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The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 18


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The strong towns and fortresses of Prussia were all surrendered with as much rapidity as the army had been dispersed. They were, for the most part, commanded by imbecile or cowardly old villains; nay, there is every reason to believe that, in many instances, they sold the places to the French, and were paid their traitor-fees out of the military chests of the respective fortresses. In many cases the soldiers and inhabitants were so enraged at them, that they only escaped alive through the protection of the French. The strong fortress of Hameln was yielded by baron von Schöler; Plassenburg, by a baron von Becker; Nimburg, on the Weser, by a baron von Dresser; Spandau, by a count von Benkendorf. The citadel of Berlin capitulated without a blow, and Stettin, though well provided with the material of war, was surrendered by a baron von Romberg. Custrin, one of the strongest fortified places, was opened to the French when the king had scarcely quitted it. In Silesia the same disgraceful scenes took place. The French, under Vandamme, accompanied by a body of Bavarians and Würtembergers, quickly overran the whole country. Glogau, Breslau, Burg, Schweidnitz, all were yielded up in the same manner. In Glogau, when the commandant, von Reinhardt, was urged to fire on the besiegers, lie replied, " Ali! you do not know what one shot costs the king! " When old count von Haath had the windows of his hotel broken by the enraged people, he said to the landlord, " Sir, you must have some enemies." A few fortresses, as Glatz, Neisse, Kosel, and Silberberg, only made a firm stand. The last, situated on an impregnable rock, refused all terms of surrender.

Whilst these events were so rapidly progressing, Louis Buonaparte, the new king of Holland, with an army of French and Dutch, had overrun, with scarcely any opposition, Westphalia, Hanover, Emden, and East Friesland. The unfortunate king of Prussia, who had seen his kingdom vanish like a dream, had fled to Köningsberg, where he was defended by the gallant L'Estoc, and awaited the hoped-for junction of the Russians marching to his aid. Gustavus Adolphus, of Sweden, forgetting the slighted advice which he had offered to Prussia to unite with Austria, opened Stralsund and Riga to the fugitive Prussians.

Having put Prussia under his feet, Buonaparte proceeded to settle the fate of her allies, Saxony and Hesse-Cassel. Saxony, which had been forced into hostilities against France by Prussia, was at once admitted by Buonaparte to his alliance. He raised the prince to the dignity of king, and introduced him as a member of the confederacy of the Rhine. The small states of Saxe-Weimar and Saxe-Gotha were admitted to his alliance on the same terms of vassalage; but Hesse-Cassel was wanted to make part of the new kingdom of Westphalia, and, though it had not taken up arms at all, Buonaparte declared that it had been secretly hostile to France, and that the house of Hesse-Cassel had ceased to reign. Louis Buonaparte had seized it, made it over to the keeping of general Mortier, and then marched back to Holland. Mortier then proceeded to reoccupy Hanover, Which he did in the middle of November, and then marched to Hamburg. He was in hopes of seizing a large quantity of British goods, as he had done at Leipzic, but in this he was disappointed, for the Hamburg merchants, being warned by the fate of Leipzic, had made haste, disposed of all their British articles, and ordered no fresh ones. Buonaparte, in his vexation, ordered Mortier to seize the money in the banks; but Bourrienne wrote to him, showing him the great impolicy of such a step, and he refrained.

But his great measure, at this period, was the blow aimed at the commerce of England, and comprised in his celebrated Berlin Decrees, promulgated on the 21st of November. He had subjugated nearly the whole of the European continent. Spain, Portugal, Italy, on the south of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Prussia, to the north, with nearly the whole sea-board of Europe, were under his hand and his armies. He had found that he could not invade England; her fleet had risen triumphant, his own fleet had disappeared like a vapour at Trafalgar. As, therefore, he could not reach her soil, he determined to destroy her by destroying her commerce, on which he imagined not merely her prosperity but her very existence depended. As he was master of nearly all continental Europe, he supposed it as easy for him to exclude by his fiat the merchandise of England, as to put down old dynasties and set up new ones. He had yet to learn that commerce has a conquering power greater than that of martial genius or of arms. " The delirium," says Pouche, " caused by the wonderful results of the Prussian campaign completed the intoxication of France. She prided herself upon having been saluted by the name of the Great Nation by her emperor, who had triumphed over the genius and the work of Frederick. Napoleon believed himself the son of Destiny, called to break every sceptre. Peace, and even a truce with England, were no longer thought of. The idea of destroying the power of England, the sole obstacle to universal monarchy, now became his fixed resolve. It was with this view that he established his continental system, the first decree concerning which was dated from Berlin. He thought not merely of subjecting England by this - he believed he should effect her destruction."

These were his first decrees: - I. The British Isles were declared in a state of blockade. II. All commerce and correspondence with England was forbidden. All English letters were to be seized in the post-houses. III. Every Englishman, of whatever rank or quality, found in France, or the countries allied with her, was declared a prisoner of war. IV. All merchandise or property of any kind belonging to English subjects was declared lawful prize. Y. All articles of English manufacture, and articles produced in her colonies, were, in like manner, declared contraband and lawful prize. VI. Half of the produce of the above confiscations was to be employed in the relief of those merchants whose vessels had been captured by the English cruisers. VII. All vessels Coming from England or the English colonies were to be refused admission into any harbour in or connected with France. These decrees were to be promulgated and made binding wherever the French power extended. We shall see that these decrees had no effect whatever in checking the commerce of Great Britain; on the contrary, it continued to increase all through the continental wars and embargo of Buonaparte; but the distress to the continental merchants, and the exasperation of the people deprived of the English manufactures, became immediately conspicuous. Bourrienne says that the fiscal tyranny thus created became intolerable. At the same time, the desire of revenue induced Buonaparte to allow his decrees to be infringed by the payment of exorbitant license? for the import of English goods. French goods, also, were lauded with incredible impudence, though they were bought only to be thrown into the sea. Hamburg, Bourdeaux, Nantes, and other continental ports solicited, by petitions and deputations, some relaxation of the system, to prevent universal ruin. They declared that general bankruptcy must ensue if it were continued. "Be it so," replied Buonaparte, arrogantly; "the more insolvency on the continent, the more ruin in England." As they could not bend Buonaparte, merchants, douaniers, magistrates, prefects, generals - all combined in one system of fraudulent papers, bills of lading, certificates by which English goods were admitted and circulated under other names, for sufficient bribes. The only mischief which his embargo did was to the nations of the continent, especially Holland, Belgium, Germany, and to himself; for his rigour in this respect was one of the things which drove the whole of Europe to abominate his tyranny, and rejoice in his eventual fall.

Whilst issuing these decrees, Napoleon was also planning further conquests in Russia, and, for this purpose, he sent an order for a new conscription of eighty thousand men. This was submitted to, but the senate dispatched a deputation to him at Berlin, praying him to make the Oder the limit to his conquests. Buonaparte was highly incensed at this presumption, but he sent the deputation back again, loaded with the spoils of Potsdam and Berlin, including three hundred and forty-six stand of colours taken from the Prussians, as the best panacea for the impatience of the French nation.

The emperor of Russia was now fast advancing towards the Vistula in support of Prussia, and the contest appeared likely to take place in Poland; and Buonaparte, with his usual hollow adroitness, held out delusive hopes to the Poles of his restoring their unity and independence, in order to call them into universal action against Russia and Prussia. Hal he really been the great man which his worshippers have represented him - had he really desired to conquer only to avenge the nations of their oppressors, and restore them to freedom - he would truly have been one of the grandest characters that ever appeared in history; but Buonaparte was no such man. He had a great genius for military action, and an insatiable and most selfish ambition for treading every nation under his feet, and making them feudatories of France. Now was his opportunity, had he desired to play a truly august and god-like part. Never had a people been so ruthlessly and detestably torn in pieces and shared up amongst these great cormorant powers. Two of those powers were already thrown down by Buonaparte; he was advancing against the third. A simple, honest, and hearty declaration, that he would restore Poland to all its ancient rights, integrity, and independence would have brought over to him every Pole, to a man; nothing could have been easier than to accomplish that noble object, and all mankind would have honoured the achiever of so righteous a deed to the end of time. But Buonaparte was incapable of feeling such honour - of appreciating such glory. He was incapable of more than a juggling, swindling use of dubious phrases, for the purpose of bringing the Poles to work his will, and then adding their country to the rest of those now chained to his chariot-wheels. There were Poles weak enough, or sufficiently blinded by their love of country, to listen to and believe such mountebank addresses as that which he issued at Posen on the 1st of December: - "The love of country - that national sentiment - has not only been preserved in the heart of the Polish people, but it has been strengthened by misfortune. Their first passion, their strongest desire, is to become a nation. The richest amongst them quit their chateaux, to come and demand, with loud cries, the re-establishment of the kingdom, and to offer their sons, their fortunes, their influence. This spectacle is truly touching. Already have they everywhere resumed their ancient costume - their ancient customs. Will the throne of Poland be established? Will this great nation recover its existence and independence? From the bottom of the grave, will it rise again to a new life? " But, whilst asking these questions, Buonaparte took care not to answer them in the affirmative. There was no hearty declaration that he would fight with them for that cause, and the disappointed people shrunk back in hopeless suspicion. There were, indeed, sonic of the nobles weak enough to believe in Buonaparte's stage speeches, and to prostrate themselves at his feet in the vilest adulation, using this language: - " Already we see our dear country saved, for in your person we adore the most just and the most profound Solon. We commit our fate and our hopes into your hands, and we implore the mighty protection of the most august Caesar!" Buonaparte had, moreover, a number of Poles, the remnant of the army of Kosciusko, serving in his army. If they were not able to save their own country, they delighted to assist in trampling down those robber powers which had dismembered their fatherland. Amongst the most distinguished of these was the general Dombrowski. Buonaparte sent for him to head-quarters, and employed him to raise regiments of his countrymen. By such lures, he obtained a considerable number of such men; but his grand scheme was to obtain the presence and the sanction of the great and popular patriot, Kosciusko. If he were to appear and call to arms, all Poland would believe in its destinies, and rise. Kosciusko was living in honourable poverty near Fontainebleau, and Buonaparte had made many attempts to engage him in his service, as he had done Dombrowski; but Kosciusko saw too thoroughly the character of the man he pleaded the state of his wounds and of his health as incapacitating him for the fatigues of war, but he privately made no secret amongst his friends that he regarded Napoleon as a mere selfish conqueror, who would only use Poland as a tool to enslave other nations, never to enfranchise herself. In vain did Buonaparte now urge him to come forward and fight for his country; he steadfastly declined; but Buonaparte resolved to have the influence of his name, by means true or false. He sent him a proclamation to the Poles, requesting him to put his name to it. The patriot refused, at the risk of being driven from France; but Buonaparte, without ceremony, fixed his name to the address, and published it on the 1st of November. It declared that Kosciusko was coming himself to lead his countrymen to freedom. The effect was instantaneous; all Poland was on fire, and, before the cheat could be discovered, Dombrowski had organised four good Polish regiments.

Napoleon now called up his auxiliary forces from Saxony, Wurtemberg, Bavaria, and from all the confederation of the Rhine, as well as new battalions from France, and advanced against the Russians. In the first place, the French, who had completed the subjugation of the Prussian states east of the Oder, and taken Glogau, Breslau, Graudenz, &c., pushed forward towards Poland, to attack the Russian general, Benningsen, who advanced to Warsaw, and occupied it in conjunction with the Prussians. Benningsen, however, finding the Prussians few and dispirited, fell back beyond the Vistula, and Murat, at the head of the French vanguard, entered Warsaw on the 28th of November. He was soon after joined there by Buonaparte, and Warsaw being put into a state of defence, the French army advanced to the Vistula and the Bug, in spite of the lateness of the season. Benningsen again retreated behind the Wkra, where he united his forces with those of generals Buxhowden and Kaminskoi. Kaminskoi took the supreme command. When Napoleon arrived in the Wkra on the 23rd of December, he formed his army into three divisions, and forced the passages of the river. Kaminskoi fell back behind the Niemen, and the French pursued him, committing some injury on him. This trifling advantage Napoleon converted, in his bulletins to Paris, into the rout and general defeat of the Russians. It was true that the Russians were destitute of stores, having applied to England for money, and obtained only eighty thousand pounds. They fought, therefore, under great disadvantages, against an army furnished with everything. Notwithstanding, Benningsen, who was by far the most vigorous of their generals - for Kaminskoi was fast falling into lunacy - posted himself strongly behind Pultusk, his right led by Barclay de Tolly, and his left by Ostermann. Kaminskoi ordered Benningsen to retreat, but he refused, and stood his ground. At first, Barclay de Tolly was driven back by Lannes and Davoust, but Benningsen converted this disadvantage into a ruse, ordering Tolly to continue his retreat, till the French were drawn on, so that he could bring down his left wing on them with such effect, that he killed and wounded nearly eight thousand of them, having, however, himself five thousand killed and wounded. Lannes and five other generals were amongst the wounded. The French seized the opportunity of darkness to retreat with such speed, that the next morning not a trace of them could be seen near Pultusk. Prince Gallitzin fought another division of the French the same day at Golynim, and with the same success. Had Benningsen had the chief command, and brought down the whole united Russian army on Napoleon, the victory must have been most decisive; as it was, it taught the French that they had different troops to Prussians or Austrians to contend with. They drew off, and went into winter quarters at Warsaw and the towns to the eastward. The chief command of the Russian army was now conferred on Benningsen, and so far from Buonaparte having, as he boasted, brought the war to a close with the year, we shall find Benningsen, at the head of ninety thousand men, soon forcing him into a winter campaign.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III - (Continued.) page 18

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