POSTSCRIPT TO THE
“Time” says the proverb, “rings Truth to light.” But the process is gradual and slow. The debt is paid, as it were, by instalments. It is only bit by bit, and at considerable intervals, that Truth comes forth as the morning twilight to dispel the mists of fiction.
It is above forty years that men have been debating the question:—Who were the parties that burned the city of Moscow?—without ever thinking of the preliminary question, whether it ever was burnt at all. And now at length we learn that it never was.
The following extract from a New Orleans paper contains the information obtained by an American traveller—one of that great nation whose accuracy as to facts is so well known—who visited the spot.
Incidents of Travel – City of Moscow
Senator Douglas is said to have made the discovery, while travelling in Russia, that the city of Moscow was never burned! The following statement of the matter is from the Muscatine (Iowa) Inquirer:
“Coming on the boat, a few days ago, we happened to fall in company with Senator Douglas, who came on board at Quincy, on his way to Warsaw. In the course of a very interesting account of his travels in Russia, much of which has been published by letter-writers, he stated a fact which has never yet been published, but which startlingly contradicts the historical relation of one of the most extraordinary events that ever fell to the lot of history to record. For this reason the Judge said he felt a delicacy in making the assertion, that the city of Moscow was never burned!
“He said, that previous to his arrival at Moscow, he had several disputes with his guide as to the burning of the city, the guide declaring that it never occurred, and seeming to be nettled at Mr. Douglas’s persistency in his opinion; but, on examining the fire-marks around the city, and the city itself, he became satisfied that the guide was correct.
“The statement goes on to set forth that the antiquity of the architectural city—particularly of its ‘six hundred first-class churches,’ stretching through ante-Napoleonic ages to Pagan times, and showing the handiwork of different nations of History—demonstrates that the city never was burned down (or up).”
The Inquirer adds:
“The Kremlin is a space of several hundred acres, in the heart of the city, in the shape of a flat iron, and is enclosed, by a wall of sixty feet high. Within this enclosure is the most magnificent palace in Europe, recently built, but constructed over an ancient palace, which remains, thus enclosed, whole and perfect, with all its windows, etc.
“Near the Kremlin, surrounded by a wall, is a Chinese town, appearing to be several hundred years old, still occupied by descendants of the original settlers.
“The circumstances which gave rise to the errors concerning the burning of Moscow, were these:—It is a city of four hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants, in circular form, occupying a large space, five miles across. There the winters are six months long, and the custom was, and still is, to lay up supplies of provisions and wood to last six months of severe cold weather. To prevent these gigantic supplies from encumbering the heart of the city, and yet render them as convenient as practicable to every locality, a row of wood houses was constructed to circle completely round the city, and outside of these was a row of granaries, and in these were deposited the whole of the supplies. Napoleon had entered the city with his army, and was himself occupying the palace of the Kremlin, when, one night, by order of the Russian governor, every wood house and every granary simultaneously burst into a blaze. All efforts to extinguish them were vain, and Napoleon found himself compelled to march his army through the fire. Retiring to an eminence he saw the whole city enveloped in vast sheets of flame, and clouds of smoke, and apparently all on fire. And far as he was concerned it might as well have been, for though houses enough were left to supply every soldier with a room, yet without provisions or fuel, and a Russian army to cut off supplies, he and his army could not subsist there. During the fire some houses were probably burnt, but the city was not. In the Kremlin a magazine blew up, cracking the church of Ivan more than a hundred feet up, but setting nothing on fire.
“Mr. Douglas saw the fire-marks around the city, where wood houses and granaries for winter supplies now stand as of old; but there appears no marks of conflagration within the city.”
Any wary sceptic, indeed, might have found much ground for doubt in the very accounts themselves that were given of the conflagration. For, the Russians have always denied that they burned it; and the French equally disclaimed the act. Each of the two parties between whom the accusation lay, strenuously denied it. And it must be acknowledged that each had very strong presumptions of innocence to urge. It was certainly most unlikely that the Russians should themselves destroy their ancient and venerable capital; and that, too, when they were boasting of having just gained a great victory at Borodino over an army which, therefore, they might hope to defeat again, and to drive out of their city. And it was no less unlikely that the French should burn down a city of which they had possession, and which afforded shelter and refreshment to their troops. This would have been one of the most improbable circumstances of that most improbable (supposed) campaign. To add to the marvel, we are told that the French army nevertheless waited for five weeks, without any object, amid the ashes of this destroyed city, just at the approach, of winter, and as if on purpose to be overtaken and destroyed by snows and frost!
However, all the difficulties of the question whether any of these things took place at all, were by most persons overlooked, because the question itself never occurred to them, in their eagerness to decide who it was that burned the city. And at length it comes out that the answer is, Nobody!