The Poles put fine colors on all this; and are much contented with themselves. The Russians they regard as intrinsically an inferior barbarous people; and to this day you will hear indignant Polack Gentlemen bursting out in the same strain: "Still barbarian, sir; no culture, no literature,"--inferior because they do not make verses equal to ours! How it may be with the verses, I will not decide: but the Russians are inconceivably superior in respect that they have, to a singular degree among Nations, the gift of obeying, of being commanded. Polack Chivalry sniffs at the mention of such a gift. Polack Chivalry got sore stripes for wanting this gift. And in the end, got striped to death, and flung out of the world, for continuing blind to the want of it, and never acquiring it.
Beyond all the verses in Nature, it is essential to every Chivalry and Nation and Man. "Polite Polish Society for the last thirty years has felt itself to be in a most halcyon condition," says Rulhiere: [Rulhiere, i. 216 (a noteworthy passage).] "given up to the agreeable, and to that only;" charming evening-parties, and a great deal of flirting; full of the benevolences, the philanthropies, the new ideas,--given up especially to the pleasing idea of "LAISSEZ-FAIRE, and everything will come right of itself." "What a discovery!" said every liberal Polish mind: "for thousands of years, how people did torment themselves trying to steer the ship; never knowing that the plan was, To let go the helm, and honestly sit down to your mutual amusements and powers of pleasing!"
To this condition of beautifully phosphorescent rot-heap has Poland ripened, in the helpless reigns of those poor Augusts;--the fulness of time not now far off, one would say? It would complete the picture, could I go into the state of what is called "Religion" in Poland. Dissenterism, of various poor types, is extensive; and, over against it, is such a type of Jesuit Fanaticism as has no fellow in that day. Of which there have been truly savage and sanguinary outbreaks, from time to time; especially one at Thorn, forty years ago, which shocked Friedrich Wilhelm and the whole Protestant world. [See supra, vi. 64 (and many old Pamphlets on it).] Polish Orthodoxy, in that time, and perhaps still in ours, is a thing worth noting. A late Tourist informs me, he saw on the streets of Stettin, not long since, a drunk human creature staggering about, who seemed to be a Baltic Sailor, just arrived; the dirtiest, or among the dirtiest, of mankind; who, as he reeled along, kept slapping his hands upon his breast, and shouting, in exultant soliloquy, "Polack, Catholik!" _I_ am a Pole and Orthodox, ye inferior two-legged entities!.--In regard to the Jesuit Fanaticisms, at Thorn and elsewhere, no blame can attach to the poor Augusts, who always leant the other way, what they durst or could. Nor is specialty of blame due to them on any score; it was "like People, like King," all along;--and they, such their luck, have lived to bring in the fulness of time.
The Saxon Electors are again aspirants for this enviable Throne. We have seen the beautiful Electress zealously soliciting Friedrich for help in that project; Friedrich, in a dexterously graceful manner, altogether declining. Hereditary Saxons are not to be the expedient this time, it would seem; a grandiose Czarina has decided otherwise. Why should not she? She and all the world are well aware, Russia has been virtual lord of Poland this long time. Credible enough that Russia intends to continue so; and also that it will be able, without very much expenditure of new contrivance for that object.
So far as can be guessed and assiduously deduced from RULHIERE, with your best attention, Russian Catharine's interference seems first of all to have been grounded on the grandiose philanthropic principle. Astonishing to the liberal mind; yet to appearance true. Rulhiere nowhere says so; but that is gradually one's own perception of the matter; no other refuge for you out of flat inconceivability. Philanthropic principle, we say, which the Voltaires and Sages of that Epoch are prescribing as one's duty and one's glory: "O ye Kings, why won't you do good to mankind, then?" Catharine, a kind of She-Louis Quatorze, was equal to such a thing. To put one's cast Lover into a throne,--poor soul, console him in that manner;--and reduce the long-dissentient Country to blessed composure under him: what a thing! Foolish Poniatowski, an empty, windy creature, redolent of macassar and the finer sensibilities of the heart: him she did make King of Poland; but to reduce the long-dissentient Country to composure,--that was what she could not do. Countries in that predicament are sometimes very difficult to compose. The Czarina took, for above five years, a great deal of trouble, without losing patience. The Czarina, after every new effort, perceived with astonishment that she was farther from success than ever. With astonishment; and gradually with irritation, thickening and mounting towards indignation.
There is no reason to believe that the grandiose Woman handled, or designed to handle, a doomed Poland in the merciless feline- diabolic way set forth with wearisome loud reiteration in those distracted Books; playing with the poor Country as cat does with mouse; now lifting her fell paw, letting the poor mouse go loose in floods of celestial joy and hope without limit; and always clutching the hapless creature back into the blackness of death, before eating and ending it. Reason first is, that the Czarina, as we see her elsewhere, never was in the least a Cat or a Devil, but a mere Woman; already virtual proprietress of Poland, and needing little contrivance to keep it virtually hers. Reason second is, that she had not the gift of prophecy, and could not foreknow the Polish events of the next ten years, much less shape them out beforehand, and preside over them, like a Devil or otherwise, in the way supposed.
My own private conjecture, I confess, has rather grown to be, on much reading of those RULHIERES and distracted Books, that the Czarina,--who was a grandiose creature, with considerable magnanimities, natural and acquired; with many ostentations, some really great qualities and talents; in effect, a kind of She-Louis Quatorze (if the reader will reflect on that Royal Gentleman, and put him into petticoats in Russia, and change his improper females for improper males),--that the Czarina, very clearly resolute to keep Poland hers, had determined with herself to do something very handsome in regard to Poland; and to gain glory, both with the enlightened Philosophe classes and with her own proud heart, by her treatment of that intricate matter. "On the one hand," thinks she, or let us fancy she thinks, "here is Poland; a Country fallen bedrid amid Anarchies, curable or incurable; much tormented with religious intolerance at this time, hateful to the philosophic mind; a hateful fanaticism growing upon it for forty years past [though it is quite against Polish Law]; and the cries of oppressed Dissidents [Dissenters, chiefly of the Protestant and of the Greek persuasion] becoming more and more distressing to hear. And, on the other hand, here is Poniatowski who, who--!"
Readers have not forgotten the handsome, otherwise extremely paltry, young Polack, Stanislaus Poniatowski, whom Excellency Williams took with him 8 or 9 years ago, ostensibly as "Secretary of Legation," unostensibly as something very different? Handsome Stanislaus did duly become Lover of the Grand-Duchess; and has duly, in the course of Nature, some time ago (date uncertain to me), become discarded Lover; the question rising, What is to be done with that elegant inane creature, and his vaporous sentimentalisms and sublime sorrows and disappointments? "Let us make him King of Poland!" said the Czarina, who was always much the gentleman with her discarded Lovers (more so, I should say, than Louis Quatorze with his;--and indeed it is computed they cost her in direct moneys about twenty millions sterling,--being numerous and greedy; but never the least tiff of scolding or ill language): [Castera (
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