« PreviousContinue »
nobility had succeeded, in 1831, in imposing anew its iron yoke on the other classes of the inhabitants. Such is the succinct and faithful summary of the arguments, in which ignorance disputes the palm with honesty. We shall, first of all, prove the latter.
Having before our eyes Heeren, Lardner, and Jacob, as comprising the whole erudition as regards Poland, and, on the other hand, the commonest elementary data on the modern history of Russia, we still defy any impartial man in the world to admit one or other of the suppositions with which the Manchester Author sets out, viz.-1st, that the dismemberment of ancient Poland was only the result of the tyranny and oppression exercised by the Polish nobility over the other classes; and, 2ndly, that Russia has improved the condition of these same classes. How happens it that the Author has never discovered in the works which he quotes that, if Poland has been continually weakened by the political faults of the nobility, that same nobility, ever since the reign of Poniatowski, made the most honourable efforts to ameliorate the form of government, to extend the protection of the laws to the other classes of society,-in short, to constitute itself in a European manner, at the very moment when the three neighbouring despots attacked it under the pretext of its jacobinical tendency?
Who is there so ignorant as not to know that, at the period when the Polish peasant was attached to the glebe, the same system existed equally in the greater part of the Austrian and Prussian possessions, and that slavery, such as never has existed in Poland, was the lot of the peasants in Russia? The latter country has kept up this state of slavery until our own days; and, far from having abolished serfage in the kingdom of Poland, where the Code Napoleon, introduced in 1808 and 1810, had destroyed the very traces of it, Russia herself has constantly refused, in her other
VOL. IV.--NO. XXXII.
Polish provinces, to sanction the enfranchisements which different Assemblies of the nobles, like that of Wilna, under the Presidency of Romer, had proposed of their own accord. In the face of such a state of things, what writer with any pretensions to honesty would think of attributing results favourable to the welfare of the mass in Poland to the civilizing rule of the Russians? What Mr. Jacob and Dr. Lardner say of the material progress by the kingdom of Poland, since 1815, is very true; but it has only been the natural result of fifteen years of peace, and, above all, of the institutions, laws, and national administrative forms, which all the despotism of the Russian Czars had hitherto been unable to wrest from a kingdom, bound to their empire by a separate Constitution. Four Diets took place in the kingdom of Poland, before the last Revolution. Their records of observations and petitions, presented to the Emperor Alexander and to Nicholas, contain the indestructible evidence that, far from favouring the most numerous and the poorest classes of society, the Russian Government never even satisfied the generous demands addressed to it in favour of those very classes, by the Polish Representatives. This fact alone relieves us from the necessity of demonstrating any further the disgraceful injustice with which the author of the above pamphlet has allowed himself to judge of the recent state of Poland. We shall proceed to examine with what incorrectness and levity he pretends to retrace to us its past history.
First of all he describes, in long and emphatic phrases, the interminable contests between Poland and the neighbouring States. "Devastated by foreign and civil wars, and by famine and the plague, that followed in their train, the exhaustion of peace itself now served but to develop new miseries. Fanaticism and bigotry armed themselves with the sword, as soon as abandoned by the worshippers of
Mars; and they waged a warfare against the souls and bodies of their enemies, with a fury that knew no bounds."
Nevertheless, all history proves that the most important territorial acquisitions of Poland, such as the re-union of Lithuania, of Prussia, of Courland, and of Livonia, took place in a pacific manner, and with the free consent of the interested countries; and, as for the taste for conquests, the kings and the nobility of Poland, far from having been ever able to indulge in it, had, alas! too much to do to defend themselves incessantly against the continual invasions of the Muscovite, Turkish, and Tartar hordes, as well as against the unjust aggressions-first, of the Emperors of Germany, the Kings of Bohemia, and the Teutonic Knights; then of the conquerors, such as Gustavus Adolphus, Charles Gustavus, and Charles the XII. of Sweden. In the eighteenth century, Poland was almost continually occupied by Russian troops, which does not prevent the Manchester author from representing us as always animated by a spirit of violence, formidable to our neighbours. The civil wars which followed the royal elections, from 1572 to 1764, lasted, perhaps, altogether one or two years; for the only encounters of this kind which may be termed serious took place only in 1588, 1697, and 1733, when the party of one of the pretenders, supported by foreign forces, offered resistance to the other; whilst the long struggle which followed the accession of Stanislaus Leczinzki, in 1704, cannot be characterized as a civil war, resulting from an election to the Throne, because it was only a simple incident in the great war of the North against Charles XII., Augustus of Saxand Peter I. of Russia. What, then, are we to say of ony, the description of this religious fanaticism, which, according to the Manchester author, exterminated the population in Poland? But it was Poland that received under her protection the Jews, successively banished from almost every part
of Europe. It was Poland that, during the bloody reign of Mary of England, and of Catherine de Medicis in France, saw her States-general, with her Bishops at their head, propose and sign "pacem inter dissidentes de religione.” If, at a later period, and in the course of the two last centuries, the history of Poland offers some examples of intolerance and religious persecution, this country never attained any thing like the state of cruel fanaticism which continued to afflict those States, which were reputed the most civilized in Western Europe. The wars and massacres which the Manchester author describes to his readers, but which he wisely abstains from quoting, never took place in Poland. But let us pursue our painful, but, at the same time, easy task, of exposing the inconceivable historical absurdities of the work to which we allude.
In maintaining that Poland has deserved its fall, and that degenerate nations alone fall under a foreign yoke, the author, in order better to explain his ideas, adds: “The annals of the world do not exhibit an example of a great nation, such for instance as Prussia, united, well governed, rising in intelligence, morals, and religion, and advancing in wealth and civilization, falling beneath the destroying hand of a conqueror." To quote such a sentence is to appear, in a certain degree, to have done justice to it. We shall only remark that if the epithet great nation, applied to Prussia, sufficiently indicates that the author is not fond of looking far back into history, when speaking of Prussia as a nation protected against conquest; 1806 has, doubtless, already appeared to him too remote a date: one cannot, however, refuse him the merit of the discovery that the Rhenish provinces, Saxony and Polish Posen, are intimately united to Prussia.
A quotation from the report of Mr. Jacob is almost as happy as the eulogium on the greatness of Prussia. Mr. Jacob
maintains, "that one of the first acts of the Emperor Alexander was to restrict the use of titles to the possessors of property in that country, where previously rank had descended to all the descendants of a son." The Manchester author founds on this the proof, that the Russian Government always endeavoured to diminish at least the number of the small tyrants who oppress Poland. Be it remarked, that in the work of Mr. Jacob, the question refers to no other country than the kingdom of Poland, created in 1815, to which he was sent on a mission of commercial inquiry. Now, would not any one believe, according to the words of Mr. Jacob, that the Emperor Alexander had introduced into the kingdom of Poland a sort of right of primogeniture amongst the nobles, with the view, no doubt, of confounding the younger branches of the family with the mass of the people? But, not only has nothing similar been instituted in the kingdom; but the only legislative measure of the Russians which bears any resemblance to the assertion of Mr. Jacob, and which, besides, only applies to the Polish provinces of Russia, is the Ukase, in virtue of which, the nobles who do not possess a certain funded property, without losing their titles of nobility, do not vote in the assemblies in which the latter elect their functionaries every three years. Can one conceive a more gratuitous absurdity than that of establishing a chain of reasoning on a fact, first of all reported with the greatest incorrectness, and which has no reference whatsoever to the country (we mean the kingdom of Poland) about which the author is specially occupied ?
We shall only make one more extract from the Manchester pamphlet, which explains perfectly the nature of the information respecting Poland, and the profoundness of the political views of the author:
"We hesitate not emphatically to assert, that it was wholly, and solely, and exclusively, at the instigation, and