Illustrated Description Of Russia

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Poland suffered much from the outbreak of 1881, in consequence partly of the destruction of property, and partly of the proscriptions and oppressive measures of the imperial government which followed its suppression. Within the last few years, however, the country has again begun to revive. The population and revenues have considerably increased; houses and other buildings have multiplied; old roads have been materially improved, and new ones projected.; so that, on the whole, however depressed in some respects,, the country is certainly advancing in improvement.

The Polish army, which before 1831 amounted, in time of peace, to thirty-five thousand men, is now amalgamated with that of Russia.

Poland was first raised to the rank of a kingdom by the emperor of Germany, in 1025, when Boleslaus Chrobry became its sole monarch. He belonged to what has been called the Piast dynasty, being one of the de scendants of Prince Piast, who, as early as 840, had been acknowledged chief of all the Poles who dwelt between the Vistula and the Warta. His reign was long and flourishing, and the prosperity which he had commenced was continued and extended under his successors, Boleslaus II. and III. The latter monarch, however, under whom Christianity had been introduced into the country, counterbalanced the good which he had done, and laid the foundation for a lengthened series of civil wars, and all sorts of disasters, by following the practice then common in Europe, of dividing his dominions, in 1139, among four sons, with only a nominal superiority in the eldest. The unity of the kingdom was thus destroyed, and its further development impeded by civil dissensions, which did not terminate till 1308, when the different portions of the monarchy were again united in the person of Ladislaus Lokietek, whose merits as a sovereign would have been more conspicuous if they had not been in some measure eclipsed by those of his son Casimir the Great, in whom all the qualities of a good and wise prince seem to have been happily combined. His reign, which began in 1333, and terminated in 1370, is the most brilliant in the Polish annals ; still, however, the foundations were laid in it of that anarchy that destroyed the kingdom.

Casimir, having no children of his own, the male line of the Piasts thus became extinct; and being anxious that the crown should devolve, at his death, upon his nephew Louis, king of Hungary, in preference to the legitimate heirs, he obtained for that purpose the sanction of a general assembly of the nobles, and Louis agreed to the conditions under which they offered him the crown — establishing, in this way, a precedent for similar interference on future occasions. In like manner, Louis, in his turn, was anxious to secure the succession to his youngest daughter, Hedwig; but as this could not be obtained without innovating on the constitution, he endeavored to accomplish it by courting the nobility, and bestowing upon them privileges with so lavish a hand, as virtually to make them masters of the crown itself. Hedwig was crowned in 1382, and, by her subsequent marriage with Jagellon, grand-duke of Lithuania, united that duchy to Poland. The house of Jagellon continued to occupy the Polish throne for about two centuries, and the monarchy was thus truly hereditary; but at each change of a sovereign an assembly of the nobles or diet was held, at which the new sovereign was formally elected to the throne.

On the death of the last of the Jagellons, in 1572, the throne of Poland became, substantially as well as formally, elective; and it was called, not a kingdom, but a republic. Henceforth, on the death of a sovereign, the nobility or gentry repaired in vast numbers, sometimes to the amount of one hundred thousand, on horseback, and armed, with crowds of attendants, to a sort of camp in the neighborhood of Warsaw, to elect his successor, who had to subscribe, and make oath to observe, the pacta conventa, or conditions under which he had been elected. These were such as to reduce the royal authority within the narrowest limits, to secure and extend the privileges of the nobility and clergy, and to perpetuate the degradation of the mass of the people, who, being serfs (niewolnik) in the fullest extent of the term, were not supposed, in fact, to have any legal existence!

At the death of Sigismund Augustus, the last of the Jagellon dynasty, Sweden, France, Austria, and Russia, all brought forward their candidates, and endeavored to carry the election by such appliances as the exigencies of the occasion might seem to justify — by violence, intimidation, intrigue, and bribery. Henry Yalois, of France, was the successful competitor, but his reign was short and inglorious; and no great name occurs in the list of sovereigns elected under this monstrously vicious system, except that of the famous John Sobieski, the last great king of Poland, who mounted the throne in 1674, having been highly successful as a general since the year 1648, and whose reign is rendered memorable by his numerous victories in Moldavia and Wallachia, and by his terrible overthrow of the Turkish besieging host under the walls of Vienna in 1683.

Exclusive of the diets* for the election of the sovereigns, ordinary diets were held, at least, once every two years, at which all matters connected with the government of the country were discussed and decided upon. It is easy to see; from what has been already stated, that this form of government could not fail to produce great party contests and disorders, and that it must have afforded every facility to the surrounding powers for acquiring a preponderating influence in the diet. Probably, however, the abuses already noticed might have been repaired, but for the principle, if we may so call it, first introduced in 1652, that no decision could be come to upon any matter submitted for consideration unless the diet were unanimous. Hence the singular and extraordinary privilege of the liberum veto, by which any single member of the diet was permitted to interpose his absolute veto, and, by doing so, could nullify its whole proceedings! And, which is even more extraordinary, this absurd privilege, which allowed the whim, caprice, or bad faith of an individual, to prevent the adoption of any measure, however necessary and however generally approved, was, for a lengthened period, regarded by the Poles as the palladium of their liberties!

* The diets consisted — first, of the senate, composed of the bishops, palatines, or perpetual governors of provinces, castellans, or governors of towns, and the grand officers of the crown ; and, second, of the nuncios, or representatives of the nobles, or gentry. These bodies did not, however, deliberate separately, but together; and, as will be immediately seen, they could come to no resolution without being unanimous.

It is plain, from these statements, that latterly the whole powers of the state were engrossed by the nobles, or gentry, many of whom, though enjoying the same political rights and franchises as the others, were miserably poor. In consequence, corruption, intimidation, and such like arts, had full scope in the Polish diets, particularly in those held for the election of sovereigns; and latterly the crown was, in fact, either sold to the highest bidder, or the election was decided under the influence of foreign force. And if, while the government was in this state of abasement, we bear in mind that the whole people, with the exception of the nobles or gentry, were serfs, on whom every indignity might be practised by their masters, it will be seen that the subversion of such a state of things might reasonably be expected.

Even before the election of John Sobieski, schemes of dismemberment had been suggested by the neighboring powers; and though the brilliancy of his reign, and other encouraging causes, prevented them from assuming any definite shape, the disorganization of the internal government, and the anarchy which prevailed at every new election, made it obvious to all but the infatuated Poles themselves, that their execution was only postponed, and would sooner or later be effected.

The partition of Poland had, in fact, been proposed by the Swedes, in the reign of Casimir V. (a short while previously to the election of John Sobieski), as the only method by which the disorders that agitated the country could be put an end to, and the inconvenience thence arising to the surrounding states be obviated. But it was not till more than a century after that the first actual partition was agreed upon, in 1772, by the emperor of Austria, the empress of Russia, and the king of Prussia, Frederick the Great, the latter of whom is said to have first proposed the plan of dismemberment to Maria Theresa, fearful lest Catherine II. should get the whole territory. By this partition, about a third part of the kingdom was dismembered, and added to the dominions of the partitioning powers, their respective shares being as follows: to Prussia, a little over thirteen thousand; Austria, twenty-seven thousand; and Russia, forty-two thousand square miles.

But it was not to be supposed that, having once begun to share in so rich a spoil, these powers would rest satisfied with this acquisition. The pretexts for further interference still continued undiminished. Poland, as before, remained a prey to all sorts of disorders; and the Russian embassador, and not the king, was the real sovereign.

In 1791, the majority of the nobility and gentry then assembled in a diet, which had been made permanent, being desirous to raise their country from the miserable state into which it had fallen, and stimulated by the events connected with the French Revolution, drew up the projet of a new constitution on a more liberal and broader basis, abolishing the liberum veto, and making the crown hereditary, on the demise of King Stanislaus Augustus, in the Saxon family. This constitution was accepted by the king; but the great bulk of the nation did not, and could not, take any interest in the change : and the government were wholly without the means of supporting the new order of things. Russia had little difficulty in fomenting fresh disorders; and the unfortunate Poles, with an imbecile sovereign, without forces, and abandoned and betrayed by their pretended allies, were again compelled to submit to a fresh dismemberment of their country. By this second partition, in 1793, Prussia obtained twenty-two thousand five hundred, and Russia ninety-six thousand five hundred square miles.

Provoked by these repeated indignities, the Poles awoke from their stupor, and, headed by the heroic Kosciusko, rose in rebellion in 1794. But it was too late; their means were totally inadequate to the struggle in which they had engaged. After displaying prodigies of valor, Kosciusko was defeated and taken prisoner (10th of October, 1794), and Praga, the suburb of Warsaw, being taken by storm, that city forthwith surrendered; and there being no longer any obstacle in the way, a dismemberment of the remaining territories of the republic took place in 1795, and Poland was finally obliterated from the map of Europe. Stanislaus Augustus, the last Polish king, degraded into a pensionary of the Russian court, died at St. Petersburg in 1798. These successive partitions had given Austria forty-five thousand square miles of Polish territory, with five millions of inhabitants ; Prussia, fifty-seven thousand square miles, with two and a half millions of inhabitants; and Russia, one hundred and eighty thousand square miles, with four millions six hundred thousand inhabitants.

The powers who dismembered Poland had, in reality, nothing better to allege, in justification of their measures, than the robber's plea, that the power to commit an act makes it at once right and expedient! But, how objectionable soever the motives by which they were influenced, and how dangerous soever the precedent which they established, there can be no reasonable doubt that their measures have been decidedly advantageous to the great bulk of the Polish people. The vices inherent in Polish society were such that it is idle to suppose they could have been eradicated by any . remodelling of the constitution. There was no middle class (or none worth notice) in the country; nothing between nobles, jealous of their rank and privileges, on the one hand, and newly-emancipated serfs, brutalized and degraded by a long course of oppression, on the other. To restrain the first within the limits prescribed by law, and to raise the second class, was a work that could only be undertaken by a powerful government, such as there were no means of forming out of native materials. It is to be regretted that Russia obtained the lion's share of the spoil; but even in Russian Poland the condition of the people has been very decidedly changed for the better, and in Austrian and Prussian Poland the improvement in their condition has been signal and extraordinary.

A dawn of hope appeared in 1806, when Napoleon, during the campaign of Friedland, extended his protection over the Poles ; and shortly after, in accordance with the terms of the treaty of Tilsit, formed the grand-duchy of Warsaw, which, increased in 1809 by the addition of western Galicia, which he wrested from Austria, extended over an area of sixty thousand square miles, and contained three millions seven hundred and eighty thousand inhabitants. But Napoleon, having now formed an alliance, offensive and defensive, with Alexander, against England, could not carry out his original desire and intention of re-establishing the ancient kingdom of Poland. After his fall, the congress of Vienna (1815), composed mainly of the spoliators themselves, naturally enough confirmed these spoliations; but by an arrangement which, in the circumstances, looks more like insult than generosity, erected the city of Krakow into an independent republic.

About two thirds of the Russian, share was completely incorporated with the general government, and ceased to retain any distinctive appellation; but the remainder was erected, as before remarked, into what was called the kingdom of Poland, and received a separate constitution from the emperor Alexander, drawn up in a more liberal spirit than might have been anticipated. It appears, however, to have been more liberally devised than faithfully executed. Unfortunately, too, the disgust occasioned by the brutality of the grand-duke. Constantine, commander-in-chief of tho Russian forces in the kingdom, conspiring with the excitement produced by the French revolution of 1830, and the abuse of Russia in intemperate and ill-judged speeches in the house of commons and chamber of deputies, which made it be believed that England and France were ready to assail that power, precipitated the Poles into an insurrection. They made a gallant stand in defence of their liberties, but in the end every vestige of their independence was totally destroyed. The confiscation of the property, and exile to Siberia, of the leading patriots, followed as a matter of course. The name of the kingdom remains; but its peculiar privileges have been subverted, and it is now substantially and in fact a part of the Russian empire.

Polish Exiles on their way to Siberia *

Polish Exiles on their way to Siberia *

* This illustration is drawn mainly from the celebrated painting of the Polish exiles, by Sir William Allan, the scene of which is thus happily alluded to by Christopher North: ''They are but one family, but in their sufferings they represent those of all sent to Siberia, and cold and base would be that heart which melted not before such a picture. Toward evening, fatigue has weighed them down,— one and all on the roadside ; but there is no fainting, no hysterics. That man in Poland was a patriot — in the steppes of Siberia he is but a father.' With humble, almost humiliated earnestness, he beseeches the Bashkirs to let his wife and daughter, and other children, and himself, rest but for an hour! The Bashkirs are three ; and he who refuses, does so without cruelty, but, inexorable in his sense of duty, points toward the distance, a dim dreary way along the wilderness, not unoccupied by other wretches moving toward the mines !"

The city of Krakow, the ancient capital of Poland, and which, by the congress of Vienna, in 1815, was erected into a free and independent republic, with a territory of four hundred and sixty square miles, after maintaining a feverish existence till 1846, was seized upon by Austria, and incorporated with her kingdom of Galicia. The cathedral of Krakow, a view of which is given at the close of this chapter, is a magnificent structure, and justly celebrated from its being the resting-place of the remains of the kings and many illustrious men of Poland; among others, it contains the tombs of Casimir the Great, of John Sobieski, and of Kosciusko and Poniatowski, ''the last of the Poles."

Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is situated on the Vistula, six hundred and fifty miles southeast of St. Petersburg. Its population, including its suburbs, in 1850 was one hundred and sixty-four thousand. The city, which, with its gardens and suburbs, covers a great extent of ground, is on the left or west bank of the river, which is here about seven hundred feet broad, being connected with the suburb of Praga on the right, by a bridge of boats. A suspension-bridge was some years since projected instead of the latter, but the project has not hitherto been carried into effect.

Warsaw, being situated partly in a plain, and partly on an ascent gradually rising to the river's bank, has a magnificent appearance from the St. Petersburg road. But though the contrary has been affirmed by some travellers, the impression of grandeur is not supported on entering the town. It has, indeed, many fine palaces, public buildings, and noble mansions, and, latterly, its private houses have been improved by prohibiting the construction of new buildings of wood. But its streets, though spacious, are badly paved, badly lighted, and dirty; the greater part of the houses in the city, and still more in the suburbs, are mean and ill-constructed, above one-fourth part of their number being at this moment of wood; and the whole town exhibits a painful contrast of wealth and poverty, civilization and barbarism, luxury and misery. The suburbs of Praga, on the east bank of the river, once strongly fortified and extensive, is now all but deserted. There are still, however, several other suburbs of large extent; and those adjacent to the city proper are included within its rampart and ditch.

The principal public building is the zamek, a huge edifice, formerly the palace of the kings of Poland, and that in which the emperor still resides when he visits Warsaw. The hall of the Polish diet, a splendid gilt ballroom, and the national archives of Poland, are in this building; and the fine paintings of Canaletti, Bacciarelli, &c., with the library and other treasures, have been removed since 1831 to the Russian capital. There are several other royal palaces. That called the palace of Casimir, which was appropriated to the university, has in its square a statue of Copernicus. The Palais de Saxe is a large building in one of the finest squares. At the back of this palace are the principal public gardens in the interior of Warsaw, which resemble in some respects the park at Brussels, though considerably larger. Another handsome public garden, much frequented at the fashionable hour of twelve, belongs to what is called the government palace. This latter is, perhaps, one of the most chaste and really .beautiful architectural elevations in the Polish capital. It is strictly in the Italian style, and contains the national theatre, customhouse, high tribunals, and offices of the minister of the interior. The palace of the minister of finance, which is quite modern, forms, with the new exchange, a very imposing object at the end of the street leading to the Breslau gate. The Marieville bazar is a large square, the four sides of which consist of covered arcades, with dwellings for the merchants above, and shops for the merchandise under them; the latter amount to about three hundred, beside several warehouses. A great number of churches are to be found in the city, some of which are of really colossal dimensions, as the cathedral of St. John, and the church of the Holy Cross. In the former are an altarpiece of great merit by Palma Nova, and a large standard wrested from the Turks by Sobieski at the siege of Vienna. The Lutherans have also a magnificent church, erected at an expense of one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars, and superior in beauty and boldness of design to all the catholic churches in the place, having a dome and tower of prodigious elevation. Which way soever a traveller turns, he can not fail to pass some one of the monuments which stand in the squares to commemorate the reign of a sovereign, or the achievements of a Polish warrior. The colossal statue of Sigismund III., cast in bronze, gilt, and placed on a lofty pillar of marble of the country, produces a very good effect; and the equestrian group in bronze of Poniatowski, &c, by Thorwaldsen, is also worthy of admiration.

Independently of the public gardens, Warsaw may be said to have in its vicinity some of the finest drives and promenades in Europe for width and extent. The numerous avenues of the Ujasdow, planted with lofty lime and chestnut-trees, are the rendezvous of nearly the entire population of Warsaw on Sundays and other holy days, and are admirably calculated for horse and sledge-races, both of which take place here. In the immediate vicinity is the royal villa, formerly the country residence of Stanislaus Augustus. The palace is built in the Italian style : Bacciarelli's paintings decorate one of the principal rooms ; and it has a ball-room, ornamented with colossal statues in white marble; a chapel, with some curious works in mosaic, &c. In the park is a stone bridge, on which is erected the equestrian statue of John Sobieski. The view of the Vistula from the park is very fine; and a large island lying in the middle stream is much frequented in summer by the amateurs of aquatic expeditions.

Among the other public buildings may be specified the Radzivil and Krasinski palaces, the barracks, mint, six hospitals, five theatres, and several good inns. Since the insurrection of 1831, a strong citadel has been erected partly in the view of protecting, but more of overawing the town. This citadel was built from the produce of a loan raised in Poland; and, in 1835, when the emperor Nicholas visited Warsaw in his way from the congress of Toplitz, he distinctly informed the civic authorities that on the first disturbance breaking out in the city, the guns of the citadel should level it with the ground! A cast-iron obelisk has been erected in the citadel in honor of the late emperor, inscribed, "To Alexander, the conqueror and benefactor of Poland!"

The university of Warsaw, established in 1816, had faculties of theology, jurisprudence, medicine, philosophy, belles-lettres, and fine arts, and a library containing, it is said, one hundred and fifty thousand volumes of printed books, exclusive of rare manuscripts, with an observatory and botanic gardens, cabinets of natural philosophy, zoology, mineral, models, and coins, and printing and lithographic presses. Unfortunately, however, the university no longer exists, having been suppressed subsequently to the late ill-fated insurrection, its' fine library being then, also, removed to St. Petersburg. Of late years there has been a Roman catholic college at Warsaw, with twelve professors; but the adherents of the Russo-Greek church are rapidly increasing here, as in all other countries subject to Russia, and have now a cathedral and other churches in the city. The Jews, of whom there are about twenty-five thousand, have several synagogues ; the Armenians, too, have their places of worship, and the English have a chapel. Among the educational establishments, are numerous superior, special, and elementary schools ; all of them being modelled on the new system, and having attached to each a native Russian, as a teacher of his own language, a considerable proficiency in which is now an indispensable qualification for holding any public office, how trifling soever.

Warsaw has, also, a deaf and dumb asylum, a musical conservatory, societies of friends of literature and natural science, a bible society, &c, and some newspapers, and other periodical publications. These, however, are subjected to a rigorous censorship, and are, consequently, worth little or nothing. Its manufactures comprise woollen and linen cloths, saddlery, leather, carriages of different kinds, ironmongery, paper, and tobacco, with chemical and cotton printing-works, and numerous breweries. Warsaw is the great commercial entrepot for Poland; and has two large fairs, in May and September, attended by traders from many parts of Europe and Asia, five banks, an insurance society, &c.

In comparing this city with St. Petersburg, Dr. Granville says, "There is a notable difference between the general aspect of the inhabitants of Warsaw and those of the capital he had just left. The women here are handsomer than the men: at St. Petersburg the impression I received was of an opposite nature. The absence of those semi-Asiatic costumes, which are so prevalent in all the streets of the Russian capital, tends, in a great measure, to give to the capital of Poland a more European aspect; but there is something else that contributes to produce that effect. The Poles are uniformly merry; they are loud chatterers, fond of amusement, and as partial to living in the open air, doing nothing, as the Parisian faineants and the habitues of the Palais Royal, the Tuileries, the Boulevards, or the Luxembourg; to which class of people I should be tempted to compare them in many respects. They also do business differently: their shops and public places of amusement are more like those of any other European city farther south; and their menage appears to be much nearer to that of the French than of the Russians.''

Warsaw, though a very ancient town, was not the capital of Poland till 1566, after the union with Lithuania; when the Polish diet was transferred to it from Krakow. The city was occupied by the Swedes in the middle of the seventeenth century, and surrendered, without opposition, to Charles XII. in 1703. In 1793, the inhabitants expelled the Russian garrison previously in occupation; and the town was successfully defended against the Prussians, in the succeeding year, by Kosciusko. But the suburb of Praga, being soon after taken and sacked by the Russians under Suwar-row, by whom a large portion of the inhabitants were put to the sword, the city, threatened with a similar fate, submitted to the conquerors. In 1795, Warsaw was assigned to Prussia: in 1806, she was made the capital of the grand duchy of Poland; and in 1815, she became the capital of the new kingdom of Poland. She was the principal seat of the ill-fated insurrection of 1831.

Kalisch, another Polish city, capital of the palatinate of the same name, is situated on an island in the Prosna, one hundred and thirty-two miles west-southwest of Warsaw. It is considered one of the finest cities of Poland, and one of the principal places in point of mercantile wealth and trade. It is surrounded by a wall, flanked with towers, and entered by four gates ; and has ten churches, three convents, one synagogue, a Roman catholic gymnasium, with a fine library, and extensive scientific collections; a military school, theatre, public garden, house of charity, and three hospitals. The streets are spacious, and well paved, and some of them adorned with trees. The houses are well built. The most remarkable edifices are the palace of the voyvodes, in which the courts of law are now held; the cathedral of St. Joseph, the church of St. Nicholas, and that of the Luthe rans. It has linen, woollen, and leather manufactures ; and six fairs are held annually. Kalisch was founded about 655, and was long the residence of the dukes of Great Poland. At a little distance from the city the Swedes were defeated by the Poles, in 1706; in 1835, a grand military review was held here, attended by the emperors of Austria and Russia, and the king of Prussia; on the 18th and 19th of July, 1852, a considerable portion of the city was burned down. The population of Kalisch is about fifteen thousand, of whom about one fifth are Jews.

Lublin, the capital of the palatinate of Lublin, is beautifully situated on a height above the left bank of the Bistritza, ninety-four miles southeast of Warsaw. It consists of the town, properly divided into a high and a low town, and surrounded by walls and ditches, and of a large suburb; but it is poorly built, most of the houses being of wood, and the streets uneven and irregular. It is the see of a bishop, and the seat of a superior appeal court; it contains eighteen churches, one of which is a cathedral, and at least three others are handsome structures; an elegant townhouse, a palace, which belonged to Sobieski; a Piarist college, a diocesan seminary, central schools, an old monastery, a military house of correction, a theatre, an orphan and several other hospitals; possesses agricultural, scientific, and musical societies ; and has manufactures of woollen and linen cloth, a trade in cloth, corn, and Hungarian wine; and three annual fairs, one of which lasts a month, and is numerously attended by German, Greek, Armenian, Russian, Turkish, and other dealers. On a steep height near the town are the remains of an old castle, built by Casimir the Great. Its population is about thirteen thousand.

The palatinate lies wholly within the basin of the Vistula, which bounds it on the west; it is extensively covered with woods and marshes, but has several tracts of good arable and pasture land. Its only mineral is bog-iron ore.

Plock, capital of the palatinate of that name, is situated on the right bank of the Vistula, sixty miles northwest of Warsaw, on a height. It is walled, divided into the old and the new town, and has no less than twenty-five squares, of which one, in the old town, is very regularly built. It has a handsome cathedral, and ten other Roman catholic churches; a bishop's palace, in which the courts of justice hold their sittings; two monasteries, and a convent, a synagogue, Piarist college, a gymnasium, and several elementary schools ; a theatre, an orphan asylum, and poorhouse : and a considerable trade, particularly in skins ; and several large fairs. Its population is six thousand.

Sandomir is another Polish town of considerable importance, situated on the Vistula, fifty-six miles southwest of Lublin. It is surrounded by a wall and fosse, and is entered by six gates. It has an old castle, seated on a rocky height, a collegiate church, four monasteries with churches, a synagogue, and a gymnasium. It possesses considerable general trade, and has a population of about three thousand.

The Krakow Cathedral

The Krakow Cathedral
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Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855