Chapter 9

BILIBIN was now in a diplomatic capacity at the headquarters of the army, and though he wrote in French, with French jests, and French turns of speech, he described the whole campaign with an impartial self- criticism and self-mockery exclusively Russian. Bilibin wrote that the obligation of diplomatic discretion was a torture to him, and that he was happy to have in Prince Andrey a trustworthy correspondent to whom he could pour out all the spleen that had been accumulating in him at the sight of what was going on in the army. The letter was dated some time back, before the battle of Eylau.

“Since our great success at Austerlitz, you know, my dear prince,” wrote Bilibin, “that I have not left headquarters. Decidedly I have acquired a taste for warfare, and it is just as well for me. What I have seen in these three months is incredible.

“I will begin ab ovo. ‘The enemy of the human race,’ as you know, is attacking the Prussians. The Prussians are our faithful allies, who have only deceived us three times in three years. We stand up for them. But it occurs that the enemy of the human race pays no attention to our fine speeches, and in his uncivil and savage way flings himself upon the Prussians without giving them time to finish the parade that they had begun, and by a couple of conjuring tricks thrashes them completely, and goes to take up his quarters in the palace of Potsdam.

“ ‘I most earnestly desire,’ writes the King of Prussia to Bonaparte, ‘that your majesty may be received and treated in my palace in a manner agreeable to you, and I have hastened to take all the measures to that end which circumstances allowed. May I have succeeded!’ The Prussian generals pride themselves on their politeness towards the French, and lay down their arms at the first summons.

“The head of the garrison at Glogau, who has ten thousand men, asks the King of Prussia what he is to do if he is summoned to surrender.…All these are actual facts.

“In short, hoping only to produce an effect by our military attitude, we find ourselves at war in good earnest, and, what is more, at war on our own frontiers with and for the King of Prussia. Everything is fully ready, we only want one little thing, that is the commander-in-chief. As it is thought that the successes at Austerlitz might have been more decisive if the commander-in-chief had not been so young, the men of eighty have been passed in review, and of Prosorovsky and Kamensky the latter is preferred. The general comes to us in a kîbik after the fashion of Suvorov, and is greeted with acclamations of joy and triumph.

“On the 4th comes the first post from Petersburg. The mails are taken to the marshal’s room, for he likes to do everything himself. I am called to sort the letters and take those meant for us. The marshal looks on while we do it, and waits for the packets addressed to him. We seek—there are none. The marshal gets impatient, sets to work himself, and finds letters from the Emperor for Count T., Prince V., and others. Then he throws himself into one of his furies. He rages against everybody, snatches hold of the letters, opens them, and reads those from the Emperor to other people.

“ ‘Ah, so that’s how I’m being treated! No confidence in me! Oh, ordered to keep an eye on me, very well; get along with you!’

“And then he writes the famous order of the day to General Bennigsen:

“ ‘I am wounded, I cannot ride on horseback, consequently cannot command the army. You have led your corps d’armée defeated to Pultusk! Here it remains exposed and destitute of wood and of forage, and in need of assistance, and so, as you reported yourself to Count Buxhevden yesterday, you must think of retreat to our frontier, and so do today.’

“ ‘All my expeditions on horseback,’ he writes to the Emperor, ‘have given me a saddle sore, which, after my former journeys, quite prevents my sitting a horse, and commanding an army so widely scattered; and therefore I have handed over the said command to the general next in seniority to me, Count Buxhevden, having despatched to him all my suite and appurtenances of the same, advising him, if bread should run short, to retreat further into the interior of Prussia, seeing that bread for one day’s rations only is

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