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THE BURNING OF MOSCOW.
On the 14th September 1812, while the rear-guard of the Russians were in the act of evacuating Moscow, Napoleon reached the hill called the Mount of Salvation, because it is there that the natives kneel and cross themselves at first sight of the Holy City.
Moscow seemed lordly and striking as ever, with the steeples of its thirty churches, and its copper domes glittering in the sun; its palaces of eastern architecture mingled with trees, and surrounded with gardens; and its Kremlin, a huge triangular mass of towers, something between a palace and a castle, which rose like a citadel out of the general mass of groves and buildings. But not a chimney sent up smoke, not a man appeared on the battlements, or at the gates. Napoleon gazed every moment, expecting to see a train of bearded boyards arriving to fling themselves at his feet, and place their wealth at his disposal. His first exclamation was: “Behold at last that celebrated city!' His next: 'It was full time!' His army, less regardful of the past or the future, fixed their eyes on the goal of their wishes, and a shout of ‘Moscow !—Moscow !' passed from rank to rank. . .
When he entered the gates of Moscow, Bonaparte, as if unwilling to encounter the sight of the empty streets, stopped immediately on entering the first suburb. His troops were quartered in the desolate city. During the first few hours after their arrival, an obscure rumour, which could not be traced, but one of those which are sometimes found to get abroad before the approach of some awful certainty, announced that the city would be
endangered by fire in the course of the night.
The report seemed to arise from those evident circumstances which rendered the event probable, but no one took any notice of it, until at midnight, when the soldiers were startled from their quarters, by the report that the town was in flames. The memorable conflagration began amongst the coachmakers' warehouses and workshops in the bazaar, or general market, which was the most rich district of the city. It was imputed to accident, and the progress of the flames was subdued by the exertions of the French soldiers. Napoleon, who had been roused by the tumult, hurried to the spot, and when the alarm seemed at an end, he retired, not to his former quarters in the suburbs, but to the Kremlin, the hereditary palace of the only sovereign whom he had ever treated as an equal, and over whom his successful arms had now attained such an apparently immense superiority. Yet he did not suffer himself to be dazzled by the advantage he had obtained, but availed himself of the light of the blazing bazaar to write to the emperor proposals of peace with his own hand. They were despatched by a Russian officer of rank, who had been disabled by indisposition from following the army. But no answer was ever returned.
Next day the flames had disappeared, and the French officers luxuriously employed themselves in selecting out of the deserted palaces of Moscow, that which best pleased the fancy of each for his residence. At night, the flames again arose in the north and west quarters of the city. As the greater part of the houses were built of wood, the conflagration spread with the most dreadful rapidity. This was at first imputed to the blazing brands and sparkles which were carried by the wind; but at length it was observed, that as often as the wind changed—and it
changed three times in that terrible night-new flames broke always forth in that direction, where the existing gale was calculated to direct them on the Kremlin. These horrors were increased by the chance of explosion. There was, though as yet unknown to the French, a magazine of powder in the Kremlin; besides that, a park of artillery, with its ammunition, was drawn up under the emperor's window. Morning came, and with it a dreadful scene. During the whole night the metropolis had glared with an untimely and unnatural light. It was now covered with a thick and suffocating atmosphere of almost palpable smoke. The flames defied the efforts of the French soldiery; and it is said that the fountains of the city had been rendered inaccessible, the water-pipes cut, and the fire-engines destroyed or carried off.
Then came the reports of fireballs having been found burning in deserted houses ; of men and women, that, like demons, had been seen openly spreading flames, and who were said to be furnished with combustibles for rendering their dreadful work more secure. Several wretches, against whom such acts had been charged, were seized upon, and, probably without much inquiry, were shot on the spot. While it was almost impossible to keep the roof of the Kremlin clear of the burning brands which showered down the wind, Napoleon watched from the windows the course of the fire which devoured his fair conquest, and the exclamation burst from him : These are indeed Scythians !'
The equinoctial gales rose higher and higher upon the third night, and extended the flames, with which there was no longer any human power of contending. At the dead hour of midnight, the Kremlin itself was found to be on fire. A soldier of the Russian police, charged with
being the incendiary, was turned over to the summary vengeance of the Imperial Guard. Bonaparte was then, at length, persuaded by the entreaties of all around him, to relinquish his quarters in the Kremlin, to which, as the visible mark of his conquest, he had seemed to cling with the tenacity of a lion holding a fragment of his prey.
He encountered both difficulty and danger in retiring from the palace, and before he could gain the city-gate, he had to traverse, with his suite, streets arched with fire, and in which the very air they breathed was suffocating. At length he gained the open country, and took up his abode in a palace of the Czar's, called Petrowsky, about a French league from the city. As he looked back on the fire, which, under the influence of the autumnal wind, swelled and surged round the Kremlin, like an infernal ocean around a sable Pandemonium, he could not suppress the ominous expression : "This bodes us great misfortune !'
The fire continued to triumph unopposed, and consumed in a few days what it had cost centuries to raise. 'Palaces and temples,' says a Russian author, 'monuments of art, and miracles of luxury, the remains of ages which had passed away, and those which had been the creation of yesterday; the tombs of ancestors, and the nurserycradles of the present generation, were indiscriminately destroyed. Nothing was left of Moscow save the remembrance of the city, and the deep resolution to avenge its fall.'
The fire raged till the 19th with unabated violence, and then began to slacken for want of fuel. It is said fourfifths of this great city were laid in ruins.
THE DRAGON OF WANTLEY.
A dragon slew at Lerna,
To see and well discern-a:
Or he ne'er had done it, I warrant ye: But More of More-hall, with nothing at all,
He slew the dragon of Wantley.
Each one upon each shoulder;
Which made him bolder and bolder.
Four-and-forty teeth of iron; With a hide as tough as any buff,
Which did him round environ.
3. Have you not heard how the Trojan horse
Held seventy men in his belly ? This dragon was not quite so big,
But very near, I 'll tell ye; Devoured he poor children three,
That could not with him grapple; And at one sup he ate them up,
As one would eat an apple.