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him his august protection, accordingly; but, adds Madame, "it is not believed that he will gain the election, on account of his being of a contrary religion to that of the people."*
The obstacle was by no means insuperable, and John Sobieski, amid great enthusiasm, was called to the throne. Louis, instead of supporting him (called he this, backing of his friend?), espoused the cause of Philip of Neuburg; and another candidate (there were ten in all†), Charles of Lorraine, was backed by Austria; while Sobieski himself proposed the Prince of Condé, as a fit and proper person to be the Serene Elect of the Poles. But an eloquent speech, full of objections to all these candidates, strangers and foreigners at the best, was delivered by the palatine Jablonowski, whose peroration was thus pregnantly worded: "Let a Pole reign over Poland." That was the palatine's general principle. And what was his special application of it? Briefly this: Let that Pole be John Sobieski.
Tumultuous cheering answered the proposal. All the Polish and Lithuanian nobles there present shouted "Long live John the Third," till they were hoarse with enthusiasm. The palatine's motion was carried by acclamation. A Pole was the man for Poland, unless they were no longer to have Poland for the Poles.
Among Milton's prose writings may be read a stately translation of the Letters-patent "for the election of this present King of Poland, John the Third, elected on the 22nd of May last past, A.D. 1674, now faithfully translated from the Latin copy." In the November following, Milton departed this life. This Declaration alludes to the reproach cast upon the nation, under pretence of a secret maxim, "That none can be elected King of Poland, but such as are born out of Poland ;" and it sets forth the national right, and will, to have one of her own sons at the helm of government. Neither did she seek long, it continues, for one among her citizens whom she should prefer above the rest; "for although in the equality of our nobles many might be elected, yet the virtue of a hero appeared above his equals: therefore the eyes and minds of all men were willingly, and by a certain divine instinct, turned upon the high marshal of the kingdom, captain of the army, John Sobieski. The admirable virtue of the man, the high power of marshal in the court, with his supreme command in arms, senatorial honour, with his civil modesty, the extraordinary splendour of his birth and fortune, with open courtesy, piety towards God, love to his fellow-citizens in words and deeds; constancy, faithfulness, and clemency towards his very enemies, and what noble things soever can be said of a hero, did lay such golden chains on the minds and tongues of all, that the senate and people of Poland and of the great dukedom of Lithuania, with suffrages and agreeing voices, named and chose him their king, not with his seeking or precipitate counsel, but with mature deliberations continued and extended till the third day."+
The Declaration in question-handsomely subscribed by a power of dukes, bishops, palatines, castellans, and senators-goes on to say, that
Madame de Sévigné to Madame de Grignan, Jan. 1, 1674.
† Abrégé Chron. de l'Hist. de Pologne, p. 264.
Milton's Prose Works, vol. iii. pp. 479 sq., edit. 1848.
the famous glory of war paved Sobieski's way to the throne. That he, the first of all the Polonians, showed that the Scythian swiftness (troublesome heretofore to all the monarchies in the world) might be repressed by a standing fight, and the terrible main battalion of the Turk be broken and routed at one stroke.
It tells of threescore cities taken by him from the Cossacks. It tells of three sultans of the Crim Tartars slain by his strong right hand. It dwells on the miracles of hardness and fortitude exhibited by him and his scanty forces. For years past, not a year of them all but he had a victory to show. "But the felicity of this last autumn exceeded all his victories; whenas the fortifications at Chocimum, famous of old, were possessed and fortified by above forty thousand Turks . . . fell to the ground within a few hours, by the only (under God) imperatorious valour and prudence of Sobietzki; for he counted it his chief part to go about the watches, order the stations, and personally to inspect the preparations of warlike ordnance, to encourage the soldiers with voice, hands, and countenance, wearied with hunger, badness of weather, and three days standing in arms; and he (which is most to be admired) on foot at the head of the foot forces, made through, and forced his way to the battery, hazarding his life devoted to God and his country; and thereupon made a cruel slaughter within the camp and fortifications of the enemy; while the desperation of the Turk whetted their valour, and he performed the part of a most provident and valiant captain: at which time three bashaws were slain ...; eight thousand janizaries, twenty thousand chosen spachies, besides the more common soldiers, were cut off; the whole camp, with all their ammunition and great ordnance, besides the Assyrian and Phrygian wealth of luxurious Asia, were taken and pillaged," &c. &c. "Why therefore should not such renowned heroic valour be crowned with the legal reward of a diadem? All Christendom have gone before us in example, which, being arrived to the recovery of Jerusalem, under the conduct of Godfrey of Bulloin, on their own accord gave him that kingdom, for that he first scaled the walls of that city. Our most serene elect is not inferior, for he first ascended two main fortresses of the enemy." Nor were the Warszyckis, and Polubinskis, and Grzymaltouskis, unwilling, if you came to historical parallels, to be accounted the Raimonds, and Tancreds, and Rinaldos of this new Godfrey.
Alison refers to authentic documents in proof of the then existence of a project, by the neighbouring powers, to take advantage of the distracted state of Poland, and divide its territory among themselves; a design postponed only in consequence of Sobieski's vast reputation and heroic character, which secured the republic another century life, and "threw a ray of glory over its declining fortunes." And it is remarked by this historian, that of the powers whose unworthy alliance, at the close of the eighteenth century, effected the destruction of the oldest republic in the world, all had arisen out of its ruins, or been spared by its arms: Prussia, once a province of Poland, had grown out of the spoils of its ancient ruler; Austria owed to the intervention of a Polish champion its deliverance from the sword of the Mussulman; and long
* Milton's Prose Works, vol. iii. pp. 482 sq.
before the French eagles approached the Kremlin, a Polish army had conquered Moscow; and the Sarmatians had placed a son of their own king on the throne of Russia.
"Nothing," Sir Archibald affirms, "can so strongly demonstrate the wonderful power of democracy as a spring, and its desolating effects when not compressed by a firm regulator, as the history of John Sobieski..... No efforts on the part of the sagacious hero could induce the impatient nobility to submit to any burdens, in order to establish a permanent force for the public safety. The defence of the frontiers was again entrusted to a few thousand undisciplined horsemen; and the Polish nation incurred the disgrace of allowing its heroic king, the deliverer of Christendom, to be besieged for months, with fifteen thousand men, by innumerable hordes of barbarians, before the tardy pospolite advanced to his relief.-Sobieski, worn out with his ineffectual endeavours to create a regular government, or establish a permanent force for the protection of Poland, clearly foresaw the future fate of the republic. Before his accession to the throne, he had united with the primate and sixteen hundred of its principal citizens to overturn the phantom of equality with which they were perpetually opposed, and to use his own words, rescue the republic from the insane tyranny of a plebeian noblesse."" To overturn a phantom with which you are perpetually opposed, that, of course, is not expressed in the "own words" of John Sobieski, but is too radically Alisonian to be mistaken for another's. But we have one more sentence to quote from Sir Archibald, which, though highly Alisonian in texture, is less ambitiously so than the last. Sobieski's "reign was one incessant struggle with the principles of anarchy which were implanted in his dominions; and he at length sank under the experienced impossibility of remedying them."*
It has been said of M. de Salvandy's History of Poland that the author nous pénètre de regrets when he narrates the triumphs of Sobieski, that brave and modest warrior, as Barante calls him, so loyal, so pious, so good and great a man,—“ disdained by the empty pride of Louis XIV., who makes a dupe of him, and by the ingratitude of the Emperor Leopold, whom he has saved,-treated by both of them as a soldier of fortune and a parvenu king."+ The fruitlessness of all Sobieski's strenuous endeavours to make Poland a powerful and happy nation is of a kind that might constrain one to fear, "que rien n'a pu fructifier sur ce sol inculte et barbare." Brilliant as were his victories, they did not excite to the formation of an army. Glory itself was without practical influence. Patriotism was deficient in reason and fidelity. All was hasty and short-lived. Courage, devotion, the virtues alike of warriors and civilians, seemed to be, in that doomed, decaying people, a mere feu de paille, bright enough one moment, and extinct the next.
It so happened, we read in Doctor Miller's Philosophy of History, that this hero of his time was, notwithstanding, the slave of his wife, whose cabinet is described as the tomb of the laws and of liberty. Such a reign, accordingly, glorious as it was abroad, maintained at home that series of disorders, which had attracted the government of preceding
* Alison's History of Europe, vol. iii ch. xvii. § 32 sq.
princes, the foreign and domestic interests of the state being administered as if by two sovereigns the most directly contrasted. While the military genius of Sobieski ennobled the history of his country by his successful interposition for the deliverance of the imperial capital, the growing anarchy of that country advanced to its maturity, as if the sceptre were swayed by a feeble and incapable monarch.*
The foregoing allusion to petticoat government reminds us of an apposite illustration in M. Villemain's remarks on letter-writing, as a medium for the study of character. "Après les confessions qui sont si rares," he says, "rien ne peint mieux l'homme que les lettres." In real life, familiar epistolary correspondence, although it may fib and falsify now and then, furnishes, upon the whole, the most authentic mémoires that are to be had of the most celebrated personages in history. M. Villemain'si llustration, as a proof-example, is the Letters of John Sobieski. When you read them, he says, you see him, even in the flush of conquest, worried by an overbearing wife; you see him, amid all the treasures he has taken for spoil, writing to this wife in terms anxiously designed to humour her arrogance, and flatter her coquettishness. He promises her the splendid pillage of the Vizier's harem. His letters also detect him in the act of recommending a good article to be "cooked" for publication in the Vienna Gazette, to the praise and glory of his victory. This last little revelation is of a kind that no autobiographic memoirs would be likely to insert; and hence the preference assigned by M. Villemain to letters, as affording unintentional glimpses and side-views of character.
M. de Barante speaks more respectfully and sympathisingly, both of the uxoriousness and the letter-writing of John Sobieski. He calls him a real and substantial man-a man of solidity and strength, and at the same time, "of an amiable simplicity"-not altogether with his hair on end at his own wonders, yet étonné de sa gloire comme de sa royauté. What can be more touching, the Baron asks, than the first words penned by him to his beloved Mariette, on the morrow after a great victory ?— "Ah! the goodness of God! my dear Mariette."+
Saint-Simon, who had no liking for parvenus, whether of royal or lower degree, was fain to say of Sobieski: "This great man is so well known that I shall not devote much space to him."§ And Salvandy|| vindicates the intrinsic fitness of the title, ce grand homme, by showing the king, who was great in and by qualities that might seem exclusively Polish, to have been still more so by his possession of virtues which would have made a great king of the great man, anywhere out of Poland. But, as M. Cuvillier-Fleury sententiously observes: "Il est rare qu'on gouverne un pays libre avec les vertus qu'il n'a pas." And just as Lord Chesterfield once said of Louis XIV., that, if not a great man, at any rate he was a great king; so, or rather inversely, the critic last quoted would say of John Sobieski, Grand homme, s'il ne fut pas grand roi. On the throne, in his government of the State, in his disaction of the Diets, in his conduct of negotiations, in all the reforms undertaken by him, in the
*History, Philosophically Illustrated, vol. iv. ch. iv.
† See Villemain's Tableau du XVIII® Siècle, t. iii. leçon ii. Lettres de Sobieski, edit. Salvandy.
§ Mémoires de Saint-Simon. Histoire du roi Jean Sobieski et du Royaume de Pologne, 1855.
control of his own household, Sobieski sustained his position only by dint of resignation, devotedness, concessions, intelligence, and address-by a lavish outlay of the resources of his mind and his wealth of words, not unfrequently of the contents of his privy-purse-but never by dint of his personal authority, and that mien of Olympian Jove,
Annuit et totum nutu tremefecit Olympum,
which constitutes the peculiar superiority of Louis XIV. True, there was a great difference, not only between the two kings, but between the two countries, notwithstanding the sympathetic affinities that were one day to connect them. But other kings of Poland had left traces of their sway which Sobieski's reign fails to show. The reforms of Casimir the Great are still talked of, although the Polish nobility abolished them after his death; and so is the territorial aggrandisement which Poland owed to the Jagellons, though in this case too the acquisition was scarcely sooner made than lost. But the creations of Sobieski were even shorter-lived than himself, and his very conquests were of a merely defensive kind.
"Whence, then," inquires M. Cuvillier-Fleury," this want of authority on the part of so great a man? Was it the consequence of his age? He was fifty years old when his election took place, and we know, by more memorable instances than one, that this is not the age of political decrepitude. Was it the fact of his election? That had been altogether glorious for Sobieski, and highly agreeable to Louis XIV.; it was a great event in Europe, and in Poland it was like a triumph over anarchy. Was it his marriage that had weakened the ascendancy of King John Sobieski? Sobieski had been ten years married when he became king (in 1674), and his wife had been popular up to the moment of her becoming queen. 'Nous avons une reine Arquien,' wrote Mademoiselle de Scudéry, I believe. That was said in France with a smile on the lips; in Poland it was said seriously. All things taken into account, then, if that ascendancy which monarchs acquire by a certain dose of energetic and persistent will, and which is the efficient substitute, in some of their number, for intellectual superiority, while the most eminent qualities fail to supply its place in the highest class of minds-if this ascendancy be wanting in King Sobieski, the reason is that he had it not in him. And how deny this, when he is for ever taking the pains to say as much, in the familiar correspondence which M. de Salvandy has so curiously interwoven with his history? when he writes, for example, I am so unfortunate, as to be unable to persuade any one: they for ever do just the contrary to what I desire.' How deny it, when we see him, at a decisive moment, bind himself, and bind Poland too, by an oath of gratuitous solemnity, which places him at the disposal of the Emperor Leopold, and to which he brought, his historian spirituellement observes, toute la candeur de son âme ? How deny it, in short, when in full Diet, on that very throne upon which the aged king presides over the stormy debates of his nobility, he is on one occasion exposed to such insults from a member of the Lithuanian Pac family, that the king put his hand to his scimeter,' says the author, and the Lithuanian replied to the royal challenge by promising to let him feel, anew, the weight of his arm.' This was in 1685. Sobieski was sixty-one years old. Just the same state of things existed