The conflagration of Moscow in 1812 and the fall of the French empire are two facts which cannot be separated, but to the name of Moscow is attached another name, that of Rostopchine. Count Fedor Wassiljavitch Rostopchine is connected with one of the greatest events in universal history. He caused a crisis which decided the fate of Russia and arrested the march of ascending France by giving the death blow to Napoleon. The latter, in admitting that Rostopchine was the author of his ruin, meant him when he said, "one man less, and I would have been master of the world."

Until the year 1876 there existed a mystery around this man and his deed, a mystery which was deepened by Rostopchine himself when he published in 1823 a pamphlet entitled "The Truth about the Conflagration of Moscow," which did not give the truth but was a mystification.

Alexander Popof, a Russian Counselor of State, who made a special study of the history of the Russian campaign of Napoleon, has explored the archives of St. Petersburg, and his researches, the result of which he published in Russian in the year 1876, have brought to light all diplomacy had concealed about the events which led to the destruction of the Russian capital.

What document, one might ask, could be more precious than the memoirs of Rostopchine, the governor of Moscow in 1812? What good fortune for the historian! In 1872 Count Anatole de Segur, grandson of Rostopchine, the author of a biography of the latter, wrote, concerning these memoirs, that they were seized, together with all the papers of his grand-father, by order of the Emperor Nicholas, immediately after Rostopchine's death in the year 1826, and were locked up in the archives of the Imperial Chancellor where they would remain, perhaps forever. Fortunately, one of the daughters of Count Rostopchine had taken a copy of some passages of this precious manuscript. These passages were published in 1864 by a son of Rostopchine, Count Alexis R., in a book entitled "Materiaux en grande partie inedits, pour la biographie future du Comte Rostopchine," which is of a rare bibliographic value, for only twelve copies were printed. These same fragments, three in number, were reproduced by Count Anatole de Segur in the biography of his ancestor, of which we have spoken. Aside from these extracts nothing was known of Rostopchine's memoirs until Popof had made his researches. To verify the memoirs Popof quotes long passages which he compares carefully with other documents of that epoch. This book on the whole is a continuous commentary upon the memoirs of Rostopchine.

Rostopchine, having been made governor of Moscow in March, 1812, wrote to the Tzar: "Your empire has two strongholds, its immensity and its climate. It has these 16,000,000 men who profess the same creed, speak the same language, and whose chin has never been touched by a razor. The long beards are the power of Russia, and the blood of your soldiers will be a seed of heroes. If unfortunate circumstances should force you to retreat before the invader, the Russian emperor will always be terrible in Moscow, formidable in Kazan, invincible at Tobolsk." This letter was dated June 11/23, 1812.

At that time Rostopchine was 47 years of age, in perfect health and had developed a most extraordinary activity, something which was not known of his predecessors; the governors of Moscow before his time had been old and decrepit. He understood the character of the Russian people and made himself popular at once, and adored, because he made himself accessible to everybody. He himself describes how he went to work: "I announced that every day from 11 to noon everybody had access to me, and those who had something important to communicate would be received at any hour during the day. On the day of my taking charge I had prayers said and candles lighted before such miraculous pictures as enjoyed the highest popular veneration. I studied to show an extraordinary politeness to all who had dealings with me; I courted the old women, the babblers and the pious, especially the latter. I resorted to all means to make myself agreeable; I had the coffins raised which served as signs to the undertakers and the inscriptions pasted on the church doors. It took me two days to pull the wool over their eyes (pour jeter la poudre aux yeux) and to persuade the greater part of the inhabitants that I was indefatigable and that I was everywhere. I succeeded in giving this idea by appearing on the same morning at different places, far apart from each other, leaving traces everywhere of my justice and severity; thus on the first day I had arrested an officer of the military hospital whose duty it was to oversee the distribution of the soup, but who had not been present when it was time for dinner. I rendered justice to a peasant who had bought 30 pounds of salt but received only 25; I gave the order to imprison an employee who had not done his duty; I went everywhere, spoke to everyone and learned many things which afterward were useful to me. After having tired to death two pairs of horses I came home at 8 o'clock, changed my civilian costume for the military uniform and made myself ready to commence my official work." Thus Rostopchine took the Moscovitians by their foibles, played the role of Haroun-al-Raschid, played comedy; he even employed agents to carry the news of the town to him, to canvass war news and to excite enthusiasm in the cafes and in all kinds of resorts of the common people.

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."

For curiosity's sake, as an example of his style of fiction by which he fascinated the Russian peasantry may serve the translation of one of the stories: "Korniouchka Tchikhirine, an inhabitant of Moscow, a veteran, having been drinking a little more than usual, hears that Bonaparte is coming to Moscow, he becomes angry, scolds in coarse terms all Frenchmen, comes out of the liquor store and under the eagle with the two heads (the sign that the place is the crown's) he shouts: What, he will come to us! But you are welcome! For Christmas or carnival you are invited. The girls await you with knots in their handkerchiefs, your head will swell. You will do well to dress as the devil; we shall say a prayer, and you will disappear when the cock crows. Do better, remain at home, play hide and seek or blind man's buff. Enough of such farces! don't you see that your soldiers are cripples, dandies? They have no touloupes, no mittens, no onoutchi (wrappings around the legs in place of stockings). How will they adapt themselves to Russian habits? The cabbage will make them bloated, the gruel will make them sick, and those who survive the winter will perish by the frost at Epiphany. So it is, yes. At our house doors they will shiver, in the vestibule they will stand with chattering teeth; in the room they will suffocate, on the stove they will be roasted. But what is the use of speaking? As often as the pitcher goes to the well, as often their head will be broken. Charles of Sweden was another imprudent one like you, of pure royal blood, he has gone to Poltava, he has not returned. Other rabbits than you Frenchmen were the Poles, the Tartars, the Swedes; our forefathers, however, have dealt with them so that one can yet see the tomb-hills around Moscow, as numerous as mushrooms, and under these mushrooms rest their bones. Ah! our holy mother Moscow, it is not a city, it is an empire. You have left at home only the blind and the lame, the old women and the little children. Your size is not big enough to match the Germans; they will at the first blow throw you on your back (this remark is wonderfully prophetic). And Russia, do you know what that is, you cracked head? Six hundred thousand longbeards have been enlisted, besides 300 thousand soldiers with bare chins, and 200 thousand veterans. All these are heroes; they believe in one God, obey one Tzar, make the sign with one cross, these are all brethren. And if it pleases our father and Tzar, Alexander Pavlovitch, he has to say only one word: To arms, Christians! And you will see them rising. And even if you should beat the vanguard? Take your ease! the others will give you such a chase that the memory of it will remain in all eternity. To come to us! well then! Not only the tower of Ivan the Great, but also the hill of Prosternations will remain invisible to you even in your dream. We shall rely on white Russia and we shall bury you in Poland. As one makes his bed so one sleeps. On this account reflect, do not proceed, do not start the dance. Turn about face, go home, and from generation to generation remember what it is, the Russian nation. Having said all, Tchikhirine went on, briskly singing, and the people who saw him go said wherever he came, that is well spoken, it is the truth!"

Rostopchine knew very well how to make Tchikhirine speak when he had been drinking more than usual, he knew how to make the saints speak, he invented pious legends which were not guaranteed by the Holy Synod and not found in the Lives of the Saints.

"After the battle of Borodino," said he in his memoirs, "I ceased to have recourse to little means to distract the people and occupy their attention. It required an extraordinary effort of the imagination to invent something that would excite the people. The most ingenious attempts do not always succeed, while the clumsy ones take a surprising effect. Among those of the latter kind there was a story after my fashion of which 5 thousand copies at one kopek a copy were sold in one day."

The population of Moscow was in a peculiar moral condition. They were most superstitious, believed the most improbable reports and saw signs from heaven of the downfall of Napoleon.

"In the city," writes Rostopchine, "rumors were current of visions, of voices which had been heard in the graveyards. Passages from the Apocalypsis were quoted referring to Napoleon's fall."

But Rostopchine himself, was he free from credulity? A German by the name of Leppich constructed, secretly, in one of the gardens of Moscow, a balloon by means of which the French army should be covered with fire, and some historians say that Rostopchine was one of the most enthusiastic admirers of Leppich.

As it may be interesting to learn how he was ahead of his time in regard to ideas about military balloons let us give the full statement of Popof on this matter.

In 1812 in Moscow it was exactly as in 1870 in Paris; everybody built hopes on the military airship, and expected that by means of a Greek fire from a balloon the whole army of the enemy would be annihilated. Rostopchine, in a letter dated May 7/19, 1812, gave an account to Emperor Alexander of the precautions he had taken that the wonderful secret of the construction of the airship by Leppich should not be revealed. He took the precaution not to employ any workmen from Moscow. He had already given Leppich 120 thousand rubles to buy material.

"To-morrow," he writes, "under the pretext of dining with some one living in his vicinity I shall go to Leppich and shall remain with him for a long time; it will be a feast to me to become more closely connected with a man whose invention will render military art superfluous, free mankind of its internal destroyer, make of you the arbiter of kings and empires and the benefactor of mankind."

In another letter to the emperor, dated June 11/23, 1812, he writes, "I have seen Leppich; he is a very able man and an excellent mechanician. He has removed all my doubts in regard to the contrivances which set the wings of his machine in motion (indeed an infernal construction) and which consequently might do still more harm to humanity than Napoleon himself. I am in doubt about one point which I submit to the judgment of your majesty: when the machine will be ready Leppich proposes to embark on it to fly as far as Wilna. Can we trust him so completely as not to think of treason on his part?" Three weeks later he wrote to the emperor "I am fully convinced of success. I have taken quite a liking to Leppich who is also very much attached to me; his machine I love like my own child. Leppich suggests that I should make an air voyage with him, but I cannot decide about this without the authorization of your majesty."

On September 11th., four days before the evacuation, the fate of Moscow was decided. On that day at 10 o'clock in the forenoon the following conversation took place in the house of Rostopchine between him and Glinka.

"Your excellency," said Glinka, "I have sent my family away."

"I have already done the same," answered the count, and tears were in his eyes.

"Now," added he, "Serge Nicholaevitch, let us speak like two true friends of our country. In your opinion, what will happen if Moscow is abandoned?"

"Your excellency knows what I have dared to say on the 15/27 July in the assembly of the nobility; but tell me in all frankness, count, how shall Moscow be delivered, with blood, or without blood (s kroviou ili bez krovi)?"

"Bez krovi (without blood)," laconically answered the count.

His word to prince Eugene had been: Burn the capital rather than deliver it to the enemy; to Ermilof: I do not see why you take so much pains to defend Moscow at any price; if the enemy occupies the city he will find nothing that could serve him.

The treasures which belong to the crown and all that is of some value have already been removed; also, with few exceptions, the treasures of the churches, the ornaments of gold and silver, the most important archives of the state, all have been taken to a place of safety. Many of the well-to-do have already taken away what is precious. There remain in Moscow only 50 thousand persons in the most miserable conditions who have no other asylum.

This was what he said on September 13, and on the same day he wrote to the emperor that all had been sent away.

But this was not true; there still remained 10 thousand wounded - of whom the majority would perish in case of a conflagration; there remained an immense stock of provisions, flour and alcoholic liquor, which would fall into the hands of the enemy; there was still the arsenal in the Kremlin containing 150 cannon, 60 thousand rifles, 160 thousand cartridges and a great deal of sulphur and saltpeter.

During the night from the 14th. to the 15th. Rostopchine developed a great activity, though he could save only some miraculous images left in the churches, and destroy some magazines.

The inhabitants suddenly aroused from their security went to the barriers of the city and obstructed the streets with vehicles; to remove what still remained in Moscow the means of transportation and the time allowed for this purpose were insufficient.

Those who remained had nothing to lose and were glad to take revenge on the rich by burning and pillaging their mansions.

On the 14th. the criminals in the prisons, with one-half of their heads shaved, were set at liberty that they might participate in the burning and pillaging.

Before leaving Moscow Rostopchine uncovered his head and said to his son, "Salute Moscow for the last time; in half an hour it will be on fire."

Quite a literature has developed on the question: who has burned Moscow? The documents which Popof has examined leave no doubt concerning Rostopchine's part in regard to its conflagration. But, after all, it was caused by those who had a right to do it, those who, beginning at Smolensk, burned their villages, their hamlets, even their ripening or ripened harvest, after the Russian army had passed and the enemy came in sight. Who? The Russian people of all classes, of all conditions without exception, men even invested with public power, and among them Rostopchine.