Item of the Day: A Gloomy Catastrophe (1805)

Found In: A Northern Summer; or Travels round the Baltic, through Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Prussia, and Part of Germany, in the Year 1804. By John Carr, Esq. London: Printed for Richard Phillips, No. 6, Bridge Street, Blackfriars, by T. Gillet, Salisbury square, 1805.

 

CHAP. XIV.

A GLOOMY CATASTROPHE.

IT is with deep regret that I approach the delicate and awful subject of this chapter. Humanity would gladly cover it with the pall of oblivion; but justice to the memory of an unhappy monarch, and to the chief of the august family of Russia, demand a candid though careful developement [sic] of the events which preceded the fall of the last Emperor. The original source of my information is from one who beheld the catastrophe which I am about to relate, whom I can neither name nor doubt; a catastrophe which is too near the period in which I write, not to render an unrestrained disclosure of all the particulars with which I  have been furnished, unfair if not imprudent. The causes that first created those well-known prejudices which Catherine II. cherished against her son, have perished with her; but all the world knows, that, during the many years which rolled away between the Grand Duke’s arrival at the age of maturity and his elevation to the throne, his august mother never admitted him to any participation of power, but kept him in a state of the most abject and mortifying separation from the court, and in almost total ignorance of the affairs of the empire. Although Paul, by his birth, was generalissimo of the armies, he never was permitted to head a regiment; and although, by the same right, grand admiral of the Baltic, he was interdicted from even visiting the fleet at Cronstadt. To these painful privations may be added, that when he was recommended, that is offered, to travel, during his absence Catherine seized and sent to Siberia one of his most cherished friends, because she discoverd that he had informed her son of some inconsiderble state affair. Thus Paul beheld himself not only severed from the being who gave him birth, but from all the ordinary felicities of life. The pressure of his hand excited suspicion; peril was in his attachment, and in his confidence guilt and treason. He could not have a friend, without furnishing a victim.

A gentleman nearly connected with me, now no more, a man of talent and acute observation and veracity, had several years since the honour of spending a short period at the little secluded court of Gatchina, upon which, as the dazzling beams of imperial favour never shone, the observer was left in the tranquillity of the shade, to make a more calm, steady, and undiverted survey. At this time, Paul displayed a mind very elegantly inclined, without being brilliant, highly cultivated, accomplished and informed, frank and generous, brave and magnanimous, a heart tender and affectionate, and a dispositon very sweet, though most acutely and poignantly susceptible: his person was not handsome, but his eye was penetrating, and his manners such as denoted the finished gentleman. In his youth he was seen by the bed-side of the dying Panin, the hoary and able minister of Catherine, and his tutor, kissing and bathing his hand with tears. As an evidence of his intellectual vigour, let the elaborate and able ukase, by which he settled the precedence and provision of the imperial family, unquestionably his own unassisted composition, be referred to. He loved his amiable princess, and his children, with the most ardent, the most indulgent fondness, and it was the labour of their love, as well as of his servants, who were devotedly attached to him, to requite his affections and graciousness, and to endeavour to fill up with every endearing, every studied attention, the gloomy chasm which had been formed by an unnatural and inexplicable neglect; but this chasm was a bottomless abyss, upon the brink of which his wounded spirit was ever wandering! Paul possessed a high martial inclination, and, reflecting that he might one day mount the throne of a military empire, he made the art of war the principal object of his studeis; but neither this pursuit, so copious, so interesting, nor the endearments of those who surrounded him, could expel from his mind the sense of his injuries. He beheld himself, the second personage the the destined ruler of the empire, postponed to the periodical favourite of his mother, the minister of her unbounded voluptiousness, not unfrequently elevated to the presidency of the Hermitage from the ranks, with no other pretensions than vigorous health and a mighty frame; whilst, on the other hand, the bleeding shade of his father was for ever, in his morbid imagination, pointing to his wound, and whispering revenge. Thus exiled from the heart of his mother, is it a matter of surprise that he should exclude her from his own?

Catherine more than once observed, that her son would not long occupy the throne after her decease; and it has been the fashion to say, that her alienation from him was justified by the events which succeeded her death. With this prophetic spirit, she devoted all her care to the education of her grandsons, Alexander and Constantine, and exercised all the powers she possessed towards the consummation of her prediciton. She foretold that the flower which she had planted would wither early: she shook it till every blossom fell, and shaded it so, that the dew of Heaven should never visit it more: she pressed and pierced the delicate and ardent mind of her son until she subverted it. Was it then a proof of inspiration, to prognosticate the brevity of his reign over an empire, the history of which has too often and fatally proved, that however despotic its government, and there is not one under heaven more absolute, a cautious and dexterous cultivation of the interest, feelings, prejudices, and affections of the people is inseparable from the safety of the ruler? . . .

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, Europe, History, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel, Travel Literature

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s