Imágenes de página

Fet left them by the fugitives of the preceding day, and fled into the woods. Ney crossed the Boristhenes at the extremity of these thickets, leaving in the hands of bis conquerors his colours, cannon, and baggage.”

When Bonaparte reached Orcha, in his rapid flight, he learned that his magazines at Minsk had fallen into the hands of Admiral Tchitchagoff. He had not evacuated Orcha long before it was entered by the Cossacks. Fortune favoured Bonaparte, personally, as inuch in his flight from Moscow as in that from Egypt; and he is perhaps doomed to pay the forfeit of his crimes by some more ceremonious weapon than the Cossack spear,

If Bonaparte escaped, it was not owing to the want of vigilant pursuit on the part of Platoff, of Tchitchagoff

, or of Vigtenstein. Vigtenstein nearly came up with Bonaparte at the moment of his crossing the Berezina; over which two bridges had been thrown. We shall quote the author's account of the passage of this river by Napoleon and his suite, and of the accumulation of misery, which overtook thousands of his followers at this point, The description is altogether one of the best in the present work. The horrors which it details, and the sufferings which were endured, were so great as to render all exaggeration impossible ; and, therefore, we here give our author credit for fidelity of representation.

“ The instant the work” (meaning the bridge) was passable, the impatient Emperor of the French ordered over a sufficient number of his guards to render the way tolerably safe from immediate molestation; and the moment that was ascertained, he followed with his suite and principal generale, a promiscuous crowd of soldiers pressing after him. The bridge was hardly cleared of his weight and of that of his chosen companions, when the rush of fugitives redoubled. No order could be kept with the hordes that poured towards its passage for escape and life, for the Russians were in their rear; the thunder of Vigtenstein was rolling over their heads. No pen can describe the confusion and the horror of the scenes which ensued. The French army had lost its rear guard, and they found themselves at once exposed to all the operations of the vengeful enemy. On the right and on the left there was no escape; cannon, bayonets, and sabres, menaced them on every side; certain death was on their rear; in their front alone was there any hope of safety; and, frantic with the desperate alternative, thousands upon thousands flew towards the Berezina, some plunging into the river, but most directing their steps to the newly constructed bridges, which seemed to offer them a passage from their enemies. Misery had long disorganized the French army, and in the present dismay no voice of order was heard: the tumult was tremendous, was destructive of each other, as the despairing wretches pressed forward and struggled for precedence in the moment “Vigtenstein stood in horror, viewing this chaos of human misery : to close it at once in death or in capitulation was the wish of his brave heart: but the enemy was frantic; nothing could be heard but the roar of cannon and the cries of despair. The wounded and the dying covered the surface of the ground; the survivors rushed in wild fury upon their affrighted comrades on the bridges. They could not penetrate, but only press upon a crowd at the nearest extremity; for the whole bodies of these passages were so filled with desperate fugitives that they crushed on each other to suffocation and to death. Trains of artillery, baggage, cavalry, and wagons of all kinds, being intermixed and driven pell-mell to one point, hundreds of human beings were trodden down, trampled on, torn and mashed to pieces. Officers and soldiers were mingled in one mass; self preservation was the only stimulus, and seeking that many a despairing wretch precipitated his comrade to destruction, that he might find his place on the bridge. Thousands fell into the river, thousands threw themselves into the hideous stream, hoping to save themselves by swimming, but in a few minutes they were jammed amidst the blocks of ice which rolled along its floods, and either killed in the concussion, or frozen to death by the extremity of the cold. The air resounded with the yells and shrieks (it was something more horrible than cries) of the dying, wounded, and drowning; but they were only heard at intervals, for one continued roar seemed to fill the heavens, of the Russian artillery pouring its floods of deathful retribution on the heads of the desolators of its country. Welcome indeed were the deaths it sent; few were his pangs who fell by the ball or the sabre, compared with his torture who lay mangled beneath the crowding feet of his comrades, who expired amid the crashing horrors of a world of ice. But the despair of these fated wretches was not yet complete. The head which had planned all these evils might yet be amongst them: and the bridges, groaning beneath the weight of their loads, were to be tired! The deed was done: and still crowd upon crowd continued to press each other forward, choking up the passage amid bursting flames, scorched and frozen at the same instant, till at length the whole sunk with a death-like noise into the bosom of the Berezina.”

of escape,

At Smorgoni, Bonaparte resigned the command of the army to Murat, and, having put on a disguise, according to the statement of our author,

[ocr errors]

stole with Caulincourt into a wretched sledge, and proceeded over the snows as swiftly as his fears would carry him towards Warsaw. On the 17th he passed through Wilna without hardly a minute's delay; and on the evening of the 20th, sheltered his head in safety in the Polish capital! The final escape of Napoleon was known to a very few only for some time after it was effected; but as he shot through Wilna he found it expedient to see Maret. The conference did not last many minutes, and then he departed with as much secrecy and haste as if a pursuer were in every gale.”

Here we take our leave of Sir R. Ker Porter; but, at parting, shall just remark that we should have received much more pleasure from the perusal of his work, and should have thought it worthy of much higher commendation if it had been less frothy and declamatory. The worthy knight has all the bad taste of the Della Crusca school; and we know not a worse school that an author can frequent if he wish to write pure English or plain sense. We will just adduce an instance or two of the affinity in phraseology between Sir R. Ker Porter and Della Crusca, Anna Matilda, &c. &c. At p. 133. he says, that if the pacific proposals of Bonaparte, when at Moscow, had been accepted, the Russian people would have been “a nation of slaves, plunged into a gulf of intellectual darkness more barren of light than that of the remotest hyperborean hordes." In the same p. 133. he talks of the “sun of mental light and personal liberty which rose with Alexander's natal star.The following is another notable specimen of the Della Crusca foppery of phrase: “ General Miloradovitch ceased not to press upon their left flank while he proceeded with Platoff and his clouds of the Don, which, with a fiercer fire than ever shot from the Boreal Morn, hung on the corps of Beauharnois."

Sir R. Ker Porter will probably think us very sour curmudgeons for finding fault with his “ Boreal Morn," but we cannot compliment the knight at the expense of taste and of truth.

[ocr errors]





{The substance of the narrative part of the following article was originally published

about a year ago in a periodical publication of considerable literary merit, which, from various causes, did not meet with the success it deserved, and was confined to a very limited circulation As the facts had been collected with considerable labous, and from different sources of the highest authority, the writer was desirous that this biography should appearin some form which might insure it a more general attention. But upon looking over it for the purpose of making some slight corrections and additions with regard to facts, so many other alterations suggested themselves, and so many observations occurred to him as arising naturally out of the narrative, that he found it more easy to write a new biography, than to revise the old one. As, however, the general statement of facts is of course nearly the same, and some paragraphs have been retained with but slight alterations, it was thought proper to mention this circumstance, lest, perhaps, the author should be suspected of plagiarism from the former anonymous article. ]

THERE is in every community a certain natural aristocracy, whose members, by the power of native talents, fashion to their own model the character of the society around them. Their individual influence may oftentimes be scarcely perceptible, but their aggregate weight is at length always felt, and they leave the strong impression of their own peculiar genius indelibly stamped upon the character of the age and nation. These master-spirits of the times may be divided into three great classes, the characteristic features of which are sometimes blended in an individual, but in the main very strongly distinguish them from each other. First, may be ranked those whose genius is kindled by the divine enthusiasm of poetry and eloquence, and who are largely endowed with a facility of selecting and combining lofty or pleasing images, and with that creative fancy which embodies and animates them; faculties, which, displayed in various modes, and evolved in different degrees, by exercise and cultivation, are the sources of all that adorns, and much which gladdens life.

Distinct from these may be placed the men of theory and abstraction—the discoverers and the teachers of high truth and general principles; and lastly, those born for the management of

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »