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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

237 From these oriental schemes the young Czar was


young Czar's disposition was at that period restless and unstable, free from the passionate caprices of his ill-fated father, and attuned by the fond efforts of the Swiss democrat Laharpe, to the loftiest aspirations of the France of 1789. Yet the son of Paul I. could hardly free himself from the instincts of a line of conquering Czars; his frank blue eyes, his graceful yet commanding figure, his high broad forehead and close shut mouth gave promise of mental energy; and his splendid physique and love of martial display seemed to invite him to complete the campaigns of Catherine II. against the Turks, and to wash out in the waves of the Danube the remorse which he still felt at his unwitting complicity in a parricidal plot. Between his love of liberty and of foreign conquest he for the present wavered, with a strange constitutional indecision that marred a noble character and that yielded him a prey more than once to a masterful will or to seductive projects. He is the Janus of Russian history. On the one side he faces the enormous problems of social and political reform, and yet he steals many a longing glance towards the dome of St. Sofia. This instability in his nature has been thus pointedly criticised by his friend Prince Czartoryski:[236]

"Grand ideas of the general good, generous sentiments, and the desire to sacrifice to them a part of the imperial authority, had really occupied the Emperor's mind, but they were rather

a young man's fancies than a grown man's decided will. The Emperor liked forms of liberty, as he liked the theatre: it gave him pleasure and flattered his vanity to see the appearances of free government in his Empire: but all he wanted in this respect was forms and appearances: he did not expect them to become realities. He would willingly have agreed that every man should be free, on the condition that he should voluntarily do only what the Emperor wished."

This later judgment of the well-known Polish nationalist is probably embittered by the disappointments which he experienced at the Czar's hands; but it expresses the feeling of most observers of Alexander's early career, and it corresponds with the conclusion arrived at by Napoleon's favourite aide-de-camp, Duroc, who went to congratulate the young Czar on his accession and to entice him into oriental schemes--that there was nothing to hope and nothing to fear from the Czar. The _mot_ was deeply true.[237]

From these oriental schemes the young Czar was, for the time, drawn aside towards the nobler path of social reform. The saving influence on this occasion was exerted by his old tutor, Laharpe. The ex-Director of Switzerland readily persuaded the Czar that Russia sorely needed political and social reform. His influence was powerfully aided by a brilliant group of young men, the Vorontzoffs, the Strogonoffs, Novossiltzoff, and Czartoryski, whose admiration for western ideas and institutions, especially those of Britain, helped to impel Alexander on the path of progress. Thus, when Napoleon was plying the Czar with notes respecting Turkey, that young ruler was commencing to bestow system on his administration, privileges on the serfs, and the feeble beginnings of education on the people.

While immersed in these beneficent designs, Alexander heard with deep chagrin of the annexation of Piedmont and Parma, and that Napoleon refused to the King of Sardinia any larger territory than the Siennese. This breach of good faith cut the Czar to the quick. It was in vain that Napoleon now sought to lure him into Turkish adventures by representing that France should secure the Morea for herself, that other parts of European Turkey might be apportioned to Victor Emmanuel I. and the French Bourbons. This cold-blooded proposal, that ancient dynasties should be thrust from the homes of their birth into alien Greek or Moslem lands, wounded the Czar's monarchical sentiments. He would none of it; nor did he relish the prospect of seeing the French in the Morea, whence they could complete the disorder of Turkey and seize on Constantinople. He saw whither Napoleon was leading him. He drew back abruptly, and even notified to our ambassador, Admiral Warren, that _England had better keep Malta._[238]

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