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among the Sclaves in their savage condition,' adds the indignant historian."*
In this way our French critic comes to understand, what, but for M. Salvandy's help, was to him unintelligible-how it was that the heroic king of Poland was not treated as a king by the Eldest Son of the Church -how it was that the hero who had saved Vienna received but an icy greeting and constrained thanks from Leopold, that crowned runaway, even on the battle-field of victory itself. All this is now made intelligible enough, not merely by the haughtiness of Louis and the ingratitude of Leopold-both of them unjustifiable-but by that discredit which is the penalty a weak government has to pay, and by the disfavour excited in Europe generally by the too voluntary défaillances of Polish royalty. What was Poland to Louis XIV. and Leopold (not that they are to be excused on this account) but a nation for whose courage a means of employing it was thought ample recompense-one of those countries of which people said ironically what Montesquieu afterwards said of the degenerate Persians (in Alexander's time), that they were "trop grands pour se corriger"-and whose politics, alliance, hostility, services even, were in no instance taken seriously. Or what, to the same royal contemporaries, was Sobieski himself, but a "gentilhomme audacieux, clever general, a parvenu prince and a deceived husband—a deserving man enough, in his own rank, but quite of another order from Nous Autres.
His correspondence shows that Sobieski keenly felt and resented the "cold-shouldering" process to which Leopold and Louis subjected him. Austria's coldness was the worst.
When the fierce Turk unhinged her door,
And Sobieski struggled hard
To bar it, what was his reward ?+
In a letter to his wife, dated September, 1683,-to her whom he never fails to call the only joy of his life, his "charming, darling Marietta,"he thus vents the bitterness of his spirit, as he thinks of what seems but yesterday, and contrasts it with to-day : To-day we appear to be plague-patients, that everybody flies from; while, previous to the battle (of Vienna) my tents, which, thank God! are roomy enough, could scarcely hold the crowd of comers. . . . . And now there is nothing left us but to grieve as we see our army perishing, not under the blows of the enemy, but by the fault of those who owe us everything. ... The Emperor, I see, no longer cares about me. They have got back to their old haughtiness; they look as if they had even forgot there is a God above them!" Sobieski could not so soon forget Vienna Saved. He thought Austria might be a little more mindful of so recent an experience. He had, in Othello's phrase, done the state some service, and they knew it. For not more thoroughly could Venice have known who saved her from the Turks, or more entirely have endorsed the Moor's self-portraiture as an ever available, true as steel, hardy as steel antiOttomite,
* Etudes Historiques (dernières), t. i.: "Jean Sobieski."
But though Sobieski trusted his secret to Marietta, to the world he did not. To the world he showed a smiling face-smiling at the slights and insults offered him by ungracious and ungrateful principalities and powers. To Louis XIV., who had in effect taken part with the Turk, as the saying then was, he addressed his felicitations on the deliverance of Vienna, as to the Eldest Son of the Church, and Very Christian King. To Leopold he said, when receiving that imperial personage, on his impertinently condescending visit to the glacis of Vienna Preserved, "Sire, I am very glad to have rendered you this little service." Surely this was humouring Imperialism to the top of its bent; for it may be doubted whether a vainglorious and self-sufficient emperor suspected irony, or mock-humility, in the homage of his obsequious saviour.
The Venerable historian of the House of Austria-ex officio, or archidiaconally Venerable-contrasts the position of Sobieski and Leopold on the morrow of the crisis,—that is, after the play of Vienna Preserved had just been played out,-with damaging effect as regards the Habsburg. In the first place, Sobieski was ardently congratulated on the field of battle by excited throngs. Next morning, he entered the capital he had saved, and was surrounded by eager citizens, in the flush of gratitude for a great deliverance, crowds of whom struggled to kiss his feet, and were exultant if they could so much as touch his raiment. Their enthusiasm bordered on the idolatrous. Their welcome almost merged in adoration. It was only with extreme difficulty he could make his way through this fervid and fermenting mass, to the cathedral, where he knelt, and gave thanks for the victory God had given him. The same crowds blocked up his return to the camp,-on reaching which, elated in no common degree, the King of Poland declared this to be the happiest day of his life.
And how entered Leopold the same city, two days later? Without welcome or acclamation of any kind. There was the sound of cannon, indeed; but even that was not in honour of him; it was in honour of Sobieski's triumph. And he too, as Sobieski had done, repaired to the cathedral. But there was no pressure to retard his steps; and he gloomily wended his way on foot, carrying a taper in his hand, and with all the outward marks of enforced penitence and degradation, rather than of jubilant speed to a thanksgiving service.
But let us quote Archdeacon Coxe's account of the subsequent meeting between Austria's Emperor and Poland's King. "A heart far more phlegmatic than that of Leopold, must have deeply felt the difference between the unbridled effusions of gratitude and joy which had welcomed Sobieski, and the faint, reluctant, studied homage which accompanied his own return. . . . These feelings [on Leopold's part] overcame all sentiments of admiration or gratitude towards Sobieski]. Instead of hurrying to the Polish camp to pour forth his acknowledgments to the conqueror, he seemed anxious to evade a meeting, and made inquiries
* Othello, Act I. Sc. 3.
† See Cuv.-Fleury, ubi suprà.
whether an elective monarch had ever been admitted to an interview with an emperor, and in what manner he should be received. • With open arms,' replied the duke of Lorraine, who was disgusted with his pride and apathy, and alive only to sensations of reverence for the deliverer of Vienna; but Leopold wanted liberality of sentiment to bear an obligation, and settled the formalities of the interview with the punctilious spirit of a herald.
"The two monarchs met on horseback, between the Austrian and Polish armies. The emperor, plainly clad and meanly mounted, stiff and awkward in his dress and deportment; Sobieski, habited as on the day of battle, rode a superb courser richly caparisoned, and the natural gracefulness of his mien was dignified by a consciousness of his former triumphs, and recent victory. On a concerted signal, the two sovereigns advanced, saluted each other at the same moment, and embraced. The conversation was short and formal. Sobieski, frank, cordial, and tremblingly alive to fame and honour, was disgusted with his punctilious reception; he impatiently listened to faint, embarrassed, and reluctant expressions of gratitude which Leopold was endeavouring to articulate, and after a second embrace withdrew to his tent, leaving to his chancellor Zaluski to accompany the emperor in reviewing those troops who had defeated the Turks, and saved the house of Austria."*
In other quarters, where no petty jealousies, no selfish scruples and official animosities prevailed, the glory of Sobieski was rapturously asserted, and recognised with general acclaim. For the time he filled the hearts and occupied the tongues of men. He was the Charles Martel of the age. Poets of foreign lands were emulous to immortalise themselves in, with, or through him. La Fontaine had preluded one of his Fables with this homage to him who conquered the Turks at Choczim, ten years before (after which victory, by-the-by, Sobieski passed some time in Paris, and used often to meet La Fontaine at Madame de la Sablière's—where one could wish to have had a glimpse of them both): E coute z ce récit,
Que je tiens d'un roi plein de gloire.
Le défenseur du Nord vous sera mon garant:
And now Edmund Waller, in England, hailed, in almost octogenarian
The glorious Prince that doth the Turk confound;
and lustier lungs in this and other climes were more or less inflated by the same swelling theme.
It was the last cloud of incense that should gather over him. Henceforth the King of Poland was to wage an inglorious strife with his own subjects. Some twelve or thirteen years he survived that "happiest day of his life," when all Vienna rose at him-when, in its seething highways,
* Coxe, History of the House of Austria, vol. ii. ch. lxvi.
Fables de La Fontaine, 1. x. fable i.
That day his star had touched its culminating point, and thenceforth it was to decline, and finally to sink as it were in an ever lowering sky. As with his star, so with Poland's; for with him Polish greatness is commonly said to have expired.
Alison draws a melancholy picture of the aged hero, whose end was seemingly advanced by the ingratitude and dissensions of his subjects during his latter years; and quotes a "memorable and prophetic speech" of Sobieski's to the senate, in which the baffled sovereign assumed the style and adopted the very words of the Hebrew seer. "Believe me, the eloquence of your tribunes, instead of being turned against the throne, would be better directed against those who, by their disorders, are bringing down upon our country the cry of the prophet, which I, alas! hear too clearly rolling over our heads: Yet forty years, and Nineveh will be no more.' Not that his anticipation was fulfilled to the letter; his own glorious deeds, as Sir Archibald says, despite the insanity of his subjects, prolonged the existence of Poland for nearly a hundred years. But succeeding events, as that historian goes on to show, proved every day more clearly the truth of Sobieski's prediction. The conquest of the frontier town of Kaminieck from the Turks, achieved by the terror of his name after he was no more (so literally might one say that
Even in his ashes lived their wonted fire),
was the last triumph of the republic. "He was also its last national sovereign, and the last who possessed any estimation in the world. With him disappeared both its power and its ascendancy among other nations. From that period successive foreign armies invaded its provinces, and invaded it never to recede. The different factions of the state, steeped in the bitterness of party strife, and exhausted by their efforts for mutual destruction, sought in this support of strangers the means of wreaking their vengeance on each other.' Foreign ambition, it is added, as a thing of course, gladly responded to the call; and, under the pretence of terminating its distractions, armed one-half of the country against the other; -the adjoining powers soon became omnipotent in so divided a community all hastened to place themselves under the banners of some neighbouring sovereign. "By turns the Saxons, Swedes, Muscovites, Imperialists, and Prussians, ruled its destinies: Poland was no more; according to his own prophecy, it descended into the tomb with the greatest of its sons." From that tomb, nevertheless, a sanguine patriotism believes that it, being dead, yet speaketh,—and this the burden of its strain, Resurgam.
There is plain truth, however, though unpalatable, in what a plainspoken essayist recently observed, that the wrongs of Poland have taught
* Coriolanus, Act II. Sc. 1.
† History of Europe, ch. xvii. sect. 33 et seq.
the world not only to forgive, but to forget, her previous errors; and that never was there seen a nation so organised as she was for anarchy and misery down to the very period of her fall. This authority reminds us that a highly oppressive and exclusive, as well as most beggarly aristocracy, constituted about one-tenth of the population; that the people were serfs; that the middle class were Jews; and that it is a familiar fact that the Diet met for the election of the king on the plains of Warsaw, in arms and on horseback, and that each member had a veto. "It is a fact less
familiar, but equally grotesque, that each member of the Legislative Diet had a veto, not only on each act of legislation, but on the whole legislation of each session. The political life of the nation was an unbroken course of factious violence, intrigue, and corruption. Down to the very last moment no real political progress of any kind had been made. . . . The military gentry of Poland possessed in a very high degree the virtues of such a caste, as was shown on many a brilliant and romantic field. Other virtues they had none. Nor were the Voltairean despots who, with the hypocritical and canting rapacity of their sect, perpetrated the great act of spoliation, wholly without colour of excuse. The elective crown had been hawked about Europe by the Polish factions till it had become a universal apple of discord and a universal nuisance. To extinguish the source of interminable contention by at once making a partition of the booty, might seem to Imperial beasts a not unnatural or unpardonable
John Sobieski was by no means the first of his line to foresee the decadence, not to say the destruction, of Poland's practically impracticable constitution. Has not Mr. Carlyle pictured for us old John Casimir, "chivalrous enough, and with clouds of forward Polish chivalry about him, glittering with barbaric gold,"-to wit, in the Polish-Swedish war of 1665-1660,-getting tired of his unruly Polish chivalry and their ways, abdicating, retiring to Paris (where he "lived much," rather too much, "with Ninon de l'Enclos and her circle," for the rest of his life), and there complaining often and feelingly of his Polish chivalry aforesaid, that there was no solidity in them; nothing but outside glitter, with tumult and anarchic noise; "fatal want of one essential talent, the talent of Obeying; and has been heard to prophesy," adds Mr. Carlyle, of this same old Johann Casimir, "that a glorious Republic, persisting in such courses, would arrive at results which would surprise it." A goal it took a very short time to reach.
Salvandy's reviewer in the Foreign Quarterly has graphically depicted the dreary close of John Sobieski's reign, as embittered by a factious nobility, an intriguing wife, and domestic discords. Sick of the court, he fled, we are told, into the forests, or wandered from one castle to another, or pitched his tent wherever a beautiful valley, picturesque landscapes, the mountain torrent, or any natural object attracted his attention. "Sick, too, of the world, he sought for consolation in religion and in philosophy. There might be something of pedantry in his manners, but he was sincerely attached to letters. He not only cultivated them with assiduity
*Saturday Review, No. 290, Art. "Poland."
† Carlyle's Hist. of Frederick II., book iii. ch. xviii.