Research Subjects: Miscellaneous

A Cursory View of Prussia from the Death of Frederick II to the Peace of Tilsit

LETTER XXV: The Situation in Poland


THIS proclamation sufficiently evinces the King’s dissatisfaction with some of his generals, governors, and subalterns; and, as a rotten state of his army ought early to have been known, a proclamation of a somewhat similar nature, at the opening of the war, might have been of some utility; but, at present, I fear there will be little opportunity of proving it’s efficacy:  for, though he had drawn together about him the sad remains of his armies, and forthwith issued his orders to raise twenty fresh battalions, yet Bonapartè was so quickly after him, as to leave no time for experiments of this sort.

The conqueror had already been waited upon by a former deputation from Poland, which yet retained a deep resentment of the injuries suffered from Prussia:  and, as the Poles besought his assistance to relieve them from their present unsupportable yoke, Bonapartè immediately made his arrangements in consequence.  He therefore charged his brother Jerome, together with Generals Vandamme and Lefebûre, with the conquest of Silesia, and he himself left Berlin, in the night of the 24th, for Posen, where his arrival gave the signal for a general insurrection.  At Kalisch the inhabitants immediately disarmed the Prussian troops on duty there.  This ardor was singularly gratifying to Bonapartè, as he seems to have cast his eye on the possession of Warsaw, that he might thus have the command of the Vistula; and, more particularly, as Poland is the granary of all the neighbouring states, he knew that he should there, not only find sufficient subsistence for his army, but also, as he strongly calculated on it’s assistance, he believed that by having so many of his troops among them, the whole nation would become the more animated to arm.  It was apparently under this idea, when he also saw the Polish magnates crowding to the court he had formed at Posen, that, on the 29th, he gave them a formal audience on his throne, and, to their statement of their manifold grievances, thus graciously replied—

“Most illustrious Nobles!  You have only to show yourselves worthy of your ancestors.  They were the former sovereigns of the house of Brandenburg.  They were the masters of Moscow.  They conquered the fortress of Widden, and relieved Christendom from the galling yoke of the Turks.  In Warsaw I will proclaim your independence.  Every thing that I see, and that I hear from my generals, makes me perfectly satisfied with you all.”

To promote his plan, he afterwards addressed them on another occasion, as stated in the Posen gazette of the day.

“Let me see that all the magnates, the nobility, and the inhabitants of every district unite their hearts and hands for the sole cause of general defence.  Oh! how astonishing are the decrees of Providence towards you!  (continues the arch hypocrite), that I, who by such inconceivable, rapid conquests, have, by my victorious arms, nearly annihilated the whole force of Prussia, am, in my farther pursuit of my enemy, now thus placed among  you!  Yes, from this moment, your independence shall be immutable:  I will, myself, proclaim it so in Warsaw.  I will restore the political existence of your nation.  But, as you thus gain immense advantages from my direction of the present crisis, you must show yourselves worthy of my care.—If, therefore, the blood of the brave ancient Poles flows yet in your veins, let every one hasten to arms.  Let the recovery of your liberty, let the ardent struggle to become once more a nation, be your sole object in view.  Your fate is in your own hands.  I expect, therefore, that you will convince me of your bravery and persevering courage; that you will let me see the noble effect of your zeal.—Words and assurances are not sufficiently satisfactory to me; let me, therefore, see the battalions and the squadrons of a respectable army combat by the side of my own troops.”

In consequence of such repeated addresses, there was, on the 2d of December, a very animated call made upon the country, by Joseph Lubisz Radzïmincki, from Posen, and a general levy too place; though not in the spirit of the former times.  However, from the present disposition of the nation, the Prussians in every department were discarded, and Polish subjects put in their places.  A regular military department was formed; and, as the Prussians had very unwisely raised new regiments from the national peasants, and recruited the old ones there on duty together with them, the greater part of these Polish Prussian soldiers forsook their standard, and went over to their countrymen.

The nation cannot in justice be censured for this general insurrection, particularly when we consider how they had been deceived by the Prussians, who, instead of protecting their constitution, as promised, were the first to contribute towards it’s dissolution.  They had, besides, disbanded the whole Polish army without allowing any consideration to the officers; they had distributed all the civil employments amongst the Prussians alone, and many estates which had been actually purchased were confiscated, and lavished away upon undeserving favorites.  They did not even leave them their mother tongue, but forced their own language upon them.  It was therefore very natural that this despised and oppressed nation, on seeing the present impotency of their oppressors, should endeavour to meet Bonapartè’s wishes—The will was there, but the power was wanting—because they want a sufficient population, and, in general, they want every degree of even common mental cultivation:—they want, as I have before observed, a middle class, and therefore want a proper species of industry:—they want a proper circulation of money, and therefore they want energy, and, finally, as a nation, they want a secure opening, by which they may, without control, export their superfluous products.  It therefore, after all, becomes a question, whether it would be wise to let Poland regain her so much-desired former constitution; because this very constitution would prevent the Poles from attaining that degree of improvement which their neighbours around them enjoy.  If Poland be meant ever to be a consolidated whole, capable of becoming an important nation, she must be quite otherwise organized than at present.  She must possess Courland and East Prussia to secure her a vent for her products.  In the interior government there must be a third class, which should enjoy every privilege that industry may claim.  The peasant must be introduced to civil society, and his obligations to the glebe must be ascertained.  In short, from a mere animal he must become a person, but, for this purpose, there must be established such seminaries as may be proper to transplant him from a simple individual into the society of good citizens.  But, above all, that multitude among the Poles that call themselves Noble, must be held to their duties, both towards themselves, and towards their country.

To attain all these requisites, and to restore a kingdom so ruined as Poland is, there must be established a nervous government, with a chief at it’s head, of such a decided character, as to let no circumstance or situation whatever bend him from his determined plan.  But the higher class of Poles are too much corrupted; too loose and unsteady in their moral principles to penetrate so vast a plan, or, by gradual means, to attain so noble an end.  Without such a decided chief as I have above described, under whose wings they might retire for shelter, they would become helpless and lost, and soon again be the easy prey of any rapacious neighbour.  But I leave to future times the fate of a nation that ought to have it’s place among the continental powers, from which it has been most cruelly driven, because it had not yet attained to that degree of cultivation which the other European nations at present possess.


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