December 3 1812: War News

On December 3 1812, in St Petersburg, John Quincy Adams writes following diary entry
3d. I dined at Count Romanzoff's with a company of about forty persons ; among whom were the ladies of the celebrated Generals who are now dispelling, as Count Litta remarked like the fog before the sun, the immense armies of the Emperor Napoleon, and levelling with the dust his colossal military reputation, Princess Koutouzof Smolenski, Countess Wittgenstein, Baronesses Benningsen, Wjntzingerode, and several others. The day was rendered peculiarly joyous to them by the news of a fresh, splendid victory over the corps of the French Marshals Victor and Oudinot, by Count Wittgenstein, which arrived this morning. Within the compass of ten days the Russian armies have taken between forty and fifty thousand prisoners, with cannons, baggage, and ammunition in proportion. There is nothing like it in history since the days of Xerxes.
I sat at table next to Admiral Koutouzof, a nephew of the Prince of Smolensk, "le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre," which entered into conversation with me, and told me some anecdotes of his uncle, who he says is as good as he is great. He has been more than fifty years in the service, employed in important military and diplomatic stations, successively, by the Empress Catherine and the Emperors Paul and Alexander. He said that just before the Prince went away on this last appointment he (the Admiral) was enumerating the multitude of military commands and important embassies upon which he had been for so long employed; when the old Prince, with a grave countenance, told him that he had forgotten one of his high offices. What was that? Director of the German theatre. It was remarkable, the Admiral observed, that Napoleon's present disasters were owing to his having despised his enemy, and Prince Koutouzofs success might be due to the opposite cause, for he was an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon's military genius, and on going away last summer, told him that when he considered whom he was going to oppose, he felt overpowered by the magnitude of the responsibility he was taking upon himself; and he had lately written him that notwithstanding he had now the pleasure of beating day after day the first Captain of the age, and notwithstanding the honors that were heaping upon him, he longed for the time when he could return here to his friends. The Admiral told me there had been here an English Admiral named Bentinck, a vainglorious, boasting sort of man, and he and Madame de Stael one day said to him that Prince Koutouzof was destined to be a second Wellington. But they were mistaken in supposing he should take it as a compliment. If his uncle had done nothing more than Wellington, he would sink low indeed from the summit of his merited fame. I said that the English were apt to make much of small successes by land, but I thought they might be allowed a little pride upon the battle of Salamanca. "Thanks," said he, "to the random shot that carried away Marmont's arm before the battle began. But here is Wellington with his whole army stopped for weeks before a paltry little force at Burgos, with a garrison of two thousand men, which- he cannot take. And if it were not for but victories in the north, I would lay a wager the French would be now again in Madrid." 

The Admiral was equally severe in his remarks upon the Spaniards, and was peculiarly sarcastic upon Mr. Zea, who sat opposite to us at table. He first asked me who he was. I said, Mr. Zea, the Spanish Minister. "Spanish Minister. What? Joseph Bonaparte's?" No; Ferdinand the Seventh's; the Minister of the Cortes who had signed a Treaty with Count Romanzoff. 

"Oh, yes; the Gargon de Comptoir of Colombi, the merchant. Why, what a diplomatic tone he assumes "You smile, I see; but I am no diplomatic man. I say just what comes into my head."  I said that Mr. Zea had been connected with the house of Colombi but that I believed he had been a diplomatic character, sub rosa, even then— as Mr. Colombi himself had been while he lived ; that his widow had since his death been made a Countess by the Regency for his services. Upon all which the Admiral spoke with as little respect for Ferdinand the Seventh and the Cortes as he had of the English and Lord Wellington. 

I told him that I had witnessed with interest and admiration the spirit manifested by all classes of people in this nation under the struggle from which they are issuing with such triumphant glory; that I had never entertained a low idea of Russia, but that the conduct of the nation upon this severe trial had far exceeded my expectations. He said, "Monsieur, la Russie, bien gouvernee, est faite pour commander a l'Europe."  
I think she will not lose the opportunity. I observed, however, that the circumstance that appeared most to gratify the Admiral, in speaking of the conduct of the nation, was that the peasants had not shown the least disposition to avail themselves of the occasion to obtain their freedom. I see that this is what most touches the feelings of all the Russians with whom I have conversed on this subject. This was the point upon which their fears were the greatest, and that upon which they are most delighted to see the danger past. The Admiral, whose name I did not know, until upon enquiry after dinner I ascertained it, professed to be so pleased with my remarks that he told me he hoped to have the opportunity of introducing me personally to his uncle when he should come home. 

Count Romanzoff told me that he had sent the last letter I wrote him to the Emperor, who had been well pleased with it. I asked him if he had received any answer from England on the proposal of mediation. He said it had not been rejected, but they had intimated an opinion that it would not be acceptable to the American Government ; that they expected something might be done after the new election in America, by which the Count said he understood them to mean that Mr. Madison, after being reelected, would be more pacifically inclined than he is at present. 

I said the English Government were much misinformed concerning American affairs. I believed the Emperor's proposal would be very acceptable, whatever the event of our election might be. Lord Cathcart also said to me that the elections for the new Parliament in England were now over, "but," said he, they are more anxious there, I believe, about your elections than about our own." I said that our election was of a different description from theirs ; it being not only of members of the legislature, but also of the head of the Executive Department. He said he was glad to observe that there did not appear to have been anything to excite rancor on either side. I told him, from the complexion of the newspapers, I thought there was more of that in England than in America. 

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