When the emperor notified him one day of his coming visit to the capital and transmitted a proclamation in which he announced to his people the danger of the country, Rostopchine developed great activity. "I went to work," he writes in his memoirs, "was on my feet day and night, held meetings, saw many people, had printed along with the imperial proclamation a bulletin worded after my own fashion, and the next morning the people of Moscow on rising learned of the coming of the sovereign. The nobility felt flattered on account of the confidence which the emperor placed in them, and became inspired with a noble zeal, the merchants were ready to give money, only the common people apparently remained indifferent, because they did not believe it possible that the enemy could enter Moscow." The longbeards repeated incessantly:
"Napoleon cannot conquer us, he would have to exterminate us all."
But the streets became crowded with people, the stores were closed, every one went first to the churches to pray for the Tzar, and from there to the gate of Dragomilof to salute the imperial procession upon its arrival. The enthusiasm ran so high that the idea was conceived to unhitch the horses from his coach and carry him in his carriage. This, as Rostopchine tells us, was the intention not only of the common people but of many distinguished ones also, even of such as wore decorations. The emperor, to avoid such exaggerated manifestations, was obliged to arrange for his entry during the night. On the next morning when the Tzar, according to the old custom, showed himself to his people on the red stairs, the hurrahs, the shouts of the multitude drowned the sounds of the bells of the forty times forty churches which were ringing in the city. At every step, thousands of hands tried to touch the limbs of the sovereign or the flap of his uniform which they kissed and wet with their tears.
"I learned during the night," writes Rostopchine, "and it was confirmed in the morning, that there were some persons who had united to ask the emperor how many troops we had, how many the enemy, and what were the means of defense. This would have been a bold and, under the present circumstances, a dangerous undertaking, although I hardly feared that these people would venture to do so, because they were of those who are brave in private and poltroons in public.
"At any rate, I had said repeatedly and before everybody that I hoped to offer the emperor the spectacle of an assembly of a faithful and respectful nobility, and that I should be in despair if some malevolent person should permit himself to create disorder and forget the presence of the sovereign. I promised that any one who would do this might be sure of being taken in hand and sent on a long journey before he would have finished his harangue.
"To give more weight to my words I had stationed, not far from the palace, two telegues (two-wheeled carts) hitched up with mail horses and two police officers in road uniform promenading before them. If some curious person should ask them for whom these telegues were ready, they had orders to answer, 'for those who will be sent to Siberia.'
"These answers and the news of the telegues soon spread among the assembly; the bawlers understood and behaved."
The nobility of Riazen had sent a deputation to the emperor to offer him 60 thousand men, armed and equipped. Balachef, the minister of police, received this deputation scornfully and ordered them to leave Moscow at once.
There were other offers which were not surprising at that period when the mass of the people consisted of serfs, but which appear strange to us. "Many of my acquaintances," writes Kamarovski, "said that they would give their musicians, others the actors of their theaters, others their hunters, as it was easier to make soldiers of them than of their peasants."
The Russian noblemen in their love for liberty sacrificed their slaves. Rostopchine, together with many aristocrats, was not entirely at ease. It was something anomalous to call to arms for the sake of liberty a nation of serfs who vividly felt the injustice of their situation; besides, it had been heard that some moujiks said, "Bonaparte comes to bring us liberty, we do not want any more seigneurs."
The Russian people in their generality, however, did not justify the fears of the aristocrats. Their religious fanaticism, nourished by the priests, their passionate devotion to the Tzar, made them forget their own, just complaints.
In Moscow business was at a standstill, the ordinary course of things was likewise suspended, the population lived in the streets, forming a nervous crowd, subject to excitement and terror. The question was to keep them in respectfulness.
Here Rostopchine's inborn talent as tribune and publicist, as comedian and tragedian, showed itself to perfection. He gave a free rein to his imagination in his placards, in which he affected the proverbial language of the moujik, made himself a peasant, more than a peasant, in his eccentric style, to excite patriotism. He published pamphlets against the French, and the coarser his language the more effect it had on the masses.
"At this time," he writes, "I understood the necessity of acting on the mind of the people to arouse them so that they should prepare themselves for all the sacrifices, for the sake of the country. Every day I disseminated stories and caricatures, which represented the French as dwarfs in rags, poorly armed, not heavier than a gerbe which one could lift with a pitchfork."