Letters of a Russian Officer about Poland, Austrian Dominions and Hungary; with a Detailed Account of the Campaign of the Russians against the French in 1805 and 1806
By Fedor Glinka
Translated By Alexander Mikaberidze, FINS
GLINKA, Fedor Nikolaevich (19 June 1786, Sutoki, Smolensk gubernia – 23 February 1880) was born to a Russian noble family from the Smolensk gubernia; brother of prominent Russian writer Sergey Glinka. He studied in the 1st Cadet Corps and began service as an ensign in the Apsheron Infantry Regiment in 1802. During the 1805 Campaign, he served as an adjutant to Major General Miloradovich, participating in the rear guard actions during the retreat from Braunau and in the battle of Austerlitz. He took a discharge because of poor health on 23 September 1806, but in the next year, he briefly joined the Smolenck opolchenye in February 1807.
While in retirement, Glinka began writing his recollections of the 1805 Campaign, “Pisma russkago ofitsera o Polshe, Avstriiskikh vladeniakh i Vengrii s podrobnim opisaniem pokhoda Rossian protiv frantsuzov v 1805 i 1806 godakh [Letters of the Russian Officer on Poland, Austrian Territories and Hungary With Detailed Description of the Russian Campaign Against the French in 1805 and 1806]” published in Moscow in 1808. In 1812, he returned to the Apsheron Infantry Regiment and served as an adjutant to Miloradovich throughout the 1812-1814 Campaigns, earning the Orders of St, Vladimir (4th class) of St. Anna (2nd class), the Prussian Pour le Merite and a golden sword. He was appointed to the Life Guard Izmailovsk Regiment in 1816 and served in the Guard General Staff. Promoted to a colonel in 1819, he served as an adjutant to Miloradovich, then Military Governor General of St. Petersburg. He transferred from the guard to the regular army in 1822.
Glinka was implicated in the Decembrist Uprising and transferred to the civil service in 1826. In 1826-1852, he served in administrations of Petrozavodsk and Tver. Over the years, he wrote numerous poems and novels as well as historical works. His main publications include: five volumes of “Pisma Russkago ofitsera [Letters of the Russian Officer]” (Moscow, 1870), “Podvigi grafa Mikhaila Andreyevich Miloradovicha v Otechestvennuiu voinu 1812 goda, s prisovokupleniem nekotorikh pisem ot raznikh osob [Exploits of Count Mikhail Andreyevich Miloradovich During the Patriotic War of 1812, Annexed With Some Additional Letters from Variious Persons]” (Moscow, 1814), “Cherti iz zhizni Tadeusha Kostiushki, plenennago rossiiskim generalom Ferzenom [Features From the Life of Thaddeus Kosciusko, Captured by the Russian General Ferzen]” (St. Petersburg, 1815), “Kratkoe obozrenie voennoi zhizni i podvigov grafa Miloradovicha [Brief Description of the Military Career and Exploits of Count Miloradovich]” (St. Petersburg, 1818) and “Lettres d’un officier russe sur quelques évenements militaires de l’année 1812” (Moscow, 1821)
LETTERS OF A RUSSIAN OFFICER
TO MY FRIEND
Perceptive traveler Stern, discussing reasons that motivate people to travel, classified all explorers into categories: 1. Idle 2. Curious 3. Liars 3. Haughty 5. Dull 6. Gloomy. Reading his description I could not put myself in either of these categories because I was forced to travel because of my [military] duty, not idleness or foolish curiosity. Serving as an adjutant in the regiment [of Apsheron Musketeers], I tried to take advantage of every free minute, often in open field or dark peasant hut, to write to you my friend. Now I decided to offer you my entire journal; one part of it is in letters and the other in my comments and considerations; I hope such diversity would not affect the overall content. You will find here the very first account of the military operations and other heroic actions of the Russians [in 1805] as well as descriptions of traditions and customs of other nations and various curiosities I found on my travels. As for my language, I tried not to make it too complex or high styled. My only goal was to have my stories told in simple and true manner.
15 August 1805, Krupchitsy
We arrived today to Krupchitsy, a village that was granted, among other estates, to General Igelstrom by Empress Catherine II. Three versts from us was Radziwil, where a customs post operates on the Russo-Austrian border. We will cross the border there tomorrow and say farewell to our [beloved] Russia. Some of us would probably never see our native land again.
Around 8:00 a.m. the Chernigov Dragoons, Malorosiiski Grenadiers and our Apsheron regiment, with an artillery company and pioneers, deployed in a column and, led by Lieutenant General Essen II, we all crossed the border. The soldiers seemed confident but grief was visible in their faces. You know well, my dear friend, the bond all Russians have to their Fatherland and so you will understand how we felt leaving the borders of our Empire. All regiments sang songs, but they were sad and heartrending. It seems the sadness, deep inside the hearts of these heroes, was pouring out in them: this was our last tribute to the Fatherland. Yet, soldiers will be soon ablaze with the spirit of gallantry and their sad and farewell songs will be replaced by triumphant shouts of victory. A true hero is distinguished by his simple manners and sensitive feelings in peacetime, courage and gallantry on battlefield and ardent love for the Fatherland. Russians have all these traits. We march now to help the Austrians. Maintaining friendship with our neighbors, helping our friends and defending the oppressed remains the sacred duty of the Russians since ancient times. Our magnanimous Sovereign [Emperor Alexander] carries this duty now as well. We hurry to the banks of the Rhine River, where an ambitious Gaul already ignited the fires of war and the moans of the oppressed nations call for their defenders. It is said that General Golenischev-Kutuzov would be commanding our army.
At Free City of Brod
Marching through sandy valleys ten versts from Radziwil, we saw the city of Brodi on a hill in a distance and our column soon reached it. It was obvious that the town was gradually improving because trade flourished under its free rights. There were large stone houses, paved streets with canals on sides and virtually each of them had two or three wells with pure cold water for the residents. One could find all kinds of best quality goods brought here from numerous regions of Germany.
At the Village of Mikhailovtsy
Leaving Brodi, our regiment bivouacked at the village of Mikhailovtsy. It was located between the hills covered with gardens and its huts with yellow hay roofs, surrounded with green masses of trees, presented a wonderful picture of rural serenity. The village was intersected by a shallow but see-through, like a crystal, creek that seemed to be formed from mountainous springs. It never freezes in winter or dries out in summer, flowing constantly and helping ingenuous peasants. What an example of moderation! Flowing on a steep cliff, the creek fell down on a watermill wheel which constantly grinded. Such creeks often remain unnamed and unknown to people but they are more beneficial to the people than large rivers that excite people with their magnificent flow but then suddenly consume their houses in turbulent inundations. Thus, a restraint virtue survives under the cover of remote huts and then ascends to the heavens, remaining unknown to the inhabitants of this world who are so blinded by glittering futility. But people tend to be captivated by unordinary, even if it leads them to their own misfortune.
At the castle in Podgortzy
Poland and Galicia are covered with numerous ancient castles but most of them are in ruins. We do not have so many fortifications in Russia because Russians protected our Fatherland with our love and, like the Spartans, we staked our lives in its defense against the enemies. Ancient inhabitants of Poland made enormous efforts and endured incredible expenses to construct these large castles in impregnable places. They sought there a shelter during the raids of the Turks, Zaporochye Cossacks and others engaged in brigandage. Later, notables settled here and turned into absolute landlords (feudal lords) who oppressed their subjects with an iron scepter of unrestrained rule, amassed fortunes and led secluded lives in luxury without bringing any benefit to their motherland. Each feudal lord had a right to deliver justice in his real and sentence the accused to death under his own laws… First Princess of Lithuania Queen Bonna and other kings tried to weaken these feudal lords and fought them for years; they enticed some of them with generous promises and important positions. Thus, these notables soon moved to capital, the rights of lords weakened and the castles fell into disarray.
The castle, where I am now located, is a long building of ancient architecture, with four tall towers in corners. It seems its Vauban-style bastions were added recently. I learned that the castle was repaired several time and one could say rebuilt from the ground since its age alone would have destroyed it. The Polish chronicles state that the founder of the castle, one of the local princes, Konzepolsky, lived several centuries ago. I visited enormous halls and was surprised by their luxury and magnificence; the floor of the dining hall on the second floor was covered with distinctive [ustlanbaspidnimi] plates while other rooms had marble flooring as well as entire rows of marble columns. I inquired how much these “two tablets of solid marble plates” cost? “Over two thousand chervonii [20,000 rubles]” a guide told me. I can not imagine how much would other treasures of the castle cost! The last owner of this castle Count R. was a hetman of entire Poland and, it is said, he had an annual income of two million rubles. The castle walls were covered with painting of old and new masters. In addition to portraits of all Polish kings and other interesting painting on the Polish history, there were many excellent copies of the masterpieces. Interior part of the castle had one room resembling a bedroom suite, where walls were decorated with a magnificent bed and remarkable carvings. A painting of the previous mistress of the castle, that is the mother of current count, was also visible on the wall. Her portrait had a Polish inscription, “Countess R. born to Princess L. and Prince M. The artist completed this portrait but could not fully express exquisite features of her soul.” The dining hall had a portrait of her husband Count R. dressed in knight armor, leaning with one hand on a shield and pointing with another hand towards the heaps of flags and weapons at his feet and the army around him. His face expressed a noble pride and he seemed to be saying, “Look at me, am I strong enough?” I also noticed a large painting of Prometheus chained to the Caucasus. Furious eagle with shining eyes was tearing his chest and eagerly eating his heart, which was growing back at once. The eyes of the poor titan gazed at the sky, the source of his torments; his pale face reflected terrible determination to suffer and certain indifference to suffering…
[Author’s discussion of Greek history and myths and minor details on the castle decoration follows]
At the Village of Zlochev
I witnessed a small miracle at Zlochev. Visiting a small store, I saw a Jewish women reading a book. I asked what was the title and was surprised to see that it was a part on primitive man from Buffon’s Natural History in German. “Incredible, how come you are reading such titles?” inquired I in a surprise. ”Why should not I, or you think Jews cannot be educated?” she responded. “Well, now I do not think so anymore” I told her and left after buying everything I needed.
I gaze at the green valley sprinkled with numerous flowers, listen to languorous flow of streams and observe tiny gray waves that trickle in their streams and, running over numerous colorful stones, break into glittering pearls, turn into white turbulent foam and then silently flow on the green carpet of blossoming fields. My eyes wonder along this splendid and breathtaking landscape. It is said that there are places where the nature itself smiles; but here she was contemplating. Long, straight alleys of tall lime trees and pines were gorgeous in their natural beauty, still unblemished still by the crafty hand of the gardener and capable to nourish sweet reflection: they were so secluded that in ancient times they could have easily served as place for high contemplation of sacred Druids. I see many simple but fine-looking gazebos and one house, with enormous fruit hothouse in distance.
[My friend,] you, of course guessed that I am in the gardens, more precisely in the gardens of Princess M…. She arranged it to her liking but then left for Vienna. Traces of her sensibility are still visible here. Walking along these alleys, where one feels free to dream and contemplate, or looking our of the windows of nearby small houses or gazebos and seeing the nature in her splendid simplicity, it is easy to see that everything here is the creation of a sensitive and kind being, therefore, of a woman. I deliberately left several inscriptions in this beautiful garden. At the bottom of a large uncut stone lays a white marble statue of Princess’ son who died at the age of five. This is his tombstone and its inscription was worthy of his caring mother, who shed so many tears on his coffin:
In the opposite end of the alley, there was a pyramid built by the son to honor his mother. Its two sides were informed everything she did in Krestovitz and the third had the following poem:
She indeed made great efforts to beautify the wild beauty of Krestovitz: instead of gardens, this place was previously swamps, but now stream flow into translucent ponds with various fishes. A statue of Jean Jacques Rousseau stands near a stream on a beautiful blooming field between tall blossoming trees. Its base carries the following words:
I liked best of all a Laconic inscription on the tombstone of Princess’ friend: a white urn on a hill covered with fresh green grass. On the one side, it said Theresa K. died in 1791 in Paris, and the opposite side had words, Helas, j’avois une amie! A sensitive soul will immediately understand the beautiful essence of these words. What is the point of speaking pompously or making flaunting inscriptions? It is certainly not to make passers-by to comment on clever wording and terse poems. It seems that we use many words only when we do not completely understand our feelings and try to explain them to others. A person, who is capable of genuine feelings and correct expression of his conceptions, always expresses himself concisely and clearly. Instead of saying “I enjoyed a rare treasure in this world, a person to share my happiness and sadness with, who supported me in all my desires and knew all secrets of my soul,” a brief “I had a friend” was suffice. A cold person will pass by and fail to notice this humble inscription; but a person with compassionate heart will stop to read it and remember a dear friend!
Several days had passed without a single sentence written for you. But all this time leisure kept me from confiding with myself. All my feelings were submerged into strange, inexplicable feeling of sweet elation. My mind surrendered to my heart and the time quickly flew by as the heart found its enjoyment. I forgot the past, was not concerned about the future and simply hurried to enjoy the present. Had we lived in ancient times, I would not have doubted that a benevolent goddess, seeing us marching to our death, decided to give us all pleasures of the world if only for the last time and placed a magical castle on our route where everything captivated and bewitched us. Preceding days, the autumn weather raged to the full, the nature draped herself in dark colors and cold rain poured constantly on us. I already becoming weary from this exhausting and unfamiliar life on march when our regimental chef General M. [Miloradovich] informed us that Princess Ch. Invited all officers to a ball and I went there with the rest of my comrades. But how surprised I was to find there Princess L. who welcomed me so graciously during my stay in R.; she was related to Princess Ch. and was visiting her. Princess L. recognized me at once and she and General [Miloradovich] introduced me to our hostess, who treated me very kindly throughout the evening. Our column marched the following day but I stayed with General M. [Miloradovich] at Landshut, where we remained for almost two weeks while all six columns of our army passed by. I want to describe you everything I witnessed and felt during this time but I do not know how I would succeed in this. I will try to describe briefly Landshut.
A large and ancient castle was being repaired and its tall bastions were turned into beautiful squares, where magnificent gardens were cultivated. What can I say about the interior? Everything, that you can just imagine, was there in excess: gold, silver, marble, crystals and even mosaics. Excellent collection of original paintings of Rubens, Caravaggio and other remarkably rare canvases. I was elated to see three gorgeous Graces; the beautiful and thoughtful Countess M., shy and gifted Princess L. and young and kind Countess G. were worthy to be named Graces. I forgot to describe the hostess of this respected house. She was in her fifties, intelligent and kind. Gentleness of her souls shined through the features of her pleasant face and her affability captivated everyone. Now add to this everything you know about amiable and courteous women and you will have a sense of Princess Ch. Her brother, Field Marshal Ch., who was visiting her, was truly worthy of special admiration not only because of his rank but traits of his character.
Princess Ch. indeed lived like a queen, only much more happier than any of them. I will tell you, my friend, how an average day is spent here. Household gathers for breakfast at 10:00 a.m. and they are usually served several baskets of fruits, fresh berries, pineapples, oranges, nuts, etc. After the breakfast, men go on a walk or attend their matters while women get dressed or read. At noon, a large table for up to fifty people is served; who are they, you may inquire? They are all freedmen serving for the estate. Around 12:30 p.m., another table is set for maids and other servants. Artisans usually have lunch at 1:00 p.m. and the court physician, mechanic and other staff eat at 1:30 pm. Finally, at 2:00 p.m. a lavish feast is prepared for guests. It is so delicious that even frugal German commissars, who live some ten versts away, can smell it and quickly assemble here to dine. Finally, tables are cleared and some two hundred men fed. The remaining food is distributed among the poor.
At 3:00 p.m. everyone is invited to enormous dining hall, where, as in other rooms, doors and windows have mirrors and walls are covered with marble and covered in shining lacquer. Delicious liquors and vodka is served and a half an hour later guests are led to another spectacular table and its extravagance defies descriptions and can only be imagined. However, I was not surprised by these delicious dishes, juicy fruits or old wines but was more taken aback by the affability of our hosts. As soon as everyone sat down, the hostess approached women and her brother the Field Marshal sounded out men; they talked to everyone with distinct friendliness, especially with the Russian officers. This also repeated after the dinner was over. Looking at these grand hosts and their hospitality, one cannot help but recall that we had the same traditions in the Holy Russia and the hospitality was one of the main virtues of a Russian.
After the dinner, a Turk appeared with coffee. Afterwards, some went to their quarters while others, especially women, went on a walk on their high-priced horses or in carriages towards the nearby botanical garden. Those who stayed behind in the hall, played the billiard and other or read newspapers as the Turks distributed beautiful amber-encrusted pipes from Istanbul. In the meantime, lets go on a tour through a long and narrow gallery with antiquities. Beautiful flowers and various trees in pots are placed near windows on the right side while statues adorn the left side. Here is the [statues of] Venus de Medici, there is Apollo of Belvedere and further away are [the statues] of Hercules and a boxer with muscular arms. A line of bronze statues of all great men of history can be seen in the distance. As we leave the gallery, lets take a turn to the left, open the door and enter the Chinese Quarters. Here everything is Chinese themed. You can see dishes of the best Chinese porcelain, entire tea set with leaden teapots covered in silk. There are various, quite large but light, vessels of blue-gray color and decorated with golden flowers that seems to have been carved: it is said that these ancient methods of carving are now lost forever. Here we see Chinese dresses and other objects. All these rarities were given to the Princess by the French envoy who visited China, and among his presents was also a special vessels of particular yellow alloy that resembled pots that the great Sultan himself uses to drink his sherbet. The Turkish envoy, who was passing through Landshut, offered the Princess to name any price for this pot, but she loves every rarity and refused to sell. Besides, she certainly does not need more money since she had an annual income of two hundred thousand chervontsi [2 million rubles] and another six hundred thousand in silver, and who knows how much paper currency.
Lets go now down to visit ancient rarities. Here is a large vase of white marble that was removed from Herculaneum. Another huge seashell with two swans in it, all of the highest quality, was found in the ruins near Rome. This black marble vase is a copy of the celebrated vase of Mithridates of Pontus. And here is Bacchus on the tiger, an testament to the ancient and modern arts. Bacchus, made of white marble, was found in the ruins of Herculaneum while the tiger was carved in black marble by contemporary artists….Here are two more statues of beautiful white marble: both are women, one is a nymph or just a mortal woman who just came out of bath and tremble in the fresh winds of Zephyr that rushed towards her from every direction, swirled around her, stripped the cover from her beautiful face and bosom and caressed the roses and lilies blossoming on them. One can imagine that this nymph, trying to escape the heat of the noon, freshened her beauty in the clear waters surrounded by thick woods. Suddenly, a shadow of Pan or Satyr flashed on the nearby rock and the nymph leaped from the waters in fear and thus found herself in the midst of Zephyr. Howe beautifully did the artist present the nymph’s confusion and turmoil as she is startled and ashamed of the gentle winds caressing her!
Close to her, on a stump, and probably in the shadow of breezy grove, sits a young pleasant women. I said pleasant because her beauty which some ingenious artist managed to breath into her, seemed to animate the cold marble features. Looking at her, one expects the witness Pygmalion’s miracle. The marble is full of life that every observer hopes to see her stepping down from the stump – praise be to its artist! This beautiful woman is reading a letter that excites her; her eyes are fixed on the paper while her lips smile as they eagerly read words of passion! How charming is her smile! It is truly radiant since her entire face is glowing….
And finally, here is the rarest of all items, the sculpture of the Goddess Isis transported from Egypt. The idol is made of some sort of clay. I studied with great attention this marvel. The goddess is portrayed sitting on some kind of stump. Her face is surprisingly unpleasant and of poor quality but it still has something alive and animated in it. What an irony of fate, I though looking at this lifeless idol. Several hundred years ago it was venerated, sacrificial altars burned incenses in front of him, people bowed in reverence and trusted their fates. Yet, now it stands in the room filled with antiquities and people look at it out of curiosity. Oh, fate! Who can grasp your laws? You fade away the grandeur of the gods and destroy the mighty powers, and one can only imagine what you can do with us, mere mortals!
Lets look at these numeral paintings now: a large part of them are originals found in Herculaneum and other Roman ruins. It will take days to study them in details…. So lets hurry back upstairs so avoid being late for the theater; a comedy is scheduled for today.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2005
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