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- History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 60/202 -

up arms against Macdonald. [174] York had no evidence, beyond the word of the Russian commander, of the extent of Napoleon's losses; and even if the facts were as stated, it was by no means clear that the Czar might not be inclined to take vengeance on Prussia on account of its alliance with Napoleon. York returned a guarded answer to the Russian, and sent an officer to Wilna to ascertain the real state of the French army. On the 8th of December the officer returned, and described what he had himself seen. Soon afterwards the Russian commandant produced a letter from the Czar, declaring his intention to deal with Prussia as a friend, not as an enemy. On these points all doubt was removed; York's decision was thrown upon himself. York was a rigid soldier of the old Prussian type, dominated by the idea of military duty. The act to which the Russian commander invited him, and which the younger officers were ready to hail as the liberation of Prussia, might be branded by his sovereign as desertion and treason. Whatever scruples and perplexity might be felt in such a situation by a loyal and obedient soldier were felt by York. He nevertheless chose the course which seemed to be for his country's good; and having chosen it, he accepted all the consequences which it involved. On the 30th of December a convention was signed at Tauroggen, which, under the guise of a truce, practically withdrew the Prussian army from Napoleon, and gave the Russians possession of Königsberg. The momentous character of the act was recognised by Napoleon as soon as the news reached Paris. York's force was the strongest military body upon the Russian frontier; united with Macdonald, it would have forced the Russian pursuit to stop at the Niemen; abandoning Napoleon, it brought his enemies on to the Vistula, and threatened incalculable danger by its example to all the rest of Germany. For the moment, however, Napoleon could count upon the spiritless obedience of King Frederick William. In the midst of the French regiments that garrisoned Berlin, the King wrote orders pronouncing York's convention null and void, and ordering York himself to be tried by court-martial. The news reached the loyal soldier: he received it with grief, but maintained his resolution to act for his country's good. "With bleeding heart," he wrote, "I burst the bond of obedience, and carry on the war upon my own responsibility. The army desires war with France; the nation desires it; the King himself desires it, but his will is not free. The army must make his will free."

[The Czar and Stein.]

[Alexander enters Prussia, Jan., 1813.]

York's act was nothing less than the turning-point in Prussian history. Another Prussian, at this great crisis of Europe, played as great, though not so conspicuous, a part. Before the outbreak of the Russian war, the Czar had requested the exile Stein to come to St. Petersburg to aid him with his counsels during the struggle with Napoleon. Stein gladly accepted the call; and throughout the campaign he encouraged the Czar in the resolute resistance which the Russian nation itself required of its Government. So long as French soldiers remained on Russian soil, there was indeed little need for a foreigner to stimulate the Czar's energies; but when the pursuit had gloriously ended on the Niemen, the case became very different. Kutusoff and the generals were disinclined to carry the war into Germany. The Russian army had itself lost three-fourths of its numbers; Russian honour was satisfied; the liberation of Western Europe might be left to Western Europe itself. Among the politicians who surrounded Alexander, there were a considerable number, including the first minister Romanzoff, who still believed in the good policy of a French alliance. These were the influences with which Stein had to contend, when the question arose whether Russia should rest satisfied with its own victories, or summon all Europe to unite in overthrowing Napoleon's tyranny. No record remains of the stages by which Alexander's mind rose to the clear and firm conception of a single European interest against Napoleon; indications exist that it was Stein's personal influence which most largely affected his decision. Even in the darkest moments of the war, when the forces of Russia seemed wholly incapable of checking Napoleon's advance, Stein had never abandoned his scheme for raising the German nation against Napoleon. The confidence with which he had assured Alexander of ultimate victory over the invader had been thoroughly justified; the triumph which he had predicted had come with a rapidity and completeness even surpassing his hopes. For a moment Alexander identified himself with the statesman who, in the midst of Germany's humiliation, had been so resolute, so far-sighted, so aspiring. [175] The minister of the peace-party was dismissed: Alexander ordered his troops to advance into Prussia, and charged Stein himself to assume the government of the Prussian districts occupied by Russian armies. Stein's mission was to arm the Landwehr, and to gather all the resources of the country for war against France; his powers were to continue until some definite arrangement should be made between the King of Prussia and the Czar.

[Stein's commission from Alexander.]

[Province of East Prussia arms, Jan., 1813.]

Armed with this commission from a foreign sovereign, Stein appeared at Königsberg on the 22nd of January, 1813, and published an order requiring the governor of the province of East Prussia to convoke an assembly for the purpose of arming the people. Stein would have desired York to appear as President of the Assembly; but York, like most of the Prussian officials, was alarmed and indignant at Stein's assumption of power in Prussia as the representative of the Russian Czar, and hesitated to connect himself with so revolutionary a measure as the arming of the people. It was only upon condition that Stein himself should not appear in the Assembly that York consented to recognise its powers. The Assembly met. York entered the house, and spoke a few soul-stirring words. His undisguised declaration of war with France was received with enthusiastic cheers. A plan for the formation of a Landwehr, based on Scharnhorst's plans of 1808, was laid before the Assembly, and accepted. Forty thousand men were called to arms in a province which included nothing west of the Vistula. The nation itself had begun the war, and left its Government no choice but to follow. Stein's task was fulfilled; and he retired to the quarters of Alexander, unwilling to mar by the appearance of foreign intervention the work to which the Prussian nation had now committed itself beyond power of recall. It was the fortune of the Prussian State, while its King dissembled before the French in Berlin, to possess a soldier brave enough to emancipate its army, and a citizen bold enough to usurp the government of its provinces. Frederick William forgave York his intrepidity; Stein's action was never forgiven by the timid and jealous sovereign whose subjects he had summoned to arm themselves for their country's deliverance.

[Policy of Hardenberg.]

[Treaty of Kalisch, Feb. 27.]

The Government of Berlin, which since the beginning of the Revolutionary War had neither been able to fight, nor to deceive, nor to be honest, was at length forced by circumstances into a certain effectiveness in all three forms of action. In the interval between the first tidings of Napoleon's disasters and the announcement of York's convention with the Russians, Hardenberg had been assuring Napoleon of his devotion, and collecting troops which he carefully prevented from joining him. [176] The desire of the King was to gain concessions without taking part in the war either against Napoleon or on his side. When, however, the balance turned more decidedly against Napoleon, he grew bolder; and the news of York's defection, though it seriously embarrassed the Cabinet for the moment, practically decided it in favour of war with France. The messenger who was sent to remove York from his command received private instructions to fall into the hands of the Russians, and to inform the Czar that, if his troops advanced as far as the Oder, King Frederick William would be ready to conclude an alliance. Every post that arrived from East Prussia strengthened the warlike resolutions of the Government. At length the King ventured on the decisive step of quitting Berlin and placing himself at Breslau (Jan. 25). At Berlin he was in the power of the French; at Breslau he was within easy reach of Alexander. The significance of the journey could not be mistaken: it was immediately followed by open preparation for war with France. On February 3rd there appeared an edict inviting volunteers to enrol themselves: a week later all exemptions from military service were abolished, and the entire male population of Prussia between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four was declared liable to serve. General Knesebeck was sent to the headquarters of the Czar, which were now between Warsaw and Kalisch, to conclude a treaty of alliance. Knesebeck demanded securities for the restoration to Prussia of all the Polish territory which it had possessed before 1806; the Czar, unwilling either to grant this condition or to lose the Prussian alliance, kept Knesebeck at his quarters, and sent Stein with a Russian plenipotentiary to Breslau to conclude the treaty with Hardenberg himself. Stein and Hardenberg met at Breslau on the 26th of February. Hardenberg accepted the Czar's terms, and the treaty, known as the Treaty of Kalisch, [177] was signed on the following day. By this treaty, without guaranteeing the restoration of Prussian Poland, Russia undertook not to lay down its arms until the Prussian State as a whole was restored to the area and strength which it had possessed before 1806. For this purpose annexations were promised in Northern Germany. With regard to Poland, Russia promised no more than to permit Prussia to retain what it had received in 1772, together with a strip of territory to connect this district with Silesia. The meaning of the agreement was that Prussia should abandon to Russia the greater part of its late Polish provinces, and receive an equivalent German territory in its stead. The Treaty of Kalisch virtually surrendered to the Czar all that Prussia had gained in the partitions of Poland made in 1793 and in 1795. The sacrifice was deemed a most severe one by every Prussian politician, and was accepted only as a less evil than the loss of Russia's friendship, and a renewed submission to Napoleon. No single statesman, not even Stein himself, appears to have understood that in exchanging its Polish conquests for German annexations, in turning to the German west instead of to the alien Slavonic east, Prussia was in fact taking the very step which made it the possible head of a future united Germany.

[French retreat to the Elbe.]

War was still undeclared upon Napoleon by King Frederick William, but throughout the month of February the light cavalry of the Russians pushed forward unhindered through Prussian territory towards the Oder, and crowds of volunteers, marching through Berlin on their way to the camps in Silesia, gave the French clear signs of the storm that was about to burst upon them. [178] The remnant of Napoleon's army, now commanded by Eugene Beauharnais, had fallen back step by step to the Oder. Here, resting on the fortresses, it might probably have checked the Russian advance; but the heart of Eugene failed; the line of the Oder was abandoned, and the retreat continued to Berlin and the Elbe. The Cossacks followed. On the 20th of February they actually entered Berlin and fought with the French in the streets. The French garrison was far superior in force; but the appearance of the Cossacks caused such a ferment that, although the alliance between France and Prussia was still in nominal existence, the French troops expected to be cut to pieces by the people. For some days they continued to bivouac in the streets, and as soon as it became known that a regular Russian force had reached the Oder, Eugene determined to evacuate Berlin. On the 4th of March the last French soldier quitted the Prussian capital. The Cossacks rode through the town as the French left it, and fought with their rear-guard. Some days later Witgenstein appeared with Russian infantry. On March 17th York made his triumphal entry at the head of his corps, himself cold and rigid in the midst of tumultuous outbursts of patriotic joy.

[King of Prussia declares war March 17.]

It was on this same day that King Frederick William issued his proclamation to the Prussian people, declaring that war had begun with France, and summoning the nation to enter upon the struggle as one that must end either in victory or in total destruction. The proclamation was such as became a monarch conscious that his own faint-heartedness had been the principal cause of Prussia's humiliation. It was simple and unboastful, admitting that the King had made every effort to preserve the French alliance, and

History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 60/202

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