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Breaking and sinking, and the sunken swells,
Far off the petrel, in the troubled way,
High o'er the restless deep, above the reach
Inshore their passage tribes of sea-gulls urge,
CXXII. - BURNING OF MOSCOW.
[81R ARCHIBALD ALISON, son of the well-known author of the Essay un Taste, was born in Scotland in 1792, and admitted to the Scotch bar in 1814. His grsat work is The History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the resto ration of the Bourbons, the first volume of which appeared in 1833. It is a voluminous and elaborate production, showing very faithful examination of original sources of information; but its value as an authority is impaired by the strong partisan feelings of the writer, who is a zealous friend of monarchical institutions, and looks with little favor upon democracy. He writes like a man who has no wish or purpose to be unfair; but his point of view is always that of an Englishman and a tory; and out of his own country his judgments will not be received as decisive. His History has also been written too rapidly, and often betrays marks of haste. The chapter on America, as it originally appeared in his first edition, was full of blunders and rash judgments. In the subsequent issues an improvement is discernible.
His style is rich, flowing, and declamatory. His descriptive powers are of a high order; and his pictures of natural scenery, and his sketches of battles, are animated aud picturesque; but they are bestowed upon us with rather too liberal a hand. The chief faults of his style are diffuseness and looseness of texture. The work would be improved by a rigorous process of compression.
Sir Archibald Alison is the author of two works on the Criminal Law of Scotland, of the Life of the Duke of Marlborough, of an Essay on the Principles of Population, of a History of Europe since the Peace of 1815 to the present Time, and of various contributions to Blackwood's Magazine, which have been collected and published separately in three octavo volumes; and all these works have been written in hours stolen from the diligent and successful practice of the law.
Sir Archibald Alison is a baronet; that honor having been bestowed upon him, as upon his illustrious countryman Sir Walter Scott, whom he rivals in literary industry, for his merit as a writer.
This account of the burning of Moscow is from The History of Europe during the French Revolution. Napoleon's Russian expedition in 1812 is one of the most striking episodes in all history. Nothing in modern times equals the magnitude of his prepar rations, and the imposing array of forces with which he entered Russia; and the imagination of man can conceive of nothing more tragical than the horrors of his retreat and the fearful sufferings of his troops.]
The sight of the grotesque towers and venerable walls of the Kremlin * first revived the emperor's imagination, and rekindled those dreams of Oriental conquest which from his earliest years had floated in his mind. His followers, dispersed over the vast extent of the city, gazed with astonishment on the sumptuous palaces of the nobles and the gilded domes of the churches. The mixture of architectural decoration and
* The Kremlin is a part of Moscow, in the centre of the city, containing the palace of the czars, a number of churches, two convents, and many public buildings.
shady foliage, of Gothic magnificence and Eastern luxury', excited the admiration of the French soldiers, more susceptible than any other people of impressions of that description. Evening came on: with increasing wonder the French troops traversed the central parts of the metropolis, recently so crowded with passengers; but not a living creature was to be seen to explain the universal desolation. It seemed like a city of the dead. Night approached: an unclouded moon illuminated those beautiful palaces — those vast hotels, those deserted streets; all was still — the silence of the tomb. The officers broke open the doors of some of the principal mansions in search of sleeping quarters. They found every thing in perfect order; the bedrooms were fully furnished, as if guests were expected; the drawing rooms bore the marks of having been recently inhabited; even the work of the ladies was on the tables, the keys in the wardrobes; but not an inmate was to be seen. By degrees a few of the lowest class of slaves emerged, pale and trembling, from the cellars, showed the way to the sleeping apartments, and laid open every thing which these sumptuous mansions contained; but the only account they could give was, that the inhabitants had fled, and that they alone were left in the deserted city.
But the terrible catastrophe soon commenced. On the night of the 13th September, 1812, a fire broke out in the Exchange, behind the Bazaar, which soon consumed that noble edifice, and spread through a considerable part of the crowded streets in the vicinity. This, however, was but the prelude to more extended calamities. At midnight on the 15th, a bright light was seen to illuminate the northern and western parts of the city; and the sentinels on duty at the Kremlin soon saw. that the splendid buildings in those quarters were in flames. The wind changed repeatedly in the night; but to whatever quarter it veered the conflagration extended itself; fresh fires were every instant seen breaking out in all directions ; and Moscow soon exhibited the appearance of a sea of flame agitated by the wind. T'he French soldiers, drowned in sleep, or overcome by intoxication, were incapable of arresting its progress; and burning fragments, floating through the hot air, began to fall on the roofs and courts of the Kremlin. The fury of an autumnal tempest added to the horrors of the scene; it seemed as if the wrath of Heaven had combined with the vengeance of man to destroy the invaders in the city they had conquered.
But it was during the night of the 18th and 19th that the conflagration attained its greatest violence. Then the whole city was wrapped in flames; and volumes of fire of various colors ascended to the heavens in many places, diffusing a prodigious light on all sides, and an intolerable heat. These masses of flame threw out a frightful hissing noise, and loud explosions, the effect of the vast stores of oil, tar, resin, spirits, and other combustible materials, with which the greater part of the warehouses were filled. Large pieces of canvas, unrolled from the outside of the buildings by the violence of the heat, floated on fire through the air, and sent down a flaming shower, which spread the conflagration in quarters the most remote from those where it originally commenced. The wind, previously high, was raised by the sudden rarefaction of the air, produced by the heat, to a perfect hurricane. The howling of the tempest drowned even the roar of the conflagration; the whole heavens were filled with the whirl of the masses of smoke and flame, which rose on all sides and made midnight as bright as day; while even the bravest hearts, subdued by the sublimity of the scene, and the feeling of human impotence in the midst of such elemental strife, sank and trembled in silence.
The return of day did not diminish the terrors of the conflagration. An immense crowd of people, who had taken refuge in the cellars, or vaults of buildings, came forth as the flames reached the dwellings; the streets were filled with multitudes flying in every direction with the most precious articles of furniture; while the French army, whose discipline this fearful event had entirely dissolved, assembled in drunken crowds, and loaded themselves with the spoils of the city. Never in
modern times had such a scene been witnössed.
The nien were loaded with valuable furniture and rich goods, which often took fire as they were carried along, and which they were o liged to throw down to save themselves. Women had sometimes two or three children on their backs, and as many led by the hand, while, with trembling steps and piteous cries, they sought their devious way through the labyrinth of flame. Many old men, unable to walk, were drawn on hurdles, or wheelbarrows, by their children and grandchildren, while their burned beards and smoking garments showed with what difficulty they had been rescued from death. French soldiers, tormented by hunger and thirst, and released from all discipline by the horrors that surrounded them, not content with the booty in the streets, rushed headlong into the burning houses to ransack their cellars for wine and spirits, and beneath the ruins great numbers perished miserably, the victims of intemperance and the flames. Meanwhile the fire, fanned by the tremendous gale, advanced with frightful rapidity, devouring alike, in its course, the palaces of the great, the temples of religion, and the cottages of the poor. For thirty-six hours the conflagration continued at its height, and in that time above nine tenths of the city was destroyed. The remainder, abandoned to pillage and deserted by the inhabitants, offered no resources for the army. Moscow had been conquered, but the victors had gained only a heap of ruins.
Imagination cannot conceive the horrors into which the people who could not abandon their houses were plunged by this unparalleled sacrifice. Bereft of every thing, they wandered among the ruins, eagerly searching for missing relatives; the wrecks of former magnificence were ransacked equally by the licentious soldiery and the suffering natives, while numbers rushed in from the neighboring country to share in the general license. The most precious furniture, splendid jewelry, East Indian and Turkish stuffs, stores of wine and brandy, gold and silver plate, rich furs, gorgeous hangings of silk and satin, were spread about in promiscuous confusion, and became the prey