Illustrated Description Of Russia

the List of Illustrations


table of contents


Shortly after this, Catherine and the northern courts, in conjunction with France, jealous of the British maritime power, brought about a combination against England, which was hastened by the following singular incident : The British minister, suspecting that this intrigue was going on, desired Potemkin * to lay before the empress a memorial that he had drawn up, which the prince promised to do. Of this memorial the French governess of his nieces contrived to possess herself, and, after allowing the French minister to make his notes in refutation of it in the margin, replaced it in Potemkin's pocket, who, ignorant of the circumstance, laid it before Catherine; when the empress, conceiving the notes to have been made by her favorite, formed a league with Sweden and Denmark, and announced her intention of supporting it with her navy.

In 1787, Catherine made, in company with Potemkin and an immense suite, her famous triumphal progress to the Crimea, and the following year found her once more at war with the Turks. Soon after, Gustavus III. of Sweden, seizing this favorable opportunity, invaded the Russian territories; this contest, however, produced no decisive results, and was settled by a pacification in 1790. In the close of that year, Constantinople trembled at the forward movement of the Russians ; and the fall of Ismail under Suwarrow,** after the ninth assault, closed the war on the 22d of December.

* Gregory Potemkin, a prince and field-marshal, the minion of Catherine II., was born in 1736, in the neighborhood of Smolensk, of a poor though noble family, and was intended for the church, but obtained a cornetcy in the horse-guards. Over the empress, after the death of her husband, he acquired an unbounded influence, and he retained it till near the end of his life. He distinguished himself against the Turks, particularly in the war of 1788, when he commanded in chief. He died in 1791.

** Prince Alexander Suwarrow (or Suvaroff), a celebrated Russian field-marshal, whose portrait is presented on the opposite page, was bom in 1730, at Suskoi, in the Ukraine — as some accounts say, of Polish parentage — and was educated at the cadet-school of St. Petersburg. He distinguished himself against the Prussians during the Seven Years' War, in which he attained the rank of colonel; in Poland, in 1768, against the confederates ; in 1773, against the Turks; and in 1782, against the Nogai Tartars. For these services he was rewarded with the rank of general-in-chief, the government of the Crimea, the portrait of the empress set in diamonds, and several Russian orders. In the war against the Turks, from 1787 to 1790, he gained the battle of Rymnik, took Ismail by storm (as alluded to above), putting twenty thousand men to the sword, and gained other important advantages. In 1794, he defeated the Poles who were struggling for freedom, ravaged the environs of Warsaw with the fury of a second Attila, and carried the suburb of Praga by assault. For this sanguinary conquest the empress created him field-marshal. After the death of Catherine, Suwarrow fell into disgrace at court, for venturing to condemn the love of innovation displayed by her successor; but at length the capricious Paul reinstated him in his favor, and in 1799 the command of the Austro-Russian army was confided to the hero of Ismail. While fighting on the plains of Italy, and opposed to inferior numbers of the French under Joubert, during the absence of Napoleon in Egypt, the achievements of Suwarrow seemed to justify the partiality of his sovereign, and the expectation of the enemies of France ; but no sooner had he entered upon the mountainous regions of Switzerland, with the wary Massena for his opponent, than his laurels began to wither, and at the close of the campaign of 1799 the sun of his military renown set, never more to rise. More than once during this terrible retreat, when his native troops, disheartened at the lukewarmness of the Austrians, and benumbed with the cold? refused to proceed, the old veteran caused a deep trench to be dug in the snow, and, laying himself in it, called on his soldiers to advance over his body! The appeal was effectual, and the army, reduced from fifty thousand to less than twenty thousand men, resumed its homeward march. On his return to St. Petersburg in January, 1800, Suwarrow was coldly received by the emperor, and died on the 18th of May, in the same year, at his estate of Polendorff, in Esthonia, at the age of seventy-one. The emperor Alexander erected to him a statue, to which, on its inauguration, Suwarrow's ancient companions-inarms paid the military honors that he would have received himself, and the grand-duke Constantine pronounced his eulogium. — Born with great talents and vivacity, Marshal Suwarrow possessed considerable information, and spoke several languages with facility. He exhibited, in a superior degree, boldness, activity, and the art of inflaming his troops, and attaching them to his destiny; but, as a general, he has been reproached with shallow combinations, manoeuvres more rapid than wise, and with having used victory to satiate revenge. It is difficult to mention this singular character without mixed emotions of admiration and horror: in the appellations of "Ryminiski" and " Italiski," we pay respect to the conqueror of the Turks and of Moreau; but it is impossible to contemplate the hero of Warsaw and Ismail without deeply deploring the sanguinary scenes which were there enacted, and which will for ever remain to throw the dark shade of inhumanity over the most illustrious actions of the life of Suwarrow.

Field-Marshal Suwarrow.

Field-Marshal Suwarrow.
click to enlarge

In this extremity, the western powers of Europe combined to save the Porte from destruction; and in 1791 Russia was forced to relinquish all the territory she had acquired, excepting that guarantied by the treaty of 1784. In the various wars in which Russia had been engaged with the Ottoman empire down to the period here treated of, it is computed that there were destroyed one hundred and thirty thousand Austrians, two hundred thousand Russians, and three hundred and seventy thousand Turks, in all seven hundred th5usand men!

About this time the intrigues of Russia, Austria, and Prussia, for the partition of Poland, commenced, and, carried on for several years, were brought to a conclusion by two sieges of Warsaw: in the first, Kosciusko was made prisoner; and in the second the Poles, unassisted by his genius, gave way in that fearful assault which, on the 9th of November, 1794, consummated the ruin of Poland as a nation. In 1795, by the third partition of that unhappy kingdom, Russia extended her power toward the west as far as the Vistula. Catherine's subsequent plans of aggrandizement in Daghestan and on the shores of the Caspian were cut short by her death, on the 9th of November, 1796, in the sixty-eighth year of her age,. and the thirty-fifth year of her reign.

Ill as her power was obtained, Catherine used it wisely and well. The great talents for governing which she possessed are universally admitted; and, though her energies were principally displayed in carrying out her schemes of foreign conquest, she by no means neglected the interior economy of her empire. Her views on all subjects were far more enlarged than those of her predecessors, and nearly seven thousand children were educated at St. Petersburg at the public expense. Catherine invited Pallas, Eiiler, and Gmelin, to survey her territories and describe their characteristics ; and requested D'Alembert to undertake the education of her grandson, the grand-duke Alexander, which, however, he declined. The empress also confirmed the abolition of the secret state inquisition, and, by dividing the college of the empire into separate departments, facilitated the despatch of business, and rendered the administration in each more efficient. She founded schools and towns, encouraged foreign artisans and workmen of all kinds to settle in her dominions, and projected and completed public works of equal magnificence and utility. With a view to check corruption, she raised the salaries of the government officers, abolished many monopolies of the crown, and issued a ukase which prevented any proprietor from sending his serfs to the* mines, or to any distant part of the empire, except for agricultural purposes. But her amours in the meantime injured her as a woman, and her tyrannous conduct toward Poland is a foul blot upon her escutcheon as a sovereign. Ambition, however, and lack of female virtue, did not wholly degrade her, for, as already shown, her internal policy was as much directed to the useful as to the grand ; and, amid all the distraction of business and voluptuous dissipation, she found time to encourage literature. Indeed, she was herself the author of instructions for a code of laws, which she translated into German; and she wrote several dramatic pieces, and some moral tales ,for the use of children! Possessed of great beauty in her youth, Catherine preserved the traces of it to the end of her life. She purchased the praises of the French philosophers, corresponded with Voltaire and D'Alembert, and complimented Charles James Fox, the great English orator, by asking him for his bust, which she placed between those of Demosthenes and Cicero. Some letters written by Frederick the Great to Peter III., found after his decease, which strongly recommended to him a change of conduct, and particularly pleaded in behalf of his repudiated consort, fixed Catherine throughout her reign in the friendship and policy of the Prussian monarch. In matters of religion she was tolerant from political motives, extravagant in an extraordinary degree, and, with a woman's liberality, paid well those who served her; and, though there are many acts in her reign which can not be defended, she did more for the civilization of Russia than any of her predecessors.

Paul I.

Paul I.
click to enlarge

Catherine II. was succeeded by her son, the grand-duke Paul, by Peter III., who ascended the throne under the title of Paul I. This prince had attained his forty-second year before the death of his mother placed him on the imperial throne. For many years he had lived in a state of retirement, and had apparently been considered by the empress as incapable of taking any active part in the administration of affairs. It is well known that Catherine never admitted him to any participation of power, and even kept him in complete ignorance of the affairs of the empire. On the day following the death of his mother, however, Paul 'made his public entry, into St. Petersburg, amid the acclamations of all ranks of the people.

At his coronation, Paul decreed a law of hereditary succession to the crown in the male line, and afterward in the female, instead of leaving it to the caprice of the reigning sovereign. One of the first measures of the new emperor was that of ordering the remains of his father, Peter III., to be removed from the sepulchre in which they had been deposited in the church of St. Alexander Nevski; which, after having laid in state for three weeks, were interred in the sepulchre of Catherine II., in the cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. He also, with strong marks of admiration and friendship, liberated Kosciusko from the prison wherein he had languished in St. Petersburg since his defeat and capture in 1794.

Pew political events of any importance marked the reign of Paul previous to the year 1798, when, in consequence of a treaty between Russia and the emperor of Germany, who were subsidized by England, an army of about fifty thousand men, under Field-Marshal Suwarrow, joined the imperialists in Austrian Italy, as already detailed. In 1799, the emperor Paul entered into a treaty of offensive and defensive alliance with Great Britain. This treaty was signed at St. Petersburg on the 22d of June; in consequence of which, a Russian fleet joined that of Britain in Yarmouth roads, and took part in the unfortunate expedition to the coast of Holland undertaken in the summer of that year.

Soon after this period the Russian emperor began to show marks of mental derangement. His favors and his displeasures were alternately experienced by some of his most distinguished courtiers and adherents. Stanislaus, the deposed king of Poland, partook by turns of his beneficence and his severity; while to the memory of Suwarrow, who is said to have fallen a broken-hearted victim to the detraction of his imperial master, he raised a colossal statue of bronze; and on the days when he reviewed his troops in the square where the statue had been erected, he used to Command them to march by in open order, and face the statue.

The ill success of the Russian arms against the French, augmented by the bad understanding which subsisted between his generals and those of Austria, appeared also to have an extraordinary effect upon the mind of Paul. Meanwhile, Napoleon had returned from Egypt, and was chosen "first consul of France. He immediately liberated ten thousand Russian prisoners-of-war, and, presenting them with new uniforms and everything necessary for their long journey, despatched them to their own country, together with a friendly epistle to their sovereign. Paul was not yet so "insane" but that he could appreciate this truly magnanimous act as it deserved; and, from having been the uncompromising opponent of Napoleon, he now entered into amicable correspondence with him, and became one of his most ardent admirers. He laid an embargo on all the English vessels in his ports, and induced Sweden, Denmark, and Prussia, to join him in the northern armed confederacy to resist the encroachments of the British government. This gave great offence to the mercantile classes, who preferred the English to the French alliance.

The growing eccentricities of Paul exhibited themselves in the most fantastic manner. Among his ukases was one against the use of shoestrings and round hats; and in the number of queer whims which infected his brain was a rage for painting with the most glaring colors the watch-boxes, gates, and bridges, throughout the empire ! This continued course of folly and caprice disgusted many of the nobles, who at length entered into a confederacy to prevent the ruin of their country, by removing the emperor. For this purpose they employed Plato Zuboff, the last of Catherine's favorites, who had been banished from the court in disgrace. In order to avenge this affront, Zuboff formed the design of murdering the emperor. He contrived, by his intrigues, to insinuate himself into the favor of Paul, and associated with the noblemen, in order the more securely to effect his purpose. Having taken their measures, the assassins proceeded to the imperial palace on the evening of March 22, 1801. The emperor, who usually slept on a sofa, in an apartment next to that of the empress, con trary to his custom, kissed the members of his family very affectionately, visited the sentinels at their posts, and then retired to rest. The guard being changed by officers who were in the conspiracy, the murderers pene trated with ease to the door of the emperor's apartment, where a hussar, whom it had been found impossible to remove, presented his musket. Zuboff cut him down with his sabre. The murder of his faithful servant roused the unfortunate monarch, who, springing from his sofa when the conspirators entered the room, at first endeavored to shelter himself behind chairs and tables; then, assuming an air of authority, commanded them to surrender as his prisoners. As they fiercely advanced toward him, he implored them to spare his life, offering to accept of any terms which they might propose. Finding supplication vain, he made a violent effort to reach the window, in which he cut his hand; and, being drawn back, he knocked down one of the assailants with a chair. The empress, awakened by the noise and turmoil, would have called for assistance, if a voice had not whispered to her to remain silent on pain of instant death. While the emperor made a desperate resistance, one of the conspirators brought him to the floor with a blow on the temples ; when, recovering a little, he again supplicated for life. Another, taking off his sash, threw it twice round the neck of the defenceless czar; and one end being held by himself, while the other was given to Zuboff, they strangled their sovereign. Having accomplished the horrid deed, the assassins retired without molestation to their respective homes.

Early the next morning the intelligence of the death of Paul (as having been produced by apoplexy!), and the accession of the grand-duke Alexander, were announced to the capital. The principal nobility and the great officers of state being assembled, Alexander was solemnly proclaimed emperor of all the Russias. As in the case of the murder of Peter III., none of the assassins of Paul were punished, but rewards were heaped upon them. How far his sons were cognizant of what was going on, it is impossible to tell; but it was generally believed that they were in the secret, and connived at it from a conviction that their father intended to immure them in a fortress. It is also a significant fact that, on the night of the murder, the English fleet under Nelson was sailing into the Baltic for the attack on Copenhagen.

The new emperor, on the day of his accession, presented himself at the parade on horseback, and was failed by the troops with loud and cordial acclamations. In the following September his coronation at Moscow took place amid great splendor. Alexander was in his twenty-fourth year when he ascended the throne; and, from his amiable disposition, had acquired the love and respect of all his subjects. The first measure which he adopted, his opening proclamation, and his earliest imperial orders, all tended to encourage and confirm the hopes witn which the Russian people beheld him mount the throne of his forefathers. In the same year he recalled the Siberian exiles, suppressed the secret state inquisition which had been re-established by Paul, and remodelled the senate. He likewise founded (in 1804) the university of Kharkoff, and emancipated the Jews.

Alexander appeared desirous to cultivate the friendship of the neighboring states, and especially that of Great Britain. His father, among other projects, had procured himself to be elected grand-master of the knights of Malta, and had laid claim to the sovereignty of that island. This"" claim, which had nearly produced a rupture between the courts of London and St. Petersburg, Alexander consented to abandon, though he expressed a wish to be elected grand master of the order by the free suffrages of the knights of St. John.

In the meantime, a gonfederacy had been formed among the northern powers of Europe, as before intimated, with a view to oppose the British claim to the sovereignty of the seas; but by the wanton bombardment of Copenhagen, and the spirited interference of the British court, especially with the cabinet of St. Petersburg, the good understanding between Great Britain and the northern states was re-established, and the embargo which had been laid on British vessels in the Russian ports was taken off. A treaty of amity, commerce, and navigation, between Russia and Sweden, was also agreed upon, to continue for twelve years. The most remarkable part of this treaty was the recognition by the court of St. Petersburg of the northern confederacy, which the amicable adjustment with Britain appeared to have done away.

On the 25th of March, 1802, was signed at Amiens the definitive treaty of peace between the belligerent powers of Europe, by one material article of which the islands of Malta, Gozo, and Comino, in the Mediterranean, were to be restored to the knights of St. John of Jerusalem, under the joint protection and guaranty of France, Great Britain, Austria, Spain, Russia, and Prussia. Some time after the conclusion of this treaty, disputes arose among the contracting powers relative to the sovereignty of Malta; and the emperor of Russia (who now for the first time appeared personally among the potentates of Europe, and in June had an interview with the king of Prussia at Memel) insisted that it should be yielded to Naples, otherwise he would not undertake to guaranty the order of the knights, and would separate from it the priories of Russia. The retention of this island by the British forces in direct violation of the treaty above referred to, was one of the chief causes of the renewal of the bloody contest between England and her allies and Napoleon which so long desolated the face of Europe.

Alexander I.

Alexander I.
click to enlarge

Alexander watched with a jealous eye the violence exercised by France among the German states, and the encroachments which she appeared desirous of making on the free navigation of the Baltic. He had, in 1803, offered his mediation between Great Britain and France, but without effect, and both these parties strove to bring over the Russian emperor to their alliance. The court of London finally prevailed ; and on the 11th of April, 1805, a treaty of concert was concluded between Great Britain and Russia, to which Austria also became a party, in which the three governments agreed to adopt the most efficacious means for forming a general league of the crowned heads of Europe to be directed against the powers of republican France. The ostensible objects of this league were the evacuation of the country of Hanover (then belonging to the crown of England) and the north of Germany; the independence of the republics of Holland and Switzerland ; the re-establishment of the king of Sardinia In Piedmont (who had first attacked France) ; the security of the kingdom of Naples ; and the complete evacuation of Italy, the island of Elba included, by the French forces: but the principal motive, and underlying all others, was the desire for overthrowing Napoleon, the elective emperor, and reinstating the Bourbons, to reign by " divine right," and thus presenting a solid barrier against the future spread of free principles. For the prosecution of the great objects of this treaty, it was proposed that an army of four hundred thousand men should be levied. It was stipulated that these troops should be provided by the powers of the continent who should become parties to the league, and that subsidies should be granted by Great Britain in the proportion of over six million! of dollars for every hundred thousand men, besides a considerable additional sum for the necessary expense occasioned in bringing them into the field.

About this time, the occupation of Genoa by the French, in order to preserve it from an attack by the English fleet, was communicated to the different sovereigns of Europe, among whom it excited the highest indignation. The emperor Alexander, incensed at this new act of Napoleon, immediately recalled his envoy ; and this appeared to be the signal for hostilities on the part of Russia and Austria against France. Napoleon, well knowing the British government and aristocracy to be the main projectors of all the coalitions against him, had collected an immense armament at Boulogne for the invasion of England; but learning that Alexander, at the head of fifty thousand men, was rapidly marching to join the Austrians under the emperor Francis, for the purpose of secretly attacking France, he resolved to meet them on their own ground. With surprising celerity he traversed France and Germany, and, encountering the superior forces of the allies on the plain of Austerlitz, December 2, 1805, he utterly overthrew them. In their retreat across a lake, a large body of Russians were drowned by the breaking of the ice from the artillery-shots of the French. The emperors Francis and Alexander, from an eminence, beheld with anguish the complete discomfiture of their splendid army, and the latter soon after returned to St. Petersburg. When the news of this decisive battle reached England, the prime-minister Pitt remarked, " We may now close the map of Europe for years." His death, soon after, was hastened by chagrin.

The consequence of these disastrous events to the allies was, first, a cessation of hostilities, and finally a treaty of alliance between Russia and France in 1806. Alexander, however, was determined to make one more effort to gain better terms from Napoleon. The Russian envoy at Paris, D'Oubril, had hastily concluded a preliminary treaty of peace between Russia and France. The terms of this convention, when laid before the privy council by Alexander, appeared so derogatory to the interests of Russia, that the emperor refused them his sanction ; but at the same time signified his willingness to renew the negotiations for peace on such terms as were consistent with the dignity of his crown and the interests of his empire. The machinations of the British government, however, broke off the negotiations, and both parties again prepared for war.

In the meantime, the king of Prussia, urged on by the English and Austrian cabinets, prepared to oppose his efforts to the growing power of France. He collected an army of two hundred thousand men near Weimar and Jena, while the French forces assembled in Franconia and on the frontiers of Saxony. The same extraordinary success, however, was still to attend the arms of France. The Prussians were totally defeated by Napoleon at Jena; and on the same day was fought the decisive battle of Auerstadt, in which Marshal Davoust, with an inferior French force, completely routed the enemy, who, besides numerous, infantry and artillery, . had forty thousand splendid cavalry, commanded by the prince of Prussia. In these two actions the loss of the Prussians amounted to about twenty thousand in killed and wounded, and above thirty thousand prisoners. The lines of fugitives, converging from the fields of Jena and Auerstadt, fled tumultuously toward Berlin, which capital Napoleon entered on the 2Tth of October.

While the French were thus successful over the Prussians, the troops of Alexander entered Prussian Poland, and General Benningsen took up his residence at Warsaw, which, however, he was soon compelled to evacuate by the French under Murat, who entered the city on the 28th of November. After several skirmishes, in which the Russians were defeated, a dreadful engagement took place between them and the French at Ostralenka, about sixty miles from Warsaw. The fighting continued for three days, and the loss was immense on both sides, though the advantage appears to have been on the side of the French. On the 26th of December the latter were beaten by the Russians at Pultusk, which terminated the campaign of 1806.

On the 7th and 8th of February, 1807, the severely-contested battle of Eylau was fought, in which Napoleon commanded in person at the head of the imperial guards. Each side three times lost and won, the deciding move being made by Benningsen, who took Koningsberg by assault. At one time, while Napoleon was reconnoitring the field of action from a church, a detachment of Cossacks dashed up the streets of the town, and would have captured him, but for a timely charge of French dragoons. On the night of the 8th, Benningsen was reinforced by fifteen thousand Prussians, who wished to renew the battle on the third day, but at a council of war the Russian commander deemed it prudent to retreat, though greatly superior in force to the French.

Several actions succeeded, at Spanden, at Lamitten, at Guttodadt, and at Heilsberg, in all of which the French had the advantage. On the 28th of May, 1807, they took Dantzic; and on the 14th of June the Russians appeared in considerable force on the bridge of Friedland, whither the French army under Napoleon was advancing. Here, notwithstanding the utmost efforts of the Russians, they were totally defeated by the French, who carried all before them. In consequence of this victory, the latter became masters of all the country round Koningsberg, and Marshal Soult entered that city in triumph. Thus concluded the campaign in Germany, in which the Russians sustained a loss of at least thirty thousand of their choicest troops.

The defeats which the allied armies had suffered in Prussia and Poland rendered peace, on almost any terms, a desirable object; and Alexander found himself constrained to meet, at least with the appearance of friendship, the conqueror of his armies. Propositions for an armistice had been made by the Prussian general to the grand-duke of Berg near Tilsit; .and, after the battle of Friedland, the Russian prince Labanoff had a conference, for the same purpose, with the prince of Neufchatel, soon after which an armistice was concluded between the French and Russians. On the 25th of June, an amicable meeting took place between the emperors of France and Russia, in a handsome pavilion erected on a raft for the occasion, which was moored in the middle of the river Niemen. The result of this interview was the famous treaty of Tilsit, concluded between the emperor of the French on the one part, and the emperor of Russia and the king of Prussia on the other, on the 7th and 12th of July, 1807.

Alexander, by this compact, became the ally of France, and acknowledged the brothers of Napoleon as kings respectively of Naples, Holland, and Westphalia; he formally recognised also the confederation of the Rhine, and promised to acknowledge all the sovereigns who might hereafter become members of that confederation. He engaged that hostilities, on the part of Russia, should immediately cease with the Ottoman Porte. He undertook also to mediate for a peace between England and France. This mediation was declined on the part of the British government, until it should be made acquainted with the stipulations of the treaty of Tilsit, and should find them not conflicting with its own claims to the free navigation of the Baltic and the introduction of British goods to the continent. The grounds of this declination served as a reason for binding more closely the alliance between Russia and France, by breaking off the connection of the former with Great Britain. Accordingly, Lord Gower, who had succeeded the marquis of Douglas as envoy, received a note from the Russian government, intimating that, as a British embassador, he could be no longer received at the court of St. Petersburg, which he therefore soon after quitted.

An embargo was now laid on all British vessels in the ports of Russia; and it was peremptorily required by Napoleon and Alexander that Sweden should abandon her alliance with Great Britain. An additional cause for the Russian declaration of war against the latter power was furnished by the second bombardment of Copenhagen and the seizure of the Danish fleet in the harbor by a British squadron; and, although Lord Gower had attempted to justify these measures, on the plea of anticipating the French in the same transaction, the emperor of Russia expressed in the warmest terms his indignation at this unjust and outrageous attack on a neutral power. A considerable Russian fleet joined the French, but the combined squadrons were compelled to seek for shelter in the Tagus, where they remained blocked up by a superior British armament; and another Russo-French fleet of fifteen sail-of-the-line that proceeded up the Mediterranean, and advanced as far as Trieste, met with a similar fate. In fact, hostilities between Russia and England resulted chiefly in a cessation of trade.


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