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rowing spectacle. Almost all these poor wretches perished. A few, who still lingered, were seen crawling half burnt amongst the smoking ruins; and others, groaning under heaps of dead bodies, endeavoured in vain to extricate themselves from the horrible destruction which surrounded them.
How shall I describe the confusion and tumult when permission was granted to pillage this immense city! Soldiers, sutlers, galley-slaves, and prostitutes, eagerly ran through the streets, penetrating into the deserted palaces, and carrying away every thing which could gratify their avarice. Some covered themselves with stuffs, richly worked with gold and silks; some were enveloped in beautiful and costly furs; while others dressed themselves in women's and children's pelisses, and even the galley-slaves concealed their rags under the most splendid habits of the court. The rest crowded into the cellars, and, forcing open the doors, drank to excess the most luscious wines, and carried off an immense booty.
This horrible pillage was not confined to the deserted houses alone, but extended to those which were inhabited, and soon the eagerness and wantonness of the plunderers caused devastations which almost equalled those occasioned by the conflagration. Every asylum was violated by the licentious troops. They who had officers in their houses flattered themselves that they should escape the general calamity. Vain illusion! the fire progressively advancing, soon destroyed all their hopes.
Towards evening, when Napoleon no longer thought himself safe in the city, the ruin of which seemed inevitable, he left the Kremlin, and established himself with his suite in the castle of Peterskoë. When I saw him pass by, I could not behold without abhorrence the chief of a barbarous expedition, who evidently endeavoured to escape the decided testimony of public indignation, by seeking the darkest road. He sought it, however, in vain. On every side the flames seemed to pursue him, and their horrible and mournful glare,
flashing on his guilty head, reminded me of the torches of Eumenides pursuing the destined victims of the Furies!
The generals likewise received orders to quit Moscow. Licentiousness then became unbounded. The soldiers, no longer restrained by the presence of their chiefs, committed every kind of excess. No retreat was safe, no place sufficiently sacred to afford protection against their rapacity. Nothing more fully excited their avarice than the church of Saint Michael, the sepulchre of the Russian emperors. An erroneous tradition had propagated the belief that it contained immense riches. Some grenadiers presently entered it, and descended with torches into the vast subterranean vaults, to disturb the peace and silence of the tombs. But instead of treasures they found only stone coffins, covered with pink velvet, and bearing a thin silver plate, on which were engraved the names of the Czars, and the dates of their birth and decease. Mortified at the disappointment of their hopes, they searched the very coffins, and seized every offering which had been consecrated by piety, and chiefly valuable from the sentiments of which it had been the pledge. With all the excesses of plunder, they mingled the most degrading and horrible debauchery. Neither nobility of blood, nor the innocence of youth, nor the tears of beauty, were respected. The licentiousness was cruel and boundless; but it wa inevitable in a savage war, in which sixteen different nations, opposite in their manners and their language, thought themselves at liberty to commit every crime, fully persuaded that all their disorders would be attributed to the nation alone.
Penetrated by so many calamities, I hoped that the shades of night would cast a veil over the dreadful scene; but they contributed, on the contrary, to render the conflagration more terrible. The violence of the flames, which extended from north to south, and were strangely agitated by the wind, produced the most awful appearance on a sky which was darkened by the thickest smoke. Frequently was seen the glare of the burning torches, which the incendiaries were hurling from the tops of
the highest towers on those parts of the city which had yet escaped destruction, and which resembled at a distance so many passing meteors. Nothing could equal the anguish that absorbed every feeling heart, and which was increased in the dead of the night by the cries of the miserable victims who were savagely murdered, or by the screams of the young females who fled for protection to their weeping mothers, and whose ineffectual struggles tended only to inflame the passion of their violators. To these dreadful groans and heart-rending cries, which every moment broke upon the ear, were added the howlings of the dogs, which, chained to the doors of the palaces, according to the custom at Moscow, could not escape from the fire which surrounded them.
Overpowered with regret and with terror, I flattered myself that sleep would for a while release me from these revolting scenes; but the most frightful recollections crowded upon me, and all the horrors of the day again passed in review. My wearied senses seemed at last sinking into repose, when the light of a near and dreadful conflagration piercing into my room suddenly awoke me. I thought that my chamber was a prey to the flames. It was no idle dream, for when I approached the window, I saw that our quarters were on fire, and that the house in which I lodged was in the utmost danger. Sparks were thickly falling in our yard and on the wooden roof of our stables. I ran quickly to my landlord and his family. Perceiving their danger, they had already quitted their habitation, and had retired to a subterranean vault which afforded them more security. I found them with their servants all assembled there; nor could I prevail on them to leave it, for they dreaded our soldiers more than the fire. The father was sitting on the threshold of the vault, and appeared desirous of first exposing himself to the calamities which threatened his family. Two of his daughters, pale, with dishevelled hair, and whose tears added to their beauty, disputed with him the honour of the sacrifice. It was not without violence that I could snatch them from the building,
under which they would otherwise soon have been buried. When these unhappy creatures again saw the light, they contemplated with indifference the loss of all their property, and were only astonished that they were still alive. Though they were convinced that no personal injury would now be offered them, they exhibited not any tokens of gratitude; but resembled those miserable criminals, who, having been ordered to execution, are be wildered when a reprieve unexpectedly arrives, and whom the agonies of death render insensible to the gift of life.
Desirous of terminating the recital of this horrible catastrophe, for which history wants expressions, and poetry has no colours, I shall pass over in silence many circumstances revolting to humanity, and merely describe the dreadful confusion which arose in our army, when the fire had reached every part of Moscow, and the whole city was become one immense flame.
The different streets could no longer be distinguished, and the places on which the houses had stood were marked only by confused piles of stones, calcined and black. The wind, blowing with violence, howled mournfully, and overwhelmed us with ashes, with burning fragments, and even with the iron plates which covered the palace. On whatever side we turned we saw only ruins and flames. The fire raged as if it were fanned by some invisible power. The most extensive ranges of buildings seemed to kindle, to burn, and to disappear in an instant.
A long row of carriages was perceived through the thick smoke loaded with booty. Being too heavily laden for the exhausted cattle to draw them along, they were obliged to halt at every step, when we heard the execrations of the drivers, who, terrified at the surrounding flames, endeavoured to push forward with dreadful outcries. The soldiers were diligently employed in forcing open every door. They seemed to fear lest they should leave one house untouched, and, as if the booty last acquired was preferable to what they had already obtained, they abandoned their former prize
to seize on every new object. Some, when their carriages were laden almost to breaking down, bore the rest of their plunder on their backs. The flames, obstructing the passage of the principal streets, often obliged them to retrace their steps. Thus, wandering from place to place through an immense town, the avenues of which they did not know, they sought in vain to extricate themselves from a labyrinth of fire. Many, instead of approaching the gates by which they might have escaped, wandered further from them, and thus became the victims of their own rapacity. The love of plunder was yet predominant, and induced our soldiers to brave every danger. They precipitated themselves into the midst of the flames. They waded in blood, treading upon the dead bodies without remorse, whilst the ruins of the houses, mixed with burning coals, fell thick on their murderous hands. They would probably all have perished, if the insupportable heat had not forced them at length to withdraw into the camp.
The fourth corps having also received orders to leave Moscow, we proceeded (September 17th) towards Peterskoë, where our divisions were encamped. At that moment, about the dawn of day, I witnessed a spectacle at once affecting and terrible, namely, a crowd of the miserable inhabitants drawing upon some mean vehicles all that they had been able to save from the conflagration. The soldiers having robbed them of their horses, the men and women were slowly and painfully dragging along their little carts, some of which contained an infirm mother, others a paralytic old man, and others the miserable wrecks of half-consumed furniture. Children half naked followed these interesting groups. Affliction, to which their age is commonly a stranger, was impressed on their features, and, when the soldiers approached them, they ran crying into the arms of their mothers. Alas! what habitation could be offered them which would not constantly recall the object of their terror! Without a shelter and without food, these unfortunate beings wandered in the fields, and fled into the woods; but wherever they bent their steps, they met the