The Political Writings of Richard Cobden

Richard Cobden
Cobden, Richard
(1804-1865)
BIO
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
Editor/Trans.
F. W. Chesson, ed.
First Pub. Date
1835
Publisher/Edition
London: T. Fisher Unwin
Pub. Date
1903
Comments
Collected essays, 1835-1862. First published as a collection in 1867. 4th edition. Includes Preface by Lord Welby; Introductions by Sir Louis Mallet and William Cullen Bryant.
Start PREVIOUS
13 of 24
NEXT End

Volume I, Part II.

APPENDIX.
EXTRACTS FROM VARIOUS WRITERS, ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE CONDITION OF TURKEY.

I.8.1

INDEED, it was impossible to conceive a more dismal scene of horror and desolation than the Turkish capital now presented. Every day some new atrocities were committed, and the bodies of the victims were either hanging against the doors and walls, or lying without their heads weltering and trampled on in the middle of the streets. At this season flights of kites, vultures, and other unclean birds of prey return after their winter's migration, and, as if attracted by the scent of carcases, were seen all day wheeling and hovering about, so as to cover the city like a canopy, whereever a body was exposed. By night the equally numerous and ravenous dogs were heard about some headless body, with the most dismal howlings, or snarling and fighting over some skull which they were gnawing and peeling. In fact, all that Byron has feigned of Corinth, or Bruce has described of Abyssinia, or that you have elsewhere read that is barbarous, disgusting, and terrible in Eastern usages was here realised.—A Residence in Constantinople during the Greek and Turkish Revolutions. By the Rev. R. Walsh, LL.D.

TURKISH DESOLATION.

I.8.2

My way lay along the shores of the Hellespont. The weather had now become moderate, and the storm was succeeded by a balmy sunshine. I cannot describe to you the exquisite beauty of the undulating downs which extend along the Asiatic side of this famous sea; the greensward sloping down to the water's edge, intersected every mile by some sweet-wooded valley running up into the country at one extremity, and terminating in the other by a romantic cove, over whose strand the lucid waves rippled. Here it was that the first picture of Turkish desolation presented itself to me. While those smiling prospects which a good Providence seems to have formed for the delight of man invite him to fix his dwelling among them, all is desert and desolate as the prairies of the Missouri. In a journey of nearly fifteen miles along the coast, and for half the length of the Hellespont, I did not meet a single human habitation, and this in the finest climate, the most fertile soil, and once the most populous country in the world.—Walsh.

A victory obtained at Patras was certified to the Sultan by the very intelligible gazette of a waggon loaded with the ears and noses of the slain, which were exposed in a heap to gratify the feelings of pious Mussulmans. Dr. Walsh went to see this ghastly exhibition, which he thus describes in his Residence in Constantinople:—"Here I found, indeed, that the Turks did actually take human features as the Indians take scalps, and the trophies of ears, lips, and noses were no fiction. At each side of the gate were two piles, like small haycocks, formed of every portion of the countenance. The ears were generally perforated and hanging on strings. The noses had one lip and a part of the forehead attached to them; the chins had the other, with generally a long beard. Sometimes the face was cut off whole, and all the features remained together; sometimes it was divided into scraps in all forms of mutilation. It was through these goodly monuments of human glory the Sultan and all his train passed every day, and no doubt were highly gratified by the ghastly aspects they presented; for here they were to remain till they were trampled into the mire of the street. Wherever the heaps were partly trodden down the Turks passed over them with perfect indifference. The features, growing soft by putridity, continually attached themselves to their feet, and frequently a man went off with a lip or a chin sticking to his slippers, which were fringed with human beard as if they were lined with fur. This display I again saw by accident on another occasion, and when you hear of sacks of ears sent to Constantinople you may be sure it is a reality, and not a figure of speech. But you are not to suppose they are always cut from the heads of enemies, and on the particular occasion they are sent to commemorate. The number of Greeks killed at Patras did not exceed perhaps one hundred; but noses, ears, and lips were cut indiscriminately from every skull they could find to swell the amount."

GEOGRAPHY AND THE USE OF THE GLOBES.

I.8.3

Lord Strangford sent the Porte a valuable present. He had brought with him a pair of very large globes from England, and as the Turks had latterly shown some disposition to learn languages, he thought it would be a good opportunity to teach them something else, and he determined to send them over to the Porte, and asked me to go with them and explain their object.... This important present was brought over with becoming respect. A Choreash went first with his bâton of office, then followed two Janissaries, like Atlases, bearing worlds upon their shoulders, then myself, attended by our principal dragoman in full costume, and finally a train of Janissaries and attendants. When arrived at the Porte we were introduced to the Reis Effendi, or Minister for Foreign Affairs, who with other ministers were waiting for us. When I had the globes put together on their frames they came round us with great interest, and the Reis Effendi, who thought, ex officio, he ought to know something of geography, put on his spectacles and began to examine them. The first thing that struck them was the compass in the stand. When they observed the needle always kept the same position they expressed great surprise, and thought it was done by some interior mechanism. It was midday, and the shadow of the frame of the window was on the floor. I endeavoured to explain to them that the needle was always found nearly in that direction, pointing to the north. I could only make them understand that it always turned towards the sun! The Reis Effendi then asked me to show him England. When I pointed out the small comparative spot on the great globe he turned to the rest and said "Keetchuk" (little), and they repeated all round "Keetchuk," in various tones of contempt. But when I showed them the dependencies of the empire, and particularly the respectable size of India, they said "Beeyuk" with some marks of respect. I also took occasion to show them the only mode of coming from thence to Constantinople by sea, and that a ship could not sail with a cargo of coffee from Mocha across the Isthmus of Suez. The newly appointed dragoman of the Porte, who had been a Jew, and was imbued with a slighter tincture of information, was present, so after explaining to him as much as I could make him comprehend, I left to him the task of further instructing the ministers in this new science. Indeed, it appeared to me as if none of them had ever seen an artificial globe before, or even a mariner's compass.—Walsh's Constantinople.

I.8.4

It has been often remarked that the Turks are rather encamped than settled in Europe. Far from improving the countries they govern, they scathe everything that comes within their reach, they destroy monuments but build none, and when at length they are driven out by the chances of war or revolution, the only traces they leave of their sway are to be found in the desolation with which they everywhere encompass themselves. They may be compared to a flight of locusts eating up and destroying whatever they alight upon, conferring no benefits in return, and at last, when swept from the face of the earth by some kindly blast, only remembered from the havoc they have committed.—Encyclopædia Britannica, new edition, vol. iv., p. 129.—Art. ATHENS.

I.8.5

The barbarous anarchic despotism of Turkey, where the finest countries in the most genial climate in the world are wasted by peace more than any countries have been worried by war, where arts are unknown, where manufactures languish, where science is extinguished, where agriculture decays, where the human race itself melts away and perishes under the eye of the observer.—Burke.

I.8.6

The following is extracted from a work published in America under the title of Letters from Constantinople and its Environs by an American, and attributed to the pen of Commodore Porter, the United States' Chargé d'Affaires at the Sublime Porte:—"At length we discovered, about two miles to the left of our road, a Turkish village, which may always be known by the cypress-trees and the burying-ground, and soon after this an Armenian village, which may be known by the neat cultivation, the fine, shady trees, the mill-race, and an air of primitive patriarchal sort of comfort which seems to be thrown over it. You can, once in a while, see at a distance something like a petticoat moving about, and here are herds of cattle, flocks of sheep, goats, &c. But none of these are visible on your approach to a Turkish town, where all is still and gloomy. Shopkeepers you will find sitting cross-legged, waiting for their customers, too lazy and indolent to rise for the purpose of taking down an article for inspection. It is a truth that I have never seen a Turk buy anything since I have been in the country. They are absolutely too indolent to buy. Neither have I ever seen a Turk work, if there is a possibility of his being idle. I have never seen one stand, if there is a possibility of his being seated. A blacksmith sits cross-legged at his anvil, and seats himself when he shoes a horse. A carpenter seats himself when he saws, bores holes, or drives a nail, planes, dubs with his small adze, or chops with his hatchet (I believe I have named all his tools), if it be possible to do so without standing.

I.8.7

Nothing can be more gloomy than the appearance of things on entering a Turkish village. It is as quiet as the grave; the streets are narrow; the doors all shut and locked; the windows all latticed; not a human being to be seen in the filthy streets. A growling, half-starved dog, or a bitch with her hopeful progeny, which depend for their subsistence on some depository of filth—is all you meet with of animated nature. You proceed through the inhospitable outskirts, despairing of meeting wherewith to satisfy the calls of nature, or a place of shelter, when you at length arrive at perhaps half-a-dozen filthy little shops of six feet square, in each of which you discover a solitary, squatting, silent, smoking Turk. He may glance his eyes at you, but will not turn his head: that would be too much trouble. Now, investigate the contents of these shops, and you will find as follows:—five, or, perhaps, six girths, for pack-horses, made of goats' hair; half-a-dozen halters for horses; fifteen or twenty pounds of rancid Russian butter; a small box containing from one to two pounds of salt, and half a pound of ground pepper. A few bars of curd cheese, looking very like Marseilles soap, not much better in taste, and not so good for digestion. One quart of black salt olives; half a pound of sewing twine, cut into needlefuls; one clothes line; half-a-dozen loaves of brown bread; and two bunches of onions, with a string of garlic. Nine times out of ten, you will find this to be the stock in trade of a Turkish village shopkeeper: and, over this, in his pitiful box, will he sit and smoke, day after day, without seeing a purchaser, or apparently caring whether one comes or not. If one calls and asks if he has any particular article, his answer is, simply, without raising his eyes, "Yoke." (No.) "Can you inform me where I may procure the article?" "Yoke." It is of no use to try to get anything more out of him. He is as silent as the grave. If he has the article asked for, he hands it to you, and names the price. When the money is laid on the counter, he merely brushes it with his hand through the hole in the till, and then relapses into his former apathy. No compliments, no "thanks for favours received," no "call again if you please." Not the slightest emotion can be discovered. He never raises his eyes to see who his customer is or was; he sees nothing but the article sold, and the money; and he would disdain to spend a breath or perform an action that was not indispensable to the conclusion of the bargain.... Give a Turk a mat to sleep on, a pipe and a cup of coffee, and you will give him the sum total of all earthly enjoyments.

I.8.8

The magnificent plain of Nice burst on our view. I have often dwelt with pleasure on the recollection of my agreeable surprise, when, descending the mountains at a place (I think) called the Vent of Cordova, the lovely view of the valley of Mexico first presented itself to my astonished sight. No one, I will venture to say, who has travelled from Vera Cruz to Mexico, but recollects the spot I have referred to, and felt as I have felt. Let him recall to his mind the splendour of that scene, and he may then imagine the plain of Nice, in all its fertility and beauty; not, indeed, so extensive, but more studded with trees, and equally so with villages, and presenting a picture to the eye and the imagination not to be surpassed. But, after a painful descent from our lofty eminence, by a very steep road, we found that, like the plain of Mexico, it was distance that gave to the scenery its principal enchantment.... Like Mexico, everything is beautiful in the distance, but nothing will bear examination. View the scene closely, and the charm vanishes. The large and fertile fields are miles from any human habitation; and, if a solitary being or two happen to be labouring near, you find them covered with rags and vermin. The shepherd, with his numerous flocks and herds, is a half-starved, miserable wretch, covered with filthy sheep-skins, and disgusting to look at. His food, a dry crust, with perhaps an onion. Enter the villages, the streets are almost impassable from filth, and you meet only a ragged, dirty, squalid population of beggars. The noble fields and vineyards are the property of some hungry and rapacious lord, whose interests are confided to a cruel, hard-hearted, and rapacious age. The few in power, revelling in affluence and splendour, have reduced the mass of the people to a degree of misery which appears insupportable. This is Turkey.

EXTRACT FROM LARDNER'S CABINET CYCLOPÆDIA
(HISTORY OF POLAND).

LEWIS. 1370-1382.

I.8.9

By yielding to the exorbitant demands of the turbulent and interested nobles—by increasing their privileges, and exempting them from the necessary contributions—he threw a disproportionate burden on the other orders of the State, and promoted that aristocratic ascendancy before which monarch and throne were soon to bow.—P. 101.

HEDWIG. 1382-1386.

I.8.10

The death of Louis was speedily followed by troubles, raised chiefly by the turbulent nobles. Notwithstanding their oaths in favour of Mary and her husband Sigismund—oaths in return for which they had extorted such great concessions—they excluded both, with the design of extorting still greater from a new candidate. Sigismund advanced to claim his rights. A civil war desolated several provinces.—P. 102.

CASIMIR IV. 1445-1492.

I.8.11

Under this monarch aristocracy made rapid progress in Poland. When, on the conclusion of the war he assembled a diet for the purpose of devising means of paying the troops their arrears, it was resolved to resist the demand in a way which should compel him to relinquish it. Hitherto the diets had consisted of isolated nobles, whom the king's summons or their own will had assembled: as their votes were irresponsible and given generally from motives of personal interest or prejudice, the advantage to the order at large had been purely accidental. Now, that order resolved to exercise a new and irresistible influence over the executive. As every noble could not attend the diet, yet as every one wished to have a voice in its deliberations, deputies were elected to bear the representations of those who could not attend.... What in England was the foundation of rational freedom, was in Poland subversive of all order, all good government: in the former country, representation was devised as a check to feudal aristocracy, which shackled both king and nation; in the latter it was devised by the aristocracy themselves, both to destroy the already too limited prerogatives of the crown, and to rivet the chain of slavery on the whole nation.—Pp. 121-122.... This very diet annulled the humane decree of Casimir the Great, which permitted a peasant to leave his master for ill usage; and enacted that in all cases such peasant might be demanded by his lord; nay, that whoever harboured the fugitive should be visited with a heavy fine. This, and the assumption of judicial authority over their serfs, for peasants they can no longer be called, was a restoration of the worst evils of feudality.—P. 123.

JOHN ALBERT I. 1492-1506.

I.8.12

Evils of a nature still more to be dreaded menaced the murmuring kingdom. Aided by the Turks and Tartars, the Voivode of Wallachia penetrated into Podolia and Polish Russia, the flourishing towns of which he laid in ashes, and returned with immense booty, and 100,000 captives.—P. 125.... Under his reign, not only was the national independence in great peril, but internal freedom, the freedom of the agricultural class, was annihilated. At the diet of Petrikaus (held in 1496), the selfish aristocracy decreed that henceforth no citizen or peasant should aspire to the ecclesiastical dignities, which they reserved for themselves alone. The peasantry, too, were prohibited from other tribunals than those of their tyrannical masters: they were reduced to the most deplorable slavery.—P. 127.

ALEXANDER. 1501-1506.

I.8.13

Thus ended a reign more deplorable, if possible, than that of John Albert.—P. 129.

SIGISMUND I. 1506-1548.

I.8.14

He had, however, many obstacles to encounter: neither the patriotism of his views nor the influence of his character could always restrain the restless tumults of his nobles, who, proud of their privileges, and secure of impunity, thwarted his wisest views whenever caprice impelled them. Then the opposition of the high and petty nobility; the eagerness of the former to distinguish themselves from the rest of their order by titles as well as riches; the hostility of both towards the citizens and burghers, whom they wished to enslave as effectually as they had done the peasantry; and, lastly, the fierceness of contention between the adherents of the reformed and old religion, filled his court with factions and his cities with discontent.—P. 136.

INTERREGNUM. HENRY DE VALOIS. 1572-1574.

I.8.15

The death of Sigismund Augustus, the last of the Jagellos, gave the Polish nobles what they had long wanted—the privilege of electing their monarchs, and of augmenting their already enormous powers by every new pacta conventa.*86... At first it was expected that the election would be made by deputies only; but, on the motion of a leading palatine, that, as all nobles were equal in the eye of the law, so all ought to concur in the choice of a ruler, it was carried by acclamation that the assembly should consist of the whole body of the equestrian order—of all, at least, who were disposed to attend. This was another fatal innovation; a diet of two or three hundred members, exclusive of the senators, might possibly be managed; but what authority could control 100,000?—Pp. 148-149.

I.8.16

This feeble prince soon sighed for the banks of the Seine; amidst the ferocious people whose authority he was constrained to recognise, and who despised him for his imbecility, he had no hope of enjoyment.... The truth is, no criminal ever longed to flee from his fetters so heartily as Henry from his imperious subjects.... His flight was soon made known.... A pursuit was ordered; but Henry was already on the lands of the Empire, before he was overtaken by the grand chamberlian, to whom he presented a ring and continued his journey.—P. 157.

STEPHEN. 1575-1586.

I.8.17

After the deposition of Henry, no less than five foreign and two native princes were proposed as candidates for the crown.

I.8.18

During the struggle of Stephen with his rebellious subjects, the Muscovites had laid waste Livonia. To punish their audacity, and wrest from their grasp the conquests they had made during the reign of his immediate predecessor, was now his object. War, however, was more easily declared than made; the treasury was empty, and the nobles refused to replenish it. Of them it might truly be said, that, while they eagerly concurred in any burdens laid on the other orders of the State—on the clergy and the burghers—those burdens they would not so much as touch with one of their fingers.... The Polish nobles were less alive to the glory of their country than to the preservation of their monstrous privileges, which they apprehended might be endangered under so vigilant and able a ruler.... However signal the services which this great prince rendered to the republic, he could not escape the common lot of his predecessors—the jealousy, the opposition, and the hatred of a licentious nobility; nor could he easily quell the tumults which arose among them.—Pp. 158, 160, 161, 165.

SIGISMUND III. 1586-1632.

I.8.19

As usual, the interregnum afforded ample opportunity for the gratification of individual revenge, and of the worst passions of our nature. The feud between Zborowskis and Zamoyskis was more deadly than ever. Both factions appeared in the field of election, with numerous bodies of armed adherents. The former amounted to 10,000: the latter were less strong in number, but more select.—P. 167.... His reign was, as might be expected from his character, disastrous. The loss of Moldavia and Wallachia, of a portion of Livonia, and, perhaps still more, of the Swedish crown for himself, and the Muscovite for his son, embittered his declining years. Even the victories which shed so bright a lustre over his kingdom were but too dearly purchased by the blood and treasure expended. The internal state of Poland, during this period, is still worse. It exhibits little more than his contentions with his nobles, or with his Protestant subjects; and the oppression of the peasants, by their avaricious, tyrannical, and insulting masters—an oppression which he had the humanity to pity, but not the vigour to alleviate.—P. 178.

ULADISLAS VII. (Vasa.) 1632-1648.

I.8.20

But all the glories of this reign, all the advantages it procured to the republic, were fatally counterbalanced by the haughty and inhuman policy of the nobles towards the Cossacks. In the central provinces of the republic, their unbounded power was considerably restrained in its exercise by their habitual residence among their serfs; but the distant possessions of the Ukraine never saw the face of their rapacious landlords, but were abandoned to Jews, the most unpopular and hateful of stewards.... Obtaining no redress from the diet—the members of which, however jealous of their own liberties, would allow none to the people—they had laid their complaints before the throne of the late monarch, Sigismund III. With every disposition, that monarch was utterly powerless to relieve them: Uladislas was equally well-intentioned, and equally unable to satisfy them. On one occasion the latter prince is said to have replied to the deputies from these sons of the wilderness—"Have you no sabres?" Whether such a reply was given them or not, both sabres and lances were speedily in requisition. Their first efforts were unsuccessful. This failure rather enraged than discouraged them; and their exasperation was increased by the annihilation of their religious hierarchy, of their civil privileges, of their territorial revenues, and by their degradation to the rank of serfs—all which iniquities were done by the diet of nobles 1638. Nay, a resolution was taken, at the same time, to extirpate both their faith and themselves, if they showed any disposition to escape the bondage doomed them. Again they armed, and, by their combination, so imposed on the troops sent to subdue them, that a promise was made them of restoring the privileges which had been so wickedly and so impolitically wrested from them. Such a promise, however, was not intended to be fulfilled; the Cossacks, in revenge, made frequent irruptions into the palatinate of the grand duchy, and no longer prevented the Tartars from similar outrages. Some idea may be formed of the extent of these depredations when it is known that, from the princely domains of one noble alone 30,000 peasants were carried away, and sold as slaves to the Turks and Tartars. Things were in this state, when a new instance of outrageous cruelty, inflicted upon the family of a veteran Cossack, Bogdan Chmielnicki by name—whose valour under the ensigns of the republic was known far beyond the bounds of his nation—spread the flames of insurrection from one end of the Ukraine to the other, and lent fearful force to their intensity.... The bolt of vengeance, so long suspended, at length fell. At the head of 40,000 Tartars, and of many times that number of Cossacks, who had wrongs to be redressed as well as he, and whom the tale of his had summoned around him with electric rapidity, he began his fearful march. Two successive armies of the republic, which endeavoured to stem the tide of inundation, were utterly swept away by the torrent; their generals and superior officers led away captives, and 70,000 peasants consigned to hopeless bondage.

I.8.21

At this critical moment expired Uladislas—a misfortune scarcely inferior to the insurrection of the Cossacks; for never did a State more urgently demand the authority of such a monarch. Under him the republic was prosperous, notwithstanding her wars with the Muscovites and Turks; and, had his advice been taken, the Cossacks would have remained faithful to her, and opposed an effectual barrier to the incursions of the Tartars. But eternal justice had doomed the chastisement of a haughty, tyrannical, and unprincipled aristocracy, on whom reasoning, entreaty, or remonstrance could have no effect, and whose understandings were blinded by hardness of heart. In their conduct during these reigns there appears something like fatality, which may be explained by a maxim confirmed by all human experience—Quem Deus vult perdere, prius dementat.*87—Pp. 182-3-4-5.

INTERREGNUM—JOHN CASIMIR. 1698.

I.8.22

Never was interregnum more fatal than that which followed the death of Uladislas. The terrible Bogdan, breathing vengeance against the republic, seized on the whole of the Ukraine, and advanced towards Red Russia. He was joined by vast hordes of Tartars from Bessarabia and the Crimea, who longed to assist in the contemplated annihilation of the republic. This confederacy of Mussulmans, Socinians, and Greeks, all actuated by feelings of the most vindictive character, committed excesses at which the soul revolts;—the churches and monasteries were levelled with the ground—the nuns were violated—priests were forced, under the raised poniard, not merely to contract, but to consummate marriage with the trembling inmates of the cloisters, and, in general, both were subsequently sacrificed; the rest of the clergy were despatched without mercy. But the chief weight of vengeance fell on the nobles, who were doomed to a lingering death; whose wives and daughters were stripped naked before their eyes; and, after violation, were whipped to death in sight of the ruthless invaders.—P. 186.

I.8.23

Scarcely an evil can be mentioned which did not afflict the kingdom during the eventful reign of this monarch. To the horrors of invasion by so many enemies must now be added those of domestic strife—P. 196.... In this beautiful picture of disasters abroad and anarchy at home—of carnage and misery on every side, the disbanded military now took a prominent part.—P. 197.... In short, the reign of this monarch, while it exhibits a continued succession of the worst evils which have afflicted nations, is unredeemed by a single advantage to the republic; its only distinction is the fearfully accelerated impulse which it gave to the decline of Poland. The fact speaks little either for monarch or diet: but he must not be blamed with undue severity; his heart was better than his head; and both were superior to those of the turbulent, fierce, and ungovernable men who composed a body at once legislative and executive.

MICHAEL. 1668-1673.

I.8.24

The first act of the diet of nobles was to declare that no Polish king should hereafter abdicate; the fetters he might assume were thus rendered everlasting.—P. 199.... At this time, no less than five armed confederacies were opposed to each other—of the great against the king—of the loyal in his favour—of the army in defence of their chief, whom Michael and his party had resolved to try, as implicated in the French party; of the Lithuanians against the Poles; and, finally, of the servants against their masters—the peasants against their lords.—P. 203.

JOHN III. (Sobieski.) 1674-1696.

I.8.25

Though he convoked diet after diet, in the hope of obtaining the necessary supplies, diet after diet was dissolved by the fatal veto; for the same reason, he could not procure the adoption of the many salutary courses he recommended, to banish anarchy, to put the kingdom on a permanent footing of defence, and to amend the laws.—P. 209.

FREDERIC AUGUSTUS. 1696-1733.

I.8.26

Frederic Augustus died early in 1733. His reign was one continued scene of disasters; many of which may be imputed to himself, but more, perhaps, to the influence of circumstances.—P. 225.

FREDERIC AUGUSTUS II. 1733-1763.

I.8.27

Though, under Frederic Augustus, Poland entered on no foreign war, his reign was the most disastrous in her annals. While the Muscovite and Prussian armies traversed her plains at pleasure, and extorted whatever they pleased; while one faction openly opposed another, not merely in the diet, but on the field; while every national assembly was immediately dissolved by the veto, the laws could not be expected to exercise much authority. They were, in fact, utterly disregarded; the tribunals were divided, or forcibly overturned, and brute force prevailed on every side. The miserable peasants vainly sought the protection of their lords, who were either powerless or indifferent to their complaints. While thousands expired of hunger, a far greater number sought to relieve their necessities by open depredations. Bands of robbers, less formidable only than the kindred masses congregated under the name of soldiers, infested the country in every direction. Famine aided the devastations of both; the population, no less than the wealth of the kingdom, decreased with frightful rapidity.—P. 232.

STANISLAS AUGUSTUS. 1763-1795.

I.8.28

During the few following years, Poland presented the spectacle of a country exhausted alike by its own dissensions and the arms of its enemies. The calm was unusual, and would have been a blessing could any salutary laws have been adopted by the diet. Many such, indeed, were proposed, the most signal of which was the emancipation of the serfs; but the very proposition was received with such indignation by the selfish nobles, that Russian gold was not wanted to defeat the other measures with which it was accompanied—the suppression of the veto, and the establishment of an hereditary monarchy.—P. 242.... The republic was thus erased from the list of nations after an existence of near ten centuries. That a country without government (for Poland had none, properly so called, after the extinction of the Jagellos, 1572), without finances, without army, and depending for its existence, year after year, on tumultuous levies, ill-disciplined, ill-armed, and worse paid, should have so long preserved its independence, in defiance, too, of the powerful nations around, and with a great portion of its own inhabitants, whom ages of tyranny had exasperated hostile to its success—is the most astonishing fact in all history. What valour must that have been, which could enable one hundred thousand men to trample on a whole nation naturally prone to revolt, and bid defiance to Europe and Asia—to Christian and Mussulman, both ever ready to invade the republic!—P. 256.


Notes for this chapter


86.
Pacta conventa meant a fresh bargain, which was made by the nobles at every succeeding election of a king, and by which their own powers and privileges were constantly augmented.
87.
Those whom God would destroy, He first deprives of reason.

Volume I, Part III, Letter I

End of Notes


Start PREVIOUS
13 of 24
NEXT End

Return to top