
delight—“I have 200,000,000 francs stored in the cellars of the
Tuileries. I would willingly give them all to save such a man as Ney.”

However brilliant Ney’s movements at the battle of Krasnoye may have
been, it is impossible to read Napoleon’s account of the engagement, in
Despatch XXIX., without a smile. With the most ludicrous perversity
Napoleon represents the Marshal as victorious.

General Dumas says that after crossing the frontier, he was one day
taking coffee at an hotel in Gumbinen, when a stranger entered. He was
dressed in a dark overcoat, and wore a long beard. His face was
blackened as if it had been burned, and his eyes were bloodshot. “Here I
am at last!” he said. “Why, General Dumas, don’t you know me?”

“No. Who are you?”

“I am the rear-guard of the Grande Armée—Marshal Ney.”


            _Richard Clay & Sons, Limited, London & Bungay._


Transcriber’s note:

  Silently corrected typographical errors and inconsistencies; retained
  non-standard spelling.

  Small captionless hand sketches were not retained.

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