CHAPTER XII. THE BATTLE OF PULTOWA, 1709.
"Dread Pultowa's day,
When fortune left the royal Swede,
Around a slaughtered army lay,
No more to combat and to bleed.
The power and fortune of the war
Had passed to the triumphant Czar." - BYRON.
Napoleon prophesied at St. Helena, that all Europe would soon be either Cossack or Republican. Four years ago, the fulfilment of the last of these alternatives appeared most probable. But the democratic movements of 1848 were sternly repressed in 1849. The absolute authority of a single ruler, and the austere stillness of martial law, are now paramount in the capitals of the continent, which lately owned no sovereignty save the will of the multitude; and where that which the democrat calls his sacred right of insurrection, was so loudly asserted and so often fiercely enforced. Many causes have contributed to bring about this reaction, but the most effective and the most permanent have been Russian influence and Russian arms. Russia is now the avowed and acknowledged champion of Monarchy against Democracy; - of constituted authority, however acquired, against revolution and change for whatever purpose desired; - of the imperial supremacy of strong states over their weaker neighbours against all claims for political independence, and all striving for separate nationality. She has crushed the heroic Hungarians; and Austria, for whom nominally she crushed them, is now one of her dependents. Whether the rumours of her being about to engage in fresh enterprises be well or ill founded, it is certain that recent events must have fearfully augmented the power of the Muscovite empire, which, even previously, had been the object of well-founded anxiety to all Western Europe.
It was truly stated, twelve years ago, that "the acquisitions which Russia has made within the [then] last sixty-four years, are equal in extent and importance to the whole empire she had in Europe before that time; that the acquisitions she had made from Sweden are greater than what remains of that ancient kingdom; that her acquisitions from Poland are as large as the whole Austrian empire; that the territory she has wrested from Turkey in Europe is equal to the dominions of Prussia, exclusive of her Rhenish provinces; and that her acquisitions from Turkey in Asia are equal in extent to all the smaller states of Germany, the Rhenish provinces of Prussia, Belgium, and Holland taken together; that the country she has conquered from Persia is about the size of England; that her acquisitions in Tartary have an area equal to Turkey in Europe, Greece, Italy, and Spain. In sixty-four years she has advanced her frontier eight hundred and fifty miles towards Vienna, Berlin, Dresden, Munich, and Paris; she has approached four hundred and fifty miles nearer to Constantinople; she has possessed herself of the capital of Poland, and has advanced to within a few miles of the capital of Sweden, from which, when Peter the Great mounted the throne, her frontier was distant three hundred miles. Since that time she has stretched herself forward about one thousand miles towards India, and the same distance towards the capital of Persia." [Progress of Russia in the East. p. 142.]
Such, at that period, had been the recent aggrandisement of Russia; and the events of the last few years, by weakening and disuniting all her European neighbours, have immeasurably augmented the relative superiority of the Muscovite empire over all the other continental powers.
With a population exceeding sixty millions, all implicitly obeying the impulse of a single ruling mind; with a territorial area of six millions and a half of square miles; with a standing army eight hundred thousand strong; with powerful fleets on the Baltic and Black Seas; with a skilful host of diplomatic agents planted in every court, and among every tribe; with the confidence which unexpected success creates, and the sagacity which long experience fosters, Russia now grasps with an armed right hand the tangled thread of European politics, and issues her mandate as the arbitress of the movements of the age. Yet a century and a half have hardly elapsed since she was first recognised as a member of the drama of modern European history - previously to the battle of Pultowa, Russia played no part. Charles V. and his great rival our Elizabeth and her adversary Philip of Spain, the Guises, Sully, Richelieu, Cromwell, De Witt, William of Orange, and the other leading spirits of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, thought no more about the Muscovite Czar than we now think about the King of Timbuctoo. Even as late as 1735, Lord Bollingbroke, in his admirable "Letters on History," speaks of the history of the Muscovites, as having no relation to the knowledge which a practical English statesman ought to acquire. [Bolingbroke's Works, vol ii. p. 374. In the same page he observes how Sweden had often turned her arms southwards with prodigious effect.] It may be doubted whether a cabinet council often takes place now in our Foreign Office, without Russia being uppermost in every English statesman's thoughts.
But though Russia remained thus long unheeded amid her snows, there was a northern power, the influence of which was acknowledged in the principal European quarrels, and whose good will was sedulously courted by many of the boldest chiefs and ablest councillors of the leading states. This was Sweden; Sweden, on whose ruins Russia has risen; but whose ascendancy over her semi-barbarous neighbours was complete, until the fatal battle that now forms our subject.